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Chapter 9: Bad Publicity
Why do I feel that my only constant in life is being late to work? Perhaps it’s the habit of kipping until twenty minutes before my shift. It could be the fussing over which outfit to wear. Or maybe it’s because I have to accio everything I could possibly need—shoes, purse, wallet, two-way mirror, shoes again. Either way, when I Apparate outside The Poisoned Apple it’s in a whirlwind, ten minutes late, pieces of my hair sticking to my bright red lipstick.
“Sorry!” I shout as soon as the door swings open.
The pub is virtually empty, save the usual sad souls who arrive at six o’clock to start on their sherry. Angus has not even noticed that I’ve arrived. He’s behind the bar with arms crossed, talking to a wizard with his back to me. The sleeves of tattoos that cover his arms look familiar. Whatever he and Angus are talking about, I’m glad to not be caught in the middle. Angus is wearing the face he reserves for particularly difficult customers, shaking his head and scowling. Cautiously I make my way over, adjusting the buttons on my denim shirt so that they are no longer mismatched.
The tattooed wizard shrugs in frustration. “I’m sorry,” I hear him say with zero sincerity, “but that’s the way it is.” He whirls around and our gazes meet as we pass. Judging by the look on his face, he knows who I am. Abruptly he looks away.
The door slams behind him just as I reach Angus. “What was that all about?” I toss my shoulder-bag onto the bar.
Angus isn’t really one for proper business behaviour. Usually anything that happens around here, official or not, he’s willing to let me in. He’s always had a soft spot for me. Once, after a few too many, he even confided that I remind him of his younger sister when she was my age. But tonight Angus seems uncomfortable. Like the tattooed wizard, he doesn’t meet my eyes, and he nervously fidgets with his short gray ponytail.
“Edie,” he sighs. His next words come as a complete shock. “I’ve got to let you go.”
I must not have heard correctly. It’s not possible. I even let out a small laugh, because he must be joking. But the longer Angus refuses to look at me, the less funny it seems.
“But I’m only ten minutes late!” I cry. “I didn’t realize it was such a problem. You’ve never mentioned it! I promise I’ll never be late again!”
Angus shakes his head. “It’s not because you’re always runnin’ late—even though you are.” My lip trembles. Usually I respond to his brashness with over-enthusiasm, but right now I don’t feel very playful. Angus notices my expression and looks away. He doesn’t want the awkward experience of seeing me cry any more than I want to be seen doing it. Until now, I’d thought my tear ducts had stopped working. They’ve been dry as parchment for years.
“That wizard that just left, the one with the tattoos, that’s Orestes Flynn,” Angus explains. “He’s business partners with the Murrays.”
“The pub owners?”
“Right. Which makes Flynn a part-owner, see.”
I am in fact failing to see, and whimper, “So?”
Angus rubs his arm. “Well, Flynn was here the night that you booted those Quidditch players.”
I realize why his tattoos looked so familiar. He was the wizard who had demanded another stout after I’d decided to close early. I shake my head in confusion, “Wait—Quidditch players? Plural?”
“Apparently the whole lot of ‘em play for Puddlemere.”
Although this is a shock, I still don’t see what this has to do with anything. Angus continues, “Well, that little fiasco has been in the tabloids. There’s a spread in Crystal Ball right now—” He suddenly goes very red in the face. “Erm, my wife reads it... ‘Course I have no idea...”
If I didn’t feel like I had just swallowed Skrewt Sap, I would point and laugh.
“You know how those tabloids are, they’re complete rubbish. Blow everythin’ out of proportion. Apparently Crystal Ball left out how the players were behavin’. What I’m sayin’ is, well… The Murrays, they reckon we’re getting a lot of bad publicity.”
I try to imagine these Murrays, who I have never met. From the sound of it they’re right Sickle-pinchers who have never operated a business before. They’re rarely even here; for all they know we could be running an underground dragon market. I think of all the corners we cut to save money around this pub. Ironically, I probably could have turned them in for a number of Magical Health Code violations, but never did. And now they’re kicking me out because they want to be celebrity-friendly? Please the press and make some money on the side?
“But they’re just tabloids, Angus! They shouldn’t be taken seriously. You said it yourself. Surely the Murrays know it’s all a load of bollocks.”
“I’m sure that they do. But it’s not just the tabloids.”
Before he even says it, I understand.
“There’s an article in that magazine where you work, too. It says that he was kicked out of this pub. Y’know, verifies it. Dunno how they got the information.”
I have to put a hand out to steady myself. There’s a dull ache in my stomach—did I really dig my own grave like this? Because I dared to bend the rules, just once? To take on a challenge, and try to better myself as a journalist? I cover my face.
Angus puts what I suppose is meant to be a comforting hand on my shoulder, though he immediately retracts it. “‘Parently after that article, Wood’s back to bein’ a bleedin’ celebrity. So there’s all this fuss about him now. The Murrays don’ want us gettin’ a bad reputation, or losin’ customers, so...” he trails off.
“So they’re sacking me.”
Angus grows quiet.
“This isn’t fair!” I exclaim suddenly. “Angus, they can’t do this. I haven’t done anything wrong. Wood was completely out of line. They all were!”
Angus rubs the back of his neck. “And I know it,” he sighs. “I’m sorry. My hands are tied.”
“But it’s illegal!”
“I’m not sayin’ you shouldn’t press charges—”
“Angus, please, I don’t have the money—”
Immediately I stop because it seems that my tear ducts have, in fact, remembered their purpose. There is an unfamiliar stinging sensation in my eyes. A long silence passes, punctuated by the contrastingly upbeat song on the jukebox.
“I’ll owl your final week’s wages.” He says heavily, “I’m sorry, Lennox.”
My eyes lower; I shift uncertainly. This is all so unreal. I thought Angus was fond of me—I can’t believe he’s feeding me to the werewolves like this. But the Murrays probably gave him an ultimatum: it was my job or his. I know he has two girls at Hogwarts to support. As petulant as it sounds, this is all so horribly unfair.
“Fine,” I manage at last, pathetically grabbing my shoulder-bag. I’m not certain if Angus even responds before I slump away, across the stone floors.
I pause at the heavy wooden door. I’ve worked at The Poisoned Apple for almost three years. It was a shoddy job with often seedy customers, but it paid the rent. This dingy little pub was where I’d reunited with Dean and Seamus after being no more than acquaintances at Hogwarts. We’d gotten into an argument about the Holyhead Harpies that resulted in a shouting match and a broken pint glass. It was where I’d had my last drunken snog, albeit some time ago. And where I thought I’d met Viktor Krum, and had actually met Oliver Wood.
Oliver Wood, the person responsible for my being sacked.
I push the door open, feeling Angus’s eyes on me. He really does seem sorry, but what good does sorry do now?
I think I’ll take the long way home tonight.
“Are you going to buy that?”
The magazine stand wizard startles me, and I crinkle the copy of Crystal Ball I’m reading. Honestly, I hadn’t planned on seeking out the tabloid. But as fate would have it, I came across the only magical magazine stand in Diagon Alley along my sulk. The brightly-glowing cover of Crystal Ball had tugged at my periphery until I was forced to turn and look.
It hadn’t made the cover, thank Merlin. And luckily it was part of a collage of photos, each one a different celebrity acting out in public. In my opinion, the picture of Myron Wagtail pouring champagne on a Muggle was much worse. Still, my photograph was there for the world to see. I hadn’t even noticed it being taken, and wondered who could have possibly done it. But there I was, screaming and jabbing my finger at the door while Oliver and his friends cowered beneath me. Although they didn’t use my name—alongside the many exclamation marks and cheesy alliterations—there was mention of a “surly young barmaid.” Yet there was nothing about Oliver destroying the womens’ loo, or the kiss, or the fistfight. Taken out of context, I looked like a complete tyrant.
No wonder they sacked me.
I didn’t get to read much of the article before the wizard pulled me from my thoughts. He’s staring expectantly, the hood of his cloak pulled down against the chilly night. “Oh,” I say, “No, I’m not buying. Sorry.”
He rolls his eyes and I awkwardly place the magazine back on the shelf. My breath hangs in the air as I mope away, wrapping my arms around myself. In my rush to the pub I hadn’t thought to bring a coat. But going home doesn’t seem to be an option. I don’t want to be alone at my flat, but I don’t feel like facing my friends either. So I head towards Alchemy Coffee, where I can sit by myself with the distant company of strangers. Plus I don’t have the fifteen Sickles to spend on a London-priced beer.
Feeling right sorry for yourself, eh Lennox?
Once I am settled down with the cheapest cup of coffee possible, made for somebody the size of a House Elf, I release a sigh. I’m at a small table near the window where I can people-watch. It’s cozy at least, with the fire roaring and the twinkling fairy-lights. And I’m not the only sad fool in here: apparently it’s some kind of music night, as everyone is listening to a dark-skinned wizard with dreadlocks play jazz flute.
This is where the hipsters come die. Or at least to wax philosophical, with their Dragonskine notebooks, I decide. Unemployed, spending the money borrowed from their parents on cheap beer and cigarettes. As I scan the room a young witch with a septum piercing nods at me from her table, like we have something in common.
Oh god. I can’t keep coming back here. I can’t become one of these people.
Cupping my hands around my coffee, I try to think of a plan of action. As much as I want to fight for social justice, it costs money. The last time I made a balance inquiry at Gringotts they may as well have fallen over laughing—I really do need to pull a Grimma Longfinger and get my funds out of there. Justin would probably agree to help me, but I couldn’t ask him for a favour with a good conscience. Not right now, when he’s a wedding to pay for. And as much as I’d love to take the Murrays down, I can’t honestly say that my job at The Poisoned Apple was even worth the Galleons it would cost.
Well, I suppose I’ll be back on the job search tomorrow. Though my last go-around for journalism careers wasn’t fruitful…. Should I even reapply to the same places so soon? I can’t keep straight what is and isn’t professional anymore. Maybe Lisa knows of something opening at St. Mungo’s…?
I let my head drop onto my arms. I can’t bear the humiliation of telling Lisa, who is well on her way to becoming a certified Healer, that I am unemployed. Or Dean, the freelance artist and political cartoonist. Or Auror-in-training Seamus. Not to mention my Mum, or my brothers, or Mr. Ward, or...
An involuntary groan escapes. Rose. I can just imagine her smug satisfaction. I’m not entirely sure when we transitioned from frenemies to just plain enemies, but she’s definitely the last person I want to know about it.
I hear a faint tinkling sound like a small clay bell. It takes a moment before I realize that my two-way mirror is sounding for attention. Fishing around shoulder-deep in my bottomless purse, I at last find the compact. For a moment I clutch it in my hands, collecting myself. I’m not going to tell whoever it is—Seamus, Dean or Lisa—anything yet, I decide.
But when I flip it open, I’m met with a pair of brown eyes I can’t identify.
Here’s the thing with two-way mirrors: unless the other person is holding theirs far away from their face, you can’t entirely see who it is. This makes for humorous conversations, particularly because Dean can never figure out how to prevent me from seeing up his nose. But this person is certainly not Dean. Or Seamus, or Lisa, for that matter. There is a moment of silence, two pairs of eyes blinking at one another.
“Edie?” The Scottish accent tips me off.
“Wood.” I don’t do a very good job masking my surprise, and even bristle at his voice. I’ve just been sacked an hour ago and the wound still stings. Add this to other reasons he’s personally hand-delivered to make me never want to see him again.
“Yeah,” he says, and adds carefully, “Alright?”
I wonder if he’s heard, or if he’s just worried about residual anger from last night.
“Fine,” I reply shortly. Because I don’t know what else to do I take a hurried sip of my coffee, which it turns out is scalding hot. Almost dropping the mirror, I feel the drink burn all the way down.
No doubt I am making a horrible face, because Oliver squints in confusion. “Something wrong? You look, erm...”
“Everything is fan-bloody-tastic.” The bite in my voice quells him for a moment.
I want to ask, “How did you find me?” but unlike Muggle phones, you don’t have to know a secret number. This could be annoying, because anybody could just say your name into their mirror and find yours. Unless, that is, you’ve devoted a whole day to casting charms, like I did. Dean says that it’s just like Muggle caller ID. The magic can sense whether or not I’ve met the person, and if I’ve enjoyed talking to them. If I have, the charms allow the mirrors to link. If not, they’d just be staring at their own reflection.
Oliver seems to regain himself. “Where are you? I hear bad indie music.”
I glance at the stage where a young witch sings about a mermaid’s lost love. Though her fingers work clumsily on the neck of her guitar, I have the feeling it’s been bewitched to play itself.
“I’m at Alchemy Coffee,” I respond. “I reckon it’s struggling-singer-songwriter night—”
Before I’ve even finish my sentence there is a crack and Oliver Wood is sitting opposite me. I jump, nearly knocking over my coffee. “Christ!” I exclaim, and he looks generally confused at my shock. I’m sure his thought processes, which I imagine to be something like QuidditchQuidditchQuidditchFoodQuidditchSexQuidditchQuidditch, did not account for how this may be uncomfortable.
“Would you care to pop in?” I sarcastically finish our conversation.
“Sorry, I’ve just always preferred face-to-face conversations,” he shrugs and holds up his small square mirror, in expensive Puddlemere-themed encasement. “Not the biggest fan of these modern-day conveniences.”
“So why do you have one?” I fire. If I have to listen to one more hypocrite talk about wanting to experience life ‘organically,’ whilst owning a two-way mirror, I’ll claw my eyes out.
My pink-varnished nails are threatening to chip the edges of my coffee cup. Wood eyes them, and evidently not being as dense as I thought, picks up on my anger. “My team manager requires us all to have one,” his voice has the slightest tinge of irritation.
I want to say, Ah, your manager, Philbert Deverill. The man who had to make up for your decision not to donate to St. Mungo’s. But right now I don’t feel like talking.
Oliver explains, as if trying to placate a madwoman, “Bones and Jones, or whoever patented these mirrors, is a Puddlemere sponsor. Trust me, I’d rather be without.”
“How very Jack Kerouac.” My intention is to murmur this to myself, but I sometimes forget how loudly I speak on a regular basis. I blame my younger brothers, who I spent my whole life corralling and yelling at for dinner and bath-time.
Oliver quirks and eyebrow and crosses his arms. Abandoning all pretenses for politeness, he says loftily, “I was actually thinking more Arthur C. Clarke.” I do a rather poor job hiding my shock as he quotes, “‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ As far as I’m concerned, these mirrors are too much like Muggle technology. I prefer face-to-face communication, don’t you?”
After faltering, I regain myself and jab, “Dangerous words, Wood. You know how suspicious the Ministry finds any anti-Muggle sentiment.”
He shrugs offhandedly. “Oh, I’m hardly anti-Muggle. In fact I’m not even a Pureblood. Thought you would’ve come across that in your research…”
I do not like being outsmarted. Pressing my mouth into a thin line, I pretend like his words didn’t hit home. It’s true, though. I’m having a hard time with my research for the article, and it’s making me feel like less of a journalist. Even Wood’s bloodline has remained private—although that’s not entirely a surprise. To make up for all of the prejudices during the last War, it’s not something anyone talks about publicly anymore.
I’m feeling like a wounded animal backed into a corner. Though as much as I’d like to be a tiger ready to attack, I feel more like a sulky kitten. Diverting the conversation back, “So, quoting Arthur C. Clarke. Oliver Wood reads Muggle science fiction?”
“Actually, fun fact, he’s a wizard.”
Where is all of this coming from? This is the same person who said, in his first interview, that the most influential piece of literature he’d ever read is Quidditch Throughout the Ages.
Wood must sense that he’s won, because he grins widely. “I see you’re shocked to learn that I’m not illiterate.” He raps on his skull with his fist, “Reckon I’ve still got a couple more Bludgers to the head before I need to start worrying.”
I run my finger up and down the handle of my coffee mug. I have the distinct feeling that Oliver Wood has just bested me twice, in as many minutes. Maybe I do like him better as a drunk, arrogant idiot.
Suddenly he furrows his brow and looks over his shoulder. The young witch is still singing, and it’s unclear if her pained expression is due to her emotions or her poor attempt to hit the high notes.
“Wow. She really is terrible, eh?” It sounds less like a joke and more like an inability to hide his opinion.
As somebody who suffers from the same affliction, I almost laugh. “So, why exactly are you here?” It doesn’t come out quite as brashly as hoped.
“Oh,” he unzips his brown leather jacket. “I was wondering if you wanted to meet me Friday night.”
The room grows very warm and I pause. “F-Friday night?”
Wood seems to realize what I’ve just assumed. His eyes crinkle as he grins, “Yeah, for our interview.”
I am the biggest dolt in all of London. Making a conscious effort not to slap a hand to my forehead, I say, “The interview. Of course.”
The song has ended; Wood turns and claps loudly amongst the silence. The performer’s eyes land on him and she flushes, bows awkwardly, and hurries off the small stage. A young woman with straight-across fringe appears on the stage. She carries a guitar and tambourine, which she is playing herself. At the flick of her wand, the wooden piano in the corner begins to play. Her mouth opens and a raspy-yet-melodious voice fills the room. I notice the previous singer at her small table, red with embarrassment behind her coffee.
“I feel it all, I feel it all. The wings are wide, the wings are wide.”
In the brief silence that passed between us, Oliver has rallied. He tries again, “Well, I just… I reckoned you and Rose would want some more material. She told me that you’re writing another two articles as a joint effort.”
“She did.” It takes everything in my power not to Confringo my coffee mug.
“I thought it would be a good idea to give it another go. She and I didn’t accomplish much the other night.” He seems to realize his innuendo and now it’s his turn to grow pink.
“Uh-huh,” I run my hands through my hair, a strange pounding in my veins.
I recall Oliver and Rose over at their little table, she usurping the job that she’d begged me to do. I remember the way they sat there, gossiping. Flirting. Trying to make a fool of me in front of my friends. And I’d gone all touchy for one reason or another and ended up humiliating myself.
I suppose in the back of my mind I’d already decided not to help Rose with the articles. After the way she’d behaved I really wanted to leave her high and dry. But that was when I still had a job. And Rose had agreed to twenty-five Galleons per article. That was almost two months’ rent on my shoddy flat. If I wrote the articles for her, I could easily survive with an additional part-time job...
Bugger. Rose wins again.
Oliver is watching me expectantly. “So... Friday.”
“Friday sounds perfect,” I respond curtly. I run my hands over the table in a search for something, anything to do so that I don’t have to acknowledge the churning mess in my head.
“Brilliant. Does The Hanging Moon at eight o’clock work for you?”
My hands stop running over the table.
The Hanging Moon is one of the poshest Wizarding restaurants in all of London. It’s located miles underground, but is so spacious and glamourous that you’d never realize it. Of course I only know this from hearsay. Justin took Lisa there to celebrate their engagement, and even his wallet was thinner afterwards. Lisa said that she spotted Myron Wagtail and the Potter couple there. She also said that there’s a bottle of champagne on the menu that costs the same as her and Justin’s rent. I’ve heard that you can pay extra to have your food char-grilled by a live dragon!
Needless to say, there is no way in hell that I can afford to step foot in The Hanging Moon.
“I was going to suggest it myself,” I say casually.
Oliver’s eyes crinkle again and I get the feeling he can see right through me.
Does he seriously find me being completely skint funny? I want to yell at him; to tell him that it’s all his fault; that he has no idea what it’s like to worry you won’t make your next rent. At least I don’t sit on my meagre fortunes, hoarding them like some sexist Goblin, while people everywhere are losing money. I donate to charity at grocery check-outs, for Merlin’s sake!
Oliver regards me seriously, “We’ll have to wear something nice, of course.”
“Of course,” I reply tersely. No matter what I manage to conjure from my wardrobe, alongside everyone else I’ll look like a House Elf in a sock. What have I just gotten myself into?
Unable to take it any longer, I rise to my feet without warning. “I’d best be going. See you Friday.” I snatch my shoulder bag, ignoring Oliver’s confused glance.
“Sure,” he says. “Friday.”
But I’ve already hurried away from the table and to the door, past the performer as she ends her song, “The truth lies, the truth lied. And lies divide, lies divide.” The door shuts behind me, silencing the last hanging guitar chord, the applause and Oliver Wood’s stupid brown eyes.
Author's Note: Wow, I really do love torturing Edie, don't I? This chapter was really fun to write--it's definitely on the long side, but I *finally* got some decent interaction between Oliver and Edie! I also got a chance to poke fun at hipsters, so I did xD If you didn't pick up on it, Dragonskine was a play on Moleskine, which doesn't belong to me. Also, the song is "I Feel It All" by Feist, which I don't own.
So what do you guys think? Anyone an Ediver shipper yet? (Thanks to CloakAuror9 for the perfect ship name!)
And thanks to inspector. @ TDA for the absolutely gorgeous chapter image!