Chapter 18 : A Business Proposition
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You mean, was I stalking you?”
“Um.” I flushed and looked away. Way to go, Rose. Way to accuse the hot guy of stalking you when he obviously wasn’t!
“Yeah, I was. Sorry about that.” The photographer ran a hand through his chocolaty brown hair and smiled apologetically. “I have a business proposition for you and Blondie, and I would love it if we could discuss it over a breakfast table."
A Business Proposition
Multiple thoughts ran through my mind. First and foremost was: Oooh, a business proposition is it? I’ll take any business proposition of yours, sexy! And a close second after that was, But he’s overage! Offering me a ‘business proposition’ would be illegal! Noooo!
There were the thumps of footsteps and ragged panting. To my displeasure, I saw that it was Malfoy. Garh. Talk about bad timing!
He ran up to us, huffing and puffing as if he had sprinted ten courses around the Quidditch field. “Weasley, I found Gallows! He’s around the corner, unconscious and bleeding from the head! His camera’s been smashed.”
“Shit, he’s bleeding?” the photographer did a double-take. “I just wanted to knock him out. Aw, well. Whatever. He can bleed.”
Malfoy looked the photographer up and down with a sneer. “Who’s this pansy?”
“Hey!” I elbowed Malfoy in the ribs. “Be nice. He’s the one who took care of Gallows for us!”
“But he’s a rich Muggle!”
“I do business in both the Muggle and Wizarding world.” The man pulled an embroidered handkerchief out of his suit jacket and coughed into it delicately. “May I treat the two of you to breakfast?”
“I don’t mind, but...” I glared sideways at Malfoy. Say yes, say yes, say yes, say yes—
“Who the fuck are you?” Malfoy said rudely.
“Adrian DeRegis, studio photographer. Nice to meet you, Blondie.”
Malfoy’s jaw dropped. “Photographer? Weasley! You’re rubbing arses with another one?”
“It’s fine! He’s not—”
“Do you want our faces to be on the front-page of the Daily Prophet?”
“No! He’s not a journalist! He told me!”
“And you believe him? You fucking idiot! Ever heard of undercover reporters?”
The photographer suddenly bent over, erupting into a fit of laughter. “Hahaha! Me, going undercover? Oh, sweet Circe, I could never pull that off!”
Probably not, judging by the amount of product that was in his hair.
“I told you!” I gave Malfoy a testy look and then gestured toward the photographer with one hand. “He’s harmless.”
“Eh... well, I wouldn’t call me harmless, Rose,” the photographersaid thoughtfully. “I tried volunteering at a nursing home and they kicked me out because they thought I was selling crack to the old biddys.”
I blinked at him. That's something Teddy would do. “Well, were you?”
“I was, but in small amounts."
"And that makes it better?"
"They were asking for it!" Adrian got a defensive look on his face. "And I was making some good money off of it, too. So, you see, Rose, I am definitely not harmless, but I’m not so evil that I would sell you guys out to the Daily Prophet. I mean, look at me. I'm a decent guy.”
“You’re a photographer—”
“So?” Adrian glanced at Malfoy and rolled his eyes. “Not all photographers are evil journalists.”
“Patrick was a rare breed of creature who call themselves photojournalists. They suck at taking photos and usually suck at writing, too.”
“What’s the difference between you and him?”
“I’m a studio photographer, dumbshit. I take photos of sexy men that eventually find their way into advertisements, magazines, billboards, all that good stuff.” Adrian raised his eyebrows at Malfoy’s appalled expression. “Don’t give me that look. You don’t have to worry unless you’re a fashion model.”
Fashion model. I blinked at him. I had heard Adrian’s name somewhere before, but fashion models? Why did that ring a bell?
With a jolt of recognition, I remembered where I had seen the name.
It had been near the end of November, during one of our break periods in the Gryffindor Common Room. Jag and Al had been playing a really stupid game of beer pong, with lots of “HOHOHO! I GOT MY BALL IN!” and “NOOO, YOU EXPLODED MY PING-PONG!”, so instead of losing my IQ by being near them, I had gone to Kai’s Kouch with the hopes that Kai and I could have conversation about... anything but beer pong. But no! Kai hadn’t wanted to talk, because he had been immersed in a Wizarding fashion magazine. This magazine had had a totally nauseating picture of Desdemona Divine—a chart-topping witch singer—rolling around nude in rose petal-splattered,silk sheets. (—It was the type of photo that Al would blow up to gigantic proportions and Permanently Stick to his bedroom wall.) But at the very bottom of the magazine cover, I clearly remembered reading the subheading: ‘DEREGIS STUDIOS THROWS A SEDUCTIVE PUNCH AT THE INTERNATIONAL W&W FASHION SHOW.’
This guy seemed to enjoy photographing nude women. Okay. I looked at him at little cautiously. “Are you connected with DeRegis Studios?”
The photographer’s face lit up and he clapped his hands together in glee. “So you have heard of me! DeRegis Studios, Adrian DeRegis—get it? I’m the founder.” He paused and smiled smugly. “Can you guess who my main employer is?”
“The gay version of Playwizard?” Malfoy muttered under his breath. I kicked him in the shin.
Adrian chuckled immoderately. “Yes, them too. But I meant my main employer.”
My eyes widened. He was expecting us to know him, right? That meant someone must’ve mentioned him to us before! But who—
“Irene Jagneaux, of course,” Adrian clucked, looking a little disappointed that we hadn’t gotten the answer. “I photograph all the models for her clothing line, ELLE.”
That’s it! I slapped myself in the head. I knew I had heard his name somewhere, sometime when Jag and Irene had been talking—
Oh god! I couldn’t believe it—how, how in the name of Merlin, had I forgotten?
He’s Irene’s fiancé. Adrian is Irene’s fiancé! She had told us the first day we were at the mansion. In fact, I remembered her exact words. She and Jag had been arguing and Jag had been yelling something about how he didn’t want his mother marrying a creeper who wore high heels. I lifted my gaze up to the Adrian’s face and felt a pang of disappointment. He was engaged! To Irene!
Adrian frowned at me. “Something wrong, Rose?”
I realized that I had been staring at him with my mouth hanging open stupidly. Adrian raised his eyebrows at me, and I blushed. “It's n-nothing.”
Adrian was so young—he had to be only a couple years older than us, max! How could he be engaged to Irene? Maybe I was thinking of a different guy?
“Well, there must be something wrong.” Adrian frowned and waggled a finger at his own face. “You’re staring at meand drooling, honey.”
“Was not,” I muttered and averted my gaze down to his gray, designer suit. He can’t be the wrong guy. It has to be him. I mean, how many glitzy photographers named Adrian are there? Jag’s had said: “He’s a creeper! He wears heels and carries around a purse!” Did he have a purse? Nope. No purse, just a briefcase. I shifted my eyes down and peeked at his feet. No heels either. I mean, seriously, I can’t believe I was checking in the first place! No guy like him would ever wear heels!
I flushed and glanced up at him. I had to make sure. “This is a weird question, I know, but do you—do you ever, um, wear heels?”
Eeeeep. I did not just ask him that.
“What the fuck?” A sound of disgust ripped itself out of Malfoy’s throat. “The fuck? You wear heels?”
“Heels?” Adrian ignored Malfoy and considered me, puckering his lips into a frown. “I’m not wearing any right now.”
“But you wear them?” Oh, God, he does.
He shrugged. “On an occasional basis, yes.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Malfoy made a strangled noise and started to back away, one arm raised like a shield over his torso, as if he was afraid that Adrian was going to attack him.
The photographer rolled his eyes, and then turning to me, he asked, “Why do you ask?”
“N-no reason,” I stammered. “Jag mentioned once, that’s all. Um… do you carry around a purse, too?”
He shrugged. “I have a couple.”
“Oh, okay.” It struggled with my own feelings for a second. Sounds like the same person. Just great. I guess this means that I have nothing to lose from asking him the actual question.
I gulped. Here goes nothing.
“So… You’re engaged to Irene, right?”
There was a moment of stunned silence, and Adrian’s jaw dropped like a stone, his eyes widening to the size of saucers. “NO! No, I am NOT engaged to her! What in the name of Saint Laurent has she been telling you people?”
I was astonished. Relief fluttered through my stomach. “She told us that you guys are getting married. Aren’t you?”
“No! Who the fuck made her think that we were getting married? I don’t ever remember proposing to her!”
“Have you been drunk recently? Maybe you popped the question then.”
“NO WAY! I haven’t been drunk since I woke up two nights ago with a six-and-a-half foot tall Norwegian!”
“We only go out to drink coffee on Saturday mornings and we sometimes watched Say Yes to the Robe together, but that’s it! We weren’t even dating! So how are we engaged? I’m not even wearing a ring! Do you see a ring on my finger?”
“I can’t!” He swung his briefcase around in agony. “I don’t even think she’s attractive! I mean, she’s a decade older!”
“Irene’s a decade older?” I felt nonplussed. How young was this guy?
“You have no, absolutely no idea how bad it is for me. I’ve been surrounded by crazy blond broads my entire life!”
“I know what you mean,” I said sympathetically. I knew only too well how aggravating blonds could be. “You want to exchange stories?”
Adrian snorted. “Uh, no way. Teenage girl stories are boring. And talking about my problems make me want to cry, and crying makes me want to beat some sucker up, and beating suckers up make me hungry. Are we having breakfast or not?”
Several minutes later…
What was the Golden Rule, again? Oh, yeah. Don’t talk to strangers.
Well, that’s thoroughly shot, stabbed and murdered, I thought as we followed Adrian through the mall. He moved through the overpopulated crowd of shoppers with his chin lifted high in the air like a prince. On several occasions, the women whom he passed started staring and pointing after him, and one lady even shrieked out his name. I bowed my head and shielded my face with a hand whenever this happened— if Adrian was that famous, it wouldn’t do for me to be so near him. Who knew if there were witches or wizards in the crowd?
The café was packed with holiday shoppers—I had inch my way cautiously through the dense groups of people and servers around the tables or risk getting bumped or jostled. Adrian squeezed through a huddle of walrus-shaped women and gestured to us to follow him. In the end, we snagged the last available booth in the restaurant. I sat on one side, Malfoy and Adrian squeezed in together across from me. Judging by Malfoy’s murderous expression, he did not particularly want to be sitting with Adrian—but between the photographer and me, it seemed that Malfoy had chosen him to be the lesser of two evils.
“So,” I said, addressing Adrian. “What’s this business proposition? Let’s hear it.”
Was he going to ask us to be models? I felt excitement course through me. Models? That would be awesome!
“Not so fast,” Adrian said, chuckling. “Only idiots make a business contract with their brains running at half-power, like mine is right now. I need some food.” Then he spotted a waitress approaching our table. “There you are, chica!”
The waitress, who was wearing a really annoying red-and-green checkered skirt, smiled at him and passed around three menus. “Merry Christmas Eve! Would you like some time to look over your menus?”
“No, no. I know what I want.” Adrian flipped open the front of the menu and looked down the list thoughtfully. “Hmm, I always forget what a very pitifully limited range of breakfast waffles this place offers.” He paused. “I’ll have six pancakes, two lemon upside-down cakes, three chocolate-banana muffins, two raspberry scones, and….one blackberry and mint tart? Yes, that’s all.”
The waitress stared at him. “Is that just for you, sir?”
“Oh, and throw in a strawberry smoothie with goat’s milk.”
“Um, I’m sorry, but we don’t use goat’s milk in our smoothies. We don’t use any milk, actually.”
Adrian pursed his lips. “No milk? I’m disappointed in you, sweetheart.”
At the sight of the waitress’s appalled face, I burst out into peals of laughter. Beneath the table, Malfoy kicked me and shot me a look that read He’s a fucking creep!
“Anything for you, honey?” the waitress asked me, pointedly ignoring Adrian.
I glanced at the menu, and quickly decided to have what I usually ordered in cafes. “Could I have a waffle with chocolate syrup? ”
“Sure. And to drink?”
I wanted to order a blueberry smoothie, but I really didn’t want to bring up the topic of smoothies again. “A glass of orange juice is fine.”
The waitress scribbled it down. “And you, hun?” she asked Malfoy.
“I don’t want anything,” growled Malfoy.
“Are you sure, Blondie?” Adrian wheedled, elbowing Malfoy in the ribs. “You’re not even paying. I’m putting it all on Irene’s tab.”
“I thought you were treating us,” I said pointedly.
“Nah. Who wastes their own money when they have access to a blonde's purse?”
“Are you sure you don’t want to order anything?” the waitress asked Malfoy.
“He’ll have the same things as Rose,” Adrian put in quickly, before Malfoy could open his mouth.
“No, I won’t!” Malfoy yelled in vain, but too late, Adrian had already waved the waitress away. He spun toward the photographer. “Why'd you do that?”
Adrian rolled his eyes and gave him the classic duh look. “Because you’re dating. People who are dating always order the same things—”
“No, they don’t,” I said automatically, remembering my date at the café with Liam. Then Adrian’s words hit me. “HEY! HOLD UP! WE’RE NOT DATING!”
Adrian didn't seem to hear me. Instead, he stuck out a finger, pointing back and forth from the two of us. “A word of advice, you two. If you go out together—”
“We’re not dating!”
“—wear a huge hat or a fake beard or both, because stalker paparazzi like Patrick Gallows are just waiting to find you and tear your relationship to shreds—”
Malfoy slammed his fist down on the table, with so much force that the napkin holder literally jumped into the air. “Weasley and I aren’t dating! We’re just stuck Christmas shopping together!”
“We’re not, Adrian,” I said seriously. I remembered reading somewhere that using someone’s first name made them listen to you more. “If I dated him, I’d be living on the street in a cardboard box.”
Even though living in a cardboard box for the sake of love is rather romantic. I shook my head reproachfully. Don't be ridiculous, Rose!
“I’ve lived in a cardboard box before.” Adrian shrugged and folded his arms on top of the table. “It wasn’t that bad. A little soggy, though.”
I frowned, trying to banish my thoughts of love, romance and cardboard boxes. “Where?”
“New York City. It was my black period, you could say. I was stalking the curator of the Met because she wouldn’t give me an exhibit.”
Adrian had my full attention now. “You stalked her?”
“I’m a very persuasive stalker, oh yes, I am!” he said with a laugh. “I had to kneel on the pavement for several hours a day and throw up confetti whenever she poked her head out of the window. That didn’t work so I followed her to her apartment and picketed the area with signs.”
Silently, I wondered how many times this guy had been arrested. “Did you get the exhibit in the end?”
“Well, no, because she called the cops. I went back to London and got my studio up and running, then I went back to her a couple years later, and she gave me the exhibit. We got pretty friendly after that. It was a real pity she ditched me for that oafish construction worker. I mean, I know women like the big and brawny type—”
“You've had a girlfriend before?” Malfoy twisted his neck sideways to look at Adrian. His voice betrayed utter disbelief.
“—but must they sacrifice brains in the bargain?” Adrian paused and turned to look at Malfoy testily. “Yes, I have... Why is that so hard to believe?”
“You’re just not the type... who’d have a girlfriend.”
“And why not?”
“You’re a pansy.”
“Am not,” Adrian said indignantly.
“Are too,” Malfoy muttered under his breath.
I slammed my hand down on the table between them. “Stop flirting!”
"What the hell?” Malfoy snapped at me. All the same, I noticed that he shrank back from Adrian. “He’s the pansy, not me.”
“Don’t mind him,” I said to Adrian in an exasperated tone. “Go on, what were you saying?”
It took Adrian a moment to recollect himself. “We dated. I mean, I followed the lady to her house every night. It was inevitable that some action happened. But unfortunately, relationships have never been my strong point.” Moodily, he stabbed the table with a candy cane. “I consider myself married to my work.”
Awww. He looked so glum that I wanted to pat his head.
“So if you’re not marrying Irene, why doesn’t Jag like you?” I asked him tentatively.
Adrian glanced up at me and chuckled briefly. “Oh, Jag. He hates me. It’s because I made him model girls’ clothes when he was ten.”
Sweet Jesus. My mouth dropped open. “Girl’s clothes?”
“Oh, yeah. Frocks, bonnets, bloomers, all of that. It was disturbing, to tell you the truth. I felt like Lewis Carroll.” Adrian shook his head. “Yeah. I hardly talk to him anymore because he tends to bolt if I’m within a three meter radius. That and the fact that he thinks for some reason that I channeled his grandpa’s soul into a chicken.”
Oooh, it’s Bo!
Wait a minute. Bo isn’t his grandfather?
“I can’t believe it!” I cried, waving my hands in front of the photographer’s face. “Adrian! Bo doesn’t carry his grandfather’s soul? But Irene said--”
“Yeah, no way. I’m not that good of a psychic! Bo’s just a chicken. If you want to do soul transplants, you gotta call up those shamans from South Africa.” He paused. “Don’t tell Irene, okay? She’ll start crying.”
“I’ll tell Jag,” I said, again thinking about his grandfather and the chicken-boy. “He’ll be very, very, very relieved.”
“DUDE!” Malfoy suddenly jerked up rigid behind the table. “You just ran your toe up my leg!”
“No, that was Rose.”
“THAT WASN’T ME.”
“IT WASN’T ME!”
“Shhh, guys,” Adrian quieted us down, grinning. “We don’t want to get kicked out do we? But nice calves you got there, Blondie.”
“YOU!” Malfoy shoved his hand down—from my angle, blocked by the table, it looked like he was plunging his hand into his pants— and after furiously rummaging around, whipped out his wand and pointed it at Adrian’s nose. “I’ll blow your face apart!”
“Yeah and then I’ll be sitting in hell playing poker with the devil and we’ll be watching and laughing whenever those dementors suck you off in Azkaban.” Malfoy stared at him, slack-jawed. I burst into peals of laughter. Disregarding both of our reactions, Adrian craned his neck over Malfoy’s head. “Now, where’s that waitress? I'm starving my ass off!"
Needless to say, we didn’t talk anymore. Not until the waitress dropped the platters off, at least. There were three platters for Adrian alone, and one for me and Malfoy apiece. Adrian took a big bite out of a lemon upside-down cake. “Fucking finally,” he groaned, chewing on the cake. “I didn’t know that having no mammary glands affected one’s punctuality.”
Almost simultaneously, Malfoy and I choked on our waffles. “Adrian!” I said weakly.
“We’re in public!”
“Yes, I know that.” The photographer blinked at me indignantly. “What’s wrong with mentioning mammary glands? At least I didn’t say breasts.”
"Good Lord.” I rolled my eyes and whether or not to hide my face or start laughing. He was really too much like Teddy.
“I can say whatever I want,” Adrian was mumbling as he stabbed a cake with his fork. He looked extremely put-off, like a small child who had been reprimanded.
I frowned and examined Adrian carefully. Everything about him, his smooth style, his awfully inappropriate jokes— it was as if he was an Italian version of Teddy. That’s so fucking weird. Well, they look to be about the same age. Well, maybe Adrian was a little younger. And Adrian was a wizard, so he had gone to Hogwarts. Were they friends? Oh my Merlin, they must've been friends!
Excitedly, I put my hands on the table and leaned forward. “Adrian, how old are you?”
The photographer narrowed his eyes, his expression suddenly closing off. “Why?”
“Just tell me!”
“You know how you never to ask a woman her age? Well, you don’t ask Adrian DeRegis his age, either. All I’m sayin’ is that I’m old enough for it to be highly illegal to date you or Blondie. So forget about it.”
“No! It’s just you remind me of… someone I know. I was wondering if you were friends with him at Hogwarts.”
He gave me a small grimace. “Probably not. I dropped out in Sixth Year, and I hardly keep in touch with anyone.”
“You dropped out?” I was astonished. Adrian hadn't struck me as a failure. “Why?”
“Long story. I’ll tell you tomorrow, if there’s time.”
“Tomorrow?” Malfoy said suspiciously. “Why are we seeing you again tomorrow?”
“My new gallery’s opening on Christmas day. Irene said something about planning to take her troupe of ducklings downtown to see it. I might be wrong, but I’m guessing you guys are the ducklings. I’ll be there, haunting the exhibits from backstage and listening to people through the vents. There’s no greater satisfaction than hearing your own work being admired! It’s just fucking awesome! Of course, I’ll want to try using you and Rose as models.”
“Wow! Yes, definitely!” Whoo, oh yeah! Exciting stuff! Modeling was one thing that I had never experienced before— since Mum had been firmly against me and Hugo showing ourselves off in public. But Mum wasn’t here, was she? I could do whatever I wanted! “Was this the business proposition you wanted to discuss?”
“You didn’t have to bring us into a café to tell us that, you know,” I told him with a grin. “And we are going to see you tomorrow anyway.”
“Yes, but I wanted to meet the two of you personally,” Adrian said, waving his hand. “After all, I need to inspect the merchandise before buying it. And I’m very impressed with Blondie here. He was literally born for the catwalk —”
I snickered at the look on Malfoy’s face.
“I’m not joking! He is perfect for modeling intimates! Look at those pectoral muscles! You can literally see their outlines through his jacket!” To prove his point, Adrian tilted his chin down and stared at Malfoy’s torso mock-creepily.
“YOU PANSY!” I erupted in laughter as Malfoy reared back from him, shielding his chest with an arm like a girl usually would.
“Haha, Malfoy, stop acting like you have boobs!”
“Don’t hate! Appreciate!”
“Fuck that! I’m not going five miles near you wearing underwear!”
“So you want to come near me wearing nothing at all? Can’t say I mind—”
“I’LL KILL YOU!”
“Whoaa, guys! We’re in public!” I waved my arms between them. “Adrian, forget about him! I want to do it! Dress me up instead!” If this funny, sexy Italian version of Teddy was the photographer orchestrating the modeling, then I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy it very much. I'd only have to keep a leash on Zelda, because God knew that Adrian was totally her type. Plus, we were modeling. This was, like, a picture perfect excuse to invite Kai over to Jag’s house.
“Excellent!” Adrian said to me enthusiastically. He jabbed a thumb at Malfoy’s face. “Drag this aristocratic bastard along, okay?”
I pretended to consider it. “I will, but only if you torture him with lingerie.”
The photographer grinned and we slapped high-fives. “You got yourself a deal, sweetheart!”