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Keep Calm and Carry On by my_voice_rising

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 25
Word Count: 106,403
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Strong language, Mild violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Slash (same-sex pairing), Substance use or abuse

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Dean, Oliver, Seamus, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings: Other Pairing

First Published: 09/25/2012
Last Chapter: 12/11/2014
Last Updated: 12/11/2014

Summary:


Edie Lennox is in a rut. With no money, a shoddy flat, and no love-life, her joke of a Witch Weekly internship is the cherry on top. But will a chance interview with Quidditch superstar Oliver Wood earn her a journalism career? Or will life continue to get in the way?

Winner of Hufflepuff Writers Duel | Keckers Best Original Character, Best Humour, Best Chaptered



Chapter 1: Take Two and Call Me in the Morning
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CHAPTER ONE
(INTRODUCTION)


The Firewhiskey goes down like petrol. I grimace unattractively. Seamus slams his empty glass on the bar, whooping loudly. We congratulate each other with a stumbling high five. Then somebody is throwing their arm around my shoulders—Dean, leaning his temple against mine. His thick-rimmed glasses are tangling in my red hair, and I put my palm over his face to gently push him away. But there’s really nowhere for him to go. The pub is so crowded we’ve been bumping elbows with other Quidditch fans all night.

“Why did we think it was a good idea to head to The Poisoned Apple after the Kenmare Kestrels victory?” Dean shouts with a scowl. He doesn’t like crowds.

He’s right, though—practically the entire stadium has stampeded this way, already buzzing from overpriced Quidditch beer. I work here part-time and my manager, Angus, will usually slide us a few drinks under the table. Tonight, though, it’s far too busy for his charity.

I don’t reckon the Poisoned Apple has changed much since its opening, which a tarnished plaque claims to have been in 1484. The rusty chandeliers have never seen a Clearing Charm in their life, and the raw wood counters are stained beyond help. Many portraits have accumulated on the walls. Monks, when tipsy, stumble into the frames of Toulouse-Lautrec dancers. A separate room contains a wall of magical dartboards and one rickety pool table.

Right now it’s hard to see any of this with the crowd packed in, all decked in Kestrel green and gold. The wizard behind me sports a pointed green hat with dancing shamrocks that keeps poking me in the head. Glasses are clinking; people are shouting just to be heard by the person next to them. The tiny flames that float in jars over our heads are blurring, multiplying. I spot Seamus, who is flirting with a pretty brunette. Very impressive, considering his entire face is painted green.

“He’s found a live one,” Dean says, and I laugh louder than I need to.

It’s our little joke that Seamus will flirt with anything that has a pulse. This usually excludes me. Seamus thinks highly of himself, sure, but he thinks that everybody should have some self respect. He’s no womanizer, either. His Mum taught him better than that. (We’ve spent many a morning at her flat in Cork, after a night on the town. Mrs. Finnigan just smiles and shakes her head when we come staggering from sofas, footstools, bathroom floors, or wherever else had seemed a suitable bed, at the smell of her garlic potato pancakes.)

The brunette is slightly taller than Seamus in heels. He and I are about the same height, 5’8”, and he is extremely sensitive about that. I can't decide whether or not to mention that this girl is taller than he.

I look at Dean and try to roll my eyes, but I’m having a hard time controlling my face. Merlin. How many Firewhiskeys was that? Three? Four? Numbers are weird right now.

“Is ‘four’ in Roman numerals ‘VI’ or ‘XI?’” I bellow. Seamus visibly winces from afar. I’ve got some pipes on me, and he claims that my voice is the bane of his hung over existence.

“It’s ‘IV,’” Dean answers, not questioning what the bloody hell I’m on about. He’s long since accepted that I vocalize every thought that enters my head.

He’s diligently people-watching, though, a bit distracted from conversation. Usually he carries around a little book of parchment and a quill that draws in pencil, charcoal or coloured ink. I got it as a gift to him some time ago. Back then he was enrolled at Antiphilus Institute for Visual Art. Good for the CV, bad for the bank account—he was completely skint. It was mad what students were required to purchase! I gave him the artist’s quill as a birthday gift. It cost me a week’s wages at my shoddy job cleaning a Diagon Alley hotel, but it was either that or he had to drop his classes.

“Oooh, he’s doing the hair thing!” I say like a Quidditch commentator. Nudging Dean, I point to Seamus, who is pretending to pluck something from the pretty girl’s hair. He claims it’s a move he picked up from Muggle films. There’s a thirty percent chance it will work. The girl smiles and touches his shoulder.

“And he sticks the landing,” Dean says, impressed.

Impressive indeed. The three of us are pretty disappointing in the romance department. A hot Friday night usually means sitting at my flat, where I’ve charmed a large two-way mirror to display live Quidditch matches. (Every once in awhile the magic goes wonky and the mirror gets crossed with another, somewhere in a dodgy Knockturn Alley flat.) Funny how Seamus and Dean suddenly wanted to hang out, when they realised I had means of watching Quidditch. Now Seamus fondly refers to our little triad as Fellas and Lady-Fella.

Speaking of Seamus, he’s disappeared, and so has the brunette. “Fast work!” I say. Dean gives an approving nod. “Where’s Lisa gone?”

“I forgot she was here,” he admits. “It’s weird that she’s come out.”

“She’s probably gone out to meet Justin,” I can’t help my snarky tone.

“They’re getting married, Edie, you can’t keep her all to yourself.” I scowl and he ruffles my hair.

Lisa Turpin, my best lady-mate, rarely sees the insides of pubs these days. She’s a Mediwitch at St. Mungo’s night shifts, and is always so knackered that I rarely see her. I’ll bet she just nipped into a Floo chimney and is asleep at home with Justin.

Justin Finch-Fletchley and Lisa Turpin have been together for approximately a century. After barely speaking for years, their loins were suddenly burning for each other. It was during our second go-around at a Seventh Year. Perhaps it was that everyone finally got to have a normal school year, after Harry Potter saved the world and all. Time for crushes, charming your hemline shorter, snogging between classes—all that bollocks taken for granted by everyone who doesn’t have an Evil Lord threatening to take over. But there you have it: Lisa and Justin have been going strong since ‘98.

EIGHT. YEARS. TOGETHER.

He’s only just proposed last autumn and they’re already an old married couple.

“Maybe we could be one of those cool modern triads, and share a flat after they get married,” I say. I’m only half-joking.

Dean snorts something that sounds like “Co-dependent.”

“I miss the Golden Year, Dean.”

“I know.”

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

“You’ve told me.”

With the air of someone drunkenly reciting a Shakespearean prologue (“Two houses, both alike in dignity…”) I say, “That year she and Justin were split up, it was like things had never changed. We went out every night, stayed up until three in the morning, and went to our shoddy jobs at eight. Pot of coffee, pain-relieving potion, kip at five o’clock, pubs at eight, rinse and repeat.”

Dean is not even listening.

“They were the most beautiful days of my life,” I sigh.

After a year with no communication, Justin appeared at our flat one day with a dozen red roses. His intentions were grand, but come on, really? He had been traveling the coast of Italy, where he was exposed to poetry, which somehow opened his eyes to accepting love. As far as I’m concerned, Justin’s idea of good poetry was “Little Miss Muffet,” but Lisa was won over. She did all she could to not melt into a puddle of oestrogen as he stood on our doorstep. Then she made him really think about what he’d done for a grand total of four minutes, and that was that.

I’ve begun reciting my drunken stories of yore, a tell-tale sign that it’s time to close the tab. I vaguely gesture to the bar and Dean nods. He’s glad for a reprieve, I’m sure. I can’t help my glance over the sea of Kestrel green. Maybe Lisa really did just go home. What an old maid.

Then again, maybe it’s not okay to be spending every night in a pub as a 26 year-old.

There’s a tap on my shoulder. Lisa has arrived, looking more like she’s enjoying herself now that Justin is here. Her blue eyes are glittering, and that is not hyperbole. Lisa is one of the most stunning people in the world, and is completely oblivious to the crowd that has just parted like the Red Sea to look at her. Though she denies it, I’m certain she's got Veela relatives.

“Sorry, Justin got lost,” she shouts.

I turn and stare at him, slouching with his hands in his cloak pockets. He looks annoyed at the level of noise, “How did you possibly get lost?”

Lisa swats me. No bickering in public, her eyes warn. We’ve gone at it quite a few times. (“Edie, why didn’t you just put down the coffee mug and then check your watch?” “THANKS A LOT JUSTIN, I HADN’T THOUGHT OF THAT BUT SEEING AS HOW THERE IS HOT COFFEE ALL OVER MY LAP I REALLY APPRECIATE YOUR INSIGHT AND WILL TRY MY BEST TO AVOID THIS SITUATION IN THE FUTURE.”)

Thankfully he hasn’t heard my jibe. “Lennox!” he claps me on the shoulder, much like he would a fellow Ministry employee. He eyes my drink, “Wow, you’re still standing?”

“You’re still carrying that man-purse?” I counter, my tongue tripping over itself. His shoulder-bag is a particularly touchy subject. He only got one because all the other lawyers use them. I don’t think I’ve stopped taking the mickey out of him since day one.

Lisa pats his shoulder as he murmurs about the bag’s practical purposes. Dean comes to stand with us, nodding a hello to Justin. I notice that Lisa is wrapping her scarf around her slender neck.

No!” I whine. Dean shoots me a look. But I never get to see her!

“I’m sorry, Edie,” she says. And of course she’s being genuine, because she’s the kindest person in London. “I’ve got to be at St. Mungo’s in…” she checks her watch and sighs, “five hours.”

My mouth opens to protest. But level-headed Dean interjects, albeit with a distinct slurring of words, “Of course. See you later.”

Justin waves jovially at us, having recovered from the shoulder-bag insult. He laces his fingers through Lisa’s. She gives me the smile she always does: half amusement, half pity, “Make good decisions!” We’ve been saying it since our Hogwarts days. It started as an ironic mantra, because of course we never did that. But I think she actually means it this time. She gives me a quick hug.

“Stop by the pub tomorrow,” I say, knowing very well she won’t make it.

They turn and Apparate, the pop barely even audible. I feel jealousy creeping in. I am on the verge of sulking when, thankfully, Seamus materialises. Dean cracks a lopsided smirk; the brunette is nowhere to be found. “Well that was quick. Shot down already?”

In response Seamus flicks out a scrap of parchment, on which the girl has charmed her name. “Playing it cool, mate,” he said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. The girl's name is glittering and purple, and I think the I in Amelia is dotted with a heart.

“Wow, didn’t know Second Years were allowed in here—” my insult is cut short. I’m staring in horror at the three shots of Firewhiskey that have floated over to us. “NO!” They hover in the middle of our group, mocking us.

“YES!” Seamus passes them out.

I put my face in my palm. The room is swimming even more, and I haven’t even taken the drink yet. “Seamus, I have my internship in the morning and—”

He throws his arms up in exasperation. “Where is your respect, Edie? Kenmare just beat Flanders—Merlin spit on their graves—and you really don’t want to give them a proper celebration?” He sees my fading resilience and adds, “Besides, these were seven Sickles each.”

“And,” Dean interjects with a surprisingly logical tone, “you've done it before. You don’t exactly have to be on top of your game to make coffee runs.”

“Oi!” I punch him in the arm and he almost spills his drink. “I’m sensitive about my lack of importance!” He’s right, though. Witch Weekly has quite possibly the worst internship program of any Magical publication. Just thinking about it makes me angry.

I could use a drink.

“You two are enablers,” I point at them accusingly but I’m cracking a stupid grin which turns into a contagious laugh until we’re all doubled over. I can tell by Dean’s completely plastered expression that he has no idea what’s so funny.

Seamus raises his glass in a toast. He always does this, but we lift our glasses all the same.

“To our adulthood!” he shouts and I let out a whoop. “May we never have office jobs, may our futures be full of nights forgotten by morning, and most importantly, may we always get laid!”

Not sure how that last bit is working out, really, but we don’t mention that. We throw back the glasses. It tastes like it always does: a mixture of shame for being 26, a hybrid of unpaid intern and barkeep, with no love-life to mention, and getting sloshed at a pub virtually every night—and also certainty that I have the best mates in the world.

Dean and Seamus are grimacing and trying to shake the buzz out of their heads. Seamus punches his fist into the air, shouting the first line of the Kestrels’ fight song: “God bless those fighting Kestrels, bally-ally-oh!”

Suddenly the whole pub is singing in drunken unison, arms slung over shoulders. Everyone’s jumping so hard that the chandeliers are rattling, threatening to collapse. It’s amazing what Quidditch and Firewhiskey can do for camaraderie. Our song ends and is followed by deafening cheering. Angus, exhausted barkeep and die-hard Kestrels fan, shouts, “Everyone wearing green gets a free round!”

The pub goes mad. Oh yes. Tomorrow morning will be hell.





Author's Note:  Thank you to everyone who made it this far!  I'm really excited about this story.  It's the first comedy I've written, and also the first story I've started in about four years.  Stick with me, I promise the whole story isn't going to be Dean, Seamus and Edie slurring incoherently in a loud room.  The next chapter will be written and posted soon.

Please let me know what you think!

Edited 1.22.13


Chapter 2: The Job Thousands would Kill For
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♔ CHAPTER TWO ♔


Despite having a headache akin to the Cruciatus Curse, I am attempting to read the paper. My favorite, to be exact: the Oracle Underground. I can barely see it in my tiny corner of Witch Weekly’s headquarters, though. The watery morning light is a poor substitute for a reading lamp, thank-you typical London autumn. Even though the walls are covered in windows, it’s still pretty dim. Squinting at the headlines, I warm my hands around one of the few candles I’ve conjured onto my massive desk. This corner of the building (an 1800s stone mammoth) is where they cram all the interns. The trendy bit, with gleaming white brick and polished stone floors, is apparently reserved for those on payroll. The stone corridors constantly echo with the clicking of high heels and magical typewriters, like the drumbeat on a Viking ship. Huge moving photographs of waifish models dominate the walls. They keep pretty quiet, mostly just standing and pouting their lips.

Not helping the grim surroundings is my long-since dead potted plant. It was a gift from my Mum, meant to brighten my desk, but plants aren’t really my thing. In fact I received a T in Herbology in my Sixth Year. Eventually Professor Sprout left me strictly to clear-up duty, to save her greenhouse.

My stomach rumbles, and I turn to my shoulder-bag. It’s always charmed to fit a million things, and I know that there’s a cheese sandwich in there somewhere. After searching shoulder-deep for several minutes, I extract the sandwich wrapped in parchment. But one smell of food sends my stomach turning.

With an inhuman sound I shove the sandwich into the depths of the bag. “Last time I’m coming to work hung over,” I vow, just like I did last week.

Turning my bleary eyes back to the newspaper, I try to focus. I’ve only got another few minutes before my internship advisor will create another menial task. The paper is open to an article on the Female Goblin Coalition strike happening at Gringotts. For the past several months they’ve been protesting the bank for refusing them employment. Of course it’s all under the table. No Goblin in his right mind would actually admit that Gringotts won’t hire them simply because they’re female. But really, have you ever seen a lady-Goblin at work? According to the article, the protesters have been withdrawing all of their funds in defiance.

There’s a photograph as well. It’s Grimma Longfinger, the commanding voice for the Female Goblin Coalition. She’s delivering a speech to a crowd of witches, wizards and Goblins alike. She stands behind a podium upon several stacked boxes, her beady black eyes full of fire. Apparently the woman is an amazing public speaker. The crowd waves their wands in the air, spouting things into the air like EQUAL RIGHTS in sparkling letters.

“Bravo for them,” I say, rubbing my throbbing temple absentmindedly.

If only Witch Weekly would do some sort of media coverage. We have a politics section, but it’s usually featuring "brave young girls" at Hogwarts, fighting for flattering uniforms. I try to imagine pitching an article on the FGC to Mr. Ward, who seems to think women’s heads are filled with body glitter rather than opinions.

I snort. Yeah, that would go swimmingly.

Ward didn’t even know my for the first two weeks I worked for him. Now that we’re past that little hiccup, he always calls me “Edith,” my full name. Man, he really draws out that first “E” too, jutting out his jaw and all. I’m not a fan. (The only other Edith I’ve met was my teacher in primary school; unmarried, with cats and frizzy hair. And if cats generally liked me, I’m sure I’d be headed down the same road.) On the bright side, I can add the following to my CV: sorted towering stacks of parchments, removed messenger owls that get stuck in the Floo chimneys, and contacted the losers of this year’s Most Charming Smile Award with the bad news.

I look to my left, at the stack of Mr. Ward’s correspondence that I’ve spell-checked. It only takes a moment with magic, but really, should an editor need a Spell Checker Spell?

To be fair, Witch Weekly isn’t the worst publication. It does encourage young girls to be strong, have opinions and the like. There is certainly a fair share of gossip rags, and the Prophet has gone to seed. But there are so many important things happening in the world, now that everything’s different. People are able to make positive, constructive changes in their lives. Sometimes we run good articles, but how many times can a Witch want to find out the right bikini for her body type? (Apparently quite often. It’s the highest-selling magazine for young witches in the UK.)

I look back at the Oracle Underground. I would give my left leg for a job there...

Someone comes to stand over my shoulder. When I glance up I’m more than pleased to see Theo Nott, one of the magazine’s photographers. Like magic, the hangover is gone.

Theo is absolutely stunning, and he knows it. Usually I would find that kind of person unattractive, out of spite. But the window in my little corner looks directly onto the exterior of the next building—it’s nice to have something to look at. And I’ve heard more than one WW employee whispering about Theo’s exceptional bum.

His eyes are on the photo of Grimma. “I think that’s so fantastic,” he says in that soft-spoken way of his.

“Isn’t it!” I only notice how loudly I speak when it’s with him.

He sits on the corner of my desk and I can’t say that I mind. He’s wearing a loose-fitting beanie, a v-neck tee shirt and a scarf. It doesn’t make any sense. But god, he wears impractical so well. I do my best to cross my legs sexily but don’t have enough space under my desk and end up kicking his foot.

“Oh! Sorry—”

“Have you heard? There’s going to be a huge protest outside Gringotts next month. Grimma Longfinger is going to deliver another speech. Can’t wait to get it on film,” he says. I spot the magical camera that hangs around his neck, and which I’ve never seen him without. Seriously, I’ve heard he showers with it.

“Really!” I say. One: because I can’t picture Theo, the bathing-costume model photographer, giving a damn about women’s rights. And two: because I can’t wait to go to the protest myself. “Well, I mean,” I tuck my hair behind my ear flirtatiously. Theo messes with the button on his camera, oblivious. “Maybe we could go together?”

He smiles a bit and goes back to his camera. Ahem? Then somebody calls his name from down the little corridor that separates our desks. “See you,” he tilts his chin in a farewell.

“Right, at the rally then! Bye, Theo! Bye!”

I’m still smiling after him like an idiot, actually leaned over my desk to get a look at his bum, when—

WHAM!

“Outgoing.”

As she passes by, in an outfit apparently comprised of London’s entire tweed reserves, Mildred drops a second stack of parchments onto my desk. It rattles my poor brain. I squeeze my head as if trying to choke out the hangover. “Thank you Mildred…"

Mildred is Mr. Ward’s secretary. Kind of the second-in-command over my internship. I have no idea how she’s lasted this long, both in life (she is ancient!) and at Witch Weekly. For working at a magazine run by fashionable girls even younger than me, she sure does dress a lot like Madame Pince.

It’s no secret that she didn’t want me for the internship. Apparently she’d set her sights on some other girl to fill the position. Top marks, already had a degree in journalism, hundreds of extra-curriculars at uni, volunteered at a library and an owl rescue. Just give her a bad treacle recipe and a couple of pet canaries, and she’s well on her way to spinsterhood.

But this year Tallulah Blakeslee, the editor in chief, said that she did not want to head the intern programme. The project was pushed off onto executive editor, Mr. Ward. But before Mildred could sink her claws into a position for her protégé, my knight in shining armor stepped in: Dean. He’s done some commissioned illustrations for Witch Weekly, and knows a dear friend of Mr. Ward. Dean pulled a few strings, and here I am.

“And here I am,” I mutter.

I massage my temples and glare at the parchments. Sure, being hung over at work is not the most professional way of handling myself. But I’m only twenty-six, for Merlin’s sake. It’s not like I’m retiring with pension any time soon. Unfortunately, Mildred knows that I partied like last night was 1999, due to an encounter we had earlier today in the kitchens.

I was in the midst of pouring a pain-relieving potion into my coffee from a flask. One of those stainless steel cauldrons that removes saturated fat was bubbling away on the table, emitting a nauseating smell. (Witch Weekly is a whole other world to me, as my diet consists of cheese and Chocolate Frogs. I’ve also become familiar with those stylish little bracelets that monitor calorie intake and quip motivational things like, “You’re almost down a whole dress size, don’t give up now!” when it senses you eyeing a pudding.)

As the kitchens are in the dungeons, they’re nice and dark. This morning I spent a little more time than necessary in there, away from the light. As I stirred the pain-relieving potion into my coffee, I cursed myself for being so irresponsible, and Seamus for that fifth shot of Firewhiskey—bleugh. My stomach lurched at the thought. And curse Angus for that free Guinness on top of it all.

“Stop thinking about it!” I said aloud, charming my coffee to stir itself.

There was a quiet “Ahem,” from behind. With my back to the door I hadn’t seen Shelob, as Dean calls her, drop down from her web. Mildred stepped into the room, and then some. She really has a knack for standing entirely too close for comfort.

“Wotcher, Mildred,” I said. Her eyes landed on the pocket of my skirt, where I had stashed my flask. I laughed, whipping it back out, “Oh! This. No, not a flask. Well it is a flask. But it’s not what you’d think, although a little hair of the dog probably wouldn’t hurt right now, if you know what I mean!”

What is wrong with me?

“No, it’s just a bit of pain-reliever. See, I did a little of the...” I winked dramatically and gestured as if drinking from a bottle, “...last night. It’s not really a big hobby of mine, in fact I’m rarely known to indulge in an adult beverage.” Lies. She knows all. Panic. “Well, it’s just that last night the Kenmare Kestrels beat the absolute shit out of Flanders. Er, sorry, I meant—beat the living daylights out of ‘em.”

Mildred hadn’t so much as blinked and I murmured, “…went out on the town...”

There was a long silence.

Miss Lennox,” Mildred began sternly. I managed to exhale an “Oh thank Merlin” before she continued, “May I remind you that this is Witch Weekly. You have been given the honor of serving Britain’s highest-selling magazine for women. There are, quite literally, thousands of other young witches in London who would kill to have your position. These women are, in many cases, more qualified and more... dedicated.”

I began to see where this was going.

“There is a blue folder currently sitting on my desk, which contains the contact information for each and every one of them. I suggest that you don’t give me reason to use it.”

In the time she had delivered her little speech, I went from standing as I normally do (tall with a hand on my hip) to huddling over my coffee. “Yes, mum,” I found myself whispering.

Mildred actually had a point. How was I supposed to gain anyone’s respect if I showed up hung over, or still tipsy from the night before? (Sadly, the latter has happened more than I’d like to admit.) For once, it seemed Mildred and I actually agreed on something. She even made what I’m sure was her first attempt to smile of this century. And then she gave me a little cheek-pat and I found myself questioning my time at Witch Weekly all over again.



I am carrying out my lunch break as usual: alone at my desk. I’m eating some tasteless soup from my coffee mug, trying not to dribble on my proofreading. I am doing my best to take Mildred’s words to heart, while simultaneously putting the cheek-pat out of my mind. A thousand other girls would kill for this job. Hard to believe. But apparently I could be replaced at the drop of the Sorting Hat. Maybe it really is time to step things up—which is why I’m spending my precious lunchtime finishing a record amount of proofreading.

I can’t help my bitter, That’ll show the old wretch.

On my trip to the kitchens for my fourth cup of coffee I pass Rose Zeller, the closest thing I have to a friend here. By “friend,” I mean that we have a mutual understanding that we’re using one another to pass the time. I’m there to listen to her problems with boys and work—or pretend to, while I bewitch office supplies to play Quidditch—and she nods absently through my tirades. She can be petty, and dear Christ, if I have to hear about Theo’s “perfectly sculpted bum” one more time. (Even though it is. Seriously. Have you ever seen Michalengelo’s David?) Several months back they had a one-night stand. We went back to our old habits: she needed someone to listen to her Theo problems. Meanwhile I seized the opportunity for a female drinking buddy. Times were hard, after Lisa went back to Justin and their fondue parties or what-have-you.

It took quite some time to get over my initial jealousy. In fact it’s pretty much still there. Rose is three years younger than me and already has a journalism career. Back at Hogwarts, I was writing before she’d even hit puberty. Today she’s wearing a turquoise pencil skirt and her signature trendy red-framed glasses.

I offer her a wave as we pass. She only sighs heavily and storms past me. Merlin, what’s up everyone’s arse today? I decide to blame it on lack of coffee.

Rose isn’t all that bad. She’s pretty much down for anything, and likes to have fun. On top of that, she’s beautiful. Her skin glows in a freakish elf-like way, and her grey eyes are even brighter. At first I was surprised at her being single.

Seamus even asked me to set them up once, when he visited WW to bring me Chinese takeaway. By that time, Rose had drunkenly revealed to me that she often walks by Theo’s flat at the precise time that he goes for coffee—9:36—to stage a run-in. Seamus’s interest faded pretty quickly after that. Unfortunately, so did his desire to drop by with takeaway.

I am in the midst of pouring my coffee, and am probably smiling at it a bit too much, when Rose enters. She runs a hand through her dark hair and says, “I’m sorry, Edie.” There is a moment of silence. Clearly I am to ask her what is wrong. I take the bait; maybe she’s upset enough for a pint later.

“Alright?” I sip my coffee.

She holds a folder of parchments in her hand, “It’s this stupid assignment.”

I bite my tongue. I don’t think you understand how enormous of an accomplishment this is for me. At least you have assignments, I internalise.

Bury it deep down inside, Edie. Healthy.

I hoist myself up to sit on the heavy wooden table, because Mildred hates it. “What’s wrong with the assignment?”

“It’s an interview for our Quidditch section. It was sprung on me last-minute, on top of a cover story and organising our spread for winter coats.” I am having a very hard time feeling sorry for her. “I mean, it’s a really big piece. For this month’s issue. That gives me, what? Just over a week to have it done from start to finish. And it would require a really in-depth interview. On top of knowing absolutely nothing about Quidditch—”

“Mmm!” I barely manage to turn my rage into a loud noise indicating agreement.

I should have that article! I probably still have Kestrel-green paint on my face.

“Listen,” I butt in. “I just remembered. I have a…thing.”

She quirks an eyebrow, clearly not buying it, “Really.”

“Yeah. Really huge, actually,” I back away, mostly to put her out of throttling range. “But hey, rotten luck with being handed a monumental piece like that. Especially amidst all of those other cover stories.” Before she can get another word in, I dart out the door.

As I head down the corridors I realize my hands are clenched, threatening to crack my coffee mug. When I reach my desk, I sit down heavily. Maybe I was too hard on Rose. But it’s infuriating to go day-in, day-out in this place where somebody like me, dying to become a writer, is ignored. More than infuriating. The stack of parchments to be proofread has multiplied in my absence, meaning Mildred is still angry with me. I push my bowl of soup to the corner, where it won’t be in the way. Suddenly I’m not very hungry.



Usually when Mr. Ward calls me into his office, it’s to ask for a cup of tea or to copy a stack of parchment. I remember the first time it happened, I was so sure that I was about to be handed a major assignment. Beaming, I had marched all the way down to his office, wondering exactly which area of the magazine in which I’d be working. Wardrobe. No, Layout? Maybe I’d even do some writing!

Well, in the end, the task he gave me was serious...

-ly irritating.

“Read it back to me, Edith,” he had said calmly.

“Smoked ham, yellow mustard, spinach, one tomato slice, lightly toasted rye.”

He smiled and nodded the whole way as if I were reciting the Iliad from memory. When I had finished he said, “Excellent work. I’m very confident that you’ll do well. You do know where Broomhilda’s Kitchen is located?”

That was the day I had lost all faith in Mr. Ward.

Today when I walk into his office with my quill at the ready, he’s in the midst of editing something. I stop in the doorway, unsure, but he waves me in without lifting his head. Mr. Ward is in his late fifties I would say, with a long horse-like face and badly parted hair. The way he is currently reading the parchment looks very affected, with a finger tucked under his chin. I stand uncomfortably.

Owls periodically swoop in and out, nearly colliding with one another, dropping parcels and letters onto a second wooden desk. (I’m not sure why we haven’t taken a page from The Ministry’s book and moved on to paper airplanes, but I’ve learned not to question anything.) The papers magically sort themselves, a constant blur of envelopes.

My eyes wander around the office. An enormous window overlooks the streets of Diagon Alley where people go about their daily business. Mounted to the walls are countless journalism awards, honourary degrees, and other recognitions. In fact there are so many that Mr. Ward has charmed them to shift around so that they may all be seen. Apparently what he lacks in common sense and social graces, he makes up for in writing. My eyes land on a photograph of him shaking hands with the Minister of Magic. Keep writing! is scrawled in the bottom corner, though when I look closer the penmanship actually looks a lot like Mr. Ward’s.

He makes a final editing mark with an exaggerated flourish of his quill, bringing me back. Then he tosses the parchment over his shoulder. “Sit, Edith,” he says.

Usually whatever he requires of me is insignificant enough to be fully explained while standing. The chair is small and uncomfortable and I wait as he fixes his tie. “Edith, Edith, Edith. I have to say, you’ve done very well with all of your assignments so far.” I fight the deadpan expression trying to take over as he says, “You have definitely proven yourself to be a valuable part of Witch Weekly. I’d say it’s time for you to take on a much bigger task.”

I almost don’t believe him. My heart skips a beat, “Really?”

“Really. The magazine is going to be partaking in an absolutely huge event at Gringotts next month.” He adds with a half-smile, “I’m sure you know exactly which event I’m talking about.”

The Female Goblin Coalition rally! Witch Weekly is going to run a story with actual substance. And they want me to help. Me! I can finally prove that I’m good for more than pulling owls from fireplaces!

Mr. Ward folds his hands on his desk and leans forward. I can smell his coffee breath. I don’t care. Having a hand in covering this protest is going to be a life-changing opportunity.

“Edith,” he says. This time I don’t even mind the use of my full name. He pauses. Slight dramatic exhale. “We need you.”

“I will be there!” I gush, emphatically poking the surface of his desk.

But I do this just as he is saying, “To man the refreshments table.”

I cannot stop my “HA!” of disbelief. My finger jams harder into the wood grain. You have got to be joking. Mr. Ward is beaming back like an idiot. “So... this isn’t about the Female Goblin Coalition strike.”

He makes a “Pfft” sound and shoos away the very idea with his hand. “Of course not. Bunch of whinging midgets in skirts, the lot of them.” I open my mouth to protest in horror but he barrels on, “No, Gringotts is holding the reception for the annual WNSG—that’s the Wizarding News Society Gala—and we are of course attending. It’s just next month. Can’t believe you haven’t heard about it.”

As if on cue, an owl screeches and drops a parchment on my head. I snatch the parchment, crumpling it slightly. “Gringotts Bank Presents the Four-Hundred-and-Twelfth Annual Wizarding News Association Gala,” I read. There is a horrible little illustration of Goblin and a business-wizard chortling over brandy.

“So, what do you say,” Mr. Ward rests his hands behind his head. I’m waiting for him to prop up his expensive Dragonhide shoes. “Are you our girl?”

I stare in disbelief, still clutching the parchment. The magazine is actually supporting Gringotts right now? A publication marketed to women is associating with a blatantly sexist institution? I want to shout that I already knew what the WNAG is, that I quit, that I’m a better journalist than he has ever bothered to find out. But this internship is all the journalism experience that I have...

“I’m your girl.”

“Great!” He slaps the arms of his chair. Then, without another word he picks up his quill and gets back to work, doing whatever it is that he does all day. Not that I could possibly know, since as my mentor he hasn’t actually told me what his job entails.

I slowly rise to my feet, allowing myself to stand there, waiting, as if he may suddenly shout, “Gotcha!” But Mr. Ward is far too intent on his work. I turn to the door.

“Oh, and Edith?”

I stop in my tracks and squeeze my eyes shut. Do not hex your character reference, do not hex your character reference... It’s become my mantra over the past few months. I turn on my heel and manage a bright, “Yes?”

He looks at me with sentimental appreciation, like somebody who can’t believe how quickly their child has grown. “I would absolutely love a cup of tea,” he nods emphatically.

“Of course,” I reply through my teeth and set off to find his preferred brand, Madame Puddifoot’s Authentic Breakfast. Decaffeinated, the twat.




Author's note: Hello everyone, and thank you so much for checking out my story. Thanks to princesspatience, ghostfire, EnigmaticEyes16 and JJFuzzyhead on the forums for their help creating grunt-work for Edie at her internship.

Edits 10/17/14 - Now that I'm almost done with writing the story (I can't believe it!) there are some small changes here and there. Namely I wanted Witch Weekly to feel a like less of a joke publication. Also, Rose is no longer pitted against Edie, a "cool girl who watches Quidditch with the guys," for being an effeminate character.

Thanks again, and please review! I absolutely live for that stuff :)


Chapter 3: The Proposition
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♔ CHAPTER THREE ♔


“I have got to get the hell away from that place,” I say to Lisa as I pour the tattooed wizard his stout. It’s been a week since Ward has given me this golden opportunity at the WNAG. I’ve done my best to avoid him since, once or twice not going in to WW at all, before realizing I don’t have much else to do.

Today was one of those days. I’ve just arrived from Witch Weekly to take on my evening shift at the Poisoned Apple. I’m exhausted, but it’s only 7:00 and the real action won’t begin for hours. Lisa has decided to drop by after her shift at St. Mungo’s, Merlin bless her. She’s even more knackered than me after pulling another all-nighter. I can see her fighting to stay awake, but she’s too polite to tell me she’d rather be cuddling with Justin in her underwear than listening to my problems.

I sit the stout down before the tattooed wizard. He’s pretty fit, in my opinion. “Three Sickles,” I smile, leaning unnecessarily over the bar. But he isn’t listening. He is, of course, staring down the way at Lisa.
I shut my eyes. Honestly, at this point it pains me to watch.

Even in her state of exhaustion Lisa looks like a supermodel. Her skin is pale with lack of sleep, but it only looks like she’s been out all night taking body-shots off the Weird Sisters. I took a long time getting dressed tonight. Meanwhile Lisa is wearing an inside-out cardigan she’s too exhausted to notice.

She and I went out last weekend, and I was beyond keen. That is, until I remembered that walking into a bar with her is like walking into a flock of Hippogriffs with a particularly scrumptious-looking dead weasel. All night I was stuck blathering away to the barkeep while man after man wedged himself between Lisa and I to talk to her. Finally I charmed her engagement ring so that it glittered blindingly, even in the dim light. That seemed to slow them down (though admittedly not all of them.) Lisa didn’t mind my trick; in fact I could tell she felt sorry for me. Her pity inspired my sixth gin and tonic, and also my decision to use a voice-amplifying charm to tell a girl across the bar that her left breast had popped out of her shirt. We left pretty quickly after that—me with smudged lipstick and Lisa with the names of two guys she was too polite to turn down.

At least Dean and Seamus count as male attention, right?

I recall our most recent night of watching Quidditch, when Seamus tried to suffocate me with a pillow for cheering on the Kestrels’ opponents. Meanwhile Dean just laughed and refused to help as he ate my entire stock of Licorice Wands.

No. That does not count as male attention at all.

I’d like to think that I’m a good-looking girl... At least when I’m not within a three-mile radius of Lisa. I have clear skin, strong cheekbones and wide brown eyes. I’m curvy too, which I think some men are supposed to like. But let’s face it: blondes will always win out over us gingers.

“Three Sickles!” I now snap at the tattooed wizard, who jumps out of his Lisa-reverie. He passes the coins over and chuckles as if to say, Can you blame me? I grumble a thanks and stalk back down to Lisa. She is too exhausted to have noticed anything.

“You aren’t letting on to Dean, are you?” she stirs her coffee.

I don’t know how she drinks that rubbish. The Poisoned Apple has some of the worst coffee on the planet. But I suppose when your nights are spent collecting bedpans and reading charts you’ll do anything to stay awake. She waves her hand in front of my eyes, because clearly I am not paying attention. “It was nice of him to get you an internship. You haven’t told him that you hate it, have you?”

When I only shift uncomfortably, she clicks her tongue in admonition, “Edie…”

I throw my hands up. “Well? You can’t expect me to control every word that comes out of my mouth when we’re drinking! I can barely do that sober.”

“Right, but it’s Dean,” she says.

“I know, he’s my best mate.” Lisa fixes me with a serious gaze and I add, “Aside from you!”

“That’s not what I was saying.”

I open my mouth to retaliate (surprise), but suddenly the bar door is thrown open. A small herd of people stumbles in. I check my watch, but it’s only 7:30. Nowhere near the usual time for rowdy drunks. Yet here they are: three witches and two wizards. The women are wearing short glittery dresses despite the chilly September air, while the men are in tailored blazers that probably cost a month’s rent on my flat. An involuntary sound of disgust escapes me. I know the type: posh socialites from Chelsea who stumbled across this pub and don’t know a good beer from a broomstick. I’ll be making ridiculously difficult cocktails all night.

They all look to be a few years older than I. And they’re absolutely off their faces. I can tell by picking up on subtle hints, such as how one man raises his arms and releases a war-cry that silences the pub.

Lisa fails to suppress her smirk, downing the last of her coffee. “And on that note,” she rises and collects her purse.

“Right. Well, it looks like we’ll both be getting fucked tonight,” I say crudely, “though I don’t reckon this lot will buy me breakfast.”

Lisa just twiddles her fingers at me in a farewell. She’s enjoying this far too much. As she leaves through the front door, every male’s eyes are trained on her. Their gazes then switch to the beautiful witches stumbling up to the bar in their pumps. I hear them trying to remember the name of “that one cocktail they had in Edinburgh. It had some kind of juice in it. Or something.”

Life is just not fair.



It turns out that these people are essentially harmless. The women at least are friendly. And in really amazing shape, I think, noticing their toned arms. The only exercise I get is sprinting back and forth behind this bar like a caged terrier. They have a celebrity air about them—maybe it’s the way they hold themselves, or their way of talking, but everyone is noticing. In fact I spot a few people murmuring with their heads together, staring at them. So who are they?

“Excuse me.”

One of the men is leaning on the bar. He’s tall and stocky, with messy brown hair and the beginnings of a beard. looks familiar to me, but I can’t place him—probably because he’s wearing a pair of expensive sunglasses. Even though he’s indoors, and it’s nighttime. It’s a wonder he even found his way to the counter, seeing how dim the pub is. When he orders a drink, his accent sounds Eastern European. He has to repeat himself twice, because every time he speaks, his counterparts erupt into laughter from their table. They’re watching our interaction and I get the feeling that I’m the butt of some kind of joke. I roll my eyes and chalk it up to drunkenness.

“Sank you,” he nods curtly as I slide him his Old Fashioned. (His friends chortle again.)

As the night progresses, I lose track of every cocktail he and his friends have me make. They want champagne with gin and huckleberry vodka with muddled grapefruit salt on the rim bitters over a sugar cube shaken not stirred and on and on and on…. By the end of it, I’m ashamed to say, I’m pouring juice with sparkling water. They’re too drunk to notice. But they have become entirely too much to handle.

I’ve kicked my fair share of kicking people out of pubs, and being kicked out. But for some reason, these posh socialites are intimidating. One of the women, a girl with dark hair and green eyes, also looks familiar to me. She’s the soberest of the group, with a serious demeanor. She sends me little apologetic looks now and then, but does nothing to stop the men from making complete asses of themselves. After their third mentioning that they’ve been drinking since 4:00 in the afternoon, my patience is running thin. They’re even more difficult to tolerate when I have to coax the Eastern European down from their table, where he has begun belting a horribly off-key rendition of "I Will Always Love You." All night I’ve managed to endure their volume—they sound like they’re screaming across a gorge at one another rather than sitting at the same table. So far I’m just seriously irked.

However, the scale tips in favour of “completely furious” when I run to the ladies’ loo, in one of the spare seconds they give me, only to find the Eastern European man in there. Still wearing his sunglasses.

Pissing on the wall.

“Oh my GOD!”

Believe it or not, part of my job is dealing with a lot of drunk people. It’s an occupational hazard. But this certainly takes the Snitch.

The man swivels in horror. Yet he doesn’t seem to think he should stop urinating. I focus all of my energy into looking him in the eye—or stupid lopsided sunglasses—as he says in bewilderment, “I think you’re in the wrong loo!”

It’s a moment before the murderous red stops clouding my vision. I jab my finger at the door and scream, “OUT!”

At last he realizes that he, in fact, has gotten it all wrong. He mumbles something incoherent and stumbles out, leaving me with a huge mess to clean. Not only has he pissed everywhere, but he managed to overflow the sink and topple the bin in the process. In which he has apparently vommed.

Thank Merlin for magic. It makes the task quick, but no less revolting. Go ahead and add that to the list of things I never want to experience again. I don’t see how Lisa does this at the hospital on a regular basis.

As soon as the loo is clean(-ish) I throw open the door, shoulders heaving. The Phantom of the Loo has apparently not mentioned his recent adventure to his friends, as none of them seem to be acting out of the ordinary. Ignoring the tattooed wizard’s request for another pint, I storm across the bar and grab the piss-vandal by his expensive shirt.

“Whoa!” his mate smiles widely, giving me a suggestive look.

I open my mouth to scream I-don’t-know-what, but before I even know what’s happening this arsehole grabs my waist and plants his mouth on mine. It is easily the sloppiest kiss—if you could even call it that—I have ever experienced. In fact a bit of my nostril is in his mouth. My hands are on his shoulders immediately, and I shove as hard as I can. He stumbles and two of the girls catch him, mouths open in shock.

“I DIDN’T COME OVER HERE TO KISS YOU, I CAME TO KICK YOU OUT OF MY PUB!”

He raises his hands questioningly, “Vhat for?”

And they all erupt into howls of laughter.

Idiots. All of them.

The other guy throws his arm over his friend’s shoulder—or tries to. I don’t think he has much to offer in the way of motor skills right now. “D’you know who thissis? Thissis bloody Viktor Krum!”

The whole pub goes silent. Even I am taken aback. It does make sense: his build, the accent, how wealthy they all are, why he looks so familiar. But I don’t want to give them the satisfaction.

I am prepared to screech something along the lines of “I don’t care who the bloody hell you are” but at that exact moment, a man in a neighboring group throws his fist into the air, “YEAH, BULGARIA!”

Then Viktor Krum turns around and punches him in the face.

“WHAT the EVER-LIVING FUCK!” I am completely beside myself. The man topples and his friends dive to his rescue, tackling Krum to the floor. Though they are outnumbered, Krum and his friend still try to put up a fight. The green-eyed witch is in the thick of it, bellowing in a deep voice to break it up. The other women have resorted to screaming and fluttering their hands. It’s moments like this when I wonder why nobody is ever smart enough to use magic at pub fights.

Stupefy!”

My spell manages to hit all but one of the fighters, though he thinks better of it and backs away. The brawlers are frozen mid-punch, looking like Picasso’s Guernica. One of the girls gives a final shriek before quieting herself.

“Aaaand that’s last call! Everybody get the hell out, I’m done.”

I perform the counter-spell, ignoring the complaints omitting from everyone. I feel like a mother who’s just told her children that it’s time to leave Honeydukes. The girls are doing their best to pull their friends to their feet, but the combination of high heels and cocktails has made them as wobbly as newborn foals. Before Krum has even made it to a standing position I’ve waved away the blinking OPEN sign with my wand and retreated behind the bar. I can’t stand the sight of them.

“But I never got my stout!” The tattooed wizard gives a pretty impressive whine considering his bulk.

Unable to even look at any of them, I raise a hand. “Mate, I just cleaned up somebody’s vomit, and was then kissed by that same mouth. Trust me. If anyone needs a beer, it’s me.” He must reckon he can’t argue with that, because when I turn around he’s gone.

One by one, Viktor Krum’s friends come up to settle their bills. It’s a slow-going process but I am grateful to not have to deal with them in a group. The girls continue to apologise profusely and I think they genuinely mean well. Krum’s mate doesn’t speak to me at all when he settles his tab, which I’m not too heartbroken about. I slam his change down haughtily, “Have a brilliant night.”

Eventually I have to turn around and perform some breathing exercises that Lisa taught me. Before she became a Mediwitch, she was a yoga instructor—I know, could she be any more desirable? She often forced me to attend her classes. She said it would help my stress. What Lisa didn’t quite understand was that my stress was partially due to the fact that she was getting paid to be fit while I was cleaning loos in a seedy Diagon Alley hotel.

I am almost in my happy place (Dean, Seamus and I frolicking through a field towards a giant pint of ale at the end of a rainbow) when I hear a quiet, “‘Scuse me.”

I open my eyes and find Viktor Krum leaning on the bar. His expensive blazer has been ripped at the shoulder and his left eye is already swelling shut. Clumsily he takes a seat in one of the stools. “Really sorry,” he manages. He gestures pathetically towards his mouth and I assume he means the kiss.

I respond tersely, “Nine Galleons, two Sickles, seventeen Knuts.”

Whereas I would be horrified at such an amount, Krum merely sets to fishing around in his trouser pockets. I suppose things like this are common to a wealthy Quidditch star. I turn away, waving my wand at the sink to filling it with soapy water. As I charm the pint glasses to wash themselves, I see Krum’s reflection clearly in the mirrors on the wall. He takes forever to count out the proper coinage, which he sets down on the bar. I can feel his eyes on my back as he waits quietly.

I turn, expecting to count out change, but he just slides the pile of closer. “Keep the rest,” he slurs. I nod slightly, not making eye contact. “I really am sorry,” he says again as he stumbles to his feet. A sarcastic salute is all he receives in return.

I’m still refusing to look at him and eventually he makes his way back to the others. When I can see that he is no longer paying attention, my curiosity gets the best of me. Quickly I count the pile of money. To my surprise he’s left me a three-Galleon tip.

“Go Bulgaria,” I mutter.

I count the coins again, this time in terms of how many stress-beers they will buy. No doubt Seamus and Dean are already way ahead of me. There’s a Haileybury Hammers match tonight, and they’ve long been at my flat watching the two-way mirror. (I gave them the password to the front door. Not sure yet if this is a good or bad idea.) No doubt they’re already yelling at the players and decimating my meagre supply of food.

Finally everyone is leaving. Krum offers a pathetic wave as he stumbles out, which I ignore. When the door closes I release the enormous breath that I’d apparently been holding. I lean back on the bar, folding my arms and reveling in the silence. When I flick my wand at the jukebox, Talking Heads start playing an upbeat little song. Then, thinking more like myself, I subtract four Sickles from my tip jar and pour myself a Firewhiskey and sparkling water.

It’s not until an hour later, as I am locking the door in the chilly night air, that I realise it. Viktor Krum’s Bulgarian accent had completely disappeared when he came to apologise to me. In fact, he’d almost sounded Scottish.

“Edie.”

“FATHER CHRISTMAS!” The first exclamation I think of flies from my lips. I drop my too-full keychain and it lands painfully on my toe. Hopping on one foot while massaging the other, I rotate slowly and come face-to-face with Rose Zeller. Her hands are stuffed into the pockets of a bright red pea coat, eyebrow quirked in disbelief.

That’s how you respond to somebody sneaking up on you? I could’ve hexed you three times over.”

Ignoring the jibe, I release my throbbing foot, “What are you doing here?”

“Well I came to find you. Did you close the pub early? It’s only midnight.”

“Really long story,” I sigh, waving her off. I’m trying not to focus on the fact that my only kiss in months was from a guy who had just thrown up in a ladies’ room. “Wait, why did you want to find me?”

She scoffs, “Could you be any more suspicious?”

“Well, I just never really saw us as, you know.”

Friends. The word hangs in the air.

After a painful moment she says, “I have a favour to ask.”

Oh no.

“Well, let’s not just stand here in the cold. Do you fancy a pint?” But I’ve already started walking. If I’m going to be asked to set her up with Theo again, I’m at least going to get a beer out of it. Rose hurries after, the heels of her boots click-clacking down the cobblestones.

Several minutes later we arrive at Le Chat Noir and shuffle into the warmth of firelight. It’s not a place that I typically haunt, but I saw the look on Rose’s face upon seeing my first choice. Maybe it was the one-eyed wizard hunched outside, hacking up a lung and asking for money. Now I glimpse Rose casting approving looks at Le Chat Noir’s hip decor, and hope that this is all over quickly. I have a Quidditch match to watch. We make our way to one of the polished black tables in the corner.

The barmaid has short bleached hair and a septum piercing, and takes our orders with indifference. Rose coolly orders a double vodka soda with a flick of her hair. Kicked back with arms crossed I order a Peverell Porter, a heavy beer with high alcohol content. The barmaid nods curtly, eyeing us. I get the impression that she thinks we’re a couple.

“So,” I say after she disappears. “A favour, eh?”

Rose studies me, and then reaches into her purse. She pulls out a blue folder brimming with parchments that slams onto the table with considerable weight. I laugh, “Please tell me you’re not keeping files on Theo now.”

She glowers, “This isn’t about Theo.”

“Oh?”

“This is about the Quidditch article I don’t want to write.”

Oh,” I sit up. Is this what I think it is? I’m trying not to get my hopes up. After all, Mr. Ward crushed them (and then some) last time. But Rose is smiling knowingly and I’m getting a faint tingling in my stomach.

“Thought that might interest you,” she flips open the folder. Reminding myself to stay calm, I lean back as the barmaid arrives with our drinks. Rose studies her drink, takes a sip, smacks her lips thoughtfully and—will you go on?!

At last she says, “I talked to Ward about giving you the article instead.”

My hand shoots across the table, almost knocking over my beer, and grabs her wrist. “You didn’t!”

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Rose takes another sip, not meeting my eyes. “He said no.”

“What! Why? Honestly, has Ward even glanced at my portfolio? I have some very impressive work from Hog—”

“Edie,” she says impatiently. “I’m still asking for your help. Or rather, suggesting that we help each other.”

I don’t like her tone, or the glint in her eye. I’m beginning to see where this is going. Bartering with journalists is something I’ve always been wary of. It’s an unspoken rule of the game; something gleaned from black and white Muggle films where men in jaunty hats get themselves into sticky situations by making deals with the press.

But if this is what I think it is…

I decide to be casual, taking a long sip of my beer. There’s no point in giving her any more leverage. She eyes me impatiently but I only give the slightest shrug of my shoulders, “So, what then?”

I can practically see Seamus high-fiving me approvingly, “Nailed it!”

“Well, obviously Ward wants it to be written by an actual, seasoned journalist—” my hand clenches around the pint glass, “—but I just don’t have the time. I know, I know. This is not how journalism is run. If you’re given an assignment, you keep it; you see that it gets done, especially when Tallulah Blakeslee gives it to you personally. Blah, blah, blah.”

“How in the world did you get a job over me?” I murmur breathlessly.

“I suppose it’s my fault for not budgeting my time. But that’s beside the point. I’m too busy to write this assignment, but it needs to be done, and Ward needs to think that I’m the one who did it.” Slowly Rose slides the folder across the table.

“…And you want me to write it under your name.”

My intention is to say this flatly, as if it’s a stupid idea, but I can’t. Of course it’s unethical. Of course my hard work would be going unnoticed, again. And this is very unlike Rose. She’s always been very responsible and punctual with her assignments, sometimes writing upwards of five per issue. At the same time, this is the best opportunity to present itself in all my time at Witch Weekly. A chance to conduct a serious interview. It would mean real-life experience writing for an actual magazine. My heart stops.

It means I would be a published journalist.

Rose cracks a grin, “See what I’m getting at here?”

It occurs to me that she knew exactly what she was doing all along. Cleverer than I thought, this one. I’m beginning to feel trapped, even though technically I’m the one doing a favour. I take a long drink, eyes never leaving the blue folder. There has to be a catch somewhere, something that can blow up in our faces. In fact there are probably hundreds of catches. But my excitement and the Firewhiskey from earlier are keeping me from seeing them.

I can’t help my grin, “All right. I’ll do it.”

Rose lets out a squeal. Apparently we’ve both given up on being cautious. “Oh, thank you Edie, thank you thank you thank you! This is such a relief.”

Despite my attempts to stay calm, in seconds I’ve opened the folder to flip through the parchments. They’re mostly clippings, though there are a few handwritten notes. I have to stop myself from laughing when I come across a diagram Rose has made in an attempt to understand Quidditch. Next to the word “Snitch,” she has drawn an arrow pointing to, “Throw it?”

“How is it you know nothing about Quidditch? You went to Hogwarts.”

She shrugs, “I went to a few matches. I’m not interested in sports, though. I find them vulgar and brutal.” She goes on, “So. The article is a feature piece on a player from Puddleme—”

“PUDDLEMERE.” I have slammed down my glass mid-sip, beer sloshing. “PUDDLEMERE UNITED.”

Rose stares blankly, “Yes?”

Once my pulse is back to normal, I put out a reassuring hand, “Let me explain.”

I launch into my prepared story, about how they are one of my top-three Quidditch teams (after Kenmare, before Holyhead.) I also mention my pair of knickers that read Chuck that Quaffle Here across the bum, from their team anthem. In the most abridged history lesson I can offer, I explain that Puddlemere made it to last year’s European Cup. The game lasted an agonizing seven hours, but I held fast through it all, glued to my two-way mirror. We would have won, had it not been for Seeker Amelia Jones pulling a Wronski Feint—why, why would you do that, Jones?—and crashing into the ground. As soon as she was down, the Seeker from the Appleby Arrows saw the Snitch. It was all over in seconds. The following week was a dark one for me.

I gaze reverently into space. But I may as well be speaking Greek, as Rose is nodding with eyes glazed over. “Yeah,” she says with false enthusiasm.

“So. Who will I be interviewing? Jones? I hope it’s Jones. I’ve been dying to ask her about that Feint for over a year, to the point of losing sleep. But she’s never answered my fan mail…”

“Well, the first interview is set up for tomorrow morning at ten.”

“Tomorrow morning! That doesn’t give me any time to prepare!”

“Well you’re already a walking dictionary on the subject. What more do you need to know about Pogglemore?”

“Puddlemere.”

Rose pulls out her lipstick and mirror, “Anyway, you’re interviewing Oliver Wood.”

My jaw drops. Wood was a major component of Puddlemere’s success over the past five years. Even better, he’s been turned into a martyr because he injured his shoulder. He’s been out for an entire season doing physical therapy. Puddlemere’s next match will be his first time back on a broomstick. Maybe he’s slipped off the radar, and sure, I’ve heard a rumour about a drinking problem. But I can practically see my pitch now: unsung Quidditch hero still fighting for his place in the game.

Rose watches herself in the mirror, “Do you know who I’m talking about? You two should have been at Hogwarts together for a bit, but I think he’s a few years ahead of you.”

I laugh condescendingly. “Uh, yeah, I think I know who Oliver Wood is.”





Author's Note: Yay, finally a chapter with Oliver!  I can't wait for him and Edie to have some more substantial interactions.  I went back and edited her talk with Rose so that we get a better feel for exactly how much she likes Quidditch, because I didn't think I conveyed it well enough beforehand.

Updates 11/3/14: Thank you to the reader who informed me that barkeeps in Britain do not typically receive tips. That has been corrected. Other various things have been tidied here and there, mainly Rose's stereotypical "feminine" behaviour being toned down. And thank you to the validators, for putting up with my editing process--I'm sure you've all read various versions of this chapter four times over :)

I do not own Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," or Pablo Picasso's "Guernica."



Chapter 4: An Interview with Mister Wood
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CHAPTER FOUR


“You have got to be effing kidding me!”

“Edie, that’s brilliant!”

“—first interview since he’s back on the team—”

“—going to look so good on your CV—”

“DID I MENTION PUDDLEMERE?!”

Dean and Seamus have always been supportive to me, though they are much more verbal about it after six pints. It doesn’t hurt that their team, the Haileybury Hammers, won the match. I am sitting on my sofa with a congratulatory bottle of beer (the one they managed to set aside for me) and beaming brighter than I ever have. Seamus and Dean take turns alternatively punching my shoulder, ruffling my hair, hugging me and then shoving me.

I completely missed the match because I stayed at Le Chat Noir, even after Rose. I spent an hour poring over her notes, most of which were accurate. Apparently Rose hadn’t done much research, as there wasn’t a photograph of Wood to speak of. But I wouldn’t be going into the interview empty-handed. My obsession with Quidditch has allowed me to glean some information over the years.

Seamus sits back, smacking a hand over his forehead, “I can’t believe you get to do his first interview since the injury!”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Just because I’m a woman, it doesn’t mean I’m any less passionate—”

“Jesus Christ, Lennox, I didn’t mean you-you. I meant Witch Weekly., of all things. I dunno, I just never saw it as the type of magazine to have any interesting stories. No offense.”

“None taken.”

Seamus sighs, “Plus, I’ve been Wood’s biggest fan since Hogwarts. And have you ever even spoken with him?”

I try to remember. Honestly, I can’t even picture what Oliver Wood looks like. From my calculations he was four years ahead of me, which means he graduated before I had become interested in Quidditch. Being from another Hogwarts house didn’t help.

“Well, no,” I mumble. “But that doesn’t have anything to do with being a good journalist.”

Seamus ignores me, “To think we were in school with the tosser! And look at him now. I never even got to talk Quidditch with him! I tried, but he always just kind of stared at me funny...”

Dean raises an index finger, “That’s because you followed him everywhere and couldn’t formulate a proper sentence. I’m pretty sure he thought you had the hots for him.”

I snort, “Yeah, didn’t you follow him into the locker room before a match once?”

“Even though he was showering?” Dean adds.

Seamus throws up his hands, “All right, all right, let’s not waste time dwelling on the past, mates! So, where exactly is this interview again?”

“The Hog’s Head at ten. Nobody will be there to get in the way…” I say suspiciously. Then I realize why he’s looking at me like that, “Seamus, no.”

“Come on Edie, please!” he begs. “I just want to get a look at him!”

Dean quirks an eyebrow, “And you’re certain you don’t have the hots for him.”

“Bugger off!” Seamus beams him in the forehead with a bottle cap, and says without missing a beat, “It’ll be perfect. It can be just a casual run-in.”

“Seamus, nobody is going to believe that you just happened to be in Hogsmeade, almost ten years after you graduated, the day that a Quidditch player you used to stalk is visiting. Besides, I’m nervous enough. I don’t need you staring from across the room on top of everything.”

“Tell him, sister,” Dean clinks bottles with me. Seamus grumbles but says no more, apparently quelled.

I take the last swig of my beer. It’s getting far too late. I should have been in bed hours ago, though I know sleep will be hard to find. Happiness is still bubbling inside me as I stretch widely, “You two had better stay here again.” I point a stern finger at Seamus, “No drinking and Apparating.” The last time that happened, the poor bugger Splinched himself and had to regrow one of his toes.

“I know, I know,” he mumbles, eyeing his left foot.

I am still wearing my stupid grin as I brush my teeth, change into pyjamas (instead of falling asleep in whatever I’m already wearing, like usual) and carefully select an outfit for tomorrow morning (rather than scraping dirty clothes off the floor.) It’s a time of change.

When I trek back to the kitchen for a glass of water some time later, I notice that my small den/dining room/rubbish storage area is still lit up by the two-way mirror. Seamus is snoring loudly, splayed out on the larger of the two sofas, but Dean is watching a Muggle football match. He’s loved it his whole life, even though Seamus and I would pick Quidditch any day. I fill my glass with water and return to sit beside him.

“I can’t believe this,” I say happily.

“I know, like Ukraine could actually beat Italy,” Dean grins, knowing what I’m actually talking about. He rests his arm on the sofa behind me. “I’m happy for you, Edie.”

Although I’ve always been awkward with sentiment, I manage, “Well it’s all because of your brilliant work landing me the internship. So thanks. It’s been interesting, to say the least, but this whole article would never have happened without it.”

“Don’t thank me yet, Wood might turn out to be a complete arse.”

After my glass of water is finished, and it’s late enough that I may actually be able to sleep, I rise to my feet. “Well, goodnight then.”

“I doubt I’ll get any rest with that racket going on,” he looks at Seamus, who releases a grizzly-like snore on cue. “All the same... 'night, Edie.”

It crosses my mind to ask if Dean would rather sleep in my room with me, but something about that feels weird. I suppose we just haven’t reached that point in our bro-lationship. With a parting grin I crawl into bed. And for the first time in what feels like forever, I drift off to sleep genuinely pleased with the way things are headed.



Unfortunately, the pleasant feeling only lasts for the six hours that I am unconscious. The morning starts off when I awake thirty minutes later than intended. Then it turns out the dress I laid out has an enormous hole, from when I once drunkenly dropped a lit cigarette on myself. I had totally forgotten about it. In a flurry of panic I rush into the living room and try to awake Seamus, who is surprisingly good with clothes-mending charms. But even grabbing his shoulders and shaking them doesn’t budge him. That man has got to be the world’s heaviest sleeper.

I tear through my wardrobe, finally coming across a blue dress that is both clean and modest, and throw it on. Then, just when I am about to Disapparate I smear my mascara everywhere, which Dean has to awkwardly wipe away because I don’t have time to run back to the mirror. Finally I am grabbing my shoulder-bag when I realize that I can’t locate a quill left right or center, even with Summoning Spells, and HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO INTERVIEW SOMEBODY WITHOUT A BLOODY QUILL?!

“Just take mine, you’ll be alright,” Dean assures with a vaguely terrified look. He hands me the expensive artist’s quill I bought him. After blurting a thank-you I turn on the spot, and with a loud crack I am finally gone.

It turns out there is an absolute downpour in Hogsmeade. And I have just Apparated right into the thick of it. With a rather unbecoming shriek I scurry beneath the awning of The Hog’s Head. I mutter a quick charm and warm air jets from my wand. Doing the best I can without a mirror, I dry my hair and clothes so that I no longer resemble a lake monster. When I am finally settled I check my watch. 10:02.

Shit.

I open the door and poke my head in, but there is only the barkeep and a very old witch drinking sherry. No Oliver Wood. I stand beneath the awning, nervously drumming my fingers on my arms. Did he get here early, see that I was late, and leave? With each splash through the puddles my head jerks up, but it’s never him. I really should have tried to find a photograph of him, as he obviously doesn’t know what I look like.

I check my watch again. 10:16. I head inside and claim a small table, ordering what turns out to be a bucket-sized mug of coffee. No wonder Hagrid came here so often; the mug is almost too big for me to lift with two hands. Not the tastiest of brews, but it’ll get the job done. On the table I neatly lay out a roll of parchment, Dean’s quill, a small silvery recording orb that I sort-of-accidentally nicked from Witch Weekly, and the giant folder of notes.

Time passes. Soon it’s 10:45 and I’m running out of excuses for this Oliver Wood.

I am rereading the notes for the thousandth time, when I the rusty bell over the door clangs. I glance up and see Viktor Krum striding in. My stomach lurches in horror. I do not want him to recognize the girl who kicked him out of the pub last night. I hunch over in my seat so that I’m obstructed by the giant coffee tureen.

After a moment I dare a peek. Krum is standing near the bar, wearing those daft sunglasses even though it’s rainy for one, and two he’s indoors. Then I realize that he’s probably covering up his black eye. I wonder what he’s doing here. The longer I watch him, the clearer it becomes that he’s waiting for somebody.

But who?

Then, several things happen at once. Viktor Krum turns in my direction and does a double-take. At the same time I snatch up a page of the Daily Prophet to hide behind. The bell clangs again as the door opens, and I see a very hung over Seamus trying his best to look casual as he saunters in. I’m furious and I don’t have time to think about it—Viktor Krum is making his way over to me.

Bugger, bugger, bugger, he recognizes me.

Then I actually read the paper in front of my eyes and am confronted with a photograph of the very same person. Same unruly brown hair, stocky build, and crooked nose. But this article is not about Viktor Krum. I read the headline: OLIVER WOOD TO RETURN TO PITCH. The resemblance is unmistakable.

No way.

NO EFFING WAY.

The man who claimed to be Viktor Krum is almost to my table. He’s taking off his sunglasses. The name I am too horrified to say is on my tongue, threatening to spill over…

“Oliver Wood!” Seamus throws up his hands in the worst mock-surprise I’ve ever seen.

Wood turns to him, clearly confused. I’m actually thankful for Seamus, because I’m incapable of producing more than a gurgling sound at this point. This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening. This cannot be happening. Wood looks perplexed as Seamus makes his way over, deliberately not meeting my eyes. He struggles to shake Seamus’s hand—is he still drunk from last night?

Everything makes sense. Wood looked so familiar because he plays for Puddlemere. Sure he’s been out for a season, but could I totally have forgotten what he looked like in that time? Or did I really fall for the fake accent? That's why his friends laughed every time he spoke—because he was doing a horrible impression. And he punched out a man for cheering on Bulgaria, because he’s for Puddlemere through and through.

“Finnigan?” Wood mumbles uncertainly. Seamus looks like he’s going to faint. I can hear Wood’s true Scottish accent clearly now, and drop Dean’s quill before I snap it in half.

“Yeah! Seamus Finnigan! Fancy running into you here, I had no idea!”

“Yes, what are you doing here, exactly?” I am standing beside Seamus before I even realize it, practically hyperventilating. Wood towers over us both.

Ignoring me, Seamus turns to the barkeep, “Get this man a pint! On me!”

It’s eleven o’clock in the morning, Finnigan,” I say acidly. I only use his last name when I’m furious. I see a worried look flit across his face.

But Oliver Wood just shrugs, “I’ll take a pint.”
I drop my arms incredulously, but Seamus practically squeals, “Of course! Right away!” And he scurries over to the bar. Wood watches after him as though he’s still not entirely sure how they know each other.

Thrusting a hand out, I say through gritted teeth, “Edie Lennox. I’ll be interviewing you today.”

He smells like a liquor cabinet as he studies my face, “What happened to Rose?”

“She didn’t tell you?”

He shakes his head and yelps when I subconsciously crush his hand with mine. “Sorry,” I grumble. This is really just shaping up to be a marvellous day. “Rose isn’t writing the article anymore. I am.”

Seamus returns with two pints, all smiles. I fix him with a very serious look. But Wood says, “Cheers!” and drains his glass in one long go.

Seamus and I are both staring, me in horror and Seamus as though he had just found his future husband. Wood smacks his lips and smiles pleasantly, as if nothing unusual just happened. Seamus releases an elated little chirp.

“Right,” I put my hands on Seamus’s shoulders, forcing him to turn around. “So nice of you, thank you,” I growl and shove as hard as I can. He shuffles dejectedly over to a corner table with his pint. His eavesdropping will be distracting, but there’s nothing that can be done about it now.

Later, his ass is mine.

“So, shall we?” says Wood.

I turn, arms crossed. He’s looking as though this kind of thing happens every day. “Do you seriously not recognize me?” I fire.

A nervous look crosses his face. “Oh, erm,” he shuffles his feet and winces. After a moment he manages, “So are you...the girl from last night?”

“Yup,” I say flatly.

He massages the corners of his bloodshot eyes. No doubt he is in a lot of pain. “Oh, God. I’m so sorry,” he actually sounds like he means it. I notice that he’s still in the same clothes from the night before. He looks so pathetic, with his hair tousled and his black eye, that I almost want to forgive him.

Then he says, “I didn’t mean to leave, I just figured, well, you were asleep, and didn’t want to have an awkward morning. Bit ironic now, isn’t it?”

My jaw has dropped.

“Because...we’re having an awkward morning anyway...”

“I’m not the ‘girl from last night,’ I’m the barkeep who kicked you and your ridiculous friends out!” I begin to count his list of atrocities on my fingers, “You told me your name was Viktor Krum! And then you pissed all over the girls’ loo, not to mention threw up in it, and then you kissed me, and then you punched a guy out!”

Oliver’s face has gone from pale white to beet red by the time I finish. Behind me, Seamus is cackling away and pounding his first on the table. I had left out the bit about Wood kissing me when I relayed the story to he and Dean. I whirl around, whipping out my wand, “And don’t even get me started on you, Finnigan!”

“Oi!” the barman yells, shaking me from my rage. “If yer goin’ ta do that, take it outside!”

Suddenly I remember that we are in public. I push my hair away from my burning face, trying to calm down. My first official journalism job is not going as planned, to say the least. Slowly I regain my composure, and the barman settles with a warning look. He pretends to wipe down the counter but I know he’s watching us like a Muggle soap opera.

Wood puts a hand over his face in humiliation. “So,” he mutters, “I really did all that?”

“Uh-huh.”

He groans. “This is certainly a first.”

“I’m sure it is.”

“Those guys… They kind of bring out the worst in me.”

“Totally their fault,” I quip.

He looks at me from between his fingers, “That’s not what I meant. I just, uh, try too hard to impress them sometimes.”

This is a strange thing for him to say. A silence passes and I imagine going back to the table, collecting my things, and leaving (but not before giving Seamus a sucker punch to the back of the head.) Then I remember Lisa and her granola-eating, mountain-climbing, organic-hemp-vegan-yoga breathing exercises, and inhale deeply. This is my one shot at a journalism career, I think. One shot.

“So, the interview…?” he says uncertainly.

“Let’s just get this over with.”

He lags behind me to the table and I gesture violently to the empty chair. He plops down, stiffening in pain and groaning under his breath. Oh yeah, he’s definitely feeling last night. I’ve certainly been in the same boat, and recently. If I were a nicer person I would take pity on him, but today I’m not. So instead I take my seat and stare darkly across the table as he massages his temples.

“You don’t have any pain-relieving potions, do you?”

“No,” I bite. Then I push my tureen of coffee across the table. “Just drink some of that, it should help.”

He miserably obeys, and is able to lift the giant mug with his much-larger hands. I study him. There's got to be a way I could turn this around. In fact, it could be easy. Maybe last night had actually been the perfect back-story to an exposé—the kind that the Oracle Underground publishes. “Washed-up Quidditch heartthrob Oliver Wood black-out drunk, making a complete arse of himself in public. Kissing a complete stranger. Even masquerading as a different person.” Witch Weekly will eat this bollocks up.

I decide to leave nothing out.

I tap the recording orb with my wand. It whirrs to life, its glow softly pulsating. Interlacing my fingers, I decide to let drunken Oliver do all the work for me. A smirk spreads across my freckled face. It looks like I’ll be getting my story after all.

“So, Wood,” I say. “Why don’t you start by telling me what you do remember from last night.”





Author's Note: So there you have it, official interactions with Oliver! Unless you count when he was pretending to be Krum... Please let me know what you think, I do so love hearing from readers! Did you like it? Hate it? Did anyone fall for my little trick?

Major updates 11/5/14: Quite a few things changed in this chapter, namely Oliver's character. I will try to make this brief! (Deep breath)

As it now explains (in this chapter and the next) Oliver does not take his interview with Edie seriously. He only did it because his team manager thought it would be good for him. Instead of giving stupid answers for no reason--"more flattering uniforms for Knight Bus drivers"--he's toying with her. She's too proud and stubborn to notice it, but will soon realize it. This now explains why she's so angry with having him as an interview subject. The lack of value he puts in her role as journalist (the thing she values above all) infuriates her. Oliver doesn't like the press. He's a private person, and doesn't want them meddling at all. Therefore his responses to her questions are sarcastic; therefore he didn't mind showing up drunk. He's very sorry for the way he behaved in the pub, when he knew her only as a barkeep. But he's got a bad taste in his mouth from the press, so he cooperates minimally for the interview.

Gorgeous CI by angelic. @ TDA

Chapter 5: A Very Brief Foray into Journalism
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♔ CHAPTER FIVE ♔


I push my Spellotaped reading glasses back up my nose again. My legs are folded in an impossible origami position where I sit at my kitchen table. One day I’ll have a real writing desk, but for now I’m skint, and the table I found outside in the rubbish will have to do. I’ve gone and pilfered the magical typewriter I sometimes get to use at Witch Weekly. After a poorly-done shrinking charm, the thing fit in my shoulder-bag but still weighed the same. Sneaking it out on Friday was quite a chore.

I wave my wand and the parchment rolls itself up to the beginning, so I can see what I’ve written so far. Unlike a Muggle typewriter, this is bewitched with an endless roll of parchment. It can also type via dictation, but I prefer the rounded keys.

It’s 6:00 in the evening and my stomach is growling—I haven’t eaten anything except a stale Cauldron Cake I found in my cupboard—but I have to get my thoughts out on parchment. My interview with Oliver Wood did not go as I had planned, to say the very least. But his arrogance had fuelled my anger, which is now fuelling my writing.

As I type away, Lisa is sitting across from me, flipping through magical wedding magazines that she picked from the newsstand in Diagon Alley. Occasionally she makes an “Oooh!” sound when she comes across something particularly adorable in Bewitched Bride. Normally I would find this endearing, but today it sounds more like a Pygmy Puff chattering away.

Warily, I eye the recording orb sitting on my desk. As time had passed and I force-fed him cup after cup of coffee, he had managed to sober up a bit. So things had actually faired decently—I’d gotten him to answer the dirty gossip questions while he was still drunk, and then when he regained himself I received his “serious” answers (in the most convoluted, abstract sense of the word.)

I tap the orb with my wand. My own voice, charmed so that only I can hear it, rings in my ears. “So, society’s quite different from when you first signed your contract with Puddlemere. In many cases it’s even better off. What changes would you like to see in this new, freer Wizarding world?”

I recall his disinterested shrug as he'd apparently settled on the first thing that came to mind, “Flattering uniforms for Knight Bus drivers.”

I release an angry groan and thwack the recording orb with my wand. Was he just toying with me? He can’t possibly be as daft as he sounded. When I'd asked how he felt about the effects of Quidditch on society, he had said something along the lines of, “I’m happy to give people something to get good and riled up about.”

But what had really hit a nerve—and almost made me snap Dean’s precious quill in two—was when I asked how he felt about the Female Goblin Coalition strike. He had just stared blankly.

“They’re refusing to give work to female Goblins.”

More silence.

I prompted impatiently, “Don’t you view that as a problem?”

“Well of course I do. But what does this have to do with Quidditch?”

Wood’s intentions had been... decent, I suppose. At least he answered all of my questions with minimal sarcasm. But in the end, his intentions didn’t matter. A drunk, arrogant idiot is always going to come across as a drunk, arrogant idiot because he is nothing more than a drunk, arrogant idiot. (An ancient Chinese proverb, I believe.)

Straightening in my chair, I finish a sentence about how Wood smelled as if he’d bathed in Firewhiskey rather than ingested it. Lisa’s voice carries over the punching of my typewriter, “How do you feel about tiered cupcakes instead of a wedding cake?”

“Erratically happy.”

She furrows her brow thoughtfully, “Or maybe we’ll do a bunch of different puddings…”

A flurry of keys, like the angry pecks of birds, is the only answer she receives.

“Edie?” she lifts her head to peer at me.

“I’m not the one you’re marrying, Lisa. Ask Justin.” Not only am I generally irritated about the interview, but Lisa’s talk of weddings is reminding me of exactly how shamefully single I am. But by the time I suddenly realize how selfish this is, she’s already gone quiet. I slump forward, “I’m sorry...”

“It’s alright,” she says quietly. “You’re stressed.”

“No, it’s not alright. I’m not being a very pleasant maid of honour, am I?”

She smiles sadly. I realize exactly how much I’ve been neglecting that my best friend getting married, just because it makes me feel like a loser. Justin is completely mad about her, but he probably isn’t as informed about tulle and floral arrangements and which songs are too cheesy for first dances. (So far we have ruled out anything by Phil Collins on principle, unless of course, it’s In the Air Tonight. Seamus performs a very impressive interpretive dance, if you give him enough beer.)

Lisa brightens as I rest my face in my hands, giving her my undivided attention, “All right then. Tell me more about these tiered cupcakes. Will there be coconut flavour? Because if not I’ll have to veto your decision, as a friend.”

“I’ll take that into consideration. If you tell me what actually happened with Oliver Wood today.”

I release a walrus-like groan and faceplant. So close.

The exact details of the interview have gone unmentioned to everyone. Even Seamus is in the dark, as he’d eventually grown bored with staring at the back of Wood’s head and shuffled home. My mood after the interview, however, was quite understood by everyone. When I had finally Apparated from the Hog’s Head, Dean was still at my flat drawing away in his sketchbook. He had lifted his head, but I made a beeline for my kitchen and cracked open a beer.

I flopped down next to him on the sofa. He looked mildly impressed, “Wow, that bad huh?”

Lisa is patting me on the back of my head. “There there,” she says, though I can hear that she’s grinning. At least somebody finds my despair amusing.

“I’m just so disappointed that he’s a complete idiot,” I say, still face-down. “All of that power and money and influence…”

Lisa says carefully, “Maybe he’s not as bad as you think.”

I lift my head, “Don’t you know about the St. Mungo’s charity? You work there.”

She looks away, which means that yes, she does. Peering at the parchment I read aloud, “Unfortunately, Wood falls a Quaffle’s throw short from philanthropist. He was the only Puddlemere United team member to refuse to donate 10% of his end-of-year earnings to a St. Mungo’s charity drive. The fundraiser took place in Christmas of last year, and went to constructing a new Children’s Ward. Puddlemere’s Seeker Amelia Jones, and Beater Peter Hanchett, donated over 10% each, while team manager Philbert Deverill donated a whopping 25%. Wood has consistently refused to comment on the matter.

She shrugs, “Well, we ended up having enough money…”

“Yeah, because Deverill fronted the rest.”

She looks me squarely in the eye, “Just be certain that you know what you’re talking about before you publish it.”

A beat of silence passes, and I crack an awkward smile, “Bit ominous, don’t you think?”

She blinks as if coming out of a reverie. “Yeah,” she smiles, “I just don’t want you to get into trouble.” I study her uncertainly, but she holds up a picture of a wedding dress that is partially a live swan. In the photograph it flaps its wings and ruffles its tail.

“What do you think? Honest opinion,” Lisa gives her best solemn stare before bursting into laughter.



I don’t stifle my lion’s roar of a yawn. It’s 6:00 in the morning—I’ve forgotten they have one of those—and I’m hunched at a table awaiting Rose. She asked that we meet here, Alchemy Coffee, so that I could hand over the completed article. This decision was reached despite my offering to owl it to her, leave it in her office, hide it under her doormat, anything but this. Two days ago when I had arrived at Witch Weekly, I found what she probably considers to be a cryptic message left on my desk:

Alchemy Coffee on Wednesday. Six o’clock sharp.
Bring you-know-what. Come alone.
-- Anonymous

Despite her attempts to be mysterious I had stomped down to her office, waving the note over my head, “I’m sure you don’t mean six o’clock in the morning!”

Apparently, she had.

And apparently, she did not include herself in that. It’s ten after and still no sign of Rose.

“I’ll kill her,” I note as easily as if I had said, “It’s nice outside.”

Though she could lose her job for plagiarism, at this ungodly hour nothing other than my being awake feels pressing. She definitely owes me one (thousand.) At least the coffee is good.

Other than the “mysterious” note, I haven’t heard much from Rose. I reckon she’s trying not to arouse suspicion. The most talk we’ve exchanged was an offhand comment she made several days ago. We were both huddling around the coffee cauldron in the WW kitchens. As I had gravitated towards the coffee like a moth to the flame, she said offhandedly, “Well, I suppose now that I’m not officially the journalist on the job, I could ask Wood out for a drink.”

I poured hot coffee on my foot, “Tell me that’s not why you gave me the article.”

Rose had merely smirked and raised her mug. “Cheers,” she’d said and sauntered away.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. But I suppose I still, at times, expect better of her. Rose is smart—really, she is. After all, she’s the one with the real job.

Again I scan the room for her, coming up short. Just a bunch of early-rising hipsters muttering about smoking too many fags and how many embarrassing photos were Instagraphed last night. My right elbow rests protectively over a small roll of parchment, its seal bearing the Puddlemere twin bulrushes. It’s my final copy of the Oliver Wood article. I have performed a number of water-resistant, flame-retardant, tear-proof charms on each page, not to mention charming several copies. I have proofread, edited, rewritten, and reworked. The parchment is only four feet long; shorter than my final essays for Seventh Year classes. But I have to say, it’s some of my best work.

And I’m not getting any credit for it.

I unroll the parchment, my eyes falling on a random paragraph. The words “self-entitlement” and “out of control” jump out at me. I skip down to the ending. By the time I’d written it, my anger towards Wood had been festering so deeply that my words were harsher than intended. I suppose I should feel guilty, but I’m not sure that I do.

Wood’s romantic life has remained largely out of the limelight. But any witches
hoping for a chance with this Keeper may be in luck. In fact, you need not search any
further than your local pub. Over the past year, Wood has been present for the party
scene in ways that would make even the Weird Sisters blush. Photographs of his
international weekend debaucheries appear in the tabloids on a weekly basis.
Unfortunately, this kind of negative attention has eclipsed that of his athletic career.

Perhaps, then, this journalist has been wrong. Maybe Wood really is a philanthropist:
the money not spent on a new children’s ward has gone towards keeping many local
businesses thriving. As long as those local businesses specialize in Firewhiskey. Drink up, ladies.


The sudden whoosh of a small black owl, dangerously close to my head, makes me jump. A copy of The Oracle Underground drops to the table as the owl lands on the chair across from me. A moving picture of Grimma Longfinger on the front page catches my attention. The headline reads FGC STRIKE THWARTED. There’s a sinking feeling in my chest—the rally has been cancelled.

Originally scheduled for next month, I read, it had been kept as quiet as possible by the FGC. But everyone knows how difficult this can be in today’s media. The Prophet did what it does best: turning rumours into front-page, factless stories. Word had gotten out of the proposed date for the protest (according to the Prophet the FGC would be providing complimentary Molotov Cocktails.) In response, Gringotts has heightened security. A large number of Aurors now patrol the cobblestones outside. Not an ideal setting for a protest. The last thing an unemployed Goblin needs is a stint in Azkaban.

The owl releases an indignant shriek. It sticks out its right foot, wiggling it impatiently so that the small change purse attached to it jingles.

“Oh, right. Sorry,” I murmur.

Like my shoulder-bag, my small leather clutch has been enchanted to fit a ridiculous number of items (including but not limited to: two lipsticks, an emergency supply of Pumpkin Pasties, and an Extendable Ear that Dean bought from Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes and which I promptly nicked.) Amidst all the clutter I struggle to extract the required eight Sickles. I swear the owl would release a huffy sigh if it could as I pay up. With a petulant hoot, it flies out the door as it opens.

Rose ducks to avoid a head-on collision before hurrying inside. “Sorry, sorry,” she sighs. As she sits down I catch a whiff of expensive shampoo. “I woke up so late, I barely had time to roll out of bed.” But I notice that her makeup is artfully applied, Twilfitt and Tattings’ clothes carefully selected.

I decide that “Hmm,” is the safest response and fold my newspaper shut. Rose sees what I’m reading and rolls her eyes.

“Can you believe the stories that Oracle Underground publishes? There’s no way they’re doing proper research. It’s all so radical.”

I don’t mention Rose’s dreadful research done for the interview with Wood. Such as learning how to spell ‘Puddlemere.’ I also don’t mention just how aware I am that Rose was declined a position with the Oracle two years ago.

“I need a coffee,” she says tiredly and rises to her feet.

“Oh, sure, I’ll wait,” I call after her, slouching in my seat. I’m becoming the world’s champion at sitting around, waiting. With an involuntary growl I recall how late Wood stumbled into his own interview.

Was it really a week ago already? Everything has been so rushed. Apparently Rose really did pawn the article off last-minute. That meant only ten days to interview Wood, submit a draft to Ward (under her name), edit it, and produce a final copy. The deadline for submissions is today. The new issue comes out this Friday, which means that there are only two days before I knew if my article is bad enough to have Rose sacked.

Not sure how I feel about that either way, I think as I watch her flirt with the barista. I honestly don’t think she can help it. She only speaks in flirt.

Several moments later Rose returns with her drink. Her eyes land on the roll of parchment tucked behind my elbow. I see her expression waver between interest and unease. She hasn’t read any of the drafts I submitted; she was too busy with other projects. As far as she knows, the whole story could be rubbish.

“All finished,” I say nonchalantly.

“Brilliant.” Suddenly the article is accio’d from beneath me, and I feel like a beetle who has just had a leg plucked by some kid. “Thanks Edie. Of course, there will be some editing before it’s submitted.”

“Oh, of course,” I say tersely. I want to snatch the parchment back, run to Mr. Ward’s office and hand it over myself. But I know he would never take an intern’s writing seriously. And really, somewhere deep, deep down—very deep—I don’t want Rose to be sacked.

“Speaking of the time,” she glances at the hourglass that rests on the counter, “I’d better get to it now. Thanks again Edie, really.” She rises to her feet and with a final wave, turns and Disapparates on the spot.

And there goes my very brief foray into journalism.



Two days later, it’s publication day. I am walking around Witch Weekly on eggshells. Every time Mildred arrives with a new assignment, I stare at her so guiltily that she grows uncomfortable and hurries off. Every owl that swoops by is suddenly Rose, descending on me for producing such a rag of an article under her name. Suddenly I am doubting my decision. Forget Rose getting sacked, I could get sacked! Why has this not occurred to me before?!

I literally tiptoe past Mr. Ward’s office at one point, terrified.
But by 2:00 I haven’t been caught. No explosions, no hexes, and no sacking. Maybe this whole ordeal has gone over better than expected? Unable to contain myself any more, I scurry through the corridors, narrowly escaping a soaring paper airplane to the eye.

Coffee mug in hand, I rap on Rose’s office door before entering. She’s in the nice bit of the building, with the gleaming white walls. Inside her office, though, the stone is its natural color with one wall charmed golden-yellow. Covering an entire wall are photographs of Rose meeting celebrities at WW events that I’m never invited to. I notice a calorie-burning cauldron tucked away in a corner.

Rose stiffens when she sees me and starts making shooing motions with her hands.

I roll my eyes. “Oh, come off it,” I grumble and cast a silencing charm around the room. “There, is that better?”
With a glare, she flicks her wand at the heavy wooden door so that it thuds shut, “Better.” She folds her hands on her desk and says tiredly, “Can I help you?”

“I just wanted to see how everything went. With, you know…” She doesn’t answer so I ask the question that I’ve been dying to know all day, “So, I mean... did Blakeslee like it?”

Rose’s face clouds over. She sifts through the parchments on her desk, though I’m pretty sure she’s not actually looking for anything. “Yeah,” she says, avoiding my eyes. “Everything went fine. I don’t know Blakeslee’s opinion.”

“You don’t?” I try not to sound too disappointed.

Rose takes off her red glasses and pinches the bridge of her nose, as if dealing with me is a great chore. “Look, Edie, I know you don’t really interact with Blakeslee, so you don’t know how she is. But she’s a very busy woman. I can’t just march up there and ask her opinion on my article—”

I interject hotly, “My article,” just as somebody knocks at the door.

“Rose? It’s Blakeslee,” comes her voice. We both freeze. “May I come in?”

Oh Merlin, it’s over.





Author's Note: There you have it. I'm going to be sure to upload the next few chapters before the queue is closed for Holidays. Please tell me what you think, good or bad! I love to hear feedback from you guys.

Edits 11/5/14: Some minor changes here and there. Again they are mostly Oliver's motivation for giving such a crap interview to Edie. Also, in this new version, Lisa thinks from the beginning that Edie is being too hard on him.

I don't own "In the Air Tonight" because Phil Collins does.

The beautiful CI is by angelic. @ TDA!


Chapter 6: Lessons in Chemistry
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Author's Note: You are in for some fluffy goodness within this chapter... so get ready! Also, this amazing CI was created by afterglow @ TDA.



CHAPTER SIX


Rose reacts faster than me, quickly undoing the silencing charm. My heart is in my throat as she crosses to the door. Before she turns the handle, Rose fixes me with a murderous look, which I’m too terrified to return. Don’t say anything! she mouths, and opens the door.

“Hello, Ms Blakeslee,” Rose chimes, the perfect balance of professional and friendly.

Tallulah Blakeslee is a very tall, very thin witch. I have never seen her wear an ounce of colour. Her white-blond hair is pushed straight back from her forehead in a stylish cut with long fringe and a short, cropped back. Blakeslee wears minimal makeup but has a strikingly unique face that I think has a severe beauty. Though she is a very intimidating woman in my opinion, she’s rumoured around WW to have a good heart. Today she is wearing some kind of black fur wrapped around her neck and grey trousers tucked into tall boots. Rose’s confident smile has not wavered, despite having to crane her neck to look at Blakeslee.

I, however, have gone as pale as the Grey Lady. In fact I am staring at Blakeslee as if a Dementor has wandered in and asked for directions to the loo. My own heartbeat pounding in my eardrums washes out most of their cordial introductory conversation. But one phrase does filter in through all the loud humming in my head.

“I was just speaking with Ward about your Quidditch article,” Blakeslee informs Rose. “I wondered if I might have a word.”

The mug drops from my hands and shatters on the stone floor. Coffee sprays everywhere, narrowly missing Rose’s ankles. Blakeslee looks mildly startled, mostly because I don’t think she even noticed me standing there. Rose, however, has whipped her head around and fixed me with the wild-eyed glare of a Banshee. An agonizing silence sucks the air from the room.

“Oh,” I squeak at last. “I am so sorry Rose, I’ll just, uh...” I whip out my wand, quickly Tergio the mess, and offer an apologetic smile. “Excuse me, I’ll, erm, give you two a moment.” Without meeting Rose’s glare I scurry from the room with my restored cup of coffee. On my way out I swear that I Blakeslee is giving me an almost amused half-smile.

The door shuts behind me and I collapse against the wall, a heap of nerves. But how completely idiotic I just behaved is the least of my concerns.

Oh no, this is it. We’ve been found out. Rose is going to be sacked, and I can’t even technically be sacked because I was never officially employed here anyway, and it’s all over.

A thought suddenly strikes me and I whip out my wand. “Accio purse,” my voice cracks. Seconds pass and then my brown clutch comes whizzing through the corridor and hits me square in the nose. I manage not to scream the series of curse words streaming through my head, and begin to fish through the bag.

I could have sworn I saw it in here... Yes!

With a flourish, I extract the Extendable Ear. I must’ve nicked it from Dean months ago and forgotten that it was in here. For once I’m thankful for my clutterbug tendencies. I place one end in my own ear and let the other drop to the crack under the door.

Suddenly I hear a tiny muffled voice, as though my own ear was pressed to the keyhole, “...hope that Mr. Ward found everything satisfactory.” It’s Rose’s voice. I do a very animated little victory leap, and then tiptoe down the empty corridor as far as the Ear will allow. Several lengthening charms later I was around the corner. Of course, any troll would be able to see the long cord spanning the length of the corridor and put two and two together.

I poke my head around the corner to keep lookout. I must look completely daft but I am focused on Blakeslee’s voice: “He certainly did. More than satisfactory, in fact.”

My heart pounds with half-excitement, half-terror. So Ward likes my work. Or, hopefully, he likes what he truly believes to be Rose’s work.

“Oh?” Rose does an awful job at not sounding surprised. “He really liked it?”

I release an indignant scoff. The article wasn’t half-bad! Did she even read it?

Rose quickly covers her tracks, “Only, I didn’t know a lot about Quidditch before the assignment, is all.”

“Well, Miss Zeller,” Blakeslee says, “if you wrote an article like that without preexisting knowledge, that’s all the more impressive.” I scowl as Blakeslee continues, “There is a great voice in your writing. You’ve managed to deliver gossip and expose the underbelly of Wood’s character without completely compromising him. It’s an interesting angle, considering the kinds of gushing stories most other young women write about an attractive athlete.”

Rose positively simpers, “I’m only grateful to have your recognition, Ms Blakeslee.”

I almost vomit right onto my own shoes.

Blakeslee is apparently not easily undone by flattery, ignoring Rose’s comment. “In fact, I want to offer you a follow-up article.”

My heart stops. Apparently Rose’s does too, because there is a long silence. Finally she manages to repeat, “A follow-up article.” I wonder if I am the only one who can hear the underlying horror in her tone.

“Yes. Two, in fact,” explains Blakeslee. “We’re already receiving a lot of positive feedback from subscribers. A lot. We want to develop the Quidditch section further, and to kick it off with a three-part series of articles on Wood. You’ve talked a lot about his public history and the good and the bad of what he’s done, but readers are asking about his private life.”

“His private life,” Rose repeats again. There is a beat of silence. “Wow. I, um...”

“This is quite an honor, Miss Zeller,” says Blakelsee, more serious now. “Witch Weekly hasn’t expanded a section of the magazine in response to a journalist’s performance in quite some time.” I realize that Rose does not have a choice in the matter.

She must come to the same conclusion, because I can hear her smile breathily. I imagine her shrugging and shrugging with defeat. “I would be honored, Ms Blaskeslee. Thank you so much. What an incredible opportunity.”

I don’t know what I’m feeling. At all. It would take hours to attempt to sort out this emotional smorgasbord. But the door to Rose’s office is creaking open and I do not want to be caught eavesdropping by either of them. I quickly reel in the Extendable Ear, which bounces along the stone floors at an almost agonizing pace. At last I have it in my hand but I can hear footsteps heading my way. Panicked, I turn and Apparate, thinking of the only person that could possibly make sense of things right now.

***


I don’t think there is a single person more falsely titled than the Welcome Witch at St. Mungo’s. She’s consistently dry and unfriendly. The most emotion I have ever seen her display was when she chipped her front tooth on a piece of treacle fudge: her response was to merely frown a bit, shrug, and go on about her day. Even though I have spoken to her a thousand times when I’ve come to visit Lisa, she always pretends as though she has no idea who I am.

“Hello,” I say breathlessly as I approach her desk. She merely quirks an eyebrow and I sigh. “You seriously don’t remem--oh, sod it, I’m looking for my friend Lisa Turpin? She’s a Mediwitch here,” I say in a rehearsed voice.

The Welcome Witch consults something on her desk that I can’t see. Tapping whatever it is twice with her wand, she waits while I drum my fingers on the counter. The dinosaurs have come and gone in the time that she performs the charm. Then she slowly lifts her head, considers me, and says at last, “Ground Floor.”

I blink at her, perplexed. Suddenly I’m very curious as to what her flat must look like. Then I remind myself why I’m here and jet off to find Lisa.

The Ground Floor of St. Mungo’s is where one goes for artifact accidents such as cauldron-explosions and broom-crashes, but they also take care of breaks, sprains and bone regrowing. I know this because I had to take Seamus here a year ago after he splinched himself and had to regrow one of his toes. I know Lisa doesn’t relish working on this floor, but she’d rather be here any day over the First Floor: Creature-Induced Injuries. I made the mistake of meeting her there before lunch one afternoon. It only takes one chance run-in with an Acromantula bite victim to faint in the middle of the corridor, it turns out.

When I emerge from the stairwell into the Ground Floor, I immediately spot Lisa. She is standing all the way across the room, at the edge of a small bed tucked in the corner. And even in her hospital robes with her hair messily pulled back she looks like a Veela, I note.

I hurry past a witch whose foot is suspended in a sling, not hearing her question of whether or not it’s raining outside. I don’t want to forget a single bit of what just happened with Blakeslee. Lisa hasn’t noticed me yet; she’s very concentrated on her patient, a wizard sitting on the bed with his shirtless back to me while she examines his shoulder. When she finally notices me barrelling across the room her eyes grow wide, and I notice that she almost imperceptibly shakes her head “no.” But by then I have already reached her.

“Sorry to barge in, but we need to talk.”

Lisa just makes a peeping sound, gone rather white.

I quirk an eyebrow and ask, “What time is your next breeeaaaahhhh...” My voice falters, the word “break” turning into a series of strange noises with no semblance to the English language.

The patient sitting on the bed is Oliver Wood.

I realize that Lisa was examining his left shoulder, the one I know that he injured during a match two years ago. He must be here for a routine check-up and happen to be in Lisa’s care this afternoon. Wood turns and glances at me, looks away, and then does a double-take. Lisa is frozen in an awkward position, holding a canister of serum, her t-rex arms only halfway extended to Wood’s shoulder.

“Uh,” he begins.

“Erm,” I respond with eloquence.

Silence.

“Well,” I say to Lisa as I start backing away. “There’s that. So.”

She nods, playing along. “Absolutely. We’ll...” she gestures between the two of us with her index fingers. “We’ll talk.”

“Definitely,” I agree.

Then I turn and pretty much bolt. What are the odds that Lisa is treating Wood today?! Oh God, what if he saw the article? St. Mungo’s keeps a dozen copies of Witch Weekly in their waiting room (a testament to the poor quality of journalism.)

I start walking faster.

There is a small commotion behind me and I hear Lisa protesting in the way that she does best, which means saying quietly, “Um...” and then there are footsteps.

“Wait!” I hear Wood call.

I pick up the pace so that I’m doing a pretty impressive speed-walk, but of course the professional athlete gains on me in no time. In fact, I’m a little winded by this point. Regardless I throw open the door just as Wood reaches me.

“Hey,” he says, cutting me off in the enormous stone stairwell. He’s blocking my way down, so I’m forced to stop in my tracks. Thankfully he’s put his olive green jumper back on, inside-out in his haste. I notice again how tall he is.

“Hello. Hi,” I stammer. Then I add, “Alright?”

“I’m well, thanks. Alright?” he responds automatically.

“Well, thanks,” I parrot.

Painful silence. The afternoon sun is pouring in through the high medieval windows, brightening the stairwell filled with passing hospital visitors, patients and Healers. It’s a pleasant scene, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this uncomfortable.

“So, what are you doing here?” he asks. “Some undercover detective work for that article?” I manage to shake my head no, and he nods once. “Right, bad joke, sorry,” he mumbles.

“Oh?”

“What’s that?”

“I just didn’t know--I didn’t know that you were joking.”

“Oh, yeah,” he waved it off. “I should probably just quit trying.”

Another agonizing silence. Why did he even come out here if we were just going see who could go the longest without constructing a proper sentence? Looking at him is pretty much impossible right now so I focus on a plump witch struggling to carry an enormous bouquet of flowers that look as though they could bite.

Wood asks, “So... How’s the article coming, anyway?”

My gaze snaps to him at last. I almost blurt out, “You haven’t read it?” but obviously that would imply that it’s been released. Instead I take a moment to weigh my options, studying the person before me. Wood’s black eye is completely gone, though I suspect a topical potion did most of the work there. His brown hair is sticking up irregularly, he doesn’t have a mob of beautiful people around him, and he’s in street clothes. I suppose this is what normal Oliver Wood looks like. But there’s something else about him that seems different.

Finally I respond with a very neutral, “The article’s going fine, thanks.”

“That’s brilliant,” he smiles a little too eagerly. Then his expression falters slightly. “I hope I wasn’t too... horrible. During the interview.”

I squint at him. “Do you not remember the interview, either?” I already knew he’d been drunk from the night before, but the extent of it was still a surprise.

He rubs the back of his head sheepishly. “Uh, well. You know. Bits and pieces. I remember you making me chug about eight cups of coffee. That certainly helped.”

“It was eleven in the morning!” I gasp. I want to be upset but part of me is kind of impressed at his partying abilities. “That’s worse off than even I’ve been.”

Wood drops his arm back down. “I can’t say I’m proud. At all.” He wets his lips and shifts uncomfortably. “Actually, I’m glad to run into you here. I, um, was going to pop in at the pub sometime soon. I was actually just asking your friend where it was because, well, I don’t quite recall.”

“You wanted to see me at work?” I’m sure my expression betrays my utter disbelief.

“Well, ideally. If I could even be let back in. I don’t know if that kind of exile is a life-sentence, or what.” Despite myself I crack a smile. This seems to give him confidence and he runs a hand through his hair. “Well, anyway, I wanted to come by to apologize for everything.”

I then realize what it is about Wood that seems so different. He is not being a “drunk, arrogant idiot.” In fact it’s paining me to see how socially awkward he is, though I can’t say I’m giving a gold medal performance myself. There’s a small pang of guilt in my stomach when I recall how horribly I portrayed him in the article.

“I made a series of really daft decisions,” Wood says. “My friends and I were out of control at the pub, by the sounds of it. And I probably wasn’t much better the next day.” He looks me right in the eye, “I’ve been a right arse, and I’m sorry about that.”

My instinct is to take a step back and analyze the situation: Wood knows he’s been a class-A fool in front of the person who’s publishing an article about him. He probably has little recollection of what he told me, which must be terrifying. My instincts tell me that Wood is covering his tracks, and that I should be careful.

But what I actually do is blush and giggle. Or try to, anyway. I’m just not made for that kind of interaction, so it comes out more like a goose call. “Oh, it’s fine,” I say. “Doesn’t matter. Water under the bridge.”

Lisa, Dean and Seamus would all smack me upside the head, were they here. I have done nothing over the past week but complain about Wood, and the stress he caused, and how angry he made me, and how unrightfully privileged he was. And apparently all he has to do is flash Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile of 2004, and suddenly it’s all irrelevant.

Wood exhales the breath he was apparently holding, looking very relieved. “That’s brilliant.” He extends a hand to shake. “Well, it was nice running into you...” he trails off uncertainly, squinting one eye.

“Edie,” I fill in the blank, placing my hand in his. “Nice talking to you too, Wood.”

He grins. “Call me Oliver.”

My head gives the slightest inquisitive tilt. Is it just the sun shining directly in my eyes, or is there... chemistry right now? It seems impossible that any man could go from spending more than four seconds around Lisa and still manage to find another woman attractive. But Wood’s still grinning and holding onto my hand.

Hmm. Big hands, too.

“Oliver,” I repeat, smiling flirtatiously.

We both take several steps backwards. Sod not being physically capable of flirting. I am preparing for one of my patented hair-tosses, which in the best of cases Stupefies a man’s sense of judgment and guarantees that he’ll be contacting me. Oliver is about to head back to Veela-face Lisa, and I need to make some kind of lasting impression.

Unfortunately I do not see that the plump witch with the enormous bouquet has reappeared behind me. Everything seems to go in slow-motion as I trip over her foot, one of my arms flailing out and smacking her square in the face. With a shriek I topple backwards down the first flight of stairs, bringing her with me. I land flat on my back with an impressive THUNK! which knocks the wind out of my lungs. The round witch rolls to a stop several feet away.

My horror is not over the possibility broken bones, or a concussion, or whether or not the other woman is okay. No, instead I am petrified because I didn’t pass out, and because I am fully conscious when Oliver Wood runs down the stairs towards me.




Author's Note: Oh man. I had never realized how much fun it is to write fluff! Not to worry, I promise there will be plenty of backstabbing, Goblin feminism, and drunken debauchery coming your way. I hope you all enjoyed!

Chapter 7: Hell Hath No Fury like Rose Zeller Scorned
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Author's Note: So it's a little bit late in the game, but since so many reviewers have mentioned it, I'd like to note that my portrayal of Witch Weekly is AU. I believe that JKR wanted it to be more like a women's magazine with recipes, home decor, etc., but I wanted it to have evolved in my story. Namely, it's a monthly publication that is focused more on young readers. I wanted Edie to work at a place that was mentioned in the HP books, but I have definitely taken my own liberties with it.

That being said, enjoy the new chapter!

(A huge thank you to afterglow @ TDA for the amazing chapter image!)








CHAPTER SEVEN


“Edie!”

I don’t think you’re supposed to smack a potentially concussed person on the head, but Lisa is becoming frustrated. “I said follow my wand, not stare at Wood.”

I am back in the Ground Floor of St. Mungo’s, on a bed that has been commandeered for me. A small pink light glows on the tip of Lisa’s wand, and I’m supposed to be following it with my eyes—instead I keep looking nervously across the room at Oliver.

He is trying to be a gentleman about my fall, but every few minutes he suddenly covers his mouth, rubbing his chin as though in very deep thought. I know, of course, that he is really fighting to keep from laughing every time he remembers me tumbling down an entire flight of stairs. I imagine it to be on a repeating loop, like the paparazzi photographs in Witch Weekly.

“Fine, sorry,” I grumble. I train my eyes on the tiny pink light, following its every move until Lisa seems satisfied.

She plops down beside me to fill out the required parchments. “Well,” she says, “you don’t have a concussion. I think Mrs. Dobbins took the brunt of your fall—” Even polite Lisa can’t finish her sentence without dissolving into fits of laughter. Mrs. Dobbins, however, does not seem to see the humour in the situation. She glares from her own bed, ice pack pressed to her head. The enormous flower bouquet now sits in a crumpled heap on the bedside table.

“Stop it!” I exclaim horrified, and slap Lisa in the arm. At her little outburst, Oliver has glanced back across the room to us and is trying to cover his grin again. He had insisted that his appointment be put aside until Lisa determined that I didn’t have brain damage—or any more than he now assumes I already had.

I flick my wand and the curtain partition zips shut, blocking Oliver from view. “Can we please just get this over with so that I can go?”

“Right, sorry,” she says, fixing her mouth into a straight line. “Like I said, you should be fine. You’ll have some bruises and swelling, but we’ll give you potions for that.”

“Thank you,” I say miserably.

She studies me with that half-amusement-half-pity smile I know too well. “Oh, poor Edie,” she puts an arm over my shoulder. “Hey!” She pokes me in the side, “I know what would cheer you up. Come wedding dress shopping with me next week!”

I stare at her darkly. “I’m sorry, did you say ‘cheer up’ or ‘horribly depress?’”

She casts me a look and I rest my head on her shoulder. “Of course I’ll come with you. It’ll be fun,” I say genuinely. “Wow, it’s really getting close, isn’t it?”

Lisa claps her hands. “Three months!” she exclaims.

In a matter of weeks she will be having a winter wedding in the seaside village of Vernazza, Italy. Where Justin had been when he realized that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her; where he had made the decision to Apparate back to London that instant and ask her to marry him. Because her life isn’t quite picturesque enough.

I do admire Lisa for procrastinating with her dress shopping, rather than Apparating to a Varya Wing boutique the second the ring was on her finger. If I know her at all, she’ll find something on the rack that resembles a tea-cozy, and when she tries it on it’ll suddenly become vintage-inspired glamour.

Lisa must sense that I’m drenched in pitiful envy. No matter how much I’ve been trying to keep it under wraps since her proposal, she is as conscious as I that her future has bloomed while mine tripped over its own feet and toppled down the stairs. Literally.

“So, you’re feeling okay?” Lisa reassures for the eighth time, to change the subject.

“Oh yeah,” I nod. “I’ve learned my lesson. This is what happens when I try to flirt while sober. You’d think it would work out the opposite way.” Lisa smiles and I bite my lip. “Erm, don’t mention this to Dean or Seamus. Or Justin. Okay?”

She stiffens and says in an entirely too high-pitched voice, “Oh, yes of course!”

I narrow my eyes at her. “Lisa...”

Suddenly the curtain is thrown back to reveal Justin, wearing his trademark button-up and jumper. “Heard you took a nasty spill, Edie!” he booms. Although he is syrupy-sweet to his fiancé, he has a habit of treating me like a little sister. In a bad way.

Immediately I round on Lisa, who is hiding behind her clipboard. “How did you—”

“Our two-way mirrors?” she squeaks and my jaw drops. “I’m sorry, Edie, my shift was supposed to be over after Wood left, and I used the mirror to tell Justin not to come in yet so that I could take care of you, and he asked why...”

“Ah, don’t worry about it Edie,” Justin slaps my back jovially. My jaw drops in pain. Oblivious, he says, “If Lisa hadn’t mentioned it, then Oliver certainly would have.”

“What?”

Oliver is now trying to appear completely fascinated by a potted plant. “Why did… How…?” Complete sentences aren’t possible right now.

“Oh, I’ve known Oliver for ages!” Not for the first time, I wish that Justin knew how to whisper. I look at Lisa, confused, but she merely shrugs. Apparently Justin hadn’t mentioned this to her either.

My eyes dart back to Oliver. His jaw is working, in an awful attempt to fight the huge smile spreading over his face. I can’t believe he already told somebody about my fall. I slump forward to bury my face in my hands, and a muscle in my back begins seizing.

“Ouch,” I whimper.

***


I can’t get out of St. Mungo’s fast enough. After Justin had managed to get in a few more jokes about my supreme gracefulness, I had made a jab at his man-purse. Justin is very sensitive about his leather shoulder-bag. He only got one because all the other lawyers at the Ministry use them, and I don’t think I’ve stopped taking the mickey out of him since day one. After I made sure to have the last word, I quickly Apparated from my spot on the bed and reappeared in Diagon Alley. I didn’t want to see or be seen by Oliver Wood again.

Hopefully the walk through Diagon Alley to my flat will take my mind off of things. It’s always great for people-watching. I want to say that my flat is “nestled” just past the enchanted brick wall, but I think “shoved crudely in between two other buildings” is more appropriate. Either way, it’s in the perfect spot for a stroll. It’s amazing how just ten years ago you couldn’t walk these streets alone, and now I prefer it to Apparating (when not running horribly late). How things have changed.

My back tenses up involuntarily again and I release a groan. It doesn’t take long before I decide that today was stressful enough to warrant a fag. It’s not a habit that I’m proud of, but sometimes a girl just needs a cigarette. I make a quick stop in Ashe and Plume to buy a pack from the particularly disenchanted old wizard behind the counter. With one hand shoved in the pocket of my parka, I make my way down the cobblestones. The sun is beginning to set and passers-by are pulling their scarves or coats tighter against the chill.

I have almost reached my flat when I hear a noise from somewhere: “Pssst.” At first I ignore it, but then it comes again, louder this time. “Pssssst!

Rose Zeller is standing some paces behind, at the mouth of a small alleyway. She’s wearing sunglasses despite it being dusk, and the red hood of her coat is drawn tightly around her head. She stands stiffly, I suppose trying very hard to blend in, but her expression is more constipated than anything.

After a moment’s hesitation—partially because I’m still upset with her general attitude towards my article, partially because she looks so ridiculous and I need another second to fully commit it to memory—I make my way over, stopping an arm’s length away. I stare at her. She stares back. I take a drag on my cigarette. She makes a judgmental face.

I throw up my hand in what the hell? fashion. “Rose!”

Shhhh!” she hisses. I feel as though I’m back in the Hogwarts library with a very well-dressed Madame Pince. “Not here!” Rose darts into the shadowed alleyway behind her. It seems that she’s been reading too many of those Gwendolyn Phire: Witch Detective mystery paperbacks that I’ve noticed on her desk. (As far as I can tell, every installment in the thirty-book series is just another excuse for gratuitous smut followed by, “Oh, wait, right. We’re supposed to be looking for that fellow’s wallet.”)

Against my better judgment, I follow after Rose. Once she’s reached a satisfactory distance from the main street, she stops and folds her arms. “Okay, we have a problem.”

“Uh, yeah, I’d say we do!” I exclaim. She furrows her brow in confusion and I realize that she doesn’t know that I eavesdropped on her. With a somewhat embarrassed tone I explain, “I used an Extendable Ear to listen to your conversation with Blakeslee.”

“Edie!” she cries indignantly, to which I counter, “Rose! You’re taking all the credit for an article that Blakeslee liked.”

“We had a deal,” she says. “You knew that coming into it, so don’t get all high and mighty on me now. You chose to be a part of this too.”

I suppose that she’s got me there. Sullenly I drag from the cigarette and Rose taps her sunglasses with her wand, which return to normal eyeglasses. “But there is a problem. I didn’t think Blakeslee was going to like it.”

“Really, don’t hold back.”

“Oh, come on Edie, you’re an unpaid intern. What else could I expect?”

My jaw has dropped. Rose realizes her mistake, but I am already walking away. “Wait, wait, wait, Edie!” She grabs my arm, forcing me to turn around. “I’m—” she looks as though she’s trying to choke down a Flobberworm. “I’m... sorry.”

Well, that’s certainly a first. I cross my arms, “You have one minute.”

Rose looks flustered at my time constraint but I merely raise an impatient eyebrow. She shifts around uncomfortably. “I was...” she trails off and tries again, “I was hoping you’d write the other two articles.”

“What?” I furrow my brows. Rose doesn’t respond and I roll my eyes, again turning to leave. “Well, thanks but no thanks. I’m done being your beast of burden. See you Monday.”

“Edie!” she cries out again, but I don’t stop. I am about to turn out of the alleyway onto the street when Rose screeches, “YOU’RE A BETTER WRITER THAN ME, OKAY?!”

I stop dead in my tracks.

Oh.

Oh-ho-ho!

Rose’s face has turned a colour to match her coat, and she’s begun fixing her hair in an attempt to appear casual. But I’ve already seen her crack, and any moment she’ll have to crumble. It seems that, for once, I have the upper hand here.

“I’ll pay you,” she says offhandedly. “What do you want? Fifteen Galleons per article?”

I scoff. “You’re joking me. I know how much your wages are. Make it twenty-five.” When she shoots me a glare I shrug widely. “Hey, I don’t have to help if you can’t afford it. But I’d say an article that expanded an entire column of the magazine is worth twenty-five. Unless you think you can do better.”

My, how the tables have turned.

At last she tosses her hair over her shoulder in angry defeat. “All right, twenty-five! But I want a weekly draft on my desk—”

I’ve put up a silencing hand. “Rose, I’m doing you the real favour now. Just let me do my thing.”

And then I do probably the most kick-arse thing I’ve ever done: I light another cigarette and regard her coolly as I release a sigh of smoke. Then I pivot and saunter away. I imagine that The Rolling Stones’ Street Fighting Man would be playing right about now. Maybe a couple explosions blasting behind me. I dunno, just spitballing here. Either way, I’m walking away with two more Quidditch articles to publish. Which means—

Bugger.

A bit of invisible debris from the fantasy-explosion has landed on my coattail, and singed it.

Which means two more interviews with Oliver Wood.

***


“I’m buying you a shot.”

“No.”

“I said I’m buying you a shot.” Seamus is entirely too resolute. I think that partially he just feels guilty for ambushing my first interview and is trying to butter me up. He’s already apologized once, but I have to say I’ve been a little irritated with him all week.

“Just because you went off and got a big-girl journalism job doesn’t mean you have to go acting like an old lady.”

I am smiling despite myself. “It’s not a job...”

Of course, Seamus and Dean were the first to know about Rose’s entreat disguised as an offer. On my walk home from talking with her, I had contacted them on my two-way pocket mirror. It doubles as a compact for makeup, and has therefore led to the awkward situation of putting on lipstick while Seamus watched, uncomfortable and confused as to why I had contacted him to do that. When his face had finally appeared, saying, “Uhh, looks great?” I had screamed and smeared a red line across my cheek.

Seamus smiles contentedly, beckoning to the barman. “Angus! Yes please, mate.”

I had told myself that I was going to drink one beer and go home. It seems that in the nights I had spent writing the Quidditch article, I’d forgotten exactly what going to a bar with Seamus Finnegan entails.

“Don’t you have training in the morning?” I raise an eyebrow.

Seamus is in his second year of Auror training, and honestly I couldn’t imagine a better career for him. He’s loyal almost to a fault, with a serious sense of duty and responsibility. Which you might not know if you came across him at The Poisoned Apple. But even if he acts on impulse, he realizes when he’s wrong and is always willing to swallow his pride and apologize. Back at Hogwarts he took a pretty vocal stance against the Carrows; I reckon that’s where he first got the Auror idea.

Seamus waves me off. “Ehh. Half of the recruits show up hung over or worse.”

I try to imagine running ten miles and then being jetted with an Aguamenti spell, whilst nursing the hangovers I sometimes have at Witch Weekly. But Seamus does things like that surprisingly often. The man is a saint.

My manager at the pub, Angus, used to think that the two of us were a couple, because Seamus always sits with his arm resting on the back of my barstool. At least until a pretty girl walks in—then it’s hands to himself. The first time Angus asked how long the two of us have been together, Seamus had answered, oblivious, “Well, I picked her up at four...”

It’s just not in the cards for us.

It takes Angus a moment to pour our Firewhiskies, because he is dealing with a large group of girls who don’t even look old enough to be here. This is bizarre, since The Poisoned Apple is usually the place for older, seedier customers. The pub’s dodginess is what makes it so entertaining to Dean, Seamus and I. Angus finally makes his way over, shaking his head of shaggy gray hair. His Slughorn-esque moustache looks frazzled.

“Sorry you two,” he grumbles. “Seems the Hogwarts Express made a pit-stop for martinis.”

“Yeah,” I agree conspiratorially, taking my shot from his outstretched hand. “There’s an odd number of young girls here.”

“Dunno why,” Angus looks at the group disapprovingly. They’re leggy and dressed in short skirts despite the cold weather. In fact, there are several groups like this, clustered together like gazelles searching for the lion.

I suddenly laugh and slap the bar. “I know why,” I say proudly. “They’re looking for Oliver Wood. They must’ve somehow heard that he came in the other night.”

Angus rolls his eyes. “’S right, it was in the tabloids. Crystal Ball’s got a whole article...”

Seamus and I stare, eyebrows raised, and Angus says quickly, “The wife, she reads ‘em…” before hurrying away.

I turn to Seamus. “Are you sure you don’t want to go stand with them? You’ll have a better chance at getting Wood’s attention if you borrow a little black dress.”

“Shut up,” Seamus grumbles, though I see his eyes darting around the pub eagerly.

“Oi, oi, oi.” Dean slides into the empty seat to my right, eyeing the shots before us. “I can’t believe you weren’t waiting for me.”

He gives my shoulder a light punch ‘hello’, because that’s the only way these boys know how to acknowledge me. Within seconds, Dean has a shot in hand. I think Angus likes him the best out of we three, because he’s the quietest. Dean was the one I had technically contacted with my mirror on the way home, but of course he’d already been with Seamus, so they heard my news simultaneously.

Dean raises his glass with a smile, and we follow suit. Angus has charmed a tiny candle-flame in the glass, though it actually cools the alcohol’s burn and disappears when you drink. “To Edie,” Dean says. “Who now proudly boasts a kind-of real job.”

I laugh and clink my glass against theirs, “To kind-ofs.”

Seamus echoes me, except at the ridiculously loud volume at which he only operates the second we step foot into a bar.

The second shot we toast to Dean for technically getting me the job in the first place; the third to Seamus because he felt left out; the fourth to the recent winner of Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile Award; and the fifth to the wonderful Muggle invention of paper clips.

Needless to say...

Well.

“Seriously, poke them!” Seamus lifts his shirt to expose his stomach. His Auror training has landed him in the best shape of his life, apparently, and there are the traces of abdominal muscles emerging. I didn’t believe that he was in such shape, because when have I ever seen him without a shirt? So he had to prove me wrong.

“Just poke them, Edie, come on. Seriously, it’s like marble. With hair.”

Dean and I are both doubled over laughing, and I am about to actually poke Seamus’s stomach, when the pub suddenly grows quieter. I can’t quite place exactly what the change is until I realize that every female voice has dropped out of the overall conversation. And then I follow everyone’s gaze to the door, and I understand why.

Oliver Wood has just walked in. And he’s walked in with Rose Zeller.

Seamus’s gurgle of excitement is completely audible over the quieted room. Oliver turns to find the source of the noise and sees Seamus, who appears to be flashing him, and looks startled. Then he notices me and raises his hand in a small wave. It takes me a moment to return it. All I am seeing is Rose, gazing at me with a smirk tugging on her lips.

“Is that...?” Dean begins.

“Yes,” I say stonily. “Yes, it is.”

Then Rose puts her hand on Oliver’s arm and points to a small table in the corner. He nods and the two head over, passing close enough that I can smell Rose’s perfume. She maintains eye contact all the while, the wicked grin still on her face.

I know why she’s here. Even though she’s settling down at the table and drawing out the folder of interview notes—my notes, I replaced all her shoddy ones—and taking out her quill, she is not here to interview him. Rose knowingly came to the pub where I work, on a day when I dared to cross her and start making demands, after my writing outshone hers. And she’s here with the subject of my story, keeping up appearances, as though she were actually the one doing all of the work.

Rose begins ordering her drink, though Oliver is still standing to remove his leather jacket. He glances over his shoulder at me, but quickly looks away.

My story.

***


“...Leg, leg, leg, leg!” Dean’s voice finally infiltrates the angry buzz in my head. “Jesus Christ, Lennox!” Apparently I’ve been kicking him repeatedly in the shin.

“Sorry,” I grumble, clumsily bringing my pint to my lips.

Although I have been trying to ignore Oliver and Rose for the past thirty minutes, she has (probably not coincidentally) selected a table that is directly in my line of sight. I have been trying not to give her the satisfaction of staring, but each time I sip from my beer I see them through the bottom of the glass. What’s worse, my drunken reflexes are not as quick as Rose’s and she has caught me staring every time. At one point I tried to look casual and jerked my glass up so quickly that I almost chipped a tooth, which she also saw.

Bugger.

“It’s been half an hour, let it go,” Dean says.

I blink, embarrassed. “Right. Sorry. What were you saying?”

But of course I don’t let it go. As the night progresses, different clusters of girls shyly approach their table to talk to Oliver. Many of them ask for autographs, several leave their names on napkins. But they all cast jealous looks at the stunningly pretty woman across from him—in a low-cut shirt that is entirely unprofessional, might I add. And Rose is positively eating their jealousy up.

I realize that I’m being a crazy, bitter old hag. But five shots of Firewhiskey can make you feel funny things.

Oliver sits with his back to me, his jumper stretching across his broad shoulders, and—oh, stop it, Firewhiskey. Rose has clearly stopped taking notes. A part of me has to marvel at the way she knows exactly how to work each of her best assets; playing with her long black hair or flipping it over her shoulder, leaving her full lips slightly parted the way I know she practices in the mirror (because she’s told me), and folding her arms across the table to push her—erm—ample bosom together.

“It’s just ‘cause she’s got a huge rack,” I say flatly.

Dean is staring at me in disbelief. Clearly my involuntary outburst has just interrupted a story that I didn’t even know he was telling. “Are you still on about that?” he exclaims.

I press my mouth into a line. “Absolutely not,” I lie pathetically. He quirks an eyebrow and I sigh. “It just really miffs me—”

“I’m sorry, miffs?”

“—that she’s here like this, pretending to be interviewing him, when clearly she’s just out for free drinks!”

Dean sighs with exasperation. “Whether he’s buying her drinks or not, it has absolutely nothing to do with your article. In fact, she’s doing you a favour by staging a fake interview. What does it matter to you anyway?”

That’s not really a question that I’m in the right state of mind to ponder. There is a moment of silence and I shake my head quickly, shutting my eyes. “It doesn’t matter, you’re right. I’m sorry. I guess I’m just upset about my work going unnoticed again.”

“Sure,” Dean says, entirely unconvinced. He seems upset.

Seamus, who has been surprisingly quiet on the subject, offers, “She does have a huge rack, though.”

I stare at him flatly before turning back to the bar, “Angus, I’ll take another.”




Author's Note: All right, last chapter upload before the queues close for the holidays, I promise. Thanks for reading, as always, and if you feel so inclined I would love a review! I don't own "Street Fighting Man" by the Rolling Stones--or Harry Potter, by the way. ;)

Chapter 8: Mother/Matchmaker
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Author's Note: I do not own Braham Stoker's 'Dracula,' the Beatles, Georgia O'Keefe or Harry Potter. That being said, here is the new and shiny and sparkly chapter eight of KC&CO. I hope you enjoy!

Another amazing CI by afterglow @ TDA. (Doesn't it oddly match the HPFF blue theme?)







MOTHER/MATCHMAKER


I awake the next morning Braham Stoker-style, hissing at the probing sunlight and furling the sheets over my head like a cape. The sudden movement only makes matters worse and I release an enormous groan. My head is pounding, my stomach is turning, my eyes are heavy with lack of sleep, and between the Firewhiskey and cigarettes I smell like a manky streetwalker. You’d think by now I would have noticed, and thus avoided, the common factor between me and monstrous hangovers: Seamus Finnegan.

I can’t even imagine how he’s fairing right now. My arm shoots out from the depths of my covers and pounds around my bedside cabinet, searching for the alarm clock as if it were a bug that needed squishing. It’s after 11:00. Seamus has been at Auror training for hours, and he was even worse off than me by the end of the night.

Ugh. Last night.

Aside from the tension between Dean and I (though I can’t blame him--I went from ranting about Oliver Wood for a straight week to feeling irrationally protective), to make matters worse, the Keeper himself had unintentionally made a fool out of me.

When he and Rose left--I was determined to outlast them, a stupid decision that resulted in being entirely more intoxicated than desired--I had tried my hardest to be in the midst of a particularly hilarious joke. In fact, they were walking by right after Dean had said offhandedly, “It’s going to snow this weekend,” and I threw my head back in uproarious laughter.

“That’s brilliant,” I guffawed, touching his arm in a friendly way. He narrowed his eyes conspiratorially and chose not to respond, bless him.

I had really thought that Rose and Oliver were going to walk straight past me. I think that I even glimpsed Rose’s hand on his arm, steering him away. But Oliver had stopped behind our three barstools.

“Wotcher Edie,” he’d said in a friendly voice. “Finnegan, Thomas.”

The combination of alcohol and nerves had rendered Seamus incapable of doing anything but giggling, while Dean raised his eyebrows in mild surprise. “Hello,” he nodded back, though not nearly as star struck as Seamus. Not even close.

There was a moment of silence and Oliver tried, “Rose tells me that you’ll have to put up with me for two more articles. Is congratulations the right word?”

I opened my mouth to respond but Rose beamed up at him, her face flushed in a pleasing way. “Oh, it’s hardly putting up with you, Oliver. We’re just glad to be given the opportunity.”

To my surprise Oliver seemed to not have even heard her, his eyes fixed on me. Or maybe it was just the alcohol; my head felt full of nargles. Rose’s eyes traveled from him to me slowly, knowingly. Dean took a long sip from his beer, turning away from us. I opened my mouth to say something—probably something entirely stupid—but Rose cut me off again.

“So, how’re you feeling after that fall earlier?”

There was a beat of very heavy silence in which I clutched my glass tighter, my enormous false smile disappearing. Wait, Rose knew? She smiled at me widely, her eyes twinkling with either laughter or the fires of hell—I can’t be sure. Meanwhile Oliver’s face turned beetroot. Seamus and Dean turned to me eagerly, always ready for new stories about me looking daft.

“Fall?” Seamus said excitedly.

Without looking at him I said quickly, “It was nothing. Just a little... mishap.”

Oliver tried to cover his tracks, “Oh, yeah. Just a little mishap.”

“Really boring story,” I added.

Rose shifted her weight so that her shoulder touched Oliver’s. “Oh, come on Edie! It’s actually a really great story.”

“Yes!” Seamus pounded his fists on his thighs. “Tell us!”

Dean pushed my shoulder gently. “Yeah, come on.”

Normally this story would not have been so horrible to tell, especially after we’d all had a few. In fact I would rather talk about my blunders than my achievements any day. But I did not want Rose to have the satisfaction of hearing it from my own mouth. Everyone was watching me intently—except Oliver, who was squinting very hard at the ceiling. I shrugged and brought my glass closer. “I just... tripped and fell today when I went to see Lisa.”

“Down a flight of stairs!” Rose added. “Oh, and you forgot to mention the other witch.” She put a hand on Oliver’s arm and said as if I were not there, “Didn’t Edie give her a concussion?”

“What!” Seamus exclaimed. “How are we not hearing about this until now?!” Everyone but Oliver and I laughed heartily. Seamus threw an arm around my shoulder to show that it was all in good jest. Unfortunately I did not see the humour in it.

It was quickly becoming one of those situations that didn’t even need to be a “situation” at all, and the more embarrassed and angry I had gotten, the more awkward it was for everyone. It was like the perfect storm of shoddy situations.

Thankfully, Oliver had broken up the laughter. “Well, I’d better be going,” he said suddenly. I didn’t even glance his way, furious at him for gossiping about my Most Embarrassing Moments 2006 with Rose like two schoolgirls.

Rose flashed a smile, her hand still on his arm. “Apparate me home?”

“Oh,” Oliver paused. “Of course.” He turned to my little group once more and smiled pathetically. “Well, see you.”

Seamus had waved excitedly--again Oliver furrowed his brow in confusion--while Dean just lifted his chin in a silent farewell. I hadn’t responded at all, instead choosing to down the rest of my beer while Rose linked her arm through Oliver’s. They disappeared, Seamus still cackling away and shaking my shoulder roughly. I don’t think I said much after that, settling my bill shortly after and stumbling home alone.

“Ughhh!”

I grab my pillow and squish it over my face. Rose is quite the mastermind when it comes to social sabotage, it turns out. She’d had everything planned, and I’d played right into her trap. I suppose I could’ve told her off at the pub, but then I’d have looked like the self-important arse who couldn’t take a joke. I should have laughed it off, but I was too drunk, too caught off-guard, and too seriously angry with Oliver Wood for telling her in the first place.

Oliver Wood--the person I am done thinking about for the week. It’s always ended in a headache. This time quite literally.

Gathering all of my motivation, I swing one leg off the bed where it dangles pathetically. Step one. It takes me another few minutes before the second leg is beside it, though I’m still splayed out flat on the mattress. Suddenly the fireplace, which I had been too pissed to charm to life last night, bursts into a roaring flame.

“Edie?” comes a concerned voice. “Edie, are you alright?”

Oh no.

“Edie, answer me or I’m Apparating over there this instant!”

Anything but that. I jolt up onto my elbows, despite the inevitable throbbing of my head. “Mum. I’m fine.”

Hovering in the fireplace is my mother’s head. She scowls and I’m reminded of how similar we look. Same freckles, same brown eyes. Her hair, though, has apparently been sheared very short in the last few weeks and a floral scarf is wrapped around her head.

My mum, the artist.

“What are you doing still asleep?” she exclaims. “I thought we had plans!”

I rub my eyes. “Plans? Mum, I don’t remember making any--”

“I must’ve sent you three owls on the matter!” she says indignantly.

Before I can stop myself, my eyes dart to the pile of unopened letters on my bedside cabinet. What? Nobody my age really keeps up with owl correspondence anymore, unless it’s something formal like rejections for employment or Gringotts’s notices about dwindling funds—hypothetically speaking, of course. Most witches and wizards have two-way mirrors now, but my mum has yet to jump on the bandwagon. She says it’s too “contemporary.” But between working at The Poisoned Apple, extracting owls from the fireplaces of Witch Weekly, and slaving over the Quidditch article, I haven’t had the time to go sifting through my mother’s ten-page letters.

She must have noticed the envelopes herself because she is making her disappointed face. I rub my head. “I’m sorry Mum, I’ve just been so busy. Why didn’t you just contact me by fireplace before now?”

“Well Edie, if I’d known that your own mother’s post was such a bother to you, then of course I would never have dared to trouble--”

“So what are we doing today?” I interrupt, forcing a smile.

She looks satisfied. “Come visit me at the studio in thirty minutes. I thought we could get breakfast.” Then, because is physically incapable of not giving her opinion on every matter, “Though it will actually be lunch, at this hour.”

I wonder where I get it from.

It takes everything I’ve got to drag myself out of bed and get ready for breakfast with my mum. I say this partially because of the hangover, and partially because any visit with her takes several days’ worth of mental preparation. Hypatia Lennox is a caring, intelligent and hard-working witch. But she’s loopy, a control-freak, and most certainly smothering. Since my twenty-fifth birthday last April she’s become very concerned with my romantic life, or lack thereof, more than ever. She seems convinced that nobody in their right mind would ever marry one of my three younger brothers (though as the one to care for them for seventeen years, she’s biased). So in her mind, I’m her only hope for a grandchild. And in her mind my biological clock is ticking.

To my surprise, saying “Accio somewhat presentable dress!” works. My mother would be affronted if I appeared in anything less for our first meal together in weeks. After un-smudging last night’s makeup I turn to Apparate to her studio--

Bad idea.

Hopefully Mum won’t notice the vomit near the back door.

At least I feel a bit better. After giving myself a moment, I walk around to the front door of Mum’s studio. Once more I’m in Renwick, the small Wizarding village where I grew up. It’s near Seaford and the Seven Sisters, and I can’t say much has changed at all in the twenty-six years I’ve known the place. My mum’s studio is a small brick building on the main street. It has blue painted shutters and a bright yellow door, over which hangs the colourful wooden sign Art by Hypatia.

My mum does decently with selling her paintings, though most of her income for our rather large family was brought in elsewhere. She still works as a pastry chef at Bylgia’s Bakery in the same town, while my stepfather brings little money as a small-time jazz musician. My siblings and I certainly didn’t grow up wealthy, but we got by in our crowded little flat. From the outside my mum and Andrew appear to be the ideal, hip parents. In reality they’re just as barking mad as the rest, except they enjoy sneaking behind the studio for some magical “herbs” every once in awhile.

Nutters.

I am reaching for the handle on the studio door when it is suddenly pulled open from inside. “Daughter!” my mother cries, throwing her arms in the air. She’s wearing a long paisley dress and cowboy boots, and I’m thankful that the scarf is now around her neck and not her head. She pulls me into a violent hug. I’m glad I’ve already had my episode behind her studio, what with all the squeezing.

“Come in!” she says. “There’s somebody I’d like you to meet.”

I make a conscious effort to keep in my groan. Although I’m glad my parents are social, now that we’ve all flown the nest, her choice of company makes me want to pull my own eyes out. If I had a Galleon for every middle-aged artist I’ve met, who sculpts nudes from garbage and still prattles on about who broke up the Beatles…

Instead when I step into her studio, which is filled wall-to-wall with abstract paintings and stacks of prints on the floors, I see a young man about my age. Upon first glance I can tell that he’s dreadfully bored, and I wonder how long my mum has kept him here.

Twelve seconds in and she’s already found me a husband.

“Edie,” she says, positively beaming. “This is Jae Chang. I believe you went to school with his sister, Cho.”

Jae and I shake hands. “Hello,” he says with a polite smile, and I hear a faint Scottish accent. His shaggy fringe hangs in his eyes and the rest is pulled into a very short ponytail. He’s wearing a pair of skinny jeans that I probably couldn’t squeeze into. Alright, so he’s pretty fit, despite the tortured intellectual thing. But I’m too irritated with my mum to really acknowledge that at this point. How did she lure him in here, let alone get him to wait around?

“Isn’t she even cuter in real life?” my mother tightens her grip on my shoulders and I’m not sure if it’s a show of love or a threat. “I’m afraid the photograph wasn’t very good. Edie, you were so peaky last Christmas.”

“Photograph,” I repeat, paling. Jae offers me a pitying smile.

“Jae is a student at the Antiphilus Institute for Visual Art,” my mother beams as if he were her own son.

“Oh, right. My friend Dean Thomas is a graduate from there.”

He returns my smile but doesn’t have the chance to respond, because my mum barrels on, “He’s going to be my new painting apprentice this semester. He came over to become better acquainted with my space.”

Two hours ago, Jae mouths to me with a grin. I turn my laugh into a cough.

My mother, on her relentless mission to sell me off to the highest bidder, doesn’t notice. “Such a talented young artist, and handsome too! It’s hard to believe he doesn’t have a girlfriend,” she pats my shoulder meaningfully.

“Oh, well Mum, I just don’t know that my dowry is quite ready. I’ve really been slacking on my needlepoint.” Now it’s Jae’s turn to cover up his laugh, which results in choking.

My mum flushes. Sensing that she’s treading on dangerous territory, she gestures at the walls in a change of subject. “I was just showing Jae my newest body of work.”

I turn to glance at what she’s gesturing to and do a double-take, freezing in horror. The paintings that cover her entire studio and which I thought were completely abstract, on further inspection, are actually giant, brightly colored, poorly disguised “lady-bits” as Seamus would say. But these paintings would make even Georgia O’Keefe blush.

“Oh wow,” I manage. “How...bold.”

Clearly pleased by my response, she walks closer to a painting done in blues and purples. It’s easily four feet wide. “This one is called Daughter."

I suppose in the mind of a contemporary artist who believes in new-age bollocks like crystal healing, this is a compliment. But to normal people like Jae Chang, it’s just humiliating. Welp, there went that potential candidate for a boyfriend.

“You know Mum, we should really get going to breakfast. It’s late after all.” I am steering her out the door, despite her protests. “Bye, nice meeting you!” I call to Jae without a second glance.

Before the door is even shut behind us, Mum says in a voice that I’m sure is perfectly audible to the young artist, “He’s quite nice, isn’t he?”

I suppose I deserve this kind of embarrassment after refusing to read her post for so long. “He sure was, Mum,” I sigh.

***


As usual I am going to be in dire need a nap after this breakfast with my mother. It’s my way of detoxification. We have gone to her favorite little cafe down the street, which she loves because they no longer implement the use of House Elves. (Eradicating House Elves, whether they want to be or not, is the new to-do in the Wizarding world. Like going vegan.) The cafe serves granola and Yerba Mate and tofu and not much else. Bird food, if you ask me. Or so I thought--we chose to sit outside, and even the sparrows look disgusted by the poor excuses for a hearty breakfast.

Before our food has even arrived I’m ready to bolt. First Mum had eyed me warily when I ordered a mimosa for a little Hair of the Dog, and asked in a concerned voice, “Exactly how often do you drink alcohol, Edith?” Then she’d proceeded to ask approximately two thousand questions about Lisa’s wedding, and how she and Justin were doing, and sighing wistfully at her hopelessly single daughter. She even patted my hand sadly when I mentioned being Lisa’s maid of honour.

But what really takes the Snitch is when she mentions Jae Chang again.

“He’s a very talented painter. And so handsome.”

“You’ve already mentioned that bit.”

“Don’t you think he’s handsome?”

I set down my champagne flute heavily, almost breaking the stem. “Gee, Mum, d’you think I should go for it?” She grins, averting my eyes. I know that look anywhere--there’s something she’s afraid to tell me. Or more precisely, something that she did, which she knows I won’t like, but did it anyway to her own amusement.

“What now?” I groan.

“Well, Jae and I got to talking. And he mentioned how he misses his mother’s home-cooked Korean food. So I mentioned how much you love Korean food--”

“I’ve never had Korean food!”

“And then he mentioned the name of this lovely little restaurant in Diagon Alley. And I mentioned that you live in Diagon Alley, and also that you never work on Wednesday nights. And, well...”

“You didn’t,” I bellow. People are turning to stare. “Mum, please tell me you didn’t.”

“Well he said yes!” she exclaims indignantly, throwing her hands up. “He liked your photograph. He said you’re pretty!”

“Well of course he did, you’re my mother! What’s he going to do, tell you that I’d be totally shaggable if I lost ten pounds and put on a little cat-eye?”

Now people are definitely staring. The wizard at the adjacent table slowly covers his toddler’s ears, horrified. I shut my eyes and exhale.

“Mum, why don’t you ever ask me about my job? Or my internship?” I ask with a twinge of sadness. “It’s always if I’ve met some boy, or if I have a crush, or if Seamus or Dean has finally realized they’re madly in love with me.”

“It’s possible,” she defends.

“No way in hell,” I say resolutely. “And I’m only twenty-six. There are plenty of other, more important things going on in my life. I’m not just sitting around thinking up baby names for my future daughter--”

“I always saw you having twin boys,” my mother interjects. Then she sees my expression and reaches across the table to clasp my hand. “I’m sorry. I just... I worry about you, Edie. I’m proud of you for being so independent. Merlin knows that I was just like you. But I don’t want you to neglect the… other things in life, too.”

I snort derisively, sipping from my mimosa. “Trust me, I’m not the one neglecting them.”

And then she’s looking at me so sadly, and I think I even see the hint of tears, as the life of a grandchild-less old witch flashes before her--Merlin, she has seriously hit menopause. I sigh in defeat. “Alright!” I say with difficulty, “Would it give you peace of mind if I were to... attend an evening out with this Jae Chang?”

“Yes!” she exclaims, clasping her hands beneath her chin. “Very much.”

Well, it’s not like I’ve got anyone else lined up on the dance card. “Fine. One date.”

My mum looks as though she’ll be able to sleep soundly again, which should be annoying, but today’s interaction has gone quite well by comparison. I return her smile, but it is wiped away the moment our food arrives and I see the measly portions of egg whites and soy-bacon. Not exactly my idea of hangover food.

“Mmm!” my mother relishes, eyeing her plate. “This looks absolutely delicious. Let’s tuck in!”

I decide that on the way home I will stop for a doughnut.




So there you have it! I just love Hypatia; she's entirely too much fun to write. Thank you so much for reading. Please feel free to leave me your thoughts on what you did or didn't like!




CHAPTER NINE


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.”

“Ah.”

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!

Chapter 10: And the Award Goes To...
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CHAPTER TEN



I am jolted awake by a loud smack on my window. At first I think it’s Rose, come to finish me off once and for all. But then I see the befuddled gray owl—I recognize it as Mr. Ward’s. Bugger. Tonight is the Wizarding Newspaper Association Gala. I’d forgotten all about it in the week I’ve been avoiding Witch Weekly to work on the second article. It was just too risky to do the research at my desk, when I was supposed to be out running errands. I wonder if anyone’s even noticed my absence. With a groan I drag myself from my warm covers and open the window.

After wrestling the letter from the owl’s talons—the collision had frazzled its tiny brain—it barely misses the window on its way out. Even Ward’s owls are incompetent. I shake my head, breaking the envelope’s wax seal: an over-embellished “W.”

Edith!

Please arrive at Gringotts at 5:00 to assist with set-up!
Mildred will be there to direct you!
We should only need you until about 9:00!

Cheers!

Artie Ward


Oh, right, only four hours. I toss the letter unceremoniously over my shoulder, stretching widely. I’m also to go wedding dress shopping with Lisa this afternoon, and need to apply for more jobs. The rejections from my first wave of applications came in yesterday. They all read the same thing: “We were impressed by your portfolio, but do not have any positions available at this time.” It’s going to be quite an exhausting day.

At least my mind isn’t muddled with alcohol, as I stayed in last night. I couldn’t have possibly afforded it, but that bit is still a secret. So when I told Seamus and Dean that I wasn’t going with them, they looked as though I’d presented them with an impossible Rubik’s Cube.

“But it’s Taco Tuesday,” Seamus had said slowly. Clearly I must’ve mixed my days up.

“I know,” I shrugged. He and Dean remained in my doorway, very perplexed. “I’m just feeling a bit peaky. You two go on.” Eventually they had shuffled along, still incapable of wrapping their heads around it. But I had research to do.

The interview was only two days away, and Blakeslee told Rose that this article would have to expose his personal life. So the readers of Witch Weekly weren’t interested in my politics. I can’t say I’m surprised. But I can’t allow myself to back down; I want to try and change Witch Weekly, somehow. To show them that there are more important things than nail varnish, and that the celebrities they hold on a pedestal aren’t so grand after all—starting with this assignment. I need to make them see Wood for who he is: selfish, arrogant, and thoughtless. I’ll just have to spin it as juicy gossip.

So while Dean and Seamus went pub-crawling, I spent last night in pyjamas, eating Cauldron Cakes at my shoddy desk. I pored over past issues of Witch Weekly, the Daily Prophet, Which Broomstick, Quidditch Quarterly and countless others in search of information. The only publications that contained anything substantial were the tabloids. Unfortunately they weren’t reliable sources… unless he really was spotted canoodling with a male centaur in Belize. (Part of me wishes he had been, just because the visual image is so entertaining.)

But even the tabloids had little on his refusal to donate to St. Mungo’s. Mostly they were littered with photographs of him acting the way he had at The Poisoned Apple. So apparently the drinking problem isn’t just a rumour. But what good was that to my case? Teenage witches who are already smitten with him won’t think any less of him for partying. Even though his picture hangs in the girls’ dormitories of Hogwarts, Oliver Wood’s real personality—the one that I know—remains out of the public eye. Frustrated, I had eventually settled for watching old Puddlemere matches. My quill was poised as if to take notes, but I don’t think I wrote down anything other than Wood → Wanker.

One thing of interest did present itself, though it had nothing to do with the article. The newest issue of The Oracle Underground, which I purchased even though I barely had the funds, listed a job opening for a reporter. My heart had almost leapt from my chest—my favorite publication was hiring! But it wasn’t even within my grasp; the ad strictly said “three to five years’ experience required.” What could I do? Even my word-twisting abilities couldn’t make my time internship seem equal to years of practical experience.

I rub my eyes, staring out onto the bleary morning. With a sigh, I decide to put everything out of mind. Besides, I’m overdue for a very long bath. Soon I’m reclining in warm bubbly goodness with a nice cuppa and—I’m more than embarrassed to admit—a Gwendolyn Phire paperback. I just want to forget everything, and what better way than mind-numbing drivel? (Because if I ignore the problem it will totally go away, right?) After the bath, I spend a considerable amount of time charming my fingernail varnish bright yellow. By noon, when Lisa contacts me, I’m still in pyjamas.

I agree wholeheartedly to meet at Twilfitt & Tatting’s, calling it a reasonable excuse not to be thinking about jobs. Soon I appear outside the storefront in my parka, returning my best mate’s wave. I’m carrying a giant canister of coffee; my purse contains a headache-relieving potion, a pack of tissues, and an extra pair of dangly earrings in case she forgot. I’m more than prepared for a day-long excursion.

And twenty minutes later we’re leaving with her wedding dress. Or, at least, she’s chosen one and the seamstresses have taken her measurements. It’ll be owled within the week.

“And you’re sure,” I repeat for the thousandth time, as we step out into the bright and chilly September afternoon.

Lisa is beaming like I’ve never seen her. “Honestly, Edie, don’t make me second-guess myself.”

I zip my parka. “I knew you wouldn’t be fussy, but Merlin, ten minutes?”

“You sound so surprised!” she laughs. “Did you think this was going to be an all-day excursion?”

“I brought snacks,” I bewilderedly think of the high-energy granola bars I’d brought. “No offense. You’re far from a bridezilla, but—” I take her gently by the shoulders. “I just want you to have the absolute most perfect wedding day ever. And if you can with this dress, then I’m satisfied.”

“Oh, come on. You know the dress doesn’t really matter to me! Plus I saw you almost crying, which I took as a sign from God.”

“Was not,” I drop my hands. Although I would never admit it—not in a thousand years, not even if you slipped me a Veritaserum—I did feel stirring deep in the cockles of my heart. I’d been right: after some very nonchalant browsing, she found a lightweight lace number that looked like a napkin on the rack and like a thousand-Galleon gown on her shoulders. She was absolutely stunning, lifting her blond waves off her neck and beaming.

Perhaps I had misted up. Just a bit.

Lisa links her arm through mine and we begin to stroll aimlessly. “You’re next, you know,” she grins. Although she has read my mind exactly, I bristle at her words.

“All right, Mum,” I grumble.

Ever since she’s been engaged, I’ve stopped talking to Lisa about my love-life. Not that there’s anything to tell, really. A few flings here and there, but nothing substantial since a year ago, with Cormac. He was too blond and too clean-cut, and honestly a complete dolt. Plus he knew absolutely nothing about literature or politics or music. We were both bored from day one, but we were bored with everything else in our lives too, so we stuck it out. For him, I was just a roof to sleep under and a pair of boobs to ogle. He was proof that I am capable of wrangling a guy. Mostly I brought him around to parties to show him off, and prayed he wouldn’t open his mouth. Lisa probably saw right through it, for the entire six months he and I managed to withstand one another. But I never wanted to come out and talk relationships with her; it’s the only part of our friendship that’s changed since her engagement. I know Lisa wants the best for me. But I don’t want to be patted on the cheek and told that my time will come.

“Maybe I don’t ever want to get married in the first place,” I say suddenly.

Lisa blinks, confused.

“I mean, I seriously cannot imagine having to wake up every day, for the rest of my life, next to the same bloke snoring away. And why should a woman’s existence be nothing but striving towards marriage?” I’m on my soapbox, and my engaged best mate is probably not the person to rant to, but it’s all spilling out. “I’m only twenty-six, what if I just want a well-paying career? And a nice flat, and a pair of trousers without holes?”

But Lisa bumps me gently with her shoulder and grins, “I meant... you’re next up for today. We should find your maid of honour dress while we’re out.”

My face turns beetroot. “Oh. Yeah, of course.”

“What’s going on with you?” she stops me. Her clear blue eyes stare pointedly into mine. “Something’s wrong, I can tell. Out with it.”

“Erm...” I blink at her. My mouth parts, ready to spill everything: that I’ve been sacked, and am completely skint, and that there’s no way in Azkaban I can afford a proper dress. Instead I give her a bright smile. “I’m starving. Are you?”

Though she looks disbelieving, soon we’re at an outdoor table shrouded by a bright green umbrella. We’ve been here a thousand times before, but now I’m scanning the menu for the cheapest items. When I ask our waiter for a glass of water and a small salad, I see Lisa quirk an eyebrow in my periphery. I return the gesture when she, practically vegan for the past ten years, asks for “their largest portion of fish and chips.”

As soon as the waiter is gone I say flatly, “Lisa. I have never, ever, in all my years of knowing you, seen you eat fish and chips. You’re pregnant.”

“Edie! Please!” she flushes. Her voice drops down to a whisper, “Justin and I are… careful. You know that.”

“I’m sorry, I’m only teasing. It’s just a far cry from the usual broccoli sprouts and hummus,” I smile at her adorable embarrassment. She’s really quiet about her and Justin’s bedroom-life. Unless she’s had a few drinks, and then… Merlin. Sometimes even I think it’s too much information.

She fiddles with her napkin for a moment, opening and closing her mouth. When I give her the out-with-it eyebrow quirk, she sighs. “I’m just so nervous about everything with the wedding, and it’s manifesting itself in food. Last night I ate an entire tub of ice cream.” She pauses and adds guiltily, “…covered in chocolate sauce and marshmallows and biscuits.”

“Holy hell, Lisa, you’re becoming a real woman!” I laugh heartily. She has always been so thin; the one sitting off to the side as I demolish any sort of food that comes smothered in cheese.

She tucks a piece of hair behind her ear, still embarrassed. “It’s just... In less than three months, I’ll never be Lisa Turpin again. And I’m so happy with Justin, you know that. But Lisa Turpin is who I’ve been for the last twenty-six years! Can you blame me for being a nervous eater?”

This is the first time I’ve ever heard her express any ill feeling about her marriage. She can’t even talk about Justin or say the word “wedding” without beaming like an idiot. This is definitely a side she wasn’t showing, for one selfless reason or another.

I smile sadly. “No, of course you can’t be blamed. But it’s perfectly normal. I know you don’t have cold feet, and you know that too, somewhere in all that sugar floating around your bloodstream. If anything, you should feel guilty about all the hearts you’ll be breaking, when you’re no longer on the market. Although I think a resounding ‘Finally, thank you!’ from the female half of London is in order.”

She smiles, placated, and pushes her hair behind her ear again. “Thank you. For putting up with me. I know I’ve not been myself lately, going on about floral arrangements and all that rubbish.”

“Oi,” I say, “You’d better take advantage of it while you can. After this wedding, every time you say the word ‘crinoline’ you’re buying me a drink.”

When our food arrives, I’m given a first-hand glimpse at exactly how Lisa has been eating her feelings. The plates are barely set down before she takes a wolfish bite of the fish (using her hands.) I don’t think she’s even swallowed before she’s cramming the chips in as well. Fighting down my laughter, I poke the tiny salad with my fork.

Lisa eyes my meagre portions and says, mouth still full, “You know… they have some really nice dresses over at Kensington’s.”

“Kensington’s,” I repeat flatly.

“Yeah.”

“The second-hand store.”

Lisa is suddenly very interested in the lemon wedge on her plate. “Look,” I stare at her evenly. “I may not be the wealthiest witch in all of London, but this is your bloody wedding we’re talking about. It’s a monumental day, and it only happens once in your lifetime. And for that reason, I need to look ruddy fantastic.” Before she can question me, I change the subject. “So, let’s get down to it. Exactly how crazy do you want to go for your hen night?”

“I swear to God, if you make me wear or eat anything with genitalia on it, you’re no longer invited to the wedding.”

“Noted.” I take another bite of lackluster lettuce.

*


I am more than surprised when I arrive early for the Gala that evening. Maybe I’m turning over a new leaf. Or maybe I was just desperate to leave my flat, to avoid telling Dean and Seamus that I’m unemployed. Folding my arms, I stare up at the gleaming white walls of Gringotts. An Auror in a long cloak patrols along the black iron fence. Good thing the Female Goblin Coalition backed out, because he looks particularly heartless. I think of Seamus, and how he’ll be given his Auror’s badge within the year. What would he do, if he were given an assignment like preventing women from speaking out?

I thought the Wizarding World was past all of this.

Then again, it’s not called the Witching World, is it?

A familiar voice calls, “You’re stuck here, too?”

Theo is heading my way, camera swinging from his neck. He’s wearing a black suit and tie with a plaid shirt. “Hiya, Theo!” I call, glad for a familiar face. “Yeah, I’ll be here all night.”

He reaches my side. “Yeah? What has Ward got you doing?”

I falter. “Refreshments.”

“Ah.”

“Yep.”

Theo looks up at the building and shakes his head. “I can’t believe the magazine is partaking in this, after everything that’s happened. Well, actually I can believe it. Which I reckon is even worse.”

I snort derisively, “You’re telling me. Do you know what ever happened with the protest?” My voice drops off, because the Auror’s head has snapped in my direction. Theo must notice as well, because he casts me a sidelong glance.

“Maybe we should…”

“Right.”

Avoiding eye contact with the Auror, Theo and I silently climb the stone steps. When we reach the apex I push the black wooden doors open, revealing the marble pillars and chandeliers bustling with preparation. Something about it all seems dark and eerie, though. Everything is black and white, from the stone to the crystal to the Goblins in tuxedos. It’s quiet, too, for the amount of people working.

“Well, I’ll be the one with the camera,” Theo says with his perpetual hint of sarcasm.

“I’ll be the one serving Muenster.” We trade small grins and nod, before parting ways.

*


“You’re late,” Mildred snaps when I finally locate her.

She’s tucked away in a side-room, near the kitchens, hidden beneath the stairs of a back room. These Goblins really do not want you knowing your way around. I had to be escorted the entire way; passwords were whispered to different portraits; multiple keys were used at each door. No wonder it took forever to find her.

I furrow my brow and check my wristwatch. “Late? It’s not five o’clock.”

She’s doing what she does best: standing rigidly and entirely too close. I shift uncomfortably under her stony gaze before giving up. “Welp, sorry I’m late!” I say brightly. “So, isn’t there some sort of getup I need to be wear—oh, God.”

My eyes have fallen on the outfit that hangs to my right. Button-up shirt, checkered green vest, black bowtie, frumpy trousers… really, it couldn’t be worse. Apparently it wasn’t humiliating enough to be denied employment by the publications in attendance. Now I have to serve them bubbly while wearing this. Mildred passes the outfit over, and I distinctly see a grin upon her face. “Best get changed now. We’ll direct you from there.”

“Wonderful,” I mutter, stalking from the room.

As it so happens, passing out flutes of champagne and spinach puffs isn’t so bad. Most people ignore me, to the point of not realizing that I’m standing right there to hear the salacious gossip. The gala’s been underway for only an hour, and I already know which reporter from the Daily Prophet pays off her sources, and which Quidditch Quarterly writer has slept with the majority of his. Theo is hanging back to take photos—or advantage of the free food—so I have somebody to talk to.

Actually, everything’s going quite swimmingly, until I spot Rose walking in. My heart drops into the pit of my stomach; I didn’t think we’d be running into one another. As far as I knew, the gala was for editors only.

I quickly duck behind a very confused-looking Theo. This was probably the worst hiding place, as Rose was undoubtedly scanning the crowd for him. When she makes her way over I step uncomfortably from behind him, and she smirks. She’s wearing a pale pink gown with silver beading; one shoulder is left completely bare, and the other is covered in a long sleeve. She looks absolutely stunning, and I look… erm.

“Edie!” she touches my arm. “I didn’t think I’d see you here. Nice vest.”

Only I can feel the pinch she gives my arm, and peg the glimmer in her eye for mischievousness. “Rose,” I say flatly. “I thought this event was for editors only.”

“Wotcher, Theo,” she smiles, ignoring me. He responds by taking her photograph, which sends her into fits of giggles. “Oh please, I just walked in! At least let me get a drink in my system before you start on that,” she sighs happily. Then she turns as if suddenly remembering I’m there. “Champagne, please.”

I stare incredulously, feeling myself flush with humiliation. How is it that we’re always in this situation—how does she always have the upper-hand? Apparently I’ve taken too long with her request, because with the slightest irritated headshake, she grabs a flute of bubbly for herself.

“I’m here because Blakeslee invited me personally,” she answers at last. “She wanted to express her congratulations for my most recent work. You know the article I wrote about Oliver Wood, of course.”

“Oh, of course,” I say so bitingly that Theo shoots me a strange look. Rose just smiles, a knowing look in her eye. Flicking my eyes at Theo, I murmur quietly, “Rose, this is getting ridiculous. Why are you acting like this? I’m still the one doing you a favour—”

She cuts me off with a trilling laugh. “Are you so sure about that?” she says through her smile. “Yeah, I’m the one who came to you. But if I hadn’t, you’d still be running coffee errands, and filing parchments and, well…” she gestures to my outfit.

I’m furious because she’s right. As torturous it’s been to deal with her, writing these articles is the most exciting thing to happen since my internship began. And possibly since I graduated Hogwarts. But it still doesn’t warrant her trying to publicly humiliate me…again. “Rose, I know Blakeslee liked my article better than any of yours. But you don’t have to be such a dick about it.”

I may as well have just performed an Unforgiveable Curse. Rose almost drops her champagne and her eyes blaze with fire. Abandoning all pretenses of friendliness, she bites, “Honestly, Edie. Don’t you think that if you deserved a journalism career they would have given you one?”

There is a thunderous silence. Two people with wounded vanities stare each other down. Theo clears his throat awkwardly, undoubtedly wondering what we could possibly be talking about. We snap out of our death stares.

“Well,” Rose says at a normal volume. “I’m going to mingle. I believe that’s Conor Fleming over there, speaking with Ward.”

Before I can stop myself, my head snaps in the direction of the editor. He’s conversing with a wizard wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a tweed suit. My heart skips a beat. Conor Fleming, the editor of The Oracle Underground, is here?

Rose says offhandedly, “You know, I hear they have a position opening soon... I really must go chat with him.” Flashing one last smile she plunges into the crowd. I watch as she makes her way to the two men. Is she seriously doing this? As far as I knew, she was content at Witch Weekly. Surely she wouldn’t pursue a job opening solely because I want it…

Then again, it is Rose.

An elderly man approaches the cheese spread, bringing a monocle to his eye. “Now, darling,” he begins in a posh accent, and I visibly tense. “Which of these is the most piquant?”

“Oh, sod off! They all taste like cheese!” I shout.

“I say!” He uprights himself with utmost indignity. I ignore him as he turns away in a huff, but not before grabbing a wheel of brie. Theo is staring in horror. “Sorry,” I grumble when I notice him backing away, “I don’t know what’s gotten into me.” I stare acidly into the crowd, where Rose, Ward and Fleming are engaged in what appears to be stimulating conversation.

It isn’t until later, when the small awards ceremony commences, that I understand Rose’s words: Blakeslee wanted to express her congratulations for my most recent work. When the spokesperson for the Wizarding Newspaper Association calls out the winner for Best Celebrity Interview, I drop the bottle of champagne I was holding. Luckily, Theo was paying attention—with the flick of his wand the bottle freezes midair. But I barely even notice.

Rose Zeller is receiving an award for my work.

The room is sounding with applause as she rises from her table, smiling. I see her cross the small stage to shake hands with the WNA spokesperson. He offers a brief speech, explaining the hard work she put in; the fresh and unique tone that stands out amidst other celebrity interviews. The crowd laughs appropriately at the anecdote that she knew nothing about Quidditch beforehand. At their table, Mr. Ward and Conor Fleming have their heads together, murmuring approvingly.

“That’s it,” I say suddenly.

Theo, cramming a handful of spinach puffs into his mouth, looks at me warily. “What’s it?”

I rip off my bowtie and slam it onto his chest. “Mind the table for me, Theo. I’m going to find Blakeslee.”

“What, now?” he says incredulously. “You don’t really want me to wear the bowtie…?”

I strut into the sea of tables with the burning desire for revenge and resurrection like I’ve never felt before. (God, is this really how people talk after just one chapter of Gwendolyn Phire?) From behind me Theo tries weakly, “Maybe now’s not the best time…”

“It’s as good as any,” I say. “There’s something she needs to know.”



Author's Note: Phew! Quite a long chapter, and I'm sorry if it got a bit tiresome! But I really wanted to end it where I did, and to have some Edie♥Lisa time. (Really I just want to change everyone's minds about Lisa and make you love her!) I decided at the last minute to add in the scene from the gala. You lovely readers made me feel so guilty about giving Edie such a hard time, so I decided she deserved to exact a little revenge ;3

Alright! So, what do we think? Is Edie going to far? Is she even going to tell Blakeslee, or is something going to get in the way? Did anyone miss Theo and Mildred? ;D

And another gorgeous chapter image by inspector. at TDA!

Chapter 11: The Magic Touch
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CHAPTER ELEVEN



Chest heaving with rage, I spot Blakeslee at a table with several very important-looking witches. The fire is still burning in me as I march over, but when I stop behind her unnoticed, it’s blown out quick as a candle. I stand awkwardly, realizing how completely insane I must look in my current getup. What am I doing? How exactly had I planned on going about this? I don’t even have proof, for God’s sake! But if I back down now, I may never say anything.

I settle for a good old-fashioned throat clearing. Blakeslee doesn’t notice, though one of the witches quirks an eyebrow. Again I clear my throat, “Pardon me…”

She turns around and surprises me when she says, “Oh, there you are!” Wait, does she already know? That would certainly save me the pain of explaining myself. But after a cursory glance around the table she says, “Three more glasses of champagne, please.”

Well this is off to a brilliant start. I glance over at Rose’s table. She’s spotted me and involuntarily jumped to her feet, clutching the back of her chair. Quickly I turn my gaze back to Blakeslee, “Actually—”

And then Oliver Wood strolls into the dimly-lit room, and I stop. What is he doing here?! Don’t tell me they invited him because of Rose’s article. I mean—my article! But it only takes those two seconds of being thrown completely off-guard to regain myself. The horrible realization hits me: there is no way that Blakeslee will ever believe that an unpaid intern wrote that article.

Blakeslee is staring at me, because I’m still standing with my mouth open and index finger raised matter-of-factly. “Three champagnes, got it,” I dart away before Wood notices.

Crestfallen, I make my way back to the refreshments table, back to where I belong in this scene. Did my blaze of glory really just blow out like that? Suddenly Rose intercepts me, falling in step. “What the hell was that? Why were you talking to Blakeslee?”

“It was nothing,” I lie. “She called me over for more champagne. But maybe I should be asking what you’re thinking. Why is Oliver Wood here?”

Rose pales and looks out onto the sea of tables. Oliver is standing against the wall uncomfortably, hands in his pockets, scanning the room. His tie is loose and his jacket is unbuttoned; I wonder if he’s just rushed over after Quidditch practise. Two middle-aged witches pass by and eye him like a prize hog, but he seems oblivious.

“I didn’t invite him,” Rose murmurs. She turns to me, panic in her voice, “I didn’t invite him! Ward or Blakeslee must have, for the awards ceremony. Thank God he’s late.”

“Yeah, Rose, about that award—”

I don’t think she’s intentionally silencing me when she seizes my arm. “You have to get out of here!” she gasps. “If he realizes you’re not actually employed by the magazine…”

“He’s coming!” I shriek. Before I can think of a better plan, I duck under the table… and apparently just in time. Rose’s high heels swivel around, as Wood’s oxford shoes come to a halt.

“Oliver! So good to see you,” her voice betrays none of her previous fear. In fact I hear nothing but flirtation—of course. I shouldn’t be surprised; she did say she was going to pursue him, after all. I wonder suddenly what his facial expression is like, and if he’s in awe of how beautiful she looks. “Did we drag you all the way out here?”

“Have you seen Edie?” Oliver says. I’m not sure why, but a smug grin appears on my face.

“No, she’s actually not here tonight. She’s… very ill. Here, have some champagne. So how have you been?”

His feet shift around uncertainly. “She’s ill?”

“Yes, alright, she’s ill,” Rose says too hastily. Oliver must have fixed her with a strange look, because she adds, “Poor girl. Been sick for days. She has…” there’s a pause, and then she says all too delightedly, “horrible diarrhea!”

Oliver chokes on his champagne, sputtering and coughing, while my jaw drops to the floor. “Are you completely serious?!” I whisper it so harshly that for a moment, I worry they’ve heard me. But I’m afraid that Rose is not getting away with this one.

Wood sounds like he’s never been so uncomfortable in his life, “Erm. Well. I hope she’s well enough for our interview on Friday.”

“Oh, an interview—” But Rose doesn’t get to finish her sentence.

She’s just tried to flirtatiously shift her weight to the other hip. But the instant the heel of her shoe touches the floor it releases a bellowing flatulent sound. I’m surprised it doesn’t rattle the champagne flutes. I distinctly see Rose freeze, while Oliver has gone quite silent.

“That… that wasn’t…” she starts, but her other shoe has made impact with the marble, and it releases another noise; a really nasty one, this time.

I did say that Charms was my best subject.

“Oh my God…” Rose whimpers. I have to cast another charm, this time to silence my own laughter as she scurries away mortified, leaving a flurry of flatulence in her wake. I am still rolling around when Oliver bewilderedly wanders away. I swear he’s so uncomfortable that I can see it in his shoes. Seamus and Dean will be so proud.

I crawl out from under the table, not giving a damn about who sees me (which is good, because I think I gave the posh Wizard with the brie quite a shock.) I’m feeling entirely too triumphant, considering that I’ve probably just declared war with Rose. But it was about time I fought back. Dusting off my hands, I decide that my work here is finished. I’ll leave Mr. Ward to clear up my station.

After I find a Goblin to escort me back to my things, I change back into my own skirt and jumper, vowing never to wear a bowtie again. But all the while I’m wearing a smug grin. In fact, I’m still laughing when I make my way to the exit, and wipe a tear from my eye.

Unfortunately, my finger is perfectly aimed at my eyeball when Wood rounds the corner ahead, and I barrel into him. The collision jams my finger into my eye and I exclaim rudely, “Fucking hell!”

“Oh, God! Edie? I’m so sorry!” cries Wood, grabbing my shoulders to steady me. Then he laughs. “Quite the mouth you’ve got there.”

I scowl up at him, rubbing my left eye. “Sorry,” he says quickly, pressing his mouth into a line.

“Don’t worry about it,” I mutter, and brush past him. When he begins to trail along beside me like a lost puppy, I furrow my brow.

After a moment he says, “Are you feeling alright, then? Rose said…” he goes red in the face.

“Of course I’m feeling all right. I’ve been here all evening.” Before he has time to consider this I say, “I’m surprised to see you here, though.”

“Well, they invited me, ‘cause of the article and all.”

We’ve gone through the exit and are standing outside, where it’s lightly misting onto the cobblestones. We stand at the base of the steps, and I pull the hood of my jacket up. Apparently Wood’s only got his blazer, the mist damping his hair. Casting a glance at my watch I say, “Well, the gala’s still going on for another hour or so. If you wanted to, y’know...”

Wood shrugs, “I reckon I’ve seen enough.”

“Ah.”

With a pathetic smile I kick my foot out and start off in the direction of my flat. He’s still walking with me, and I wonder if he realizes where I’m heading. Where are his mates? Why is he out wandering the streets of Diagon Alley alone? I don’t feel like talking, but I’m beginning to think even that would be better than the silence.

Unable to take it anymore, I try, “What are you up to, then?”

“Well, I uh… I thought I’d go for a pint,” he says, hands in his pockets.

I nod. “Sounds brilliant.”

“Really?” Wood looks at me intently, and I don’t know what the proper response is. Merlin, I was just making small-talk.

“Yeah, really. I mean, beer’s good and all that. Are you meeting up with mates, then?”

He ruffles his wet hair absentmindedly. “Well, no.”

Okay, you’ve got to give me something to go with here. “More of a solitary drinker, then?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that. What’s a good pint without good company? At least that’s what my dad always said,” he grins.

I’m surprised that he’s even speaking about his family right now, especially to a (alleged) journalist. I notice that he used the past tense when mentioning his father, and wonder he’s still alive. But that’s hardly conversation for an awkward amble. The rain starts to pick up, and he’s getting quite drenched. I shake my head.

“Here.” With the flick of my wand, I perform a rain-repellant charm and he appears to be standing beneath an invisible umbrella.

“Thanks,” he says appreciatively. “You’re quite good with that. Mine usually have holes in them, so I don’t even bother anymore.”

I can’t help myself for laughing, “You could always practise.”

“I think I’ll leave all my practising on the pitch,” he grins.

“Yeah, how did it go today? I’m sure things are getting intense for you.” He furrows his brow and I explain, “What with that Kestrels match next week. I mean, it’s your first match after being out for two seasons, right?”

“Wow, you’ve really done your research,” he says, impressed.

“Actually, I just watch a lot of Quidditch.”

“Really!” He looks at me with surprise, and I think his step even falters. “It’s just… I don’t mean to sound like a complete bigot, but I don’t know many female Quidditch fans. You know, girls who enjoy watching the sport and not the players.”

I scoff, “And the men who watch women’s beach Quidditch are purely interested in sport.”

“Point taken.”

We’ve reached the entrance to my flat, a bright green wooden door. He looks up at the building, seemingly surprised that we even had a destination, though I don’t know what else he could have possibly thought we were doing. We stand uncomfortably, looking at anything but each other.

He shrugs with one hand, “Well, would you—?”

“This is me, then,” I interrupt. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t—”

“Your apartment?”

“Well yeah, but—”

“—Oh, it’s fine, you didn’t interrupt. I wasn’t saying anything.”

I squint at him, but he’s avoiding eye contact. This is a lost cause, I decide. “Well, cool.”

Oliver nods once, “Cool.” Then there is the most agonizing silence to pass between us yet. It stretches forever, and I am making a desperate blind grab for the door handle behind me. Then it’s opening of its own accord, and then a pair of hands suddenly claps my shoulders and a voice booms in my ear, “EDIE LENNOX!”

I jump out of my skin and release the loudest scream since The Shining; even Wood starts. When I whirl around, I’m shocked to find my eldest brother, Leo. He’s doubled over in laughter with one hand on his knee, the other hovering helplessly in the air as he produces a wheezing sound.

“Fuck off, Leo!” I punch him in the arm as hard as I can. My force actually bowls him over but he’s still just rolling around, clutching his sides. Really, was it that funny?

“Aw, tits! Did we miss it?” somebody calls from inside. Footsteps thunder down the stairwell and then Liam and Luke come tumbling out like two hyperactive corgis. I’m surprised they don’t have blankets tied around their necks like superhero capes; I’m sure they’ve already made a fort with my sofa cushions.

“What the hell is going on?” I bellow, “How did you get here?”

“Seamus let us in on his way out. Said we could hang out until you got home,” Liam shrugs as if my flat were actually communal property.

“Yeah, we’ve come for a visit. Mum said you seem really lonely—”

I clamp a hand over Luke’s mouth, bursting into uproarious laughter to muffle his words. I distinctly see Wood massaging his jaw, the way he did at St. Mungo’s when he was trying not to laugh. “All three of you, then!” I say brightly, wondering if they can hear the horror in my voice. “Well this is just brilliant, isn’t it!”

“I know you!” Liam suddenly shouts, pointing at Wood. I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be around teenage boys and cringe at his rudeness. “You used to play for Puddlemere!”

Wood seems self-conscious, but his face breaks into a half-grin. I reckon he’s glad to be a part of the conversation again. “I suppose that’s right,” he says, and extends a hand. “Though I’m still on the team. Oliver Wood. What’re you called, mate?”

“Liam Lennox,” he shakes his hand aggressively. Though he’s only nineteen, he’s almost as tall as Oliver. Pairing this with a smug and impish face, he looks like an overgrown ten year-old. I suppose he’s the most “serious” of the three, though being the youngest he’s often teased for it. “Huge fan, mate, huge fan. Reckon you’ll beat Kenmare next week?”

“Of course we bloody will!” exclaims Wood, and I groan inwardly. It seems they’re bringing out the rough young lad in him, too.

“Back up from that shoulder injury, then?” interrupts my middle-brother. He’s got my freckles and Liam’s smirk. Though he’s the quietest of us, he’s also the most sarcastic, “Wotcher. Luke Lennox.”

While introductions and curse words and guttural man-sounds are flying, I’m fighting the urge to snap at them all to cut their hair. By the time I get around to Leo, the eldest, I want to roll my eyes. His red hair is at least cut reasonably, but he’s certainly the partier of the family—I can tell he’s blazed out of his mind right now. His eyes are barely staying open, and I hope that it’s at least from something tame. For a while there, years back now, he had us all nervous.

“Oi, careful there Leo,” I say. “I can almost see the whites of your eyes.”

It’s hard for me to snap out of mother-mode. My dad ran off when I was six, before Liam was born. I never think about him now, but I did resent having to take his place. Since I’m four years older than Leo, and my mother worked all the time, I was like second-mum. I spent the first ten years of their lives herding them to school, to bath time, outside when they were too rowdy, inside to the dinner table—for most of my young life, I was basically a very hormonal Sheep Dog. Finally, my mum met Andrew in my Second Year, and that took a load off my shoulders. But I think all the work aged me about a century. Un-sticking chewing gum from hair, or clearing up after Dungbombs, or unlocking our frazzled cat from the closet… I’ve had my fill with children. If somebody asks why I don’t want any of my own, I point to these three.

They’re still throwing around Quidditch jargon that even I have a hard time following. I have to admit, it feels pretty cool to be spotted hanging out with a famous Quidditch player. Although I suppose Wood and I weren’t exactly hanging out. And apparently my brothers have looked past it, as I’m struggling to remain a part of the conversation.

In fact I’m sure they’ve forgotten me entirely, until Leo says, “So, Wood. What’s a classy guy like you doing with this one, eh?” and jerks my hood down over my face. I curse loudly and flail my arms, trying to escape as he guffaws loudly. Do you know how annoying it is that all of my siblings are younger than me, and all of them are stronger?

Up until about ten minutes ago, I missed my brothers. I really did.

“Yeah, what’s going on with you two?” Luke says, a conspiratorial smirk on his face.
Thankfully Oliver is oblivious to his implications, and says, “Well, I was heading to get a pint—”

“Oh, let’s all go!” Leo discards me with a shove. Then they’re all barking away about which pub they should go to first, and how the runt’s got the first round. (“I bloody well do not!” Liam shouts.)

Quite literally having to shove my way back into the conversation, I attempt, “I’m not sure that’s such a good—” but they don’t even hear me.

I don’t like the idea of leaving my three extremely talkative brothers alone with Oliver Wood. It would only be minutes before he figures out that I’m not a journalist, let alone until they start on the embarrassing stories.

“Guys, I don’t know—” I try again.

“Aw, c’mon Edie. You don’t have to play mum any more, we’re all legal!” Luke pushes me into Leo, who shoves me back. Apparently this is very fun for them, as they start volleying me back and forth in the tiny space between them.

“Jesus Christ, all right!” I finally shout.

“That’s the spirit,” Leo throws his arm around my shoulder. He smells like Mum and Andrew after they sneak behind the garden shed for magical herbs. What have I gotten myself into? I glance at Wood, who’s smiling at me, and Leo starts off, dragging me along with him. “I know just the place!”

*


“You have got to be kidding me,” I say flatly, staring up at the blinking sign: Magic Touch. A neon half-naked girl with an oversized pointy hat winks and kicks out her leg seductively. “This is a strip club, Leo.”

“Aw, no way,” he says with false innocence. “Welp, we’ve come this far! Might as well.”

I open my mouth to protest, but then my brothers are all barreling to the door, tails wagging. Liam looks as though he’s died and gone to heaven. I realize it’s probably his first time in a strip club, and he’s here with his sister. I groan and put my face in my hands—I can’t leave them alone with Wood, downing Peach Schnapps or whatever rubbish they serve in places like this. Reluctantly I drag my feet after them, with Wood in tow, and present my identification card to the bouncer.

“No touching the girls,” he warns me, and I give him my best deadpan. He taps his wand on the back of my hand and a disgusting pink heart appears. “Ladies drink free.”

Ah, the three words that make me entirely disregard feminism.

When we step inside, I’m quite disappointed, and not in the way you’d think. I’ve never been to a strip club, but in my head they’re full of flashing lights and confetti and light-up catwalks and beautiful women and married businessmen. Nothing I’d ever want to take part in, but who doesn’t love a little scandal here and there?

Perhaps that’s why I’m let down now: Magic Touch has all of ten customers, most of who have come in by themselves so the room is oddly quiet. I think I’m the only girl in the room. Instead of the heavy energetic beat I’d imagined, the music sounds like it’s coming from a tin can shoved somewhere beneath a table. The dim pink lighting casts unflattering shadows on the girls, who are dancing—maybe undulating is a better word—like they’ve never been so bored. One of them is absently smoking a cigarette. In fact, I have to say the whole thing is downright depressing.

But apparently this is just fine by my brothers’ standards. “Is this what heaven is like?” breathes Liam, earning a punch from Luke. Then they all barrel off to order the first round of drinks. A dancer wearing a short leopard-print robe and pink strappy heels walks past me, smiling flirtatiously.

“I’ll save you a dance, darling,” she murmurs.

“Oh, I’m not—” but she’s already disappeared. I hear cackling from behind me and turn sharply; Wood goes silent and massages his chin.

“This isn’t quite what I had in mind,” he grins. “Your brothers are, uh, spirited.”

I cast him a warning glance. “I’m just here to make sure nobody gets into more trouble,” I say darkly. “Do not think that I’m going to enjoy this.”

“Edie! Shot!” Leo’s arm juts into my line of sight, tiny glass in hand.

Wood looks amused as I glance from him to the shot, the fumes of which are singing my nose hairs, and back to him. At last I snatch the glass and say defensively, “Ladies drink free.” When I knock it back, I’m barely able to choke it down.

“Jesus Christ, what is that?” My esophagus seems to have lost functionality.

“No idea!” Leo exclaims. “What do you say we liven this place up a bit? First dance is on me!”

*


I don’t know exactly how long we’ve been at Magic Touch, but I’m proud of myself—free alcohol and I’m still the most coherent of our little group. Wood, however, has reverted to the night when I met him as Viktor Krum. He and my brothers are all plastered, slinging their arms around one another. Their sentences have turned into a long series of howls, occasionally punctuated by consonants. After the first dance, one of the girls recognized Wood and that was all it took; they haven’t left his side all night.

Meanwhile I’ve slunk back to the bar, confident that my brothers can’t formulate a proper sentence, let alone reveal that I’m not a journalist. I’ve been sipping on shoddy canned beer, judgmentally eyeing everything before me. Wood has just bought Liam a lap dance. I watch angrily as Luscious Destiny throws her enormous rack in my baby brother’s face—I can’t get past it. It seems like just last week that I was teaching him how to throw a proper punch, to knock out the bully in his year. (Aim for the throat, always.)

Right, so I’m being a total stick in the mud. It irks me sometimes that my brothers have this image of me as “Mum Number Two,” but I’ve never been able to relax around them. In fact, I’ve always had to do the opposite.

When Luscious Destiny turns her bare arse around in Liam’s face, I can’t take it anymore and swivel around on my stool. I come face-to-face with the balding barkeep, who glances me up and down. Oh God, there’s no escape. Slamming down my empty can, I rise to my feet and go to get some air. I extract a fag from my shoulder-bag along the way. Right, fresh air. Outside it’s cold, but it’s at least stopped raining.

The door opens and Wood comes tumbling out, wearing his stupid sunglasses again. “You’re not leaving, are you?” It takes a moment to discern what sounds even came out of his mouth, but I shake my head.

“Nope,” I don’t look at him, dragging on the cigarette.

He points a clumsy finger at my hand, “Y’know thass bad for you?”

“Wait, what?!” I exclaim in feigned shock, but he’s too plastered to comprehend sarcasm.

“Yeah, you really shouldn’t smoke.”

I snort, “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind, Wood.”

He leans back against the bricks and regards me, though I can’t read his expression through his sunglasses. “Why d’you always do that?”

“Do what?”

“Use my lass name.” He stumbles closer. “I told you to call me Oliver, ‘member? That time at St. Mungo’s.”

“I remember,” I say after a moment. Suddenly I’m feeling very self-conscious; I hadn’t noticed that I never call him Oliver. Then he covers his eyes, sunglasses and all, with the palms of his hands.

“I’m sorry, Edie,” he whines and I almost laugh.

“Why?”

“For telling Rose that you fell down. I thought you two were, like, bess mates. I thought you’d—hic—told ‘er. An’ I’m sorry. I’m real sorry. I wasn’ trying to spread—hic—rumours about you, or anythin’.”

This time I can’t help my laugh, though it’s cold and at his expense, “You are wasted.”

“Nah,” he waves me off, though his hand just kind of flails through the air. “C’mon, less go see your brothers. Brilliant guys, real brilliant.”

“I think I’ll stay out here actually,” I mutter, taking the last drag on my cigarette. We’re definitely on the dodgy end of the street, but I’m pretty confident the bouncer could snap somebody’s neck with one hand.

“What!” he exclaims in a high-pitched voice, “Why?”

“I don’t think you want me to start on this.” There’s heat rising to my face. The bouncer looks between Wood and I, probably wondering if he’s going to have to jump in.

“Oh, lemme guess—” he pauses to hiccup again, “is because they’re your little brothers?”

“Yeah, they’re my little brothers,” I repeat mockingly, and then before I can help myself, “and you keep buying them all these dances, and I’m sorry, maybe I’m old-fashioned, but they’re getting all the wrong ideas about women—”

“Aw, c’mon Edie!”

“No!” I shout stupidly, flushing. I’m getting too worked up. My brothers aren’t idiots. Well, not about everything; they at least know how to treat women. Every girl they’ve ever brought around our house has been given plenty of respect. I’m realizing how stupid I sound, but I can’t stop myself. God, what was in that shot?

“Hey, ’s no big deal,” he tries to placate me.

“Yes it is! You’re… you’re corrupting them!”

And then he does the worst thing he could possibly do: he laughs at me. He openly, drunkenly, stupidly laughs, arms hanging at his sides uselessly. “They’re grown men, Edie! Cut the cord already!”

At first, the slap that echoes against the brick buildings surprises me. It takes a moment to realize that it’s my hand that’s stinging, and that Wood’s sunglasses have been knocked onto the cobblestones. He’s gone stiff, a pink blotch on his unshaven cheek. Now that I can see them, I notice his eyes are glazed over, but I don’t think it’s from drink. I’m shocked that my reaction is to feel genuinely guilty. But I’m also far too proud to apologize.

“Alright, that’s enough,” the bouncer brings me back to my senses.

Wood still hasn’t moved. In fact, he’s looking at me like he has no idea who I am. Adjusting my shoulder-bag uncomfortably, I mutter under my breath, “You’re out of control.” I brush past him and head down the street alone.




Author's Note: Sorry, sorry, sorry! I really had intended for Edie to talk with Blakeslee, and even had an entire alternate chapter written. But it screwed up too many things with the plot. So she got a little bit of revenge, at least. And we got to meet Edie's brothers! What did you guys think of Liam, Luke and Leo?

This chapter is definitely more fluffy than others; not a lot of plot development, I know, but I needed to have another one-on-one Ediver interaction before the interview in the next chapter. I wanted another reason for her to be going into it with bad intentions ;3

So, what did you guys think? I'm on the fence about this chapter, so I'd love an honest opinion! Also, I don't own The Shining because Stephen King does.

This lovely CI is brought to you by rebelYELL over at TDA ;3



Entering The Hanging Moon is how I imagine entering Narnia to be.

CHAPTER TWELVE



I’m not proud. In fact, I’d go so far as to say I’m downright ashamed. I have never bought a dress with the intention of leaving the tags on, wearing it for one day and returning it the next. It’s the kind of bollocks that schoolgirls did on Hogsmeade trips to “borrow” new party outfits. But I’m meeting Wood at The Hanging Moon in an hour, and I’m desperate. Nothing in my wardrobe is nice enough for a supposed professional journalist.

Although Wednesday’s excursion to find a maid of honour dress was successful (and free; Lisa paid for it as a thank-you) it wouldn’t be ready for days. So early this afternoon I dragged myself back to Twilfitt & Tatting’s. I grabbed the cheapest dress I could find, a knee-length green thing, but it still wiped out my savings. It’s the nicest thing I’ve ever worn, cut modestly with its full skirts belted by a small leather band.

I perform a small invisibility charm on the price tag, grimacing at all the zeros. Looks like I won’t be buying dinner tonight, unless I plant a dead fly in my pasta for a free meal.

At 7:30, and only half an hour out, I am a nervous wreck. Shaking out my hands and exhaling, I try to calm myself down. But I still feel like I’m standing on the edge of Astronomy Tower. How in the world am I to get Wood to open up to me about his personal life, after I’ve gone and slapped him? Me! I’ve never hit anybody in my life! Aside from my brothers, though as a rule that’s always considered self-defence.

I’ve really, really mucked it up this time.

Suddenly there is a knock at the door. Before I can answer, Seamus and Dean are walking in. Using a knock as a statement rather than a question is an annoying habit of theirs.

“Lennox! You didn’t want to come to the party, so we’ve brought the party to you!” comes Seamus’s voice. I hear the clinking of bottles. “Half an hour ‘til the Kestrels beat those sorry bastards of Wimbourne!”

My shoulders slump. I stomp unattractively into the den. How many times do I have to tell them? As much as I’d rather be sitting in my lumpy jumper watching Quidditch, I’ve an interview tonight.

“Guys, I’ve told you a thousand times... What.”

We’ve all come face-to-face, and they’re stopped dead in their tracks, staring like I’ve sprouted another arm. Betraying my stress I cry, “What, is it too much?”

“Oh, erm—no,” Dean manages to snap himself out of it, just as Seamus says, “What the hell happened to your hair?”

I put a hand to the French braids that begin at my temples and twist into a loose bun. “What’s wrong with it? Ugh, I knew I would muck it up. I spent hours charming it—read a Witch Weekly how-to for once--”

“Nothing is wrong with it,” Dean interjects before oh-so-articulate Seamus can say anything else. “You just look... different. Where are you going?”

“I have to meet Wood at The Hanging Moon in twenty minutes.”

Seamus lets out a cat-call, “The Hanging Moon? Sounds like a date to me!”

Dean’s eyes narrow suspiciously but I shake my head. “No, it’s not a date, trust me. It’s definitely not because it’s just where Wood wanted to have the second interview. But it’s not a date.”

“So do you reckon it’s a date?” Seamus teases.

Dean crosses his arms. “Ten Galleons says it is.”

My jaw drops incredulously. “That isn’t fair! He suggested the location.”

“Did he choose to meet at eight o’clock on a Friday night as well?” Seamus counters.

“Well, yes, but—”

“And d’you usually dress up like that for work?”

When I can only make sputtering sounds, Seamus grins triumphantly. Then he goes straight to kissy-noises and other, more inappropriate hand-gestures.

“Oi!” I shout, “I just want to look the part of a professional journalist, and I can’t likely do that in trainers, can I? It’s very posh in there!”

“Well I’m sure you’ll blend right in.” Dean’s voice comes quietly. I don’t quite know what to say. He grew up in a poorer family than even Seamus or I, and so he’s got an even bigger distaste for the upper-class. And if he’s grouping me in with them, well…

Seamus crosses the room to gently take me by the arms. “Edie,” he cajoles, “I know you haven’t technically been on a date in ages. But anything that occurs between a guy and a girl, in an expensive restaurant, on the weekend, at this time of night, is definitely one of them.”

I furrow my brow, still in disagreement, but Seamus releases a booming laugh. “Damn Edie, you’ve gone and pulled a famous athlete!” And then he puts me in a headlock, ruffling my carefully sculpted hair.

“Seamus!” I scream. “That took me forever—Dean, help!”

Dean just shifts his weight, arms still crossed. “Seamus, come on,” he says half-heartedly, but I am finally released.

I punch Seamus in the shoulder. “You ass! Now I’m going to be late.”

“To your ‘interview,’ right,” he punches me back.

I look at Dean desperately. He’s the only person who can control Seamus Finnegan at times like this, but he avoids my gaze. Releasing a loud growl, I stomp back to my bedroom to fix the bird’s nest on my head. “You two are the worst mates ever!” I shout, but I can hear Seamus giggling.

*


The entrance to The Hanging Moon is disguised as stairs leading to the Underground, but it’s always roped off. A faded wooden “Under Construction” sign bats around in the chilly breeze. The rumour is that if a Muggle were to attempt to hop the barrier, they would be assaulted by an odour so foul that they would have to turn around. That’s all that I actually know; the rest I’ll have to improvise.

Miraculously I left my flat on time, arriving at exactly eight o’clock. Seamus and Dean had set up camp with two six-packs, a bag of crisps and three hours of Quidditch ahead of them. Although I was beyond irritated and didn’t want to let them stay, it was the quickest way to get them out of my hair. Literally. It had taken another ten minutes to undo Seamus’s damage.

For the thousandth time, I check that everything is in order. Quill, parchment, recording orb. Check. Excellent. But what if I trip in these shoes? Is my dress too short? It’s chilly, I should’ve worn tights. How much longer do I have to stand here? How in the bloody hell am I to get him to talk? What if he doesn’t even show? Could I really blame him?

“Edie?”

I swivel, expecting to face the subject of my interview. Instead I’m surprised to see Jae Chang. He’s paused uncertainly, an artist’s portfolio over one shoulder.

“Wotcher, Jae!” my voice is shrill with nerves.

He grins and makes his way over, eyeing my getup. “Going somewhere special then?”

“Yeah, I’m waiting for somebody. We’re going to The Hanging Moon.”

He gives an impressed nod. “Well how posh. So you must be on a date.”

Does setting foot inside this place automatically change a professional meeting into candle-lit canoodling? “No, it’s for work.” Because I don’t want him asking questions, I quickly add, “I’m not even sure if he’ll show.”

“Sounds like just about every date I’ve had,” he grins. I smile back, the joke loosening my shoulders.

“So it’s not a date, then,” he repeats.

“Definitely not.”

“Well then maybe we should consider it. A date, that is.” He shrugs, smiling playfully. “You know, to appease your mum and all.”

My jaw drops. My mother has actually bagged me a guy. I don’t know whether to be ecstatic or humiliated. The first and only other time she did this with a friend’s son, he’d turned out to be gay. He only went through with it because he thought my name was Eddie. We actually ended up having a brilliant time, splitting a bottle of white zinfandel and complaining about men. We still keep in touch, funnily enough.

Jae is still giving me that smirk. I stammer, “Oh. Well, I um…”

Come off it, Edie. Beggars can’t be choosers. An opportunity finally arises, a nice fitty oasis in the No-Shag Desert that is my life, and I’m finding excuses to weasel out of it.

“Should I take that as a yes?” he says cheekily.

I’m not sure if I want to laugh or scowl. But then footsteps echo behind me, and Oliver Wood appears at my side. He glances from me to Jae, standing as he always does: feet planted apart and arms crossed. Although he’s unshaven and his hair tousled, he still looks like a bleedin’ celebrity in a tailored blazer. My shoulders have seized back up.

Well, he bothered to show. That’s good, right? ...Right?

“Jae,” my voice cracks, “this Oliver Wood.”

“The Quidditch player?” he ignores Wood’s outstretched hand. “Isn’t he the one in Crystal Ball—”

“Nope, different guy,” I interrupt. Then I fix him with a weird look, wondering why he’s up-to-date on celebrity gossip.

After an uncomfortable moment of Wood’s hand hovering in the air, Jae at last shakes it. Wood nods curtly but says nothing. There is a moment of silence and I smile with a pathetic shrug. “Well, I suppose we’d better be off.”

“Right,” says Jae. “Edie, let me know when you want to get together.”

I can practically hear Wood raising an eyebrow. I have to admit I want to do the same, since I haven’t actually agreed to anything. I offer a neutral, “See you later.”

Without a second glance at Wood, Jae disappears. In the silence that follows I realize that he hasn’t spoken yet. I turn to him, though my eyes are glued to the buttons of his plaid shirt. I’m embarrassed and slightly thankful that he arrived when he did. What do I do? What do I say? My eyes at last meet his and we look at one another, though I think I’m just wincing.

Finally he says with bright sarcasm, “He was pleasant!”

“Yeah, well, he’s just...” I readjust my shoulder-bag.

“Friend of yours?” He’s rubbing his chin in thought. It looks as though he’s been presented with some Quidditch tactic that needs to be calculated.

“Not really. Sort of.”

“He seemed to like you. I’d say that counts for something.”

Not only did he show up, but he’s being cordial. All of the scenarios I’d mentally played out are thrown to the wind, and I’m left without a prepared response. “Well… I mean, maybe. I dunno. My mum set us up.”

As soon as I say it, I wish I never had opened my mouth. Wood stops rubbing his jaw, face cracking into a grin. “Your mum.”

My cheeks are burning against the chilly air and I say huffily, “I thought I was the one doing the interview.”

Oliver blinks as though suddenly remembering why we’re here. “Of course,” he gestures to the stairwell. “After you. Mind the gap.”

The stairwell does actually open into an abandoned Underground station. I suppose it’s a precaution, were some Muggle with sinus problems to make it past the stench. However, with three taps from Oliver’s wand on a lone flickering lamp, the scene vanishes like a puff of smoke. I try to look nonchalant, as though I’d seen it a thousand times. It’s difficult, though, when the smoke disappears to reveal a golden lift engraved with peacocks and crescent moons.

Oliver gestures for me to step inside. I do, smoothing my hair as he follows suit. The door glides shut without a sound, enclosing us in the small space. Hanging from the ceiling are two velvet handles, not unlike those on the Knight Bus for standing passengers.

“Name, please,” comes a cool female voice, though we’re alone.

“Oliver Wood?” For some reason, I’m struck by the way his tone raises uncertainly.

There is a moment’s pause and Oliver grasps one of the velvet handles. I eye the one hanging before me in blatant confusion. Then the lift plunges down as though the cable had been severed. I shriek, and I think my feet even leave the floor. It feels like we’re falling forever, though Oliver is standing comfortably as if on solid ground—the cords must be enchanted.

The lift comes to an abrupt halt, and I barely keep from toppling over in my wobbly heels. Bracing myself with both hands, chest heaving, I dare a glance in Oliver’s direction.

“You’re sure you’ve been here before?” he says smartly.

“It’s these shoes,” I fire, but his comment is completely forgotten when the door opens.

Stepping into The Hanging Moon is how I imagine entering Narnia to be. Although after a moment it becomes clear that we’re deep underground, at first glance I would never have known. The whole restaurant is one giant room, with soaring ceilings like a cathedral. The natural black stones of the cavern have been polished smooth and flat. Raw chunks of quartz crystal jut out in odd places, and thousands of flickering candles rest in niches carved into the walls. The bottom floor boasts a sleek black bar, filled with multi-colored bottles. Craning my neck, I count at least three tiers with tables that circle along the walls, though the center is left open. I see clearly the restaurant’s namesake: a giant full moon bewitched to hang under the ceiling.

“Your coat?” Oliver says for what doesn’t sound like the first time. He’s standing at a desk, where a smiling young witch stands.

“Ah. Right-o,” I say stupidly and remove my coat—also borrowed from Lisa. From the corner of my eye I swear Oliver is glancing over my green dress.

“It’s all right, most people are a bit gawky on their first visit,” the witch says pleasantly. I distinctly hear Oliver snort, but when I shoot him a look his attention is elsewhere.

A wizard probably in his sixties makes his way towards us, dressed in fine robes and a wide smile. He has a full head of white hair, and his olive skin is surprisingly youthful. I wonder if good genes or Potox Potions are responsible.

“Mister Wood!” he says in a Spanish accent. He and Oliver exchange firm handshakes. “So good to see you. It’s been some time. Will the lovely Miss Ada be joining you this evening?”

With all my worrying, I’d almost forgotten my true purpose for being here. But now I feel my journalism senses tingling. Ada? Could this finally be some information on Wood’s romantic life?

He tenses slightly, “I’m afraid not tonight, Mr. Herrera.”

The wizard, who I’m assuming owns the restaurant, looks at me. “Ah, I see.”

There is a moment of silence while somehow-still-socially-awkward-celebrity Oliver doesn’t think to introduce us. I’m being sized up; studied for any evidence of poverty. I want to crawl under something and hide. Dean was wrong; I don’t blend in here.

At last Herrera clasps his hands together. “Well! It’s a pleasure to see you. Our hostess will direct you to your table.” He shakes Oliver’s hand again, “Please give Miss Ada my regards.”

This time I definitely see it: at the mention of her name, Oliver flicks his eyes at me. There’s something he doesn’t want me to know. But then he’s offering a tight smile to Herrera, “Of course.”

As we climb the spiral staircase, I train my eyes on Oliver’s back. I’ll have to think of a casual way to mention this Ada as the interview goes on. But it’s going to be tricky. Especially if he’s read the first article by now—but there’s no way in Azkaban I’m asking him.

A server passes, coming down the stairs with a tray of champagne flutes. The bubbles rise from the glasses and into the air where they pop in a small fireworks display. I’ve never seen anything like it, and wonder if that’s the bottle that costs Lisa and Justin’s rent. Then it hits me. I know exactly how I’ll get the information out of Wood: by using alcohol against him.

It’s not the nicest scheme I’ve devised. But I hadn’t, for one moment, confused my anxiety about slapping him with sympathy. He still acted like a fool. He’s been a fool since the moment I’ve met him. And I want—no, need—to expose him for what he is. I may not earn readers’ sympathy for our history: from the way he behaved at the pub, to how he cost me my job. But surely they’ll want to know why he didn’t donate to St. Mungo’s.

We’re directed to a small table on the second tier, almost eye-level with the enormous moon. The host waves her wand at the table, and the cursive Oliver Wood floating in the air disappears. I recall the way he said his own name in the lift; his unsure tone.

We settle into our chairs and I release a quiet breath. If I’m going to make him talk, I’ll need to make him feel comfortable. I’ll need to stop being so snarky, temperamental or quick to judge—basically I’ll need a complete change in personality.

“Swanky,” I cast an impressed glance around.

He merely nods, looking as though he were waiting for something. Then I realize what it is: he wants an apology. Oh Merlin, I am not good with those. But I can’t walk away from this empty-handed.

“Listen, Wood,” I say impatiently. He furrows his brows and I try again, more gently, “Erm. About what happened last night. Do you... do you remember?”

He snorts, “Yes, I recall everything, thank you.”

“Right. Well, I certainly feel like I overreacted.” He seems unimpressed, and I take a deep breath. “It’s just that... I spent my whole life taking care of those boys, and seeing that they stayed out of trouble, and that they grew up with the right morals. And I know they’re grown men now. I know I can’t be in control of everything. But I spent so long having to be in control that it’s just hard to shake off sometimes. My dad left when I was six, and I had to take his place--”

Oliver’s eyebrows are knit again, though this time it looks like concern. I’m babbling. “Well. The point is, I’m really sorry. I was completely out of line, and...violence is never the answer!” I finish lamely, complete with fist-pump.

He’s silent, smiling at me. At last he says, “Well I probably did deserve it. Apology accepted.” He offers me a hand. After a moment I accept it and grin despite myself.

“And speaking of apologies,” he leans back in his chair, “I suppose that’s why I actually brought you here tonight.”

“Oh?”

“I wanted to get you alone—for the sake of your job,” he adds hastily. “Rose and I got to have a long talk at the pub the other night, but you haven’t had a go at a decent interview yet.”

“Oh, it’s no problem. The first interview was… fine.”

“That was an awful lie, but I appreciate the gesture.”

“Actually,” I begin. He waits patiently while I try to find a professional way of phrasing a lie, “it’s just me writing the article now. Rose has been… reassigned.”

There. Rose won't risk looking like a fool and trying to convince him that I was lying; it's not worth the trouble. That should keep her out of the way of my interviews.

“Well, anyway,” he gestures around the expanse of the room. “I want to make up for the first interview, as my formal apology. Well, for that and… every other interaction, which I’ve managed to muck up.”

I titter nervously. He’s doing it again; trying to be charming. There is a moment of silence and he says, “So… this will make the second article you’re writing?”

“Yes,” I say carefully.

“I don’t believe that many people would care to read three entire articles about me. Your boss must be mental.”

I try to come up with something clever to say, but end up with an indecipherable murmur. I’m waving my hands and blinking a lot. Pretty sure I look like a cat swatting at a string. What the hell is wrong with me?

“So the first article was well-received, then?”

“You haven’t read it?” I try to sound casual, but my voice is cracking like a prepubescent boy’s.

Oliver shakes his head. “I don’t fancy reading my own publicity. It’s a bit weird. Especially the kind of stuff that Witch Weekly usually publishes, about ‘rippling abdominals’ and such. No offense.”

“None taken.”

He grins. “Why, is your article any good?”

“Nope!” I quip, “It’s rubbish, actually. Well I could use a drink.” I snatch up a menu.

“Oh, thank God,” he sighs. “It’s always so uncomfortable when the interviewer doesn’t drink. I’m too nervous without one.”

“Trust me,” I murmur, “you’re not the only one.” But he must hear it, because he smiles to himself. A very well-mannered waiter with good hair comes to take our orders. When I ask for a Peverell Porter, Wood looks impressed and asks for the same.

“That’ll put some hair on your chest,” he says when the server disappears.

A laugh escapes me and I make some vapid comment about it being my favourite beer. For a moment I sit awkwardly, in my natural state, before recalling that I’m supposed to be getting the dirt on his personal life.

Take a step back, I remind myself. This is how he does it; he charms the reporters and they overlook everything he’s done in the past.

If only I had somehow taken a Polyjuice Potion and transformed into Lisa… I’d have him eating out of the palm of my hand. But I suppose I’ll have to work with what I’ve got: my wits and a personal vendetta. Not that either of those are helpful.

The waiter returns with our beers and Oliver thanks him quietly. After taking a sip, he says, “No quill and parchment tonight?”

As it so happens, I am in the process of reaching into my shoulder-bag for said materials. But I stop when my fingers brush against the silver recording orb. An idea crosses me; the very same one I had at his first interview. It’s sneaky. But I’ve done it before… and shouldn’t he know that anything he says tonight is on the record?

I hope the candlelight is illuminating me in a flattering way, and not as though I were narrating a ghost story. “No quill or parchment. I thought we could have it a bit more informal.”

I set the little silvery ball in my lap, tapping it with my finger. It whirs to life, pulsing with a soft silvery glow. Oliver seems oblivious enough, politely awaiting my questions.

Releasing a long breath, I look directly into the eyes of the man across from me. This is the man who punched out a stranger; who kissed me without asking; who refused to donate a fraction of his millions to children in need; who knows nothing about the political state of the Wizarding world; who was the reason I lost my job. I look directly into his eyes and raise my glass.

“Cheers to Puddlemere,” I say.

He grins. “To Puddlemere.”

Clink.

Oliver Wood, you are going down.



Author's Note: So there's the interview part one! I just couldn't fit it all into one chapter; I feel like there's been so little time spent together just the two of them. I didn't want to gloss over anything. Also, I don't own C.S. Lewis's Narnia. Also, Potox was a jab at Botox injections.

So, what do you guys think? Does anyone dislike Edie yet? She's definitely on her high horse. Please feel free to leave your thoughts, I absolutely love to hear back from you guys. As always, thank you for reading.

Another lovely chapter image by inspector. at TDA ♥

Chapter 13: In a Puff of Smoke
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CHAPTER THIRTEEN



By the time Oliver's excused himself to the loo, I’ve only pried a tiny bit of information from him--all Quidditch-related. Seriously, he should tell Puddlemere to bugger off and become an Unspeakable. On the bright side, I can now tell readers exactly what it feels like to wear Keeper's padding ("Like a bleedin' troll sitting on your shoulders.") But I haven't found out anything about St. Mungo's, or Ada, or even if he wears boxers or briefs. At this rate, we’ll be here all night.

With Oliver still gone, I place the recording orb back in my shoulder-bag. It's charmed to recognize his voice, so the magic will pick up our conversation. With a reluctant sigh I tap my wand on my pint glass, still half-full. “Tergeo.” When the alcohol disappears, a little whimper escapes me. Another Galleon down the drain. My wand quickly taps the glass again. After some struggle to recall the basic principles of Latin, my glass is full of water roughly the same colour as a beer. There. Now I can be sure to stay focused.

When Oliver returns I’m feeling right smug, and a bit like Gwendolyn Phire: Witch Detective.

The waiter returns with his third beer, and he takes a healthy swig. His shoulders are slumping, and when he goes to scratch his nose it’s clumsy. Seizing the chance, I say conversationally, “So, why exactly don’t you like to read your own publicity?”

“Well,” he hesitates. “Honestly, it probably isn't very flattering. I haven’t played a match in two years, so any time I’ve been photographed, it’s been by the paparazzi. You know, incriminating rubbish. There’s probably something circulating from that night I came into your pub.”

Heat flashes across my chest. I clasp my hands together to keep them from shaking. “Oh, maybe. But who cares, really? You’re just having a bit of fun.”

“'Fun' isn't quite the word I would use." His remorse almost sounds genuine. "Well if there is any evidence of that night, my team mates are sure to have seen it. It’s idiotic, the amount of tabloids they keep up with. You’ve actually met them, they were at the pub when I, erm...”

“Right.” I scrunch my face, “Funny that I didn’t recognize any of them. I’ve been following Puddlemere pretty closely this past season.”

“That’s probably because... they’re on the reserve team.” The last half of the sentence is murmured into his pint.

“Ah.”

It’s very unusual for active Quidditch players to spend time with the reserves. There's so much hierarchical bollocks between them. The players are the celebrities. The reserves are the understudies, waiting in the wings for their chance. Oliver spending time with the lesser-thans is quite strange. Unless his team mates don’t want to spend time with him...?

“Actually, they weren't all reserves. Katie’s the assistant manager,” he says through his blush. “She was the, erm, sober one.”

I recall the olive-skinned girl from that night; the one with the startlingly green eyes. “Wait, Katie Bell?” I say, and he nods. I remember her now from the Gryffindor Quidditch team, and as the horrible incident with the cursed necklace. That’s why she looked familiar. "I had no idea she was your assistant manager.”

“Well, Deverill is probably retiring soon." He must realize his mistake, but my eyebrows have already lifted in interest. That was certainly not public information--Deverill has been manager of Puddlemere for twenty-some years. That's almost unheard of in professional Quidditch. He's a legend. I doubt many fans know that he’s being replaced.

Quickly, before he loses his willingness to talk, I blurt the first question that comes to mind. “So do you have a girlfriend?” When he gives me a look, I raise my hands defensively. “Oi, just doing my job. The readers want to know.”

"Well, not that it’s any of the readers’ business... But no. I don’t." To my surprise he adds, "Katie and I broke things off.”

True to form, I can’t hide my shock. “Katie as in your manager?”

“Assistant manager. And we started dating back at Hogwarts, so it’s not like there’s any scandal there. Sorry to disappoint.”

Maths is not my strong suit, but I can calculate a long-term relationship. This makes Lisa and Justin look like a summer fling. “Wow, that’s... that’s over ten years."

Oliver has gone rather quiet, folding a small napkin into smaller triangles. “Off and on,” he shrugs.

“When did that happen? The, erm...”

I he only answers because I’m genuinely incredulous. “You can say 'breakup,' I'm not going to dissolve into tears. Though I'm sure you'd love to write about that. I reckon it was about two years ago now. Before she signed on with Puddlemere.”

“Did you want to marry her?” I surprise myself by asking. He looks at me for a long time in silence. It's not on the record, but I know the answer. I release a breath, “Wow. I’m sorry."

Oliver taps his wand on the paper plane he folded, and it flies over the edge of the balcony. “It’s nothing,” he says as it circulates the moon. “The whole thing was mutual. It's better this way.”

“Of course." But I doubt that a mutual, unimportant breakup would be mentioned two years after the fact. A silence passes as I watch the tiny black plane.

“I’m sorry,” he says suddenly. “But that dress.”

The pale skin of my throat flushes crimson. So he was looking at me earlier. “W-what about it?”

“You’re wearing Kestrel green,” he says as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. If I weren't so humiliated, I would roll my eyes. Of course. Quidditch. “You know we’re playing them this month.”

“They’re still a brilliant team.”

“They’re a rival team,” he corrects with an index finger.

“That doesn’t just automatically make somebody untalented!”

He shrugs, “I think their strategies are sloppy.”

“How can you even say that? They beat Holyhead without even blinking. And every season they send players to the Irish National Team--”

“Oh, don’t even get me started on those ponces.”

“You can't be serious! They’ve won the Quidditch World Cup three of the last five years!” I bellow.

Suddenly I realize that everyone around us is staring. Even the hostess has stomped back upstairs to shoot Mildred-worthy glares. I duck low in my chair, grimacing apologetically. Not helping the matter, Oliver prattles on about Quidditch Cup referees being paid off.

At last the hostess trudges back downstairs. Oblivious, Oliver murmurs heatedly, “O’Leary can only throw with his left arm. Do you know how much of a disadvantage that is to Kenmare? It's idiotic to put a one-armed Beater on the pitch." Grudgingly, I agree with this logic. "For the upcoming match, I told Pearson to aim for O'Leary's good arm.”

"Oh, come on! That's a shoddy thing to do."

“All’s fair in love and Quidditch.”

Please tell me that you have that tattooed somewhere.”

In response, Oliver begins unbuttoning his shirt. My jaw drops--I can't believe he actually has such a tattoo. Also, The Hanging Moon is hardly a place to undress. Thankfully he’s wearing a shirt underneath, and pushes the left sleeve up. On his shoulder are two gold bulrushes against a blue shield. It’s the Puddlemere United crest, which in retrospect doesn’t surprise me at all.

"Dumbledore supported Puddlemere," he reminds me.

Then my eyes fall on a long white scar, directly above the tattoo. It cuts horizontally up his shoulder, circling all the way around to the back like a crescent moon. It must be from the injury that put him out for two seasons; the one Lisa was tending at St. Mungo’s.

He sighs, pulling the sleeve down. “Ah, yes. That.”

"Yes," I say slowly. “What exactly happened? If you don’t mind my asking.”

He shrugs. “I’ve just got bad joints."

"So why the mark, then? I thought magic rarely left scars."

"Have you heard of Harry Potter?" He says cheekily. "I dislocated my shoulder. Ripped it clean from the socket--"

"Gah!" I cover my ears. He throws up his hands exhasperatedly and I quip, "Sorry." I motion for him to continue, eyes squeezed shut as if to keep out the visual.

"...So anyway. I could've gone with potions to heal it, and not had the scar. But that would've taken ages. And I wanted to get back to playing. So they used a bit of Muggle and Magical healing, I reckon, with an incision and then magic."

"But you were still out for two seasons."

"Right. Because I was stupid and impatient, and then I threw it out again. During practise, right before our first match. So I had to stay off it for two seasons and take physical therapy. Serves me right, I reckon."

"Kenmare did alright, though," I try to be comforting. "With your substitute, what's-his-name. Knightley."

He fixes me with a very serious look. "I am not an arrogant man, Edie. But I do know that nobody can Keep like I can."

Well, there's no arguing with that. Except maybe the first bit.

He adds, “Anyway, it still hurts like hell. I have to take intense pain-numbing potions every day, or I can barely lift it. In fact, I shouldn’t be playing at all. They say that soon I won’t have the use of my left arm soon, if I keep it up."

“Christ, then stop playing!” I exclaim incredulously. It’s not my place, but I don't see any other way around it. But Oliver looks at me like I’ve just said the stupidest thing in the world. And then I understand exactly how much he lives for this.

“Oi," he says in an attempt to lighten to mood. "Unlike O’Leary, I can throw with both arms."

Come to think of it, he's right. I've always just assumed that he was right-handed from the way he plays. Sometimes he uses his left arm to block, in a pinch. But that must be a gut reaction; a last-ditch effort to keep the other team from scoring. There's no telling how much those tiny slip-ups are costing him.

Oliver is wearing a strange, somber grin. "Go on, ask me."

I clear my throat, thrown off. I haven't used one of my prepared questions in quite some time. But I can't bring myself to ask about St. Mungo's. Stumbling over my words, I ask, "C-could you talk a bit about your goals? Where do you see yourself in five years? You're approaching the age for retirement--What?" I've stopped because he's laughing humourlessly.

"That's not what what you really came here for, and you know it."

So he knows that I'm trying to expose him.

When I stare in dumb silence, he continues, "I'm not going to defend my decision about the charity. So go on and ask, and we can get it out of the way. Or, here, I'll do it." He leans forward over the table, "I don't want to talk about it."

"That's..." I sputter. "That's not... I don't think that our readers even really know about it..."

I've misjudged how many interviewers have tried to glean this from him. To my surprise, he isn't quite angry. He's fixing me with an even gaze. I don't know what else to do and take another sip from my water-beer. It's empty. Bugger.

Oliver notices and says, “I’ll get you another.”

“Oh, no, please,” I begin. But somehow the waiter is already there with a full pint. I look at him oddly and he winks, mouthing approvingly, “He’s cute!” Before I can respond, he's disappeared.

I bewilderdly turn back to Oliver as he says, “So, it's fair that I get to ask you a question now, right?" I nod numbly and he asks, "If you’re such a big Puddlemere fan, why didn’t you recognize me at The Poisoned Apple?”

“Well,” I reason, “you’ve been out for two seasons. I only really became interested in Quidditch around the time of your injury. You know, putting names to faces and such. I mean, I thought you looked familiar, but..." I laugh, "You do a pretty convincing Bulgarian accent. Why Krum, though?"

With an embarrassed smile he shrugs, "You said it yourself. The accent. It's even more hilarious the more you drink. Course, you'd have to be me to actually believe that..."

"No," I smile, "it was pretty funny, actually. Once I calmed down."

“Ah.” Suddenly he winces, “Sometimes I almost wish you’d never figured it out.”

“Oh?”

“I just mean... I was such a complete ass. I’d almost rather you'd gone on thinking that it was Viktor Krum who punched out some stranger. I’d like to blame my teammates for everything, but...”

“Why would you blame them?”

“They encouraged it. I... God, this is humiliating.” He covers his face and sighs loudly. I smile, sipping from my delicious beer. “I suppose it’s a bit of a joke for them to take me out. They know that I get out of control if I drink enough. I'm not proud, but it's a fact. So they kind of... encourage it, for fun."

“What!”

"Not Katie, though," he adds quickly. "She was there to be sure I made it out alive."

“Still, that’s absoultely dreadful! You call these people your friends?”

He shrugs, “Not really. I kind of prefer to spend time alone."

"Aren't celebrities supposed to be surrounded by friends and... willing ladies?"

"Maybe some of them. But I don't like it. I reckon I spent so much of my life around Katie that I’m used to either her, or myself. God, I sound completely pathetic, don’t I?”

“No," I reassure. “I totally know what you mean. Growing up with those brothers--it’s nice to have some time to myself. And don't feel bad, mate. I have a pretty small group of friends. Just Seamus and Dean, and of course Lisa. So I reckon Justin by default.”

Oliver snorts into his glass, “A riot, that one.”

“Yeah... How exactly do you two know each other?”

He pauses, “He did me a favour a while back.” I nod, deciding to leave it alone.

“Alright," he taps his hand on the table. "In the spirit of a probing interview, I have a confession to make. I actually do remember the night at The Poisoned Apple. Well, just bits and pieces. But I remember, erm... y'know. Kissing you...”

“Well, that makes two of us who wish we could forget!” I joke lamely, drumming a rimshot on the table.

"And I'm sorry," he ignores my awful sense of humour. "I should've asked you."

"Oh, pish posh," I wave him off. With the hands again, Edie. And pish posh? What am I, sixty?

“I remember why.”

“Why what?”

“Why I did it.”

Hey-o.” Apparently, the appropriate thing to do here is take a series of prolonged beer-gulps. This conversation is getting weird. But the nagging curiosity is eating me up and then despite telling myself otherwise, “So... why then?”

He's suddenly very interested in his empty glass. “You were the first girl in some time who didn't recognize me. You approached me like I was any other idiot in your pub."

"Well, to be fair, I wanted my fist to approach your throat."

“You were so angry!” he laughs at the memory. “But it was kind of... nice. To just be seen as any other person, you know?”

“Mmm...not really,” I say honestly. There is a beat of silence and then we burst into laughter. The celebrity and the nobody.

“Oh, I almost forgot. Rose left some notes for you, but they’re...” his face reddens. “They’re at my flat.”

“Ah.” As much as I’m dying to know what happened that night, for once I manage to keep quiet. I don’t even waggle my eyebrows, or elbow him suggestively, or wink exaggeratedly. I think I've just transitioned into adulthood.

“You can stop by on your way home, if you want.”

I brush a piece of my fringe back. "I dunno if that's such a good idea..."

He looks a bit crestfallen, “Or I could bring them by Witch Weekly--”

“No!” I interject. It would be hard to explain if this supposed journalist were discovered brewing her boss’s tea, or extacting sooty owls from chimneys. “I’ll nip by and grab them.”

“Brilliant.” He eyes my glass, which I'm embarrassed to say is already empty, “Ready, then?”

“Well, we should probably pay first. I heard it's now legal to hex people who dine and ditch.”

“Oh, I’ve already taken care of it.”

“Taken care of it?” I repeat uneasily.

“Yeah, when I went to the loo earlier. I told our waiter to put it on my tab,” he says offhandedly. Suddenly I understand why the man had been so... erm... winky. “Don’t look so surprised, it’s the least I can do. You’re writing a bloody article about me.”

“I, erm... Wow. Thank you.”

He rises to his feet, and I'm surprised again by how tall he is. “Of course,” he says politely and offers a hand. I accept it, and can’t help but think that this is beginning to feel less and less like an interview. As soon as I’m on my feet I snatch my hand away, nearly slapping myself in the face. Oliver smiles and leads the way down the stairs.

This time, when we step into the lift, I grab one of the handles. I'm still wobbly in these shoes, and when we shoot upwards I stumble. Oliver puts a steadying hand on my shoulder but quickly drops it. I stare ahead, like the empty space before me were the most interesting thing in the world. I don't realize that we've been silent until we step onto the city street, and I let out a cry at the downpour of rain.

"Effing London weather!" I shout and try to jump back over the barrier. A force stops me, like running into a wall, and I bounce back. I would've landed on my bum if Oliver hadn't been behind me.

"They're closed. We can't get back in there."

"What! God, it's only--" I stop when my watch reads ten-thirty. Were we really talking for that long?

"Time flies," he says, hands in his pockets. All the while we're getting more and more drenched. I'll have to do some serious charms-casting if I want to return this dress.

Hugging Lisa's coat more tightly around myself, I say, "Well we can't Apparate here."

"This way," he turns me gently by the elbow, directing me beneath the awning of a Muggle record store. When he opens the wooden door the small bell tinkles pleasantly. A song by The Cure drifts out into the thundering of the rain.

I'm too cold and wet to ask questions, and dart inside. The incense is as gagging as Trewlaney's classroom. But the raindrops on the windows reflect the city lights rather prettily. The young shopkeep rolls his eyes at the puddles collecting at our feet. I can't help but smile when I see his abnormally large glasses. I wonder if Muggles know that their fashion trends just make them look like Harry Potter. Oliver jerks his head towards the back of the store and I trail behind. We pass rows and rows of vinyl labeled "Doom Metal," "Intelligent Dance Music" and even "Medieval Disco."

Oliver reaches a doorway sanctioned off by beaded curtains, and cautiously parts them. The room behind, whatever it is, is glowing bright red like a photography darkroom.

"In here," he murmurs.

I suppose it's an area for customers to hang out, but it's empty. We've come here to Apparate, but we're so taken by the strangeness of it all that we wander around. Bean bags and vintage armchairs are thrown unceremoniously around the room. When I realize that the light source is a giant plastic nativity set, lit internally by bulbs, I snort. Hipsters. The song playing changes to something familiar, though I'm not sure who it is. I absently sing along, off-key. Oliver catches my eye from where he's flipping through a box of records and smiles.

I'm becoming used to the room. It's nice and warm, and I remove my soaking wool coat. The light almost feels like stained glass. In fact, the whole scene is becoming a bit too perfect. Luckily fate steps in, and I catch my reflection in one of the mirrors. "Oh my God."

My sopping hair is falling out of its bun, and my eyeliner has dribbled black streaks down my face. I wish I could say there's a mermaid-esque quality to it, but I look like a Grindylow washed ashore. Hastily I wipe at my face, though I only smudge the angry black even more.

Oliver steps before me, blocking the mirror. "I didn't want to embarrass you," he answers my unasked question, grinning.

I smudge around some more and huff with embarrassment, "Is it gone?"

He shakes his head, chuckling, "Not quite." Then, with the cuff of his expensive dress-shirt, he cleans my cheeks. I scrunch my face, but then I can feel his breath on my wet lashes. It's been quite some time since a guy has stood this close to me. I clear my throat nervously, feeling the heat rising to my chest again. Oliver removes his hand and seems to study my face a moment. "There," he says finally.

I open my eyes, and the breath catches in my throat. He's standing too close. This isn't professional. I should say something like, "Step back, cowboy," and maybe even wave a finger sassily. But I just stand there, stupid and silent. Everything is fuzzy, from my cold fingers to my drenched feet.

There's something nice about the way Oliver looks in the shadows, though.

Then he murmurs, as if to himself, "I don't think we should..." But even as he's saying it, he's taking that last step closer. He touches the nape of my neck. My blood feels like it's on fire. And I don't know if I'm going to turn and run, or do something else; something opposite, something stupid--

The camera flash, the puff of smoke, is what stops us.

Oliver jumps back and I release a horrified gasp. The bead curtain is clicking, swishing, but the person behind it is gone. We stare at each other in horror for a split-second before Oliver bolts off, to do exactly what I'm not sure. Wrestle him to the ground? Break his camera? It's already too late. I know how magical paparazzi cameras work--what are the odds that a Muggle cares enough about two strangers to take their picture? The photograph will appear on a blank parchment back at headquarters. Then within thirty seconds one of the columnists will have identified Oliver. The photograph will be duplicated and owled to every lonely, gossip-hungry Witch and Wizard in Britain.

Oh God. What if somebody from Witch Weekly sees it? They keep tabs on every magical tabloid, from The Howler to Crystal Ball. It won't be in their favour to have an intern caught snogging their featured celebrity.

"Oh shit," I whisper to the empty room. Suddenly the red light makes everything look like the set of a horror film. "Oh, shit."

I don't find out if Oliver ever catches the photographer. I don't know what happens at all, because I turn and Apparate on the spot. The loud crack punctuates the silence.

*


My two-way mirror is still showing Quidditch matches, casting light in the sitting room. Seamus and Dean, as expected, are asleep on my sofas. Habit of theirs. I take off my wobbly shoes and tiptoe past. I'm not making a sound, until my toe collides with the tower of empty bottles they've apparently constructed. The crashing lasts for hours and hours (I'm sure of it) and Dean bolts upright, scrambling for his glasses.

"Jesus, Edie!"

"I'm so sorry!" I cry. "Sorry you two! I didn't--" But Seamus hasn't even budged. He's still splayed out on the sofa, quietly snoring. I jab a finger at him, "That is a bloody scientific anomaly."

Dean stretches widely, yawning. "It's late. You missed a good match. Kenmare won again."

"Oh. Well, that's good..."

He eyes my drenched clothes. "What happened? Jump in the Thames?"

"It's raining," I say stupidly, even though it's clearly thundering on the windowsills. He nods, pressing his mouth into a line. Right. A joke. My brain is still addled from everything that's just happened.

"So your interview went well?" he asks, and I detect no malice in his voice. It's a silent apology for the way he acted earlier. I nod, although 'well' isn't exactly the descriptive word I'd choose.

A silence passes. I don't know when he and I began running out of things to say, but it seems to happen more and more. I wish I could give him a proper conversation, but I'm not for it right now. Dean scratches the back of his head. "Well, I reckon I'll get back to sleep."

"Of course," I blurt out. "G'night."

He looks at me strangely, but I'm halfway to my room. I close the door and flick my wand at the soot-blackened fireplace. It bursts to life and I take off the dress, throwing it over a chair to dry. Now that I'm starkers, I eye myself in the mirror.

There's a bit more pudge on my tummy than I'd like. And I wish my thighs didn't touch. I wouldn't scare the horses, but I wouldn't stop people in their tracks either. Especially compared to a natural beauty like, for example, Katie Bell. So why did Oliver Wood feel the need to kiss me?

Actually... did he even kiss me? I must've had an out-of-body experience. I can't recall if his lips even touched mine before the photo was taken. Ugh, God, the photo. I plop down onto my bed, and the mattress squeaks quietly.

From the other room Seamus bolts upright, "WHO'S THERE! I'M AN AUROR!" I hear a pillow hitting his head, followed by Dean grumbling.

Rolling my eyes, I pull the covers up into a cacoon of denial. Maybe it never happened. Maybe I imagined the whole kiss thing because that's what I do with guys. And... Well, I reckon I almost had fun tonight. It was nice talking Quidditch with somebody other than Dean or Seamus. Groaning, I flip onto my stomach and hope to dream of anything else.

I'm almost asleep when I realize that I never got the notes from Oliver's flat.





Author's note: Whew! I feel like so much happened in this chapter. I wrote it, erased it, re-wrote it, and still editing. Were some questions finally answered? I hope that some important things about Oliver's character were revealed.

Obviously I don't own The Cure. Also the second song that starts playing I imagined to be Fade Into You by Mazzy Star (which I don't own)! The back room of the record store was inspired by a super-hipster bar in my town.

Thanks to emccentric for the CI! ♥

Chapter 14: A Funny Thing Happened
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CHAPTER FOURTEEN



Scrubbing toilets is surprisingly conducive to deep thought. At least, this is true at The Rusty Knight Inn. You're so desperate to put yourself out of the moment, that you'll think about literally anything else. I've made some of my biggest life decisions while cleaning these loos.

I am just realizing how pathetic that is.

The Rusty Knight may have missed me--the cobwebs are proof--but the feeling was not mutual. Nevertheless, I needed a job desperately. Several things helped me come to this realization. One was the two nights of absolutely no sleep I had, after The Hanging Moon. Jittery on coffee and desperate to distract myself, I spent 48 hours cleaning every single surface in my flat. I even sorted my sock drawer (where I found an unopened bottle of Firewhiskey--bonus!) Another factor was the final "Sorry, not hiring" owl I received, this time from the Daily Prophet.

Finally, there was the note from my landlord, Simon. It came in the form of a Madame Puddifoot's receipt spellotaped to my front door. My rent was two weeks late again, and he was quite upset. Simon is a Squib, but continues to glumly reside in a magical area of London. He's a high-strung bloke. Once he had a full-on panic attack when his parakeet, Peony, got loose in his flat. I could hear him screaming and thundering around for hours. Eventually, I felt sorry enough to go upstairs and help. It took all of two seconds with an Accio Peony. He and I have had the rent conversation a hundred times before, and I'm not too worried about it. No matter how angry he gets, he always just ends up awkwardly asking me out for a drink.

Although I knew it was an empty threat, Simon had a point. I needed money. This was made apparent when the Gringotts Goblin actually winced during my balance inquiry. So yesterday morning I swallowed my pride down with my tea. It was time to go back to The Rusty Knight.

This place makes The Poisoned Apple look like a five-star restaurant. If my mum knew that I was back, she'd be begging me to carry Skrewt-Spray again. Knockturn Alley isn't as scary as it once was, but you don't want to be caught there alone. The Rusty Knight is no exception. The curtains are moth-eaten, the rooms are rented by the hour, and I'm pretty sure one of them is actually a brothel.

The innkeep, an ancient woman named Mathilda, hated to see me go two years ago. (I'm particularly good with cleaning charms.) For a few months after, she still owled me her homemade puddings. But I rarely touched them, as the treacle fudge looked more like dragon droppings. She was elated when I came in yesterday, tail between my legs. Well, eventually she was. Her eyesight's so bad, even with enormous spectacles, that she couldn't see me at first. She's practically deaf too, and thankfully didn't hear my cry of shock that she was still alive.

Standing a foot away from her reception desk, I yelled "E-DIE LEN-NOX" twice. When she finally understood, she planted a sloppy kiss on each cheek (I probably still have fuscia smudges.) But she gave my job back, easy as pie. Clearly the place needed some tidying.

So here I am, scrubbing away at toilets on absolutely no sleep. I look like a mental patient, with the dark circles under my eyes a lovely purple. At least they compliment my ratty pink apron, which contains sanitizing potions and a glossary of cleaning charms. The Rusty Knight needs the strongest dose of each.

To separate myself from the messes unearthed in each room--trust me, you don't want to know--I let my mind wander. But it doesn't have to wander long, before coming to rest on Oliver.

I haven't tried to contact him by owl, floo or broomstick. That much I'm quite proud of. Girls like Rose can give an air as unaffected as they please. But the second things get physical with a guy, they show up at his flat with cupcakes and a selection of Weird Sisters albums to pick their song from. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been "checking my appearance" in my mirror every half-hour. But each time I was met with my own brown eyes. It's been surprisngly disappointing.

Which leads me to the question, Why do I care so much?

Alright, so he kissed me. (I think.) What does it matter though? It's not like he hasn't done it before. Forget handshakes; our first formal greeting went straight to liplock. I mean, things did feel different this time. (If it even happened.) Maybe he wasn't drunk, as I'd thought. So maybe he'd actually meant it? That is, if he even kissed me. (Which he probably hadn't.)

Perhaps I just need to talk this all out. To figure out what exactly happened, and where we should go from there. This can't just go unmentioned. Let's not forget, I am writing an article on the guy. And I couldn't give everything away for some silly, maybe-crush.

Could I?

"No!" I throw my scrubby stick at the wall (the occupant in the next room pounds back irritably.) This is ridiculous. I refuse to put my life on hold for someone I barely know.

I pull myself to my feet and face the splotchy mirror. "He is just a guy," I resolve forcefully, gripping the porcelain sink. "You don't even fancy him. Just because he turned out to be nicer than you'd thought. Maybe funnier too. And just because he likes books, and Quidditch, and good beer, it absolutely does not mean--"

My two-way mirror sounds and I jump a mile, shrieking (more wall-pounding from the other room.) I jam into my apron pockets, erratically tossing the potions over my shoulders in my search. When I at last find the mirror, I fumble and nearly drop it in the toilet.

"Oliver? I mean--ah--hello? Hi?"

"Edie." I'm halfway-mortified-halfway-kind-of-excited that it is, in fact, Oliver. "Oh, should I give you a moment? It kind of... looks like you're in the loo."

Brilliant.

"I was, I mean, I am. But it's not like... It's not what you'd think..." He's looking more and more confused, and mildly horrified, so I blurt, "I'm at Witch Weekly. I'm getting some of the models dressed for a photoshoot." I call to a rickety armchair in the next room, "Five more minutes, girls!"

I am such an idiot.

But Oliver must buy it, because he looks impressed. "Oh, brilliant." There is a moment of silence and then he grins, "...What?"

"What."

"You're smiling."

I catch my reflection. Sure enough, I'm beaming like a complete nutter. "Oh, you know. It's just going to be a... really fantastic photoshoot."

"You'll have to tell me about it sometime," he ventures. I want to kick myself for the fluttering in my ribcage. He wets his lips, which I am trying not to stare at, and a look of concern crosses his face. "Listen, there's something that I need to tell you. Well, a number of somethings, actually."

"Of course," I stammer. "I feel the same way."

"Are you free this afternoon? We could get coffee. You know, at that place with the bad indie music."

"I wish I could. But I've got--erm--work, until six o'clock. What about afterwards?"

"Practise," he says glumly. "The Kenmare match is this weekend, so we're pulling two a day. I'm on my lunch break right now." For some reason, imagining Oliver eating lunch in-between practises is kind of endearing. Wait. Practise. How have I not thought of this before?

Abandoning all shyness I screech, "Oh my God, can I come to your practise?!"

"Erm. I don't think that's a good idea."

"Oh, it'll be totally off the record, I promise. And I'm not, like, a spy for Kenmare or anything, I just happen to like them." I'm blabbering like an idiot, but I've always wanted to see a live Quidditch practise. Especially if there's the chance of speaking with the players. "Oh my God. Is Amelia Jones there right now?"

"She is on the team..."

Trying not to squeal, I say delicately, "Has she ever mentioned anything about fan-mail? Regarding the Wronski Feint from the European Cup?"

He snorts, because of course the wound still stings for wound-up Oliver Wood. "I'm sure she's received loads of post for that, though I doubt it's from fans."

"But I've been dying to know what happened, and she's never answered my letters..."

His lips spread into a huge smile. "You wrote her?"

"Only once or twice..." He quirks an eyebrow and I add, "...a month."

"Wow," he laughs. "I thought only twelve year-old boys wrote their favourite athletes."

"Oi!" I protest, but he continues, "Anyway, it's not really my place to talk about it."

"Of course, you're totally right." Silence. I bite my fist and say in a high-pitched voice, "Could--could you just ask her for me? About that Feint...?"

"Goodbye, Lennox."

"Sorry, sorry! You're right, we shouldn't meet during your practise. But we're both busy, so..." I feel my damned blush returning. "Well, could you not just tell me now then? Whatever it is?"

"I think it'd best be done in person. I have to say it's been on my mind a lot today, but I'd rather wait."

I swallow against the pygmy puffs somersalting in my belly. "I understand. Tomorrow? I could sneak away for an hour."

"Alchemy Coffee at one o'clock?"

"That sounds good," I fight my smile.

"See you then, Edie."

I don't think I even say goodbye before snapping the mirror shut. There's a churning in my belly, a pounding in my heart and a ringing in my head. I don't think I'm cut out for this kind of thing. Whatever "this" is. Last I checked, he was just Wood, and I was brandishing my wand on a crusade to take him down. But I also have the bad habit of not looking past first judgments.

I've always written Oliver off as a thankless, wealthy twat. But it seems that I may have been... wrong? Me? That certainly isn't something I like to admit. And if I was wrong about him, who else have I been unfairly judging? I labeled Mr. Ward an idiot, Mildred as a stuffy old witch, and Rose as a conniving monster. I suppose it's possible that Mr. Ward deserves his job, and that Mildred spoils the grandchildren I've never imagined. Maybe Rose even has an ounce of good in her.

Whoa.

I told you, scrubbing toilets is good for self-realizations.

*


At six o'clock sharp, I march out of the inn's rickety door. It's nearing dusk, and as a dodgy-looking wizard is hobbling toward me, I turn and Apparate. The air in Diagon Alley is cold when I reappear, and the leaves on the trees are copper and red. In just two weeks it'll be October. In the same time, my second article will be published. I'll have an updated draft on Rose's desk later this week.

Pushing the thought from my mind, I continue along my stroll. When I pass the magazine stand I pause. I haven't stopped here since the night I was sacked. Back then, I was so sure that Oliver Wood was nothing more than an inconsiderate ass. Right now I don't know where I stand.

The curiosity gets the better of me, and I cross the cobblestones hesitently. Hands in my coat pockets, I scan the rows of tabloids. Nobody at Witch Weekly mentioned the photo of me kicking him out of the pub. But it was part of the article I wrote; it made everything juicier. This new photograph could seriously ruin things. Where could it be by now? All of them? None? For old times' sake, I grab a copy of Crystal Ball. The short wizard manning the booth recognizes me and rolls his eyes, but I ignore him, flipping through the pages until I at last find it. Once again, it's part of a larger collage of paparazzi photographs. But there it is.

A huge sigh of relief whooshes from my lungs. I'm unrecognizable. Apparently my back was to the photographer. So my question has been answered. But I can't tear my eyes away from the room, glaring and red like a harsh sunrise. The silly light-up figurines are blurred and out of focus. My coat is draped over one arm, our clothes dripping rainwater as Oliver advances toward me. A tendril of my wet hair clings to my neck; my head turns slightly and I see my cheek flush. I remember that Oliver had just used the sleeve of his shirt, easily five Galleons, to clean the freckled skin there. I study his figure. He's certainly taller than me, but not by as much as I'd thought. From where I stand he's always looked so big.

What really strikes me is the lashes of his one visible eye, slowly closing. The tilt of his head. The way his expression changes from trepidation and worry to something else. The hand on the nape of my neck; the tenseness disappearing from my shoulders as my chin lifts. And then--

The photograph starts over on its loop. It was taken before our lips met; he never actually kissed me.

"You gonna buy that?" the Wizard says harshly, rattling me.

As if a door to the street was opened, the busy sounds of Diagon Alley are sucked back into my head. How long have I been standing here? The Wizard regards me impatiently, and I glance back at the magazine. In the photograph, Oliver gently touches my neck again.

"Actually," I search for my coin purse. "Yes. One copy, please."

*


With the issue of Crystal Ball hidden in my bag, I make my way home. I fight a shiver as I pull my hood tightly over my head, cursing the damp England chill. All I want to do is sit down on my sofa, in the dark, and try to figure out what to do. It will probably also involve sweets and a beer. When I reach the bright green door to my flat, I murmur the password ("Peanut brittle") and turn the knob. It doesn't move. Frowning, I repeat it, this time ramming my shoulder into the door. Still nothing.

Ugh, has Seamus changed the password again? He finds it so funny. For some reason he's very entertained by women saying dirty words. Crossing my arms I say flatly, "Hippogriff shite." Again I try the knob, but nothing happens.

"Veela tits?"

Nothing.

Neither of his old stand-bys, eh? I growl, stamping my foot like a petulant child. It's freezing out here. I'm going to kill him.

I am wracking my brain for more dirty Seamus-phrases when an owl flies overhead, carrying both a red envelope and a small package. The parcels drop at my feet and my eyes widen in horror. As if it were a grenade, I bolt and do an impressive running leap over a nearby bin. Crouching low, I plug my ears against the oncoming explosion.

The Howler rips itself open and my landlord's voice booms, "I TOLD YOU I WAS SERIOUS THIS TIME! RENT IS DUE ON THE FIRST! THE FIRST, LENNOX. TODAY IS THE SEVENTEENTH. WHO TAUGHT YOU WHO TO COUNT, EH? EH?!"

I dare a glance around me. Several passers-by have stopped to stare at the girl hiding from a piece of paper, in a pile of rubbish.

"THIS WAS YOUR THIRD WARNING, AND IF YOU ACTUALLY READ YOUR LEASE, THEN YOU WOULD PROBABLY KNOW THAT THIRD WARNING MEANS EVICTION. EVICTION. YOU CANNOT LIVE HERE ANY MORE!"

"What!" I cry indignantly. "That's ridiculous!"

"AND LOSE THE CHEEK, I KNOW YOU'RE BEING CHEEKY. BUT I CAN'T HEAR YOUR WHINGING. BECAUSE THIS IS A PIECE OF PARCHMENT."

I tuck a strand of hair behind my ear, "Your mum is a piece of parchment."

There is a break in the screaming, punctuated by Simon's hyperventillation. Cautiously I peer over the bin, but jump again when the Howler adds, "ALSO MY OFFER FOR A DRINK STILL STANDS." Then it tears itself into a dozen pieces and explodes in a puff of smoke.

I can't believe it. I never actually thought Simon would go through with this. But he did lock me out... Maybe I'm not the best with paying the rent on time, but I've never missed a month. I even gave him a free pint or two at The Poisoned Apple! Sulking, I drag myself over to the remaining parcel. Though it's the size of my palm, when I pick it up it's surprisingly heavy. With a groan I realize that it's all of my belongings, given a shrinking charm. Well, at least he saved me the trouble of packing.

I look up at the brick facade. It wasn't the best flat, but it was home. The sinks all leaked and the water never got hot enough. The kitchen fireplace almost burned the whole building down, once. A family of pixies lived in the walls, and ate my Cauldron Cakes if I left them out. But the dodginess is what made it so charming!

It feels strange to be without a home. Thinking about it in those terms makes everything real. My heart picks up and my palms begin to sweat. What am I supposed to do now? Where am I supposed to go? I don't have a place to live.

Shit, I don't have a place to live!

I sit down, right there on the dirty street, head between my knees. After several deep breaths, the lightheaded feeling goes away, and I'm able to think. Time to weigh my options.

I could move in with Justin and Lisa--she did offer. She wouldn't mind one bit, but I know Justin would be put out. Plus, he doesn't wear a stitch of clothing from the second he comes home. I know this because I've made the mistake of Apparating inside their flat, instead of knocking. I will never un-see Justin reading the paper, completely starkers in an armchair. I could crash with Dean and Seamus, but there's a reason why they always come to mine. Their flat is an absolute pigsty. Seriously, I think Dean's closet contains an Acromantula nest in the making. Then there's always my Mum. The Floo commute would be irritating--and, let's face it, so would she--but it's a free place to live. I then recall her habit of throwing me at every available bachelor in Britain, and shake my head. No way.

Miserably, I dig through my bag until I find the mirror. With a heavy sigh, I flip it open and mutter the incantation. As my reflection disappears, I make an effort to put on a smile. Then I wait.

"Lisa!" I say too brightly. "My lovely best friend. Remember that time you said I could live with you and Justin? Well, a funny thing happened..."




Author's Note: Yay, another update! I'm proud with how quickly I churned this one out... but it also makes me nervous. This chapter is on the shorter side, but the last one was sooo long and I wanted to take it easy on you guys! Sorry for any spelling/grammar mistakes. I'm using my new laptop, which doesn't have Word in it yet and I've been writing with WordPad xD

So what do you guys think? What does Oliver have to tell Edie? Will she be able to live with Justin and Lisa? Are are there any Simon/Edie shippers out there? xP

Thanks so much to Eponine @ TDA for the stunning CI. She even put Peony the parakeet in there ♥!

Chapter 15: Motion Sickness
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CHAPTER FIFTEEN
MOTION SICKNESS


I can't breathe. As soon as my exhausted lungs can expand, desperate for air, the oxygen is ripped away. Everything aches. All I can smell or taste is my own sweat, hot against my cold skin. I'm not going to make it. Tell my family I love them! Somebody, please, end this Orwellian torture! DO IT TO JULIA!

I slow to a halt. My throbbing feet, stuffed inside trainers a size too small, stop pounding the pavement. I stagger over into the grass and put my hands on my knees, braided pigtails flopping over my shoulders as I hyperventillate. Merlin, I am out of shape. Wiping the sweat from my brow, I glimpse the wooden post and groan. I didn't even run a mile, and I sincerly feared for my life.

A young mother jogs easily past, pushing a twin stroller. I swear the two little faces that peer out are mocking me. I give a sarcastic salute to the woman's retreating back and flop onto the grass. When I roll over, arms splayed out, I make eye contact with two fitties playing football. They seem to be holding back laughter. Of course. I turn away, shutting my eyes.

I've come to the Muggle park, because I won't run into anybody and therefore humiliate myself. Although the morning air is cool, the rising sun is warm. In fact, it's not too bad here. With a deep breath I nestle into the prickly grass. Then, for some stupid reason, I wonder what it would be like to come here with Oliver. I reckon It would be quite nice. Before I know it, I'm playing out scenarios of disgustingly cute things: drinking white wine on a shady blanket, or tackling one another in the grass, or hovering about on his broom. When imaginary-me places a daisy crown on his head, I slap my hands over my face.

"What is happening to me!" I groan aloud.

Aside from the fact that I'm being completely ridiculous, I keep overlooking one, itty-bitty detail: the article.

I can't take back the one that was already published. Well, unless I find a Time-Turner (I briefly considered popping in Bourgin and Burkes during my sleepless anxiety.) There is no doubt in my mind that it would ruin everything. All he has to do is open the September issue of Witch Weekly. Maybe I could say that Rose wrote it? Her name is printed in the magazine...

Yes Edie, a bit more lying should do the trick.

What's really bothering me is this second article. I need the money bad. But everything feels wrong, now. If I could detach myself from the situation--just put on my blinders and write what Blakeslee wants--it would be easy. Especially because this time I have ammunition. Everything Oliver told me would be harmless, were he talking to anybody else. But I was there to unearth deep and personal information, and spin it into gossip.

He revealed Deverill's impending replacement--I know for a fact that it hasn't been leaked yet. And although Oliver said there's no scandal in his and Katie's relationship, he's wrong. He's never been a young witch. If there's one thing I know, it's that young girls confuse "celebrity crush" with "soulmate and personal property." One word of who Oliver Wood dated, and there would be an uproar. Lastly, I know about his shoulder injury. I know that if he keeps using it, he won't have be able to play in just a few years.

I didn't get anything about St. Mungo's, but I've unearthed a goldmine. I'm finally getting to do the kind of work I've dreamt of. But it would surely ruin Oliver's career. Which should mean nothing to me, because I'm just here to pass along the news.

Yes, it should mean nothing.

"Edie?" comes a familiar voice.

I open my eyes, squinting confused into the sun. "Seamus?"

There is the sound of grass beneath feet, and then his head pops into my line of vision. His sandy hair is tousled against the bright blue sky. Clearly he's been running, but he's managing far better than I. "What are you doing here?" I ask.

"I'm training. Aurors do have to chase people, it's not all paperwork." He eyes my blotchy skin, sweaty hoodie and unflattering running shorts. "The question is, why are you here?"

"A bit less shocked, please?" I grumble, pulling myself to a seated--or pathetically splayed--position.

He takes a seat beside me. "Well, not to be a complete ass, but you never exercise. Ever. And you definitely don't wake up early for it. Not unless you're..." Suddenly his eyes light up, "Oh my God. No way."

"What?"

"You're getting laid!"

One of the fitties goes to kick the football and misses spectacularly. Yeah, he definitely heard that. "Christ, Seamus, keep it down!" I push him, though he's laughing wildly.

"It's true! You only exercise when you're worried about looking good starkers. Lisa even agrees."

Sometimes I hate how well my friends know me. Rubbing my face, as if that would make the blush disappear, I grumble, "As much as I don't like to admit, No. I am not getting laid. Yet."

"Oooh, 'yet,' eh?" he elbows me giddily. "I can't believe you haven't told us about this."

"Seeing as how you're handling it so maturely."

"Come on! Who've you got your eye set on, then? Who's the lucky bloke?"

I gawk at him. God, boys can be really thick. You'd think with three brothers, I'd have come to realize it by now. Who did I supposedly go on a date with last week? Who have I been spending much of my free time with? Who is the only person I've been talking about incessantly?

"Dean?" he guesses.

"What! No, not Dean!" He shrugs as if that were a legitimate guess. Picking a leaf from one of my braids, I murmur, "It's, um... It's Oliver, actually."

His jaw drops into a stupid smile. "You're serious!" When I only grin in embarrassment, he pounds me on the shoulder. "Nicely done, Lennox! Wow, I never would've seen that coming. Seriously. Like, never in a million years, could I have possibly imagined that."

"Thanks?" This is why our conversations rarely go deeper than Quidditch and beer.

Thankfully, he is Seamus, and promptly forgets what we were talking about. "Oi, I stopped by your flat yesterday 'cause I was hungry--"

"Seriously?"

"--but I couldn't get in. Did you change the password?"

Forgetting my incredulity, I look away nervously. My hands fly to one of my braids and begin to unravel it. "Um, no, actually. I didn't. I... moved out."

Seamus gestures incredulously. "First you're not abysmally single anymore, and now you've moved? What is this? I thought you told us everything!"

I cringe. Dean and Seamus still have no idea that I've been sacked. Nobody does. To keep everything a secret, I've told them that The Poisoned Apple is now lousy with Dragon Pox, and that we'll be reopening in a few months. Of course, Dean and Seamus are probably passing this along to others. (As far as I'm concerned, it's what the Murrays deserve.) But if I haven't told anyone about being sacked, I'm certainly not about to let on that I lost my flat too.

"I'm sorry, Seamus, I've just been so... busy with everything. Moving was a last-minute decision. I meant to tell you, really." A feeling of guilt settles in my stomach. Not only is he right--I haven't told them anything lately--but I'm lying even now.

A heavy silence settles over us. As two incessantly talkative people, this is rare. Hastily I redo my braid, but it looks more like knotted weeds. He squirms uncomfortably, "So... where are you living then?"

My face flushes. "I, erm, moved into Lisa and Justin's spare room yesterday."

As expected, Lisa was more than happy about it. She even decorated my room before I arrived--impressive, considering it took all of ten minutes. I think living with a guy is starting to take its toll. She's got the rest of her life to look forward to Justin's dirty laundry; the almost-empty milk carton put back in the fridge. I told her as much, staring at the potted plants in my new room. (They'll be dead within a week.) But Lisa seized my arm, a crazed look in her eye, "I need one last chance to have a girl flatmate."

And that was that.

I settled in quickly, thanks to rudimentary magic. (Honestly, if I were a Muggle, I would live out of boxes forever.) My new room is more spacious than the last; no longer is my bed shoved against the nightstand so that the drawers can't open. Lisa even put up some curtains and framed my photographs for me. It's a bit more Witch Weekly than I'd prefer, with candles and paper lanterns. Then again, I was using my old room as storage for dirty laundry. Justin even helped a bit, though he was less than excited. He managed a politely grudging expression, and his complaints were down to the occasional grunt. We'll get along swimmingly.

"It's only temporary," I tell Seamus what I'd repeated over and over to Lisa and Justin.

But he only picks at a blade of grass. "Oh. Well that's nice."

I narrow my eyes suspiciously. "Seamus..."

"No, it's brilliant, I'm glad you found a place.

A thought dawns on me. "Wait, are you... jealous?"

"No, why would I be jealous?" He rips out a fist-sized clump of dirt. "I'm not jealous."

I break into a huge grin. "Yes you are! You wanted me to live with you and Dean!" He shrugs one shoulder, not meeting my gaze. And just like that, the awkward silence is gone. I tackle him in a hug, throwing us both onto the ground. "Aww, I had no idea you wanted to be flat-mates!" With his body in my vice-grip, I nuzzle into his shoulder.

"I--don't--" he grunts, "Gerroff!"

But I'm not loosening a bit. Even though I would never move in with them (unless I was one hundred percent sure the Acromantula nest was gone), the thought warms me.

At last Seamus is released, and brushes himself off hastily. "Merlin, you sweat a lot! Does Wood need to know about this?"

I punch him in the arm. He returns the favour. We sit in comfortable silence, which is interrupted when his stomach growls like a Hungarian Horntail. Ignoring my snort, he clambers to his feet. "Well I say we hang this exercise bollocks. Let's go have a proper breakfast then, on me."

I don't even remember the last time I had a hot meal. Quite literally wiping the drool from my chin, I beam, "That sounds absolutely brilliant." Seamus hauls me to my feet and we set off, sweaty clothes and all, for potatoes and eggs and toast.

*


Hour later, and still full from breakfast, I'm at my typewriter. Before me is a blank page; the same one I've been staring at forever. I'm surrounded by stacks of notes and dog-eared Quidditch magazines. My fingers are resting on the rounded keys, aching to be brought to life. They could illuminate so much; inflict so much damage. But I'm caught in a problem that I wish only had two outcomes. Instead there are a-hundred-and-one possibilities, each one more problematic than the last.

If I don't write the article, I'll barely scrape by. One-third of Lisa and Justin's rent isn't awful, but I have to pay it somehow. But if I do write it, I won't get any credit for my hard work. If I don't, I'm not advancing my career in the only way I can. Then again, to write salacious gossip would compromise my journalistic morals. If I decide not to do it, I'll be letting go of everything for some guy--how many times have I condemned Lisa for putting Justin first? But publishing could mean ruining Oliver's career. He's waited two long years to get back on the pitch. Could I really be responsible for throwing it all away?

I exhale. As if the keys would detonate, I carefully draw my fingers away. Rolling my tense shoulders, I catch my reflection in the standing mirror and grimace. My hair is frazzled, and my mascara is smudged from stressfully rubbing my face. The black blotches remind me of the night in the Muggle record store. The ghost of a smile reaches my lips--in just a quarter of an hour, I'll be heading to Alchemy Coffee. The thought makes my stomach twist in an annoying way.

Maybe I could write the article without mentioning Oliver's shoulder, or Deverill's replacement. Maybe there's something I've missed--something that puts him in a positive light.

My wand roves over the monstrous stacks of parchment. I murmur a Quick-Search Charm for the name Wood. (When I did this in the Witch Weekly archives, I had to trudge through hundreds of pages about furniture and deforestry.) One of the stacks of newspapers begins fluttering, as though there were a breeze. The magic tugs on a parchment towards the bottom, and when it comes zipping out I snatch it. It's a yellowing page torn from the Daily Prophet, dated December 1998. It's completely filled by three columns of very small print. When I study it closer, I realize that it's a list of those who perished in the last War.

My family is very lucky to have gone unscathed. Although my father was a Wizard, we had difficulty proving our bloodline because of his absence. Fortunately, my siblings' birth certificates and my parents' estrangement were chronologically in our favour. Even then Andrew, my Muggle step-father, went into hiding in America for a year. Somehow we all remained safe, but we are the lucky few.

Dean's father was killed by Death Eaters during the First War, so he couldn't prove his lineage. He went on the run during our Seventh Year, before I really knew him. It's not something he often talks about. In fact, it's not something any of us talks about. That same year, Seamus hid in the Room of Requirement with some other students. My mum pulled my brothers and I out of Hogwarts, and homeschooled us. We were safe. But almost everybody I know was in some way affected. Lisa stayed and fought during the Battle of Hogwarts, helping the younger students escape. I, on the other hand, am another story.

I don't want to think about it anymore. But just as I'm about to discard the parchment, my eyes fall on two names amongst the many: Jacob and Iona Wood.

My heart thuds. Oliver once mentioned his father, after the Wizarding Newspaper Association Gala. "What's a good pint without good company? At least that's what my dad always said." Past tense. I swallow against the knot in my throat. Maybe it's just a coincidence. Wood is a very common last name, after all. I even spot a Daisy Lennox on the list, of no relation to me. Jacob and Iona were probably the same: a coincidence.

I am shaken from my reverie by a scratching at the window. I glance over my shoulder and, with a groan, see Mr. Ward's derpy owl. It's trying to get through the solid glass, tearing the flowerbox apart in the process. This can't be good. Ward never contacts me unless I'm needed at Witch Weekly.

I stomp over to open the window, and the owl swoops in, landing on my typewriter with a loud clack! Emitting a shriek, which only sets the bird into a panic, I sprint over to the typewriter. Thankfully the only damage done is the "FjkfdslL7" now on the parchment.

From the other room Justin calls apprehensively, "Alright?"

"Fine!" I try to grab the letter from the stupid animal. At last the note is in my hands. I tear the Witch Weekly seal and read,

Edith!

So sorry to bother you during your afternoon off!
But you're needed at headquarters immediately!
This is URGENT BUSINESS!

Cheers!

Artie Ward, Editor of Witch Weekly Magazine


With childlike anger, I crumple the note into a tiny ball and throw it. I have to go; I still have to kiss Mr. Ward's dragonhide boots. As far as he knows, all I've done for the magazine is pour some really nice coffees. And there's no way I can do this and meet Oliver in time.

Though I could contact him by mirror, I opt for a scrap of parchment. For some reason I don't want him to see how disappointed I am. I imagine him sitting at Alchemy Coffee, hands cupped around a steaming mug, leg bouncing nervously in the way I've noticed before.

Oliver-- I'm so sorry. I was just called in to Witch Weekly. My editor says its urgent.
Please let me know another time and place you'd like to meet. I really want to talk with you.

E.


Ignoring the fact that it looks like a business memo, I fold the note over sloppily. Ward's owl has flurried off, so I stomp around the flat until I find Justin's great horned owl, Longfellow. (Yes, as in the poet. Justin is such a tool.) At last I locate him, perched haughtily on a coat rack. Moments later I stand at the window, arms crossed. I watch as Longfellow disappears over the London rooftops, feeling as though I were saying goodbye to something.

*


To my surprise, there actually is an emergency at Witch Weekly. The whole place is in an uproar, full of flustered journalists speaking in snappy jargon. Somebody trips and throws a stack of parchment like confetti (It falls to me to clear up.) Even laid-back Theo seems irritated, greeting me with a curt nod. It turns out that somebody botched our Varya Wing shipment. Instead of ten different one-of-a-kind dress robe designs, we received one, of which ten were made. We only have a few hours before the giraffe-legged (and, more importantly, very well-paid) models arrive.

I do, however, maintain that I'm not needed here. All I'm doing is Apparating throughout the building to deliver messages, because nobody can be bothered to write a note. With an un-ladylike belch, I hold my churning stomach. I'm supposed to be sipping espresso with Oliver, not suffering from motion sickness.

Eventually I'm able to stay in one room, watching a tense discussion between Theo and Minna, the Director of Photography. Funnily enough, it's actually the most I've seen of the inner-workings of WW. I'm deeply engrossed in their conversation until Minna puts a hand to her brow and stressfully demands a cuppa. Everyone's eyes fall on me.

"Right-o."

I decide to walk, and spare myself the nausea. Taking my sweet time in the kitchens, I lazily select the tea while humming a Weird Sisters song. On my way back upstairs, I meander in the direction of my little corner. I'm curious to see how dessicated my plant is. Today the corridor is bustling with people, all wearing rather panicked expressions. Narrowly escaping a paper airplane to the eye, I duck around the corner. Pivoting rather gracelessly, I right myself, and then stop dead in my tracks.

Oliver Wood is here.

He's the only unmoving thing in the corridor, standing as he always does--arms crossed, feet planted apart, chin tilted down in thought. It's cliche, but it's true: my heart skips a beat. Instictively I run a hand through my fringe, straightening the reddish mess. Did I even try to look presentable before leaving the flat? Barely containing a triumphant fist-pump, I remember that I'm wearing my most flattering black trousers. All right. This one's in the bag.

Oliver still hasn't noticed me amidst all the bustle. Checking my breath with my palm (and deciding to stay at least three feet away), I make my way over.

I am mid-stride when several things happen at once. First, Oliver snaps out of his reverie, but he isn't looking at me. Instead, Rose has appeared from nowhere and is standing before him. I freeze mid-step, confused. They're conversing about something. I don't like the way that Rose is looking up at him, or the way her hands are on her hips. I have to admit, she's got that Gryffindor courage--I could never even make eye-contact after that Flatulence Charm. Come to think of it, I haven't seen or heard from her since then. She's probably still upset...

I'm not entirely sure what's happening as Rose steps closer. She puts a hand on his chest, laughing throatily at something she's just said herself. My spine tingles with anger. Doesn't she know that he came here to see me?

Suddenly, Theo appears before me. I jump, startled, and tear my eyes away from Rose. "There you are," he says, exhasperated. "Minna swears she can't get anything done without that tea."

"Oh, sorry," I murmur. Unable to keep my gaze on his, I glance over his shoulder, and suddenly want to vomit. But it's not from my motion sickness. No. It's because Rose has pushed herself onto her tiptoes, and pressed her mouth to Oliver's.

He goes stiff as a board, hands clenching at his sides. I wait for something; anything. For him to step back, or gently push her by the shoulders. I'd even settle for a melodramatic murmur of, "That's not why I'm here," before he comes to slip his hand into mine. Maybe he'll give her a Bat Bogey Hex? Christ, I'll take anything, anything other than what's actually happening, which is Oliver Wood kissing Rose Zeller.

Oliver Wood is kissing Rose Zeller.

I've witnessed this scene hundreds of times. I've seen it with couples in Diagon Alley; with summer goodbyes at Platform 9 3/4; drunken strangers in crowded pubs. This doesn't feel like I've read in books. No tears are flooding to my eyes; no quaking knees. Instead, even as I watch it, I can't be sure it's actually happening. There's something hollow in my chest, like an empty room after a candle is blown out. It's a strange feeling. And then disillusion, the particularly sadistic Dementor, sucks everything away. As quickly as it all came--the sweaty palms, the pygmy puffs in my stomach, the daisy-crowns daydreams--it's gone.

I have been indescribably stupid. I actually thought that Oliver Wood was interested in me. But he was just trying to throw a journalist off his tracks.

Their kiss was nothing spectacular, and Rose has already pulled away. They'd be idiots to snog in broad daylight here. Even that peck wasn't the most brilliant idea. Smiling behind her fingers, Rose casts a nervously delighted glance. I quickly shift so that I'm better hidden behind Theo, who says irritated, "Edie. What is your--" he glances over his shoulder. "What, Rose and Oliver Wood talking?"

Suddenly I realize just how quickly it all began and ended. He didn't see the kiss. Seriously, am I the only person who witnessed it?

"It's nothing," I say thickly.

Theo is looking at me in an unsettlingly knowing way. I wish I could think of something intelligent to say, but my throat has gone dry. I dare another peek around his shoulder. To my horror, Oliver has begun heading this way down the corridor. Our eyes meet. The colour drains from his face, and he stumbles a bit over his own feet. But then, without so much as a nod, his gaze snaps away. I can't make a sound.

Is this what he wanted to tell me? That he's been with Rose all along?

Theo and I watch as Oliver crosses the marble floors. My eyes bore into the side of his face ashe comes within arm's reach (and definitely within hexing range.) But there's nothing. No words, not even a second glance. I feel as though I were a ghost, unseen to everyone, as he turns the corner goes out of sight. As with the kiss, it's over just as quickly as it began.

Theo and I stand perfectly still. I'm still holding onto the cup and saucer like an idiot. Suddenly an idea strikes me, and I thrust the teacup into Theo's hands. "Something's come up," I say quickly. "I'm feeling very ill."

Clearly he isn't buying it. But he's kind enough to only nod, as I turn and Apparate on the spot.

*


I overshoot my mother's studio by quite a bit. With all my vibrating nerves, I'm lucky I didn't Splinch myself. After apologizing profusely to the witch I terrified at the local Owlery, I skulk down the street. When I arrive at my Mum's studio, I swing the door open and am greeted by the smell of the firing kiln. Some rubbish sitar music is playing, and I roll my eyes.

My mother's head pokes out from the back. "Daughter!" she cries her usual greeting. Scurrying around the mess of easels, canvases and displays, she envelops me in a crushing hug. "What a surprise! Did we have plans?" And she can't help but add, "Of course, if you used such an archaic tradition as owl-post, I've probably just ignored it..."

"Is Jae here?" I interrupt.

Her mouth falls into a surprised little O, but it's quickly replaced by a delighted smile. "Yes, he is! I've sent him out for more gesso. He should be just down the street--"

"Thanks." I turn on my heel, stomp to the door, and then hurry back over. "It's good to see you too," I plant a kiss on her cheek.

As I march down the streets of Renwick, everyone I pass greets me with delighted surprise. Though most try to stop and chat, I only smile hugely (which probably looks more like baring my teeth) and continue on my way. The unfortunate thing about Renwick is that everybody knows everything about you. Everything. They all remember my sixth birthday, when I was so scared of the Magician my Mum hired that I wet my pants. (Muggles actually adopted this tradition from us; before our eleventh birthdays, all little Witches and Wizards are mystified by magic.) They also remember that I was caught, by the local Auror, in the park after hours with my first boyfriend. I'm sure there are some good memories in the public sphere of Renwick, but these are the kind that stick.

Thankfully it isn't long before I spot Jae down the cobblestones. He's carrying my mother's drawstring bag, full of new art supplies. I've practically sprinted up to him by the time he squints in confusion, recognizes me, and smiles. "Wotcher, Edie--mmmf!"

Grabbing him by the shirt collar, and ignoring that we're basically the same height, I plant my mouth on his. I have to say, it's not my best work. Our teeth bump more than once, but after we get the hang of it, he's not the worst snog. At the very least, it's better than mine and Oliver's first kiss--

Stop thinking about it.

I pull away, still gripping him by the collar. I'm study him closely, as though he were an article that needed proof-reading. Jae's expression is somewhere between a smirk and incredulity. Beside us, Mrs. Barker--surely the town's biggest gossip--is spying quite obviously from behind her hedge.

At last I release Jae's collar and take a step back. "Well?"

He laughs, pushing the fringe from his eyes. "You've quite the silver tongue. Is this how you get all of your suitors?"

I shift impatiently, crossing my arms. "Obviously. Still up for that date, then?"

Jae regards me, taking a step forward. He touches my hand and I feel nothing more than skin-on-skin contact; no butterflies. It's perfect. I suddenly notice just how dissimilar he and Oliver are. Where the former is tall and broad, and genuine to a fault, Jae is small and slight, with mischievous eyes. I reckon that's why I let him kiss me again in broad daylight, for all of the town to see: because he is nothing like Oliver Wood.




Author's Note: Whew. This chapter was really, really hard to write. The scene at WW with Oliver and Rose has been in my mind since I very first got plunnies for this story, but it took a lot of deleting and re-writing. I know a lot's happened in this chapter, but I really felt like every scene was important. Edie and Seamus's conversation needed to happen so that we could see how she allowed herself to fall for somebody too quickly. And, to be honest, I want Seamus in this story as much as possible xD

So what do you guys think? I know the site's been a bit dead lately, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. A big thanks goes to Vendetta @ TDA for the CI ♥

1984 and the quotation, "Do it to Julia!" are the intellectual property of George Orwell.

Chapter 16: Lisa Turpin-Finch-Fletchley Unravels
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CHAPTER SIXTEEN



I can’t believe it’s only been a week since it all began. Everything has gone from bad to worse, faster than you can say “Hinkypunk.” I went from striving to expose Oliver as a heartless socialite, to almost snogging him, to thinking we were about to start a relationship, to watching him kiss Rose Zeller. And then I all but physically assaulted Jae Chang with my face… as an act of spite. We haven’t even spoken since agreeing on this vague, undetermined “date,” happening sometime kind of soon-ish, maybe.

Needless to say, I have not been sleeping very well.

The thing with kissing Jae in the street—the thing that I hadn’t taken into account—was the uncomfortable walk back to my Mum’s studio. Let me tell you, going from full-on snog to polite conversation is not easy. And true to Renwick behaviour, by the time we’d reached her front door, somebody had already told my Mum what happened.

I was speed-walking by then, eager for some additional company. But inside we discovered my Mum talking with Basil Goodrich, the local florist. At the creak of the door they froze, halfway turned to us in mid-gesticulation.

“Daughter,” my Mum said, and definitely with a smirk. “You’re back.”

“Hello, Edith,” Basil purred, tossing his linen scarf. “Mrs. Barker just told us the most interesting news.”

“That was quick,” remarked Jae under his breath. “What’d she do, send a Patronus?”

After some evasive responses to their questions, Basil at last left. (But on the way out, he nudged me and wiggled his eyebrows.) Shortly after, I made some excuse about heading back home. I did not, however, mention that “home” was now the spare room of my mates’ house. I hugged my mother, who whispered in my ear, “I told you.” After a half-hug-half-handshake with Jae, during which I sputtered, “Good-ater”—a hybrid of “goodbye” and “later”—I stepped into the fireplace. Floo Powder gets your clothes all sooty, and yes, it’s a finite resource. But I was about through with Apparating for the day.

“Diagon Alley!” I shouted, even though my new home was a twenty-minute walk past the magical brick wall. But I just couldn’t explain the change in address to my Mum. It had already been an exhausting day.

Once home, I stood in the threshold of my new room as the door creaked open. With a sigh, I fell face-down on my bed, shoes and all. I could have slept for days. But no matter how long I lied there, I couldn’t find rest. Every time I blinked my bleary eyes, I saw it again—Oliver’s own eye, closing, as he leaned in to kiss me. I had no idea what happened to that copy of Crystal Ball. For all I knew, it was lost during the move.

Good riddance, I thought, checking my watch. Seeing as it was already two in the morning, I pegged it for another sleepless night.

Justin and Lisa were long since to bed, and I didn’t quite feel comfortable in their sitting room. Plus their cat hated me. After five o’clock the sofa was his, unless I wanted a scratch on the arm. Instead, I dragged myself to the typewriter. The same parchment was in the platen, blank except for the FjkfdslL7 Ward’s owl was so kind to type.

Christ, I realized, that was just this morning.

This brings me to where I am having another staring-contest with the typewriter. It’s almost three o’clock, and it feels like there's sand in my eyes. But still I exhale, bringing my fingers to the keys. And then I just vent. Because I can’t tell Lisa, or Justin, or Dean, or Thomas, or even my Mum what’s happened. The typewriter is the only one who I want to know, and I tell it everything. By the time I sit back, pink rays of the early sunlight filter through the curtains. My back is sore and my fingertips are numb. But there it is: the completed first draft of the article. It’s biting, yet somehow professional. Most importantly I’ve done it: I’ve pitted our subscribers, who are largely from middle- to lower-class families, against the elite. I’ve given them a reason to take Oliver Wood down from his marble pedestal. Cautiously, feeling almost afraid of the parchment itself, I unroll the article from the platen, and read.

The Upminster station for the London Underground has long been abandoned; at least, that’s what Muggles believe. A wooden sign reading UNDER CONSTRUCTION bats around in the cool evening breeze. The station appears to have been in the works for years. But I know better, as I stand under a late sky that threatens with rain. The Upminster Underground station is actually the entrance to The Hanging Moon: one of London’s finest Magical dining destinations.

I am waiting for Quidditch celebrity Oliver Wood, who had insisted on the location. As a working-class girl, like the majority of our beloved readers, I was wary of the location. Not all of us have the Galleons for champagne that reaches upwards of three figures (per glass.) But as a professional Quidditch player for Puddlemere United, in a country still financially staggering after the War, Wood grosses 1.6 million per year. So, really, what does a three-hundred Galleon dinner bill matter? The location is peculiar for an interview, and this reporter feels a bit out of her element. But perhaps Wood is just flexing his muscles—figuratively, I hope—before his big come-up. After two years off the pitch, he surely wants to make a good impression. But it’s not just his Quidditch skills that are a bit rusty.

At last he arrives, wearing a collage of mismatched designers. He offers a brief greeting (he’s not one for words, at least before a few pints) and then I am heading into the mouth of the beast; the lion’s den of London elite. The Hanging Moon is all at once what I expected it to be, and what I could never have imagined. Everything is candlelight and polished black stone, murmuring couples and businesswizards. An almost identical replica of the full moon dominates the ceiling, pressing down on us. Despite the designer label I’ve somehow scrounged up for the occasion, I feel wildly underdressed.

Wood seems very friendly with the owner of the establishment: a smiling Wizard much older than his taut skin suggests. Our table is sanctioned off on a little balcony, dimly lit and, need I say, quite posh. Wood is eager to begin the interview; even more to discuss his long-awaited return to the game. The more beer that disappears from his pint glass(es), the more animated he becomes.

His reserved manner disappears entirely when discussing Quidditch. I learn everything there is to know: the chronology of Puddlemere’s Keepers from the thirteenth century on, and that wearing a Keeper’s padding is akin to “A bleedin’ troll on your shoulders.” Wood also points out, upon my mentioning of the Kenmare Kestrals, that they have sloppy tactics. He even goes so far as to say that the Quidditch Cup referees are paid off—how else could Ireland have won? Suffice to say, he’s very opinionated on the matter of Quidditch. But this is nothing new to his fans or acquaintances.

Wood’s brash behavior has shadowed him since his days at Hogwarts, when he was captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. He was notorious, even amongst other houses, for 5:00am practices and relentless drills. Practises were prioritized even above OWLs and NEWTs, and in many cases his teammates’ marks suffered. On one occasion, Wood told a young Harry Potter that he didn’t care if he fell off his broom, so long as he caught the Snitch first (one is reluctant to imagine the state of the Wizarding World today, had Harry seriously injured himself, or worse.) Several years later, Wood even ordered Potter to knock Cho Chang, the Seeker for Ravenclaw House, off her broom. Although Quidditch referees are trained to prevent injury to players, oftentimes the pitch is so chaotic that certain incidents cannot be helped. Wood himself sustained multiple injuries while at Hogwarts, including a Bludger to the head that left him severely concussed and unconscious for two weeks. But to be fair, Wood’s stubborn (and, at times, thoughtless) nature is what turned him into a Quidditch superstar.

Unfortunately, his run-ins with injuries did not cease upon graduating from Hogwarts. Some injures even went deeper than skin and bone. Two years ago, Wood split with his girlfriend of over ten years, Katie Bell. Though he claims it was a mutual agreement, and that it is “for the best,” it was certainly not said without sadness. As for physical wounds, he’s had his fair share as Puddlemere’s longest-playing Keeper since the seventeenth century. However, the most traumatic injury for his psyche and career was the dislocation of his left shoulder. It happened during a match against the Wimbourne Wasps in 2003, when Wood reached to block a Quaffle and overextended his arm.

“Ripped it clean from the socket,” he reminisces with a sip from his third pint.

Immediately following the injury, Wood was escorted off the pitch and sent to St. Mungo’s. Eager for his next match, he spent the next month completing intense physical therapy—only to have it all thrown away. Foregoing additional treatment with potions, which take longer but have a more efficient healing process, Wood’s stubborn nature bested him again. “I was stupid and impatient,” he tells me, “and then I threw [my shoulder] out again. During practice, right before our first match.” So, for two entire Qudiditch seasons, Wood paid for his fervor with more Healing.

Although this is a pity, it is not exactly news to those who follow Puddlemere closely. What comes as a surprise is that the injury still affects him. “It hurts like hell,” Wood confesses. Dependent on the pain-relieving potions he takes every day, he otherwise cannot so much as lift his arm. I am shocked even further when Wood reveals that he will not have use of said arm, in several years. While he can block with both hands, more than likely it won’t be enough to keep him with Puddlemere.

What’s more, Wood’s close friend and team manager, Philbert Deverill, is likely to be replaced next year. (This will come as quite a shock to many fans.) Wood’s own ex-girlfriend Katie Bell, Puddlemere’s assistant manager, will most likely be taking Deverill’s place. The potential scandal of romantic history between a team player and manager—not to mention Wood’s ticking Dungbomb of an arm—does not bode well for the Scotsman.

Fortunately for him, the Ministry for Magic has yet to reconsider pensions given to injured athletes. Although Britain’s unemployment rates are up, the economy is down, and social services are being cut, Wood will still be able to maintain a lavish lifestyle. On average, Quidditch players forced into retirement by injury are awarded 60,000 Galleons per year. This sum may not seem like much by comparison, but it is the same wages received by an actively-employed Dragon Tamer or Auror. Wood won’t be raking in the millions, but his Gringotts vault will certainly not be looking bare. This leaves him plenty of time to retire gracefully, settle down, and find employment… just like the rest of us.


*


I am still in the unfortunate habit of spending my last coins on the Oracle Underground. To my disappointment, there’s a lack of news on the Female Goblin Coalition as of late. The strike has yet to be rescheduled, as Gringotts still has Aurors patrolling the grounds, and Grimma Longfinger has been largely silent. Something about that makes me terribly sad, as I sip my orange juice at the breakfast table. (Because Lisa and Justin are the ideal couple, they eat breakfast together every morning. Sitting at an actual table. And their breakfast does not consist of stale crisps and watered-down coffee.)

“I could definitely get used to this,” I say as Lisa sets a plate of rye toast, cream cheese and smoked lox before me. Justin shoots me a fearful look, which Lisa and I pointedly ignore.

After a moment, he clears his throat. Feigning great interest in the newspaper, he asks innocently, “So, anything worth noting in there? Maybe in the Classifieds?”

I know he is not trying to be a git. Somehow, he just is one.

Rubbing my bleary eyes, I murmur, “Actually, this paper is hiring right now.”

To my delight, the ad for a journalist is still being printed. That means that Rose, despite trying to woo Connor Fleming at the WNAG, was not given the position. I would be lying if I said that wasn’t the best news I’ve heard in a while.

“Oh!” Lisa's voice is high-pitched with interest. She flicks her wand, charming the dishes to wash themselves. It’s only eight in the morning and she’s already done yoga, made breakfast for three, and cleared up. On a Sunday. “That sounds perfect for you. It’s your favourite paper, right?”

Justin makes a show of coughing. I’m beginning to feel like they’re my parents: the overly-supportive Mum, and the father with high expectations. What have I gotten myself into?

“Yeah, it is,” I ignore Justin’s stare. “But the listing’s been printed in the last several issues. That means they haven’t been happy enough with any of the applicants. I doubt they’d consider somebody with as little experience as me.”

“That’s not necessarily true,” Lisa points her wand at me for emphasis. I wonder if she’s hoping to charm me into a more productive life. “I just wish you could somehow tell them that you’re writing the articles. They’re so well-written, Edie, really.”

I blush. As soon as I’d finished touching up the draft, I’d rushed into the den where Lisa was doing her yoga. Waving the parchments over my head like a madwoman, I shouted, “I bloody did it!” Lisa was nice enough to not point out how mental I looked. She quietly read the entire draft while I paced maniacally before the fireplace. When she finished, she sighed.

“Well, it is quite mean,” she offered, and I punched the air triumphantly.

Success.

Lisa wipes her hands on a dish towel, looking at Justin imploringly, “You’re sure there's nothing she could do? No way she could prove that she wrote the articles?”

Justin rolls his shoulders as if the mere thought made him tense, “Well, aside from the fact that it's completely illegal—”

I narrow my eyes at him, bellowing in a way that shocks them both, “Oh, thank Merlin there's a lawyer at the table! Without your legal guidance, I could never have possibly deduced that for myself.”

Although taken aback, Justin doesn’t keep from raising his voice, “I’m just saying, Edie, that you could get into a lot of trouble. Plagiarism is a huge offense!”

“Don't you think I’ve realized that?”

“Honestly, no, sometimes I don’t! Do you really believe these silly articles are worth ruining your future career?”

“Oh, well that’s nice. My work is just silly. Thank you, I really—”

“Stop fighting!” Lisa suddenly cries, tears on her cheeks. Justin and I blink in surprise; Lisa rarely raises her voice. But she’s shouting now, “How do you think it feels to have my best friend and fiancé at each other’s throats? We’re all living together, for Merlin’s sake! You two can’t keep doing this!”

We’re still staring, mouths agape. In response to our silence, Lisa throws the towel onto the floor, “Oh, sod it!” She bursts into fresh tears and runs from the room.

I turn guiltily to Justin, but am shocked that his eyes are misty. “Wait, are you crying?” The anger is gone from my voice, replaced by a rather mushy feeling in my stomach. Until now, I’d never seen physical proof of how much he cares for her. If he were an awful person, Lisa wouldn’t give him the time of day. I’ve always known that much.

He pinches the bridge of his nose and takes a deep breath. “I’m fine,” he says after regaining composure. “I just hate seeing her upset. The wedding’s really taking a toll on her.”

I realize how little I’ve been there for my best friend, during one of the most stressful times of her life. “Should we go talk to her?” I offer helplessly.

“No, let’s give her a moment.”

“Right.” I look at my untouched breakfast, suddenly not hungry.

He’s right that I’m jeopardizing my career. And I know he’s genuinely concerned for my wellbeing; it’s just easy to forget sometimes. But he has high expectations for himself, and when others don’t meet them (whether mutual or not), he looks down on them. But honestly, the reason it irks me so much is because I do the same thing.

“Sorry,” I say at last. “I know you’re trying to help. It’s just hard to watch you and Lisa sometimes, you know? You’re both so successful, and I’m...” I gesture vaguely, “invading my friends’ house.”

Justin is even worse with feelings than I am. When he can’t think of the proper response, he presses his mouth into a line and nods. Another silence, and then he rises to his feet. “I’m going to talk with her.” But he stops behind my chair, clapping a hand on my shoulder awkwardly. “I read your article. You really should apply for that job.”

I smile up at him; he’s gone quite pink. “Thanks,” I say to his retreating back. Justin waves over his shoulder, and turns it into a head-scratch, before disappearing.

My eyes lower back to the Oracle Underground. Yes, the job posting has been there for weeks. Yes, I’m wildly unqualified. But maybe, just maybe, things could work out? Just this once? I’ve already lost my job, my flat, and my first potential relationship in years. What else do I have to lose? I mean, really—what else is there? I flip back to the Classifieds. This time, though, the ad feels like something accessible; a possibility:

NOW HIRING — Reporter for the greater London area. Applicants must have excellent literary skills, knowledge of current Wizarding World events, and the ability to work in a fast-paced environment. Apparating License or Floo Network access necessary. Three to five years’ experience required.

I read it once, twice, three times. Thinking of Justin’s charmingly awkward support, I crack a grin. The ad doesn’t seem so scary now. “What the hell,” I murmur, drawing out my wand. “Accio quill and parchment.”

*


It has been, in the absolute mildest of vocabulary, a mind-fuck of a day. While the old Edie would have gone straight for the Firewhiskey, I’m trying to turn over a new leaf. Part of me feels wrong for criticizing Wood’s fondness of drink, if I’m doing the same. Instead of searching for the bottle found in my sock drawer, I decide to take a walk. I would like Lisa’s company, but she and Justin had one of their rare arguments earlier while I tweaked my CV. Murmured voices turned to shouting, and then she stormed into the den. Without looking at me, she grabbed her coat and slammed the door behind her.

I’m feeling pretty rotten about moving in; clearly it’s the reason for their bickering. Two months before the wedding is not a good time to fight. I decide that I’m going to be straightforward with Lisa. When she comes home, I’m going to tell her about being sacked, and that I was evicted (I told them I made the decision to save money), and everything that happened with Oliver.

Fixing my black wooly scarf around my neck, I head into the rainy morning. Mindlessly, I perform a water-repellant charm. I don’t really know where I’m going, but Alchemy Coffee is out of the question. So is the magazine stand. Just because I’m coming clean about Oliver with Lisa doesn’t mean I want to relive it right now.

Suddenly a raindrop lands on my nose. Frowning, I glance up and realize there are holes in the umbrella charm. Without warning, in my mind’s eye I see Oliver standing outside after the WNAG. He looks at me appreciatively as I sheath my wand, “Thanks. You’re quite good with that. Mine usually have holes in them.”

Shaking the thought from my head, I walk faster.

Soon I’m ambling past the shop windows, halfway peering inside, halfway studying my surprisingly miserable reflection. When I reach the Quidditch store, I stop to look at the latest broom model: the Arrow. The sleek wood is stained a deep reddish-black against blonde straw. It really is beautiful. Too bad I was never very good at flying. I turn around to continue walking, and am surprised to see Lisa amidst the crowd. She’s looking at her feet as she walks, hugging herself tightly—she must still be upset. Maybe we can go sip hot cocoa, and I can tell her everything. And, most of all, I can be a good best friend and listen to her problems for once.

“Lisa!” I call brightly. She sees me and a shadow passes over her face. Maybe she doesn’t want to be bothered, but we have to get over this hurdle. We meet in the middle of the street, and I smile pathetically, “Hey… Um, I know you’re upset, but I really need to tell you something.”

She nods, “Okay.”

This is it. Time to be an adult. Time to admit I’m a complete failure at everything; even at telling the truth about being a failure. I shut my eyes, gesturing as I draw in a deep breath.

“I’m unemployed,” I blurt, just as Lisa says, “I’m pregnant.”

We gape at each other—she is what?! That’s not possible; she told me they’re always careful! But then it all begins to make sense: the anxiety, the over-eating, the fights with Justin, the mood swings.

Holy shit. She really is.

But then she’s grabbing my arm sympathetically, and gasping, “Oh my God! Edie, you lost your job? That’s so horrible, I had no idea!”

“How is that any more important than what you just said?!”

She studies me intensely, her blue eyes wide. People diverge and pass by like we’re rocks in a river. I look at Lisa in sadness, and then her brow knits in realization. Suddenly she bursts into tears—and they aren’t tears of joy. She throws herself at me, hugging me so tightly it almost hurts. “I’m pregnant,” she sobs into my shoulder. “Edie, I’m pregnant.”





Author's Note: Wow! So much drama in the last two chapters, I mean really. This chapter was really fun to write. I hope that you guys have a better idea of who Justin is. He's a bit rough around the edges, but so is Edie. I actually have this funny little thought that the reason Lisa likes them both so much is because they're the same person, in so many ways.

What did you think of the twist? I know one person guessed it, and I totally lied in the review response xD Sorry to do that, but I wanted it to be a surprise!

Please let me know what you think ♥




CHAPTER SEVENTEEN



Tears run down Lisa’s (annoyingly symmetrical) nose as she grips her cocoa mug. We’re in a small park just off Diagon Alley, one of the additions in its post-War expansion. As soon as she released me from her vice-hug, I dashed into the nearest café and ordered two cocoas, dumped all of my coins onto the counter, snatched the mugs, and ran. In the park we found a small, concrete bench sheltered from the rain. We sit in silence, as if Lisa hadn’t just spilled a huge secret, until she sniffles, “You really shouldn’t have spent money on me. Especially if you lost your job...”

I rub her arm, a bit awkwardly, “Don’t worry about that right now. So… Does Justin know?”

“No,” she sighs. “Obviously, I’m going to tell him. Just… not right now. He’ll be upset that I waited, but things are so stressful for him. He’s dealing with the Female Goblin Coalition fiasco, now.”

My ears perk up, but I fight the desire to ask. I’ve spent too long not listening to Lisa’s problems.

“Of course we want kids,” she continues, “but we planned on waiting a few years.”

“You know, there are options,” I say carefully.

She looks like I’ve just slapped her in the face. “I’m keeping it, Edie,” she says resolutely, and I drop the subject. But then she wails, “I just wanted three years of marital bliss! We’re supposed to be having newlywed sex, like, four times a day. Not changing diapers! And I’m finally becoming a Healer. I’ll only have a few months before I have to take maternity leave. I was so close to having everything I wanted. A baby just wasn’t a part of it, yet. Is that so selfish?”

“Of course not,” I say with conviction. “It’s anything but selfish. You wanted to be financially and emotionally prepared, before bring a human life into the world.”

At this last bit, she bursts into more sobs. It’s really bizarre to see Lisa lose her composure like this. I pat her hand until she heaves something between a sigh and a groan. “I’m sorry. I’ve been so mental lately. It must be the hormones.”

“You don’t have to be sorry,” I soothe. “How, um, far along are you then?”

“Two months,” she sighs. “I work in a hospital, for Merlin’s sake, how did I not notice this?”

I shrug, “You have a full-time job, and you’re planning your own wedding. It’s easy to get swept up. I mean, at least it isn’t one of those situations where you don’t even know you’re pregnant, until suddenly you’re standing in your own—”

“I get the picture,” she interjects, smiling weakly.

“Sorry,” I smile back. “So I suppose I should find a new place to live, then.”

She looks at me with such guilt that I wish I hadn’t even brought it up. “I’m really sorry, Edie, I know you’ve just moved in. Stay as long as you need. We’ve got months before we need your room.”

“It’s no trouble,” I wave her off. “I’ve managed to save some money lately.”

Lies. But she doesn’t have to know that. I swat away the nagging question, What the hell do I do now? We let the silence envelop us again. It’s actually quite nice, listening to the rain on the leaves. Lisa shuts her eyes, collecting herself. Then something dawns on her, “Well, this certainly throws a hex into our plans.”

“What do you mean?”

“My hen night is next month.”

“Ah.”

A bride-to-be is expected to get completely trashed on her hen night. And I’m the only attendee who wasn’t in a Witching Circle in Healer school. (Lisa’s work-friends are more like acquaintances. I’ve met them before; they still embroider their Circle’s runes onto their jumpers. They’ll be handing her shots left and right.) “I reckon you don’t want anyone to know yet.”

“You’d reckon right,” she presses her lips together in thought. “We’ll tell them I’m doing a juice cleanse.”

I make a face. While that sounds on par with being thrown in the stocks for two weeks, it is something she would do. “They’ll fall for it. But you’re going to be dreadfully bored.”

“I’ll just have to watch you make a fool of yourself,” she teases, poking me in the side. My brow knits defensively. I really am trying to turn over a new parchment, but now isn’t the time to mention it (or being evicted, or Oliver.) If she’s feeling better, then that’s all that matters.

So instead of coming clean, I plaster on a smile. “You know me!”

Soon Lisa guilt trips me into returning the mugs to the café, and we set off. The rain hasn’t let up, and it runs off our brightly coloured boots. As we stroll Lisa grows silent, and surprises me when she says, “So, about your article.”

“Yeah?” I grin, but her expression is somber. I remember her reaction to it earlier today. Her only words had been that it was mean. I tease, “Don’t tell me you’re going soft on the guy.”

“That’s just it,” she says. I furrow my brow and she adds, “Oh, don’t think I didn’t appreciate the quality of writing. It’s great journalism, Edie, it’s just… It really is mean.”

I can’t help my scowl. “I thought you were angry about the St. Mungo’s charity. You called him a wanker.”

“That’s not it,” she shakes her head. “You didn’t even mention the charity in this article.”

“Because he refused to talk about it!” I cry.

“I agreed with you about that donation, at least at the time. And Wood was careless to slip up about his manager being replaced. That much is his fault. But… it’s what you wrote about the shoulder injury. That’s quite personal.”

“How can it be so personal if he was willing to talk about it?”

It’s difficult to keep my anger down. She’s supposed to be on my side! If I can’t even convince my best mate that I’m in the right, how am I supposed to convince readers? What could have possibly happened between the first article and now? There’s only one explanation.

“Has he got you under an Imperius Curse?”

“No, no,” she flaps her hands exasperatedly. “You’re right about the injury. He did tell you about it himself. But I think you took it in the wrong direction.”

“Where should I have taken it, then?” I say through clenched teeth.

“You could have been more sympathetic. There are ways to talk about it, without making it sound like it was his fault—”

“It was his fault. He chose not to take potions.”

I may as well have just said, “I’m part unicorn!” the way she’s staring. Regaining herself, she says, “I just don’t understand. Why are you even attacking him like this? You barely know him. Did something happen between you two?”

Hopefully, she does not notice my stumble. Of course she has no idea about what happened between Oliver and me. Because somewhere along the line, I stopped treating my mates like mates. I say offhandedly, “It’s just good journalism. You said it yourself.”

“Right, but the way you used his private information… I have no idea how you even got it out of him, but...” she flushes and blurts out, “it sounds like a petty excuse to publicly humiliate him. I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel.”

“What!” I gape, but she won’t meet my eyes.

Whether or not she’s right isn’t something I want to consider. Sure, I haven’t stopped to think about a lot of things lately. I was expecting backlash over the article—from Wood’s fans, or his team mates, or maybe even star-struck Seamus. But I surely wasn’t expecting it from my best friend.

I recall her tending his shoulder at St. Mungo’s. Surely that was just a fluke in her schedule, or she would have mentioned it before. “Do you… know something?”

We’ve reached the café. Instead of responding, Lisa points to my cocoa mug. “I’ll take that inside for you,” she offers, suddenly polite. Without a second glance she pushes the door open, and it chirps, “Hello, hiya, welcome!” By the time she returns (“Goodbye, thank you, ‘til next time!”) it’s like nothing ever happened.

“Thanks for the cocoa,” she says. But something in her smile tells me that our previous conversation is over.

*


Ever since my argument with Lisa earlier this week, I’ve done all of my article-writing at Witch Weekly. Still, I can’t wrap my head around her sudden disproval. Of course she’s sympathetic by nature. This would be enough to convince me that nothing else was going on, if she hadn’t been so anti-Oliver just a month ago. The only possible conclusion I can deduce is her hormones. I’ve seen my mum go through that emotional rollercoaster, three times over. Let me tell you, it’s not pretty.

Hiding the article at WW is tricky, but it’s my only other access to a typewriter. I’ve cast charms so that to anyone else, the parchment appears blank. (The first try ended in the parchment shouting everything that was written on it. I narrowly escaped a Mildred catastrophe there.) There’s been a spike in my productivity lately. It’s the result of a complicated formula: too much coffee, a buzz from the cleaning potions used at The Rusty Knight, no sleep, and a personal vendetta.

I glance at my calendar for the umpteenth time. It says aloud, tiredly, “Still the twenty-fifth of September, mate.”

The article is due on Ward’s desk—erm, Rose’s desk—today. She and I haven’t spoken since I declared war via Flatulence Charm. She never even acknowledged the draft I slipped under her door earlier this week. Reckon she’s still a bit touchy. She’s still in the dark about what happened between Oliver and me (though I’d never turn to her for a shoulder to drunkenly cry on.) What’s more, she thinks I’m the same way about the two of them. The thing that’s weighing on me is whether or not to use this. The article could stand to be longer…

“Of course you shouldn’t use it!” exclaims my conscience, which I imagine as a miniaturized Lisa. “Be the bigger person here! Think of how that would make you look to Blakeslee.”

“Fine, I won’t,” I grumble to myself, all the while thinking, At least for now.

“Won’t what?”

Rose’s voice makes me jump out of my skin. I throw a hand to my heaving chest, “Merlin’s beard! Why are you always doing that?!”

She’s standing in my doorway, looking put-together as usual in smart black pumps. Only the slight messiness to her hair, like she’s been clenching it, betrays her stress. With a cool and collected façade, she quirks an eyebrow, “Doing what?”

“Lurking about!” I wiggle my fingers at her exasperatedly.

“I’m hardly lurking, Edie—”

“Oh my God, what do you want?”

She crosses her arms, shifts her weight to the other hip. “It’s about the article,” she says, “Are you aware that it’s to be sent to layout first thing tomorrow morning?”

“Of course I know that,” I snap. Does she think I’m not taking this seriously? Tension crackles in the room. There’s a forty percent chance this will end violently. “I’m giving it a final proofread right now. I’ll be done within the hour.”

“That’s just it,” she examines her fingernails. “I meant to tell you earlier, but it must’ve slipped my mind. I already wrote the second article myself. It’s sitting on Ward’s desk right now.”

My quill drops, “Excuse me?”

I must not have heard right. Rose wouldn’t be so thoughtless. Not to be a completely arrogant twit, but she can’t write the kind of article I did—she said so herself. Blakeslee would be disappointed, and Rose would be to blame. It doesn’t make sense. But then…

“You have got to be joking,” I murmur. It takes everything in me not to go for my wand.

She doesn’t want Oliver to see her name on the article.

“It just wasn’t working out,” she shrugs. “Your article was good, but it didn’t really address his personal life. That’s what Blakeslee wanted.”

“It’s for the sports section!” I cry indignantly. “I talked about his athletic career.”

She ignores me, “So really, there’s no need for you to write the third article. I’ll still pay for all three, of course.”

“I don’t want your bloody money!” I bellow, although I could certainly use it. “We had an agreement!”

“Right,” she says in a voice typically reserved for small children, “and I’m holding up my half by paying you. It’s not like you were getting your due credit, anyway. Honestly, I thought you’d be relieved. Judging by your writing, you can’t stand being around the guy long enough to interview him.”

In my head, I shout, “And you can’t be around your interviewee without shagging him!” But what I actually say is, “This isn’t fair!”

She considers my words, “No, I suppose it isn’t. But it’s the way that this business works, I’m sorry to say. A lot of people just aren’t cut out for it. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

“Oh, you insolent little—”

Before I know it, both our wands are drawn. I’ve stood up so quickly that my chair has toppled over. We stare each other down like two snarling Kneazles. But suddenly there are footsteps echoing in the corridor. Sheathing her wand, Rose apparently spies the visitor. A look of alarm crosses her face, but it’s instantly replaced with a smile. Meanwhile I’m doing my best to look casual, making a show of leaning across my messy desk. Then Oliver appears in the stone archway, and my elbow slips.

“Wotcher,” he greets Rose with the tilt of his head. Then he notices me and freezes. Rose tries to respond, but only makes a sound like a teakettle whistling. Suddenly I am very interested in my potted plant, which now looks more like sticks of charcoal. I can feel Oliver’s eyes boring into me.

“Well!” Rose suddenly quips, too high-pitched. Our entire argument is forgotten. “Oliver and I have some things to discuss about the article. Shall we get started?”

“Mm,” is his response, but she’s already scurried away. Her heels click down the hall at an almost-run. Throwing him to the wolves, I see. Top-notch lady you’ve got there, mate.

I still haven’t turned to him, though I can glimpse that he hasn’t budged. He’s staring me down as if I don’t actually realize he’s there. Not really one for subtlety, eh? At last I’ve shuffled and re-shuffled every parchment on my desk, and can’t ignore him any longer. Slowly I swivel towards him and gesture violently, as if to say “What?”

In response, he glances over his shoulder and steps inside. I recoil as though I’ve been bitten. Though he looks bewildered by my reaction, he begins to dig around in his coat pocket. Is he looking for his wand? What, is he going to Obliviate his way back onto good terms? Although I’d like to quip something witty like this, my mouth has gone dry. Finally he extracts an envelope from his pocket and thrusts it at me. Though his face is Gryffindor scarlet, he won’t look away.

A note? He wrote me a bloody note? What is this, the Fourth Year?

Because I can’t take him standing there looking stupid any longer, I snatch it from him. He breaks the silence, murmuring, “Open it. Please.”

Unbelievable. Who is he to go around making demands? I grab my wand as if to use it as a letter-opener. Instead I murmur, eyes boring into his, “Incendio.”

The note bursts into flames. It would be a pretty tough gesture, I suppose, had I not forgotten that fire is quite hot. I hold my defiant expression as long as possible as the flame grows. Oliver glances from it, to me, and back. His expression betrays shock and—to my great annoyance—amusement. At last I throw the note into the bin, resisting the urge to blow on my stinging fingertips.

Finally he shakes his head, smiling bitterly. “Fine, Edie. If this is what you want. But don’t tell me I didn’t bloody well try.”

Though I have no idea what he means, I’m not about to ask. Without another word, he turns and leaves. I listen to his footsteps echoing down the corridors. Off to Rose’s office, to do God-knows-what under the disguise of journalism.

Tosser.

I count to three (or try, and only make it to one-and-a-half) and then madly snatch up the bin. “Aguamente!” is the first spell that comes to mind, which I immediately regret. The flames become a bucket of water that hisses with steam. I probe around the mess until at last I find the note. Shamelessly, I try to open it, though the parchment tears. Cursing under my breath, I try a drying charm. But it’s no use. It’s too charred, and what little ink that remains is too runny. Dimly, I realize that I’ll probably never know what Oliver wanted to tell me. Flicking my wand at the door so that it slams shut, I slump in my chair.

Well, there’s no use crying over spilled potion. Back to my old standby: repressing any semblance of emotion. But more important matters are at hand (at least this is what I tell myself.)

Rose said her draft is on Ward’s desk right now. It’s already six o’clock, and he’s gone for the evening. That means until tomorrow morning, he has no idea what the final draft will look like. A sudden thought strikes me. Yes, it is a thought fuelled by an entire cauldron of coffee, and the lack of sleep. Yes, it’s probably the stupidest plan I’ve ever hatched. But desperate times call for desperate measures, or so the cliché goes. And I’m pretty damn desperate.

I’ll need a task force, and I know just where to go. With a maniacal grin smeared over my face, I snatch the article from the typewriter and Apparate from the building.

*


“Surprise!”

“Edie!” Dean nearly jumps out of his skin when I reappear in their sitting room. He’s splayed out on the beer-stained sofa, drawing in his sketchbook and listening to some Muggle band on his record player. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been here. But their flat looks the same: poorly lit, the walls covered with posters of the Kenmare Kestrals and West Ham football players. The floor is so littered with balled up sketches, dirty clothes and beer bottles that I can barely see the old carpet. At least a fire is roaring in the hearth, casting a cheery glow around the mess.

Nearly tripping over a rogue football, I hurl myself onto the arm of the sofa. “What are you doing tonight?” I fire, clutching the article so tightly that it crinkles.

I must be leering extra creepily, because he grimaces, “Nothing…?”

Seamus strolls into the room, shirtless and eating two cheese sandwiches. He says with mouth full, “Thought I heard ‘at voice,” crumbs falling onto the floor.

Entirely too gleefully, I exclaim, “Want to help me break into my editor’s office?!”

They exchange looks, eyebrows raised. No doubt that Dean, always the voice of reason, is going to shake his head and say, “That is the worst idea you’ve ever had. You’ll be in such trouble.” Not to mention Seamus reminding me that could lose his Auror’s license for something like that. I could use being shut down. I should just go home and get some sleep; let Rose and Oliver fly off into the stupid sunset. I should spend my time doing something productive, like finding a job, or a new place to live.
Dean and Seamus answer me at the same time:

“Sure, why not.”

“Nothin’ better to do.”

My insane grin is so wide that it hurts my cheeks. “You two are absolutely brilliant,” I pull Dean into a crushing hug; Seamus takes a step back to remain safe. Once again channeling Gwendolyn Phyre, I say with excitement, “Meet me outside Witch Weekly at ten o’clock. Apparate down the street and walk the rest of the way. We don’t want to be heard. There’s an entrance ‘round back… That’s where I’ll be waiting.”

There is a beat of silence.

“Brilliant, gives me time for a kip. Cheers,” Seamus raises a sandwich and exits the room.

“Do we have to wear black?” Dean wonders, rubbing his chin. “We probably should. But I don’t know if I have a proper black jumper. And it’s too cold out for a tee shirt…”

My task force, ladies and gentlemen.




Author's note: I have finally nitpicked this into what I consider an acceptable chapter. In case you didn't catch it, the Witching Circle was a play on sororities, and the runes embroidered on their jumpers were Greek letters ;3 Also, I have to thank Siriusly89 for mentioning Seamus eating a cheese sandwich. It was just so... Seamus-y!

Thoughts? Is Edie's plan a good one, or just a horrible amalgamation of no sleep and a coffee overdose? What about the note from Oliver, and Lisa's reaction to the article? Does anyone want their very own talking, cheerful door? How about a bewildered calendar?

Thanks to à nos étoiles for the lovely CI. And thanks to everyone who has stuck with this story from the beginning. It's getting harder to find time to update, but I'm really in love with KC&CO and promise I'll see it through ♥



Chapter 18: You've Got Moxie, Kid
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CHAPTER EIGHTEEN



I’m feeling pretty stupid in my thief getup. Really I’m just wearing too many pieces of clothing, in varying shades of faded black. To any idiot, I look like a suspicious character—a tormented poet at the least. Adding this to my list of concerns, I can actually feel my stomach twisting into knots. It seems the calming walk isn’t doing the trick. I haven’t forgotten the portraits of snippy models lining WW’s corridors. If one of them sees us, surely we’ll be ratted out. My only hope is a secret stairwell leading from the kitchens to just outside Ward’s office (I’ve used it to lower my sandwich-retrieval time to a new record.) I may be able to shimmy into the corridor without being spotted. But it will be risky.

Ugh, what was I thinking asking Dean and Seamus to help? They’re not exactly the quietest, nor most graceful. Then again, neither am I. I should’ve asked somebody else; somebody small and quick.

A young man is heading my way. The portfolio he carries catches my attention and I realize that I’m near the Antiphilus campus. “Jae?” I call uncertainly.

“Oi, Edie!”

I note that he’s wearing all black, and that he walks nimbly. Maybe I could just—

No! Squeaks my conscience, miniature-Lisa, Stop dragging others into your half-baked schemes!

I shake my head, chasing the thought away. Jae reaches me and eyes my getup suspiciously, “What are you up to?”

“Nothing. Just out for a stroll.”

“Through the vaults of Gringotts?”

“No!” I fire too defensively. “Just through town. Diagon Alley is lovely this time of night.”

A bedraggled wizard stumbles by, pausing to vomit loudly on the street.

“Lovely,” Jae steps closer and crosses his arms. He’s only a bit taller than me, but he’s actually kind of intimidating. “Well I think you’re up to something.”

“Of course I’m not! Why would you even… I mean… honestly! Some people!”

He waits patiently as I attempt to un-fluster myself. “Fine,” he says easily. “In that case, I insist that I join you on your stroll.”

My jaw drops, “Oh, come on!”

“It can be dangerous this time of night,” he smirks.

I can’t believe this. What a cunning, sneaky little… Wait. That’s right: sneaky.

“All right, fine!” I shout in one impossibly long sentence, “I’m breaking into my editor’s office, and it’s a long story, and I promise I’m not stealing anything, or doing anything illegal—”

“—Other than breaking in—”

“—and I can explain everything to you later, but I just really need to get this done, tonight, and there’s no point in trying to stop me!”

Jae looks impressed. Whether it’s by my determination or my lung capacity, I’m not sure. At last he says, “Sounds brilliant. I’m in.”

I’ve opened my mouth to retaliate but falter, “…Oh?”

“Yeah, why not,” he shrugs. I’m amazed by how easily my friends have agreed to this, and am beginning to question my character judgment. “I mean, you don’t seem to have any kind of plan whatsoever. And I reckon there’s some kind of security system we’ll have to get past.”

“Models.”

He winces, sucking air through his teeth, “Worse than guard-dragons, I hear. Well! Breaking and entering it is, then. But don’t think that this counts as our date.”

Although I’m not sure how I feel about Jae Chang as a human being, let alone a potential boyfriend, I still get all giggly. It must be the desired effect, as he puts an arm around me. We set off. It’s hard to walk like this, but I suppose it’s what couples do. And perhaps we’re honing in on couple-dom (Couple-ship? Couple-hood?) We chatter idly along the way, and soon my nerves dissipate. He’s warm and kind of smells nice. By the time we arrive at Witch Weekly, I’m feeling much more confident.

The moon is a thin crescent, shedding little light onto the looming building. It’s much creepier at nighttime, I note. There’s no sign of anyone. Only a few stray fairy-lights flicker in the arched windows, but those are always around. We tiptoe into the dark alleyway beside the building. Dean and Seamus must be here somewhere. For some reason I don’t want them to catch on to Jae and I just yet. Quietly I step out from under his arm.

“Guys,” I whisper, “You there?”

The response is a birdcall so elaborate and poorly-done that it could only be manmade. I roll my eyes. Seamus. Soon he and Dean materialize from the shadows, shoving each other and laughing.

“Shhh!” I hiss, drawing my wand. “Lumos Minimus.” The pinprick of light is enough to see them clearly by, and I roll my eyes. They’re wearing their old Hogwarts cloaks pulled over their heads, with black paint smeared on their faces. “Wow,” I mutter, “you’d never realize you two were up to something.”

“Just a bit of fun,” Seamus defends, again too loudly. “Who’s this, then? Thought you would’ve brought Ol—”

“This is Jae Chang,” I interrupt. “He’s a… friend. He can help us.”

“What’s he got that we don’t have?” Seamus pouts.

Dean murmurs, “An ounce of sanity?”

“No, tactics,” Jae corrects, and for some reason I want to roll my eyes. Seamus giggles at him, elbowing Dean, and I have to quiet them down again. Seriously, what was I thinking?

“So…,” Dean says. “Why exactly are we doing this again?”

I fish around in my knapsack, extracting the article with a flourish. “I need to get this onto my editor’s desk. The article in there now is going to the press first thing tomorrow. I need to stop it.”

They all look at me strangely, but I hold my dramatic pose. Dean murmurs, “I knew I saw a Gwendolyn Phyre book in your flat.”

I shoot him an embarrassed glare, but Jae says, “Right. Let’s get started, then. I think the best plan is for the two of you to guard an entrance. I’ll go inside with Edie.”

Thankfully, it’s dark enough that they can’t see my blush. “Oh, what?” cries Seamus. Dean claps a hand over the Irishman’s mouth, but says, “Yeah, why do you get to go inside?”

“No offense, but you two are about as subtle as a minotaur in a china shop. And too many people will make it easier to be caught. We need as many eyes out here as possible.” When they don’t immediately argue, he continues, “If you see anyone, or run into trouble, send a Patronus our way. We’ll do the same. There’s no point in you getting caught, if you don’t have to.”

“Sounds like you’ve done this before,” Seamus can’t hide his admiration (he is the worst Auror.) But he and Dean exchange glances, mulling everything over. I think they’re just upset to not be included. “Fine,” Dean concedes at last.

I nod, “I’ll send my Patronus once we’re finished. Then we can all meet—”

“At the pub!” Seamus interrupts. “We’ll celebrate with a pint, eh?”

Well, there’s no harm in a little self-congratulations. We agree that this is a sound idea. Dean jogs off to the front of the building, to guard the main entrance. Moments later Seamus disappears into the shadows and gives another birdcall. He’s having entirely too much fun.

Jae and I creep down the alleyway and I extinguish my wandlight. Once around the back, I turn to a very small, wooden door that leads into the kitchens. It’s for House Elf use, and only their magic will open it. But I’ve learned that if you ask nicely enough, the door will also let in a poor, locked-out intern. Then again, that was in the daylight. With a deep breath I wave my wand at the little brass doorknob. It wiggles around as if rousing from sleep. “Who’s there?” the female voice yawns.

“Terribly sorry to wake you,” I say. “It’s Edie Lennox. I’ve locked myself out… again.”

“It’s late,” she snaps. “What business do you have at this hour?”

“I’ve forgot my… my uh… Funny story, really, I’ve just gone and forgotten my…”

If this doorknob had eyebrows, she would be raising one skeptically.

“Edie,” Jae suddenly gasps, coming to stand beside me. “You never mentioned that this building was built in the gothic style.” He runs his hand up and down the stone doorframe appreciatively. Is he… massaging it? “It’s such an underappreciated genre, really, especially with all of this drive towards a more streamlined architectural aesthetic.”

Although to me, he may as well be speaking Mermish, the doorknob squeals, “I know! It’s that Gerkin building. Ever since that eyesore came about, it’s brutalism this, futurism that. We classics are quite neglected!” She whispers, as if delivering a great bit of gossip, “The flying buttresses have it the worst!”

“Oh, you’re so right. And it is such a shame,” Jae clicks his tongue, still caressing the archway. He musses his fringe ever-so-charmingly, “Well I attend AIVA, and let me tell you, contemporary doors are not nearly so kind. Try and ask them to let you back inside, after you’ve locked yourself out.”

The little doorknob giggles and I stare, horrified. Then Jae steps on my foot, ever so slightly. “Oh!” I blurt. “Um, yes, may we please go inside? We just need to—”

“Yes, yes, fine, don’t be so pushy,” she snaps, as if I ruined a very tender moment. But there is a soft click, and the tiny door creaks open. I avert my eyes; it now feels like she’s exposing herself.

“Thank you darling,” Jae winks. I can’t take it anymore. I crawl inside, on my hands and knees, down the little stone corridor lit by tiny torches. Jae follows suit, and as the door swings shut I distinctly hear it smack him on the rump.

It’s not until we clamber to our feet inside the kitchens, brushing the dust off, that I say, “Wow. You just… chatted up a doorknob.”

“What, jealous?” he smirks.

“Oh, stop it,” my face flushes.

The room is very dark, and I nearly topple a stack of cauldrons (thankfully Jae stops it with a quick spell.) Afraid to cast a light, I feel along the wall until I reach the spiraling stairwell. I’ve forgotten that it’s behind a tapestry of the founder of WonderWitch. Miraculously, though, she is missing from her post. I part the fabric cautiously and we begin our ascent. The portraits of models never sleep, and even now we hear their raucous partying. Hopefully they’ll be distracted.

We’re halfway up the stairs when Jae suddenly takes a hold of my hand. I freeze, fearing that we’ve been caught. But he climbs onto the same step, and takes me by my waist. Grinning, he kisses me once, and when I don’t stop him, he kisses me again.

Perhaps snogging in the stairwell isn’t the best way to spend our precious time. But the minutes go by, and soon we’re past the awkward stage of figuring out how the other’s mouth works. My back is pressed against the stone, and his hand is on the bare skin of my waist. He’s a decent kisser, and it’s certainly the most action I’ve had in months. But I can’t stop thinking of Seamus and Dean, standing diligently in the cold, while I’m being felt-up by my Mum’s studio assistant.

I pull away, offering a smile, “We don’t have much time.”

“Right,” Jae licks his lips. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” I say, because I reckon it’s what you’re supposed to. My heart is racing, from which danger I’m not exactly sure. At last, we reach the door at the top of the stairwell. I’m embarrassingly out of breath, but Jae bounds up the last few steps. The door creaks open and his head pokes out with mine below it. Ward’s office is a stone’s throw away. To my immense relief, the surly male model who usually dominates the wall is off with the others.

Jae murmurs, “How do we get in?”

I roll my eyes. “My editor does not understand how to whisper. I know his password.” (It’s true; Ward jovially bellows “Mum’s treacle tart!” every time he unlocks his office. I’ve just never thought I’d need to use it.)

My eyes are trained on the door. It almost looks to be pulsating, but it’s just the blood rushing in my head. I take a steadying breath. It’s now or never. Without warning, my muscles release and I bolt for the door. I shout the password, foregoing all attempts at silence. I’m so determined that I don’t register Jae’s hissed whisper, “Wait, stop!” until it’s too late.

Miss Lennox!”

I freeze mid-step, my hand inches from the doorknob. Oh no. Oh, no. What is she doing here so late? Slowly I turn, like a child caught pilfering sweets. Mildred, like Filch with his lantern, has her wand-light trained on me.

Jae rushes out, brandishing his wand. “Don’t hurt her!” he bellows heroically.

I roll my eyes, “Oh, pack it in, she’s not going to hurt me… Are you?”

Her eyes go even narrower behind their spectacles, “They don’t allow it anymore.”

She should really get in touch with Filch.

“Fortunately for you, Miss Lennox, I don’t have the authority to fire interns. I do, however, have the right to know what is going on! What exactly are you doing outside Mr. Ward’s office?”

“I can explain,” I say stupidly. But Jae and I just stand there, neither one brave enough to speak.

“Well someone had better! Breaking into the building after hours! I have never, in all of my years, witnessed such behaviour from one of our own!”

As she works herself into a proper frenzy, I feel my resolve crumbling. It doesn’t matter what I tell her now. We’ve been caught breaking in, and I’m a lowly intern. Disposable. Everything I’ve worked for has gone down the drain. But Mildred stops—there is the sound of footsteps echoing in the stairwell. When a furrow-browed Tallulah Blakeslee emerges, I almost pass out.

I’m finished. I’m bloody finished.

“Mildred, what’s going on?” Blakeslee says. She’s holding a steaming mug of coffee—she must have just gone into the kitchens. We barely missed each other. Her eyes fall on Jae and I, and a look of recognition crosses her face. She says darkly, “What’s the meaning of this?”

“Brutus caught these two sneaking,” Mildred sneers, as though she’d actually said ‘fornicating.’

“Brutus?” Jae whispers, and we hear snickering from behind. The waif with the stupid haircut is back in his portrait, looking quite pleased with himself. I roll my eyes. Models.

“I found them trying to break into Mr. Ward’s office,” Mildred concludes.

Blakeslee’s eyes fall on us and she says gravely, “Is this true, Edith?”

I can’t help my look of surprise. She knows my name? All this time, I thought she saw me as Intern #463; just another in a long line of poor sods who work for free. Suddenly I feel my courage welling up. If I’m going down, I’m going down fighting. Seizing my chance, I step forward.

“It is true, Miss Blakeslee. But there’s something you really should know about the Quidditch articles. You’ve been lied to.” There are signs of interest behind her gray eyes. I venture, “I’d like to speak with you about it. Privately.”

From my periphery, I can see Mildred’s affronted look. But I keep my gaze trained on Blakeslee, even though it’s terrifying (she is really intimidating.) At last her severity dissipates, “Very well. We’ll speak in my office. Mildred, I trust that you’ll keep an eye on this young man.”

“Of course,” she says all too wickedly. Jae gulps.

As Blakeslee leads me round the corner, I hear him try valiantly, “Mildred, is it? May I just say that you look stunning in green—”

“Quiet!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

*


It’s like I’m having an out-of-body experience. I watch Blakeslee clip down the hall; see myself dragging behind; know that the article is burning a hole in my knapsack. My heart hammers so loudly I’m convinced she can hear it. We walk for ages before we reach her office, located in one of the tallest spires. She waves her wand at the door and passes through it like smoke. With a deep breath I follow.

Although it’s the middle of the night, the windows are charmed to glow with early-evening sunlight. The room is much larger than the spire would allow, obviously another charm. It’s full of magical and decorative objects, but there’s a rigorous order to it all—each knickknack looks perfectly in place. Blakeslee gestures to a studded dragonhide chair that looks like it may attack. Regardless, I sit as she returns to her desk. Dominating the wall behind her is an enormous black-and-white portrait of a fashion designer whose name I forget. Both gazes stare at me intently. She’s waiting for me to speak.

Kissing my internship goodbye, I pull the article out of my knapsack. I abandon all formality and break the silence with, “I’m the one who wrote the Oliver Wood article.”

Blakeslee shakes her head, “That’s impossible. The assignment was given to Miss Zeller.”

“It was…but then she gave it to me, because she was busy with her other work. We agreed not to tell anyone.”

She goes rigid as a broomstick. “Miss Lennox, this is a very serious accusation. It could cost Miss Zeller her job.” I nod wordlessly and she blinks several times. A silence passes while she tries to wrap her head around this news.

Gently, I prompt, “I did all the research, and the interviews, and wrote the entire article. I saw what was actually published—I don’t think Rose even edited it. And now I’ve written the second one, as agreed. But Rose wrote a different article and gave it to Mr. Ward. That’s why I was sneaking in to his office; to replace it with my own.”

“Why would Rose do that?” Blakeslee still holds her coffee though she hasn’t even taken a sip.

I open my mouth to tell her about Rose and Oliver. But for some reason, I can’t do it. Instead I shrug, “I’m not sure. And I don’t mean to be presumptuous, but I don’t think that her article is as good as mine. I doubt she got the kind of interview that I did. I found out something really big about Puddlemere… I don’t think he meant to tell me, but… It’s really big, Miss Blakeslee.”

Her eyes fall on the parchment. Now it feels like marble in my hands. It weighs a ton. Suddenly I don’t know if I should hand it over; if it’s worth ruining a man’s whole career. But Blakeslee eyes me impatiently, and I pass it over with a steady hand.

“Here’s proof that I wrote it. If you don’t believe me, Priori Incantatem should do the trick. It’s deluded in my protective charms, not to mention the magic from my typewriter.”

She nods, considering. The room’s grown very hot and my tongue feels like parchment. I watch as she unsheathes her wand, long and thin like her. After a glance to me, she casts a silent spell.

The ink on the page disappears, and then returns in a flurry of click-clacking keystrokes. At last the watermark appears, glowing softly: Edith Hypatia Lennox. Blakeslee doesn’t look back at me. Her shoulders slump, either in disappointment or shock, or both. Then she begins to read. I am twitching in my seat, being crushed by her silence. Before I can stop myself, the words come rushing out.

“I’m so sorry, Miss Blakeslee, for sneaking around. I just really wanted to prove myself. To me, or the readers, or you—I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking about repercussions when I agreed to write the first article. But I want to be a journalist so badly. More than anything. And honestly, I feel like I’m completely ignored around here.” I don’t even realize that there is anger building in my voice until I’m practically shouting, “I mean, all I do is bring Ward his food! You had me handing out refreshments as the WNAG! I’m twenty-six, for God’s sake!”

Blakeslee looks up from the article, a patient smile upon her face.

“And now I’ve been sacked and lost my flat and my potential boyfriend, and this stupid internship—sorry—is all I have! And nobody will even give me a bloody chance to prove myself! I know I’m a good writer. You said it yourself! Well, sort of… you told Rose that she was a good writer, but really it was my article.”

“Miss Lennox—”

Somehow I’m back on my feet, pacing and flailing my arms, “And quite frankly, Miss Blakeslee, if you want to get rid of me then that’s just jolly good! I know I’m worth more than this—”

“Miss Lennox, you may consider yourself hired.”

“And furthermore!” I freeze mid-pace. “What did you just say?”

Her amused smile is back—the one I saw weeks ago, in Rose’s office. “I said, consider yourself hired.” When I only gawk, she says, “Well I can’t likely have the articles fall through, can I? You said it yourself: you’re a damn good writer. And Witch Weekly has made a promise to its readers.”

“Shit,” I squeak. She quirks a brow and I breathe, “Sorry. I just…I don’t know what to say.”

She snorts, “I think you’ve said quite enough already.”

I don’t believe this. I don’t want to believe this. Every good thing that’s happened with Witch Weekly so far has turned out to be a horrible mistake. But this is real; not some under-the-table deal with Rose. This is the editor in chief offering me a position at her magazine.

“And… what about Rose? I don’t want her to lose her job.” As soon as the words leave me, my face clouds with confusion. Is that really how I feel?

Blakeslee sighs. “I expected much more from an employee like Miss Zeller. There will be dire consequences indeed.”

This hits me harder than expected. Even after everything—all of the petty, childish behaviour and the embarrassment—it boils down to just that. Childish behaviour. Yes, Rose has been horrible, but there may be no way to survive a plagiarism scandal like that. Who in their right mind would hire her? Would I really wish someone to have the life I’ve been living? The not knowing if you’ll make your next rent payment, or feeling worthless, or like you aren’t doing anything with your life?

Mustering my courage, I say boldly, “I’ll write the third article. But only if Rose doesn’t lose her job.”

Blakeslee’s jaw clenches and she glares stonily. I’ve gone and made her angry. But I’m feeling very brave right now. She’s all but said she needs me, at least until the last article is published. Then I’ll probably be sacked, too, but until then…

“I don’t think you realize the gravity of this situation, Miss Lennox. She unrightfully accepted an award by the Wizarding Newspaper Association for an article she didn’t write. This could put our publication in serious trouble.”

“Why? As far as anybody knows, Rose wrote the first article herself. Even if the award had gone to me, it still would have been to Witch Weekly.”

Although there’s no denying my logic, Blakeslee says in a low voice, “Blackmailing is a very serious business, you know.”

“I’m not blackmailing you,” I say honestly, my voice even, “I offered to resign. Then you hired me, and now we’re making a deal. Isn’t this how business is run?”

What is wrong with me? Right now, of my entire existence on this earth, would be the time to filter my thoughts. There is a long silence in which Blakeslee regards me coolly. I force myself not to look away, and finally she says, “It’s not going to be easy, you know. I won’t expect any less from you than I would any other employee.”

YES!

I want to jump in the air and cheer and skip around and throw confetti and maybe even hug her. Instead I manage a very shaky, “Yes, ma’am.”

“You’ll have deadlines, and revisions, and a fixed timetable. In fact, you’ll find that your whole life revolves around the magazine. But it’s the nature of the beast.” If she’s trying to be intimidating, it’s not working, because these are the exact words I’ve been waiting to hear. “You must adhere to Witch Weekly’s mission statement, even if you find personal quarrels with it. Don’t think I didn’t notice your political undertones.”

My face flushes but I say, “Of course.” At this point, I’m pretty sure I’ll agree to anything.

“Now,” she sighs. “That’s enough mental exhaustion for one night. Tomorrow I’ll speak with Mr. Ward about the best plan of action. In the meantime, don’t mention this to anyone. You’re quite lucky, you know. If you weren’t such a good writer, you’d be in Rose’s place. I don’t reward bad behaviour. Ever.”

“Thank you,” I say stupidly. I’m certainly making a brilliant impression with my new boss. Oh my God, I can’t even believe it—my new boss. Though annoyed, I swear there is a little gleaming admiration in her eye. I want her to say something like, “You’ve got a helluva lot of moxie, kid,” but I’ll settle for the lessening in her icy glare.

She rises to her feet, smoothing her skirts. “You’ll be covering the Puddlemere match this Sunday.”

It’s not a question. Part of me wants to wince, but what are the odds I’ll be spotted in a crowd of thousands? It’ll be painless. It being Friday night, I have all day tomorrow to plan for the match. I’ve been procrastinating on that front. Of course, that bit I don’t add to my employer.

“We’ll see you at eight o’clock Monday morning.” Blakeslee extends a hand. I clasp it with both of mine, furiously shaking it.

“Oh my God, yes, okay, yes!” I’m floating; I must be. Blakeslee only nods curtly in response, but at least she appears amused by my idiocy.

When I’ve exhausted the handshake to the point of just being uncomfortable, I gather up my things. I almost knock my chair over, seeming to have lost feeling in my hands and feet. As I pass back through the closed door, I hear her chuckle, “We’ve never had so much trouble with an intern.”




Author's Note: A rather long chapter, but FINALLY! Some good has come to Edie. What to say about this chapter, except that it was really fun to write? Especially the bit that involved Jae, he was quite fun this go-round. And I hope the ending wasn't too cheesy. I didn't want Blakeslee to seem to welcoming; in fact she was quite irked.

So! Whaddya think? Surprised that Edie defended Rose? Does anybody want to check Jae into St. Mungo's for flirting with an inanimate object? Please leave your thoughts in a review, good or bad. I really can't express how much I love to read them!!

Thanks to artemis. @ TDA for the gorgeous chapter image ♥


Chapter 19: Nothin' but a Number
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CHAPTER NINETEEN



Soon I find myself back in Le Chat Noir, where months ago Rose first offered me the article. To my left is Dean, who rests his elbows on the counter, brow furrowed in concentration. On my right Jae leans back, his arms crossed, wearing a similar expression. Seamus is perched on the end stool, halfway listening to the conversation, halfway eyeing girls. At least we fit in with the hip clientele, as we’re already dressed in black. Seamus and Dean have been receiving some looks, only just recently wiping the black paint from their faces.

The reason everyone looks so confused is that I’ve spent the last twenty outlining my entire history with the articles. Multiple times. Having never attempted it before, I hadn’t realized how tangled the web had become. But they’ve been the perfect audience: gasping indignantly when I was sacked, clicking their tongues when I lost my flat. The only thing I’ve left out is the potential romance, though there have been some suspicious glances.

“…And that’s why we broke in tonight,” I finish for the third time.

They all nod with glazed-over looks. Seamus rubs his chin and blinks about a thousand times, “Okay. Explain it one more time. I think I’ve almost got it.”

I drop my head onto my arms exhaustedly. “Can’t we just go over it later? I’m getting bored, and it’s my life we’re discussing.”

“No way,” Seamus shakes his head fervently. “You’ve been hiding everything for this long, and you’ll just do it again.”

I give him a guilty look. Dean adds, “Besides, it’s not our fault you’ve managed to turn everything into a soap opera.” At our blank stares, he clutches his fist adamantly, “One of these days you’ll understand my Muggle references.”

“Okay,” Seamus points his finger at my face, probably because he sees about three of them. He’s been celebrating enough for the lot of us. “So. You write the first article, and Rose puts her name on it. And your boss is all, ‘Yeah Rose, we’re chuffed, brilliant work, we want two more!’ But she knows she can’t do them justice, so she pawns them off onto you.”

Jae continues, “And so you write the second one in secret. Meanwhile, she starts shagging Wood. She knows her name is stamped on the stories, and doesn’t want him think she’s writing these contemptuous articles,” he says the word lavishly, but I have no rebuttal. They are bloody harsh. “So before the second one is published, she writes another, nicer article, and sneaks it to the editor.”

I finish, “So tonight we broke in to replace it. And Blakeslee wants to see the magazine succeed, so she’s taken me on.”

I don’t add what’s gnawing at my thoughts: will Witch Weekly even keep me on, after the stories are published and they’ve gotten what they need?

Dean says, “But as far as Wood knows, it’s your name on the articles. You’ve been doing all the fieldwork, and the research, and interviewing him. He doesn’t like reading about himself, so he may never even see Rose’s name. What does it matter to her?”

I shrug, “I reckon she’s afraid he’ll change his mind, read it, and toss her in the bin. She’d never admit to paying an intern to do her work.”

Jae shakes his head in disbelief, “He must be lying about that, though. Who doesn’t want to read about themselves?”

“Apparently Oliver Wood,” I murmur, stirring the ice cubes of my now-empty drink.

“Well, I’m sorry Edie, but I’m scared for you,” Dean says. “Who knows what Rose is going to do now? You’ve stolen her spot, and she’s already stark-raving mad.”

“Technically I’ve had the spot all along,” I raise a finger. “And no one will know. I don’t plan to rat her out. Plus, I saved her from being sacked. That counts for something, right?”

Dean knocks back the rest of his pint, “I’d watch your back, mate.”

“Oh, who cares!” Seamus bellows, causing us to jump. He’s long since passed speaking at a normal volume. “Edie’s got a job—a real nine-to-five—and that’s all that matters. Cheers!” We smirk at him, but clink our glasses for the umpteenth time. After taking a giant gulp Seamus squints at me, eyes glimmering conspiratorially, “You’ve left out one thing, though.”

“Impossible, she’s been talking for ages,” Dean teases, and I gently pinch his side.

But Seamus says, “You’ve conveniently forgotten to mention that you and Wood almost… y’know.”

I nearly topple off my stool. I’d forgotten telling Seamus about my almost-feelings, that day in the park. Back when I’d thought something would come of it all. My face has gone three different shades of red in the split-second that Jae and Dean snap their gazes to me. Thoughts racing, I try to recall that morning—but I was so loopy with exercise, I would’ve probably given anyone my Gringott’s key. How much did I tell? What does he know?

Damn it, Seamus. You and your big mouth.

“Almost what?” Jae prompts, and there’s definitely a jealous tone in his voice. Dean casts him a look, but then his eyes are back on me.

I manage to shrug off-handedly, “The point is that nothing ever happened between us. Really,” I add to the three quirked eyebrows. “Besides, Seamus is right—what matters is that I finally have a job.”

Despite the very real elation I feel in my ribcage, my smile feels bitter. It must be the alcohol. At least my companions seem quelled, or at least unlikely to mention it again. Dean looks darkly into the bottom of his glass, but says nothing, and Seamus releases another war-cry. He raises his pint—again—as Jae snakes an arm around my waist. I go stiff, uneasy for us to be seen. Neither Dean nor Seamus seems to have noticed, though. Jae grins in a devilish way that I’m surprised sets my nerves on edge. I rest a hand on his leg beneath the counter. I suppose I could use a distraction.

*


Jae lives in the bottom floor of a small house—I’m assuming his landlord’s—on the outskirts London. I know this firsthand because the two of us outlasted Dean and Seamus at the bar (the latter got entirely too drunk and had to be Apparated home by Dean.) Jae and I remained at Le Chat Noir until the clanged closing bell was clanged with more than a little spite. The walk to his flat was long, leaving plenty of time to stop and snog along the way.

By the time we stagger through the door, everything is spinning and stars. I can hear the blood in my ears as his mouth crashes into mine. I don’t care that he tastes like old beer or that I barely have to crane my neck to reach his lips. I don’t feel shy anymore. Alcohol will do that to you. I grab his shirt collar and pull him against me, jut my hips. But then he gently touches the back of my neck—and suddenly I am back in that strange Muggle shop with Oliver. The feel of his fingertips. The one eye closing. Before I can even think, I slap Jae’s hand away.

He pulls back, looking more shocked than offended. It only takes an instant to recover—but in my head I’m pulling myself from miles underwater, emerging gasping from that stupid memory.

“Sorry,” I say without sincerity, pulling him back. I bite his lip and feel him smirk. He grabs my face again, kisses harder. This time I force myself not to remember. We stumble backwards into the darkness of his home, legs and arms tangling. A small window casts enough light to barely glimpse the clutter of the small space. My mind hasn’t placed us in his small kitchen until I nearly topple over his small dining table.

“Careful,” he teases quietly. Without response I pull off my shirt like an old skin, dropping it onto the floor. No ceremony, no romance, no butterflies. Only something glinting in Jae’s dark eyes, barely visible. I sit on table and wait.

He takes out his wand, says, “Lum—” before I cut him off.

“No lights.”

Before he can protest my fingers are at the buttons on his collar. He tugs my skirt off in a move that seems far too practiced, but I don’t care. We undress in a hurry, like coming in soaking wet from a storm, except there is no firelight to huddle near. Jae puts a flat hand on my ribcage and, in slow deliberateness, pushes me back onto the cool, polished table.

With my hands resting near my head, I stare at a patch of moonlight on the ceiling, and Jae moves over me like a shadow.

*


When I wake in the morning, all sense of reckless freedom has disappeared. In its place is a terrible headache. Oh, gin and tonic. You taste like water and feel like a ton of bricks. I pry my eyes open, caked in leftover makeup. I’m in a tangled nest of blankets, pillows and clothes on the living room floor. Thankfully Jae is gone, as there is a considerable amount of drool on my chin. My hair could easily pass for a ball of Gillyweed. After a glance in the mirror and some quick charms—including Accio pants!—I could pass for human again. I stumble to my feet and pad uncertainly throughout the flat, calling, “Jae?”

No response. Rubbing my temple, I head into the kitchen for a glass of water. The place is surprisingly clean, certainly compared to Seamus and Dean’s. In the gray morning light I lean against the counter, sipping water. My bleary eyes notice a framed photograph on the wall. It pictures two children, a boy and a girl, both with jet-black hair and almond-shaped eyes. The girl appears to be about ten—just on the edge of her Hogwarts acceptance letter. After a moment I recognize her as Cho, Jae’s sister. She still has the same heavy fringe. She and the boy (who I’d guess to be about six) are sitting on the floor behind a table full of delicious-looking Korean food, making faces and waving at the camera.

I didn’t know he has a younger brother. I smile at the thought of a young Jae taking this picture of his siblings.

Footsteps thunder in the flat overhead. My eyes follow the sound as it travels across the ceiling. A door slams, and then someone scurries down through the garden. At last Jae’s front door opens.

“Edie?”

He soon appears in the kitchen and I offer a small smile. His arms are full of food—namely a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread. “Sorry,” he grins, “My cupboards are totally bare. Thought I’d pop upstairs and grab some food.” He kisses me, never one for shyness, “Good morning.”

“Morning,” I grin sheepishly. I can’t precisely recall the ins and outs of last night, but apparently it wasn’t too horrid. At least he wants me to stick around for breakfast. Suddenly I grin, “Wait, your landlord just gives you food? That’s brilliant! Mine just always asked me to watch after his parakeet.”

He offers a confused grin, “No, not my landlord. My Mum.”

“Oh!” I say brightly, wishing I hadn’t opened my mouth. “You live under your parents. That’s nothing. I stayed with mine for a few years after Hogwarts. Loads of people are doing it now, what with the economy and all…”

He only continues to smile confusedly, and then a horrible thought strikes me. My eyes fly back to the photograph of Cho and the unnamed younger sibling. Cho is only a year above me. How old is that little boy now…?

I turn my back, bracing my hands on the counter. “Um. Who is that, in the photograph?”

He shifts uneasily, “Me and Cho… Why?”

“Oh my God,” I cover my face. Dreading the answer, I ask lowly, “Jae, how old are you?”

He must catch onto my horror, because he responds in a high-pitched voice, “Nineteen?”

“Jesus Christ,” I whirl around. “You’re actually serious!”

“Yes… Why, how old are you?”

“I’m twenty-six, Jae.”

“MERLIN’S BEARD!” The eggs drop onto the floor, splattering everywhere, “That’s like… seven years older than me! You’d already graduated by the time I was a First-Year! You were—you were an adult when I was only ten!”

“You do have a way with words,” I grumble.

He ignores me, not to mention the eggy mess, and rubs his chin. “I reckon that’s why we’d never met. You probably thought it was because I was Cho’s older brother… Well. That’s interesting.” He pauses to give a roguish grin, “I mean, I’d always wondered what it would be like. Y’know… With an older woman.”

My jaw drops. But apparently he has reached a new stage—one that ranges beyond complete insanity—because he misreads my expression as lust, and makes his way over to kiss me.

Scowling, I put my hand up and his lips smoosh into my palm. “Yeah, I’m gonna go.”

After I’ve awkwardly excused myself, I pause outside his front door. I can’t believe this. The one time a guy is genuinely interested in me (or at least certain parts of me.) Of course this isn’t Jae’s fault. But I am furious at experiencing another embarrassing turn of life-events. I feel like some kind of marionette, being played by the Fates, or God, or whatever divine force may be controlling the strings…

Eyes narrowing, I suddenly realize exactly which “force” is to blame.

And her name is Hypatia Lennox.

*


Renwick looks just as picturesque as always. I march down the perfectly-laid cobblestones, my shoulders heaving with rage. Butterflies dance in the immaculate hedges. Birds sing from the up-to-code rooftops. But this quaint little town hides a meddling old Witch—all right, a middle-aged Witch—under the disguise of resident quirky artist.

It’s a Saturday. My Mum won’t be in her studio, so I head straight to my childhood home. For a moment I’m held up on the stupid gate latch—why have we never gotten the bloody thing fixed?—but soon I am stomping through the garden. The small brick façade is nothing to brag about. It barely contains six people, but it’s done its job over the years. A thousand things are running through my head, ready to explode in another trademark Edie-Hypatia screaming match (How could you set me up with a nineteen year-old?! Did you really think I was that desperate?! Well… So what if I am?!)

I reach the door and throw it open, bellowing, “MUM! GET DOWN HERE NOW!”

But I am only greeted by a very anti-climactic silence.

No one, not even my brothers—who last I heard have all returned to the nest—is here. Releasing a scream, I search around for something to throw, before reminding myself that I’m not thirteen anymore. Instead I drop to the tarnished wood floor. Crossing my arms tightly, I force myself not to hyperventilate.

You’re overreacting, says miniature-Lisa, always the angel on my shoulder. Your Mum just wants to see you happy. She’s overbearing, but at least she’s always there for you. And age doesn’t really matter that much, does it? It was just a fling.

My breathing is almost back to normal, and I flop onto my back. The familiarities around the den help to calm me down. I study the maps on the walls, the old fireplace and the burlap curtains—made from flour sacks when we were particularly skint, and kept for sentimentality. In fact, coming home seems to have been the best solution to this morning’s turn of events. My eyelids are growing heavy. I didn’t sleep well last night, if you catch my meaning. Normally that would make me want to high-five somebody, but maybe I’ll keep this one quiet.

I don’t realize I’ve drifted off until someone is nudging me with their shoe. Opening my eyes groggily, I’m surprised to see Leo eating a pickle sandwich. His hair is much shorter since our last encounter, though done rather poorly. I reckon he did it himself. Judging by the light, it’s early afternoon.

“Oi,” he says. “You’ve been out for hours. Thought you were dead.”

“I appreciate how concerned you were,” I grumble, and he hoists me to my feet. Without awaiting his response I make a grab for his sandwich, “I’m starving, can I have some?”

“Get your own!” he cries, but I snatch it anyway. After a tussle I manage to bite off a big chunk, and he punches me in the shoulder. I punch him back.

Mouth full, I say, “Where’s Mum?”

He takes an unbelievably giant bite, so that I barely understand the response, “Studio. Show coming up soon, remember? Thought she owled you an invite.”

Whoops. I really need to pay more attention to my post. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I realize I am quickly reverting back to childhood-Edie. “I’m surprised to see you here. It’s the weekend, shouldn’t you be out with your hoodlum friends? Catching tadpoles or throwing rocks or whatever it is you do?”

He scoffs, “I’m not seven anymore. Christ. Just nipping in from the pub. Didn’t wanna pay for food. Liam, Luke and a couple of others are there. We just got bloody murdered in a Quidditch match at the park, figured we’d drink away our sorrows.”

I snort, rolling my eyes, and he pinches my arm, “Oi, shouldn’t you be out with that famous boyfriend of yours?”

For one horrid moment I think he somehow knows about Jae, but then I realize who he means. “Oliver is not my boyfriend,” I say more adamantly than intended.

“Not what he seems to think.”

Leo has a reputation for telling lies to elicit a reaction. After twenty years, I’ve learned to notice it. I’m not falling for this kind of rubbish again. Tiredly, I sigh, “What are you on about? He’s dating my coworker.”

He shrugs, “Well, maybe. But when we all went out in London, he said he really likes you.”

“That’s not funny, Leo,” I scowl, though I feel something moving in my ribs.

He gestures incredulously, “Oi, I’m not lying! Honestly. Yeah, we were all pretty pissed that night, but I remember him talking about you. It was a bit pathetic, really, the way he just went on, and on, and on—”

“What did he say?” I find myself asking.

“Well I don’t recall his words exactly. Just that he kept talking about how cool you are, and how cool it is that you like politics and beer and Quidditch and all that rubbish. I tried to explain that you really aren’t all that spectacular—What?”

Apparently I have gone white as a sheet, because even devil-may-care Leo looks concerned. “You alright? Jesus, I was only taking the mick. You’re so sensitive.” He shakes his head and pops the rest of the sandwich into his mouth, “Anyway, back to the pub for me.”

I nod, still incapable of finding words just yet. He makes his way for the door but stops and swivels around. Rubbing the back of his neck, he asks, “Um… staying in town tonight, then?”

I fight a smile at his hopeful tone. For a moment I’m back at the age of thirteen, when my brothers still thought I was the coolest human being (and the tallest girl) they knew. Now, apparently, the only person who feels that way is Oliver Wood. Or at least he used to, before he became involved with Rose…

“Actually,” I mutter, “I could use a night away from London.”

Leo actually smiles—in that messy, impish way of his—and ruffles my hair. I smile back and he disappears through the front door, whistling. Yeah, some fresh air will do me good. And maybe there will be no Edie-Hypatia screaming match, but she at least needs a stern talking-to. But already I feel the anger slipping away, replaced by pleasant nostalgia for my old home. That feeling of sisterly love disappears, though, when I head into my old room. It’s a complete wreck, covered in dirty clothes and half-eaten food and Quidditch gear. Fighting my anger, I accio an old coat from beneath the wreckage and head out into the clear afternoon. A walk would do me some good.

Unfortunately, I’m not quite getting the alone-time I desired. I’ve forgotten that it’s impossible to go outside without stopping to talk with all of Renwick. I find myself wishing for an invisibility cloak. I am just leaving Mr. Patmore’s hedgerow, and pulling my wooly black scarf tighter, when I hear a familiar screech. Pollock, the family owl—a rather small creature—is circling overhead. He drops a brown envelope at my feet, and with a grumpy hoot, flies off. I snort. Some “welcome home” that was.

Curiously, I crouch down to pick up the envelope. There’s something small and round inside. When I open the parcel, a gold badge bearing the word “Press” drops into my palm. The note, written in messy handwriting, reads:

Edie,

Hope this letter finds you well. Philbert and I are eager to meet you. Wear this badge over your coat to tomorrow’s match. The charms will allow you into Puddlemere’s VIP booth, which has the best bloody view of the pitch.


Here the word “bloody” is poorly scratched out, enough that I can still read it. No wonder she and Oliver were basically soul mates.

I’ve spoken with your editor, Artie Ward, and he suggests you arrive at ten o’clock. The Portkey is a copy of Quidditch throughout the Ages, at the Leaky Cauldron. Just show the barkeep your badge.

Sincerely,

Katie M. Bell
Assistant Team Manager, Puddlemere United

PS – Wear blue.


My heart is beating out of my chest. Katie Bell, the assistant manager to a professional Quidditch team, is writing to me. Normally I would be delivering this message to Rose, like her personal owl, but here it is addressed to me. All of the sudden, my new employment is very, very real. A stupid grin spreads across my face. One thing I don’t understand, though, is why she’s eager to meet me. Shouldn’t she be more wary, especially if she’s read the last article? Shrugging the thought away, I rub my thumb over the polished golden badge.

Press. I am the Press. So this is it, then. It’s really, actually happening. I pocket the badge and continue down the street, waving a bit more merrily to my neighbours.




Author's Note: Phew! I think that's the longest it's taken for me to update since I've begun this story... and I'm sorry for the wait! Hopefully this chapter cleared up some things (like the entire history of Edie-Rose-Oliver and the articles), as well as raised some more questions. And I've been waiting to write the unveiling of Jae's age for SO LONG and it was really fun to do... Did it shock anyone? :D

Thanks so much for reading. Please let me know what you think! Liked, disliked? Somewhere in-between? Reviews are always very much appreciated.

Edit: I've changed Katie's voice in her letter to better suit her character. Not a huge difference, but she sounded way too bubbly beforehand. Oooh, also, I've settled on a new title! And thank you to bathtub. at TDA for incorporating it into a gorgeous chapter image. Just look at those little birds! ♥




CHAPTER TWENTY


The door to The Leaky Cauldron creaks as I push on it, beaming like a fool. I’m more than ready for my first day on the job. My Mum even helped bewitch my dress Puddlemere blue (I never did confront her about Jae. It was too uncomfortable to talk about my sexcapades with my Mum.) It’s strange to not be decked out in shamrock, although I am secretly wearing Kestrel green underwear. Seamus would be proud. In fact, today I awoke to a note, owled very late last night, that read, I SWEAR IF YOU DON’T WEAR GREEN TODAY I’M GOING TO— and broke into scribbles. Beneath it, in Dean’s handwriting: Good luck today, you’re a shining medallion and you smell like Christmas.

I’m assuming they’d had a few.

A few heads turn when I step inside, including a very old witch I recognize from The Poisoned Apple. She’s already drinking her sherry, and gives me a dark look. Normally this would make me squirm, but I catch my reflection in a dusty mirror and see my “Press” badge—which I may or may not have charmed to glitter obviously. I march up to the counter with the air of somebody who won’t be huddling in a place like this, listening to the match over a fuzzy old radio. A big pewter cauldron bubbles away, full of what I think is meant to be breakfast.

The barkeep appears from behind a dirty curtain that sanctions off the back. He tilts his chin and, wiggling my fingers excitedly, I blurt, “I’m the press!”

He rolls his eyes but turns to the shelves behind him. They’re filled with books, pint glasses, photographs and magical knickknacks. When he turns around, a battered copy of Quidditch throughout the Ages is in his giant hand. It drops onto the counter with a thud. At my confused stare, he huffs, “It only works if you’re wearing the badge. Go on, then.”

“Brilliant, thank you!”

He only grunts in return. I reach out and, body tensing in anticipation, place my hand firmly on the book.

There is a lurch, like less-nauseating Apparation, and seconds later I am staggering back on flat ground. I shield my eyes from the sun, scanning my new surroundings; a very windy field of tall grass. Judging by the salt in the air, I’m somewhere along the seaside. It’s actually quite beautiful.

Unfortunately, the pitch is nowhere to be found.

In fact, there is nothing in sight, except for a clear sky and what I assume are cliffs, over to my left. I stand for some time, searching, but I am utterly alone. Where are all of the other reporters? My confidence slips. Is this the barkeep’s idea of a joke? Did the Portkeys get mixed up? Should I just wait for Katie? The nervous minutes speed by, and suddenly it’s already ten o’clock. Panicking, I pick a random direction and am about to start sprinting, when somebody calls, “You’re late.”

I whip around, but there’s nobody there. I must be hallucinating all of this. I knew it. The whole new job is too good to be true. It’s probably an elaborate prank put into place by Rose.

But then I hear the voice again, chuckling, “Up here, you halfwit.”

I drop my head back, squinting unattractively. Oliver Wood is descending on his broomstick, already wearing his Puddlemere uniform. He’s probably slept in it for days—even bathed in it, the lunatic. My hands start to tremble, but I clench them into tight fists.

Oliver alights in the grass before me, and casually rests his broom over his broad shoulders. I gawk at the sleek black handle, “That’s the Arrow!” He glances at it nonchalantly, as though it weren’t the most over-glorified piece of housekeeping equipment in Britain. The thing costs my annual wages.

“It is,” he says. “I see you’re wearing blue.”

“Yes. Um. I need to find the VIP section.”

He clicks his tongue, “Ah, that’s right, you’re here on official business today.”

I don’t like his knowing smile, or his teasing nature, or that the last time I saw him I set my own hand on fire. Things were easier when he was too awkward to formulate sentences. Seconds pass; my arms are crossed so tightly that I’m cutting off my air supply. I heave an exasperated sigh, “Can you tell me how to get there? Please?”

That stupid smile is still on his face, and he mounts the broom, “C’mon. The Portkey should’ve taken you over this cliff, but something went wrong. I’ll be sure to let Katie know.” At my uncertainty he rolls his eyes, “You’ll not be in trouble, Edie. Come on.”

Before I can move, a thought strikes me. I push the hair from my face, “Did you… come looking for me?”

He snorts, going quite red, “No, I was flying laps and stumbled across you. Lucky, too—you were about to take off in the wrong direction. Don’t think I didn’t notice.”

“Oh. Well…thanks for the lift.”

He looks away, rubbing his nose, “You’re welcome.”

I eye the broom nervously. It may come as a huge shock, given my athletic prowess and supreme grace, but flying is not my forte. Nevertheless, I gather my courage and swing my leg over the broom. Maybe this won’t be so—

I’ve barely grabbed hold before we’re tearing off the ground. With a shriek I lurch backwards. The wind whips my hair as we ascend; my eyes sting with cold. Over my right shoulder, the sea comes swooping into view, glittering with morning light. I dare a glance to the ground and nearly lose my breakfast.

I hope the wind covers the tremble in my voice, “I—I’m not a very good flyer.”

“Really!” he feigns shock, “You can hold on, you know, I’m not going to bite.” I barely hear his mutter, “Or slap you.”

My cheeks go pink, but I’m not going to argue with someone who could do a barrel-roll at any moment. I grip his shoulders with the force of life, but it feels like an awkward pep-talk. Careful not to touch him, I clutch onto the waist of his uniform.

We’re zooming past the rocky cliffs, which break into a low valley. And then there it is: the pitch. It’s absolutely enormous, and despite the nerves, my grin is back. I recall the much smaller pitch at Hogwarts, and how it was once the most impressive thing I’d seen. But this one is enormous, made to seat thousands of fans. Towering over the pitch are two spires, like those of Hogwarts castle—the VIP sections. The match is still two hours away, but people are already clamouring to their seats. Every now and then, somebody sends a shower of blue sparks into the air, only to be answered by two green ones, and so on.

I’m so excited that I’ve forgotten how I am suspended hundreds of feet in the air, on a flying twig. But at Oliver’s down-tilt of the broomstick, we are suddenly screaming downwards like—well, like an arrow. My stomach is in my throat. I’m reminded of the lift at The Hanging Moon: that awful, exhilarating weightlessness. The towers of the VIP areas are screaming towards us. My body tenses in anticipation.

“We’re going to crash!” I shout stupidly.

Then, with the slightest bend of his wrist, Oliver lifts up on the handle and we glide to a seamless halt. Like a ship docking, we drift to the side, our legs barely bumping the stone. There is a smattering of applause from the VIP early-birds, and if my eyes weren’t still bulging from their sockets, I would roll them. At my first chance I clamber off the broom. I’m scowling until I catch the smile Oliver’s poorly hiding, by massaging his jaw.

I can’t help but laugh, shoving him, “You—UGH!” But with his bulk, the broomstick barely even moves. He gives up the charade and howls with laughter.

“Sorry!” he barely manages, mocking, “We’re gonna crash!” He’s clutching his side with one hand, and resting the other on my shoulder as if he may topple over. It’d serve him right. I cross my arms and try to frown.

“Shut up,” I murmur, but there’s no use. People are looking on with interest, and there’s a warm feeling spreading to my fingers and toes. But then I hear a voice that chills my blood—

There you are!”

Quaffle-eyed, I whirl around. My stomach sinks further than I thought possible. A very flushed Rose Zeller is barreling towards me. Oh no… I’m done for. She already hates me for outing her to Blakeslee, and now she thinks I’m flirting with her boyfriend. She raises a hand over her head, and my whole body flinches. I hide behind my own arm—not the face. It’s all I’ve got.

But there is no impact; no punch to the eye. Not even a slap. Instead she’s doing a weird thing with her arm around me, tightening like a boa constrictor. Strangulation it is, then. A bit less theatrical than the murder I would peg as her choice, but—Wait.

My eyes pop open.

Oh my God.

Rose Zeller is hugging me.

“I’ve been looking for you everywhere!” She points her finger in my face (again I flinch) and feigns admonishment, “You’re late!”

It takes a moment to regain myself. But then I shrug widely, “You know me!” I turn to cast a glance at Oliver, but he’s completely disappeared. I double-take. He was just here, not even a second ago!

Then Rose says, “Here, thought you’d like this.” She passes me a steaming mug of butterbeer, held by a bespectacled boy I hadn’t noticed behind her. I recognize the Witch Weekly pin on his coat: Intern. Now that I’ve moved up, he must be the replacement. He’s staring at Rose like a Labrador would somebody with a bouncy-ball. Oh, if he only knew…

“Thank you,” I suspiciously eye the mug’s contents. There’s a seventy percent chance that it’s poison. The moment her head is turned, I pour it over my shoulder (from far below comes an indignant “Oi!”)

Luckily, Rose is preoccupied with shooting the intern an icy glare. Jumping, he mumbles, “Oh! Sorry, Miss Zeller,” and scurries off. She shakes her head with an apologetic smile.

“Don’t worry, I’ll have him trained properly soon enough. He’s to be your assistant, after my suggestion to Mr. Ward.”

My jaw drops. She’s even gone and got me an assistant? What is happening? Shouldn’t she be furious for what I’ve done?

Then it hits me—Rose owes me one. I mean, she really owes me one. Blakeslee, furious, has probably already given her a talking-to. She must have revealed that I’m the only reason Rose wasn’t sacked. And now I completely have the upper-hand. I’ve ratted her out, and embarrassed her in front of her boss, and then saved her job. She probably thinks I could have her fired with the wave of my wand. Finger to my chin, I ponder whether or not this is true.

Rose misreads my baffled expression. “Oh! I’m not here on behalf of Witch Weekly. I know that’s… that’s your thing now.” There is only a hint of bitterness to her voice. But sure enough, there’s no Press badge on her coat. “Actually, Oliver’s invited me. I assume you…know what’s happening between us.”

There’s something weighing on my chest. “Sure do.”

“It’s such a strange feeling to be dating a celebrity. I doubt I’ll ever be used to it. We can hardly go anywhere without people following us. Paparazzi! Following me! Even Theo’s trying to get his hands on—”

“Sorry, have you seen Katie Bell?” I interrupt, heart hammering in my ears.

In response Rose snaps her fingers, and the nameless intern reappears. “Tell Katie Bell that Edie Lennox has arrived,” she orders. With a curt nod he disappears again.

“Wow,” I say.

“You’ll get used to it. It’s brilliant having somebody to boss around.”

He’s back in seconds—if he had a tail it would be wagging—with a woman in tow. I remember her from that night at The Poisoned Apple; she was the soberest of the lot. For a moment I’m afraid that she’ll recognize me, but her uncertain gaze assures me otherwise.

She extends a hand and says, in a deep voice with no false flatteries, “Nice to meet you, Edie.”

I almost forget to respond. I should be viewing her as a colleague—my first connection in the Quidditch world—but I can only imagine how spectacularly gorgeous she and Oliver must have been together.

She’s very lean, but shorter than I am. Her dark hair has been tangled by the wind and twisted up haphazardly; her wand pokes out from the mess. She hasn’t bothered to dress up, wearing a raincoat and heavy scarf. Like Oliver, she’s here on business. Suddenly I feel frivolous in my dress. Her expression is serene, but a light in her eyes says that she’s always thinking, always planning, always calculating…

Wow. They’re the exact same person.

I glance at the intern. He appears to be waiting for a treat. “Sorry,” I mumble to Katie, “I didn’t mean to have you, like, summoned over here. Did—did Oliver tell you why I’m late?”

Rose gives me a strange look, but Katie nods, “He did. Good thing he went looking for you, too. Sometimes the Portkeys...”

Wait, he did come looking for me? Can everyone see my face burning? Katie’s mouth is still moving and I force myself to tune back in.

“…no harm done. Let’s have a seat, though. I’d like to talk to you before we get started.” With a curt nod at Rose, she says, “Enjoy the match.”

I press my mouth into a pathetic smile, glancing at Rose. I swear she has that old glint in her eyes. But she touches my arm in a chummy way, saying, “We’ll catch up.”

Like an actual castle spire, the VIP tower holds a winding staircase that leads to the different levels of seating. Much nicer than the stadium seats below, these are more like fluffy armchairs. We emerge onto the second tier, and Katie directs me to a row in the front. Along the way I spot Theo and wave. He nods and, in usual fashion, snaps a photograph. What a sight Katie and I must be—a lily-white ginger who can’t even run a mile trailing behind a wiry athlete.

Katie gestures for me to sit, and takes the chair beside me. “I’ll be upstairs with Philbert during the match, but I wanted to talk about the article. In my letter I mentioned being eager to meet you. And I reckon I am, because I’m glad to see a new reporter doing Oliver’s stories.”

She couldn’t possibly know that I’ve been the author all along, but I still gulp, “I see.”

Katie swats at a strand of hair as if it were a mosquito, and looks me squarely in the eye. “Maybe this is pointless to say, but… go easy on him. I read that first article and it was… Well, I know you didn’t write it. But it was harsh. Brutal, even, the way that author talked about him like—” she shakes her head, knitting her brow. “I know how he can seem, especially to people who don’t know him. But Oliver is a really great guy—one of the best, in fact. I just hope he never reads that article. It would gut him.”

I am speechless. Going out of my way to shame Oliver, and becoming the kind of person that made me, was something I’d accepted. But I’d never stopped to think about his loved ones. What if his parents or relatives or mates read those things I said?

Katie sees my expression, “Sorry. Maybe that was out of line. I know we don’t know one another, and it isn’t my place to tell you how to do your job. Sometimes I just really have to speak my mind, you know?”

“I know,” I murmur, smiling. “You two are just alike, in that way.”

She exhales a quiet laugh, “In too many ways, turns out.” I study her, but she’s lost in thought. Then, to my relief she says conclusively, “Best be heading upstairs. Philbert’s probably having a panic attack about now. Enjoy the match.” With a curt nod, she disappears.

I don’t know how long I sit there blankly, trying to wrap my head around everything. I haven’t allowed myself to step back and look at what I’ve done. I was too angry. But does this really make me a monster? Aren’t I just doing my job? Is keeping one athlete in good standing worth keeping my mouth shut? What about everyone else in the country, unemployed or border-lining on poverty? I think of women like Tallulah Blakeslee. She’s made a name for herself, but how many people has she thrown under the Knight Bus? I didn’t think it was possible to be a good journalist without hurting someone—even if Oliver is “one of the best.”

A sudden crackling boom shakes me from my reverie. I jump, clutching the armchair. Lost in thought, the remaining hour before the match has sped by. Now the sky is darkening as if the sun were speeding behind the hills. (It’s a complicated charm used for daytime Quidditch. Dean says it’s like dimming the lights in a Muggle cinema.) A firework erupts into the darkened sky: blue and green sparks take the form of two crossed broomsticks. The stands erupt into cheers.

The commentators’ voices rumble across the pitch like thunder, reverberating in my chest. I peer over the edge; everyone below is going absolutely mental. I remember the excitement of the Kenmare match that Seamus, Dean and I went to. By contrast, everyone in the VIP section is thumbing absentmindedly through their notes or murmuring quietly. A witch younger than me, wearing very short dress robes, passes with a tray of complimentary champagne. I accept a glass, trying to contain myself while everyone else looks like they’re about to fall asleep. When Kenmare takes the pitch in a blur of green, I cross my legs to keep from jumping to my feet.

Yeah, Puddlemere’s my number three favourite team—but this is Kenmare.

There is a shuffling to my right, and then Rose is settling down beside me, “Isn’t this exciting?”

I nod, bitterly wondering if she even knows which team Oliver plays for. And then suddenly they’re taking the pitch, circling wider and wider, high and higher, in a flying “V.” The three rings of Puddlemere’s goals materialize, like wrought iron melded from thin air. Our seats are remarkably close to them. I remember Katie’s words, “Best bloody view of the pitch.”

The players ascend to their places. Against my will, my eyes keep flicking to the three-ring goals just to our left. Oliver has taken his post, poised and tense. The commentator’s voice rumbles, “…And back on the pitch after a two-year hiatus is Oliver Wood, Puddlemere’s longest-playing Keeper for three centuries.”

The stands erupt into more applause and shouting. But either he has chosen to ignore his personal mentioning, or he’s concentrating too hard to notice. I can’t decide which is more decidedly Oliver-esque. Other than a reddening in his cheeks, he appears totally oblivious. But then he turns his head ever so slightly towards us, and his eyes land on…

I choke on my gulp of champagne, coughing and pounding my chest.

“Oh, Oliver’s looking at me!” Rose says, twiddling her fingers in a wave.

I want to smack my forehead. This is just like the Weird Sisters concert, when I thought that Myron Wagtail was eyeing me for three entire songs (I even began planning the names of our children) when in reality I was standing directly in front of his wife.

But I can almost swear, as he glancing this way once more, that I’m the one locking gazes with Oliver. Of course, it’s all in my head. I spot the witch in the short dress, and point frantically to my empty glass, “More, please!”

*


As the match picks up, I am able to concentrate on things other than Oliver. An hour into it, Rose and I have each knocked back three glasses of champagne. There’s a warm, fuzzy feeling spreading from my lips to my toes. Maybe getting buzzed isn’t the most professional thing to do journalistically, but the bubbly is obviously meant to be drunk. Plus everyone else is doing it—a short old Wizard to my left has gone quite red in the nose. I’m even starting to enjoy Rose’s company.

Obviously this is very strong champagne.

The VIP sections are absolutely brilliant, the players zooming not twenty feet from us. The towers are saturated with protective charms, and the Bludgers ricochet off the invisible force fields right before our eyes. (This led to several bumphing penalties, even though the crowd is in no danger.) At one point, two Beaters slam into the invisible wall so close to us that Rose shrieks and spills her champagne. I am on the edge of my seat as the referee calls a blatching penalty—on Kenmare.

Without thinking, I throw up an angry hand and shout, “OH, COME THE BLOODY HELL ON!”

Everyone in the VIP section whips their heads at me; apparently their completely bored expressions have been hiding some strong Puddlemere feelings. And either I’ve had too much champagne, or Oliver really does look at me this time, furrowing his brow. I cough and settle back in my chair.

The match goes by so swiftly that my outburst is soon forgotten. To my great duress (which I am hiding by biting my knuckles so hard that I’ve given them permanent indentations), Puddlemere is up by 150 points. Even if Kenmare were to catch the Snitch—though it is being particularly elusive today—they would only tie the match. I love Kenmare, I really do, but I don’t think I could sit through another two hours of tie-breaking play.

The problem is, Puddlemere’s Keeper is just too good. As much as I hate to admit it, Oliver is absolutely bloody brilliant. Even more irritating is that my palms start sweating every time he hurls his bulking mass to expertly block the Quaffle. He’s like some kind of centurion, guarding his kingdom. I mean, he does have those broad shoulders… perfect for blocking…

I snap out of it—sucking the drool back into my mouth—when it suddenly happens. Donegal, the Seeker for Kenmare, plummets downwards on her broom. I can barely even see the glint of gold catching the light, but Jones is already hot on her heels. (Much more quickly than she returns fan mail, I note.) I clutch Rose’s wrist and she knits her brow, still not entirely sure of how one “Quidditch-es.” The rest of the stadium has caught on, the volume building into a roar.

“What are you doing?” I mutter, eyes trained on Donegal as she weaves between other players. Rose is smacking my hand, but I ignore her and don’t loosen my grip. “You should’ve waited! You’ll only tie the match!”

Something must be going on, though. Donegal is no idiot; this isn’t her first match. Why would she try and catch the Snitch when they have no chance of winning? Unless…

A-ha!

Kenmare’s Chaser, O’Leary—the one Oliver criticised for only being able to throw with one arm—is seizing his chance. Tearing across the pitch, low to the ground, he’s used the two-second pause wherein everyone’s eyes were on the Snitch. A Puddlemere Beater realizes what’s happening, but is unable to get past the opposing players to stop him. Suddenly O’Leary lifts his broomstick so hard that he skyrockets upwards, almost completely perpendicular to the ground.

Oh my God, he’s going to do it! We’re going to win!

I can see everything in slow-motion, clutching my champagne flute so tightly I’m sure it’ll shatter. O’Leary draws his arm back. At the same time, Donegal is reaching for the golden glint, fingers splayed. Oliver has caught on, but the look of fear on his face tells me something’s off—he’s off-center. The left goal-post is unguarded. O’Leary only has a split-second.

Then a very strange thing happens. Almost everyone in the stadium draws in a collective breath, nearly bursting with anticipation and knotted stomachs, clutching one another’s shoulders in oddly silent, agonizing suspense.

It is that moment of unsettling silence, apparently, that I choose to rise to my feet, thrust both my fists in the air, and shout, “KICK HIS ARSE, O’LEARY!”

Everything happens at once: O’Leary releases the Quaffle with astounding force. I look to see if Oliver will block it, but to my great surprise he has turned to stare at me incredulously. He recovers, but not soon enough—his fingertips only brush against the Quaffle as it sails past him, into the goal. Seconds later, Donegal’s fingers close around the Snitch. It’s over. Kenmare has scored a goal, and caught the Snitch. We’ve won by 50 points.

I am absolutely beside myself, jumping up and down and screaming, my champagne flute long since disappeared. Rose is staring at me in horror. In fact, everybody in the VIP section is. To hell with them, we’ve one! The stadium is absolutely roaring. But then I realize exactly what’s happening, and why everyone is looking at me murderously, and what everyone is screaming about. The Kenmare side is cheering with excitement, yes. But the other half—the Puddlemere half—is roaring with absolute fury, and now I see why.

Oh no.

I made them lose the match.

The enormous live projection, which has been screening the players, is now trained on my face. The stadium is erupting into loud “Boos!” I watch my own face turn white as parchment. Rose covers her face with one hand, and when that isn’t enough, sinks lower and lower in her seat until she’s splayed on the floor. A bright light collides on the invisible forcefield surrounding the VIP sections with a loud CRACK!

They’re hexing me! People are actually trying to hex me right now!

“Oi!” I cry indignantly.

Suddenly there are hands on my shoulders, and Katie Bell is yanking me away. “Best get you out of here,” she says, and I wonder if she’s as furious as everyone else. I glance over my shoulder at the angry mobs. Aurors are flying around the stands on brooms, trying to control the crowds.

Well this has gotten out of hand.

Katie draws out her wand and performs what I’m assuming is a protective charm. “It can be a bit scary when this sort of thing happens,” she explains. “Last time they followed the person home and—well, nevermind.”

I release a squeak and allow her to direct me away. But then I see Oliver. He hasn’t moved at all, floating before the goalposts. He’s staring straight ahead with the same blank look I saw when I slapped him. For a long time he’s very still, and then he puts his head in his hands. It’s the last thing I see before Katie Apparates me away.





Author's Note: Wow. It has been so, so, SO long, and I really apologize. I hope you readers are still out there, and if you are, I really apologize for the delay. This chapter was really hard to write, mostly because Quidditch scenes do not come naturally to me, but I'm already excited to get on to the next chapter!

How did you guys feel about Katie, and her talk with Edie? Or Rose's reaction? Or Puddlemere's loss? Please let me know what you think in a review. Thanks so much for reading!

PS - The amazing Eponine @TDA strikes again! ♥

Chapter 21: Apology Not Accepted
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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE



After being partially responsible for a Quidditch team’s loss, making an old lady cry isn’t so bad. Maybe that makes me a horrible ghoul. But really, could things get much worse than Saturday’s match? The memory still sends me into a panic as I peer from inside the Rusty Knight Inn. I’m searching for rogue Puddlemere fans. Behind me, the ancient Mathilda is muffling her sobs with a kerchief. I offer her one last apologetic glance and head outside. The door slams, billowing the dust that has somehow already accumulated. Mathilda releases one last wail.

Well that was a bloody mess.

It took three times of saying, loudly and slowly, “I QUIT,” for her to understand. Then there was awkward hand-patting while I said things like, “It’s not you, it’s me,” and “I need time to focus on myself.” My shoulder is saturated with Mathilda-snot after a very painful hug—she’s surprisingly strong.

I do feel bad. Really. But I also know that in twenty minutes, she’ll have forgotten the whole ordeal. Soon enough she’ll be shuffling around in her slippers, humming pleasantly to herself.

I glance around one more time for good measure. I reckon I’m a bit paranoid. But after the match ended on Saturday, a Puddlemere fan cast a very impressive Bat Bogey Hex that broke through Katie’s protective charms. As she hurried me away from the roar of a thousand enraged hooligans, I was sneezing tiny winged creatures. She had taken me down the spiral staircase, where a little bronze Quidditch trophy sat in a niche. With a clap on my shoulder, Katie had said bluntly, “Good luck. You’ll need it.”

I whimpered and snatched the trophy, disappearing from the pitch.

In the past two days, I’ve received some very unfriendly owl post (just another reason to never check it, as far as I’m concerned.) Then there are the scornful glances in the streets. Yesterday, a very old witch came at me, shrieking and swinging her handbag. It was quite the spectacle; I actually ran and hid in a bookshop.

Lifting the hood of my parka, I extract a tiny vial from my pocket. Things have settled down considerably since yesterday, but I can’t be too careful. In a rare—and unsettling—act of grace, Rose has given me one of her beauty potions. I now sport a short, choppy blonde hair cut in public. It’s wildly unflattering, but nobody recognizes me. Grimacing, I tip the vial back. The weird, tingly feeling, like my scalp being massaged, tells me that it’s working.

Every time I start to feel indignant—or that everyone is being a teensy bit dramatic—I remember the defeated look on Oliver’s face. The way he buried his face in his hands. Not surprisingly, I have not heard from him. I wonder if he’ll even agree to another Witch Weekly interview.

Strangely, most fans agree that he is to blame. I’m not getting the brunt of their anger. The popular opinion is that he should have been paying more attention. Philbert Deverill attempted to come to Oliver’s aid, in his initial press statement. He tittered, huddled under a tiny umbrella before the sea of cameras, “Well, the sun was out, and it can be very bright. You know how you can get all squinty…” Luckily Katie stepped in and made a vague comment about viewing the loss as a positive lesson, and coming back stronger.

I’m still hiding from the rain under The Rusty Knight. Just as suspected, Mathilda has stopped crying. Through the dirty window I glimpse her cheerfully dusting a lantern. Unable to fight my grin, I pull a scrap parchment from my pocket. I scratch “Quit shoddy job” from my list. Next is “Fix living situation,” followed by “Survive hen night.”

Well, first things first. I know good and well that I cannot afford a place of my own. I doubt I’ll be at Witch Weekly long enough to make decent wages. Quitting The Rusty Knight was not the best move financially, but I need to focus on writing. And since Justin and Lisa are expecting, I can’t loaf around the soon-to-be baby room. How would I explain bunny wallpaper to the next man I drunkenly bring home?

It seems there’s only one option, and I don’t like it. I’ve tried to think of any other—even overlooking the Acromantula nest at Dean and Seamus’s—but the answer is clear. It’s time to suck up my pride, and beg my Mum.

*


"Oh, we would love for you to move back in!” Hypatia Lennox throws her arms in the air, the tell-tale “embrace me” pose. I shuffle closer, glancing at my stepfather Andrew. He’s not nearly as expressive as Mum—I suppose that’s why they work—with a pleasant, quiet demeanor. But his mouth is pressed in what I think is a smile, beneath the beard. I had told my brothers, when I arrived, that I needed to speak with Mum and Andrew privately. So, naturally, they are all looking on. They’re wearing a myriad of expressions, somewhere between amusement and horror at having to share the loo with a girl. Hugging my Mum, I say for the eighteenth time, “It’s only temporary—”

“Shhh,” she interrupts, smoothing my hair. She’s more than pleased to have her baby birds back in the nest.

“Oi,” Liam is slouching against our bookshelf, skinny arms crossed. “Where are we to keep all our stuff then?”

I haven’t forgotten the Quidditch gear and food wrappers and dirty laundry strewn across my bedroom. Scowling, I pinch his arm, “You’ll figure it out. That’s my bloody bedroom you’re using as a rubbish bin.”

“Language,” my mother chimes.

I roll my eyes, “Mum, please, I’m twenty-six.”

“…And living at home with your parents,” Leo makes a crybaby motion with his fists.

My face turns darker than my hair. “The—the economy!” I sputter, but he roars with laughter. “Well at least I have a real job, unlike you lot!”

“For now,” says Luke, “You said it yourself. They’ll probably sack you as soon as the articles are written.”

I shoot him a glare. That certainly wasn’t something I planned on telling my parents. I can’t believe they’re ganging up on me like this! Like I’ve never even lived here! Ignoring my Mum’s looks, I advance at them, “Why, you little…” Within seconds, we’re all throwing slaps and pinches and hair-pulls, and our bookshelf is teetering precariously.

“Outside!” my Mum points to the door, while Andrew calmly sips his tea, “Go outside and play!”

Extracting myself from the tangle of boy-arms, I sniff boastfully, “I can’t. Because I have to go to work, at my real job, like an adult. Unlike some people I know.”

Really, I don’t go in to Witch Weekly today. But it sounds better than the truth, which is that I have to go buy a dozen false tiaras with certain male body-parts on them. True to form, I’ve forgotten tonight is Lisa’s hen night, and am rushing around doing everything last-minute.

My Mum rubs my arms, “Of course, Pickle. We’re so proud of you. Now, I’ll have that laundry finished by the time you return. Do you fancy a packed lunch?”

She’s barely finished her sentence before my brothers have toppled over with laughter. Somebody wheezes, “Ickle Pickle fancies a treat, Mum!” but I can’t tell which idiot it was.

“Oh, sod off!” I shout, and then whisper, “Yes, please, a cheese sandwich.” Errand-running is always better with a treat. My Mum winks and scurries off into the kitchen, pleased as punch. At least she’s enjoying this.

Andrew is grinning at me knowingly, so I mutter again, “It’s temporary.”

He nods, cheers-ing with his mug, “Of course… Pickle.”

Giving him my best hey-remember-when-I-was-sixteen-and-full-of-angst sneer, I bewitch my suitcases to float up the stairs. I trudge behind them, ignoring my brothers’ hooting. After hesitating on the precipice for some time, I push open the door to my childhood bedroom. It’s been eleven years since I’ve lived at home. I flew the coop quick as I could, to a one-bedroom flat with three roommates, to chase the London dream. But here I am again. Underneath my brothers’ mess, it looks the same: there’s a photograph of Myron Wagtail on the wall, and my stuffed bunny Philip is still perched atop my pillow. The laugher downstairs has finally quelled, and the house is oddly quiet. I end the charm and let my suitcases drop noisily to the floor.

Ah, adulthood.

*


“Can I help you find anything?” the shop keep’s voice cracks. He looks entirely too young to be working in a place like Use Your Charms. His arms are hanging awkwardly at his sides and one of his shoelaces is untied. But my arms are full of colour-changing feather boas (which I’m pretty sure are actually alive), inappropriately-shaped cupcake tins, and poppers that burst into glitter and sing dirty limericks. I’ll take the help.

“Yes, um, I’m looking for tiaras that have… um….” The kid stares expectantly, but I can’t bring myself to say it. He looks like he’s in the Fifth Year. After Jae, I’m a bit wary of young people. “Ah, how old do you have to be to work here?” I ask in a high-pitched voice.

He blinks, “Seventeen.”

“Right. I’m actually doing great, thanks. Shuffle along, then.”

After performing an Accio spell—which required shouting a word I don’t typically use in public—I have the tiaras. I balk at the cost of it all, but I haven’t been the most emotionally present best friend. Lisa is in a rough place. The least I can do is give her an embarrassing night, complete with inappropriate headwear and baked goods.

Hours later, I’m stumbling down the street, arms full of the aforementioned items, in a dress that is entirely too short. But I’m going to bloody well fit in with these girls. Even if that means wearing leopard-print heels and exaggerating my sex life. Tonight is about Lisa, and she’s going to have a proper hen’s night. It won’t be like the last time I saw them, two years ago, when I was grumping around and trying to raise awareness about the plight of the honeybees. A passing stranger catcalls, and I know it’s because I look like a proper idiot. I could barely squeeze into this tea cozy masquerading as a dress. I found it in the back of my closet, from ten years and ten pounds ago.

At last I see Oswald’s up ahead, and heave a sigh of relief. It isn’t exactly the kind of place I’d picture for a hen’s night—pretty posh, actually. Hundreds of leather bound books line the labyrinthine walls; giant dragonskin armchairs boast fluffy pillows that purr when you pet them.

I push on the heavy wooden door, twenty minutes—and definitely not fashionably—late. The place is very quiet. Soft music is drifting from where a Goblin plucks on something between a harp and guitar. I try to ignore the looks I’m receiving from sensible people, wearing climate-appropriate clothes. From across the room there is a flash of gold hair, and I spot Lisa sitting in a corner with her mates.

My stomach drops. Absolutely none of them are dressed for clubs. They’re all chatting politely, with tiny expensive cocktails in their hands. More than one of them is wearing a pants-suit.

Then I spot the prams.

“Shit!”

Several heads turn. I duck behind a giant oak column, my legs quaking.

Are these the same women?! The last time I saw them, they force-fed me pink liquor and made me sing Celestina Warbeck karaoke. By the end of the night, the Patil twins took turns puking in an alley, and Married-Redhead-Whose-Name-I-Always-Forget came within a hair of snogging a stranger. Now they’re quietly chatting about the weather, yawning by eight o’clock, and bringing infants!

I am such an idiot. Everyone else has moved on with their lives, and I’ve brought cupcakes shaped like breasts. I hide my face. Lisa is going to be so humiliated...

“Edie? What are you doing?”

I peek through my fingers to see my beautiful best mate. She’s put her hair up nicely, and is wearing a very modest blue dress. She eyes my attire, “Isn’t that what you wore to Terry Boot’s sixteenth birthday party?”

“Lisa, I’m so sorry, I’m such an idiot, I ruined everything!” I wail. The over-stuffed bag drops from my hands and one of the tiaras falls out.

Lisa turns beetroot but murmurs, always nurturing, “Oh Edie… Did you at least bring a coat?”

I shake my head and whimper, “Heating charm.”

She clicks her tongue and pulls me into a hug, and I immediately jump back. “You’ve got a bump!” I point to her belly, forgetting everything. The very modest dress makes sense.

She snatches my hand, hissing, “Shhh! They still don’t know, remember? I can’t drink anything so I figured we’d have a quiet evening. That way nobody would be suspicious.”

“Uh, I’m counting two prams over there. I doubt they’re going to care if you’ve jumped the gun on starting a family. You’re engaged.”

“Right, but…” she flushes again, “I still haven’t told Justin.”

My jaw drops, “Lisa, you have got to tell him. You’re, what, three months along? You’ve known for ages. What are you afraid of?”

She grows very quiet and her eyes pinprick with tears. Hormones. I’m still not used to this version of Lisa. At last she whispers in shame, “I’m afraid he’ll be mad that I kept it from him. I don’t want him to leave me again.”

“Oh, no…” I pull her into a hug again, tightening my grip. “Look at that rock on your finger, Lisa. That idiot loves you. He is absolutely mental for you. He made a mistake one time, and this is him telling you that he’ll never pull that again. Sorry mate. You’re stuck with him now.” I grin at her. It takes a moment, but she smiles back.

“I’ll tell him first thing tomorrow,” she says resolutely. “I don’t think this is an ideal conversation to have post-stag night. I’d say they’re three bottles deep into the Firewhiskey by now.”

“I’d say you’re right.” I grip her shoulder encouragingly, “Now, dry those eyes. You’ll want to clearly see their faces when I walk over there.”

Lisa laughs, “You do look like a call girl…”

We make our way over together: beautiful Lisa in her floor-length dress, and me in my strategically wrapped hand towel. “Hello,” I wave timidly, recognizing a few of the faces. It’s difficult though, with everyone’s horrified expressions. “I’m Edie Lennox. Remember me?”

Introductions and re-introductions are made. Nobody mentions that I look like the stripper hired for the evening. I do my best to appear enamoured by the babies, even though they look like little aliens with a penchant for drooling. Apparently I give a convincing performance, because soon one is being passed to me. I manage to deflect it like a Quaffle by purposefully knocking over Padma’s drink. I jump up to buy her a replacement. The Galleon is worth not bouncing somebody else’s spawn on my knee. (I’m going to make a spectacular auntie to Baby Turpin.) In fact, the night is going considerably well, until I catch a whiff of familiar perfume.

No. No, no, no, no, please God, no.

The front door has opened, and Rose Zeller is standing in its entryway. I whip my head accusingly at Lisa. This time she’s the one who peeps, “Shit.” Rose offers us a wave, hurrying over. Before she arrives, Lisa whispers in one marathon sentence, “I invited her back when I thought you two were mates and I thought it would be nice for you to have somebody familiar plus I thought it would be fun for you to have another single girl here so you two could kind of band together and have a good time and I’m sorry I forgot.”

“It’s fine,” I lie. “But she’s not single anymore, I’m afraid.”

Lisa quirks an eyebrow, but the question is answered for her. “Rose, how are you? It’s been ages!” cries Married-Redhead-Whose-Name-I-Always-Forget. “I hear somebody is having quite the romance.”

Rose grins, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Oh... Yes, Oliver and I have been spending some time together lately—” I swear to God she looks at me when she says it, “—but that’s not important. Tonight is about Lisa.”

She is immediately met with protests to hear more. Silently I sip from my Firewhiskey. Lisa catches my eye and tries awkwardly, “Yes, tonight is all about me… Let’s talk more about me… you bitches.” But she’s so selfless that nobody is buying it—everyone is bombarding Rose as she shyly evades their questions. I grumpily raise my glass to Lisa at her efforts.

*


As the night continues, Lisa’s friends drop like Nargles. They disappear one by one, until finally it’s just the bride-to-be, Married-Redhead, Rose and I. At least by now they’ve had enough cocktails to make use of the tiaras. They even politely nibbled at my poor excuse for cupcakes. As fate would have it, a boozy Rose has sidled up next to me, looking though half-lidded eyes. Somehow I’ve managed to steer the conversation away from Oliver, but it’s a losing battle. My urgent hand-signals to Lisa are unfruitful: it appears she’s trying to talk her mate out of getting a divorce.

I’ve completely exhausted the menial work-talk, which means listing my favourite office supplies twice over. I’ve prattled about the parchment-clips that remind you of edits to be made… I’m putting myself to sleep.

Then, just when I let my guard down, “I think Oliver is going to break up with me.”

“Speaking of work,” I mutter.

Rose adjusts her tiara, “We rarely spend time together when we’re not at some kind of public event. I mean, I actually kind of like the media attention.”

And have I mentioned those little parchment-clips?!” I quip hysterically.

“It’s bizarre really—”

“—also those little charms for sorting your post. Quite handy!” I try to strangle one of the fluffy pillows on my armchair. It hisses at me.

“I was even printed in an issue of WitchWatch, can you believe it? I’ve actually been receiving hate mail for it… Mostly from teenagers.”

“—and let’s not forget the Quick Quotes Quill.” I look down and realize that I’ve actually torn bits of stuffing from the pillow. It growls lowly at hops out of my arms.

Rose sighs heavily, “Really, I only see him when he comes to visit me at Witch Weekly, and at special events. D’you think that means something is wrong?”

I can’t help but feel that she’s less concerned with the relationship, and more interested in gossip. It’s the way our “friendship” has always been. We talk about things that are interesting and juicy, only for the sake of avoiding a lull in conversation. Her obsession with Theo, work gossip, and my attempts at pulling guys in bars—but never anything that matters.

“He’s busy,” I say tersely, “he’s a professional athlete.”

“I know,” she rests her chin in her palm. “His practises take up almost all of his nights, but…”

My eyebrow lifts. Unless Puddlemere has completely changed their schedule, I know for a fact that they pull doubles beginning at six in the morning and lasting another ten hours. If Oliver’s coming to see Rose at Witch Weekly, he must be using his only free time of the afternoon, between double-practises. But that would still leave his nights open to spend time with Rose…

“How is…um…how is he?” I hear myself saying, “Y’know. After the match and all.”

Rose studies me and I feel my face turning several shades of pink. Glancing away, I take a sip from my Firewhiskey. It seems she won’t deign to respond, but then she says carefully, “He’s…okay. Oliver doesn’t really talk about that kind of thing. Obviously he’s upset, though.”

I try to sound casual, “Well, any time a Quidditch player loses a match—”

“Of course that’s what it is! Why would he be upset with you?” she snaps. Seeing my stare, she recovers with an indifferent hair-tousle. I realize that she isn’t going to admit that I caused Puddlemere’s loss—that Oliver was looking at me. That I was what distracted him, even though I was sitting directly beside his girlfriend. Until now, I hadn’t even thought about it like that.

Rose murmurs to herself for a moment, searching for a change in conversation. She can’t take that she’s just showed her weak spot. For one wild second I feel genuinely sorry for her. How exhausting it must be, to plan and calculate everything you say and do.

Suddenly she laughs in a chummy way, “I would prefer we had more alone-time, but I’m certainly not complaining about the daytime shags. Let’s just say my desk has not been primarily used for paperwork lately.”

I shoot to my feet, shouting, “Wow, it is so late! How did—when could that have happened? Well I’d better scoot.”

“Oh, of course. Goodnight, Edie,” she says, the old glimmer back in her eye. “See you at work.”

I don’t even glance back at her as I gather my things. She’s drunk, and I’m being suspicious, but our entire conversation felt too conniving. See you at work…where I will most likely be shagging Oliver Wood. Again I wish for a coat. It’s hard storming out with dignity, after you can’t properly bend over to pick up your belongings.

I wave an awkward goodbye to Lisa—Redhead Friend is now sobbing uncontrollably in her arms. I catch the phrase, “…never even says thank you after dinner!” There’s no way in Azkaban I’m going over there. Lisa and I grimace at each other, and I know we’ll be meeting soon to discuss the overall insanity of the night.

Still wobbly in my heels, I head outside. It’s freezing, but I’m so flushed that I don’t notice. Heart pounding, I cross my arms and try to calm down. If I tried to Apparate back to my Mum’s right now, I’d splinch myself into twenty pieces. I close my eyes, taking deep breaths, and when I open them again Oliver Wood is standing in front of me.

I jump a mile, “What are you doing here?”

He’s bundled up in the brown dragonskin jacket, a red scarf knotted at his throat. His expression is entirely unreadable. Not like the last time I saw him, at the match. He had been burying his face in his hands. “I came to make sure Rose gets home in one piece,” he says. We haven’t spoken in forever—I’d forgotten how clearly he speaks; straightforward and with purpose. My legs begin to quake, and I tell myself it’s from the cold. “That’s a new look,” he almost smirks.

I realize I’m still wearing the inappropriate tiara. Snatching it from my head, I pluck a few hairs out and try not to wince. My mouth opens and closes several times before I titter, “I feel like I should say sorry? About the match?” It comes out as a question, punctuated by my nervous laughter.

Oliver shakes his head, his face darkening, “Don’t worry. I didn’t expect you to.”

At first I feel relief. What happened is in the past; it’s nobody’s fault. But then I realize what he really means: that I’m not the kind of person to apologise for my wrong-doings. I won’t admit fault even when it’s my own. He expected nothing more than stubborn silence from me.

“Oh,” I murmur, “Well, I meant…”

“Can you make it home alright?” he interrupts impatiently. The worst part—the thing that makes my stomach sink—is the genuine concern hiding behind his eyes. Wordlessly I nod. He returns the gesture, brushing past me and pushing open the door, “Then goodnight, Edie.”

“’Bye, Oliver,” I murmur, but he’s already gone inside.

Like a completely pathetic moron, I stand at the window and watch as he goes over to Rose. He’s jammed his hands in his pockets, stopping short of the armchair where she’s still seated. He nods curtly to Lisa, ignoring the heads that are turning in his direction. Rose staggers to her feet and he takes her hand in his. She looks like a toddler being guided along as she drinks in everyone’s stares. I turn and walk away before Oliver gets too close.

Snow is flurrying as I make my way down the street. Groups of friends stagger along, booming with laughter. My chest clenches as I think of Dean and Seamus. I have no idea what they’re doing tonight, or where they are. I don’t think I could face them right now, but I don’t want to be alone. In a last-ditch, completely pathetic move, I lean against the cold brick of the nearest building and find my two-way mirror. I stare at my reflection for a long time. The words come out in shame, “Jae Chang.”

Little orange sparks float under the surface of the mirror, like fish in a pond. I wait. After almost a minute I lose hope and am about to end the charm, when Jae’s face appears. The sound of booming music and loud voices is all around him. “Edie?” he shouts, “Is that you?”

“Yeah,” I plaster on a pathetic smile. “I was hoping—”

“I can’t hear you! I’m at this completely mental party. Where are you?”

“I’m in Diagon—”

“What?” he yells again. I’m the lowest scum of the earth, crawling back to him after I’d told myself otherwise. Suddenly his image shifts; somebody else is grabbing his mirror. “Who is that?” a girl laughs—a very pretty girl with coffee-coloured skin. Before she’s able to focus on my reflection, I quickly tap my wand on the mirror and the spell ends. I’m left staring back at my own face, mottled and pink.




Author's Note: So there you have it. Thanks so much to everyone who's stuck with this story. I know updates have been few and far between recently--but it really makes my day to know that some of you still look forward to reading about Edie's misadventures. This chapter's image is by Ande. Isn't it gorgeous?

Thanks for reading, all ♥


CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO



My shoes click powerfully down the marble corridors of Witch Weekly. There’s an important-looking stack of parchments in my arms. People nod politely as they pass. Nobody asks me to fetch them a sandwich, or to organize post. If I ignore the fact that I’ve just Floo’d from my parents’ house, I feel like a proper adult. My clothes have been really laundered; not just doused in fresh fragrance charms after weeks of wearing the same trousers. I’ve even got some spare Sickles for a proper lunch. It’s going to be a brilliant day. And after last night’s humiliating attempt at meeting Jae, I could use one.

I duck, narrowly avoiding a stressed-out owl as it barrel rolls away. When I right myself, my twitchy assistant is waiting for me outside my little cubicle. He’s wearing a different pair of thick glasses, holding a cuppa. I cannot wrap my head around having an assistant, especially because I think we’re the same age. When he sees me, he starts in excitement. “Here you are, Miss Lennox!” he hands the steaming mug over. “Today’s schedule is on your desk, as well as a message from Katie Bell.”

“Thank you, erm…” I never learned his name at the Puddlemere match. It’s my first real day back on the job, since officially taking over Rose’s article. The amount of contracts I’ve signed and charmed and finger printed is staggering. I could very well have signed away my left leg, for all I know.

“Ian,” he finishes for me, adjusting his trendy bowtie. I smile apologetically. “Miss Blakeslee and Mr. Ward are waiting for you in the atrium.”

Trying to look as though this is not a total shock, I thank him again. This must be another assignment that Rose conveniently forgot to mention during the transition. (I’ve already missed a meeting with Katie, scheduled for yesterday. The message on my desk is probably a response to the nine million capitalized “SORRY”s I owled her.)

I lean in closely to Ian, “Erm, remind me of the purpose of this meeting?”

“Oh, it’s the photo shoot for the next issue.”

“Photo shoot!” I gush. Ward mentioned the possibility of a formal introduction for me, their newest writer. But I’ve been expecting a tiny blurb at best. A photo shoot is beyond exciting. I pat my hair self-consciously, murmuring, “I wish they’d told me, I haven’t even properly washed. Well, I suppose there will be a hair and makeup artist…”

Ian stares vacantly, a polite smile on his face, “Of course.” He eyes my giant stacks of parchment, “Shall I organize these for you?” Soon he’s trotting off, pleased to have an assignment. The word “Labrador” comes to mind again. I want to pat his head and give him a treat. I silently vow to never give him the kind of rubbish Intern tasks that I was given.

The stone walls of the atrium rise into a dome, enchanted to let in the sunlight. Stained-glass windows of haute couture models line the walls. Hundreds of paper airplanes and owls dart overhead in a flurry of wings, parchment and feathers rustling. Ward and Blakeslee are waiting near the reception desk, chatting idly with the young and beautiful witch seated there. I swear I’ve never seen the same girl twice.

“Good morning,” I sigh when they turn to me. “This is such an honour, really, to be a part of this photo shoot. I can’t thank you enough.”

Blakeslee smiles strangely, but Ward is blunt as usual, “Why wouldn’t you be a part of it? It’s your job. Wood should be camera-ready by now. Shall we?”

“W-wood,” I repeat, stuttering.

How idiotic of me. It’s not my introductory photo shoot—it’s meant to go alongside my article. I clear my throat. “Oh, actually, wouldn’t Rose be better suited for this? She has more experience with our photography department—”

Blakeslee’s harsh look stops me. I’ve been on thin ice since she caught me breaking and entering. Making a fool of myself at the match was no help either. It appears the ice is melting faster than I thought. “You know, I’d actually love to oversee this,” I peep.

Edie, for once in your life, keep your mouth shut.

I silently follow the two editors, more conscious than ever that I am only here until the articles are published. I doubt I’ll even make a proper name for myself at Witch Weekly.

But I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself, because soon enough we’re in the photography wing of the building. It’s in the dungeons, and has always reminded me of a cheerier version of the Hogwarts Potions classroom. Except for the darkroom—that place is terrifying. An intern once got locked in there for a whole day; by the time they let her out she thought she was Celestina Warbeck.

My heart is hammering so much I think my ribs are about to collapse. It was less than pleasant to see Oliver last night. I certainly didn’t think that it would happen again so soon. We reach a large oak door. Two words have been magically carved into the grains: “Solid Wood.”

“Is that…?”

“The new title for your article?” interrupts Ward, “Yes.”

Well, then.

Inside, the back wall has been bewitched to look like a Quidditch locker room. Several photography assistants, dressed in all black, wave their wands and it becomes a pitch. More wand waving and the clouds roll in, the sun sets, and stars come out. Willing my eyes not to wildly search around for Oliver, I watch the backdrop as it changes.

“Wotcher,” Theo appears behind me. I turn a shaky smile on him, and my heart leaps into my throat—Oliver is standing a ways behind him. He’s watching me over Theo’s shoulder.

“Theo!” I screech, for some reason grabbing his arms and digging my nails into them. He winces but I’ve already gone too far. I pull him into a boa constrictor hug, even though we’ve never so much as shaken hands. He cries out in pain and I immediately let go. “Great day for a photo shoot!”

“Well, that’s not actually the real weather,” he points out—the Quidditch pitch is back to a gorgeous blue day.

“Oh… you,” I titter, playfully shoving him. He rubs his arm, looking at me strangely. Behind him Oliver is massaging his jaw, trying not to laugh. Twat. Theo quickly excuses himself, probably fearing for his life, and I abruptly turn away from Oliver. There’s an oddly large amount of people here. Most I’m certain aren’t even involved with the article, or the photo shoot. Why so many spectators? And where is Rose? Searching for somebody to speak to, I spot Mildred standing rigidly. I decide to try my luck.

Leaning against the wall next to her, I sip loudly from my tea. She doesn’t so much as glance my way. I reckon she’s even less fond of me after she caught us breaking in. “So…” I begin, but she only sniffs and goes to stand elsewhere. “Right, we’ll catch up later,” I call.

And then there’s nothing left to do but acknowledge Oliver. I hardly think Ward and Blakeslee would be happy with how strained our relationship has become. We’ve skipped right over the line of “professional,” and managed to entirely muck up “personal” along the way. But I remember the ice melting under Blakeslee’s impressive glare. I’d best swallow my pride and do my job.

I glance at Oliver again. He’s speaking with Theo, who is gesturing exaggeratedly, trying to explain some photographic concept. He’s always felt stifled here. He’d probably rather be doing some avant-garde nonsense, and not the Hottest Styles to Keep You Looking Cool. Oliver is giving him his undivided attention: feet planted apart, arms crossed, one hand massaging his chin as he analyzes. He’s wearing a dressing robe. I wonder exactly what kind of concept they’re going for here.

Somebody calls Theo over to examine the backdrop, and I seize the opening. Cupping my tea like a talisman to ward off uncomfortable conversation, I make my way. At least I’m wearing clothes that fit me today, and no genitalia-related tiara. “Hello,” I murmur.

“Hello,” he says too civilly. Strangely, I’m thankful for Ward’s probing eyes. I search for something to say, but he interrupts, “So… ‘Solid Wood,’ eh?”

My face turns scarlet, “I swear to God, I did not come up with that title.”

He smirks. He’s being cordial and distant, but I swear there’s some kind of that old mirth in his eyes. “Did you have fun last night?”

I wince, “I made a right fool of myself, if that’s what you mean. Dunno if you noticed.”

“Yeah, I almost didn’t recognize you without the tiara,” he teases. My gaze lifts to his, my lips parted. Are we back to joking with one another again?

“Did Rose make it home okay? She seemed a little, um…”

He stands a little straighter, goes a little more rigid. “She was fine. I saw that she got to her flat in one piece.”

She didn’t stay with him? That seems odd to me, and it makes something in my chest stir. Where is she now, anyway? Why isn’t she here? Theo is watching us from across the room, probably ready to get started. But I have to know. And then, because I’m incapable of not sabotaging our conversations, “So, is that what you wanted to tell me that day? After our interview, when we…” I clear my throat. “You said you wanted to tell me something in person. Was it that you picked her?”

As soon as it’s left my mouth I regret it. Picked her? But Oliver surprises me when he responds evenly, “Yes.”

My stomach sinks. So that’s it. No romanticised nonsense; it was simple and nonchalant. Two women were throwing themselves at him, and he chose one of them. I can feel that awful sinking feeling of wounded pride again. Why does this keep happening? Why is there this magnetic pull between us, if it’s clearly not meant to happen?

He moves as if to touch my shoulders, but stops himself. He wets his lips, “It’s not what you think, Edie. Can we talk about this later? When we’re not…” he gestures vaguely around us.

There’s something burning behind his eyes again, something desperate. I’ve seen it before, but what has it led to? “No,” I put a hand up. “That’s all I need, I think we’re done here.”

He presses his lips together, exhales loudly, bores his eyes into mine. I’ve frustrated him. Good. The silence between us is electric.

“Oliver, we’re ready for you,” Theo calls. He’s watching us knowingly and I can’t meet his gaze.

“Right. Excuse me, Edie.”

He pauses self-consciously, his hands going to the ties of his robe. Wait, what? And then, maintaining complete eye contact, he removes it. And I’m such an idiot, because he’s not wearing the robe for the photo shoot—he’s wearing the obnoxious pair of tiny men’s underwear. He looks completely idiotic, but he’s too competitive to back down. Clearly he’s humiliated—he’s blushing all the way down his neck to his chest…

A weird sound escapes me. There are muscles where I didn’t know muscles could exist. The scar circling all the way around his shoulder is visible, but I barely notice it. He isn’t cut like a diamond, or flawless. There’s definitely physical evidence of his love for a Peverell Porter. But it’s even better; more real. I realize that my jaw has dropped, that I’m staring, that everyone knows I’m staring, and worst of all—that Oliver knows. I swear to God there is smugness under all that embarrassment.

He tosses his robe carelessly, it lands over my head like a lampshade. “Hold that,” he quips and turns on his heel.

Tittering laughter fills the room and I pull the robe off my scarlet face. I wish it were an Invisibility Cloak. Glancing around, I see several WW employees whispering knowingly.

I embarrassed him, so he turned around and did the same to me, tit for tat.

What a spiteful little…

Oliver is awkwardly taking directions from Theo. Apparently he doesn’t do anything halfheartedly. But I can’t watch him stretch out on the locker room bench, looking stonily into the camera lens. The flash of light and puff of smoke jolts me back. Quickly I drape the robe over a chair. Trying to ignore everyone’s looks, I speed-walk from the room. Well, now I understand the large number of women there watching… I pace along the corridor for a moment, hands on my hips, trying to even my breath. Well I was certainly not expecting all of that. Suddenly I stop and look up—Mildred is a ways down the corridor, and spots me. She’s leaning against the wall, flushed and fanning herself. We both freeze. There is an awkward pause. And then for once in our entire lives, Mildred and I share a knowing look.

I am not okay with how attracted I am to Oliver Wood.

*


My shoulder-bag drops to the floor of the Lennox family den. With the heaviest sigh my lungs are capable of, I slump into our squishy armchair. Thank Merlin nobody is at home, unless Andrew is in our shed playing his music. I couldn’t face my invasive mother or hyperactive brothers right now. It’s been a very strange day. Perhaps I’m being melodramatic. But it’s more than annoying that I had such a visceral, physical reaction to somebody who I’m supposed to be “over.” If I’ve even been “under” Oliver in the first place.

Before I am able to contemplate the different images associated with being under him, I snatch a newspaper from the nightstand. Somewhere in all of the anger—and, let’s face it, sexual frustration—I find dull excitement that it’s an issue of The Oracle Underground. Quickly I thumb through to the back, to the employment section. I wonder if they position for reporter has been filled yet, as I haven’t heard anything back. My eyes scan the parchment in excited curiosity…

But the position is no longer listed. It’s been filled by somebody else. My shoulders slump. This time there wasn’t a rejection letter; not even a “We were impressed by your portfolio, but unfortunately…” I reckon I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, it was a very competitive position—I’m sure hundreds of people applied. I should be thankful for my stint at Witch Weekly, however brief. But for some reason my eyes feel like they’re beginning to sting.

Blinking the sensation away, I hear the back door opening and my mother’s high-pitched voice. She sounds like she’s talking to somebody, but instead of footsteps I hear a click-clack trotting across the floors. I furrow my brow.

“Surprise!”

I turn around and see my Mum, grinning from ear to ear, holding a squirmy little ball in her hands. Whatever it is, it’s making grunting and snuffling noises, and it’s covered in short hair. “Mum, what is that?”

“I’ve got you a dog!” she says proudly, and then it looks at me with the most pathetic face I’ve ever seen. There’s something gooey dripping from its squished-in nose.

“Are you sure?” It looks more like a bug-eyed rat to me. “Mum, what are you doing? I don’t need a dog.”

She sets the thing down and it immediately runs over to me, jumps on my lap, and stares me in the face. But it doesn’t lick or squirm around; just stares. It’s the size of a large housecat, with bat-like ears. My hands are glued to my sides; I’m behaving as though it were a Blast-Ended Skrewt. Hypatia is oblivious, clasping her hands beneath her chin. “I knew this would cheer you up! You’ve been so glum lately. And you can keep her here—”

“That’s a she?” I warily glance down at the oddly still creature, and it whimpers.

“—just until you’re back on your feet. I thought you could use a pet. You’ve never even had one, really. You’re the only person I’ve met whose owl ran away your First Year …”

“For the last time, Mum, owls cannot run!” I bellow.

But she’s right. I haven’t seen Pigeon since Year One and every animal since—owl or otherwise—hated me. So I cannot fathom why my Mum thought one would make a good gift. But Hypatia is notorious for getting an idea into her head, and bulldozing past everything and everyone. Tentatively I reach out and clumsily pat the creature’s head. It doesn’t bite or run away—I even think its curly-cue of a tail wags. What a pathetic little thing. Maybe we’ll get along better than I thought.

Apparently I’m mimicking the dog’s forlorn expression, because my Mum says, “Edie? What’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothing,” I murmur absently.

But my Mum quirks an eyebrow and waits.

Maybe it’s the way this animal’s enormous eyeballs are boring into my soul—or it’s just the fact that I’m so tired of keeping secrets. I don’t know what it is; or why I choose this moment; or especially my mother—but I tell her everything about Oliver Wood.

I tell her how we met in the pub, and how he kissed me, and pretended to be Viktor Krum because he wanted to get a laugh from his stupid teammates. I mention seeing him at St. Mungo’s, and how different he was. How he refused to continue his appointment with Lisa until she made sure I was okay. The way he acted at the pub when he came in with Rose, and how he watched me, and how he came to the WNA Gala. I don’t realize it until I’m relaying the story that he wanted to ask me out for a drink that night, but his shyness got in the way.

My Mum has gotten up to make me a cheese sandwich, because I’m nearing hysteria, when I get to the part about him almost kissing me after the interview. She is in the other room, but the clinking of dishes stops for a moment. After the silence I tell her about the note he gave me that I couldn’t read, all the way through the photo shoot today.
When I’m finished, I lay back in the chair, exhausted and nibbling on the cheese sandwich. My Mum is silent for a very long time—which is incredibly rare. Halfway through my story, the little dog fell asleep on my lap. I’ve been absentmindedly stroking her back. This little bugger isn’t so bad after all.

It’s begun to rain, tapping on the windows lightly. By some miracle, nobody else has returned home. My Mum stares out the window so long that I begin to think she wasn’t listening to me at all. At last she turns and says, “Don’t you realize that you’re trying to convince yourself that you don’t have feelings for him?”

I freeze mid-pet, a feeling in my stomach somewhere between nausea and elation. But I recover quickly, “That isn’t the point. He’s with Rose, now.”

“Well when did you give him a chance?” she throws her arms in the air, exasperated. I’m shocked. Perhaps it’s selfish, but I was hoping for empathy, not to be chastised. “It sounds like there’s a reason he didn’t go after you the way he did Rose—why else would he write you a note?”

I shake my head, “You’re just doing what Lisa does. You’re just trying to make me feel better. Oliver doesn’t like me that way, because—”

“Oh, bugger that!” Hypatia rises to her feet in another dramatic display. “He’s just doing to Rose what you did to that awful Cormac fellow.”

I pause to consider this, but I just can’t see it. Hypatia is nowhere near done, though.

“Edie, you know I love you. But you have got to stop being so critical of people. Yes, he has power and money and he’s not a philanthropist, but you don’t know the whole story!”

“That’s the thing, Mum. I do, because I’m interviewing him—”

“Don’t be so blind,” she interrupts again. I want to tell her to drop the histrionics, but she says, “I’m sorry to be harsh with you, darling, I really am. But somebody has got to tell you. You don’t know everything, because he tried to explain himself on numerous occasions, and you let your wounded pride get in the way. Oliver has tried to apologise, a few times in fact. And you’re going out of your way to hurt him with your articles, because he hurt you. That’s not…that’s not nice. In fact it’s rather wicked, and I think you’re better than that.”

I am stunned into silence. Is this really true? I haven’t really heard anyone else’s opinion on the matter. Then again I’ve kept everything a secret. Lisa tried to say something about my cruel article, but I completely wrote her off. Have I really been so arrogant? Am I actually at fault here?

She sits back down, our knees almost touching. “I love how strong-willed you are. It’s one of my favourite things about you, and I am so proud to call you my daughter. But right now, you have to allow yourself to see the other side to the story. This Oliver fellow isn’t perfect, because he’s human. Merlin knows you’ve made your share of mistakes—we all have.”

My Mum puts a hand on my own, which has gone limp. The dog shifts and grunts in my lap but falls back asleep. “Edie, if you don’t really care about this person, then leave it alone. The damage is done. Write your articles and you’ll never have to speak to him again. But if you do care about him—” her eyes bore into mine, “—and I think we both know which it is, then you need to forgive him. You owe it to Oliver, and you owe it to yourself.”

I honestly can’t think of a word to say. There is a ringing in my head. How arrogant and hurtful have I really been? Suddenly everything that Oliver has ever done—the almost-kiss, his willingness to apologise, the written note, the way he treats Rose—is in a different light. Why haven’t I allowed myself to contemplate another side to this story? Why have I been so utterly biased, unwilling to examine the possibility of another truth? Apart from it being bad journalism, it makes me a rotten person. I want to crawl into a hole somewhere and sleep for days.

I don’t even notice that my Mum has gotten up until she plants a hand on my shoulder; a kiss on my head. “Love you, darling,” she says into my hair. I murmur something back—I think—and the next thing I know, she’s disappeared. The rain has picked up, playing a quiet rhythm on glass. It’s grown much darker outside. My eyelids feel like lead.

I want to sleep for days…

When I awake, still on the armchair, there is a crick in my neck. The dog has disappeared from my lap. Somebody, probably my Mum, has draped a blanket across me. A fire is going in the hearth, and I roll over, trying to settle back down under the weight of everything. My eyes land on the newspaper, lying open on the coffee table. It’s open to a black-and-white photograph of a very small woman being guided by two Aurors. It’s a moment before I recognize Grimma Longfinger, and despite my heaviness I lean closer.

I can barely read the headline in the dying firelight: GOBLIN RIGHTS ACTIVIST ARRESTED.




Author's Note: Phew. That was a bit of a heavy chapter, but it was time for Edie to see things from another person's perspective. Poor Lisa tried to talk some sense into her, but she's just too polite and Edie steamrolled right over her.

So what do you guys think? Is Hypatia right, or is Oliver totally past the point of being forgiven? I reckon this is more of a "fluffy" chapter, in that it's a lot of romanticalish emotions. And I promise the dog is relevant to the story, although it may not seem like it now.

Thanks so much, everyone. The end isn't far away! ♥

Chapter 23: The Opposite of Dreadful
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CHAPTER TWENTY THREE



In the morning, I sit at our small breakfast table. It’s a tight squeeze, wedged in-between the kitchen counter and the wall, but it’s nicely positioned beneath the window. December sunlight drifts in and I watch the sparse snowflakes drifting about. After falling asleep in the armchair so early, I’ve been awake for hours. I massage the crick in my neck and frown at my cup of green tea. My Mum doesn’t keep caffeine in the house, which somehow always catches me off guard. But I reckon a morning without coffee-induced anxiety is in order. I’m training my thoughts on simple things, like how red my hair actually is in the sun. The small—and nameless—dog-creature snores at my feet. There’s an impressive drool puddle beneath its face. I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of magical mutt. There’s something very Snorkack-like in her squishy nose.

I glance at the two parchments on the table. The first one, a note from my Mum, is a polite request that I help her with charming the Christmas decorations this evening. It’s a small way to cheer me up after our talk last night. The second parchment is from Lisa. It came by owl post, several hours ago—while I grumpily blinked myself awake, she was probably ending her overnight shift. The letter was short: I told Justin. He threw up, like a lot, but now he’s excited. Thank you for being supportive. Catch up soon!

Of course he’s excited, you silly twit.
I grin at the thought of Justin vomiting in the bin, and then screaming and grabbing Lisa in a hug. I still can’t believe there’s something resembling a Bertie Bott’s jellybean growing in her belly right now. Times are certainly changing.

I try to imagine everyone’s lives in five years. Lisa would be a certified Healer, while Justin would go down to part-time law. Their daughter—yes, daughter, I’ve decided—will be impossibly pretty, with her hair and his green eyes. She’ll be argumentative and bright. They will probably relocate to a quieter area, I realize. Maybe I could see them on the weekends? But they’ll be so busy…

I look back to her letter. “Catch up soon” now looks more like “Catch up to my perfect life! If you think you can. Loser.”

I don’t want to imagine where I’ll be five years from now. Against my better judgment, I wonder about Oliver. And Rose. How will their careers be? Although I’ve envied them, they’ve both actually passed their prime. With Oliver’s shoulder injury, it’s a miracle he can still play at all. And Rose dug her own grave with the article scheme. Will anyone in the publishing world trust her again? Maybe she and Oliver will stay together. They’re on the same trajectory.

I look down at Nameless Dog, snoozing away. “Looks like it’s just you and me…” I pause. A lock of red fringe is dangling in front of my eyes, “Ginger.”

Ginger releases a particularly loud snore, and I smile into my bitter tea.

*


When my brothers drag themselves from bed—at the crack of noon—I make my exit. It’s amazing how you can miss your family until the moment you see them. Deciding to take Ginger for a walk, I finagle a wonky Tethering Charm so she won’t run off. Not sure if she can physically run, but with my pet record thus far, I can’t be too careful. We take the Floo to Diagon Alley, which may have given her a panic attack. It’s hard to tell, though. Her breathing always sounds like the Hogwarts Express.

There is more snow in London. The heavy damp air reveals what we’ve all been trying to ignore: winter is here to stay. The shops are already decked out in full-on Christmas regalia. Dozens of different Christmas songs assault my ears from every direction. ‘Tis the season. I cast a Heating Charm on Ginger when her round little body starts shivering.

Remembering the article headline from last night, I slowly meander towards Gringotts. There are even more Aurors here now. I spot at least ten, patrolling the different tiers of the building, and standing on the street corners. Two particularly large men in cloaks guard at the entrance. I stare up at the gleaming white façade and think of Grimma Longfinger. The Oracle Underground said that she magically bound herself to the iron gates in protest. She only made it for several hours before the Aurors forcibly removed her. She’s probably already in Azkaban, locked away for fighting for her cause. I thought this kind of rubbish ended with the War.

Ginger whimpers. The Aurors are glowering down on us, and I feel my skin prickle. “C’mon,” I turn away. The magic in the invisible tether pulls and she trots along.

The cobblestones are slick with ice. Passers-by unsheathe their wands to melt things, and I join in. When we are out of sight Gringotts, something starts pulling on my coat. At first I think it’s Ginger, bumbling along too slowly. But there it is again, pulling harder. I glance down and am surprised to see a folded parchment poking from my pocket. Somebody must have just placed it there. Confused, I search for whoever could have done it. But nobody is giving me a second glance. Scurrying beneath a nearby shop awning, I extract the note.

RALLY TO FREE GRIMMA LONGFINGER
AT THE GATES OF GRINGOTTS BANK
JANUARY 3, 2007.

JOIN US IN ENDING THE WRONGFUL ARREST
OF GRIMMA LONGFINGER,
CHAIRWOMAN OF THE FEMALE GOBLIN COALITION.
IT’S TIME TO END TO GENDER DISCRIMINATION
AND INCITE POSITIVE CHANGE FOR WOMEN.


My face lights up. This is really happening. Some kind of revolution is rumbling in the ground. The Goblin protests haven’t been receiving as much media attention as, say, Puddlemere’s most recent loss. But maybe this will put them in the limelight. The rally is a month away. How many people can I recruit before then? There’s a tingling in my fingers and toes, like magic.

“What kind of dog is that?”

I cram the flyer into my pocket, crumpling it. A young-ish girl stands a few feet away. She looks to be in that pre-teen phase that I always recall with a grimace. When you can’t decide if you’re supposed to be Devil-may-care or feminine, and so you attempt to straddle that line. She’s wearing wooly tights and a fluffy purple coat, her face dusted with freckles. “What kind of dog?” she repeats expectantly, jutting her chin. Ginger waddles over and sits at her feet, staring up with bug-eyes.

“I—erm—I have no idea, actually,” my voice rises an octave, as it always does when I speak to kids. The girl flicks her lively gray eyes at me. “Do you want to pet her?”

“Yeah,” she kneels and rubs Ginger’s round frame. The dog’s tiny excuse for a tail wags and then, with a great flop, she is on her back for optimal belly rubs. The girl laughs, “Hello, doggy.”

“Her name is Ginger,” I say, embarrassed by my own sickly-sweet voice.

“Really? He doesn’t look like a Ginger.”

“Oh. Sorry.” I have no idea why I apologise. More silence, “Do you have a dog?”

She imperceptibly shakes her head. It’s like I’m not even here. “Well, maybe if you’re very good, then old Saint Nick will bring you one,” I suggest.

This time she looks up, scoffing, “I’m twelve years old. I’m not an idiot. I know Santa Claus isn’t real.”

“Ah. That is, I meant—”

She stands, brushing off her gloves, “You don’t know how to talk to people younger than you.”

“Erm, no, I reckon I don’t. Well, in any case, maybe if you ask your Mum and Dad—”

“Uh, they’re dead?” She says this as if I had missed a gleaming ‘HELLO THERE! I’M AN ORPHAN!’ badge pinned to her coat.

“Ah.” I want to break into a mad sprint. But now I’m feeling quite guilty. So she has no parents—is that why she’s out here alone? Maybe she’s been allowed outside the orphanage for a day, and this is the only social interaction she has. At any rate, she’s kneeling back down to Ginger, so I’m stuck for the time being. Should I buy her an ice cream? A hot chocolate? What do particularly unfriendly children like these days?

“I don’t mind talking about it,” she says, unprompted. “It happened when I was a baby. I don’t really remember them. Besides, I know you’re wondering how they died.”

My face goes several shades of scarlet, “No! I wasn’t!”

Lies.

She rolls her eyes but doesn’t say anything, scratching Ginger’s chin. The dog is beyond elated to receive this much attention. Attempting to change the subject, I ask, “So, what’re you called, then?”

But she interrupts, “My Mum wanted to come here, to buy me new shoes. My Dad told her it was snowing too much, but she wanted to go anyway, so they had my brother watch me. Anyway, they were going past Olivander’s, you know the wand place? Then the Death Eaters came to kidnap him.” She pauses, looks up, “Remember that?”

Numbly, I nod. It was in 1996; ten years ago. That was the attack that marked the turn of Diagon Alley from a bustling hub to a ghost street. And she’s talking about it as if discussing the weather, “The Death Eaters killed a few people who were standing by. I reckon just because. Anyway, my parents were two of them. My Mum was still holding the shopping bag with my new socks and shoes when the Aurors came.”

My mouth is as dry as parchment. Is this how she’s always told the story, and to complete strangers? Does she think this is her fault? I should say something comforting, but what? I’m not fond of opening up about my family, particularly to strangers. But I say carefully, “I don’t remember my real dad, either. He ran off when I was six, and left my Mum with me and three little brothers. I remember a few things about him, but most of it’s gone fuzzy. That was twenty years ago, though.”

She does the math and her eyes bulge, “You’re twenty-six?” It’s as if I’d said ninety-three.

“Oi! That’s not so old! I’m still cool!” It’s, of course, the lamest thing I could have said.

She sniffs with feigned indifference, “So…what do you remember about him?”

I’ve never really spoken with Seamus and Dean about my Dad. Nor did it often come up with Lisa. My Mum and I like to pretend he doesn’t exist. I don’t want to start talking now. But then I imagine this girl heading back to the orphanage for the Hogwarts holiday.

“Um, well... I remember that he always wore wooly shirts, and they always smelled like smoke. Not cigarette smoke, but like he’d been burning leaves or something. He always had sawdust on his shoes, too. I think he liked to work on our house. Even though he was fine leaving all his hard work, in the end.”

When I finish, she nods with vague interest. “Hmm,” she murmurs, and that’s that. “Oh, and because you asked, I’m Ada.”

“Edie,” we shake hands awkwardly. Ada. Why does that name sound so familiar? It’s common, and I’ve probably heard it a thousand times. But for some reason it’s tugging at the corner of my mind.

There y’are, you little bugger!”

Ada is suddenly lifted into the air by strong arms. She cries in horror, “Oh my God, stop it!” But he throws her over his shoulder like a sack of flour, laughing at her embarrassment. If I weren’t sick with nerves, I would be chuckling along. But then Oliver’s eyes land on me and the mirth disappears.

Seriously?” he barks, surprising even Ada. She drops to her feet and smoothes her hair. Oliver is several paces away, but I’m very aware of his imposing height, “You’re harassing my sister for information? That is pathetic, Edie.”

“No!” I exclaim, horrified. I’ve never seen him like this. “I really had no idea!”

It all makes sense, now. Her blunt speech and expressive, calculating eyes—they’re the same as his. I remember that night, at The Hanging Moon. “Will the lovely Miss Ada be joining you?” Oliver was so uneasy at the mentioning of her name. I had thought he was hiding a secret girlfriend. But it was his much younger sister he was protecting.

Then there’s the long list of war casualties that I had stumbled across, researching for the articles. So Jacob and Iona Wood were of relation. I knew that Oliver had fought in the Battle of Hogwarts, but I hadn’t known that it was so personal for him. But that’s why he returned—because the Death Eaters had just murdered his parents. He had only been twenty, and was left with a two year-old to care for. For me, even helping to raise my brothers was difficult. I can’t fathom the sacrifices that Oliver has made.

And now he thinks I’m trying to glean personal information from her. The worst part is his knowing look. He knows that Ada has just told me about their parents. It must be my nauseas, guilty expression; he can probably read me like a book. I avert my gaze but he says, “So, will this be your next piece de resistance?”

“Oliver, please,” I murmur. “I didn’t even know who she was. Everything is off the record, honestly. She just wanted to pet my dog.”

He studies me for a long time, while Ada cranes her neck up to him. Now that she isn’t supposed to understand what we’re discussing, she’s very interested. But Oliver must decide that I’m telling the truth, because he suddenly looks at Ginger, “Ha! And what is that thing?”

Only I am aware of the strain in his voice. He’s changed the subject for Ada’s sake. I let out an equally forced laugh, “My Mum surprised me with a gift.”

“I want one,” Ada announces.

“No way. Not ‘til you’re seventeen,” he ruffles her hair, much to her horror. “But if you really want a dog, you’ll be getting a real one and not some lap-mutt.”

“Oi!” I cry, but he cracks a genuine smile. Somehow, mercifully, the mood has lifted.

Ada looks at Oliver, “Can she bring him to our house?”

Her,” I whisper indignantly, but then I realize what she’s said. My palms go sweaty. An afternoon spent at Oliver’s home. It’s probably three stories high, full of expensive furniture, and baths like those of Hogwarts.

And it’s probably littered with Rose’s thongs.

“Oliver, don’t you have practise today? Your match against Holyhead is tomorrow.” Of course he knows this. But I want Ada to think I can’t come over.

At the mention of Quidditch something flickers across his face, and I know he’s thinking of their loss. How it was basically our two faults, together. “We’ve already had practise this morning. Deverill wants us to rest.” He sees my wary eye and adds, “We’ll be up at four A.M. doing drills, worry not.”

“Oh, well, I just don’t—”

“Aw, you wouldn’t say no to a couple of orphans, would you?” Oliver smirks, clasping Ada’s shoulders. They watch me with the same mischievous look.

Pulling the orphan card, eh? He’s got a royal flush, and I’m stuck with a pair of sixes. I can’t decide if the feeling in my stomach is elation or dread.

I clear my throat, “I reckon we could pop in.”

Ada allows herself a genuine smile, satisfied. She delivers another pat-pat to Ginger’s head, “Let’s go, then.” She whistles and the dog trots after her, besotted. I avoid Oliver’s stare that bores into my head—he has still not grasped the concept of Yes I see you there; I’m just ignoring you—and trail behind Ada.

*


This cannot be the right place. The house we’ve Apparated before isn’t much bigger than Lisa and Justin’s. It’s probably Oliver’s guest-room. Or his closet. It’s certainly not the sprawling bachelor penthouse I imagined. He lives in the country outside of London, “A forty-minute broom ride away.” The land itself is the most impressive. There’s a large fenced-in garden and another woody area behind the house. There are no neighbours in sight, only pastures and fields.

It’s snowing harder here, and a thin sheet of white crunches under our feet. As soon as we’re inside the gate, Ada throws a stick for Ginger to fetch. The lazy creature only blinks at her.

“She’s not doing it,” she calls, disappointed. She tries again, to no avail.

Oliver is standing beside me, “Quite the noble hound you have there.”

I give him my best sardonic smile, and he shifts his weight so that our shoulders are almost touching. It’s quite the picturesque moment. Maybe he’s feeling comfortable, but I am still reeling. I need to be alone, to think. Smoothing my hair, I quietly excuse myself to the loo.

*


My hands grip the porcelain sink. Just an hour ago, today’s biggest revelation was the FGC rally. But learning Oliver’s family history is staggering. In all my research, I never came across anything about a little sister, or the murder of his parents. But of course there was so little information. He’s very careful not to make waves; he wants to remain as private as possible. He doesn’t follow the lifestyle of a famous athlete, and it makes sense now. He lives away from town, in an unassuming house, avoiding the press, rarely taking women home—all for Ada.

Some kind of revelation is staring me right in the eye. It’s too close, too blurred out of focus right now. But I feel that somehow, a question has been answered.

I pull my hair into a half-hearted bun, cooling the skin on my neck. Well, can’t hide in the loo all afternoon. One more deep breath, and then I’m walking down the polished wooden hallway. “Don’t snoop, don’t snoop, don’t snoop,” I murmur for all of four seconds before giving up.

Oliver’s house is surprisingly minimalist. His den is very sparse, with only a dragonskin sofa and armchair. Two of his old broomsticks are crossed over the hearth—a Nimbus 2000 and a Firebolt. On the mantle below them is an array of Quidditch medals and cups and trophies. In the middle is the Hogwarts House Cup from 1993. There is an old piano pushed against a window, and I wonder which Wood sibling uses it. I plunk out a note and the piano bursts into a deafening Ragtime. Nearly screaming, I whip out my wand, “Silencio!” I freeze in silence, whooshing out a breath when Oliver doesn’t come barreling in.

I’d say that’s enough snooping for one day.

Going back the way I came, I pass by a room with the door ajar. Halting in my tracks, and I step carefully backwards. Inside, the walls are a dusty rose colour. I spot a four-poster bed, stuffed animals, and a ruby red armchair. A fairy-light lamp has been draped with a colourful scarf, casting purples and blues. The walls are covered in moving posters of bands—some like the Weird Sisters, while others depict winking, frosty-haired boys. I smile to myself, remembering the age of not knowing which music genre was “right,” and listening to everything under the sun.

“Do you like my room?” Oliver calls sarcastically and I jump. He’s standing with his hands in his pockets, smiling knowingly. “I may go with a darker fuschia, for the walls.”

“I always saw you as more of a lavender fan.”

He stands beside me and looks into the room, “Always snooping for something, eh, Miss Journalist?”

“No, really, I can’t express it enough—meeting her was the least of my intentions. I didn’t even want to come over today.”

“Wow, thanks,” he rolls his eyes, looking very much like Ada.

“You know what I mean. I just… I can’t get over that you have a little sister.”

He shrugs offhandedly. There is a pause and he says, “You look nice with your hair pulled back.”

My heart thuds. “It’s getting long. Erm, could I have some tea? Please?” It’s a bit rude, but it was the first thing to jump to my head. Plus I need something to hold, as I currently can’t find anything to do with my hands.

Oliver tilts his head behind him, “C’mon.”

Moments later I am seated at a bar stool in his kitchen. The walls are cream, with the underlying brick exposed in places. Oliver waves his wand at the hearth, where a small cauldron hangs. Flames leap to life and crackle pleasantly. The smell of burning wood again reminds me of my Dad. If Ada hadn’t asked me about him earlier, I would never have made the connection just now. I’ve gone my whole life feeling indifferent towards him. For all I know, he could be dead.

Oliver breaks the silence, “I was a total shock to my parents. My Mum had me when she was sixteen. They got married and didn’t plan on having any more kids but, well,” he gestures outside. “She’s lived with me ever since.”

I shake my head, “It’s so horrible, what happened to your parents.”

His face darkens for a moment with the memory, but he shakes his head, “It was a long time ago. And Ada can be talkative about it, as you noticed.”

“I had no idea you’ve been raising a young girl.” My eyes are betraying my thoughts, so I say it anyway, “That’s really incredible.”

He puts a hand to his chest, “Do my ears deceive me? Is Edie Lennox admitting that she’s been wrong?”

I laugh bitterly, “It might be.” Then I remember running into him outside, after Lisa’s hen night; the embarrassing five minutes we spoke. I had mucked up what should have been a sincere apology, about the Quidditch match. My Mum's words echo in my head. “If you do care about him, then you need to forgive him. You owe it to Oliver, and you owe it to yourself.” I swallow.

If I care about him…

In the quiet light of his kitchen, I say, “I’ve really misjudged you. I'm sorry, Oliver.”

He stops in his tracks, looking as if he’s waiting for me to shout “Just kidding! You’re a twat.” But when I don’t, he positively beams at me. It's as if I’ve just told him he’s the greatest Keeper of all time. “Well. Apology accepted.” We smile at one another for what feels like ages. For the first time since the Hanging Moon, I let myself entertain that there may really be something here.

The cauldron begins to boil and he turns away. I’m grateful. I couldn’t have taken much more eye contact and kept my trousers on. I glance out the warped glass and see that Ginger is definitely in control of fetch. Every time Ada throws the stick, she sits and waits until Ada gives up and goes to get it. But she’s just as stubborn and determined as her brother. Oliver sees and chuckles to himself.

“She’s just like you, you know.”

“Yes she is, to a fault. Stubborn as a mule and doesn’t have a filter on her mouth. Good throwing arm, too.” A cup of tea is levitating over to me. It’s covered in pictures of kittens, and I can guess who had a hand in the selection.

“I dunno, I’d say you have a filter. It’s hard to tell what you’re thinking sometimes.”

“Maybe you just aren’t very perceptive.” I don’t know what to say and take a sip of tea. “How did that photo shoot turn out, by the way?”

I groan, “Oh, I have no idea—I had absolutely no hand in that. It was all sprung on me last-minute. That must have been so embarrassing.”

He shrugs, “Well, it was your job. I wanted to help out. But that’s where I draw the line, I’m afraid. I will definitely not be reading your hard-won article, now that it’s framed in photos of my skivvies.”

Oh, right, the malicious article where I come at you like an angry Hippogriff. Yeah, best not, mate. But I don’t want to think about the articles right now. This is too… nice.

Oliver comes to sit across from me. His wavy hair is sticking up in odd places, as always, and he hasn’t shaved for a time. I’m trying not to stare at the stubble on his jaw when he says, “So, Lisa and Justin’s wedding. Next week, eh? Have you gotten your plus-one all sorted? That young artsy fellow from the Hanging Moon, perhaps?”

He means Jae. “Ugh, definitely not. I’m not bringing a date. But… how did you know about the wedding?”

“I told you, Justin did me a favour years back. He’s invited me.”

I rest my chin on my fist to keep my jaw from dropping. Lisa somehow failed to mention this? I know she’s busy with the baby, and the wedding, and a full-time job—alright, it actually makes perfect sense that she forgot.

“You’re going,” I repeat. “Will I see Rose there?” I’m trying to sound buddy-buddy, like I’m the perfect wingman for a wedding. But it’s obvious that I’m only testing the waters.

Oliver scratches his nose, “Uh, Rose hates weddings, actually.”

“Oh.” I highly doubt that Rose Zeller, queen of champagne and soirees and fancy dresses and romance, hates weddings. “Well, that’s too bad.” I wonder if he can tell that I am not in the least disappointed.

“Italy though, eh? How lavish,” he luxuriates on the word, and I roll my eyes.

“Oh, but don’t you know? It’s the site where he realized, during his plaintive travels, that Lisa was The One.”

“That’s Justin for you,” Oliver sucks air through his teeth. I wonder again how they could possibly know each other. Maybe it’s from as far back as Hogwarts. It could be anything. But I’ve gleaned enough personal information today. No matter how well we’re getting on, I won’t ask.

A comfortable silence settles. He watches as I sip from the ridiculous kitten mug. Every time I glance at him he smiles down at his hands. Something about that makes me feel very pretty.

When he reaches across to push a lock of fringe from my eyes, I grow still. “Your hair is getting long,” he murmurs and drops his hand. The teacup audibly trembles as I set it down, but he doesn’t tease me. My blood is absolutely humming.

The door swings open and Ada comes in, looking grumpy. The little dog trots behind her, shaking the melted snow from her coat. “Ginger is rubbish with fetch,” Ada announces.

“No luck then?” Oliver extends an arm, and she reluctantly comes in for a side-hug. He squeezes her and she makes a face, trying not to smile. “Maybe next time,” he’s talking to her, but his gaze meets mine.

Next time.

I think my ovaries are about to explode, so I quickly stand. “Well I should scoot,” I make a wild grab for my shoulder bag, nearly knocking the teacup over. “Ha! Whoops!” I say too loudly. They’re watching with the same amused eyebrow-quirk. Merlin, they’re the same person.

“Don’t get up!” I put a hand up to stop Oliver. “I’ll see myself out. Thanks for the tea. Ada, it was wicked meeting you.”

I haven’t said the word “wicked” since I was fourteen. Oliver coughs to cover his laugh, and Ada gives what I think is meant to be a smile. My face has gone fifteen different colours—and I’ve nearly knocked over a houseplant—by the time I get myself and Ginger outside. When the door closes, I release a squeal and bury my face in my hands. My go-to reaction would be to say something like, “That was dreadful. Catastrophic, even.” But the thing is: it wasn’t. Not at all.

“That was brilliant,” I say into my palms, grinning from ear to ear. Ginger snorts in agreement.






A/N: WOW, FLUFF ALERT. AmIright? Another lengthy chapter, or a peace offering for taking so long to update.

So, a bit important: I've gone back to Chapter Twelve and gotten rid of the part in the interview where he reaveals Ada's identity. So if you read an earlier version and are confused, the story has been changed so that Edie never found out until now. I love the idea of Oliver having a twelve year-old sister, and being totally helpless with hair and clothes and the Birds and the Bees and the like.

Thoughts? As always, thank you so much for reading this story. We're getting very near to the end. Hopefully some questions have been answered.

Thank you to Otachi at The Dark Arts, for the lovely chapter image ♥



CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR


“More up in the front, though.”

“Seamus, I’ve told you, I don’t know what that means.”

He eyes his reflection in dissatisfaction. Meanwhile I impatiently thwack my wand against his chair. After not seeing each other in weeks, his head randomly appeared my fireplace today. He had asked brightly to come over; I had thought to catch up. Really, he just wanted somebody to fix his hair for the wedding.

“Y’know, like, more…” he gestures vaguely to his head.

That isn’t even a complete sentence!”

“Yeesh, calm down,” he chides. “You’re more neurotic than usual, aren’t you? What’s got you so wound up?”

I stammer before landing on, “I have to be in Italy soon.”

This is only partially true—yes, I am anxious about that. Long-distance Portkey travelling always gets me on edge. What’s appealing about spiraling through nothingness across countries? Plus Lisa wants all of the bridesmaids to be there, like, twelve hours early (okay, five.) And I haven’t even begun to think about my Maid of Honour speech.

But mostly I am beside myself because Oliver is going to be at this wedding. And weddings make me particularly, erm… hormonal.

I glance over to my messy bed. The December issue of Witch Weekly is peeking from beneath my pillow. I’d shoved it there when Seamus Apparated into my room, unannounced. I wasn’t, like, reading the magazine to be weird or anything. I was, of course, only interested in my article. Making sure that the margins were to my liking and all. It had nothing to do with the photographs of Oliver. I haven’t dog-eared the page featuring a full spread. And I certainly haven’t memorized the way he looks lying across the locker room bench. His knee drawn, looking somewhere between humiliated and smoldering, lips parted just so, jaw unshaven...

“…So really, that’s what I’ve been trying to say,” Seamus finishes, gesturing to his hair.

I fan myself, “Is it hot in here?”

“You weren’t even listening!”

He’s right. This daydreaming is getting out of hand. I’ve been spending most of the week re-playing images from Puddlemere’s last match against Holyhead. The day after meeting Ada, I rushed from Witch Weekly to sit alone in a dingy pub, and watch the match on their two-way mirror. (Mum doesn’t believe in these newfangled devices.) Puddlemere won by a landslide. After several very impressive saves, Oliver is back on the fans’ good side. The look of pure elation on his face when Puddlemere caught the Snitch was infectious. When I recall it I start grinning like an idiot.

There is a knock at my bedroom door and my Mum pokes her head in, “Edie, do I hear a boy?” Honestly, I’m too distracted to be annoyed at her barging in. Her eyes land on Seamus in obvious disappointment, “Oh, hello Seamus. Ready for the big day then?”

Trust me, you’re not the only one who wishes Oliver was in my bedroom.

In fact, I’ve spent the greater portion of this week imagining what could have happened that day at Oliver’s house. If Ginger would have just played fetch, Ada would not have come back inside, when Oliver had pushed back my hair. There would have been two electric seconds, and then we would have been at each other from across the counter. I would have clambered across it, and he would have suddenly pulled away, muttering, “Watch the kitten mug!” He would have moved it to safety and then in one movement of super-athletic fluidity and prowess, grabbed me by the backs of my knees and slid me over onto his lap. I would have run my hands through the hair that’s always sticking up in places, and he would have squeezed my thighs and…

“Edie, are you feverish?” my Mum’s voice sounds miles away. “You’re quite red.”

I open my mouth but no words come out. Thankfully, Seamus the Talker sighs dramatically, “Anyway, I would be ready, if your daughter could get her act together with this hairstyling!”

My Mum says delicately, “Oh, well you know Edie just isn’t very good at all of that. She could never do her own hair growing up.”

He laughs, gesturing to me with his thumb, “Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, am I right?”

“I’m right here!” I shout. “Mum, I have to go. I’m supposed to be all the way in another bloody country. Could you fix this twat’s hair?”

“Language,” she whispers, but nods anyway. “Of course, Pickle. Run along, and I’ll help your friend. Seamus, would you like anything hot to drink? Or perhaps a chocolate biscuit?”

Seamus ooohs excitedly, kicking his feet. Soon they’re giggling together like schoolgirls. Grumpily, I grab the bridesmaid’s dress hanging on my door and stomp downstairs.

She didn’t offer me any biscuits, I pout.

*


When I first heard that the Turpin-Finch-Fletchleys were getting married in Vernazza, I rolled my eyes. A seaside Italian wedding is just so… Justin. Why can’t he just grumble “I do” in an unassuming garden wedding like the rest of the lot? A little cake, dancing, and bubbly would have suited Lisa just fine. But Justin’s dream wedding probably required a twelve-hour ceremony officiated by the bloody Pope himself, followed by a Pegasus-drawn carriage and trumpets and fireworks and LOOK MUM I’VE REALLY MADE SOMETHING OF MYSELF.

From what Lisa’s told me, though, she has toned it down. The only over-the-top nonsense to be had is the location: old castle ruins barred off to Muggles, and charmed to come to life once we step inside.

So, given my preexisting mental image of this lavish wedding, one can imagine my shock when the Portkey (a nauseating figurine of two birds singing “All You Need is Love,” thank you Justin) drops me directly in the middle of a bar fight. Perhaps “bar fight” is a bit strong—really it’s two drunk, bro-y looking wizards causing a scene in a very posh vineyard.

“Oi!” I duck the spell cast by a bloke in a pastel blazer and loafers. He would have missed spectacularly anyway. He’s so drunk that he topples onto the perfectly preened, sun-dappled, prenuptial grass. The early afternoon sun is high, and little glimpses of the sea peek out from beyond sprawling rows of grape vines and olive trees. It would be very beautiful, were I not almost just hexed in the face.

A hand clasps on my shoulder. I raise my fists in imitation of a 1920s boxer, but it’s only Dean (who doesn’t bother to cover his hoot of laughter.) He scurries me away just as the two men, who are either laughing hysterically or doing some kind of new war-cry, come at one another again. I am led over to the shady little table where Dean has staked out. On the table are two empty wine glasses, a sketchbook and his artist’s quill. Sensing the warm air, I remove my cloak.

“Quite the setup. How picturesquely Mediterranean of you,” I tug on the tie he’s wearing with a gingham shirt and gray suit. His glasses are gone and I can actually see his face now. “What’s all the fighting about?”

“Some of Justin’s law school mates, apparently. Bunch of idiots. They’re arguing over who won the pub crawl of 2001.”

One of them bumps into a nearby display of expensive-looking cheeses and grapes—with a Freezing Charm I stop it just in time. My Maid of Honour senses are tingling. “Lisa never hears about this,” I order, my wand righting the last bottle back to its proper place.

Oh! Lisa! She’s probably losing her mind right now, her little hummingbird heart beating a thousand miles an hour. I’m supposed to be here for her. “Speaking of Lisa, I need to go help her with… getting married,” I fumble. “Why are you here so early, though? Came to get pissed and reminisce with the boys?”

Dean shrugs, “Nothing better to do. And I haven’t seen you in ages.”

He says it and suddenly I’m aware of how true it is. Merlin, when was the last time our little trio spent any time together? (I am not counting Seamus’s “hair appointment” as quality time.) It must’ve been after we all broke into Witch Weekly. That was over a month ago… and only because I begged them for help. I reckon it all got so messy, with my constant lying, that I couldn’t remember what they knew and what they didn’t. Eventually it was easier to avoid my best mates.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “Things have just been so insane lately…”

Even I’m aware of how rehearsed it sounds. Dean presses his mouth into a line and nods. There is silence, other than the wind in the trees and the chatter of the crowd. He seems at a loss without his go-to move of pushing his glasses back up his nose. His hands flutter at his sides before he puts them in his trouser pockets.

Shoving him gently, I force a smile, “Well save me a dance at the reception, eh?”

He grins but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes, “Yeah, sure.”

“Two Galleons says they recite that Bible verse. Y’know. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast…”

“Oh, Merlin,” he covers his face. “Alright, I bet you three more that Justin recites some original poetry.” We shake on it, and only a hint of tension remains.

Offering one last pathetic smile, I head out of the vineyard—or start to, before recalling the cheese display. I do a rather impressive back-leap and grab a handful. The skinny attendant witch casts a disdainful look, but I don’t care. I’m on a quest to find an abandoned castle, where a bride in distress awaits. This is a bloody fairytale wedding, after all.

*


When I finally arrive at Lisa’s changing room, she is not the one in distress. I throw the door open and slam it behind me, leaning heavily. I’ve just sprinted up multiple staircases and am panting like a goat in labor. My eyes lock with Lisa’s. She sits before an enormous mirror, powder brush paused midway to her cheek. There is a beat of silence.

“My mother found you, didn’t she?” she says just as I heave, “Claire is here.”

It’s true. I’ve been detained for the last thirty minutes by Claire Turpin, who is just as beautiful as Lisa in a severe way. She likes me, I have at last realised after ten years of deciphering her code of affection. But she’s a very intense woman, her icy blue gaze enough to render me a babbling idiot. She always seems to know when something has gone horribly wrong in my life, and that’s when she chooses to “check in.” More than anything, she’s interested in my love life.

“I’m sorry,” Lisa groans. “She really does mean well.”

“So what if I don’t have a boyfriend!” I shout the words that I wanted to say to Claire, “I have a job now. I’m a fully-functioning adult!”
Lisa returns to her mirror, “You’ve got cheese on you.”

“Aw,” I try to wipe the residue from my jumper before resolving to lick it off. Lisa snorts, rolling her eyes. I poke her in the back, “Hey. You’re getting married today.”

She flushes beetroot and beams, “I know!”

“And you’re going to have a baby.”

“I know!”

“You’re old.”

She swats my hand and I give her a tight hug, verging on suffocation. “I’m so happy for you,” I say in a rare moment of sentimentality. Weddings, mate, seriously. Her cream-coloured lace dress hangs from the wardrobe door. She’s charmed the waist higher, to hide the small bump in her belly. “I see you don’t want to do the big reveal today.”

“You mean telling Justin’s extremely conservative great-aunt that I’m pregnant? No, thank you. I’m hoping she won’t notice that I’ll be giving birth only six months into the marriage.”

I shrug, “Great-aunt Annette is getting up there. And six months is a long time.”

Lisa laughs in shocked horror, but I can see the cogs turning hopefully. She’s a little more devious than she lets on. I perch on the bed, watching her struggle with makeup charms. This goes on for some time until I tut, “Oh, come here.” As I perform minimal charms (since when has Lisa needed makeup anyway?) we chatter on and on. The open window lets in a warm breeze, the likes of which England hasn’t felt in months. In the distance, a cluster of brightly coloured stucco houses perches over a small harbour. The water is still and very blue.

“So you’ve invited Oliver,” I broach at last.

She drops her head in sudden remembrance, “Oh, I honestly completely forgot about that. It was before you two knew each other. Totally Justin’s doing. I’m sorry, is it going to be awful?”

“Not…completely, no.”

“Have you spoken with him? Is he bringing Rose? I can’t even remember everyone we’ve invited.”

I can’t help my triumphant tone, “Not bringing her, nope.”

Lisa looks at me knowingly. I should tell her everything about Oliver, and how I’ve developed a crush on a famous athlete who is dating my narcissist coworker. But on her wedding day? Seems a little selfish. Also seems like a pretty legit excuse to put it off again.

As delicately as possible, I ask, “How do he and Justin know each other, anyway?”

Lisa looks uncomfortable. Her answer shocks me, “Justin was Oliver’s lawyer. They knew one another distantly, and I reckon became sort of friends during the trial.”

“His lawyer! For what?”

She’s fidgeting now, “Um… I can’t really say… But it has to do with the St. Mungo’s children’s ward—EDIE!”

I’ve lost control of my wand spectacularly. Her left eye, where I have been applying the faintest touch of smoky colour, is now ringed in an explosion of inky black. “Sorry! I can fix it! But you’ve known about this the whole time?”

“Edie, I know your articles are important to you, but I am getting married in a matter of hours and LOOK AT MY FACE!” Her rarely-heard screeching makes me peep a quick apology and set to working the counter-charms. In a matter of moments she is, thankfully, back to normal.

Even though I am dying to ask more about Oliver, the look on her face tells me not to. Yeesh, she is really aggressive these days. The subject is dropped. Ignoring the hippogriff in the room, we set back to our idle chatter. I change into my navy blue bridesmaid’s dress. It’s nice and swishy, with only one shoulder strap and some kind of sparkly waist cinch. I feel pretty, but I can’t let it go. What could Oliver have hired a lawyer for? Does it have to do with the death of his parents, or Ada? Trouble with the Magical Mob? Illegally trading dragon eggs, maybe?

As I twist my hair into some kind of formal-looking knot, I think about Lisa’s reaction to my article. She’d chided me for being mean—I hadn’t realised that it was because she knew something about the St. Mungo’s fiasco. It seems that I haven’t been the only one keeping secrets.

*


Standing next to four insanely beautiful part-Veelas was not something I had taken into account. Lisa’s other bridesmaids are all family, with impeccable posture and very shiny skin. We look like a “One of These Things is Not Like the Other” puzzles on the Prophet children’s page. Especially after I spent approximately thirty seconds in the sun and am now covered in freckles.

We are all clustered in a small room like sardines, waiting for the music to cue us. Through the crack in the doors, we can see that the atrium of the castle is teeming with guests. Lisa is making a game of pointing out all the people she’s never met, who were eager to escape the London chill. The shattered windows have been magically repaired, and the late afternoon sun streams in. The vines and leafy overgrowth still crawl along the walls, charmed with white flowers and bobbing fairy lights. Benches full of people line the long, hallway-like room. At the head, where Justin is waiting, is a round stained glass window. It looks like the sun, in whites and yellows and pinks.

Alright, so it’s a damn beautiful wedding. Justin did well.

I glance over my shoulder to Lisa. I wish I could be standing with her, but I have to walk in first. She is absolutely stunning, flawless, the most beautiful person to have ever walked the earth—of course. Her blue teardrop earrings are the same colour as her eyes, but nowhere near as bright. She touches her hair for the eighteenth time and I give her a reassuring look that it is still in place. As we all wait in silence, several things are going through my mind.

Lisa doesn’t look like she’s going to bolt. Is she going to bolt? Probably not. But if she does I have to tackle her, that’s all there is to it.

Also, Justin’s brother is at least a head shorter than me. I shouldn’t have worn heels. Hopefully he won’t notice the sweat when we link arms.

And lastly, but more than anything, Oliver is somewhere in that room.

Then Lisa and Justin’s song begins to play, interrupting my thoughts. Within the first two notes I start hyperventilating like a well-exercised pony. Don’t cry don’t cry don’t cry. The last thing I need right now is to be swollen-faced and runny-nosed. The doors to our room are charmed open and everyone’s heads turn in one giant wave. I spot Dean and Seamus, the latter of whom is sporting a trendy hairstyle. Nice work, Hypatia. He gives me a hugely inappropriate wave as I wait for the EXACT MOMENT in the song when I am to step out, as previously designated by Justin. I spot the groom and stick out my tongue; he makes a face back.

Under the music is the barely audible sound of a door closing. I glance behind me and my heart stops—Oliver is late, like he is to everything. He’s standing in the enclosure with us, looking embarrassed. He offers a small wave hello to Lisa. They really do know each other. How could I have been left in the dark about this? Everyone in our little huddle is staring at him. Then our eyes meet and I feel my stomach drop, because even though he is surrounded by five stunning Veelas, he is smiling at me.

Justin’s brother Peter links his arm through mine, jarring me. I glance his way—and see that he is positively blubbering. One glimpse of his red, tear-streaked face and I nearly burst into laughter. I glance over my shoulder at Lisa. She’s struggling to keep quiet as Peter blows his nose tremendously into a kerchief. I meet eyes with my best mate and we grin at each other. Then the music is in the exact right spot and I step out, giving Peter’s arm a consoling little pat.

*


After a blissfully short ceremony—wherein they did not recite Corinthians, but Justin did indeed allude to his own poetry—the applauding guests part like the Red Sea. Half herd themselves like cattle towards cake and hors d’oeuvres, while the others swarm the bride and groom. I distinctly hear Seamus cry, “They have lobster puffs!” He and Dean sprint away. Although I want to hug Lisa and Justin and physically cling to the past, refusing to admit that they are moving on, there is Peter to deal with. He’s refusing to unlink his arm from mine, now sobbing hysterically into my shoulder. Throughout the ceremony he emitted little bursts of emotion at particularly touching moments, such as the exchange of vows and when their cat, Philip, served as ring bearer.

“There there,” I mutter disinterestedly as I pat his head. We’re back in the small room where we began. I’ve whisked him away for the sake of everyone’s embarrassment.

“It was so—so—” he breaks into fresh sobs. “D’you think we’ll ever find a love like that?”

Not if you keep crying in public, mate.

“Am I interrupting?” Oliver raps on the door, glancing from me to the sobbing mess on my arm. He’s clearly trying not to laugh.

“Oh,” Peter says dejectedly, “You’ve already found your somebody. Well, congratulations I suppose. Looks like I’ll be leaving alone tonight. ‘Peter Finch-Fletchley, party of one.’”

“Oh, uh, Peter, this is my… my friend…”

“Oliver,” he interjects, extending a hand which Peter shakes limply. “Edie, darling, shall we have a drink?” Before I can answer he steers me away gently by the elbow.

“Erm, ‘bye Peter!” I call pathetically, “Hang in there, champ!”

Oliver snorts and I shove him. Instead of following the overwhelming mass of people, he grabs two glasses of bubbly from a tray that magically floats by. It’s the expensive kind, with the bubbles that float into the air and pop like fireworks. We head outside onto a stone patio overlooking a flower garden, where a dozen other people mill about. The sun is still over the horizon, settling down into a cool evening.

Although I’m trying not to, I’m staring at Oliver. It’s killing me. I want to know why Justin was his lawyer, but I’m not sure why I want to know. So that I can publish the information? Or because I’m genuinely interested in his past? He catches me staring. I avert my gaze to a young woman with long chestnut hair. Oh no. My heart stops, but with a huge sigh of relief, I realise that it isn’t Rose.

That’s right—Rose. Oliver’s girlfriend.

He hands me one of the champagne flutes but I don’t sip from it. I’m staring at the little fireworks display. I can feel the questions fizzing inside me in the same way. So, we’re just going to sit here and have a pleasant evening, ignoring everything. Chat about how Justin and Lisa are a good match, then I’ll ask how Ada is doing, and he’ll ask me about my plans for the Christmas holiday. How long can I keep my mouth shut?

Oliver begins, “Poor guy. Couldn’t keep it together—”

“Why didn’t you bring Rose?”

Apparently not very long.

He stills and I plow on, “Really. Because I know that she doesn’t hate weddings. And the other day, at your apartment, I swear you almost…” I can’t say anything else. My face has turned perma-beetroot and will never go back to its normal colour.

“Do you really want to talk about it this time?”

I furrow my brow, “’This time?’”

“Yes! I’ve tried to explain all of this a thousand times. I tried to meet with you at the coffee shop, the morning after The Hanging Moon. You never showed up. And then I explained it all in a letter, which you set on fire, you lunatic. And then I bloody tried again during that photo shoot, against my better judgment. It’s become pathetic, really.”

My heart is hammering so loudly I almost can’t hear him. It's happening. Everything is coming to a boiling point here, now, at this wedding. I reckon it’s about time to get it all out on the table. I suppose I’ll hear the full-on rejection story now. About why he chose her over me, and how he’s sorry to have led me on, but he hopes we can remain acquaintances. Maybe I can join them for lunch sometime soon, just to catch up, and he’d really like it if Ada could still play with Ginger. A horrible image surfaces of Oliver and Rose, watching arm-in-arm as Ada finally teaches Ginger how to fetch. Meanwhile I will be in the bag, Clear-Up Charming dog poo.

“Listen,” I start, hot with anger for something that hasn’t even happened yet.

This time he interrupts me, “I only started dating Rose because I didn’t want you to get in trouble for that photo. The one from the Muggle shop, when I wanted to kiss you.”

Thud. “What?”

He scratches his head. I see that his champagne flute is trembling. He’s nervous. “Obviously your boss would be furious. And I know how much your career matters to you.”

You mean my fake career. The one I used in attempting to ruin yours.

This is quite possibly the last explanation I had been expecting, in all of my sleepless nights. This was all something that he did for me? I drop clumsily onto the stone banister overlooking the garden, nearly dropping my glass. Oliver reaches out a steadying hand but doesn’t touch me. “Astonished” doesn’t even begin to explain it.

“But what does Rose have to do with anything?”

“If she and I were dating, then everyone would assume the girl in the picture was her. Instead of you.”

“You saw the picture?”

“I… I found it, yes,” he sits down next to me. Oliver never reads his own publicity. Did he buy a copy, like I did? Tear out the picture and stare at it for hours on end? “Rose likes the publicity, and going to big events, and having her photograph taken. I don’t have feelings for her. She’s a distraction. And don’t give me that look,” he says before I can speak. “She isn’t in love with me either, Edie. Nobody is being wronged here.”

I remember my relationship with Cormac, all those years ago. Neither of us had a shred of emotional investment. We’d used each other. Nobody was hurt in the end. But we’d certainly taken advantage of our situation physically. Part of me wonders if Oliver and Rose are… But I can’t ask. And does it really matter? I’ve slept with Jae since having feelings for Oliver. I have absolutely no grounds for judgment.

“But isn’t Rose worried about her career? She could still get in trouble, maybe.”

He shrugs, “She isn’t the one writing about me.”

Forgetting that I’ve actually spent time on my hair today, I run my hands through it stressfully. I don’t know whether I want to smile or pass out. Oliver puts a hand on the small of my back. I shut my eyes, forcing myself to notice everything: the warmth of his palm, the slight tremble in his fingers.

Things begin falling into place. Rose talking about how she never sees him outside of public events. The way she’s always showed off their relationship, even from the time when she was only interviewing him. “It’s such a strange feeling to be dating a celebrity. We can hardly go anywhere without people following us.” I had distracted him during the Puddlemere match, and Rose had been so defensive about it. There was press there, I realize. There was a chance for me to publicly outshine her again.

She’s in love with the limelight, not with Oliver.

“I thought you would have figured it out,” he says. “Then you were always so hostile that I eventually stopped trying. I thought everything had completely backfired, and that you wanted nothing to do with me.”

“You come to Witch Weekly to see her all the time,” I still can’t let myself believe this. “I see you there almost every time I work.”

He shakes his head, cheeks flushing, “Not to see her.”

The breath whooshes from my lungs and I hunch over in bewilderment. I look up at him. This is the same person who I’ve been blindly fighting against for months. I have been immensely wrong. As pathetic as a Fourth-Year, I whimper, “But I thought you didn’t fancy me.”

Oliver smirks, rubbing my back, “Quite the opposite.”

“This is all true.”

“All of it.”

His hand is still on the small of my back. I realise that I’ve never touched him. Even though I’ve wanted to for so long, I’ve always sat stonily at a distance, watching with hard eyes, a deeper part of me smoldering away, waiting. But it was there. There was never a sudden moment when I realized that I had feelings for him. We have been a long, slow-winding and catastrophic landslide. Everything that fell apart horribly has settled and collected together, and created something imperfect; something very real. Makeshift. And then the landslide was over, and somewhere along the way I’d already fallen for Oliver Wood.

With decidedness, I reach up and place my hand on the back of his neck. He freezes, staring ahead of him. I run my fingers through the wavy pieces I’ve always liked for their unruliness. He closes his eyes. And then, because I really do want to—and because I reckon I owe him at this point—I turn his head towards me, lift my chin, and press my lips against his. This time, I kiss him.






Author's Note - PHEW. It is done. Well, the story isn't done, but there is the big explanation about Oliver and Rose. What does everyone think about that? Is he still a jerk? Was it totally predictable? Is anybody back on the Ediver ship? We're sending out life rafts...

So other stuff. Justin is Oliver's lawyer! And Dean is being sulky again! And Seamus loves lobster puffs!

Well, I hope everyone liked this (SUPER LONG THANK YOU FOR READING) chapter. I've been waiting for this moment for almost two years(!!) and it was gratifying and fun to write.

I do not own the Corinthians "Love is patient" verse, or the Beatles' "All You Need is Love."

(A big thank you to visenya at TDA for this super-sparkly chapter image!)

Chapter 25: Good Decisions
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CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE


At the slightest pressure of my fingertips on the nape of his neck, Oliver gives, eagerly. He turns and for a second his forehead rests against mine. His eyes aren’t quite shut—he’s heavy-lidded, waiting. But now I’m afraid to move, and if I even blink, he’s going to disappear. This isn’t really happening. These kinds of things don’t turn out for anyone. Maybe for Elizabeth and Darcy, but they’re yellowing inside the pages of Muggle books.

His lashes are resting on his cheekbones the way they did in the Muggle shop, months ago. I tilt my head, and I kiss him. It’s the tiniest of pecks, like two First-Years hiding in a corridor. I’m testing. When I pull back and study him, his eyes are closed. He could be sleeping, but his hand pulls me back to him. It’s warm and dry like a stone baking in the sun. This time it’s safe to close my eyes.

Oliver kisses me again, and again, and again, and again, and it’s the easiest most natural thing. Like taking to water—I was quick to learn. When my Mum first brought me to the lake I ran in headfirst, scaring her half to death, only to come up paddling and laughing wildly. With Oliver there is no stumbling; no uncertainty. Wherever I move he’s already there, with a hand on my waist or my neck, as calm and all-encompassing as the lake. He’s cautious, afraid I’ll bolt, like some forest creature.

That is most certainly not happening.

I don’t know how much time passes. At last I can’t take it anymore and will myself to pull away. His tongue feels like Firewhiskey—there’s dizziness in my head and warmth my belly, but I need to pace myself before I’m drunk off him. Our eyes open. Even though we’ve been pressed together, I’m startled by how close he is. We sit back and laugh in quiet embarrassment.

“Well,” is all I can manage. I search for my champagne, because it’s something to do. The glass is warm. We must have been at it for some time. I dare a glance. Oliver is leaning forward, elbows resting on his knees. He’s squinting, but the sun is at our backs—I think he’s trying to keep from smiling too widely. Feebly, I loop a finger through his trouser pocket. I’m no good at these things, but still he returns my smile before we have to look away again.

A group of guests across the courtyard laughs at something. Apparently my wedding hormones are in full swing, as the sight makes me feel as bubbly as the drink in my hand. The little old couple…still laughing together after all of these years… Is the sun shining brighter? Did Oliver slip some acid in my drink, or is this how being in like feels?

His hand hovers in the air before resting on my knee, “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.”

“Hope I didn’t disappoint.”

In response he leans over and very lightly kisses my collarbone. It’s the lightest of touches but he may as well have just ripped off my pants. Miraculously, I have worn a nicer pair tonight (read: no holes in them.) But that doesn’t matter, because I’ve just made an embarrassingly loud gasping sound. Forget taking like a fish to water—I’m drowning.

“Excellent,” I peep. “Capital.”

Oliver rights himself, “So… what now?”

What now? Well, we should probably find a remote tower where I can rip your trousers off like they’re on fire. Preferably a room with sturdy rafters.

“...probably tell Rose,” he’s saying, interrupting the nice visual. My stomach twists.

“Ah, right. There is the issue of sweet Rose Zeller.” I surprise myself, “Well, she deserves to be told in person, at least. It’s a fake relationship, but you at least owe her a fake dignified breakup.”

“I reckon you’re right,” he says. “So… does that mean that I just fake cheated on her?”

I grimace, “Didn’t really think about that.”

“I didn’t really think about anything, other than wanting to kiss you.”

Very, very sturdy rafters.

I clear my throat, “Should we maybe, just for her sake, take it easy for a bit? At least until you talk to her?”

Shut up shut up why are you even talking, stop moving your mouth, just go find a quiet room somewhere. She’d do the same thing to you.

Oliver runs his hands through his hair, “If that’s what you think is best.”

Clearly, neither one of us is behind the idea. Fighting the urge to punch myself in the face, I say, “I think it is.”

He nods, “I’ll tell her tomorrow.”

Tomorrow? Can’t you just leave the wedding and come back? But I know it’s not possible. Once again, I’ve dug my own grave for Rose’s sake. First by practically blackmailing Blakeslee to keep Rose’s job, and now this. My eyes travel to Oliver’s lips, and when he catches me staring he breaks into a grin.

Is it too late for take-backsies?

He nods resolutely, as if delivering a locker room pep talk, “Right. We’ll just have to make do. We’ll just enjoy the wedding like two normal people. I’ll talk to Rose tomorrow, and we’ll… take it from there.”

I force a smile, “Brilliant.”

And then our eyes lock and we both physically tense, fighting the urge to spring at each other hungrily. So much for self control. Oliver says, “I would walk away right now, if you want to keep that promise.”

I clench fistfuls of my skirt, groaning in frustration. “Ugh, fine.” I move to stand up and pause, a smirk on my lips. Oliver watches me warily before I lean over, grabbing a fistful of hair and kissing him heavily on his jaw. “But you’d better tell her first thing tomorrow,” I say in his ear.

He blinks rapidly, heaving a breath, “You’re horrible.”

“I mean it! 12:01 in the morning, mate!”

“The absolute worst,” he calls to my retreating back, but I can hear the smile in his voice.



We return to the castle several minutes apart, just in case. Plus it’s more exciting this way. But it turns out that our caution is unnecessary. The hundreds of guests are too preoccupied with free alcohol and snacks to even notice we were gone. They mill about the large, roofless hall, or sit at the many white-linen tables. Our view of the sky has been charmed to look like a sunset, all bright oranges and pinks.

I snort again at the lavishness. Justin.

A string quartet and harp are magically playing themselves on a small stage. Above, bright tropical birds flit around. Once teacups, they are the result of elaborate transfiguration that took four adults an hour to complete, as we scratched our heads and tried to recall our NEWTs. Trays of champagne, grapes, cheeses, and Seamus’s coveted lobster puffs float through the crowd. I spot him strolling behind one tray, popping puffs into his mouth. Dean is most likely trying to blend in with the wall somewhere.

Leaning against a stone column, I try to compose myself. I’ve just snogged Oliver Wood. And he fancies me? And I wrote mean things about him. You’ll deal with that later. But now I can’t snog him again, at least until he fake-breaks up with Rose. Will she even care? Probably. I’ll be sleeping with one eye open, no doubt. Don’t think about that either.

Subconsciously I touch my lips. I want to kiss him again.

My breathing is almost back to normal when Oliver returns from the gardens. An astonished laugh bursts from me. Even though we were only kissing, he’s undone his outer shirt. He makes a show of buttoning it and fixing his tie, looking as if we’d just had a romp in the ruins. When we lock eyes he’s smirking. So much for secrecy. I shake my head at his joke, but it’s no use. I’m beaming again.

Oliver winks—actually winks at me—and disappears into the crowd. My eyes dart around the room, but again, nobody has given a second glance. How can everyone be so indifferent? Don’t they hear the bells and drums and trumpets be going off inside my head?

At that moment Claire Turpin points her wand at the sky, and the sunset turns inky blue, dusted with stars. She’s about to make some announcement, but the crowd is too busy Oooh-ing at the display. When they continue chattering, her sweet little spell turns into a flare of sparks. The room hushes under her icy blue eyes. I spot Lisa, who is visibly trying not to cringe.

In a voice that could pass for endearing, Claire thanks the guests for their attendance. I’m only halfway listening when someone comes to stand very close behind me.

“Lovely reception,” Oliver remarks under his breath.

I play along, “Oh yes, and the decor! So tasteful and understated.”

Shhhh!” hisses an old woman to our left.

Claire’s speech ends, and I couldn’t tell you what was said. There is a smattering of applause as she gives a smile that looks more like bared teeth. The sky remains twinkling with stars, and the music picks up again. Oliver is holding two glasses of red wine, one of which he offers, “You must try the selection.”

“Are the grapes local?”

“I’m offended that you ask.”

“Edie!” Lisa is practically sprinting over, wedding dress gathered in her hands. Her mouth twitches in a polite smile to Oliver, before she says to me, “You’ve gone all red and wonky-eyed. Are you drunk already?”

“No!” I don’t dare glance at Oliver as he shifts uncomfortably.

“Oh, thank Merlin. Take this,” she hands me a glass of Knotgrass Mead. Not my favourite. When I furrow my brow quizzically she says, “I need you, Edie. People are going to be handing me drinks all night. You have to drink them for me.” She says airily to Oliver, “I’m doing a cleanse.”

Taking the hint, he disappears. I can’t help it—my eyes follow after him. Thankfully, Lisa is too panicked to notice, “Please, Edie. You’ve been training for this your whole life.”

That’s a very forgiving way of looking at my drinking habit. But I really didn’t plan on getting trashed tonight. “Why don’t you just pour it out?”

“My Mum spent a fortune on it, as she continues to remind me,” she rolls her eyes. “I feel too guilty.”

“Can’t Justin do it?”

“You know he hardly drinks. Especially with his mother around...” She looks at me imploringly. I want tonight to be special, and to remember everything. But she’s so pretty and she’s asking me and it’s her wedding day...

“Oh, bugger all,” I knock back the glass, sending myself into a fit of coughing and chest-pounding.

“Wow. I mean, you didn’t have to—”

“—I know—”

“—really not meant to drink mead that way—”

“I immediately regret it.”

“Thank you, Edie. I’ll try to go easy on you.” She grabs me in a hug, heaving a sigh, “I’m so glad you’re here.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, it’s your wedding. Wouldn’t miss it,” I grumble, again feeling as though just maybe I might possibly be getting a bit emotional. Blinking it away, I hold her at arm’s length.

Then her mother’s voice is booming over a Sonorus spell, “And now the bride and groom will dance.”

The crowd has stepped back, leaving Lisa and I in the middle of the dance floor. With my hands on her shoulders, and hers on my waist, we look ballroom-ready. There is an awkward mumbling. I spot Seamus in the crowd, doubled over in laughter.

I swear to God, if you make a lesbian joke in front of Claire Turpin…

Justin appears, clearing his throat, “That would be the bride and groom, Edie.” He steps in between us, entwining their fingers in a waltz stance. I roll my eyes theatrically and he flashes an annoying grin. As the music starts I scurry from the dance floor.

Humiliated, I naturally lock eyes with Oliver. Because as a Rule of the Universe, he is now always present for my blunders. Returning his smile, I make my way over before somebody steps in my path.

“Dean,” my disappointment is audible. I hope that he has somehow failed to hear me, but the flash of hurt in his eyes says otherwise. I am really mucking up things with him lately. “H-how are you?”

“I’m fine,” he sounds annoyed. “Where have you been?”

“Other couples will now join in the dancing,” Claire is not asking. She’s telling. Several panicked-looking couples have hurried onto the dance floor under her glare.

With decisiveness I grab Dean’s sleeve, “Looks fun!” I pull him onto the dance floor, which it turns out is like giving a fish a broomstick and saying, “Alright, let’s play Quidditch!” Dean freezes, his hand clamping on my forearm. But I’m determined to fix our friendship.

At last I wrangle him into a sufficient pose. Of course, neither of us has the faintest idea of how to waltz, but at least one of us won’t outshine the other. “Move your feet like this,” I suggest.

“There is absolutely no pattern to that.”

“At least I’m moving! You’re like one of the Queen’s Guard.”

“Well I’m sorry I haven’t been brushing up on my ballroom dancing!”

“Well I do know your hand doesn’t go here,” I pluck it from my shoulder and place it above my hip. He goes quiet again.

At last we’re past treading on one another’s toes and have settled into a doable, albeit clumsy, stride. It is a perfectly passable waltz, to a blind person. “So, how’ve you been?” I pry.

“Uh, good! Really good,” Dean removes his hand from my waist for the umpteenth time. Now to scratch his ear; now to fix his tie; now to run it through his fuzzy hair. I have the feeling he doesn’t like touching me. “Been doing some more work for the Prophet. Not my idea of a reliable source, but it pays the bills.”

“Oh, that’s great. Brilliant.”

“Yeah.”

One-two-three, one-two-ouch! I knock elbows with another couple; one who apparently takes waltzing very seriously. I turn us so that the posh-looking man can no longer glare down his nose.

Dean wets his lips, “What about you? Plans for the holiday?”

“Oh, I’ll be spending it at home. I’m back living with my Mum and Andrew.”

“Yeah, I heard about that. Seamus.”

“It’s temporary.”

“’Course.”

“The economy and all.”

He steps on my toe and we pretend it never happened. More staring around the room. This is horrific. “Should we discuss the weather now? Politics?”

He shrugs, not willing to admit it: something’s changed. We’re not the same anymore, and it’s probably my fault. I wish I hadn’t asked him to dance, so that I could make up a lie about needing to visit the loo. But the song’s only just begun. There are at least another two and a half minutes of this torture, according to statistics.

“I just—” Dean stops, breaking the silence only to begin a new one.

“You just what?”

His anger surprises me, “I just wish you were around more. You’ve hardly wanted anything to do with me—and Seamus,” he stammers, “since you got your job. We never see you anymore, unless you need something from us. We broke into a building for you. We could have gotten into serious trouble, and Seamus could have lost Auror’s license!” His voice rises sharply; several heads turn. When he realizes people are staring, his shyness takes over. He stalks off the dance floor and I trail behind helplessly.

We reach a quiet corner and he says, “Plus you were too wrapped up in that Jae fellow. We hardly spoke.”

I cross my arms helplessly, “I’m sorry, Dean.” He’s waiting for a proper apology, but the words aren’t coming. I’m no good at talking when it matters most. I feel like a complete ass.

“Things just… They got all wonky…” He shakes his head, so I try again, “I stopped telling you everything because I was so embarrassed. Things were bad for me. Really bad. I didn’t want you to know about losing my job, and my flat, and those awful things I was writing about—”

He rolls his eyes and I stop, “What?”

“I just find it ironic that you’ve been devoting so much time to the person who turned your life to shit.”

“It’s not shit, Dean,” I contradict the very thing I just said. “I mean, it’s not perfect, but… I got a job out of it.”

“Yeah, for those ‘awful things’ you wrote about somebody who you’re now defending.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget why you wrote what you did. He made you lose your job, and he’s been nothing but an ass since you met. Obviously you felt very strongly about this, and now you’re letting him walk all over—”

“But I didn’t know him—”

“You’re letting yourself get wrapped up in all of his charming celebrity bollocks!”

I stomp my foot in frustration. “God, why are you being like this?”

He stares at me. It’s like he can’t believe that I don’t understand. Don’t understand what? There are people moving all around us, but they slow into a blur. Something clicks.

He looks away first, blinking hard. I feel sick.

“Dean…”

I don’t know what else I would have said. But Seamus and Oliver are suddenly with us. Dean steps away from our little circle, as if Oliver’s very presence disgusts him. Seamus has an arm around the much taller man’s shoulders, standing on tip-toe. The other hand holds a glass of red currant rum, neat.

Oliver looks at me stiffly, an apology for their interruption, “Seamus wants to say hello…”

“They have some really nice liquor here, Edie!” Clumsily holding onto the glass with two fingers, he digs around in his shirt pocket. Oliver snatches the glass just before it is dropped. Oblivious, Seamus extracts a lobster puff and eats it, chewing loudly, “What are you two gossiping about?”

“Nothing,” I blurt.

But Dean says, “We were discussing Edie’s writing.”

I whip my head towards him, horror-struck. He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t do something like that to me. He knows that Oliver doesn’t read his own press—he wouldn’t dare give him reason to start. I stare him down but he won’t meet my gaze. The subject is dropped. He just wanted to remind me, again, of how much I’ve changed.

“We weren’t discussing anything,” I repeat.

There is a silence. I am staring down at my feet, because I know Oliver is looking at me, which means Dean is looking at Oliver. Everybody somehow knows that something is up, except for Seamus.

“Lobster puff, anyone?”

I’ve done a bang-up job of ignoring the fact that, no matter how I feel about Oliver now, those articles are still out there. All he has to do is pick up a magazine, and everything is over. How long until he gets curious? It’s childish, but I don’t want to be reminded. Not right now. Not after what happened, just half an hour ago in the courtyard. I want to go on living in my stupid little storybook, where actions don’t have consequences and I am the heroine, not the villain.

“I’m going to the bar,” Dean says sullenly. “Coming, Seamus?”

“Thought you’d never ask. ‘Sides, bartender is quite pretty.”

I squint over at the bar, “Seamus, that’s a man.”

He only looks mildly impressed, “Huh. Right, let’s get those drinks.” He claps Dean on the shoulders. The latter doesn’t meet my gaze before sulking away.

Oliver watches them leave, hands in his pockets. I stare after Dean, the sick feeling still churning in my stomach. Oliver swivels to me and says jovially, “So how long exactly has he been in love with you?”

I drop my arms in defeat. Am I the only person who never realized this? Lisa—sweet guardian angel Lisa—chooses this moment to discreetly hand me a Blishen’s Firewhiskey as she passes, without a second glance. She’d make a great Gwendolyn Phire.

Things that I know: I can’t kiss Oliver, my best mate has just implied that he has feelings for me, and I’m being handed free, high quality Firewhiskey. I drink heartily.

“Let’s take a walk.”

Thankfully, Oliver doesn’t press the Dean question as we stroll through the empty castle. It’s getting darker and darker outside, the December air chilly. I cast a quick heating charm over us. The castle is small—much smaller than Hogwarts—but it still feels like I’m sneaking out of the Hufflepuff common room after hours.

“D’you have the feeling that Mrs. Norris is about to appear, and land us in detention?” My head is light with drink.

“She liked me, actually.”

I give him a doubtful look, “Yeah. Right.”

“Honestly! I used to sneak out to the Quidditch pitch—”

“I heard that you used to spy on Hufflepuff’s nightly team meetings.”

A blush rises to his cheeks, “It wasn’t my fault that they were daft enough to meet in the middle of the third floor corridor, out in the open. Everyone knows it’s the quickest shortcut to the pitch.”

“Of course. Common knowledge.”

“Anyway, I snuck out so often that I started carrying little treats for Mrs. Norris.”

Little treats?” I laugh.

He shrugs, scratching the back of his head in an endearing way, “Y’know. Bits of roast chicken from dinner. I started leaving them along my route, ‘cause I figured she’d pick up my scent. By the time I graduated she was coming when I called her. Never ratted me out, either.”

“Oh, bollocks.”

“Seriously!”

We burst into laughter, turning into a long corridor. The lack of windows makes it impossibly dark. I extract my wand, “Lumos.”

Our footsteps echo down the corridor, lined with stone sculptures of people who once inhabited the castle. I wonder if they’re Muggles. A bit creepy, actually. Maybe I should do that bit where I snuggle up to him out of fear. We reach the corridor’s end, or at least where the end would be, if the wall hadn’t long since crumbled. We’re on a small cliff overlooking the sea, where the horizon is still faint yellow before darkening to indigo. It’s breezy and the sea air is heavy. This will do nicely. I perch on a felled bit of stone, squishing around until it’s almost comfortable.

Oliver says, “Oh! I almost forgot. I’ve brought you something.” He digs around the pocket of his blazer, which he seems to have charmed to carry all of Britain. Elbow deep, he at last extracts an envelope bearing the Puddlemere seal.

“Don’t set this one on fire.”

Giving him a scowl, I use my wand to pry the seal open. It tears clean from the paper with a satisfying pop. Inside is a short letter, folded and addressed to me. I cast Oliver a confused glance but he’s rubbing the back of his head again. “Well go on, read it.”

I do.

Dear Edie,

I’m sorry to have not written you back sooner. Honestly, I received
so much mail about the European Cup that I stopped opening
the letters. I’m sure Oliver has told you that most of them were Howlers.

As for why I pulled the Wronski Feint, I can’t say. Reckon I just got caught up
in the moment and lost sight of the bigger picture. But it’s nice to
know that supporters like you still have faith in Puddlemere.

Anyway, thanks for your letters.

Best,
Amelia Jones

PS - Try not to shout so loudly at the next match.


I read it once, twice, and then a third time just to be sure. Jaw dropped, I stare up at Oliver in astonishment. “Is this…?” He nods slightly and I jump to my feet, shrieking, “Oh my God! Amelia Jones answered my letters!”

Almost a year later (and an embarrassing amount of post) and here I finally have my response. It’s completely childish, but I’m elated. “Amelia Jooones wrote me a leeetter,” I sing-song, skipping in a circle with the parchment waving overhead. All right, maybe I’m a little tipsy. Far below us on the beach, people are staring up at the screaming lunatic.

Oliver’s eyes are glimmering. “Glad you like it. I’ve had that for ages.”

A cool breeze picks up, ruffling his wavy hair. I say more quietly, “I wish I could kiss you right now.”

“I’d say we could bend the rules, just for a few minutes.”

Despite what my conscience is telling me, I step towards him. But if I’m doing wicked things then he is too—Oliver takes my wrist and pulls me to him, our lips crashing together. My arms circle around his neck. I have to stand on my toes to reach him, my chin lifted, but I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all.



My Maid of Honour speech goes smoothly enough, although I’m clearly making it up as I go. I actually use the phrase, “The Beatles once said, ‘All You Need is Love.’” Lisa watches with interest at my improvisation, but is still somehow rendered a sobbing mess by the end. Claire Turpin is not so amused, her eyes boring into me icily over her glass of mead. Thankfully, Peter Finch-Fletchley’s blubbering lament for lost love will be the one that sticks. It ends abruptly when Claire shouts, “Let’s eat cake!”

People seem to think that I deserve alcohol for making a speech. My hand is never empty. Despite my good intentions, by ten o’clock I’ve had far too much to drink.

Oliver keeps his distance when we’re in public. He knows what happened with Dean, which I selfishly don’t even want to think about. Guests mistake my sitting alone, sipping a drink for being in need of a dance partner. Really I’m thinking of the way Oliver’s lips felt on mine, our bellies and hips pressed together.

I am rather inappropriately eating a maraschino cherry when Lisa’s uncle appears, “You look like you could use a dance!”

I spit the cherry out, “Oh! No. I’m fine, thank you, really—”

Naturally I dance the next three songs with him. Thankfully, a wobbly Seamus comes to save the day. He’s very good at Pretend Boyfriend-ing when I need him. We dance like idiots together, which keeps my mind off of Oliver long enough to function. Dean and I don’t so much as glance at one other. Eventually I assume he’s already left until I spot him, heading outside with a drink. I should probably follow him, but I feel like being a selfish ass tonight.

I can’t believe what I’m turning in to. It’s like I have no control over my eyes—all night they follow Oliver, drinking him in. I’m just really allowing myself look at him, for once. He’s no Adonis. His nose has clearly been broken from Quidditch, and his calculating look sometimes appears callous. But I’m struck by how good-looking he really is, especially in this firelight. Everything that I’ve held back is pouring out, thank-you Firewhiskey. But I know that I’m not alone in my sentiments. When I’m talking to Lisa or Seamus, I can feel his gaze boring into me.

It’s half-past midnight when the guests finally head outside. Glasses in hand, everyone is teetering a bit as we line the stone steps. The showering sparks from our wands create a tunnel, and we erupt into cheers when Lisa and Justin emerge from the castle. She looks like she might combust with happiness. Giddy, they scurry down the stairs, the tunnel of white sparks casting a glow over them.

As Lisa passes, she catches my eye. She stops to throw an arm around my neck, the other still linked with Justin’s. “Make good decisions!” she says in my ear, before hurrying away. She and Justin step into the awaiting carriage. We all stand, waving and cheering until they disappear into the darkness.

Make good decisions. Our playful little mantra carries new weight tonight. Looking across the tunnel, I catch Oliver’s eyes. He is already watching me. Nearby firelight casts shadows across his face. He’s smirking in a way that makes my stomach flip.

I don’t want to make good decisions.

When the guests begin to disperse, I don’t waste any time. Firewhiskey is burning in my blood. I cross right over to Oliver, who is in the middle of shaking hands with a kind-faced wizard. I hear the man saying, “You’re playing quite the season indeed! That Holyhead match was truly something.”

“Thank you,” Oliver says quietly, just as I march up to him and snake my arms around his waist. The man shuffles uncomfortably before making his exit.

Despite my idiot display Oliver smiles widely, putting his hands in my hair. “Well, hello. Somebody’s having fun.”

“Take me home.”

He pauses, “Yeah, I wanted to make sure you got home safely.”

“No. Take me to your house. Right now.”

He stares and my resolve sputters out. This is so stupid. I’m half drunk and begging for him like a Puddlemere groupie. How many times has he done this before? I clear my throat, “I… I would love some coffee.”

He smiles and brings my forehead to his lips, “I’ll get my cloak.”





Author's Note: This fic is now officially the fluffiest of fluff to have ever fluffed.

So Dean's feelings for Edie are out in the open. Many of you are probably thinking the in-love-with-my-best-friend thing is a trope (and I suppose it is.) But trust me, it is painful and can ruin a friendship. I don't at all intend to turn Dean Thomas into a villain, because he's lovely. But I want to explore the issue of the "friend zone," and feeling guilty for something you should absolutely NOT feel guilty about.

As always, thank you so much for the reads. Please let me know what you think!

I do not own "All You Need Is Love" because the Beatles do.

Beautiful CI by southpaws @ TDA ♥!

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