Chapter 4 : A Vivid Imagination
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all the bamf cis from julia~
Dom and I swing out of Breech's in step. It's twenty minutes until our next class—Runes for her, History for me—and a proper reporter is quick in wit and walk.
I rub my shoulder, still sore post-D.A.D.A. "So Albus wants to remind me of exactly how awful I am," I mutter. Mind, I am very awful, but he's a sopping wet blanket. If I'm Voldemort, he's Filch, and it's a toss-up on who's worse.
Dom's looks over her shoulder at Albus and Rose's departing figures, and I tug on her elbow to remind her of her conspicuousness. "Odd though, don't you think? I saw him go straight for you—when we were picking partners, I mean. I thought he wanted something."
The details slipped my mind. At the forefront has been a single thought: I can't believe that self-righteous bastard won the duel with a compliment.
Dom takes one look at me and flattens her gaze. "You look positively murderous."
"Just a little bloodthirsty."
With an extra scrunch of her nose, her expression takes on a distinctly Delacour note of displeasure. "I'll always take your side, but Al's one of the few cousins I actually like. Don't kill him."
"You know what I mean."
We jostle past the feverish first years bounding out of Herbology. A sleek-haired girl—looks a bit like Escot, maybe a younger sister—points a finger at me and whispers into another girl's ears, glaring. The young learn so quickly.
"No, I don't know what you mean." Dom presses closer as a herd of muddy Quidditch players stampede past. "Don't assume; it's lethal."
"I'm not going to ruin Al over a little bruised ego. Revenge isn't my thing." My principles might not be orthodox, but they do exist. With my job, I can't expect people to be hospitable. Potter, however, is a special case. "Do you know what he did? He provoked me, that's what. He shows up suddenly, all enigmatic, spouting enigmatic speeches, and agrees to duel me with that enigma of a girlfriend on the line. I swear, he was smirking like he planned it."
She straightens. "Did he?"
"Do I look like a Legilimens?" I pivot on my heel and make a sharp turn up the next flight of stairs. Dom follows on a wider arc, still in step.
"Well excuse me for worrying this might lead to a dead end."
I quirk a brow and she sighs.
"I had an inkling but I preferred not believing it. The whole girlfriend rumor... might be planted. When Rose leaked the news, she seemed off. Confused, I don't know, like she was figuring out what to say. But it's obvious, isn't it? Al's baiting you. He has something in mind."
Doubt prickles my neck. I joked that the girlfriend was imaginary, but the story was awfully convenient. "Have you got anything else?"
"Rose doesn't know who the girl is either." Dom winces, not too pleased with coming to the conclusion so late. "I thought, out of everyone, she would know. It doesn't fit."
"She could be bluffing."
"Did she learn to lie overnight? She can't bluff a statue."
If Rose doesn't know, it's likely that no one knows. No witnesses, no evidence, no story. But what would Potter want by planting this? What mouse sets the mousetraps in hopes of catching the cat?
Arriving at History, I slump against the wall. "I'll keep it mind."
Dom nods. Hugging her books, she turns to leave. Runes class is a few hallways down. "By the way," she says, before she's swept away in the sea of students, "you still look murderous."
Dom isn't easy to describe in words. You might pass her off as another stuck-up blonde and you'd be completely right. But you have to see the way she talks, the way she captures the space around her. Whether you like her or not, you can't help but get wrapped around the speck of her eye when she looks at you. It's more than charisma; it's presence. You know she's there, and you'll never forget her.
People say we're similar but only because we're always together. I could never be Dom. She flits around, a social butterfly like her older sister (though she'd hex anyone who makes the comparison), but don't let the bubbly metaphor fool you; she revels in the venom. Her thrill, of sorts. I don't exactly approve, but Dom has a foot in every circle and it brings in stories. Whenever she gets in a tiff, I take the heat for her. Annoying, but I like my stories and Dom likes being liked. Even if I weren't okay with it, it's not like I can convince her to change. She gets what she wants and god help you if you're in her way, which sums up her and Rose's rivalry well enough.
Rose—now, she has a lot more in common with Dom than I do, but I can't convince Dom of that either. They're what people call 'frenemies' except that's the stupidest word I've come across since 'guesstimate' and Pickett's version of 'ironic'—frenemies sounds like something you buy at a florist.
It is, unfortunately, what Rose and Dom are. They've been at each other's throats since they were old enough to fit their tiny hands around the other's neck. During their fifth Christmas, Rose received a 'better' doll than Dom. According to Dom, her own doll was wearing a knock-off designer dress, never mind that every single dress was the same. Rose taunted and Dom might have tripped her into a tray of dessert. End result: a full-blown pie fight of three different flavors and no dolls for either of them.
Every fight boils down to the staple disagreements: boys, books, and bitching. Dom likes to flirt; Rose is a one-bloke girl. Dom coasts through class; Rose is in the library every day. Dom is in the gossip business; Rose is trying to get her out. The arguments go around and around on who is the better girl. Dom is catty. Rose is fake. It should only matter to them (it really shouldn't matter at all), but with their popularity, it becomes a school-wide issue: the glamorous rebel versus the golden good girl, which side are you on? Choose wisely; it'll determine which half of the student body hates you.
Dom tells me that I'd never understand her and Rose's relationship and maybe I won't. I can't say they hate each other, and I might even believe that deep down they want to like each other, but they've reached the point where they fight for the sake of fighting. If nothing else, their sheer competitiveness has made them the brightest witches Hogwarts has seen in two decades.
Dom knows what I think: if she tried, she could get back on good terms with every scorned cousin, even Rose. But it's not what Dom wants. It'd be fake, she says, like Rose—whatever that means. And so she sticks by me and she says she's happy but I can't help but wonder about people who declare they're happy.
If Pickett dings that typewriter one more time, I am going to rip off his—
"Pickett." I twist around on my stool, eyes narrowed. It's work day in the newsroom, which means lots of tea, quill-biting, and Pickett's incessant fiddling with the typewriter settings.
"My article's done. I'm testing out things I can do to make it look nicer," he says, wiggling his inky fingers in the air.
Dom, sitting next to him, looks up. Reaching across, she rips the paper off the feed despite a very solid protest of 'Oi, woman.'
There's an incredulous gasp. "What is this?" She thrusts the paper into Pickett's face. "What. Is. This. Line spacing?"
"It looks better." Pickett snatches it back, crumpling and tossing it over his shoulder. It misses the rubbish.
"Better? And how do you get to be the authority on what looks better?"
"I'm brilliant. What've you got?"
"I'm the bloody layout editor!" Dom huffs, crossing her arms. "Clemence, we have to have an intervention. He decreased the line spacing again. This is unacceptable, worse than the time he increased the font size by point five."
"Worse? My, what an accusation," I say, dry as a desert. Dom and Pickett are live newsroom entertainment.
Dom pouts. "It isn't funny."
I call to Janey, who's scribbling away in her own little productivity corner, "Janey, is it funny?"
A grinning Janey fiddles with the rim of her glasses. "Quite."
I mimic Pickett's innocent shrug. "Janey says it's funny and seeing as she's done the most work today, she gets to be the one who's correct. Sorry, Dom."
Dom resumes her photo work grumpily. I turn to Pickett. A pleased smirk is drawn across his face.
"Yes, my lovely chief?"
"Oh, shut up and do something useful for once."
At seven o' clock, I go back to my room to change for the Speak Easy, picking my standbys: Dom's old lace-lined top and charcoal skirt. When I return downstairs to the common room, Dom and Pickett enter the stone doorway at the same time. No surprise, they're in the midst of another spat.
"I'd expect you'd be smarter than that," Pickett barks. "You're just ignoring the consequences—"
"Could you please have a little discretion?" Dom glances around the room. She makes a beeline for me and Pickett shakes his head. She's by my side for only a moment before stomping to our room, long enough to whisper, "Henry thinks I shouldn't make a second expose on Rose and Scorpius."
Pickett is still souring up the entrance when I walk over. "Don't tell me you agree with her," he scowls. "She's going to get too involved."
"She says she's not interested in Scorpius. Give her the benefit of the doubt."
"You can do that."
"We need the story."
His jaw clenches and he looks away. I squeeze his shoulder and it's all I can do before I have to rush over to the armor gallery. The entire drama surrounding Scorpius is such a teeter-totter. I want to believe Dom, but she makes it so hard.
At exactly seven-thirty, sharp on the second, I arrive in the armor gallery. Valencia's waiting, overdressed. We make our way up to the seventh floor with light conversation.
"How's Witchy Business?" she asks.
"Good. A bit busy this week."
It's always the same questions. Is Witchy Business fun? What's it like? What do you do? It's all they know about me, so it's all they can ask. I'd love to boast of my multifaceted soul, but let's face it: I tell other people's stories for a reason.
Outside the Room of Requirement, I walk past the door three times and it creaks open, revealing a long, black passageway. Valencia stares into the darkness, swallowing. She picks up her skirt and steps inside, breathing easier when the wall sconces flicker on.
I lay down the standard introduction. "The Speak Easy is open every other night after dinner. The only rules are common sense. Keep it classy. Enjoy the mood."
We reach another smaller wooden door. I knock and a slat slides across and we're met with a pair of eyes. A short click later, the door swings open and the night's greeter Eddie Burbray welcomes us with a tip of his hat.
"Miss Fitzgerald! And Miss... Oden, am I correct?"
"Yes..." Valencia blinks, slightly taken aback. "Oh, you're in my Herbology class! Eddie?"
"Tonight I'm Mr. Burbray." He smiles and winks. "First time? You've arrived on a good night. The Dead Languages are playing."
She blushes. "Oh, the uh..."
"Jazz band," I whisper to her, pointing to the stage.
Her eyes widen as she takes in the setting for the first time. It's really quite magnificent in comparison to the rest of this shoddy castle, the best a magical room can offer. Dark wood-panelled walls, gold-plated fixtures, sumptuous and refined like chocolate. Past the lounge is the dance floor and stage, where the The Dead Languages' singer is crooning in Latin.
I guide Valencia to one of the tables near the bar and ask a passing House-Elf for two sparkling butterbeers.
"I didn't realize this place was so big," says Valencia. "Is it always like this?"
"Varies. Weekends are more likely to have live entertainment and it's getting pretty popular these days. Other nights you see the same few regulars here." I point to a smoky corner where there are six chess matches in session. "The chess players never leave."
I do a double take. Sitting at the middle table, on the cusp of capturing a knight, and staring straight at me, is Albus Potter.
I turn back to Valencia, smile curving. After the House-Elf returns with our drinks, I show her around. Opposite of the dining area is a curtained-off extension of the lounge, a more social environ. Sofas to relax, minglers for conversation, and an endless stream of drinks for lower inhibitions. Valencia spots some friends and settles in. I excuse myself.
As I slip back out in the main room, the black king in front of Albus crumbles to dust. The board cleans itself up and he shakes his departing opponent's hand, some hipster arithmancer nerd that could easily be mistaken for a husky stuffed into a suit and large-rimmed glasses. He's prepared when I slide into the vacant seat. There is no greeting, merely folded hands and a head cocked to the side. He's in more casual wear: a loose grey shirt, unjacketed and unadorned.
My eyes lower to the board, where the pieces have finished rebuilding themselves, and then to him again. His lips remain shut, waiting. Black is on my side.
"Pawn to E4," I say.
The marble figure slides forward. The clock starts ticking. Ten minutes a player.
"Pawn to E5." Albus holds my gaze.
"You're not talkative."
"I'm usually not to people I dislike," he says as he moves his pawn to capture mine. "You promised you wouldn't do the story this week. You have no business with me."
"So I did. This is a social visit." I smile toothily. I'll need a proper redress for last afternoon' duel. My knight slides forward and there is a wink of a second where Albus' breath pauses and he glances between me and the board. Is that fear or excitement? Either way, it's my kind of game.
"Besides, I never said I wouldn't follow you around." I curve my hand underneath my chin.
A chuckle—more of a doubting breath than amusement. He rolls his sleeves up past his elbow.
While he's taking his sweet time thinking, I delve into bored taunts. "You know, the point of having a girlfriend is to spend time with her." I spin a finger around the chessboard. "This is sort of defeating the purpose."
He glares, his famous spark of anger igniting. Protective of your imaginary girlfriend, how cute.
His bishop to E7. My bishop to C4.
I lean forward. He's stopped looking at me, pretending to be oh-so-absorbed in his next move. "Remind me," I say, "Why do you hate me again? I mean, I don't hate you."
He scoffs. "You don't have a reason to hate me."
"Have you considered the possibility that you're a preachy oversensitive twit?"
"Better than a soulless shell of big words and intimidation." There's a lilt in his voice that I haven't heard before, almost like he's talking through a smirk.
I duck my head a little lower. There it is. "You enjoy this."
"What?" But he can't dim the mischief quick enough.
"Banter." The stubborn comebacks, challenging me to a duel—it all makes sense.
"At least I'm not proud of it."
"At least I'm not in denial about it."
"Who's preachy now? Bishop to H4. Check." Now, he doesn't bother hiding his smirk. Maybe it's because of the check or... Potter, despite what he says, is very proud of it. I might have misjudged him after all; he is far more interesting than I gave credit for.
I lose another pawn. I drop the question I've been waiting all night to ask.
"You don't have a girlfriend, do you?"
He doesn't flinch. He only blinks once, methodically timed to give him a moment without me in his view. "Why would you think so?"
"You don't seem like someone protecting secrets. At least not about your personal life. You seem more like someone who's looking for trouble and found it."
"Maybe trouble likes to find me."
"Don't flatter yourself."
I move my pawn and it's his turn—his last turn, and he knows it. It's pawn to D6 and as it slides across the board, Albus' attention lingers on his king, its death sentence approaching. "Hypothetically, even if I lied about having a girlfriend"—his eyes flick to mine—"looking for trouble as you say... I wouldn't be so quick to think the match is over."
The roguishness never quite left his face since it uncloaked itself, and it's startlingly charming.
Eyes locked, I utter the final move, "Knight to G5." My piece moves forward, and the face of his king begins to crack. "Checkmate."
A/N Sorry about the long wait. I'm a lot busier than i thought *___* and my muse keeps going on and off. Chugging along~ Maybe another update soon? Boo multiple WIPs. I'd love to hear what you think and what you're expecting!
I'm a few doors away when I hear shrieking coming from the east end. My instincts kick in—something's afoot. It can't be less than a mob, so close that I can feel the rumble underneath my feet. Whatever this is, it's stopping for no one.
When a body flashes by, I certainly do not expect Albus Potter to be the one skidding into view. As soon as he spots me, he groans, "Oh Godric, not now."
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