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Chapter 12 : Interlude One: Damage Control
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Be that as it may, there is one thing I feel I need to address: I try and deal in characters that are as complex as possible, and Alex is arguably THE most complex character in this story and its sequel. So in regards to what may or may not have happened at the end of last chapter…well just hang in there. The story is going in some unexpected directions, but I think that when all his secrets are revealed, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
It has been said that you can’t abandon family, that no matter how hard you fight the call, something will always pull back. I firmly believe that’s true. Why else would people feel such an innate sense of obligation to each other? Why else would people go out of their way just to help some long-lost second or third cousin whom they don’t even like, just because they’re of the same blood? And why else would it hurt so much when you find out someone actually isn’t as connected to you as you thought?
I come from a big, close, family, so it goes without saying that I have many things pulling at me. The thing is I have never once fought against those bounds. To me they are a blessing and a safety net, but that also means I have to be the support for others when necessary.
After hearing the truth form Jo and telling my brother the hardest truth he had ever heard, I had imeadatly sent an owl to the prophet, informing them that I was going to need a few personal days to deal with a family emergency. Maybe in hind sight it was a bad idea, I wasn’t one to take days off aburtrarasy. They had to know something was up and unfortunately, when my family had issues it tended to be newsworthy but whatever consequences my lapse in judgment brought, I deal with them later. Right now was about helping James because I knew he would need me, in more ways than one.
James has always been something of a simple creature. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling him stupid, he’s just a lot like Uncle Ron: he doesn’t always think things through and he usually doesn’t process more than one emotion at a time. That particular combination can be a liability in a shit storm like this.
And that was how I found myself sitting in a muggle bar, waiting on James to show up. We often met in muggle establishments in an attempt to avoid the press. After all, there was only so much they could bother us there without bring unwanted attention to the situation which would not have looked good in the eyes of any ministry.
I sighed into my drink. It was never hard to tell when James had walked into a room, even one where no one knew his name. There was just something about the way the girls conversation dropped to little more than a whisper between themselves, that told me James had been spotted.
My brother had always been the pretty boy of the family—you know the type: all he had to do was smile and he got the girl. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, it’s just that growing up with my brother was a lot like growing up with another version of my dad: twice the fame and twice the shadow and that was a big reason I wasn’t in quidditch as well. I had the talent, but I didn’t want to be known as the other Potter, desperately trying to show up his big brother.
“Hey, Al,” James muttered sitting on the stool beside me and ordering a scotch.
I smiled a little bit at the disappointed whispers of women who assumed that my brother was gay and I was his lover (eww) and the relief rolling off the guys at the same assumption. James was oblivious but I was used to it by now. Muggles had a strange way of thinking.
“So how did it go with you and Jo?” I asked even though I could already guess the answer.
Jo and James were each a force of nature in their own rights—always had been. Even before they got together, I knew there was no stopping it. Their relationship was destined to result in fire, although I had no way to know if it would be the raging fire of a burning castle or the steady flames of Gubraithian Fire. Since the latter seems impossible, it is only safe to assume that it was the former. Now there was little chance to see what was left of their love until the fire and powder explosions of hatred died down.
“What do you think?” he said, swirling the glass as he studied the ice cubes.
“That bad, huh?” I whispered pretending to be more interested in the sports game playing on one of the bar’s many televisions.
“I accused her of being the leak to the press.”
I turned my head slowly to look at him but now it was his turn to pretend his attention was elsewhere.
“You bloody idiot.” I didn’t raise my voice and James didn’t flinch at the words, but we might as well have. He knew as well as I did that Jo would have taken kindly to false accusations like that, especially form him.
I just hoped that, for his sake, Jo didn’t cut off anything he particularly needed in retaliation. Jo has never really cared about what people say—she calmed it was something necessary when you grow up with a set of same sex parents outside of California (whatever that means)—but there were a few exceptions to that and James had always been at the top of that list.
“Well what else was I supposed to think? You saw the article, half the stuff in it was things only the family knew and some details I hadn’t told anyone but her.” He wanted me to understand, to hell him he was right to assume, but I couldn’t.
“You were supposed to believe that we live in a world of magic where just about anything can be done if you know how. But you went right to blaming her without even entertaining the possibility of a different reason behind it all.”
Perhaps I was a bit harsher than I should have been, but I was tired of James’s refusal to think causing so much pain, especially when it forced me to choose between two people I really care about. James was a smart man, at least most of the time, but he rarely used his brain. I just hoped this all was the kick in the arse he needed to start.
“I screwed up, didn’t I?” he whispered into his drink and I knew I didn’t have to answer. I could always tell how much James was listening to me—really listening—by how much eye contact we had. The more he could look me in the eye, the more he was just going ignore whatever it was I had to say.
He had barley looked at me all night.
“It’s just that it’s impossible to tell what this new Jo is thinking.”
I snorted and stared at him. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. The real sad part about all this was that he actually believed it… or at least, he had spent so much energy convincing himself that it was real, he couldn’t see past the fog of his own convictions.
“And therein lies your problem.” I muttered, ordering another bottle.
He tilted his head at me, trying to look me in the eyes for what had to be the first time that night. “What do you mean?”
I could tell by his voice that underneath all that semi-righteous anger, he wanted to fix this…or at least find out what went wrong. James had been searching for closure for a long time, and only now was he beginning to realize that he had been looking in the wrong places. Now that she was back in his life, he had a big, fat X marking the spot, and he was beginning to see how far off the mark he was.
“Look James,” I said, setting my drink down on the table, “I get that you have to separate them in your mind—that you had to keep what you had with her unsullied form the mess that ruined everything. The thing is that’s not going to work anymore. Not with the real Jo back in your life.”
He squinted his eyes a bit, still looking at me, and I could tell that even though he didn’t understand what I meant, I had his attention. Good. Maybe some good could actually come out of all this mess.
I turned away from the video of a sport I didn’t understand, a video had never really been watching, and looked at James. What came next was a hard truth, but it was one he needed to hear. When it came to matters of the heart, my brother often needed things spelled out for him. He needed someone to walk him through thought processes he never let himself have. I think muggles called them therapist; either way, the duty usually fell to me to put him back on track.
“There is no ‘new’ Jo and ‘Old’ Jo. There’s just Jo—the same woman same woman she’s always been—even if you see her different.
He was silent and I knew, for once, he was actually listening to what I had to say. I couldn’t let this opportunity go. I had to press on.
“Do you think we saw you as the ‘new’ James when you started partying and making a fool of yourself? No. we just saw you as the same old James who happened to be hurting, just as we saw Jo as the same old Jo who just made a mistake.”
“So you think she did the right thing…before?” he asked in a small voice and I was completely floored. That was not where I was going with this at all and maybe, just maybe, he was trying to change the subject because he knew I was right. Well that wasn’t going to work. For the first time since he broke up with Jo, I was getting through to him—hell, as far as I knew, it was the first time anyone got through to him. I wasn’t going to let him off the hook so easily.
“Oh no, you’re not getting me in the middle of this one. I’m not going to let you use me to validate your hatred. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter what I think or even what you think. What matters is what do you want out of this situation and what do you need to do to get it?”
For a second I was afraid he would play dumb again and try to get me to explain more. I’d do it, but James would sometimes go through amazing lengths to avoid his problems and I wasn’t going to bang my head against the wall, especially since he had been making such progress.
He sighed and looked down into his glass. “I don’t know what I want.”
Well that was a nice change, James was being as honest with himself as he could be, but it wasn’t enough. Heart-to-heart talks with my brother were a bit like potions: you couldn’t just stop half way through or you would have to throw the whole thing away…or worse. I couldn’t’ just let this go.
“Bull shit. It’s a lot to work through, but you have to know at least one thing, so start form there.” I already knew the conclusion he would come to. I wasn’t going to do his thinking for him, but I could walk him through it.
“I know I want to be a part of Alex’s life.”
I smiled. He hadn’t even hesitated.
“There you go. Now what do you have to do to get that?”
He sighed, shaking his head as if he had already heard the same thing many times in a short period.
“I know, I know. I have to play nice with Jo, but it’s so hard when I get mad at everything the new Jo says.”
“You’re missing the point James,” I sighed, “Here’s an idea: every time you hear yourself thinking about the ‘new’ Jo or the ‘old’ Jo, stop yourself. Try just to think of her as Jo.
“And what will that do?” he said, honestly curious. That was good. Maybe that curiosity means he was willing to take my advice, even if it was just to see how it all goes.
“You are forcing yourself to hate her by thinking of all the ways the ‘new’ Jo has destroyed the ‘old’ Jo. If you stop thinking of them in those terms, then you might be more willing to see the ways their similar. It will help you two to sort out whatever it is your relationship is going.”
“So you’re still trying to set us up?” He accused, not really surprised.
“Not necessarily.” I wasn’t going to deny that at the core of it all, I was rooting for them to get together. I was there last time, I saw just how perfect for each other they were, but I also wasn’t naive. Sometimes there was just too much damage done for it to go back to being the pure, unblemished thing it used to be, but that’s oaky. There was a reason I was trying to set them up, and they didn’t need to get back together for it to work.
He raised an eyebrow, clearly not believing me.
“Do you know why we tried to set you up with her in the first place?” I didn’t give him a chance to answer, “It’s because we know you, James. We know that we could tell you to straighten yourself up until we are blue in the face but you won’t listen. You need a reason—just one good reason—to straighten your life out and you would. We hoped Jo would be that for you, but now I’m thinking maybe not. But Alex would.”
He was quiet for a moment.
“Al?” he asked in a small voice as if he knew he would not like what I had to say.
“I was talking to Fred earlier,” he began and I set my glass down.
Oh god, this wasn’t good. Fred was one of our smarter cousins, but he and James weren’t the best team to solve a problem. Their personalities meshed so poorly that most of the time they caused more trouble (and not the good kind) than they fixed. Fred tended to bottle up everything until it all spilled out into one big trick that was meant to teach a lesson, but usually wound up going a little too far. Add James’s lack of foresight to the mix and you have a disaster waiting to happen.
“What did Fred say?” I asked, trying desperately to keep the apprehension out of my voice but wasn’t quite sure I succeeded. Thank god James was too busy wallowing in his own self-deprecating thoughts to notice.
“Why don’t you have a column by now?” he whispered and I was startled. Where did that come from? And then I remembered what he had said about talking to Fred. Now I was going to have to add parricide to my already too long list of things to do today.
“Because old Pug-face Parkinson is a bitch, why?” I was trying to play it off, but I doubted it would work. The horrible, sinking sensation in my gut told me that there was only one place this conversation could go no matter how much I silently prayed it wouldn’t.
“Fred told me about how much the family has done to cover my ass.”
But it did.
I sighed. Lying to him now would do no good, not when the truth had already wormed its way out into the open. The trick now was to explain it without lying or destroying his self-esteem anymore.
James may seem like an over confident prat who is bothered my nothing, but that wasn’t entirely true. Most things just bounced off, but on the rare occasion someone can land an emotional blow in just the right place, he shatters. Last time he spent over seven years whoreing and partying his way across the globe in an attempt to put himself back together again. The last thing I wanted to was put him back in that dark place.
The truly ironic thing about all this was that although I had to use a lot of my influence to keep the worst of his escapades out of the public eye, I really hadn’t given up anything. There was no way I could advance to much more than a paper pusher as long as Pansy Parkinson is my boss—she hates the family too much.
James made it seem like I could use my network of friends to advance through the ranks Uncle Percy style. I tried not to let that bother me—he should know better—but I preferred to earn everything myself. Don’t get me wrong, I have little qualms about manipulating a situation when I’m helping out a friend, but when it comes to things for me, I prefer the long way.
James wouldn’t understand that. To him there has only ever been one way to do things: his way. He refuses to consider that maybe those around him have a different thought process, and that is why he never tried to see Jo’s (or anyone else’s) side before going off the deep end. And form what I hear; it took Jo jumping down his throat for him to realize that she hadn’t actually set out to hurt him.
That’s why I tried to keep the answers simple: I didn’t have the time or the patients to get into a philosophical argument with my pig-headed brother right this minute.
Besides, it all boiled down to one simple fact, anyway.
“That’s just what family does.”
“I never asked—” he began defensively and I fought the urge to sigh. Sometimes it was disappointing just how predictable James was.
“No, you didn’t, but you didn’t have to,” I noticed that my voice had taken on the same defensive tone my brother’s had, so I was careful to lower it before continuing. “I know you hate living in the family’s shadow—and you’re not the only one—but that doesn’t matter. You are part of this family and family looks after one another.”
“But nothing,” I said, cutting him off and letting him know that I wasn’t going to be accepting the invitation to his pity-party. A dose of truth—if measured just right—could do him a world of good. “If we thought you were doing it just to be a spoiled arse, than we would have let you fend for yourself, but you and I both know that’s not why you were being a prat.”
He looked like he wanted to say something but didn’t and I was grateful. Whether it was alcohol, the fact that I had other engagements this afternoon, or a combination of both didn’t matter. That fact was that my patients were quickly wearing thin.
“What do you think of Alex?” I said, changing the subject before he had the opportunity to ask for more pop phycology. As fun as it was, I had no clue what I was doing and wasn’t in the mood to do damage control.
He was silent for a moment before answering.
“I love the kid already, but he scares me.”
“Of course the responsibility scares you, James.” I muttered, rolling my eyes. How predictable.
“That’s not it,” he whispered and I got the distinct that the truth shamed him.
I raised my eyebrow and looked at him, more than curious. Alex was a sweet kid, what else but the responsibility could have James acting like this?
“Last night I dreamed he threatened to kill me.”
I almost laughed. That was what had him so worried? Well at least it was easily remedied.
“Don’t put too much stock in dreams,” I said, tipping my glass in his direction before going in for the kill shot. “Remember the time you dreamed you, McGonagall and Peeves had a threesome?”
He choked on his drink and I got the impression it was something he never wanted to think about again. Too bad for him, I remembered just about everything.
“No!” he hollered, his face blushing scarlet and his eyes twitching form the mental image, and I got the distinct impression he was lying. He remembered, but I wasn’t going to let it go. It was simply too much fun to mess with James’s head.
“It was the night after Gryffindor won the cup in your seventh year and, if I’m not mistaken, lots and lots of firewhisky were involved.”
I didn’t even bother hiding my shitfaced grin, but he was too busy burying his face in his glass to notice.
“Anyway,” he said in an exaggerated manner, clearly trying to change the subject. “I take it you saw the paper?”
We had already covered this particular topic, but I wanted to see where he was going with this. besides, as much fun as it was messing with my brother, I needed to get the images out of my own imagination before I gave into the impulse to pour a cleansing potion into my ears.
“Yes, and so didn’t the entire wizarding world.”
“Well, the kid has an idea on how to handle the press.” There was something about the look he gave me that begged for validation, as if this fact were proof of something, but since I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, I ignored it.
I was more interested in what the kid had to say, anyways. When I met him at the hospital, I knew he was a smart kid, but dealing with PR still seemed a bit out of his league.
He explained the plain and I had to say I was impressed. I mean, it probably wasn’t going to go as smoothly as the kid hoped, but it still had merits. If anything the conflicting accounts would confuse people enough that they would lose interest.
“So you need me to hook you up with someone who won’t twist everything into insults?” I asked, reading between the lines.
“I can do that.” I paused and an idea struck me, “But I need you to do something first.”
I smiled into my drink. He should have known better.
I knew what he was expecting me to ask, maybe some tickets to his next game or something, but I could get that on my own just as easily. This favor was actually for him, it was something he needed to do to keep things from getting ugly on the home front but if I told him that, there was a chance he would just blow me off. A chance I couldn’t let him take.
“Before she comes over for Sunday dinner, I need you to go home and tell everyone not to treat her like shit over this.”
“Al…” he sighed, but I didn’t let him finish his argument.
I turned to look at him, my expression as no nonsense as I could make it, and explained the simple truth his narrow view of the world wouldn’t let him see for himself.
“Don’t ‘Al’ me and just listen. If they don’t have your permission to like her, most of them will act like they hate her, whether or not that’s what they really feel. Family sticks together, after all. Not only would that crush Jo, it would alienate Alex, and that would destroy any chance of him considering himself part of our family.”
“You’re killing me here,” he said softly but it wasn’t an argument. He knew I was right.
“No James,” I said, laying some muggle bills on the counter and pushing my chair back, “I’m saving you.”
I woke up two days later to the smell of breakfast wafting into an unfamiliar room. Looking around, I couldn’t manage to stifle a groan. Unlike my brother, who would shag his ladies on the first and rarely remembered their names afterwards, I took pride in the fact that I always went on a few dates with someone before falling into bed with them.
At least into today.
“You’re up? Good. Breakfast is ready,” Isa said sticking her head in the door, “I have just enough time to eat and get ready for practice and I assume you have to work today too. If you’re going to eat, come and get it. I do not do breakfast in bed.”
She was gone before I could say anything and I briefly wondered how she could be so lively this morning. It usually took me half an hour before I was coherent. Then again, she probably had been up much longer than that cooking breakfast.
I slid out of bed and pulled on my trousers and hoped no one would notice that I was wearing the same clothes I wore yesterday. If anyone asked I guess I could say I spent the night with James in a show of brotherly support; our builds were just different enough that I could get away with not borrowing something from him.
“Listen Isa,” I said, grabbing a plate and sitting down at her sparse dining room table, “I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me, but I…”
We had met while we were dancing at the party—the same one that started all this—and had agreed to go out for dinner one night before I had to go back to England. Then all the drama started. It didn’t take long for us to decide that going out to eat wouldn’t be the smartest course of action right now. All it would take is one reporter getting the idea that, because they sure as hell weren’t going to get an interview out of Jo or my brother, it would be a good idea to hound the rest of the family, and our night would be ruined.
I would have called it off if hadn’t suggested a different idea: why not eat in? It didn’t hurt that Isa is actually a remarkable cook (I mean really, she could even give Nana Molly a run for her money).
Well one thing led to another, and by desert both our clothes were on the floor. We weren’t even drunk—we had each had a single glass of wine with our meal, and no more.
“Don’t usually sleep with a girl on the first date?” She finished for me her lips tugging upwards in a slight smile, “Tell me something Albus, do I really look like the kind of girl that does the same?”
I hesitated for the briefest moment. Every man knew how to answer that question if they wanted to keep their anatomy intact. It wasn’t that she looked like that kind of person per se, but I had seen too many of Jo’s muggle movies for it not to call to mind certain stereotypes of young, blond women in revealing outfits that hang around sports games and whose only peruse seemed to be to show the star player a good time after the game.
She caught my hesitation, but instead of doing major damage, she just popped me on the back of the head playfully as if she had already guessed exactly where my thoughts had gone.
“You know, Isa, you act just like one of my best friends during school,” I laughed as I got myself a plate.
“Who? And do I need to be jealous?” She teased.
“Of Jo? Trust me, her and I were never even a possibility.” I was never interested in her that way, nor she I. By the time I was interested in girls, James was more than interested in Jo—whether or not she noticed—and I wasn’t going to get in the middle of that. Even then I recognized them for what they were.
“Waite. Jo, as in the girl that broke James’s heart—that Jo?” She asked with an odd combination of laughter and astonishment lacing her voice. I was a little confused about where this was going, but nodded anyways.
“Oh god, no wonder James was so desperate to get into my pants,” Isa laughed, pressing her knuckle into her teeth to stifle the noise.
I stilled and every nerve in my body froze. At the party she had made it clear that nothing had happened between her and my brother and I really hoped she wasn’t lying. Despite how quickly things were going, I really liked this girl, and dealing with James’s sloppy seconds would just make things really awkward.
“You two didn’t…?” I asked, figuring it was best to just get things out the way. Bottling things up was toxic and Isa was a straightforward kind of girl—if something had gone on between her and my brother she would admit to it her and now rather than lying. We weren’t invested enough to worry about each other’s reaction to something like this.
“No, of course not. I don’t do one night stands.” She said with a snort before adding with a laugh. “At least when I’m sober.”
That relieved me to no end it didn’t state my curiosity. I knew she wasn’t lying but the James she described didn’t seem like the brother I knew. At least not for the past few years. Now he showed no interest in a woman he would have to encounter a second time, so the preverbal office romance wasn’t on his to do list.
“What do you mean he was desperate?”
That didn’t sound like James at all. To him all girls were a onetime use kind of thing. He had no interest in actually dating anyone. What she described reminded me a bit of how James had been pre Jo; it was as if the real him was peeking out of the hole he had crawled into after getting his heart broken and that was a good sign. Maybe it meant he was almost ready to heal.
“The guy has been trying to get me to go out with him for like three years. I told him it was because I wasn’t into office romances, but in reality, I could tell he had a whole bunch of baggage I just didn’t want to deal with.”
“And I was right, wasn’t I?” she continued, “I mean come on, asking out a girl who is just like the one who broke your heart but hadn’t actually broken your heart?”
She spoke as if she didn’t hold James’s ploy against him; as if she herself recognized what the rest of his family already knew: there was no malicious intent behind it. Most of the time James’s mind didn’t understand enough about what was going on in his heart until the situation has almost become moot. He never thought about what he felt.
“You make it sound like he would be using you,” I muttered. Honestly I would have thought having a conversation with Isa about why her non-existent romance with my brother was messed up would have been a lot more awkward than it was. But then again, everything about James’s life was messed up right now, so there was no obstinatece in the status quo.
“He would have been.” She said as if it was nothing, “but he wouldn’t have noticed. James’s isn’t exactly good with emotional communication, especially to himself.”
I snorted. Hadn’t I been thinking the exact same thing in the bar a few days ago?
I took a bite of the food in front of me and shuddered in euphoria.
“Oh good this is better than Hogwarts food. Where did you learn to cook?” I asked trying to get the conversation off of my brother.
“My little sister, Iona, oddly enough.” She said with a laugh, and I had to admit I was intrigued. Even though we had only known each other for a few days, I wanted to know more about her life—every part of it.
From there the conversation steered easily into the everyday. We talked about anything and everything. She told stories of being homeschooled and how Iona seemed to know everything better than her parents and how, despite the tension it caused, her and her sister were about as close as James and I. I told her of life in Hogwarts castle—the classes, the ghost, the houses, the pranks, and what it was like being the only Slytherin Potter.
Conversation continued for what seemed like hours as our food got colder and colder. Only after taking a fleeting glance at the wall clock did I realize just how much time had truly passed. I was more than a little late and I’m sure she was too.
Isa looked over her shoulder at the offending timepiece and the next few minutes were a fury of clothes hunting and hygiene spells.
As we both got ready to walk out the door, I stopped and turned back to her, the words to ask her out a second time resting on the tip of my tongue, but she beat me to it. Her mouth crashed into mine with a strength unexpected form her tiny form. My vision swam for a second before I blinked my surprise away and snaked my hand around to the back of her head, pulling her closer.
“Don’t think you’re getting rid of me that easily, hansom,” she teased before apparateing away, leaving me standing there in her doorway with a dopy smile plastered on my face, and I couldn’t help feeling that this was the start of something good.
I hadn’t expected work to be quite as hellish as it was, but I really shouldn’t have been surprised. I was, after all, at the epicenter of one the moment’s biggest scandals so being hounded for information was a hazard of the day, considering I worked at the wizarding newspaper.
Even those who weren’t assigned the case—or even the society section—wanted to know. Some were had known my mother back when she was a quidditch columnist and were genuinely concerned about the family of a dear friend, but others were just nosy. I knew by the way conversation died as I entered a room, that there were far more talking about it than those who had gotten up the courage to approach me about it.
As patent of a man as I was, I was fed up with the entire thing well before lunch. I was used to people talking about me and my family when my back was turned (and sometimes even to my face) but the whispers and shifty looks were distracting and I had several days’ worth of work to catch up on.
If I wasn’t the practical one of the family, I would have stood on my desk and shouted to the whole bullpen just where they could shove their questions. But, alas, I was smarter than that. I just gritted my teeth and plowed through, counting the moments until my lunch break.
I almost raced to the door, keeping my eyes peeled for a certain crop of shiny black hair. The Profit was my work and I loved it, even if I despised certain coworkers, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t have an ulterior motive in coming in today, when I could have justified taking a few more days off. James had asked me to do something and I knew the sooner I got it done, the better it would be for him and Jo.
“Hey, Lee,” I said, grabbing her shoulder before she could get lost in the crowd, just as desperate to leave. We could have this conversation later, but with matters such as these, the sooner we got it out of the way, the better.
“What do you want, Potter?” she asked irritably and I tried not to take the hostility personally. She has been under a lot of stress lately.
“How about lunch?” I suggested, “My treat?”
“I don’t have time—” she tried blowing me off and I was a little hurt. We had never exactly been friends, but we had never been enemy’s either. There was no reason for her to be so harsh.
“Trust me,” I commanded, an edge to my voice forcing her to listen. Lee turned and looked at me and I continued, “You’re going to want to make time.”
She studied me carefully, as if she were trying to figure out every motive I could possibly have for taking her out, before nodding.
I grabbed her hand and pulled her down the hall and up the rickety staircase that lead to the roof of the building.
Lee looked around, unimpressed. “I thought we were going for lunch?” she muttered.
“Picnic” I said, pulling out a lunch bag. I wasn’t near as prepared as I seemed, the whole lunch thing was just an excuse to get her alone while we talked. It was okay though; my second sandwich was a fitting sacrifice if it gets me on her good side.
Before we got down to the nitty-gritty, I took out my wand and started casting a net protective net of spells around the rooftop. The last thing I wanted was Skeeter catching on to our plains before we had a chance to put them into effect.
“Not that I’m complaining, but what’s all this about?” I didn’t understand why she was so suspicious of me. It’s true that we had never really been close, but I had never been cruel to her. There was no reason for her to think of us as enemies.
“How would you like to get back at Parkinson for sticking you in the society section?” I said, figuring that because she was being so hostile, it was better to pike her interest with what she had to gain.
“I would like nothing better,” she said bitterly, eyeing me carefully as she took a bite of her sandwich.
Lee Donavan was a bit like me: stuck in the same place and not because of a lack of talent. She just wouldn’t consent to the way Parkinson would edit her stories so that they reflected what would sell rather than the truth. Even worse was that after a particularly nasty fight between them, Parkinson sent her to the society section—the section Lee found least newsworthy—and told her that if she quit, she would be blacklisted so badly that she would never get a job in print again.
This was a way to kill two dragons with one spell. Lee would be fair, and if she did well, it would be a big ‘screw you’ to the bitch. Besides, I knew that there was no way Lee could distort the truth even if she wanted to. She was too invested in our family.
“Well here’s the deal,” I sighed, hoping that I had already caught her interest enough to consent, even if she hadn’t officially said ‘yes’ yet. “Rita Skeeter is targeting my brother and has made it clear that she has no intention of writing anything even remotely fair about the situation.”
“That sucks, but I don’t see how I could help.” She said taking a big bite out of her sandwich and looking up at me, much of the hostility gone from her voice. I guess she was a bit like most of the people in my family—grumpy when hungry.
“James and Jo want to give an interview.”
She sighed, thinking she knew where this was going. “And you want me to make them sound like saints.”
I shook my head. If I had wanted that, I would have gone to someone else. After all, hadn’t Lee’s desire for the truth already gotten her into trouble? Asking her to paint them in only a good light would have been about as fruitful as asking me to spill their secrets myself.
“No. I want you to be fair and I know you can do that. Nothing more and nothing less.”
She paused, confused, but I think she realized that this wasn’t a trick or anything—that I wasn’t out to get her.
“Why me?” she asked and I almost laughed. I would think that would be obvious.
“Because you care more about the truth than sales figures; because I figured that if you succeeded where Pug face set you up to fail, then you could have your revenge in a way that won’t get you fired.”
She smiled and nodded her head, clearly appreciative of the opportunity to have some very Slytherin like payback.
“And your relationship with Freddie doesn’t exactly hurt,” I added offhandedly.
She threw her sandwich down in indignation and I got the feeling that it was something of a sore spot for her. That was odd. As far as I knew, there was no reason for that kind of reaction.
“He told you? That hypocritical son of a bitch! It was his idea to keep things quiet in the first place.”
I chose to ignore that insult to Aunt Angelina as I sat my own sandwich down.
“Actually, he told me nothing. I went over to his apartment a few weeks ago to talk about some family stuff and saw you two asleep, so I left and came back later.”
I chose to leave just what family stuff I was talking about, vague. If she was going to write an article about them, Lee really didn’t need to know that many people in the family were trying to them back together. That would open a whole new can of issues that were best left on the shelf.
“And you automatically assumed it was a relationship.”
“There’s two toothbrushes in his bathroom.” I said as if it was irrefutable proof, and in all honesty, it was pretty compelling. One didn’t move in the toiletries unless it was serious.
She didn’t say anything for a moment, and just slowly chewed on a lettuce leaf. Lee couldn’t deny it, and she knew that, but I still got the feeling that there was much about this that she didn’t want to talk about.
“Well, there’s nothing going on between us now.” She muttered, looking down.
Now it was my turn to be silent even though I had to admit I was curious. They had seemed like a good couple for the brief period I had known about them.
“What happened?” I tried to keep the curiously under control and let compassion flood my voice. But she saw right through me.
“I was honest about something and he couldn’t handle it.” I smiled. Lee would have made a good politician. As obsessed as she was with the truth, she almost always refused to reveal much of herself in the process.
“What was it?” I asked, pressing on.
“None of your business.” She was right, really, it wasn’t. But I had spent too much time around my family not to ask. Amongst the fold, there were never any secrets.
I let it go. If the question bothered me latter, I could still try and get an answer out of Freddie. I’d probably have more luck with him anyways. He was family and thus used to the inherent invasion of privacy that came with it. And if that didn’t work, I knew just where to apply pressure on Freddy to get him to talk.
“Alright,” I said, considering her point, “but are you still up for it?”
“To stick it to Parkinson?” she said with a smirk, “Always.”
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