Chapter 6 : Lessons in Chemistry
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afterglow @ TDA
Rose reacts first, in one swift movement grabbing my sleeve while undoing the silencing charm. “Apparate out of here, now!” she stage-whispers.
“No way! I want to know what she thinks!”
“Are you—you can’t be serious—” But I won’t release her arm, now, and if I Apparate then she has to come with me.
The knock comes again, gently. “Rose?”
With a surprising amount of force, she throws me towards the desk and mouths, “HIDE!” probably along with some less savory words. I duck beneath it, pulling the chair back in just as the door swings open.
I imagine Rose standing with a winning smile, the perfect balance of professional and friendly. “Ms. Blakeslee, hi! So sorry about that, I was just Floo-chatting with my Mum. She’s being a bit insane right now!” Her voice raises pointedly and I scowl.
“It’s quite all right. Do you have a moment?”
“Yes, of course!”
With my knees drawn in and my head smooshed against them, I look like a baby bird about to hatch, and can’t see a thing. But I can imagine tall and willowy Tallulah Blakeslee, who seems to never wear an ounce of color, striding in with her short white-blonde hair pushed back fetchingly (seriously, Draco Malfoy must have taken a page from her book.)
“I wanted to have a word about your Oliver Wood story.”
Thud. I have swallowed my heart, and am now going to choke on it, I’m certain. Rose falters only a moment. “R-right. Was it… satisfactory?”
I strain to hear, in Ms. Blakeslee’s tone of voice, any indication that she’s on to us. But she almost laughs; a rare occurrence. “Please, do relax, Rose. Should we have a seat?”
There is the sound of the lone armchair being pulled across the floor, and I realize that she means for Rose to return to her desk.
Stiffly, she comes to stand before me and pulls her chair out. I avert my eyes awkwardly as she turns her knees away, to avoid giving me a rather friendly view. But despite the uncomfortable position, I am wildly regretting everything Rose and I have done.
This is it. We’ve been found out, and Rose is going to be sacked, and I can’t even technically be sacked because I was never a real employee anyway, and I take back everything, I’ll clean the Floo chimneys and pick up Ward’s sandwiches and drink the god-awful coffee, just please don’t let us be sacked—
“Artie and I were quite impressed with your work, Rose.”
I jerk my head up, peering at Rose uncomfortably, and see that she is doing an awful job of not being shocked. “You really liked it?”
I give her leg a pinch and she returns it with a swift kick.
Blakeslee’s voice holds an air of confusion. “You seem…surprised.”
Rose backtracks with a dazzling smile. “No, sorry, that came out wrong. I only meant that I was concerned because before this assignment I knew so little about Quidditch.”
“Well, if you wrote a story so well researched without preexisting knowledge, that’s all the more impressive. Your decision to expose the underbelly of Wood’s character is an interesting angle, considering the stories many other young women write about an attractive athlete.”
I’m not sure how I feel about this remark, but Rose shoos the thought away. “Please, I’m only grateful for your approval.”
I nearly vomit on her shoes. But Blakeslee is not easily won by flattery, either. “We want to offer the opportunity for a follow-up story.”
My heart stops. And apparently Rose’s does too, because there is a long silence. “A follow-up.”
“Yes. Two, actually. We’re receiving a lot of positive feedback from readers. We want to develop Charm’s Quidditch section further, focusing on a different athlete each month—sports writing, aimed at young women. We want to make Quidditch interesting to them. Make it sexy. A sort of ironic response to Quidditch Quarterly’s centerfolds of women athletes, if you will.”
“Rose, I really cannot express how significant it is that we secured these interviews. Wood is absolutely huge right now, after his comeback to Quidditch, and we have to take advantage of this opportunity. I’ve already spoken with Deverill and their head of PR, Katie Bell—no other publication will have access to in-depth interviews.”
Rose at last manages to say, “Wow. This is—”
“Quite an honor, for you,” Blakelsee finishes in a warning tone. “Charm doesn’t often redirect an entire project, based on a writer’s performance.”
It’s clear, now, that we’ve dug our own grave: Rose doesn’t have a choice in the matter.
She must come to the same conclusion, and with a smile rises back to her feet. They shake hands over my hiding place. “Of course, I’ll get started straight away. Thank you, Ms. Blakeslee.”
The conflicting feelings of excitement at receiving such high praise, anger for not being given credit, are impossible to untangle. Eagerly I await for Blakeslee to leave, but her voice comes curiously: “Isn’t that Edie Lennox’s mug?”
To my horror, I realize that my coffee was left sitting on the desk: the daft mug that Seamus gifted me with my own winking face on it.
But, once more, Rose’s performance is seamless. “Oh! Yes, she popped by earlier. I’ll have to return it.”
“She’s a funny one, isn’t she? It’s a shame we couldn’t find a permanent spot for her on our staff. But Artie and I trust your judgment.”
This time, Rose can’t erase her look of horror quickly enough, and I see it clearly. There is a burning in my chest like I’ve drank scalding hot tea. Has Rose done something to prevent me from being promoted? There have been numerous positions to open up at Charm in my time here, but I never made it past the first interview. I always thought it was just too competitive.
Her voice is nearly a whisper. “Yes, well…”
Blakeslee raps on the desk conclusively. “Excellent. Let’s meet again to discuss our next move with the Wood stories. I’ll set something up with Artie and send you an owl.”
“Y-yes, that sounds brilliant. Thank you.”
“We’re glad to have you on board with this, Rose.”
As soon as the door clicks I barrel, ungracefully, from beneath the desk. My heart is hammering in my ears as Rose babbles helplessly, “Edie, wait—”
I stop to fix her with a stony glare, but she hands me the coffee mug. “You forgot this.”
Before I can hex her I Apparate with a loud crack, away from Charm, to see the one person who could help me make sense of it all.
The Welcome Witch at St. Mungo’s is probably the most inaptly named human on the face of the planet. Dolores she scarcely smiles, or blinks. Or breathes. The most emotion I have ever seen her display was when she chipped a tooth on a bit of treacle fudge—and even then she only frowned a bit and went on ignoring me as I stood waiting. Even though I have spoken to her a thousand times on my visits to Lisa, she always pretends that she has no idea who I am.
“Hi Dolores,” I say breathlessly as I approach.
“Please sign in.” She prods a quill and inkwell toward me.
“Dolores, come on, you know me! I gave you my extra burrito once—oh, sod it.”
I scribble the insane amount of information St. Mungo’s requires before Dolores tosses me a tarnished bronze medallion marked VISITOR. Slipping it over my neck, I wait for approximately a century while she studies her parchment. At last she croaks, “Ground floor, room 2B.”
I blink at her, suddenly very curious as to what her flat looks like, before jetting off to find Lisa.
The Ground Floor is where one is treated for artifact accidents—cauldron explosions, broom-crashes and the like—but they also take care of bone injuries. (I learned this last year, when Seamus Splinched himself and had to regrow a toe.) As I hurry through the corridors a young Wizard, his face blackened with soot, shuffles past while murmuring, “But the wand was still under warranty.”
This is certainly one of the tamer areas of the hospital. Thankfully Lisa isn’t working with Creature-Induced Injuries today. I made the mistake of meeting her there before lunch one afternoon. Fun fact: it only takes one chance run-in with an Acromantula bite victim to faint in the middle of a corridor.
I clamber up the stairs of the cathedral-like stairwell and into room 2B, where the beds are partitioned with sterile white curtains. Immediately I spot Lisa at the far end of the room. And even in her hospital robes, with her hair in a bird’s nest and sleepless rings around her eyes, she looks like a model. Jerk.
She’s with a patient, but I figure with enough frantic hand-signaling she’ll come talk to me. I barrel past the rows of partitioned beds. I’m unspotted as Lisa grinds something with a mortar and pestle, chatting happily to her patient, a shirtless wizard with his back to me.
When Lisa notices what probably looks like a freight train coming at her, her eyes grow wide and she almost imperceptibly shakes her head “No.” But I have already started my wild gesticulations, as if I could possibly say with my hands, “My story has been extended into a three-part series, and Rose is taking credit, and also I think she blocked me from getting a job.”
Suddenly I freeze mid-flail. Lisa’s patient is Oliver Wood.
He turns and does a double-take, covering his bare chest with the bedsheets as if scandalized. Lisa is frozen in an awkward position, still holding the pestle, her t-rex arms only halfway extended towards Wood’s shoulder.
He looks embarrassed for his cover-up reaction, his neck flushing red. “Uh.”
“Are you…spying on me?”
Instead I say to Lisa, “Well, there’s that. So.”
“Absolutely. We’ll...” She gestures between us with her index fingers. “We’ll talk.”
Then I turn and pretty much bolt. What are the odds that she’s treating him today? And, oh God, what if he saw the article? St. Mungo’s keeps dozens of copies of Charm in their waiting room, an indicator to the quality of journalism. Wood could have easily picked one up and read every mean thing that I wrote, back when I thought I’d never have to see him again.
I walk faster.
There is a small commotion behind me and I hear Lisa calling, “Oliver, your appointment!” followed by footsteps.
“Oi!” comes his voice.
I pick up the pace to a pretty impressive speed-walk, and am actually a bit winded as I throw open the large wooden door to the stairwell, but of course the professional athlete gains on me in no time.
“Hey.” He cuts me off at the landing and I’m forced to stop in my tracks. He’s put his olive green jumper back on, inside-out in his haste.
I stammer, “Hello. Hi.” Then I add, “Alright?”
“I’m well, thanks. Alright?” he responds automatically.
Painful silence. The afternoon sun is pouring in through the high medieval windows, illuminating the passersby and the marble stairs. It’s a pleasant scene, but I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt this uncomfortable.
“So…you’re sure that you’re not spying on me,” he says.
I shake my head no, unable to make eye contact.
“Right, bad joke, sorry.”
“I just didn’t know—I didn’t know that you were joking.”
“Ah, yeah,” he waves it off. “Should probably give up the dream of a career in standup.”
Another agonizing silence as I stare guiltily at my feet and he crosses his arms self-consciously. Why did he even come out here, if we’re only going to see who can go the longest without eye-contact? I focus my attention on a plump witch, struggling to carry an enormous bouquet of flowers that look as though they could bite.
Wood tries, “So... How’s the article coming, anyway?”
My gaze snaps to him at last. He doesn’t know that it’s out.
But instead of blurting out something stupid, I’m distracted by the person before me, and how they seem so different. His black eye has vanished, his wavy hair is without too much product, and he’s in street clothes. No mysterious stains or stupid sunglasses—I reckon this is what normal Oliver Wood looks like. But there’s something else about him that seems different.
Finally I respond with a neutral, “The article’s going fine, thanks.”
“That’s brilliant,” he smiles a little too eagerly.
What, worried I’ve got some bad stories to tell, Wood?
“I hope I wasn’t too... horrible. During the interview.”
I squint at him. “You don’t remember that either?”
He rubs the back of his head. “Bits and pieces. I remember you making me chug about eight cups of coffee. That certainly helped.”
“It was eleven in the morning!” I want to be upset, but part of me is impressed at his partying abilities. “That’s worse off than even I’ve been.”
I don’t mean to say it, but it comes out, and now we’ve got something embarrassing in common. Seeming encouraged, he wets his lips. “Actually, I’m glad to run into you. I, erm, 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.”
“Wait, how d’you know Lisa’s my friend?”
“You’re not the only detective around here,” he says ominously, and snorts at my look of worry. “She was sitting with you at the bar when we arrived that night, I at least remember that much. I recognized her as my Mediwitch but, y’know, patient confidentiality and all.”
“Sneaky little monkey,” I murmur and, despite myself, feel a flush in my cheeks. “So… you wanted to see me at work?”
“Well, ideally, if I would even be let back in. I don’t know if that kind of exile is a life-long sentence, or what.” Despite his joking nature he bounces on his feet, nervous. “I wanted to apologize for being such an ass.”
“I know you’re a columnist—” I shoot him a glare, as if by reflex, and he corrects, “Journalist, right. But it seems like we have to spend some more time together professionally, and I really let it get off on the wrong foot. The timing was…not great for me, personally, but it’s still my fault.”
I then realize what it is about Wood that seems so different. He’s not behaving like some entitled, rude, condescending socialite—he’s acting like a normal human being. There’s a small pang of guilt in my stomach for how I portrayed him in my story. But something else he said is tugging at my brain.
“‘Not great timing,’” I repeat.
He catches the gleam of journalistic interest in my eye and laughs. “Sorry, you’ll have to try harder than that.”
“Challenge accepted,” I return his grin, and we both seem to realize it at the same time: we’re flirting with each other.
He clears his throat and I look back to my shoes. The painful silence returns.
And, realistically, he’s only covering his own bum. Wood acted like a class-A fool in front of the person who’s writing about him; the only person who has access to interviews. He has the chance to change the public’s view of him.
I try on a professional-looking smile. “Well, apology accepted. I’m looking forward to working with you.”
“That’s brilliant.” He exhales the breath he has apparently been holding, looking quite relieved. “Well, I should get back to Lisa, she’s probably waiting—”
We both spot Lisa, standing only a stone’s throw away, pretending to write something on her clipboard. When she notices us she jumps and scurries away. We’ll be elbows-deep in disappointingly vegan ice cream and gossip soon enough.
“Well, it was nice running into you...” He trails off uncertainly, extending a hand.
“Edie.” I shake his hand. “Nice seeing you too, Wood.”
That sarcastic little smirk is back. “You’re not writing now. Call me Oliver.”
My head gives the slightest inquisitive tilt. 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 my hand a bit longer than necessary.
Big hands, too.
We take several steps backward. He’s looking at me as though I were a new flavor that he can’t quite decide if he likes; meanwhile I’m 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 sleeping with me. I take another step backwards.
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 and my flailing arm smacks her square in the face. With a shriek I topple backwards down the stairs, bringing her with me. I land flat on my back with a THUNK! that knocks the wind from my lungs, and she rolls to a stop nearby.
My horror is not over the possibility broken bones, or a concussion, or whether or not the other woman is harmed. 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: Lots more conniving and backstabbing--and fluff and flirting--to come. In this new version, Rose played a role in keeping Edie as an intern. Intrigue! Please let me know what you think ♥
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