Chapter 6 : Lessons in Chemistry
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Rose reacts faster than me, quickly undoing the silencing charm. My heart is in my throat as she crosses to the door. Before she turns the handle, Rose fixes me with a murderous look, which I’m too terrified to return. Don’t say anything! she mouths, and opens the door.
“Hello, Ms Blakeslee,” Rose chimes, the perfect balance of professional and friendly.
Tallulah Blakeslee is a very tall, very thin witch. I have never seen her wear an ounce of colour. Her white-blond hair is pushed straight back from her forehead in a stylish cut with long fringe and a short, cropped back. Blakeslee wears minimal makeup but has a strikingly unique face that I think has a severe beauty. Though she is a very intimidating woman in my opinion, she’s rumoured around WW to have a good heart. Today she is wearing some kind of black fur wrapped around her neck and grey trousers tucked into tall boots. Rose’s confident smile has not wavered, despite having to crane her neck to look at Blakeslee.
I, however, have gone as pale as the Grey Lady. In fact I am staring at Blakeslee as if a Dementor has wandered in and asked for directions to the loo. My own heartbeat pounding in my eardrums washes out most of their cordial introductory conversation. But one phrase does filter in through all the loud humming in my head.
“I was just speaking with Ward about your Quidditch article,” Blakeslee informs Rose. “I wondered if I might have a word.”
The mug drops from my hands and shatters on the stone floor. Coffee sprays everywhere, narrowly missing Rose’s ankles. Blakeslee looks mildly startled, mostly because I don’t think she even noticed me standing there. Rose, however, has whipped her head around and fixed me with the wild-eyed glare of a Banshee. An agonizing silence sucks the air from the room.
“Oh,” I squeak at last. “I am so sorry Rose, I’ll just, uh...” I whip out my wand, quickly Tergio the mess, and offer an apologetic smile. “Excuse me, I’ll, erm, give you two a moment.” Without meeting Rose’s glare I scurry from the room with my restored cup of coffee. On my way out I swear that I Blakeslee is giving me an almost amused half-smile.
The door shuts behind me and I collapse against the wall, a heap of nerves. But how completely idiotic I just behaved is the least of my concerns.
Oh no, this is it. We’ve been found out. Rose is going to be sacked, and I can’t even technically be sacked because I was never officially employed here anyway, and it’s all over.
A thought suddenly strikes me and I whip out my wand. “Accio purse,” my voice cracks. Seconds pass and then my brown clutch comes whizzing through the corridor and hits me square in the nose. I manage not to scream the series of curse words streaming through my head, and begin to fish through the bag.
I could have sworn I saw it in here... Yes!
With a flourish, I extract the Extendable Ear. I must’ve nicked it from Dean months ago and forgotten that it was in here. For once I’m thankful for my clutterbug tendencies. I place one end in my own ear and let the other drop to the crack under the door.
Suddenly I hear a tiny muffled voice, as though my own ear was pressed to the keyhole, “...hope that Mr. Ward found everything satisfactory.” It’s Rose’s voice. I do a very animated little victory leap, and then tiptoe down the empty corridor as far as the Ear will allow. Several lengthening charms later I was around the corner. Of course, any troll would be able to see the long cord spanning the length of the corridor and put two and two together.
I poke my head around the corner to keep lookout. I must look completely daft but I am focused on Blakeslee’s voice: “He certainly did. More than satisfactory, in fact.”
My heart pounds with half-excitement, half-terror. So Ward likes my work. Or, hopefully, he likes what he truly believes to be Rose’s work.
“Oh?” Rose does an awful job at not sounding surprised. “He really liked it?”
I release an indignant scoff. The article wasn’t half-bad! Did she even read it?
Rose quickly covers her tracks, “Only, I didn’t know a lot about Quidditch before the assignment, is all.”
“Well, Miss Zeller,” Blakeslee says, “if you wrote an article like that without preexisting knowledge, that’s all the more impressive.” I scowl as Blakeslee continues, “There is a great voice in your writing. You’ve managed to deliver gossip and expose the underbelly of Wood’s character without completely compromising him. It’s an interesting angle, considering the kinds of gushing stories most other young women write about an attractive athlete.”
Rose positively simpers, “I’m only grateful to have your recognition, Ms Blakeslee.”
I almost vomit right onto my own shoes.
Blakeslee is apparently not easily undone by flattery, ignoring Rose’s comment. “In fact, I want to offer you a follow-up article.”
My heart stops. Apparently Rose’s does too, because there is a long silence. Finally she manages to repeat, “A follow-up article.” I wonder if I am the only one who can hear the underlying horror in her tone.
“Yes. Two, in fact,” explains Blakeslee. “We’re already receiving a lot of positive feedback from subscribers. A lot. We want to develop the Quidditch section further, and to kick it off with a three-part series of articles on Wood. You’ve talked a lot about his public history and the good and the bad of what he’s done, but readers are asking about his private life.”
“His private life,” Rose repeats again. There is a beat of silence. “Wow. I, um...”
“This is quite an honor, Miss Zeller,” says Blakelsee, more serious now. “Witch Weekly hasn’t expanded a section of the magazine in response to a journalist’s performance in quite some time.” I realize that Rose does not have a choice in the matter.
She must come to the same conclusion, because I can hear her smile breathily. I imagine her shrugging and shrugging with defeat. “I would be honored, Ms Blaskeslee. Thank you so much. What an incredible opportunity.”
I don’t know what I’m feeling. At all. It would take hours to attempt to sort out this emotional smorgasbord. But the door to Rose’s office is creaking open and I do not want to be caught eavesdropping by either of them. I quickly reel in the Extendable Ear, which bounces along the stone floors at an almost agonizing pace. At last I have it in my hand but I can hear footsteps heading my way. Panicked, I turn and Apparate, thinking of the only person that could possibly make sense of things right now.
I don’t think there is a single person more falsely titled than the Welcome Witch at St. Mungo’s. She’s consistently dry and unfriendly. The most emotion I have ever seen her display was when she chipped her front tooth on a piece of treacle fudge: her response was to merely frown a bit, shrug, and go on about her day. Even though I have spoken to her a thousand times when I’ve come to visit Lisa, she always pretends as though she has no idea who I am.
“Hello,” I say breathlessly as I approach her desk. She merely quirks an eyebrow and I sigh. “You seriously don’t remem--oh, sod it, I’m looking for my friend Lisa Turpin? She’s a Mediwitch here,” I say in a rehearsed voice.
The Welcome Witch consults something on her desk that I can’t see. Tapping whatever it is twice with her wand, she waits while I drum my fingers on the counter. The dinosaurs have come and gone in the time that she performs the charm. Then she slowly lifts her head, considers me, and says at last, “Ground Floor.”
I blink at her, perplexed. Suddenly I’m very curious as to what her flat must look like. Then I remind myself why I’m here and jet off to find Lisa.
The Ground Floor of St. Mungo’s is where one goes for artifact accidents such as cauldron-explosions and broom-crashes, but they also take care of breaks, sprains and bone regrowing. I know this because I had to take Seamus here a year ago after he splinched himself and had to regrow one of his toes. I know Lisa doesn’t relish working on this floor, but she’d rather be here any day over the First Floor: Creature-Induced Injuries. I made the mistake of meeting her there before lunch one afternoon. It only takes one chance run-in with an Acromantula bite victim to faint in the middle of the corridor, it turns out.
When I emerge from the stairwell into the Ground Floor, I immediately spot Lisa. She is standing all the way across the room, at the edge of a small bed tucked in the corner. And even in her hospital robes with her hair messily pulled back she looks like a Veela, I note.
I hurry past a witch whose foot is suspended in a sling, not hearing her question of whether or not it’s raining outside. I don’t want to forget a single bit of what just happened with Blakeslee. Lisa hasn’t noticed me yet; she’s very concentrated on her patient, a wizard sitting on the bed with his shirtless back to me while she examines his shoulder. When she finally notices me barrelling across the room her eyes grow wide, and I notice that she almost imperceptibly shakes her head “no.” But by then I have already reached her.
“Sorry to barge in, but we need to talk.”
Lisa just makes a peeping sound, gone rather white.
I quirk an eyebrow and ask, “What time is your next breeeaaaahhhh...” My voice falters, the word “break” turning into a series of strange noises with no semblance to the English language.
The patient sitting on the bed is Oliver Wood.
I realize that Lisa was examining his left shoulder, the one I know that he injured during a match two years ago. He must be here for a routine check-up and happen to be in Lisa’s care this afternoon. Wood turns and glances at me, looks away, and then does a double-take. Lisa is frozen in an awkward position, holding a canister of serum, her t-rex arms only halfway extended to Wood’s shoulder.
“Uh,” he begins.
“Erm,” I respond with eloquence.
“Well,” I say to Lisa as I start backing away. “There’s that. So.”
She nods, playing along. “Absolutely. We’ll...” she gestures between the two of us with her index fingers. “We’ll talk.”
“Definitely,” I agree.
Then I turn and pretty much bolt. What are the odds that Lisa is treating Wood today?! Oh God, what if he saw the article? St. Mungo’s keeps a dozen copies of Witch Weekly in their waiting room (a testament to the poor quality of journalism.)
I start walking faster.
There is a small commotion behind me and I hear Lisa protesting in the way that she does best, which means saying quietly, “Um...” and then there are footsteps.
“Wait!” I hear Wood call.
I pick up the pace so that I’m doing a pretty impressive speed-walk, but of course the professional athlete gains on me in no time. In fact, I’m a little winded by this point. Regardless I throw open the door just as Wood reaches me.
“Hey,” he says, cutting me off in the enormous stone stairwell. He’s blocking my way down, so I’m forced to stop in my tracks. Thankfully he’s put his olive green jumper back on, inside-out in his haste. I notice again how tall he is.
“Hello. Hi,” I stammer. Then I add, “Alright?”
“I’m well, thanks. Alright?” he responds automatically.
“Well, thanks,” I parrot.
Painful silence. The afternoon sun is pouring in through the high medieval windows, brightening the stairwell filled with passing hospital visitors, patients and Healers. It’s a pleasant scene, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this uncomfortable.
“So, what are you doing here?” he asks. “Some undercover detective work for that article?” I manage to shake my head no, and he nods once. “Right, bad joke, sorry,” he mumbles.
“I just didn’t know--I didn’t know that you were joking.”
“Oh, yeah,” he waved it off. “I should probably just quit trying.”
Another agonizing silence. Why did he even come out here if we were just going see who could go the longest without constructing a proper sentence? Looking at him is pretty much impossible right now so I focus on a plump witch struggling to carry an enormous bouquet of flowers that look as though they could bite.
Wood asks, “So... How’s the article coming, anyway?”
My gaze snaps to him at last. I almost blurt out, “You haven’t read it?” but obviously that would imply that it’s been released. Instead I take a moment to weigh my options, studying the person before me. Wood’s black eye is completely gone, though I suspect a topical potion did most of the work there. His brown hair is sticking up irregularly, he doesn’t have a mob of beautiful people around him, and he’s in street clothes. I suppose this is what normal Oliver Wood looks like. But there’s something else about him that seems different.
Finally I respond with a very neutral, “The article’s going fine, thanks.”
“That’s brilliant,” he smiles a little too eagerly. Then his expression falters slightly. “I hope I wasn’t too... horrible. During the interview.”
I squint at him. “Do you not remember the interview, either?” I already knew he’d been drunk from the night before, but the extent of it was still a surprise.
He rubs the back of his head sheepishly. “Uh, well. You know. Bits and pieces. I remember you making me chug about eight cups of coffee. That certainly helped.”
“It was eleven in the morning!” I gasp. I want to be upset but part of me is kind of impressed at his partying abilities. “That’s worse off than even I’ve been.”
Wood drops his arm back down. “I can’t say I’m proud. At all.” He wets his lips and shifts uncomfortably. “Actually, I’m glad to run into you here. I, um, was going to pop in at the pub sometime soon. I was actually just asking your friend where it was because, well, I don’t quite recall.”
“You wanted to see me at work?” I’m sure my expression betrays my utter disbelief.
“Well, ideally. If I could even be let back in. I don’t know if that kind of exile is a life-sentence, or what.” Despite myself I crack a smile. This seems to give him confidence and he runs a hand through his hair. “Well, anyway, I wanted to come by to apologize for everything.”
I then realize what it is about Wood that seems so different. He is not being a “drunk, arrogant idiot.” In fact it’s paining me to see how socially awkward he is, though I can’t say I’m giving a gold medal performance myself. There’s a small pang of guilt in my stomach when I recall how horribly I portrayed him in the article.
“I made a series of really daft decisions,” Wood says. “My friends and I were out of control at the pub, by the sounds of it. And I probably wasn’t much better the next day.” He looks me right in the eye, “I’ve been a right arse, and I’m sorry about that.”
My instinct is to take a step back and analyze the situation: Wood knows he’s been a class-A fool in front of the person who’s publishing an article about him. He probably has little recollection of what he told me, which must be terrifying. My instincts tell me that Wood is covering his tracks, and that I should be careful.
But what I actually do is blush and giggle. Or try to, anyway. I’m just not made for that kind of interaction, so it comes out more like a goose call. “Oh, it’s fine,” I say. “Doesn’t matter. Water under the bridge.”
Lisa, Dean and Seamus would all smack me upside the head, were they here. I have done nothing over the past week but complain about Wood, and the stress he caused, and how angry he made me, and how unrightfully privileged he was. And apparently all he has to do is flash Witch Weekly’s Most Charming Smile of 2004, and suddenly it’s all irrelevant.
Wood exhales the breath he was apparently holding, looking very relieved. “That’s brilliant.” He extends a hand to shake. “Well, it was nice running into you...” he trails off uncertainly, squinting one eye.
“Edie,” I fill in the blank, placing my hand in his. “Nice talking to you too, Wood.”
He grins. “Call me Oliver.”
My head gives the slightest inquisitive tilt. Is it just the sun shining directly in my eyes, or is there... chemistry right now? It seems impossible that any man could go from spending more than four seconds around Lisa and still manage to find another woman attractive. But Wood’s still grinning and holding onto my hand.
Hmm. Big hands, too.
“Oliver,” I repeat, smiling flirtatiously.
We both take several steps backwards. Sod not being physically capable of flirting. I am preparing for one of my patented hair-tosses, which in the best of cases Stupefies a man’s sense of judgment and guarantees that he’ll be contacting me. Oliver is about to head back to Veela-face Lisa, and I need to make some kind of lasting impression.
Unfortunately I do not see that the plump witch with the enormous bouquet has reappeared behind me. Everything seems to go in slow-motion as I trip over her foot, one of my arms flailing out and smacking her square in the face. With a shriek I topple backwards down the first flight of stairs, bringing her with me. I land flat on my back with an impressive THUNK! which knocks the wind out of my lungs. The round witch rolls to a stop several feet away.
My horror is not over the possibility broken bones, or a concussion, or whether or not the other woman is okay. No, instead I am petrified because I didn’t pass out, and because I am fully conscious when Oliver Wood runs down the stairs towards me.
Author's Note: Oh man. I had never realized how much fun it is to write fluff! Not to worry, I promise there will be plenty of backstabbing, Goblin feminism, and drunken debauchery coming your way. I hope you all enjoyed!
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