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The Lonely Hearts Club by Margravine
Chapter 3 : Ask
 
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Shyness is nice, and shyness can stop you
From doing all the things in life you want to

-Ask, by The Smiths




Padma crossed her legs. Then she uncrossed them, smoothed the creases in her scarlet dress and fiddled with her necklace. She supposed she was a tad overdressed for what amounted to a sports conference, but it has been some time since she last went out for dinner with Roger. It had been at least three weeks - or was it a month? Surely not - they had had conflicting schedules, but just because she was not a party animal like Parvati, tearing up the fashionable bars and clubs every Saturday night did not mean she had become a homebody. And she and Roger had almost had lunch at least three times in the last fortnight. One time they had even managed coffee.

Padma forced her hands to be still and glanced around the room. Although she was here in girlfriend capacity only, the wizarding world was small enough that she recognised most of the media faces present. Romilda Vane, up and coming reporter for the Weekly Catch was flicking her hair over shoulder as she simpered before Cormac McLaggen, Wizarding Wireless Network’s most popular Quidditch commentator. 

There was one face Padma did not recognise, although it was strangely familiar. Heart shaped, it was dominated by limpid blue eyes and framed by faded hair somewhere between blonde and brown. As Padma stared at it idly, trying to recall exactly where she had seen such wide blue eyes before, the owner of the blue eyes looked up from the ground, which she had been studying intently, and blushed furiously when she met Padma's gaze.

At that moment Padma was distracted by her flame-haired junior editor stalking into the room in high dudgeon. As Cormac began to beam at her and wave furiously, causing Romilda Vane to scowl, Daphne executed a sharp turn and walked as quickly as she could in six inch heels to Padma, seized her arm and dragged her to the rows of seats lined up before a raised platform on the other side of the room.

“What was that all about?” Padma asked suspiciously.

“What are you talking about?” Daphne asked innocently, fluttering her long eyelashes.

“Merlin, that is a really good volumising charm you’ve used on those – wait, you can’t distract me, I saw that little thing with McLaggen! Please, for the love of lipstick tell me he isn’t your current arm candy?”

Daphne grinned mischievously. “He is rather pretty, isn’t he?” she said. “It’s the curls. I love a man with curls.”

“But he’s Mclaggen. McLaggen,” Padma emphasised.

“I do know his name.”

“And you’re already avoiding him, which means he won’t last the week,” Padma predicted.

Daphne shrugged her shoulders. “So I was a good little messenger girl and dragged Theo out of bed, away from the bottle and into the shower. He’s talking to the team now, the conference should start any moment.”

“Only half an hour late,” Padma noted.

“Oh shush, it’s starting.”

Sure enough, the table in the centre of the raised platform was slowly being filled by the seven team members of Puddlemere united, their manager Alexandra Avery and their owner, Theodore Nott. The moment they were seated, the click of a hundred cameras filled the room with flashes of blinding light. Padma noticed with fond disgust that Roger was lapping up the attention, flashing the grin that turned women weak at the knees. Oliver Wood on the other hand looked as uncomfortable as Theodore appeared bored.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but are you Miss Greengrass?”

Padma and Daphne looked up at a tall young man in the blue of the Puddlemere staff standing in the aisle beside their seats. Daphne ran one assessing glance across his broad shoulders, tanned features and clear green eyes and smiled.

“Oh yes,” was all she said, but it was enough to bring a faint blush to the young man’s sculpted cheeks.

“An important owl has arrived for you. Would you please follow me?”

Daphne smirked slightly as she rose to her feet and pointedly ignored the warning look Padma gave her. Rolling her eyes, Padma turned her attention back to the press conference. Theodore was gesturing expressively, his usually pale face flushed with emotion.

“Puddlemere is very important to me,” he said, a hint of a smile on his lips. “As a boy, I followed their every game, and to own the club now is a dream come true.” His voice become stronger as he spoke and he looked the photographers squarely in the eyes.

“The transition of ownership has not been easy. There have been setbacks, there have been days when it looked like it was the end for Puddlemere, but we’ve come through it, and I am wholly committed to this team. It is therefore my deep pleasure to confirm for the first time that the talks I have been involved with for the last month with Spain’s own Madrid Manticores have been very successful, and for the first time, Puddlemere United will be taking part in the Leyenda Cup.”

As Theodore sat back down, the journalists began to call out over each other. Padma watched them with amusement, secure in her insider knowledge of the true state of affairs.

“Is it true Roger Davies is being promoted to Captain?”

“Why have the talks been so prolonged? Are the Manticores merging with Puddlemere? You must be aware of how serious the ramifications of such an action would be..”

“Where is Coach Daniels? Is it true he’s been forced back to rehab?”

“Theodore, what does your father think of your career choice? Do you visit him in Azkaban?”

 “Oliver, is it true you’ve been having an affair with Ginny Weasley? How does it feel to betray the Boy Who Lived?”

One question posed by Romilda Vane snapped Padma out of her doze.

“Roger, you’ve been seen looking at engagement rings – when’s the big day?”

“Could we keep this Quidditch related?” Theodore requested crisply. “You first,” he said, pointing to the wide eyed girl Padma had been unable to place earlier. She alone of the journalists had been quiet so far, although Padma, who was sitting behind her, had seen her open her mouth to speak at least three times. The girl stood up, swaying slightly, and when she spoke, it was barely more than a whisper.

“I –um – I’d like to ask - ,” she began.

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to speak up,” Theodore said impatiently. The girl blushed deep scarlet and Padma winced in sympathy, remembering her own early days in journalism. Although not as caustic tongued as Theodore, Serena Scrimgeour, the first person Padma had interviewed was intimidation personified and wrapped in plum velvet. 

“Ol-Ol-Oliver, c-c-could you state your thoughts on –on,” stuttered the girl, provoking titters from the other journalists and frown from Thedore.

“We don’t have all day, madam,” he said, clearly dismissing her as another fangirl.

Padma craned her neck and caught a glimpse of the paper the girl was blushing down at. The first question, enchanted to bold flashing text, was ‘Oliver Wood’s thoughts on the Manticore’s reputation for match fixing’, and far more intelligent than anything that had been asked in the last ten minutes. The girl sat down abruptly, looking close to tears, and Padma was stirred to action. Before Theodore could take Lee Jordan’s question on Madrid’s frequent management changed, Padma had stood up, plucked the paper out of the pale girl’s hands, and addressed the Puddlemere team, whose expressions ranged from confusion, on Oliver’s part, to apprehension on Theodore’s and knowing amusement on Roger’s. He had often laughed at her for her complete inability to mind her own business, and she knew he would have a field day with this later.

“The Tunbridge Tattler would like to know Oliver Wood’s thoughts on match fixing in Madrid, particularly considering the Manticore’s recent scandal,” Padma said, trying to look as if she was not reading off the paper. Oliver sat up at this, his eyes brightening and began to talk far more energetically than he had yet. Padma assumed an air of interest, but glanced surreptitiously to the pale girl. She received a grateful smile in return, but was far more pleased to see the girl scribbling down Oliver’s lengthy reply. If she got over her shyness, she might survive the world of journalism after all.

Padma sat back down and avoided Roger’s smirk for the rest of the conference, wondering instead where Daphne had disappeared. Daphne had taken to ignoring her family’s owls and Howlers, but surely if there had been an accident or illness in the Greengrass family they would have come to fetch her personally. Or at least sent a house elf. A tap on her shoulder startled Padma and she turned to see the girl she had helped standing before her as journalists trickled out of the room, or bunched in gossiping groups as the team and Theodore left.

"Thank you so much," the pale girl whispered, her large eyes widening even further.

"It's not a problem," Padma said easily. “Theodore’s famous for having a tongue like a guillotine, but he’s having a rather an awful day today.. it doesn’t excuse him from being git, but don’t think that was because of you.” 

Padma paused and took a risk. The girl definitely looked familiar, but she was quite sure now that she had never encountered her in any press circle before, the wizarding media world was microscopic and inbred. "You're not really a reporter, are you dear?"

A giggle - there was no other world for it - escaped the girl and she tucked a strand of fair hair behind her ear self-consciously.
"I'm actually a librarian," she confessed.

"Of course you are," Padma murmured and then winced as she realised she had spoken her first thought aloud. The pale girl did not seem offended, only smiling self-deprecatingly.

"My brother Jasper is the reporter, but silly boy went and got sick last night and begged me to cover for him."

"I don't think I know a Jasper," mused Padma, running through all her media contacts, as well as all the Quidditch correspondents she had met at various events of Roger's.

"It's his first assignment, that's why he didn't call in sick to the office. He's Jasper Turpin, I'm Lisa."

"Pleasure to meet you Lisa, I'm Padma, Padma Patil."

Lisa flushed again. Padma blessed Merlin she had been granted both dark skin and a disposition indifferent to blushing, because if she had been this fair skinned and emotional she would have never dared leave the house.

"Actually, we've already met - at school," Lisa faltered.

Padma smiled.  "You were at Hogwarts? What year?" she asked. That explained the vague familiarity of her features, Lisa was no doubt one of the many students she had known by face if not name. Probably a Hufflepuff, only a Hufflepuff could be this shy and sweet.

"Yours," Lisa mumbled. "I was in your house for seven years."

Padma's clutch went tumbling to the ground, both women ducked to snatch it and ended up knocking their heads against each other.

"You can't have been," Padma protested, ignoring the sting of her forehead where a bump promised to swell magnificently. "I would have remembered."

Lisa shrugged. "People don't tend to remember me," she said simply. "I kept to myself mostly, and I didn’t spend much time in the dorm or common room.

“I’m an awful, awful person,” moaned Padma, desperately racking her memory of Hogwarts. It had only been six years ago, and she remembered the faces of Mandy Brocklehurst, Sally Anne Perks and Morag McDougal quite easily, if it took a moment to remember what colour their eyes and hair had been.

“You’re not,” Lisa protested earnestly. “You didn’t have to help me just now, and I don’t think we spoke more than three or four times on school – it’s really not – I mean, it happens,” she broke off looking confused and Padma felt worse than ever. Before she could make another apology, she felt two hands land on her shoulders and gently spin her around.

“Roger,” she said warningly. “You know I hate it when you do that!”

Roger looked slightly sheepish. He was looking especially handsome tonight with his hair carefully rumpled and smart dove grey dress robes.

“I haven’t seen those robes before –are they new?” Padma asked, distracted.

Roger looked down at his robes as well. “These? No, had them made a few months back. Listen.. I know we were supposed to go out for dinner tonight, but Ludo Bagman’s invited me to this supper in the Loft. Boys only, I’m afraid.”

“You’re kidding me,” Padma said flatly. “You still have boy clubs in Quidditch? That is disgusting-”

“And archaic, and sexist, I agree, but it’s a really good opportunity for me to do some networking,” Roger said pleadingly.

“Fine. Go. See if I care,” Padma snapped. She was well aware she sounded like a petulant child, but at the moment she didn’t really care. She let Roger kiss her quickly and then she turned back to Lisa, who was still hovering awkwardly by the pot plant.

“Lisa, what are you doing tonight?” Padma asked speculatively.

Lisa looked surprised. “Um.. writing up my interview,” she said quietly.

“How about I buy you a drink instead?” Padma offered. Lisa looked about to protest but Padma smiled winningly at her and tucked her arm in hers.

“Really, it’s the least I can do, and you simply must tell me all about what you’ve been up to since Hogwarts,” Padma kept up the steady stream of conversation until she had towed Lisa to the large fireplace people were queuing in front of to depart.

“Please? Let me make this up to you,” Padma coaxed.

“You really don’t need to,” Lisa said again, but she allowed Padma to nudge her into the fire.

“Where are we going?” Lisa asked tentatively.

“The Leaky Cauldron,” Padma shouted. “For starters,” she added more quietly as the flames engulfed them and the world began to spin around them.

The Leaky Cauldron was far from the place to see and be seen on a Friday night. Parvati would not have been seen dead anywhere near it, but Padma had one very good reason to make it her first stop of the night.

“Hannah,” Padma drew out the word as she smiled at the rosy cheeked barmaid polishing tables in the dark one room pub. Hannah sniffed in reply, but there was a smile tugging the corner of her wide mouth.

“Do you really think you’re going to get free drinks just because you went to school with me?” Hannah asked snippily.

“No, because you’re lovely.. and because I know about your latest, ahem, hobby,” Padma said significantly. She bit back a laugh at the sudden alarm which registered on Hannah’s face.

“Mulled mead coming up,” Hannah said quickly. “And your friend?”

 “Um., just a lemon lime bitters,” Lisa requested.

“Is that Susan?” Padma asked suddenly, looking over to bar where a lone figure was sitting, toying with an empty shotglass. Her identity was only given away by the sleek bob Susan had adopted since leaving school.

“Yes,” Hannah admitted.

“Susan doesn’t drink,” Padma said flatly. “Not since the Ernest McMillan Incident in sixth year.”

 “She’s drinking. Gillywater. On the rocks,” Hannah sighed.

“Oh Merlin,” muttered Padma, stalking over to the bar. She heard the other two follow her, Hannah falling right into the same trap Padma had.

“So how do you know Padma?”

“Oh.. I, um, was in her year at Hogwarts.”

“But that would mean – oh. Oh my. I’m so sorry, what did you say your name was?”

“Susan, meet Lisa Turpin,” Padma announced abruptly, seating herself beside the brunette and casually swiping her drink.

“Have we met?” Susan asked, peering at Lisa owlishly. ”You look very familiar for some reason.”

“Lisa was in our year at Hogwarts,” Padma said quickly. “She’s now a librarian. Lisa, you’ve met Hannah, who works her for her godfather Tom, and I’m sure you remember Susan Bones, who is now a therapist.

“Our year? Are you surre?” Susan asked, slurring her words slightly.

“Quite,” Padma said crisply. Before the awkwardness of the conversation could be truly appreciated, all the occupants of the Leaky Cauldron jumped as the door to Diagon Alley crashed open with such force it rebounded and slammed the hand of the woman standing in the doorway blocking the evening light. As she stomped forward, Padma recognised Daphne, and the look on her face caused Padma’s breath to catch. Daphne’s eyes were chips of blue fire and her full lips set in a thin hard line.

“You won’t believe what my bitch of a sister has done,” she spat. Padma looked at Susan, who had already acquired another shot of gillywater, at Lisa, who still was hovering by the bar beside her and then at Hannah, who ignoring the hag at table three gesturing for a refill of Firewhisky.

“I think I’m going to need that drink now,” Padma sighed, rubbing her forehead. It was going to be a long night.

 



A.N

Sorry about the wait my dears, I’m juggling a few too many balls atm. This wasn’t as fun filled but necessary to get the real plot moving. What on earth could sweet little Astoria have done to upset Daph so?

Chapter dedication.. this one goes to Jack, because it wouldn’t have got out for another few weeks without his prodding!

Song of the chapter/title: Ask, by the Smiths. Anything else is JK’s.

Thankyou everyone for your absolutely amazing support! Next chapter will be up when the que reopens!


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