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The Middle Man by academica
Chapter 1: one.
The white liquid swirled in the cup, dancing back and forth between its walls as it slowly faded into the welcoming warmth of the coffee. A tap against the side of the cup caused the ocean within to shudder, and crystals tumbled into the mixture. Then, with the help of a spoon, the liquid swirled slowly to uniformity once again.
Darcy stared down into her morning brew, her girlish fingers gripping the handle loosely as she tried to savor her few moments of peace for the day. She knew that in a little over an hour, she would be walking three blocks over to the Floo point, and shortly after that, she would enter the chaos of the London office of Witch Weekly.
It was daunting enough to have to enter the headquarters of the magazine on an average Monday morning. However, today marked exactly one month until the opening of International Beauty Week, an event held every autumn in some fabulous city that showcased the latest in beauty-related potions and charms. Thus, today marked the beginning of Darcy’s descent into a nightmare of organizing and micromanaging – though she had to admit that she liked the free samples.
She stood up, carrying the half-empty cup with her, and moved into the tiny bathroom. There, she lingered before the mirror, combing through her thick, dark brown hair with her fingers until it lay flat enough to meet her standards. Darcy reached for her makeup kit and then remembered that she should keep a clean face in case this year’s star manufacturers had sent advance testers for the magazine staff. Instead, she went into her bedroom, where she put on a tea-length yellow dress and a pair of white canvas flats. Pulling her wand out of her bedside table, she summoned a string of faux pearls, looping them haphazardly about her neck. Finally, she downed the last of the coffee and put the cup into the sink on her way out.
Darcy locked up her flat, number 1492, with a flick of her wand and then promptly tucked it into her bag. The part of Manchester that she lived in was populated by a combination of Muggles and old wizards who valued their privacy, and any sight of the wand would just spark a flood of annoying questions. She walked briskly along the street, brown eyes occasionally scanning the darkening clouds overhead, and was relieved to reach the Floo point at her usual time and before the rain could fall. If she had pondered too long this morning, she would have had to Apparate, and the way it turned her stomach had convinced her to save it for emergency-only travel.
A few Muggles were waiting at the counter of the aged corner pharmacy. Darcy caught the eye of the Squib technician, who nodded at her as she slipped under the counter and headed toward the back of the store. There, she found a fireplace with a smoldering fire waiting for her. She felt around the shelf above the hearth, which apparently contained jars of remedies long since abandoned or outlawed in the Muggle world. On the end, Darcy found her target; she scooped a small handful of silver powder out of a jar labeled Filings – Fe. The technician’s cleverness in concealing the Floo powder had always brought a slight smile to her face. She tossed the power into the flames, causing them to rise and turn a brilliant green. Darcy cleared her throat softly, said, “Witch Weekly Main Office,” and stepped into the fire.
As soon as she stepped out of the fireplace in the lobby of the office building, the sound of the impending event hit Darcy’s ears. Sighing, she moved up the stairs, wondering what time she would get to go back home tonight. When she reached the second floor, the entirety of which was occupied by the magazine, Darcy pushed open one of the two glass doors and stepped into a cloud of lavender and peonies.
“Morning, Darcy,” the receptionist said, offering her a smile. Darcy smiled back; she and the girl had been known to have lunch together once in a while. “Here, you need to try this perfume. Éclat et brilliance sent it over this morning straight from Paris.”
“No thanks, I’ve got plenty of it over here already,” Darcy said, offering a weak laugh and moving away from the front desk. She walked down between the tables laden with product and the offices of the higher-ups until she finally reached her desk in the back of the room. Darcy was pleased to see her cubicle-mate waiting for her.
“You look like you could use a coffee,” Dominique said, glancing up from a tray full of eyeliner pencils. Darcy stifled a laugh, noticing that one of her eyes was marked by a thick black line that veered slightly too high on one side, whereas the other sported a shimmery green shadow on the lid and a barely noticeable brown line above the lashes.
“Already had one,” Darcy commented. She had initially felt skeptical about Management’s decision to mix up people from different departments, but now she was glad to have gotten to know Dominique from Fashion. “How’s that going, then?”
Dominique sighed, rubbing furiously at the right-eye with a Kwik-Cleanse cloth. “This one is supposed to be made from pixie dust. The label says it will make my natural eye color pop.” She blinked at Darcy. “Do you think it’s working?”
“I think black is a bit harsh for your skin,” Darcy said, taking a seat. “Is today just playing with products, then, or am I supposed to actually get some writing done?”
“Lorcan said that you’re supposed to take notes, though I don’t see why you couldn’t try some things for yourself if they match your season,” Dominique replied, shrugging. “Anyway, I think he wants to do a tried-and-tested feature.”
Darcy nodded, taking out a small roll of parchment and a battered purple quill. “Sure, I’ll try some. There’s no reason to make you suffer any more with this stuff than you have to this month.”
“Suffer? It’s nice to get out of Fashion for a while,” Dominique said with a shrug. “Besides, you’re the one who always sit-tests new merchandise for me every spring. It’s the least I can do.”
“So, what’s next?” Darcy asked.
“Well, we’ve got the eye products for about another hour. Then, we need to do lip products, skin solutions, hair tonics, and nail color.” Dominique picked up a baby blue eye shadow that would surely only look good on a female house-elf. “Lorcan’s plan is for each of the writers to pick their favorites and do a top-five article, just to fill out the issue a little bit. You know, the professionals here at Witch Weekly…”
“Got it,” Darcy said. “Where is Lorcan, anyway?”
“Out to brunch with the French. Must be nice to be in management, huh?”
Darcy smirked. “Yeah, until you come back smelling like a meadow.”
“What do you mean?” Dominique quirked a brow, tucking her fair blonde hair behind her ears and glancing back down at the mirror laying flat on her desk.
“Never mind,” Darcy replied. “Can you hand me that brown mascara?”
Dominique passed her the tube. “That one’s by Bare Bones. It’s supposed to look good on you no matter what your eye color is.” Bare Bones had been founded by Susan Bones following her graduation from Hogwarts, made possible partially by compensation she’d received from her aunt’s death. Darcy loved to buy her products because of the positive messages she inscribed on each item. She held up the mascara, watching as words in gold script appeared and disappeared in a flash on the tube. They would make another pass in the next five minutes or so.
“What does that one say?” Dominique asked.
“Whatever you have to say, it is important,” Darcy read.
“Aww,” Dominique said, beginning to apply a blue liner to match the horrid shadow.
“Yeah, it’s nice,” Darcy said, starting to put on the mascara. She was unsurprised to watch it add a bit of sparkle to her dark eyes. “So, excited for the convention?”
“Of course,” Dominique said, grinning. The convention was held alternately in either Paris or London, wherever Fashion Week had not been held, and she loved to go with her mother and sister and take in the superficial atmosphere. Last year, there had been rumors that complaints about continual appeasement of the Beauxbatons girls had meant two years in London, but she had been relieved to hear that the board for the magazine wasn’t foolish enough to disappoint its biggest customers. “What do you think?” she added, gesturing to her newly painted right eye.
“Better you than me,” Darcy said simply, making a note on her parchment not to include those products – which she noted to be French – in her top-five article. “What are you looking forward to most?”
“About the convention?”
“No, the samples.”
“Oh,” Dominique said, cleaning her canvas again. “Not sure. You?”
“Going home and taking a shower,” Darcy said, smirking.
“I still don’t know how someone with such minimal makeup habits got a job at Witch Weekly,” Dominique chided, shaking her head. “You’re just no fun.”
“I think it has to do with being in Hufflepuff,” Darcy replied, looking down at the slew of products still waiting for her to try them. “You know, unafraid of toil…”
“You’ve barely made any notes,” Dominique said, showing off her Ravenclaw wit.
“Perhaps I’ll get more excited about the next batch,” Darcy said with a sigh. It was barely 9:30 and the day was already dragging. Maybe she did need a second cup.
As if on cue, a tall, slender girl with curly hair pinned up in a bun began moving about the office. “Switch!” she called, looking around before repeating herself. After a few moments, everyone seemed to get the hint, closing up their current stashes.
“What do you want to do next?” Dominique asked. “I think we’re in line for lip products, but if we did skin, we could try some of the new French perfume…”
“If we’re in line for lip, let’s do lip,” Darcy countered, wanting to avoid the obnoxious lavender-and-peony concoction for as long as possible, hopefully until it ran out. “There, they’ve got it over in the corner. I’ll go see if they want to trade.”
She stood up, smoothing her dress, and carried the open drawer of eye shadow, mascara and eyeliner over to a group of young ladies from the Accessory department. At the sight of her, they brightened. “You done with the eye stuff?”
“Yeah,” Darcy said, handing it to them. “Try the Bare Bones. I really liked it.”
“I don’t know about some of these,” a girl said, taking the drawer from her. “We thought about getting one of the elf secretaries to be our guinea pig, but I don’t think any of us are that cruel.” They burst into giggles.
“Right,” Darcy said, trying not to groan. “Well, thanks.” She turned, carrying the tray of lipsticks and glosses back to the cubicle she and Dominique shared. However, as she approached, she noticed that Dominique had been joined by Lorcan.
“Hello, Darcy,” Lorcan said, leaning on the cubicle wall and glancing over the items in the tray. “You enjoying the testers?”
“Sure,” she said, smiling.
“Good,” Lorcan replied. “I was just talking to Dominique here about how you were a few minutes late getting in this morning. Did you forget what day it was?”
Darcy looked at Dominique, who had preoccupied herself with a shiny red gloss. “I’m sorry. The Floo was broken,” she lied. Your clock is more like it, Scamander.
“I see. Well, that’s when Apparition comes in handy,” Lorcan said, tapping his fingers on the partition. “Lucky you’re here, though, because I have an assignment for you and Dominique. You’ll have to hurry up on the testers, though.”
“What is it?” Dominique asked, looking up with one of her two lips glossed.
“I’d like you to recruit some talent for the front page of the September issue. We need someone who is going to look fresh and young in the product and also carry off a nice outfit or two. I figured Dominique’s mother could recommend some Beauxbatons girl. Darcy, you can work on the photos and write the article.”
“Really?” Darcy asked, surprised. Writing the cover story for the beauty issue was a huge honor – not as huge as getting the Fashion Week cover, but better than submitting two articles a month to minimal feedback and few publications.
“Yes,” Lorcan said. “Management has formed several teams, and the one that produces the best cover story can expect pay raises at the start of next year. It’s a sort of friendly competition.”
“How many teams?” Dominique asked.
“None of your business,” Lorcan said. “In fact, I think your time would be better spent asking fewer questions and working to get through those samples so you can draft your top-five articles and contribute to the tried-and-tested feature story, and then get on with business.” He folded his arms. “Good luck, ladies.”
Darcy watched him go, wishing she had taken more notes on the eye products. She didn’t have much for either of her first two tasks, and now there was a third. Her little office job was beginning to feel like a rendition of the Triwizard Tournament.
“What do you think, Gryffindor Scarlet or Pixie Pink with my coloring?” Dominique asked, showing off a gaudy set of two-toned lips.
“What does it matter? Just hurry up and pick one,” Darcy said with a sigh.
“Nonsense. This is precise work,” Dominique countered.
“We need to start brainstorming for the cover story. I want that raise.”
“So do I,” Dominique replied, grinning. “And I have a plan, Darcy.”
Hello, and welcome to my new next-gen story! This is my first time writing a next gen piece that’s longer than a one-shot, and I’m also trying to play a little with humor here, so I would really appreciate it if you could give me some feedback in the little box down there. Hopefully you’re eager to read more!
A few explanatory notes are needed for this chapter. For those of you who are not fans of chemistry, Fe is the periodic table symbol for iron. Iron filings have been used to enrich food and make nail polish and mud masks. The name of the French perfume company, Éclat et brilliance, means “luster and shine,” according to Google Translate. (I’ve never taken a French class, though.)
Thanks so much for reading, and again, please leave a review! Updates should be coming about once a week, unless things get really crazy in real life for me.