A/N: Much thanks to Becca (magicmuggle) for helping me craft the story summary, and also for being a generally wonderful supporter. And of course, feedback is always appreciated once you finish.
"This is going to be the death of me."
The stack of papers, hefty to the point of painful to carry, landed heavily on the desk. Though the resulting thump resounded about the room, the girl sitting near the offending stack of parchment didn't move a muscle.
"You're being dramatic. And loud," was her short reply.
"Do you not see this? This is... massive
!" A whiny, irritating tone was starting to edge its way into the woman's voice as she threw her hands up in the air with a huff. "Really, Anne, you just don't seem to understand my woes."
The girl sitting at the desk raised her eyebrows but did not look up from the paper she was scribbling on. "Honestly, Lily, I don't give a flying pixie."
The redhead, now worked into a further frenzy than her previous state, groaned. "Anne
!" Somehow, she was able to stretch the name into two syllables.
"Either sit down and shut your mouth or go take your troubles out of this office."
"Fine." She sat woodenly, plopping her behind into a chair that had always been far too small to fit her. This only added to her uncomfortableness as she stared with glazed but angry eyes at the looming stack of parchment sitting inches from her nose.
This was not an abnormal occurrence in the small, neat office that Lily Potter now found herself sitting in. Something would get dumped in her arms, and she would scurry through the teaming building the Daily Prophet situated itself in to whine, cry, and throw a fit with the one person who wouldn't pitch her out of the office: Anne Davies. Anne, who covered all things political there at the Prophet, would never tolerate any of what Potter had to say, but would let her sit and brew by herself in her company. Besides, her office was far nicer than the one Lily had been assigned to.
"Are you done stewing yet?" quipped Anne, not bothering to look at the woman sitting across from her. She knew the expression she was sure to be wearing anyway: Eyebrows furrowed, cheeks sucked in and being chewed on, nose wrinkled in apparent agony.
"Yes." Lily Potter, though not a particularly easy going person, had learned to resign herself to her shoddy fate rather quickly. She rose, brushing her wrinkled skirt over her thighs, and gathered the stack of papers she had grown to hate over a span of three minutes. "I'll be going now."
Anne didn't respond, and Lily took this as her cue to leave. It was hectic, to say the least, outside the office door. Witches and wizards alike hurried through the halls together, following a flow of human traffic and occasionally shouting or yelling things to people in or out of various offices that lined the hallway. Lily stood out always, her hair that was as red as a scorching fire never failing to draw attention among the mundane colors that surrounded her. Now, she clutched the papers to her chest, letting the sharp, thin edges dig into her collar. Hunching her shoulders to prevent a massive eruption of parchment from her being, she pushed and prodded her way through the dense crowd of people to pop herself into her own office.
Though not nearly as nice as Anne's (who, consequently, got payed more than she did), the tiny room did offer small delights. For one, it had a window offering a view of the back alley behind the building. Occasionally a stray cat or a homeless man would stumble by, offering endless minutes of entertainment for the lonely journalist. Additionally, her brother, Albus, had been kind enough to drop by and hang one of his sketches on the wall when she moved in. She had placed it strategically above a stain on the paneling that was goodness-knows-what, so not only did she have a lovely picture to look at, but she had also spruced up the walls without having to touch whatever substance had embedded itself inside her office.
Now, she dumped the parchment unceremoniously on the rickety wooden desk, watching with a bored stare as a few of the sheets fluttered to the dingy carpet. She would deal with them later, letting them sit on the desktop for a few days before she gathered the courage to sort through them. They couldn't have been that important anyway if someone had shoved them at her
. Everyone at the Daily Prophet knew that Lily Potter was not a punctual person.
She was known as the odd job girl there at the Prophet. Usually interviewing has-beens or past heroes, she was far from whatever recent events that were occurring and even farther from the limelight. She was stuck in the dark office with the crummy view which was located under the bathrooms, so from time to time she could hear water running down the pipes that lined the inside of the walls. She was visited very infrequently, because rarely did anybody have anything to do with the girl with the fiery hair and the sarcastic bite.
"You know what I think is sad?"
She jerked away from the window where she had been blandly watching a lone calico cat hop from trash bin to bin. "What?" was her quick, flustered reply. Only then did she see who was actually standing in her doorway.
Richard Wood, the tall, dark, and extremely gorgeous son of an ex-Quidditch player, was technically only employed at the Prophet because everyone assumed he would be good at writing about the sport his father had so enjoyed. They were wrong. Lily knew he couldn't care less about whatever players were throwing balls around. He stayed at the offices, though, because the job payed well and the head of the Prophet was too afraid of his influential father to fire him. And there he stood, leaning casually against the door frame as if he owned the place.
"The lack of light in this room," he continued, "is what's sad."
He strode forward, leaning slightly to pluck at some of the Berty Botts she had oh-so-carefully arranged earlier that morning. Only Richard would have the nerve to say such a thing, and it was only because he had the grandest office in the building, and even that was because of his father's, his father's
"Well," Lily ticked, "I don't mind it so much." She did, actually, very much mind the dusky light that was able to filter through the window, but she was doing her best not to get mad. The last time she had gotten angry with Richard Wood, her boss had coming flaming down the halls at her. She was doing her best to make sure that didn't happen again.
"You should," was his reply, "because it really is concerning." He made it hard to hear him, what with all the flavored beans in his mouth, but she couldn't help but grit her teeth anyway. Suddenly, he bobbed forward and squinted into what little light she had. "Is that a... cat?"
Swiveling, Lily noted that the calico she had been watching earlier continued to leap gracefully around the ally. She nodded. "I believe so."
Richard laughed, spewing saliva her direction. Prat
, was all she could think, but she refrained from saying this statement out loud for fear of what her boss would do if he heard about the incident. "What's it doing out there?" he guffawed, though Lily couldn't find anything funny about his latest statement. "Someone should catch it."
"Stray cats don't belong out there. They... muck things up." Richard grabbed more of the beans with his big, sweaty hand. "Someone ought to call some Aurors, or... something."
"For one," Lily said defensively, crossing her arms over her chest, "you don't call Aurors to get rid of lost cats. And... and for two..." Oh, but she was indecisive. Should she say it? Merlin's beard, what did she have to lose? "And for two... it's not a stray. It's... mine."
Richard gave a large laugh that lingered in the air for a moment before he realized that the woman sitting across from him was not giggling along. "That's your
cat? That..." He struggled to articulate. "That mangy thing is-"
"It's not mangy. Here, I'll... I'll..." She stood up, proceeding to knock more of the paper off her desk as she did so. Paying the parchment that was now drifting toward the floor no mind, she strode past the chuckling man whose shoulders were so broad, she had to squeeze her way around him. "I'll show you."
She didn't leave time to regret what she had said. Instead, she began to parade down the hall, not bothering to care about the echoing footsteps she was leaving. She hoped they held some kind of purpose, some kind of air about them that would signal that she, Lily Potter, was doing something
that may be of importance.
The cold air hit her like a train as she stepped outside. Without a jumper, goosebumps sprouted as cool air whispered over her skin. Sucking in her breath and bowing her head into the breeze, she headed toward the back alley that her window had faced for the past five years.
The cat was easy to spot, his orange and white fur gleaming against the stone of the building behind it. It eyed her with an uneasy stare, watching with careful eyes as she approached it slowly. "Here, kitty," she cooed. It stayed where it was, perched delicately on the top of a windowsill three or four feet above the woman shuffling nearer and nearer. Making no noise, its eyes sparkled with the clouds above.
She realized then that, as she stood in the biting cold with a cat balanced above her, half of the Prophet and its occupancy were gazing out their office windows. With their faces pressed to the glass, most of them laughing, they looked with a collective stare that made Lily tremble a bit in her heels. She'd never drawn this much attention before; not even when her owl had made a mess on the shoulder of the visiting Minister. She could feel a blush rising to her cheeks, but tried to shake it away. Get the cat and walk inside
, she told herself. Get the cat and walk inside. Get the cat and walk inside.
Reaching forward, her fingertips brushed the matted fur of the feline that watched her so curiously. It didn't make a move, which Lily took to be a good sign. This, however, was tragically unfortunate for her. As soon as she had leaned closer to further scoop the cat from his perch, the claws appeared. A little beaten, yes, as this particular cat had seen quite a battle in his day, but still causing a severe stinging as they raked across her skin. "Augh!" This yell, let out in a mixed frenzy of fear and frustration by the woman trying oh-so-dearly to hold onto this cat, frightened the animal even further. It proceeded to leap from the window, deciding that only one paw and claw was not enough to conquer the attacking beast, and landed squarely on its chest.
Lily Potter now stood in the middle of the back alley with a cat clawing at her neck with half of the Daily Prophet's writers watching her. Yes, this may have possibly been the worst day of her life thus far.
Shuffling wasn't something Lily Potter was unused to. She did it in the morning when she was sleepy and couldn't care to lift her feet up. She did it when she was particularly embarrassed about something (which, Merlin knows, happened more than she would have liked). She did it when she was dreading to go to her boss' office, when she was sure he was going to yell at her for something she had said or done. And she did it now, refusing to make eye contact with any of the workers who leaned out of the doors of their offices to get a good look at her.
She was covered in scratches, her clothing ripped and torn in places where the cat had viciously taken out his anger on the fabric. Her hair, though not previously lying flat on her head, was now even larger than it had been, and curls of the red locks frizzed from her face as she moved. It wasn't as glorious as she would have hoped. She had thought of taking the cat from the window, marching inside with it, and plopping it smugly on her desk. But it wasn't her cat, as much as she would have liked it to be previously, and it had shown that quite clearly when it had ripped her clothing - and her confidence - to shreds.
"Don't say anything," she muttered as she approached her paper-ridden desk. Richard flaming Wood was still standing in her doorway, chest rising and falling in great bursts of laughter.
"You know what?" he managed between guffaws. "I was wrong. The amount of light in this room is not nearly
as sad as what just happened with that cat!"
With that, he turned to leave. The woman stewing at her desk had looked forward to being alone and feeling quite sorry for herself, but instead, the figure of her boss was revealed as Wood disappeared from the room.
Her boss, Mr. Thomas, was not the fittest of men. His hair as black as a darkened theater, but that may have been the only appealing trait he had on him. He had a portly form, and was known for losing his balance at the most inconvenient of times. His voice was high for such a large man, and if Lily Potter listened to him speak for extended amounts of time, the tone and intonation of his words would start to remind her of a tiny, insignificant fly swishing by her ear.
"I have an assignment," he articulated. He spoke with such precision, there was sometimes saliva that flew from his offending lips.
"Yes, well..." She trailed off, glancing around her desk. "I already have quite a few of those, you see." Sorting papers into organized stacks, carrying out shopping lists from one of her superiors, and acting as a messenger owl for her surrounding offices were just a few of the odd jobs that had been pushed upon her that very day.
"No," he persisted, "not one of those. An..." He seemed nervous to say it, as if the word that was trying to crawl its way out of his throat would be poison on his lips. "An... An interview
Lily instantly brightened. "I'm always open to those, sir."
Interviews, though not often given to her, were the rare things in her job that she honestly enjoyed. Not only was she able to leave her musty office to do them, but she was able to talk to all sorts of interesting people while she was out and about. And while they were never with anybody particularly important (or, as Anne liked to say, nobody that would cause a riot if hurt), she still quite liked getting out her little notebook and jotting the notes down while whoever she was speaking with, be it someone she genuinely cared about or not, spouted all sorts of useful information.
"Castor Malfoy has just won the Minister's annual Extraordinary Student award."
There was that buzzing sound again. Even though Mr. Thomas had only been speaking for a minute, if that, his voice was already starting to bother the redhead at her desk.
"Someone needs to go to his residence and ask him a few questions about his achievements," he continued.
"I'm happy to do it, sir." Lily was positively beaming. Though Castor, son of her classmates Scorpius Malfoy and Diane Avery, may have only been eleven years old, he was her very new and exciting assignment. The stings from the cat scratches covering her arms started to fade as she began to visualize how her interview would look in the Prophet. She could see it now: Her article, though maybe not prestigious enough to be featured on the front page, tucked in neatly in the inner folds of the paper with her name printed boldly at the top. Her aunt would owl her, and congratulate her on her recent addition in the Prophet, just as she always did when Lily had something published (which, admittedly, wasn't often).
Little did Lily Potter know at that moment, however, Castor Malfoy was going to bring much more than just a mere interview.