Chapter 6 : The Handoff
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Chapter Six — The Handoff
“You want to speak with who?”
Sophie cleared her throat. “Mr. Ramsey, please. It’s urgent,” she added.
The receptionist leaned over the blue marble counter of the check-in desk at the Wimbourne Wasps’ headquarters and peered at Sophie through a pair of squinted green eyes. She looked incredibly tense, her shoulders back and her spine ramrod straight, like she’d been sitting in a very confined box all day. Her thin, pale lips looked fierce and cold, as though made so by a lifetime of frosty words that had passed them.
Sophie scuffed one dirty, beat-up trainer into the ground and added an extra “Please?”
“Nobody gets in without an appointment.”
“But…” Sophie passed her hands through the short length of her hair. She fixed her gaze on the receptionist, who was clearly the kind that enjoyed exerting her power through fruitless confrontations. Why couldn’t the Wasps employ someone who enjoyed popping gum and filing nails and looking bored? “It’s…really urgent,” she finished.
“Oh, I’m certain that it is. But nobody gets in — ”
“Without an appointment, I know,” Sophie interrupted, frustrated. “But don’t you, I dunno, make exceptions or something?”
This plan of action, heading straight to the Wimbourne Wasps, had been the only plausible solution thought up by Sophie, Penelope, and Viktor. They had all been left rather disheartened and a little frightened after the scene at the Ministry of Magic headquarters. It was scary having no one to trust and no one to lean back on, and amidst the pacing and idea rejecting and worrying the three of them had done, Sophie had felt a rush of compassion towards Viktor that had nothing to do with his “rugged good looks.” If she felt lost and utterly confused even with her best friend to lean back on, she could hardly imagine how he was feeling.
The Wasps, the three had concluded, offered their only chance. If Jonathan Thurgood and the Ministry couldn’t be trusted, and whoever put up the wanted posters couldn’t be trusted, then that left them with very slim options. None of them knew much about the Wasps’ manager, Antares Ramsey, but certainly he had the Bulgarian’s best interests in mind. Regardless, something had to be done. As much as Sophie would have loved it, Viktor couldn’t live in Penelope’s living room forever. Damn.
Now the receptionist was looking at Sophie incredulously, and it seemed very clear that no, she did not make “exceptions or something.”
“Okay, maybe you don’t make exceptions, since you’re a receptionist and it’s your job to be very strict about stuff and keep nutters out of the building, but perhaps Mr. Ramsey gets in a generous mood every once in a while and allows one or two — ”
The young woman sighed and quickly began plotting her next approach. After all, there was a reason that she had been sent to wrangle her way into Ramsey’s office and Penelope had been left in hiding with Viktor. Unreliable and scattered though she may have been, Sophie wasn’t one to let uptight blond receptionists get the best of her.
“It’s incredibly urgent,” she finally explained with dazzling brilliance, as though a change of adjectives would make all the difference in the world.
Her frustration renewed, Sophie looked desperately about the lobby of the building as if a new tactic would ooze out from between the ceiling tiles and land in a helpful pile at her feet. She felt so dwarfed and helpless in the large, empty room. The only other adornment besides the marble reception desk was a set of furniture situated back along the front windows. The couches and chairs were upholstered in shades of dark blue to match the navy-painted walls and looked incredibly uncomfortable, probably to discourage waiting for appointments, or better yet, making them at all. At least the Wasps had been sensible enough not to decorate everything in the team colors, yellow and black.
But since help did not appear to be falling from the heavens, Sophie was at a loss. There was only one other (legal) approach she could think of:
She cried, “It’s about Viktor Krum!”
Ping! Fifty feet away, a pair of chrome elevator doors opened.
“I’m sorry, but did I hear — ? Do you know something about Viktor Krum, miss?” said Wasps manager Antares Ramsey as he stepped out of the elevator with sweeping, fluid steps and his pale eyebrows rising up toward his receding hairline.
Sophie was too dumbfounded to say much of anything.
“Mr. Ramsey, sir!” The receptionist scrambled to the edge of her seat, pallid lips parted in surprise and the color flooded from her pinched cheeks. “I thought you were — ”
“Busy? Booked?” the man finished in a deep, genial voice. He brushed it off with a smile and a wave of his left hand. “Of course. Always am, you know.” He winked at Sophie, and she stumbled back a step. “I was just taking a lunch break — man’s gotta eat — and I happened to hear this woman’s outburst.”
“Yes, but sir, why didn’t she — ”
“Make an appointment?” Ramsey finished, and he chuckled while shaking his head. “Do lighten up, Carmen, I can’t entirely live my life by that schedule planner, can I?” And when he turned his attentions from his receptionist to look at Sophie with a conspiratorial roll of his eyes, she found herself forced into nervous laughter. A fast-talking man, Ramsey was rather overwhelming to take in, especially when he appeared quite suddenly and unexpectedly.
The Wasps’ manager looked at though he had just stepped foot off his yacht, or perhaps just come from the country club instead of from an office. His pale yellow polo shirt was tucked rather neatly into his khaki pants, except for one sloppy section toward his right side that had broken free of the waistband. When he reached up to absently rub his cropped curls, the light coming in through the windows caught an expensive-looking watch on his wrist.
“But about Krum,” he said, brushing his palms lightly together a few times, cracking down to business. He fully turned his back to the disgruntled receptionist and looked down at Sophie, who was nearly a foot shorter than him. “As it seems you know, he’s been taken from us — out of the blue, quite a shock, to be sure — and the Ministry’s practically breathing down our necks, and we’re just going mad trying to resolve this entire debacle.”
Sophie gripped the hem of her flowing shirt and nodded. She added as helpfully as she could, “There are other people searching for him.” Then, like a five-year-old, she tacked on, “Bad people.”
Ramsey considered her for a moment, his vibrant blue eyes narrowing. She didn’t like being scrutinized, but she made herself stand her ground, chin tipped upward slightly and one muscles in her neck ticking, giving her away. Finally, Ramsey asked, “What is your name?”
Her shoulders relaxed. “Sophie Anderson, sir.”
“Well, Miss Anderson — it is ‘miss,’ right? — we here at the Wasps are absolutely at a loss for information, and it seems to me like you know quite a bit about what’s going on, in which case I can only thank you, and now I think we need to take this conversation to more private quarters.” He put one hand on Sophie’s shoulder momentarily to direct her towards the elevator to which his other arm was pointing.
“And if anyone inquires, Carmen,” Ramsey said suddenly, turning his neck to half-face the blond receptionist, “tell them that I am out at lunch and am absolutely not to be bothered under any circumstances, do you understand?”
Sophie heard no reply from the receptionist, but she assumed there was a nonverbal response because Ramsey nodded and smiled before leading her to the elevator. It really was tempting to turn around her stick her tongue out at the uptight blond, but she reminded herself that she was twenty-two years old and she reluctantly sobered.
Being in an elevator with Ramsey was possibly more awkward than being crammed into a phone booth with Viktor Krum. In all honesty, Sophie wasn’t quite sure if she liked the man yet. Sometimes she thought she detected some condescendence in his speech, but never once did it show on his face. He was friendly, talkative, and really quite genial. But after he pressed the button for the eleventh floor and the elevator began to move, they lapsed into a silence that made her incredibly aware of the stranger’s presence.
“Um, I really am, you know, a huge fan of Viktor Krum’s,” Sophie started, to fill the air with more than the sound of the elevator’s mechanics.
“Yes, yes, of course.”
“And I only have his best interests in mind, so, ah…”
“Miss Anderson, I understand entirely.” There was such warmth in Ramsey’s voice that she looked over at him, her eyes wide. He smiled. “You’re not sure if you can trust me with what you know, glib old codger that I am, and the last thing you want to see is your idol caught up in more trouble than he’s already in now. It’s understandable, it’s so understandable, and that’s exactly why we’re going to have this little chat, so that we both know where the other is — oh, we’ve arrived — where the other is coming from.”
The doors opened and they stepped out onto the impressive eleventh floor, where the blue carpeting was fresh, and tall windows overlooked the quaint streets of Wimborne Minster several stories below. It seemed clear that this very tall, very modern building was not visible to Muggles, as it stuck out like a sore thumb against the town’s old structures.
After winding through a few hallways, taking them to the central rooms of the floor which were not nearly as impressive as those facing the outer windows, Ramsey settled on an empty meeting room with a long table that seated maybe ten or so people, and offered Sophie a seat. She took it, but he remained standing, pacing the length of the table across from Sophie.
“How much — how much do you know?”
Sophie looked down at her hands in her lap and picked at the maroon fabric of Penelope’s skirt. “Hardly anything, if I’m going to be entirely honest. But I do know — ” And here she paused to take a breath, to make her final decision. Could Ramsey be trusted? He had stopped pacing now, was watching her intently. She let her breath out firmly. “I do know where Viktor is.”
Ramsey snapped his fingers, face triumphant, white teeth shining. He was leaning across the table, every inch of his being focused completely on Sophie. “And is he accessible?”
The young woman nodded. “Very much so. They’re waiting in a bar just down the street, hiding, keeping a low profile.”
She flushed. “Viktor and my friend Penelope.”
“Penelope,” he repeated, and nodded, pulling back from the table. “Any surname?”
“Well, Sophie — can I call you Sophie? — you and your friend may have just saved Mr. Krum’s life by coming to find me. There’s no telling the danger he may have been in had you not been sensible enough to return him here.” He spoke of Viktor like a lost wallet, but Sophie did not allow that to bother her. “Yes, indeed, heaps of danger. Now please, Sophie, your story, if you will?”
And so she started from the beginning. It was so strange to think that all of this had begun only yesterday, when she showed up to work and that man appeared with her watch. It seemed so much longer ago than that.
Ramsey listened intently, interrupting often, sometimes to make note of names (Eckhart and Dodd seemed to intrigue him, and he made several comments on Lancaster the double-crosser), and other times to exclaim for exclamation’s sake, as though he were watching a movie. “O-ho!” he shouted when Sophie described almost being forced into an Unbreakable Vow, and he spat out several dirty words upon hearing of Lancaster and Head of Magical Law Inforcement Thurgood’s meeting at the Ministry Headquarters.
When she finally finished, she rapped her fingers against the table’s edge, bit her lower lip, and apologized for having so few answers.
“Sophie, Sophie, please, don’t underestimate the power of your information,” Ramsey beseeched. He was back to pacing. “You’ve been an immense help. Thanks to you, everything is going to turn out all right.”
“But Mr. Ramsey,” she began, and faltered.
He looked at her as he walked the length of the table, his eyes urging her to continue.
“D’you…do you fully understand what’s going on? With Lancaster and Dodd and Eckhart, I mean,” she explained, her hands talking with her. “Do you know what it is they were planning to do with Viktor, who they thought I was, what my watch had to do with anything? Do you understand?”
For the first time all afternoon, the Wasps’ manager looked truly wearied. He ran a hand through the light curls atop his head and let out a sigh. “Yes, I do understand. And I hope you’ll forgive me for not divulging all I know, but please trust me when I say that my story would take all month to tell.”
“But you can fix this?” she pressed. She had hundreds of questions, but this answer, above all, was the one she craved the most.
He looked at her for a moment, looked at the urgency and the trust in her eyes, and finally nodded. “Yes. I can fix this.” And that was all she needed to hear.
“Now please, Sophie. Viktor Krum?”
Several minutes later, when she retuned to the bar to find Penelope and Viktor, to tell them of her success, they practically stampeded her in an attempt to get out of the stuffy, smoky building.
“’Ope to see you back a second time!”
“Yeah, but be sure to ditch skinny-legs!”
As laughter floated out through the door, Sophie tried to stare back into the dark depths of the bar, but Penelope pulled her away by the elbow. “Wait,” Sophie cried. “Were those men…were they yelling after you, Viktor?”
“Yes,” came his stony reply. He was walking away towards the Wasps’ headquarters without looking back.
Sophie covered her mouth with her hand, developing a very sudden and intense hacking cough that might have been caused by nothing more severe than uproarious laughter. Penny dragged her along. “Yes, Soph,” she said dryly, “that was a gay bar. They thought I was his dependable straight female friend along for moral support.”
Sophie shut up, inexplicably jealous.
“Vot about Ramsey?” Viktor asked from several paces ahead. He was still in his disguise, with the ratty blond wig resting against his broad back and the trucker hat pulled down low.
Sophie jogged to catch up with him, but he didn’t bother to slacken his stride once she reached him.
“Miraculously, I got to talk to him,” she said, power walking to keep up. “He’s waiting inside, and he’s going to fix all this, he’s really going to fix it.”
It didn’t sink in until she’d said it out loud. But now that Viktor was back in the hands of the Wasps, everything was going to be all right. The Ministry would be informed of Lancaster’s treachery, he would be carted off to jail, and everybody was going to be okay. Ramsey had promised her that he would see to Viktor’s safety. She still didn’t have all her answers, but Eckhart and Dodd were not going to hurt her again. There were loose ends to tie up, but her part of the story had come to an end. And thank God for that.
Inside, Ramsey was waiting for them in the lobby.
He jerked a thumb at Viktor. “Who’s the pedophile?”
As Sophie reacted, Penelope turned to her with a frown. “You really should have that cough looked at.”
“Right away,” she promised, and watched as Viktor and his manager shook hands.
“It’s good to see you’re all right, Krum,” Ramsey said, clapping the Bulgarian on the back. Viktor grunted a response. Sophie and Penelope stood off to the side, a tad awkward.
“Miss Anderson, Miss Clearwater, I cannot thank you ladies enough,” gushed Ramsey, approaching the two of them. “I shall see to it that your efforts to do not go unrewarded. Please, don’t be shy about dropping in anytime. Just give Carmen the word.” He turned around to wink at the aforementioned woman, and Sophie actually felt a pang of sympathy for the receptionist. “Now, I think, is the time to say your goodbyes. Viktor, surely you have a few words for these invaluable women?”
Viktor cleared his throat and shuffled forward. Awkwardly, he stuck out his hand to Penelope. “Thank you for the vig,” he said. After shaking her hand, he removed the wig and hat and returned them to Penelope in a hairy wad. For her part, she smiled, blushed, and muttered a few incomprehensible words.
When he came to Sophie, she immediately felt her cheeks heat up.
“It vos…” he began, but could not seem to come up with a word to describe what he and Sophie had experienced. “I am sorry for blowing our cover, I believe, at the Ministry.”
It was a strange way to part, and Sophie could not deny the disappointment she felt in her chest, but she managed to shake Viktor’s hand and offer him a few useless wishes of good luck. “Bye, Viktor,” she said.
He nodded, looked to the ground, and Ramsey completed the parting of the two pairs by giving Sophie and Penelope enthusiastic farewells and leading Viktor away with a hand on his shoulder. Sophie looked after them for a moment, her heart still beating erratically at rough clasp of Viktor’s hand against her own, but Penelope tapped her on the shoulder and gestured toward the doors with her head.
“C’mon Soph, let’s get going,” she said, but there was understanding in her voice.
Viktor had entered her life a mere seventeen hours ago, and Sophie was amazed at how much it pained her to watch him leave. It was ridiculous, as she could hardly even call him her friend, but she could not ignore the sadness settling into her bones. Maybe it was the circumstances under which they had met, or maybe it was the fact that their paths would never cross again. She had always wanted to meet Viktor Krum, and now it was over. She didn’t even have a stupid misspelled badge by which to remember their adventure.
“Oh, stop it,” Penelope finally said, and Sophie looked over to see that her best friend was smiling sympathetically as if she knew exactly what Sophie was thinking.
“I know, I know, I’m being an idiot.”
Penelope laughed, hugged her friend around the shoulders, and said, “Don’t worry, I’m used to it. What say we hop on over to Florean Fortescue’s to split one of those monstrous-sized bowls of ice cream?”
“Sounds perfectly fattening. I’m in.”
And as the two girls Disapparated from the town of Wimbourne Minster, already bickering about what flavors they’d get, everything really did seem like it was going to be okay. Sophie was still shaken and in need of answers, but certainly all of that could wait.
A/N: I can’t even begin to tell you how much hair I lost over this chapter. I almost cut out a large part of the plot I’d been relying on heavily, ended up completely recreating Ramsey’s character, and chucked numerous items across the room in frustration. So your feedback on the final product would be much appreciated, because I slaved. I think, while working on this chapter, I truly learned what it is to be a writer. It’s an identity that comes with horrible, horrible experiences, and I wouldn’t give it up for the world.
Haha, are you weary of new characters yet? Don’t worry. The next chapter is free of introductions, although there are two characters who’ve been mentioned in passing that finally show up in the flesh. Still, they’re faces that you probably won’t have a hard time remembering.
Anyhow. The plot advanced light-years here, and despite it all, I’m still rather proud. A large thank you to all my readers, and all of you who have left me such beautiful reviews. You push me to do my best. :]