Chapter 2 : Chess for Three
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♥ ci by julia/ahoythere
In the eyes of a reporter, people fit in one of three categories.
You have your attention whores—strutting Quidditch blokes, rich bints, and their groupies. The bulk of Witchy Business's stories come from them. That's what happens when life is drinks and shags. Going to school to learn? That's for ugly, poor people.
Here's how the system works: if you're extremely fit, you can find someone desperate enough to do your work. That poor girl or boy clings to the hope that you'll see their inner beauty, fall in love, and fly into the sunset with them while a crowd applauds below. If you're rich, there's bribery; crude but very efficient. If you're both, well aren't you a lucky thing?
The populars are also the quickest to anger. Caroline Escot has been out to kill me for the seventeenth time after last week's issue. "Can you believe what that bitch Clemence wrote?" she seethed during breakfast, loud enough for the entire hall—and therefore, me—to hear. "It was supposed to be a private moment! I'll burn that paper of hers!" Because dumping a bowl of cereal on that troll who stole your boyfriend is supposed to be a private moment.
She secretly adores the spotlight, just like all of her friends. If Caroline really wanted to kill me, she would have done it ages ago and she wouldn't have snuck me a note about her so-called best friend snogging two blokes at the same party. Funny how quickly she turns to me when it's in her favor.
Anyway, moving on to the second category: the plain Janes. Not the sort of people that you'd think would make good stories, but on the contrary, they make the best ones. Quiet, studious, or just average, they've never stirred up trouble in their lives—until their first drop of alcohol and then wham, they're up on the table, stripped down to their knickers, screeching out 'Baby you're a Firebolt.' It doesn't happen much, but when it does, it's bloody brilliant. Everyone loves a bookworm let loose; sexy librarian fetishes exist for a reason (my condolences if that conjured up an image of Madam Pince).
Finally and most importantly, there are the enigmas. The ones you can't quite figure out because, well, they're enigmas. They're a bit too quiet and a bit too smart to be plain Janes; you never feel like you're getting the whole story. Most of them aren't hiding anything—no dark secret or sensitive soul—but they only need the reputation to make them attractive. Girls adore the brooding bad boy, and for the same reason, the public can't help but hover over a private figure. Mysteries are hard to come by in this modern age; it's not often we get to be the one to play detective.
Enigmas are tricky, though. Observation is their weapon and shield and they walk one step ahead of the crowd. They know how to dodge an inquiring reporter. Fight tooth and nail to be left alone.
And Albus? He may as well be their poster boy.
Post-dinner, I'm off to snoop for Operation Albusgate. Dom's grown to hate dealing with her cousins, Pickett never fiddles with relationship stories if he can help it, and Janey just isn't aggressive enough. I don't mind; investigating's rather fun with the right target.
I arrive at the Fat Lady's portrait, prepped with a line by the time I greet her. "Well, well, hello there. What a hairstyle."
She giggles, "Oh, you noticed. Lenora from the second floor did it for me. Can't keep her hands off the braiding for long."
"And it is gorgeous." I lift a brown strand of my own. "She'll have to do mine one day."
Portraits see everything and being stuck on a canvas creates quite the itch for chatter, so a good relationship with them is critical. They're not so bad, really; lots of wacky stories if you're patient, but they do like to prattle, which is what the Fat Lady's about to do if I don't interrupt.
"You'll have to excuse me. I've got some business to attend to." With a quick glance at my hand where Janey scribbled this week's password, I add, "Gregarious Grindylows?"
A touch of disappointment creases her brow, but her duty supersedes. "Oh oh, of course." She swings open. "Maybe tomorrow. I have all day. All eternity!" She giggles again. "And oh!" she hisses loudly. "Barnabas the Barmy's looking up my skirt again from the frames below!"
I give a scandalized gasp as I enter the common room. As dawdling as the Fat Lady is, I'll likely take her offer up. She gets iffy about non-Gryffindors knowing the passwords—a bit of the traditionalism of her times. One day, she'll have to accept that a word can't keep anyone out anymore. It only strands the saps with short-term memory.
Around the room, a smatter of students fill the desks, snoggers are fused on sofas, and Caroline Escot brushes past me on her way out, sending me a withering glare. Nice to see you too, cow.
No matter, my focus is strictly trained ahead. Albus is sitting like a statue at the edge of the room, contemplating his next chess move against his cousin Hugo. He's dark-haired, pale and skinny like his father. Same distaste for reporters.
As I take my first step toward them, he shudders and looks up. That shudder turns into a full-fledged recoil when he spots me. Apparently, he's also inherited the ability to sense approaching evil.
"Oh Merlin, it's her," I hear him say.
I smile as I steal a chair from a desk and drag it up to them, spinning it around so the back is against the table. Hugo greets me with a bemused nod. Albus is silent, his blinking glance trailing from me back to the game. I'm not a hippogriff, sugar. Ignoring me won't make me go away. But I let him play his next move before I speak.
Albus takes a deep breath, exhaling discontent. "Fitzgerald."
The corner of my mouth tilts up and his green-eyed gaze snaps to mine.
"You know what I'm here for," I say coolly.
His reply is swift. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Heard about your new bird. Rose can't keep her mouth shut."
Hugo laughs, not quite catching the severity of his cousin's irritation. "That's for sure. Can't shut her gob to mum about everything I do wrong. Late to class. Can't make my bed right." He smiles, faltering when he sees Albus isn't returning the same joviality. He clears his throat. "Right, er, rook to D5." The piece scrapes across the board.
Albus adjusts his posture to sit a few inches taller. "Don't blame this on Rose," he mutters, glancing between me and the chessboard. "Dom guilted her with the cousin card."
It's Dom's specialty. Adores pushing Rose's buttons, thinks Little Miss Prefect is too uptight to be a Weasley. Dom would go to Rose with puppy eyes and lament, 'What happened to us? We used to talk all the time. You'd tell me everything. I just want to know how my cousins are doing.'
I shrug, curling my hand under my chin. "Whatever works."
"Why should I tell you anything?"
A common retort. "Because it's better to get your story out how you want it to, instead of me digging it up in the worst way possible." I lean in, one finger on the table in between us. "I'm going to write this whether you want me to or not, Potter. I'm just giving you the chance to do it on your own terms."
Albus hesitates, giving me a lengthy consideration. Meanwhile, the pieces on the board are clamoring for attention and he mutters a quick, "Pawn to G4," just to shut them up, wincing as he does so. He returns his attention to me while Hugo rubs his hands in delight.
I know what Albus is thinking: last year's biggest headline. At their family Christmas dinner, Dom was under the impression that he and Scorpius Malfoy were a little more than best mates. Sharing rooms, secret conversations, suspicious pillow fight activity. I told her that she was imagining things, but she had a clincher: one evening, Scorpius commented on the sitting room wallpaper and said the pattern complemented the furniture.
"Wallpaper, Clemence," she said. "What straight teenage boy notices wallpaper?"
While I try to steer clear of justification-by-stereotype, she sort of had a point. We ambushed Albus, demanding details, but he wouldn't give. In the end, we embellished what facts we had and broke the story anyway. The story terrorized the two until Scorpius and Rose suddenly got together a few months later. It's a few months too many, when he could've just given us the facts from the start.
I pull a notepad from my pocket. "Well?"
Albus presses his lips together, taking his time as if it's supposed to help him figure me out. "You've got nothing. Try your bluff on someone else. Just because other people are afraid of you doesn't mean I am too."
"Don't flatter yourself. I've got plenty of people who refuse to speak, and I let them go." I point my quill at him. "But you're a special case, Potter boy."
"Excuse me for having a famous family."
"Then excuse me for doing my job."
The tempo picks up and we're like duelists circling each other, wands out, ready to strike. "Job," Albus scoffs, and pushes his seat back, angling himself toward me, determination set in his jaw. "Can't believe you can get a job ruining lives."
"Leave the exaggeration to me, sugar."
His head cocks to the side. "Have you done a lick of good for this school?"
"I report the truth." It's a shit answer, I admit, but a good standby. "People have a right to know."
"Truth?" He laughs, bitter like the blackest tea. "Like me and Scorpius have the hots for each other?"
My fingers smooth through the plume of the quill. There's real anger surfacing in him; the line between play and seriousness is thin. "The article said it was an unconfirmed rumor."
"Like hell that matters. People take it for truth anyway."
"Ah well, not my job to fix humanity." My defeatism could rival the Russians. "But look on the bright side! You've got a girlfriend. See: clearly not gay." I smear on a smirk just for the hell of it. "Now you give me the dish, and let's put it on record."
The rapid-fire repartee is running circles around Hugo, staring at us dazedly and seems to have forgotten that it's still his turn. "Maybe you should just tell her—"
Albus shushes him, flapping a hand like a mother trying to shoo a curious child away from danger. Hugo continues anyway, "At this rate I don't even think you actually have a girlfriend—"
This time, instead of a shush, Albus lunges across the table, throwing a hand over Hugo's mouth, verifying the truth before my eyes.
Always go digging when there's someone around. Cousins make the worst secret keepers.
"Very interesting." I take in the scene with the smuggest look I can manage. "Albus Potter and the imaginary girlfriend."
"She's not imaginary," he grits. He let Hugo go with a shove.
The smaller Weasley rubs his shoulder, grumbling, "Well you won't tell any of us her name."
"That's because I want to keep it private from people like her." Albus points in my face while I'm sitting here wondering who exactly people like me are. Are there others in this school that are this blissfully cutthroat?
Hugo puts his hands up. Nice kid, slow but sweet, got that 'aw shucks' shtick working for him. Pretty much the only thing working for him.
"I told you," Albus whispers, although I'm about six inches away so I can hear every word. Maybe he thinks it's the thought that counts. "I'll probably bring her over for Easter."
"I hope so. Everyone wants to know, mate." Hugo leans back on the chair and he's flirting with gravity as he balances on the back two legs. "Say, Clemence, maybe you should snoop after all and tell us—"
Albus promptly smacks him over the head, and Hugo nearly topples over. Albus shoots me a glare. "I think we're done here."
"I decide that." I flip to a new page in my notepad.
"Fine. Hugo, let's go." Albus picks up the robe draped across the back of the chair and grabs his cousin's wrist.
"But the game..." Hugo protests.
"You already know you're going to win in four moves."
"Well, as long as you're admitting defeat." Under his mop of red hair, Hugo grins and hops off toward the stairs, saluting me. "You should distract him more often."
I twist around in my chair and throw him a thumbs up before Albus blocks my line of sight. He crosses his arms tightly against himself. "Put your efforts elsewhere, all right? Do you know the kind of permanent damage that paper of yours does?"
"How terribly bleeding-heart of you," I yawn, stretching my arms.
"I think it just means I have a heart. Meddling with people's lives—"
"It's a little late for trying to make me feel guilty." I stand, shrinking the gap in our heights. He doesn't understand that if I weren't here, there'd be someone else filling my spot. "Don't be a drama queen. News is fleeting. There for a moment, then everyone forgets when the next big thing hits. Rinse and repeat, et cetera, et cetera. Life goes on."
"Then why write about anything at all if it won't matter in ten years?" He leans in, arching a brow. "Or is what you say like what you write? A big load of shit?"
"You want to tussle, Potter?"
"I'm not stooping to your level."
"If you do, we could use an extra writer."
His voice rises, drawing the attention of nearby students. "I don't have the patience for this."
"Just say you don't have a comeback."
"I—" But he stops himself, which might be the smartest thing he's done so far. "Good night, Fitzgerald."
"Good night, Potter." I sashay out, tucking my quill and notepad in my pocket. Albus doesn't leave his spot. Just as the portrait shuts, I add, "See you tomorrow."
Whenever there's something juicy mid-week, we call upon Barry the Breaking News Barn Owl. We pump out a rush issue and he flies a copy to every Seventh Year girls' dorm and it gets passed down the years from there (it's a bit like trickle-down economics, except that it actually works). He's also good for getting little notices out, like last-minute parties or in this case, Girlfriend Watch.
It's why I'm furiously scribbling while standing knee-deep in droppings in the owlery. It's not pretty, but journalism rarely is.
Albus Potter has a girlfriend, girls. While we have yet to confirm an identity, she walks amongst us. Look around you. Maybe someone in your House visited the Gryffindors a tad more than usual lately. Maybe even someone in your own dorm. Those with details know who to contact and shall remain anonymous upon request.
'Baby, You're a Firebolt' adapted from Katy Perry's Firework
A/N Sorry for the long wait. Gubby was about to kill me to update, so she's been hurrying me along for awhile (ilu ♥ I write at the pace of a decapitated snail and everyone seeing this sentence should flounce over to your authors page and read her Al/OC right now).
Reviews are lovely~!
"So you want to tussle."
He shoots a stun that whizzes past my ear. Far from ready, I dodge it only by chance.
"You could say that," he says, smirk reigning.
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