Chapter 2 : The Job Thousands would Kill For
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Despite having a headache akin to the Cruciatus Curse, I am attempting to read the paper. My favorite, to be exact: the Oracle Underground. I can barely see it in my tiny corner of Witch Weekly’s headquarters, though. The watery morning light is a poor substitute for a reading lamp, thank-you typical London autumn. Even though the walls are covered in windows, it’s still pretty dim. Squinting at the headlines, I warm my hands around one of the few candles I’ve conjured onto my massive desk. This corner of the building (an 1800s stone mammoth) is where they cram all the interns. The trendy bit, with gleaming white brick and polished stone floors, is apparently reserved for those on payroll. The stone corridors constantly echo with the clicking of high heels and magical typewriters, like the drumbeat on a Viking ship. Huge moving photographs of waifish models dominate the walls. They keep pretty quiet, mostly just standing and pouting their lips.
Not helping the grim surroundings is my long-since dead potted plant. It was a gift from my Mum, meant to brighten my desk, but plants aren’t really my thing. In fact I received a T in Herbology in my Sixth Year. Eventually Professor Sprout left me strictly to clear-up duty, to save her greenhouse.
My stomach rumbles, and I turn to my shoulder-bag. It’s always charmed to fit a million things, and I know that there’s a cheese sandwich in there somewhere. After searching shoulder-deep for several minutes, I extract the sandwich wrapped in parchment. But one smell of food sends my stomach turning.
With an inhuman sound I shove the sandwich into the depths of the bag. “Last time I’m coming to work hung over,” I vow, just like I did last week.
Turning my bleary eyes back to the newspaper, I try to focus. I’ve only got another few minutes before my internship advisor will create another menial task. The paper is open to an article on the Female Goblin Coalition strike happening at Gringotts. For the past several months they’ve been protesting the bank for refusing them employment. Of course it’s all under the table. No Goblin in his right mind would actually admit that Gringotts won’t hire them simply because they’re female. But really, have you ever seen a lady-Goblin at work? According to the article, the protesters have been withdrawing all of their funds in defiance.
There’s a photograph as well. It’s Grimma Longfinger, the commanding voice for the Female Goblin Coalition. She’s delivering a speech to a crowd of witches, wizards and Goblins alike. She stands behind a podium upon several stacked boxes, her beady black eyes full of fire. Apparently the woman is an amazing public speaker. The crowd waves their wands in the air, spouting things into the air like EQUAL RIGHTS in sparkling letters.
“Bravo for them,” I say, rubbing my throbbing temple absentmindedly.
If only Witch Weekly would do some sort of media coverage. We have a politics section, but it’s usually featuring "brave young girls" at Hogwarts, fighting for flattering uniforms. I try to imagine pitching an article on the FGC to Mr. Ward, who seems to think women’s heads are filled with body glitter rather than opinions.
I snort. Yeah, that would go swimmingly.
Ward didn’t even know my for the first two weeks I worked for him. Now that we’re past that little hiccup, he always calls me “Edith,” my full name. Man, he really draws out that first “E” too, jutting out his jaw and all. I’m not a fan. (The only other Edith I’ve met was my teacher in primary school; unmarried, with cats and frizzy hair. And if cats generally liked me, I’m sure I’d be headed down the same road.) On the bright side, I can add the following to my CV: sorted towering stacks of parchments, removed messenger owls that get stuck in the Floo chimneys, and contacted the losers of this year’s Most Charming Smile Award with the bad news.
I look to my left, at the stack of Mr. Ward’s correspondence that I’ve spell-checked. It only takes a moment with magic, but really, should an editor need a Spell Checker Spell?
To be fair, Witch Weekly isn’t the worst publication. It does encourage young girls to be strong, have opinions and the like. There is certainly a fair share of gossip rags, and the Prophet has gone to seed. But there are so many important things happening in the world, now that everything’s different. People are able to make positive, constructive changes in their lives. Sometimes we run good articles, but how many times can a Witch want to find out the right bikini for her body type? (Apparently quite often. It’s the highest-selling magazine for young witches in the UK.)
I look back at the Oracle Underground. I would give my left leg for a job there...
Someone comes to stand over my shoulder. When I glance up I’m more than pleased to see Theo Nott, one of the magazine’s photographers. Like magic, the hangover is gone.
Theo is absolutely stunning, and he knows it. Usually I would find that kind of person unattractive, out of spite. But the window in my little corner looks directly onto the exterior of the next building—it’s nice to have something to look at. And I’ve heard more than one WW employee whispering about Theo’s exceptional bum.
His eyes are on the photo of Grimma. “I think that’s so fantastic,” he says in that soft-spoken way of his.
“Isn’t it!” I only notice how loudly I speak when it’s with him.
He sits on the corner of my desk and I can’t say that I mind. He’s wearing a loose-fitting beanie, a v-neck tee shirt and a scarf. It doesn’t make any sense. But god, he wears impractical so well. I do my best to cross my legs sexily but don’t have enough space under my desk and end up kicking his foot.
“Have you heard? There’s going to be a huge protest outside Gringotts next month. Grimma Longfinger is going to deliver another speech. Can’t wait to get it on film,” he says. I spot the magical camera that hangs around his neck, and which I’ve never seen him without. Seriously, I’ve heard he showers with it.
“Really!” I say. One: because I can’t picture Theo, the bathing-costume model photographer, giving a damn about women’s rights. And two: because I can’t wait to go to the protest myself. “Well, I mean,” I tuck my hair behind my ear flirtatiously. Theo messes with the button on his camera, oblivious. “Maybe we could go together?”
He smiles a bit and goes back to his camera. Ahem? Then somebody calls his name from down the little corridor that separates our desks. “See you,” he tilts his chin in a farewell.
“Right, at the rally then! Bye, Theo! Bye!”
I’m still smiling after him like an idiot, actually leaned over my desk to get a look at his bum, when—
As she passes by, in an outfit apparently comprised of London’s entire tweed reserves, Mildred drops a second stack of parchments onto my desk. It rattles my poor brain. I squeeze my head as if trying to choke out the hangover. “Thank you Mildred…"
Mildred is Mr. Ward’s secretary. Kind of the second-in-command over my internship. I have no idea how she’s lasted this long, both in life (she is ancient!) and at Witch Weekly. For working at a magazine run by fashionable girls even younger than me, she sure does dress a lot like Madame Pince.
It’s no secret that she didn’t want me for the internship. Apparently she’d set her sights on some other girl to fill the position. Top marks, already had a degree in journalism, hundreds of extra-curriculars at uni, volunteered at a library and an owl rescue. Just give her a bad treacle recipe and a couple of pet canaries, and she’s well on her way to spinsterhood.
But this year Tallulah Blakeslee, the editor in chief, said that she did not want to head the intern programme. The project was pushed off onto executive editor, Mr. Ward. But before Mildred could sink her claws into a position for her protégé, my knight in shining armor stepped in: Dean. He’s done some commissioned illustrations for Witch Weekly, and knows a dear friend of Mr. Ward. Dean pulled a few strings, and here I am.
“And here I am,” I mutter.
I massage my temples and glare at the parchments. Sure, being hung over at work is not the most professional way of handling myself. But I’m only twenty-six, for Merlin’s sake. It’s not like I’m retiring with pension any time soon. Unfortunately, Mildred knows that I partied like last night was 1999, due to an encounter we had earlier today in the kitchens.
I was in the midst of pouring a pain-relieving potion into my coffee from a flask. One of those stainless steel cauldrons that removes saturated fat was bubbling away on the table, emitting a nauseating smell. (Witch Weekly is a whole other world to me, as my diet consists of cheese and Chocolate Frogs. I’ve also become familiar with those stylish little bracelets that monitor calorie intake and quip motivational things like, “You’re almost down a whole dress size, don’t give up now!” when it senses you eyeing a pudding.)
As the kitchens are in the dungeons, they’re nice and dark. This morning I spent a little more time than necessary in there, away from the light. As I stirred the pain-relieving potion into my coffee, I cursed myself for being so irresponsible, and Seamus for that fifth shot of Firewhiskey—bleugh. My stomach lurched at the thought. And curse Angus for that free Guinness on top of it all.
“Stop thinking about it!” I said aloud, charming my coffee to stir itself.
There was a quiet “Ahem,” from behind. With my back to the door I hadn’t seen Shelob, as Dean calls her, drop down from her web. Mildred stepped into the room, and then some. She really has a knack for standing entirely too close for comfort.
“Wotcher, Mildred,” I said. Her eyes landed on the pocket of my skirt, where I had stashed my flask. I laughed, whipping it back out, “Oh! This. No, not a flask. Well it is a flask. But it’s not what you’d think, although a little hair of the dog probably wouldn’t hurt right now, if you know what I mean!”
What is wrong with me?
“No, it’s just a bit of pain-reliever. See, I did a little of the...” I winked dramatically and gestured as if drinking from a bottle, “...last night. It’s not really a big hobby of mine, in fact I’m rarely known to indulge in an adult beverage.” Lies. She knows all. Panic. “Well, it’s just that last night the Kenmare Kestrels beat the absolute shit out of Flanders. Er, sorry, I meant—beat the living daylights out of ‘em.”
Mildred hadn’t so much as blinked and I murmured, “…went out on the town...”
There was a long silence.
“Miss Lennox,” Mildred began sternly. I managed to exhale an “Oh thank Merlin” before she continued, “May I remind you that this is Witch Weekly. You have been given the honor of serving Britain’s highest-selling magazine for women. There are, quite literally, thousands of other young witches in London who would kill to have your position. These women are, in many cases, more qualified and more... dedicated.”
I began to see where this was going.
“There is a blue folder currently sitting on my desk, which contains the contact information for each and every one of them. I suggest that you don’t give me reason to use it.”
In the time she had delivered her little speech, I went from standing as I normally do (tall with a hand on my hip) to huddling over my coffee. “Yes, mum,” I found myself whispering.
Mildred actually had a point. How was I supposed to gain anyone’s respect if I showed up hung over, or still tipsy from the night before? (Sadly, the latter has happened more than I’d like to admit.) For once, it seemed Mildred and I actually agreed on something. She even made what I’m sure was her first attempt to smile of this century. And then she gave me a little cheek-pat and I found myself questioning my time at Witch Weekly all over again.
I am carrying out my lunch break as usual: alone at my desk. I’m eating some tasteless soup from my coffee mug, trying not to dribble on my proofreading. I am doing my best to take Mildred’s words to heart, while simultaneously putting the cheek-pat out of my mind. A thousand other girls would kill for this job. Hard to believe. But apparently I could be replaced at the drop of the Sorting Hat. Maybe it really is time to step things up—which is why I’m spending my precious lunchtime finishing a record amount of proofreading.
I can’t help my bitter, That’ll show the old wretch.
On my trip to the kitchens for my fourth cup of coffee I pass Rose Zeller, the closest thing I have to a friend here. By “friend,” I mean that we have a mutual understanding that we’re using one another to pass the time. I’m there to listen to her problems with boys and work—or pretend to, while I bewitch office supplies to play Quidditch—and she nods absently through my tirades. She can be petty, and dear Christ, if I have to hear about Theo’s “perfectly sculpted bum” one more time. (Even though it is. Seriously. Have you ever seen Michalengelo’s David?) Several months back they had a one-night stand. We went back to our old habits: she needed someone to listen to her Theo problems. Meanwhile I seized the opportunity for a female drinking buddy. Times were hard, after Lisa went back to Justin and their fondue parties or what-have-you.
It took quite some time to get over my initial jealousy. In fact it’s pretty much still there. Rose is three years younger than me and already has a journalism career. Back at Hogwarts, I was writing before she’d even hit puberty. Today she’s wearing a turquoise pencil skirt and her signature trendy red-framed glasses.
I offer her a wave as we pass. She only sighs heavily and storms past me. Merlin, what’s up everyone’s arse today? I decide to blame it on lack of coffee.
Rose isn’t all that bad. She’s pretty much down for anything, and likes to have fun. On top of that, she’s beautiful. Her skin glows in a freakish elf-like way, and her grey eyes are even brighter. At first I was surprised at her being single.
Seamus even asked me to set them up once, when he visited WW to bring me Chinese takeaway. By that time, Rose had drunkenly revealed to me that she often walks by Theo’s flat at the precise time that he goes for coffee—9:36—to stage a run-in. Seamus’s interest faded pretty quickly after that. Unfortunately, so did his desire to drop by with takeaway.
I am in the midst of pouring my coffee, and am probably smiling at it a bit too much, when Rose enters. She runs a hand through her dark hair and says, “I’m sorry, Edie.” There is a moment of silence. Clearly I am to ask her what is wrong. I take the bait; maybe she’s upset enough for a pint later.
“Alright?” I sip my coffee.
She holds a folder of parchments in her hand, “It’s this stupid assignment.”
I bite my tongue. I don’t think you understand how enormous of an accomplishment this is for me. At least you have assignments, I internalise.
Bury it deep down inside, Edie. Healthy.
I hoist myself up to sit on the heavy wooden table, because Mildred hates it. “What’s wrong with the assignment?”
“It’s an interview for our Quidditch section. It was sprung on me last-minute, on top of a cover story and organising our spread for winter coats.” I am having a very hard time feeling sorry for her. “I mean, it’s a really big piece. For this month’s issue. That gives me, what? Just over a week to have it done from start to finish. And it would require a really in-depth interview. On top of knowing absolutely nothing about Quidditch—”
“Mmm!” I barely manage to turn my rage into a loud noise indicating agreement.
I should have that article! I probably still have Kestrel-green paint on my face.
“Listen,” I butt in. “I just remembered. I have a…thing.”
She quirks an eyebrow, clearly not buying it, “Really.”
“Yeah. Really huge, actually,” I back away, mostly to put her out of throttling range. “But hey, rotten luck with being handed a monumental piece like that. Especially amidst all of those other cover stories.” Before she can get another word in, I dart out the door.
As I head down the corridors I realize my hands are clenched, threatening to crack my coffee mug. When I reach my desk, I sit down heavily. Maybe I was too hard on Rose. But it’s infuriating to go day-in, day-out in this place where somebody like me, dying to become a writer, is ignored. More than infuriating. The stack of parchments to be proofread has multiplied in my absence, meaning Mildred is still angry with me. I push my bowl of soup to the corner, where it won’t be in the way. Suddenly I’m not very hungry.
Usually when Mr. Ward calls me into his office, it’s to ask for a cup of tea or to copy a stack of parchment. I remember the first time it happened, I was so sure that I was about to be handed a major assignment. Beaming, I had marched all the way down to his office, wondering exactly which area of the magazine in which I’d be working. Wardrobe. No, Layout? Maybe I’d even do some writing!
Well, in the end, the task he gave me was serious...
“Read it back to me, Edith,” he had said calmly.
“Smoked ham, yellow mustard, spinach, one tomato slice, lightly toasted rye.”
He smiled and nodded the whole way as if I were reciting the Iliad from memory. When I had finished he said, “Excellent work. I’m very confident that you’ll do well. You do know where Broomhilda’s Kitchen is located?”
That was the day I had lost all faith in Mr. Ward.
Today when I walk into his office with my quill at the ready, he’s in the midst of editing something. I stop in the doorway, unsure, but he waves me in without lifting his head. Mr. Ward is in his late fifties I would say, with a long horse-like face and badly parted hair. The way he is currently reading the parchment looks very affected, with a finger tucked under his chin. I stand uncomfortably.
Owls periodically swoop in and out, nearly colliding with one another, dropping parcels and letters onto a second wooden desk. (I’m not sure why we haven’t taken a page from The Ministry’s book and moved on to paper airplanes, but I’ve learned not to question anything.) The papers magically sort themselves, a constant blur of envelopes.
My eyes wander around the office. An enormous window overlooks the streets of Diagon Alley where people go about their daily business. Mounted to the walls are countless journalism awards, honourary degrees, and other recognitions. In fact there are so many that Mr. Ward has charmed them to shift around so that they may all be seen. Apparently what he lacks in common sense and social graces, he makes up for in writing. My eyes land on a photograph of him shaking hands with the Minister of Magic. Keep writing! is scrawled in the bottom corner, though when I look closer the penmanship actually looks a lot like Mr. Ward’s.
He makes a final editing mark with an exaggerated flourish of his quill, bringing me back. Then he tosses the parchment over his shoulder. “Sit, Edith,” he says.
Usually whatever he requires of me is insignificant enough to be fully explained while standing. The chair is small and uncomfortable and I wait as he fixes his tie. “Edith, Edith, Edith. I have to say, you’ve done very well with all of your assignments so far.” I fight the deadpan expression trying to take over as he says, “You have definitely proven yourself to be a valuable part of Witch Weekly. I’d say it’s time for you to take on a much bigger task.”
I almost don’t believe him. My heart skips a beat, “Really?”
“Really. The magazine is going to be partaking in an absolutely huge event at Gringotts next month.” He adds with a half-smile, “I’m sure you know exactly which event I’m talking about.”
The Female Goblin Coalition rally! Witch Weekly is going to run a story with actual substance. And they want me to help. Me! I can finally prove that I’m good for more than pulling owls from fireplaces!
Mr. Ward folds his hands on his desk and leans forward. I can smell his coffee breath. I don’t care. Having a hand in covering this protest is going to be a life-changing opportunity.
“Edith,” he says. This time I don’t even mind the use of my full name. He pauses. Slight dramatic exhale. “We need you.”
“I will be there!” I gush, emphatically poking the surface of his desk.
But I do this just as he is saying, “To man the refreshments table.”
I cannot stop my “HA!” of disbelief. My finger jams harder into the wood grain. You have got to be joking. Mr. Ward is beaming back like an idiot. “So... this isn’t about the Female Goblin Coalition strike.”
He makes a “Pfft” sound and shoos away the very idea with his hand. “Of course not. Bunch of whinging midgets in skirts, the lot of them.” I open my mouth to protest in horror but he barrels on, “No, Gringotts is holding the reception for the annual WNSG—that’s the Wizarding News Society Gala—and we are of course attending. It’s just next month. Can’t believe you haven’t heard about it.”
As if on cue, an owl screeches and drops a parchment on my head. I snatch the parchment, crumpling it slightly. “Gringotts Bank Presents the Four-Hundred-and-Twelfth Annual Wizarding News Association Gala,” I read. There is a horrible little illustration of Goblin and a business-wizard chortling over brandy.
“So, what do you say,” Mr. Ward rests his hands behind his head. I’m waiting for him to prop up his expensive Dragonhide shoes. “Are you our girl?”
I stare in disbelief, still clutching the parchment. The magazine is actually supporting Gringotts right now? A publication marketed to women is associating with a blatantly sexist institution? I want to shout that I already knew what the WNAG is, that I quit, that I’m a better journalist than he has ever bothered to find out. But this internship is all the journalism experience that I have...
“I’m your girl.”
“Great!” He slaps the arms of his chair. Then, without another word he picks up his quill and gets back to work, doing whatever it is that he does all day. Not that I could possibly know, since as my mentor he hasn’t actually told me what his job entails.
I slowly rise to my feet, allowing myself to stand there, waiting, as if he may suddenly shout, “Gotcha!” But Mr. Ward is far too intent on his work. I turn to the door.
“Oh, and Edith?”
I stop in my tracks and squeeze my eyes shut. Do not hex your character reference, do not hex your character reference... It’s become my mantra over the past few months. I turn on my heel and manage a bright, “Yes?”
He looks at me with sentimental appreciation, like somebody who can’t believe how quickly their child has grown. “I would absolutely love a cup of tea,” he nods emphatically.
“Of course,” I reply through my teeth and set off to find his preferred brand, Madame Puddifoot’s Authentic Breakfast. Decaffeinated, the twat.
Author's note: Hello everyone, and thank you so much for checking out my story. Thanks to princesspatience, ghostfire, EnigmaticEyes16 and JJFuzzyhead on the forums for their help creating grunt-work for Edie at her internship.
Edits 10/17/14 - Now that I'm almost done with writing the story (I can't believe it!) there are some small changes here and there. Namely I wanted Witch Weekly to feel a like less of a joke publication. Also, Rose is no longer pitted against Edie, a "cool girl who watches Quidditch with the guys," for being an effeminate character.
Thanks again, and please review! I absolutely live for that stuff :)
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