Chapter 3 : Lavender and Lunch
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I put the mug of coffee down on the desk, and placed a stack of papers and a copy of Witch Weekly beside it. I wiped the sweat from my brow with the back of my hand and began levitating the tea tray out of the office and into the ongoing traffic of the editor's corridor. A flock of parchment messages prodded at my back and I swatted them away. At first, it had been fun, answering people’s questions and running errands. It made my feel popular, but now… now it pissed me off no end.
I sighed. Grace Castle-Carmichael was under the impression that my name was Dorothy and that I had the ability to do a million different things at once. A middle-aged woman who had once worked under the great Rita Skeeter, she had severe problems with social niceties. I turned to face her ongoing wrath.
"Have you got the coffee?"
"And handed it out?"
"So where is mine?"
I gestured to the remaining mug on my tray. Grace smiled and took a victorious sip. The smell of coffee beans and caramel wafted through the air and I longed for a home cooked meal rather than the dodgy Muggle ready meals I had been eating at my dodgy flat. The last thing I had eaten which didn’t have a plastic film was the canapés at James’ match.
"Have you sent the report?"
"Have you written the article about the Salem Witches' Cauldron Bake?"
“The report on the whole drought situation?”
"And have you arranged the interview with Lavender Brown?"
"Good. I need you to find…" she consulted a sheet of parchment as she searched for the name, “an Amelie Harris and tell her to get up to the lobby. Miss Brown is waiting for her interview and the stupid girl is late.”
Oh fuck. I knew there was something else. I had finished all my errands that morning but I knew there had been something that I couldn’t forget.
Well done, Amelie.
“What are you staring at, Dorothy?”
I stared at her wrinkled face and bright dyed hair and horrid pink lipstick. I felt like hitting her caramel coffee out of her hands and pushing her over so she would lie on the floor like a bug stuck on its back, her legs waving and wobbling in the air. Her green suit would be ruined. Her ugly red shoes would fall off. Interns everywhere would rejoice.
But she was still my boss so I dampened the desire to wipe the stupidly blank look off her pug-like face.
“Be gone,” she snarled, a thick line of coffee foam on her top lip, like a moustache. I ran down the corridor, easily navigating the crowd of people.
I slid elegantly – and not at all awkwardly or clumsily – into my office. I could see three papers messages whizzing around my chair, but they soon flittered away. I heard snoring and looked around the tiny room.
It was filled with crap. Three desks had somehow managed to be squeezed inside but they were covered with copies of The Prophet and various articles and books and flyers and photographs. Shelves lined every free space on the wall. The room had a strange smell - mould and the stench of dusty parchment and lavender from the bundle of flowers Emily kept on her desk. At least we had a window (which was one up on the junior interns) but the sliver of grimy glass was tiny and just looked out onto Knockturn Alley and a twenty-foot poster of James and some other Quidditch blokes promoting a magical shaving cream and pouting.
A girl with a head full of dark curls appeared from behind a huge pile of Quidditch flyers, her eyes still half closed.
“What? Where’s Andrew?”
“He’s polishing Grace’s shoes,” I said as Emily pushed herself up before accidentally turning to face the mirror on the wall. She yelped slightly at her reflection and a pile of paper fell off her table. I started finding my quill and notebook, ignoring her mumbling and groaning.
“What?” Emily murmured, still disorientated as she moved around the tiny office, “and where are you going?
“I’ve got an interview.”
Emily tripped over a box full of taster hair potions and got twisted up in her robes. She remained stationery for a second, lying still on the floor, and I wondered whether she had fallen asleep again. I was tempted to go over to her, but Lavender Brown was still waiting downstairs.
“Yes, what is it?” The middle-aged woman was even more glamorous and flamboyant in real life, her eye shadow reaching up to her eyebrows, her strings of pearls and jewels wrapped around her throat. She clutched a carpetbag to her chest, her bracelets jingling, and rearranged her bright orange glasses.
“I’m Amelie Harris,” I said, holding out my hand, “I’ll be interviewing you today.”
“Well I suppose I should tell you that I go by Miss Brown now.”
I smiled so broadly my cheeks were aching. I hated being polite. “If you’d like to follow me, Miss Brown.”
Lavender Brown pestered me with questions as we walked. I sent her down dark staircases and long never-ending corridors. People stopped to talk to her. Grace even asked for her autograph before calling me Dorothy and asking me where I was going. Miss Brown was panting and sweat had appeared on her brow.
We shuffled down the next corridor in silence. I popped my head into several rooms, only to find them filled with Quidditch experts or Aurors or wand analysts or weather forecasters. I finally found an empty room and ushered Miss Brown inside. She sat down heavily, as if the walk had been exhausting. Her breath was coming in short bursts.
“Are you alright, Miss Brown?”
“Yes of course. I’d like some gin, if you have it. With ice.”
“Actually, I don’t think that…”
“Oh, then don’t worry about it,” she snapped, “stupid rules and regulations. I suppose you can’t drink at work nowadays.”
“I don’t think you were ever allowed to drink at work.”
“I was!” Miss Brown said, slamming her bejeweled hand down on the table. “The seers used to love it!”
I stared unabashedly at her before sheepishly consulting my folder. “As you probably know, you’re being interviewed for the ‘Get To Know’ column – it’s more intimate, more private. Less about plugging your books and more about your own self.”
Miss Brown, who had been halfway through pulling various copies of her books out of her bag, looked confused. Her glittering jewels distracted me.
“What? So I can’t talk about my books?”
“Oh, of course you can,” I improvised, “but it’s more about the effect they’ve had on your life rather than when the newest one is coming out.”
“It came out last week, actually,” she began, and I knew there was no stopping her. I tapped the quill with my wand and watched – completely zoned out – as Lavender Brown gesticulated wildly and talked endlessly about her novels. When she finally finished, my eyes were struggling to stay open.
“And when did you decide to become a novelist?”
“I was a great fan of Fifi LaFolle when I was younger. Her books got me through some really difficult times – my disintegration of the relationship with my first love, discovering about my lycanthropy, the death of my grandmother. I wanted to do something that could affect someone else, just as her books had affected and helped me.”
“And did you read as a child? Was reading and writing an integral part of your life?”
“Is there a particular memory from your childhood you would like to share with our readers?”
“The death of my rabbit Binky was a particularly hard time for me. My Divination teacher, Merlin rest her soul, had predicted it and it came true. I count that as the end of my childhood, actually.”
“And why is that?”
“I like to think I became more emotionally hardened after it.”
I choked back a laugh, disguising it as a cough and continued. “And was there anyone who affected your life in any particular way? Your parents? Your friends? Anyone who inspired you?”
Miss Brown rattled on and on about Parvati Patil who was now designing clothes. She apparently considered Hermione Granger a ‘close personal friend’ and doesn’t resent her for ‘stealing her man’. I couldn’t help but laugh at the tightness of her jaw or the steeliness of her eyes as she talked about James’ aunt.
“What about Remus Lupin – surely you could relate with him.”
I crossed out the question on my notebook and, ignoring her ignorance about a famous war hero, continued on, asking the question I knew would receive the most ridiculous answer.
“And your relationship with Ronald Weasley. Tell me about that.”
I could imagine Hermione rolling her eyes as Lavender talked and talked about her relationship with Ron. Her break up was apparently more important to her than discovering she was a werewolf and had to drink some foul smelling potion at the full moon. Again, I left the Quick Quotes Quill to do all the work and was apparently very interested in the completely standard office pot plant in the corner of the room.
I wondered what James was doing. Two weeks ago I had told him that we should just be friends. He clearly had too many harpies attached to him and I had my work and Mum and…
I was making up excuses.
“You’re not listening to me.”
I flicked my eyes from the plant – which now, apparently, had freckles that looked very similar to James’ – and back to Lav, and she had tears running down her cheeks, her eye shadow all over the place, a large purple handkerchief clutched in her hand. I had no idea she was so emotional about Ron. I hurriedly consulted my notebook.
“Of course I am, Miss Brown. You were talking about a necklace?”
And with that she burst into hysterical tears. I tried to lean over, to pat her awkwardly on the back as was my way when someone started crying, but the table was too wide and I couldn’t reach her. My hand simply flapped about awkwardly.
“Would you like a cup of tea? A biscuit? Some gin?”
She blew her nose noisily and I withdrew my hand. Something damp had sprayed over it and I wiped it gingerly on my skirt.
“I think… I think I should go,” she said as she dabbed at her eyes, “I’m getting far too emotional and I have a photo shoot this afternoon. I don’t want puffy eyes.”
“I completely understand.” I am completely relieved.
We stood. Lav was still blowing her nose and sobbing quietly, and she squashed me into her vast bosom as she bid me farewell, weeping and telling me how wonderful I was and how I should find someone just as special as Ron to share my life with. I hadn’t felt this awkward since I caught Ben Lyons – my boyfriend at the time – in bed with my mother.
"Just... stay strong, all right? Everything will be fine."
Miss Brown started crying again and I simply stood awkwardly by her side.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “I can find my own way.”
And so I pushed her hurriedly towards the door, promising the interview would be in the next day's paper.
Merlin, I hated my job.
“No, Piers, it clearly says that I’m meant to come in on Friday.”
“I’m sorry, Amelie,” the annoyingly petulant man replied, clutching my article and his diary. It had been a couple of days since Lavender Brown’s hysterical break down and my inability to deal with it and so far she had sold her story to three other magazines about how she had been treated ‘unfairly’. They all thought she was overreacting, so I avoided some very expensive lawsuit, but my bosses still insisted on sending Piers down. Stupid lawyer. Just wanted my money.
“I’ll tell you what, why don’t I just deal with it later?”
He shrugged before waddling off. Stupid lawyers. I picked up my hefty pile of books and references.
"Amelie! Hey, Amelie!"
I turned around slowly, perfectly prepared glare judgmentally at some stupid intern or whimper pathetically under my boss' gaze or kiss the ring of any of the front-page journalists, but instead I saw a similar head of dark hair and the same freckly face.
"James! What are you doing here?"
He looked smart – remarkably so – in a new pair of dress robes, his dark hair combed back, a broad grin on his face, and I wondered briefly how I must have looked – my hair was slicked back from my face, a couple of spots adorned my chin and my robes were crumpled.
"I was going to meet Albus for lunch but apparently the canteen was blown up and he had some major sucking up to do, so I am currently without a plan. What are you doing for lunch?"
"I was going to eat my crappy sandwich in my shitty office with a crazy girl and an angry man."
James laughed. "It can't be that bad."
"Well then," he said, proffering his arm towards me like some eighteenth century gentlemen, "would you like to join me?"
There was no harm in that, was there? Two friends going for lunch, that’s all. No inappropriate thoughts. No inappropriate touching. Just a salad and a pudding and maybe a little wine to help me get through the day and the meeting with Piers. Nothing wrong with that at all, surely, apart from the fact he was looking at me like he had looked at me at the party.
“James, I don’t think that…”
“Oh, come on! My brother has jilted me and now my best friend won’t come to lunch with me! My dad is Harry Potter, didn’t you know?”
“I did not,” I answered sarcastically, “it’s not like you talk about it every moment of the day!”
“I can get you his signature if you come to lunch with me.” He waggled his eyebrows.
"Why of course. I just have to tell Andrew and then we'll go."
“Wouldn’t Andrew just be jealous?” James replied, and I laughed. He smiled. "Do you really have to tell him?"
I paused for a second, stroking my metaphorical beard. It was the choice between Andrew going mental now, when I told him I was going out for lunch with James, or later, when Emily had gone crazy and decided to start tribal dancing around his desk and using his lunch as a sacrifice to the gods.
“Then good, let’s go.”
“I don’t have any money or anything.”
“I’ll pay,” he said and I rolled my eyes at him, obviously envious at the ease at which he could spend money. I wish I’d been a gold digger, just like my mother. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he continued, “did I offend you? Is it some sort of anti-feminist thing to allow a man to pay for your meal?”
“Not at all, I was just thinking about how nice it must be for you to splash your money around so casually.”
He suddenly looked very uncomfortable in his clearly expensive robes, and more like the schoolboy I had known in Hogwarts. It was weird, seeing him this grown up, in smart clothes with a job and a parasitic girlfriend. He used to be so immature, so easy to laugh with, that this older, more mature James was a bit unnatural to me. I hadn’t seen or talked to him enough to fully appreciate him yet, to wonder whether I liked him like I used to. Whether he had actually changed or whether I was making things up.
I followed him out of the lobby and we twisted and turned through the streets of London in silence, the heat pressing down on us. That was also weird. We barely made contact or talked, except from the awkward smile and apology if we bumped into each other. I kept humming a Weird Sisters song to cover up the silence.
“Why are you being so quiet?” I asked, poking him in the shoulder, hoping we could restart the banter form earlier. It was getting strangely awkward and I hoped he didn’t want me to participate in an uncomfortably deep and meaningful conversation.
“Oh,” James said distractedly, “I was thinking of other things.”
James turned the corner, and suddenly we were on a busy street packed with Muggles. He opened the door of the nearest restaurant and held it open for me. It was very fancy: all leather seats and romantic lighting. A jazz singer was crooning on a stage and the smell of lobster and caviar and champagne wafted through the air like some rich person’s perfume.
“Really, James? I know a perfectly good café down the road.”
“It’s fine,” he said, waving me inside, “I’m friends with the maître d’, I can get a table whenever I want.”
I paused hesitantly by the door before I finally relented and stepped inside. James put his hand on the small of my back and guided me through the room to a secluded table with a candle and a vase of flowers.
“James, what is this?” We both sat down.
“It was busy so this was the only one I could get,” he said and I stared at him for while as a waitress flapped a menu in my face.
“Wait, you knew I was going to come to lunch with you?”
“I was going to bring Albus.”
“So the flowers and candles are for him?”
“Don’t be stupid. You know Albus got a promotion? This was meant to be a celebratory lunch but he had to go out to some photo shoot in the countryside.”
“Interns don’t get promotions until they finish the year. It’s only fair,” I replied, unfolding my napkin. I felt embarrassed by the condition of my robes and the greasy state of my hair. A woman at the table next to me was wearing diamond earrings the size of my face.
“But Albus told me he got a promotion. He gets to go out with the real journalists now. Experience it first hand.”
“A special selection get chosen for that, James, but it’s not a promotion,” I said, annoyed that he was being irritatingly ignorant and the overly loud sound of the saxophone player, “maybe Albus doesn’t know all the facts?”
“Are you saying that he wouldn’t be able to do it?”
The conversation was reminding me of the one we had back in seventh year, when James and I had discussed – not argued, definitely not argued – what I should be in the future: a potioneer, a Quidditch player or a reporter. He had been equally rude.
“No, James, not at all. I’m sure he’s wonderful at photography.”
“And I’m glad, but I’m just saying that interns don’t get promotions until the end of the year. I should know, I was one of them.”
“And here’s the point where you delve into some massive speech about how rich I am and how poor you are and how everything is handed to me on a plate?”
“Well we are in restaurant, Jimmy, so I’m hoping things do get handed to us on plates.”
“Don’t call me Jimmy.” The waitress’ hand shook as James glared at me, the water spilling over the tablecloth. I felt my cheeks flare.
“I was just…”
“Just what? Trying to diffuse the tension by using a stupid nickname? Trying to make a joke out of a serious situation? Don’t you know how much that pisses me off?”
I threw my napkin to the table. The breadbasket hadn’t even arrived and we were already arguing. At the party at the Quidditch match I told him that we should be friends, that being together wasn’t a good idea, that he had Henrietta. I had believed myself when I said it, and although there was a slight sting of regret, I knew it was the right thing to do.
“What the hell is wrong with you? Why did you bring me here? Was it just to argue with me? Because if you wanted to do that we could have just stayed at the Prophet.”
He looked small in his chair by the equally tiny table. He looked pathetic next to the flowers and the shiny cutlery and the flickering candle. He didn’t need to speak, or even nod. His eyes told me everything, just as they had always done. I slipped back into my seat quietly.
“You didn’t… you didn’t think… you thought this would change my mind?”
“I know I’m a complete arsehole,” he said suddenly, grabbing my hands across the table top and I found it difficult to pull them away, “but I thought that if we could talk, just the two of us, then maybe… I don’t know.”
“We just argued. We had a fight.”
“Banter, I think people call it,” he said, a little bitterly and I took my hands away. “Listen, I’m sorry for what happened at the end of seventh year. I was stupid, so stupid and I don’t think I can apologise enough.”
I shrugged nonchalantly and he carried on. It felt weird hearing this again: the same list of excuses, that he was so stupid, that some leggy blonde called either Georgia or Henrietta was a bitch, that he would change, that they could be together.
“But it’s different now, right? We’ve had three years apart. Surely that’s enough. And when I saw you on the platform it felt different, it felt better, like it was meant to happen. I know it wasn’t raining or anything like that and that’s meant to signal something momentous or whatever, but I think…”
“I really loved you, you know? And I just think we could be that great again and I promise I won’t mess it up and everything will be wonderful and I won’t hurt you and we’ll be great together. Won’t we? Don’t you think so?”
He looked so happy at the idea, leaning forward on the table, his face so close to time I could have kissed him. A part of me wanted to, but I knew it was wrong. I knew it couldn’t be. He wasn’t ready for it, clearly, if he was still telling lies about who was his girlfriend, or making up excuses about asking me out for lunch. We had argued about the stupidest stuff. We wouldn’t work.
“James, I don’t think that…”
“Don’t say it again. Don’t reject me. Don’t embarrass me.” He ran his thumb of the top of my hand, and the gesture reminded me of Hogwarts and of a time before it all got so screwed up. There was a pregnant pause as the whole journey of our relationship flashed before my eyes.
We had been better when we were friends.
“I have to, James. I’m sorry.”
“Is it about Henrietta? Because she’s a bitch, I can dump her. It could just be me and you,” he said quickly. He wasn’t listening to me. I needed to do something that would stop him from talking, stop him from embarrassing himself or doing something really stupid.
“I can’t be with you because I’m seeing someone else.” I felt his hands relinquish mine and coldness crept over his handsome features.
“I want to know,” he said but I didn’t know. I just needed to buy time.
He laughed shortly, obviously attempting a joke. “I need to know whether he’s good enough for my little Amelie.”
“Don’t do this to yourself,” I said. James blew out the candle on the table and we sat in silence for a few seconds.
“Fine,” I said, thinking up someone on the spot. “His name is Ewan. I met him a couple of weeks ago. He’s a friend of Fred’s from work.”
James’ face fell. Maybe they had met. I hadn’t seen him at the Chudley Cannons party but apparently Ewan had been there. Maybe they had shaken hands and made polite conversation. Ewan had flirted with me at the match, and admitted to it, and he was the only competent male I had met in the past few months. Andrew just spouted loud swear words and wrote angry poetry about his mother.
“Is he nice?”
“Does he have an endearing nickname?”
“Only you get that special honour.”
At least James smiled. I stood up from my chair and stood awkwardly next to him, waiting for him to speak. He didn’t, so I clasped him on the shoulder in what was hopefully a comforting gesture.
“I’m sorry, James, but I’ve moved on,” I lied, “you should too. Go home to Henrietta. Sort her out. I’ll see you around.”
I left and I didn’t look back.
Hey, hey! Sorry for the wait! I finally finalised my plot for this fic - it should be about 15 chapters long and every chapter will alternate between James and Amelie's POV. Thanks for reading and I'd really appreciate some feedback!
Edit: Typos and such. 15/1/2013
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