“I’m not being tame!” Hannah snapped, “But we can’t paint the Leaky pink. We just can’t. Uncle Tom would have a heart attack if he saw it!”
“I’m having a heart attack just thinking about it,” muttered Cho. Alicia threw her an annoyed glare.
“Mr. Abbott was nice enough to leave us materials,” said Susan placidly, “I think it’d be in our best interest not to have it completely backfire on him.”
“Hang on, where’s Padma?” Cho swiveled around the currently vacated premises of the Leaky Cauldron. “She was supposed to be getting brushes.”
“Padma’s in the kitchen eating,” said Alicia grudgingly, “I passed her shoving down macaroons. I was trying to tell you lot, but you were too busy jumping down my throat about the paint.”
Hannah trilled, “Padma! Get out here right now!”
There was a hesitant voice which wafted over from the closed kitchen door. “What is it?”
“I – I’m getting the brushes!”
“There’s no paint in the kitchen, you ninny!” called out Alicia. “We’re not idiots!”
Padma emerged from the back, ladling a lone macaroon in her robe pocket. Everyone rolled their eyes as she shuffled guiltily to the back and took a seat at their table. The Leaky Cauldron was currently home to a small-scale catastrophe.
The ground was covered with a bed of parchment and newspapers. Three tables were completely occupied by different swatchs of paint that Susan had brought along and cut-outs of lamps and chandeliers. A fourth table had been pulled to the side and was currently occupied by an exasperated Cho Chang, a distempered Alicia Spinnet, an aggravated Hannah Abbott and an exhausted Susan Bones.
“What’d I miss?” asked Padma as she slid into a chair.
“Susan can’t decide on paint. Cee wants this really ugly pink color – ” Cho earned another glare from Alicia. “ – Hannah wants a lamp on each table. I reckon we better decide something before we all explode and go at each other.”
“We should’ve hired professionals,” said Alicia hopefully. “I’ve got some excellent contacts at Witch Weekly, you know, we could renovate this place on a grand scale! I was thinking instead of catering to – you know – like hags and old people and dead things, we could really make this place stylish! I mean, it’s been a complete mess since the war and it looks like halfway to rubble, so why not? We could do a theme – like shoes or something – and – ”
A flood of conversation erupted.
“Hang on, did you say shoes?”
“Nobody wants to eat surrounded by pictures of feet!”
“Only you like shoes that much!”
“Don’t be stupid – ”
Alicia plowed on relentlessly. “I was thinking that each of the walls could be a different color. Like this one could be lime green and another could be bright orange and the third one could be pink. The orange could have some black stripes and the pink would have this furry texture. Also, you could put in a small bar at the back just for an older crowd, you know? This place could be an amazing pub.”
“We are not spending that much,” snapped Hannah. “Uncle Tom wanted a small renovation, not for this place to look unrecognizable! Cee, this place’s been in my family for ages! I want this to look at least a bit similar to how it did in the very beginning.”
Alicia threw her hands up. “I give up!”
“What do you think, Susan?”
“Well, maybe Alicia has a point,” said Susan, frowning. “No, well, neon colors aren’t the right way to go, but we could make this place look a bit more elegant. It’s been a mess since the war.”
“I was thinking light lavender or something,” added Cho.
“No, that makes it look too feminine…”
Hannah picked up a magenta paint swatch, before staring at it and throwing it to the side. A rainbow of colors clattered to the ground as they weeded through colors that were too bright, too dark or too feminine.
“What about this?” asked Padma, holding up a light blue color.
“Blue? Probably not?”
A few minutes passed in silence before Cho finally pushed a light beige towards Hannah. “What about this?”
“It’s boring,” said Alicia immediately. She was promptly ignored.
“I like it,” said Hannah. “It looks…normal.”
“Very elegant,” said Susan.
“We could put these lamps on each table – it would match that if that were the color of the walls,” said Padma excitedly, pulling out a catalogue that Hannah had tossed aside. It had small, brown glass lamps with lamp covers made of stained glass.
There was a murmuring of approval.
“It looks…alright, it looks fine. If you got one of those glass chandeliers, it might put this place together,” said Alicia grudgingly. She gave the bright green paint swatch near her hand a desperately longing look before sighing and throwing it off the table.
“We could buy some red tablecloths. Like a darker red. It would be a nice ambience,” said Susan.
“One of Witch Weekly’s sponsors gives us discounts on some furniture. Curtains and that kind of thing.”
Hannah sighed. She gave the Leaky Cauldron’s landscape one last look filled with yellowed souvenance. A childhood frittered away playing among the tables. Her mum patiently showing her how to tend tables. Cleaning windows in the boredom of summers on days when time ceased to exist and sunshine streamed like liquid gold. The lyricism of the past. The hope of the future. All hers. All hers to love.
“Thank god we’re getting somewhere,” she murmured. A wind blew through a rattling window, drenching them in sentiments of peace and belonging. Outside, a star was grazing past the streetlight, sowing itself into the blue textures of the night.
Sunday was spent shopping in furniture stores.
Padma found a stained glass lamp with blue and orange glass that changed colors every few minutes. Susan spotted a pair of maroon curtains that always looked as though they were rippling in summer breezes. Cho swore by the pink tearoses and large Flutterby bushes they found while perusing Diagon Alley under the canopy of a cloudy day. Alicia found an ornate tiny glass chandelier in a muggle furniture store that they enlarged in the back of the Leaky Cauldron until it was the size of a table.
All Hannah picked up in the end was a clock. It was a large, antique clock the color of aged bronze with a chime like a ticking heartbeat. It had engraved roman numerals and although it had Alicia rolling her eyes at the sight of it, it made Hannah smile, remembering the days that her mother had spent filing through muggle antique stores, dancing around boxes of broken glass and dispersing dust until it was all that filled the air.
On Monday came work.
Alicia went, mumbling darkly. It was still early in the morning and the blueness of dawn had yet to be erased from the sky.
When she Apparated to the Witch Weekly office and stomped up the flight of stairs and clasped open the door, she was engulfed by the sound of laughter.
This early in the morning, laughter ought to be a crime.
Inside, Romilda Vane, Lavender Brown and Mandy Brocklehurst were sharing a single table, all grinning over a typewriter.
“Can you believe it?” Romilda was saying, “She looks like a bean!”
“What’s going on?” asked Alicia warily.
“Romilda here got the first pictures of the baby Weasley.”
Alicia peered over Mandy’s shoulder at the sight of very pink, very soft-looking baby. Never having found them anything more than small pooping, whining, crying sacks, she shrugged noncommittally. “Oh.”
“This is a strange angle though,” said Mandy, turning her head. “It almost looks diagonal. And what’s this huge gray thing across the picture?”
“I had to hide out in the rubbish bin in the back. Don’t ask.”
“Romilda,” said Lavender, whining, “she’s not going to let you print these!”
Lavender bit her lip. “Oh, I don’t know. Nothing’s going right.”
“What’s wrong, darling?” asked Romilda, petting her shoulder. “Seamus getting you down again? You’re letting him influence you too much, honestly. If Cormac gets on my case, I just – ”
“No, it isn’t that. Have you read Wanda Wilkinson’s newest article?”
“She thinks Ron and Hermione Granger are going to get married! Married.”
“That’s all rubbish and you know it. You don’t think you have a chance with him, do you?” Romilda sounded simultaneously scandalized and excited. “But you’re with Seamus!”
“It’s – it isn’t that. It’s difficult for me. I just loved him so much.” Lavender’s eyes were brimming.
Alicia rolled her eyes. From what she’d heard of Cho from Hannah and Padma, they’d had much the same conversation the previous weekend.
Pathetic. The whole lot of them.
She sighed loudly and returned to her own desk, eyeing the pile on it labeled Robe length trend Research written in Penny Clearwater’s clean script with distaste.
“What’re you up to?” Mandy’s bubbly voice floated over as she leaned over Alicia’s desk. “Ugh, you got the robe length trend! You lucky bitch! I wanted that assignment! Penny gave me name trends among witches born this May as a tribute to the new Weasley baby.”
“Really lucky,” said Alicia, flipping through the file and tossing it aside. It fell over the desk and landed on the floor.
Mandy tottered on her heels before bending down and throwing the file back on Alicia’s desk. “Um. Be careful.”
“Is everything alright?”
“Everything’s fine,” snapped Alicia, “just being moody again because I hate this bloody job. I hate coming to work listening to talk about shoes and ex-boyfriends and - please just go back to work, alright, Mandy?”
Mandy sighed. “Well, I was hoping not to have to do this, but…”
Mandy reached into the folds of her robes and extracted a piece of folded up parchment.
“What is that?” asked Alicia blankly. “A letter?”
“Over the weekend, I wrote to my aunt Vera telling her about you and asking if she had any vacancies.”
“Mandy…” Alicia’s eyes were widening.
“It turns out that she doesn’t, but I sent a list of all your qualifications and how you fought in the war and you were part of Dumbledore’s Army and all that and she wants to create a new post for you. Expand her newspaper a bit. It’s called The Magistrate and it’s got a circulation of about half a million people across the world.”
“Mandy, I don’t know what to say…”
“It’s going to require a lot of travel, Cee. You’ll have to move. They have their main headquarters in Wales and they travel about twice a week to anywhere in the world. Aunt Vera’s going to be back in town for a few days after this week’s over and she wants to meet you.” Mandy placed the letter on Alicia’s desk. “But she’s taking my word for you and she’d like to extend a formal invitation to you to be a columnist for her.”
Padma’s morning was suspiciously quiet. Fanny and Anthony both left her blissfully alone and the day was spent in happy productivity typing reports, refilling a heap of reports and otherwise pretending that there was never such a thing as annoying as Francine Folwell in existence.
By ten o’clock, the complete lack of Fanny’s teasing or Anthony’s general arseiness was borderline discomfiting. Padma soon found an excuse to edge her way over to Fanny’s desk.
Fanny looked up, unusually engrossed in work. “Hey Padma.”
“Oh, hello,” said Padma, in an attempt at standoffishness. “Didn’t notice you there.”
“Sorry, I’ve been busy all morning. Let’s go for lunch with Anthony in the afternoon.”
“Sounds good,” murmured Padma, making her way back to her desk. The jarring, paranoid feeling still wasn’t leaving her. She squinted over at Anthony, who was saying something to Ella Chambers, his expression businesslike.
This morning was suddenly becoming very…odd.
Hermione leaned over the office door.
“Cho? Can I talk to you, please?”
Genevieve and Tom threw her curious looks as Cho arose hesitantly. “Sure.”
She could hear Gen calling to Tom behind her. “What are those two spending so much time together for?”
“Mind your own business,” was the curt reply from Tom. Never had Cho been so grateful for his presence against Genevieve’s usual sarcasm, anger and prying.
“What is it?” asked Cho, taking a look around the office that had become something of her own home in the past few weeks. Under the nearly June sunlight, it had a softer, less dusty ambience about it. The rows of books on the bookshelves that snaked up to the walls and the old, comfortable armchairs and vintage browned furniture of the past decades had become more familiar and easier to like. “More work? I thought we weren’t reviewing international law at least until Thursday.”
“No, it isn’t that.”
“Because I can ask Padma Patil if you want for some materials from the Department of International Relations. I know you’re still interested in comparing French law to – ”
“Cho.” Hermione cleared her throat. “It really has nothing to do with work. Please sit down. This is – um – a bit of a more personal issue.”
Cho took a seat, frowning. Perhaps Hermione had detected the aloofness in her own voice because she began again with a little more kindness.
“I heard from Harry that you’re, um – well, frankly, that you’re interested in seeing him again.”
Cho bristled slightly at that. Honestly, prying in private and nagging someone at a workplace were two different things. Of all people, Hermione Granger ought to know what normal fare for an office was.
“Yeah, I wanted to see him for dinner. It’s been a while since we’ve spoken. Is there a problem?” asked Cho coldly.
Hermione reddened, though not entirely out of embarrassment. “Look, I didn’t mean it that way. There’s really no reason to get offended.”
“Oh, I’m not offended.”
“But if you don’t mind, I’d rather this not spread around.”
Cho marveled slightly at how aloof her words sounded, even to herself. But this was a precious last chance to finally, finally know if any of her regret was worth it. It was a chance to say sorry, to reconcile, to let go. It wasn’t really very romantic or whatever rubbish her friends presumed it to be. It was one way to set a regret right.
“Of course,” said Hermione, more cordially than Cho had expected. There was a terse silence. “Actually, this might be a good idea, after all.”
“Well, I’ve told you, Harry hasn’t been exactly prospering for a while now. This might be a good change. Assuming of course that it works out well. But I suppose it will.” Hermione turned back to the books behind her desk.
Was this some kind of a blessing from Hermione Granger?
“We’ve got loads of work to do,” said Hermione, still not facing her. Her tone had returned back to its harried, usually businesslike inflection. “Would you please write Padma Patil and tell her I’d like any files on legislature in France that she might have?”
“I’ll get right to it,” said Cho lightly, reaching for a fresh sheet of parchment and a quill.
This was turning out to be a rather strange day.
Lunch was becoming a vexing affair.
Padma and Fanny made their way past the crowded marble floors, where they narrowly avoided a team of warlocks jostling a hippogriff into line and skidded past what looked like the better half of an entirely drunken Chudley Cannons. Padma cursed as they ran past her, brooms aloft in the air.
“Idiots. The whole lot of them. What kind of incompetent fool carries around a broom in a crowd?” She muttered darkly as Fanny grinned happily.
“I dunno Padma, they’re kind of fit. I wouldn’t mind if they did.”
“You’re vulgar,” said Padma as Fanny burst out laughing.
“Stop being so uptight.”
They rode in a frosty silence on an elevator, before ambling out the exit of the Ministry of Magic and Apparating to Diagon Alley. The street was nearly empty, save a few odd shoppers. The lunch rush would be beginning soon enough.
“Coming,” said Fanny placidly. “He wanted to bring someone, so he’ll probably be a bit late. Let’s go find a place to eat.”
“Anywhere but the Leaky.”
“The Leaky’s closed for renovation, don’t you know?” said Fanny, earning an irritated glare from Padma.
“All too well, believe me.”
“What about that cute little café you’re always on about?”
So they walked under a cloudlessly blue sky down the cobblestone street where the vivid cool of spring was fanning out into the engulfing heat of the summer. They found a small table facing the street, where the empty happiness of the world lay, awaiting an audience. Padma listened idly as Fanny chattered on about her brother and her brother’s wedding and weren’t weddings just lovely?
“And his fiancée’s dress is just gorgeous – you’d love it – ” Padma made a noncommittal sound. It was highly unlikely she’d so much as spare a glance to anything Fanny of faux-fur and tacky shoes fame would like. “ – it’s this lovely peach color and – oh! – ”
There was a whooshing noise down the street and two figures popped into view. Within moments, Anthony was jogging down to meet them, out of breath and apology in hand.
“Sorry – took longer than I thought it would to finish up. You know that Nina Jorkins, right? Well, she was on about – ”
“Nobody cares,” said Padma bluntly.
“I guess that’s probably true,” said Anthony a little too good-naturedly. “Also, it took a bit for me to convince our guest to come.”
“Don’t be shy Theodore. Say hello.”
Theodore Nott slid into view behind Anthony, looking as uncomfortable as Padma felt. A drop of nervous horror was beginning to form. “Er – hello. Fanny, Padma.”
“Hi,” said Padma and Fanny together.
“Should we order?” asked Anthony, grabbing a chair from another table and all but pushing Theodore into it.
As soon as Theodore had taken a seat, Fanny arose, closely avoiding Padma’s murderous glare. “I’ve got to go to the loo and fix up. I’ll be just a minute.”
“Me too,” said Anthony, following her in a beeline for the door.
“You – you’ve got to fix up?” spluttered Padma at Anthony’s retreating back, “Give me a break, you arse! Like I can’t tell what you two are – ”
Her gaze fell back to the now perplexed Theodore Nott. “What?”
“Oh…nothing.” Padma cleared her throat uncomfortably. “D’you want to order?”
“I can wait until they get back.”
There was another pause.
“So…” began Padma offhandedly, “have you been busy much?”
“A bit. Been assigned the Thailand relations paperwork, you know.”
“Oh wow, I’ve wanted Thailand for ages! I even wrote Mrs. Marchbanks to request it!”
Theodore shrugged. “Well, what’d you get?”
“Angora,” said Padma sourly. “I’ve done Angora paperwork loads of times. I’m bored of it.”
“Why not? Gorgeous trees, beautiful rivers, nice lakes, blue skies.”
Theodore laughed. “You do know it’s just paperwork, right? Maybe some pictures. It’s not like we actually go there.”
“I know, but I like imagining it. That’s why I took this job.”
“To imagine it, I told you. I don’t really fancy traveling much. There’s always loads of problems that get in between and I can’t possibly do it everyday. But this job makes me feel like I’m traveling and learning without really having to. Why’d you join?”
“The Department was growing and the pay’s alright.”
“That’s such a boring reason.”
“Not everyone can have some great emotional reason to go for a job, Bedpan girl.”
“Shut up. And it’s not emotional. It’s just following a dream and working your way up.”
Theodore gave an odd, stilted laugh. “What would either of us know about that kind of stuff? Both of us grew up in rich families with rich parents. Not much of working up that really needed to happen. The Ministry’ll take you just for your surname.”
Padma flushed. “I don’t like it when people talk like that.”
“Oh come on.”
“What does – ”
“And my family’s donated to the Ministry for ages. It’s not really fair for us to talk about working our way up.”
Padma huffed angrily, all retorts lost.
From what little she’d known of Theodore Nott in the past, she knew that his family’d been rich. Everyone knew that about the Nott family, which had withered down only to ailing Mr. Nott and Theodore. Mrs. Nott had been gone from the very beginning – dead at childbirth or something like it, which left Theodore, Mr. Nott, a rather lot of rusting gold and a big, empty house.
But even Mr. Nott was gone now. Died off during the war and left Theodore a handsome reprieve and a decent enough inheritance.
The Patil family was one that Padma never much brought up.
Of her friends, she knew that her family was probably the strangest. Hannah’s family was nearly gone, save a few cousins and aunts and her old Uncle Tom. Cho had her muggle-born mum and all her muggle relatives. Alicia was a first generation muggle-born, but she had the biggest, most normal family of the lot, festering with siblings and relatives. She’d told them of the summers she’d spent beside cousins and siblings all rooted together in the Spinnet house, a modest place that her parents had built together when they’d married.
“My family really hasn’t been like that since the beginning,” said Padma quietly. “We had to work our way up, you know. We never had much money when my sister and I were growing up.”
“Where’s your sister now?”
“In Scotland. Healing School. I don’t really see her around much anymore.”
“I’m – I’m sorry.”
Padma shrugged. “I miss her and all, but we live our lives. She’s happy, and I see her once in a while, so we’re alright. And my parents earned their money. They came here with almost nothing, you know. It isn’t fair to say that I shouldn’t talk about dreaming. We’re only where we are now because they did dream.”
Mr. and Mrs. Patil. Mum and Dad.
Padma’d had some kind of an upbringing – one that, of all people, only her sister could properly appreciate. There had been no money and cesspools of it. There had been arguing and anger and peace and tranquility. There had been her tumultuous teenage distance from her parents and her reconciliation with her present. There was always family. There was always the Patils. The history of immigration, of rebuilding. Her family was one of hope.
The air between them had gotten unexpectedly heavy.
“Besides,” said Padma, at odds with the conversation, “this is a new generation! It’s our job to dream!”
He smiled. The tension splintered, before finally breaking. “Whatever you say. You’re as strange as you were before.”
“Just be glad I haven’t thrown anything.”
“Believe me, I’m in devout prayer right now thanking the heavens that you’ve behaved yourself this long.”
Padma laughed. “And you, Nott? What are your dreams?”
“Well, for one, I wouldn’t mind it if you called me Theodore, like a normal person.”
“Funny. Really charming.”
But he was smiling.
This was different than Potions Dungeons or the sour, stooped boy next to her with an oily complexion and a perpetually scowling face. Gone was the angry girl forced beside him, frowning, unreasonably tempestuous, wildly beyond salvation.
“What do you suppose happened, Nott?”
“We’re having a civil conversation.”
“I know that it might seem shocking, Bedpan girl, but it has been three years.”
“Don’t be an arse about it. If it’s possible for you, that is. What I meant was, how’d we both change so much?”
“I’m still alright, I think. Still hate Quidditch, like tea, can still beat you in Arithmancy. I probably read more than healthy. You?”
“I live with my friends. I read loads, I like muggle television and books. And chocolate. Lots of chocolate. The Arithmancy thing is debatable.”
Theodore grinned. “Well, we seem to have a lot more in common than before.”
“Would you be alright with discussing the Arithmancy issue more in detail next week?”
“Coffee. Dinner. Whatever.” Theodore shrugged half-heartedly. “As long as you pick something.”
“Coffee,” said Padma, still reeling with surprise. “Okay.”
“Okay.” Theodore grinned. “It’s a date, then.”
Was it? Padma looked up, blinking. I suppose it is…
After returning to the office and after a hasty goodbye, Padma returned to her desk in a daze. Theodore Nott? This was getting stranger by the moment. Only after she’d sat back down did she realize that they’d forgotten to buy any food during lunch. Or that Anthony and Fanny had never bothered returning from a thirty minute trip to the loo.
At Fanny’s conspiratorial face peeking out from behind her desk, Padma flushed angrily.
Oh well. She’d have to let this go this time. The consequences hadn’t been too ghastly.
Author's Note: Only 3 more chapters to go! We're nearly at the end here. I'm sorry I'm a bit behind on review responses - I've been traveling and just got back, but I promise I've read them all and will catch up soon. :)
I'd love to know your feedback as we reach the end. Hannah, Alicia, Cho and Padma all have their lives branching out in different ways. Any thoughts?
I promise to update soon! Thanks so much for your support through this story!