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The Middle Man by academica
Chapter 4 : four.
 
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Evelyn Cresswell sat staring out the window of her room, balancing a cup of tea precariously on her knee. It was twenty minutes after nine, and the person she was supposed to meet for tea was a bit late for their appointment. She looked down at the simple pattern on her thin robes, tracing the minute daisies with a wrinkled finger. She wished that the girl was here to open the window, so that Evelyn could feel the sun on her face and hear the birds singing a morning chorus. As it was, she felt teased, forced to stay immobile in her chair while the day opened up outside.

“Grandma?” Darcy said, knocking softly on the door.

“There you are, dear,” Evelyn said, though she did not turn around. “You’d best hurry; the tea is going cold. The nurse set it at nine, just like she is supposed to.”

“I know,” Darcy answered. “I’m sorry. I’ve just been so busy at work.”

She shifted her messenger bag a little on her shoulder, putting her wand down on the counter and gingerly picking up the hot teapot. Luckily, the tea within was still warm, and she merely had to add sugar to catch up with Evelyn in the process. Darcy felt guilty about being late, though, even if it was only by a short time. She was her grandmother’s only grandchild, and her father and uncle did not visit Evelyn often, too put off by her pessimistic attitude. She had her reasons, of course.

“I waited for you to start drinking it,” Evelyn said, turning her cold blue eyes upon Darcy as the girl sat down in the empty seat awaiting her at Evelyn’s side.

“Thank you,” Darcy replied, suppressing an annoyed sigh.

“How is work going?”

Darcy smiled, glad that her grandmother had stopped chiding her for now. “Very well. We’re about to do the beauty issue. Dominique and I are heavily involved.”

“Good for you,” Evelyn said, the corners of her aged lips turning up slightly and making her folded, pale skin double in on itself like worn parchment. “You should bring your grandmother some samples. I need help to look pretty in my old age.”

Darcy smirked. “Of course, Grandma, I’ll bring some by with the next issue.”

“Good,” Evelyn answered. “Have you found a bloke yet?”

“No, not really,” Darcy responded, laughing. “I met one the other day, but we don’t know one another very well. I don’t think he’ll want to be my bloke.”

“Did he get a good look at you?”

Darcy scoffed. “It’s not that simple.”

“Sure it is. Did you talk to him?”

“A little.”

“Well, what’s his name, then?”

“Albus Potter,” Darcy said. Truthfully, she was relieved that her grandmother was the one interrogating her about her new crush. It was far better than gossiping to Dominique and having the news spread all over the office, and worse, all over town. She may as well get all of her girlish hopes and dreams out of her system now, in the safety of the long-term ward at St. Mungo’s. Only the birds were listening in. Birds—

“I’m sorry, Grandma, I didn’t even ask – would you like me to open the window?”

“Well, I obviously can’t do it,” Evelyn replied snappishly. However, she kept her eyes on her granddaughter as the girl moved to unlatch the window and let in the sun. “Potter, you say? Albus… he’s not the oldest, I think… and the girl is the youngest?”

“I think so,” Darcy said.

“The Potters are a nice family,” Evelyn mused. “Their father… James? Yes, James. He saved the whole wizarding world not so long ago. Then he married that pretty girl…”

“Harry,” Darcy corrected softly. “Harry Potter saved the wizarding world.”

“That’s what I said.” Evelyn waved a hand dismissively. “Anyway, they’re such a nice family. I’ve heard their children are very polite, and quite beautiful, too. You know, my husband – your father – he died trying to fight for Harry Potter’s side in the war.”

“My grandfather, you mean,” Darcy said. She had heard the story a thousand times, but she didn’t dare stop her grandmother from repeating it again. The story of Dirk Cresswell and how he died working with the Order of the Phoenix to stop Voldemort was legendary, and it was one of few sources of pride within the Cresswell family. After a harrowing escape from Azkaban, Dirk had been killed by Snatchers, along with several other allies and members of the Order. He left behind a wife and two sons, all of whom seemed to have a higher opinion of Harry than Dirk ever did.

“You should settle down with that Potter boy. You aren’t getting any younger.”

Darcy sighed. It was clearly time to leave; her grandmother’s guilt about her being a working woman (albeit one with plenty of time for dating) usually preceded the woman’s descent into her daily log of complaints about conditions at St. Mungo’s.

“Will you bring him by to meet me sometime?”

“Sure,” Darcy said, standing up and placing her half-finished tea on the counter. “Listen, Grandma, I have to get to work. I’ll come see you next Friday, okay?”

“Darcy,” Evelyn said, and the girl turned away, shocked that her grandmother had remembered the first letter of her name, let alone the entire thing. “Could you be a sweet girl and talk to your father about coming to visit me? I won’t live forever.”

Darcy bit her lip. “Of course, Grandma. Bye.” She moved closer, pecking her grandmother on the cheek, and reached for the door handle. She hoped that eventually her grandmother would accept that she was acting as the ambassador for her whole family. In her heart, she knew that just as Evelyn was holding on tightly to the remnants of her family after the war, the two Cresswell boys were pulling away from their deceased father and depressed mother with a force almost as formidable.

She stepped out into the corridor alongside the nurses and headed for the door.

***

“Hey,” Dominique said with a smile, tossing her hair over her shoulder and looking up as Darcy entered the room. A multitude of samples was spread out before her on the table, the hues as varied and exotic as a fresh rainbow. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” Darcy replied. “Are they here yet?”

The door opened, and Lily and Rose streamed in, accompanied by Albus. He exchanged a smile with Darcy, though the girls largely ignored her and Dominique, moving straight toward the sample makeup.

“Glad you found us okay,” Darcy remarked, watching them.

“Of course we did,” Rose said, trying a lipstick as pink as her name.

“You can poke around, but don’t get too attached to anything just yet,” Dominique said. Darcy had the distinct impression that Rose would not have taken kindly to being told to stop, so she wasn’t sure how useful Dominique’s instruction really was. Rose’s rudeness annoyed her; the girl had barely broken into the business.

“What kind of looks are we trying?” Lily asked.

Darcy turned to her, relieved – curiosity was something she could cope with. “Well, typically we try four or five different ones, and once we find one that looks good on you, we’ll mix it up to define two or three specific looks to use for the shoot.”

Albus sat down, looking like he wished that he’d brought a book. Dominique picked up an old issue of the magazine, but on second thought, she put it back on the table.

“Okay, let’s try a smoky look first,” Dominique said. She picked up a dark grey shadow with a little bit of shimmer and applied it to Rose’s face. Darcy chose a similar shade and set it aside for Lily, beginning to work on her liner first.

“So, I have to ask,” Rose said. “For someone who works at Witch Weekly, Darcy, you don’t really look like you have an extensive routine in the morning.”

“I like to work with a fresh palette,” Darcy said, trying not to roll her eyes.

“Shh. Don’t move,” Dominique instructed Rose, beginning to paint her eyelids.

“I don’t think Rose remembers what a fresh palette looks like,” Albus said, smirking. Though her back was turned to him, Darcy smirked a bit too, proud of her response.

The smoky look was good for Rose, but it made Lily look washed out, so it was back to the drawing board. The next look they tried, one dominated by floral hues and pastels, seemed to work much better for fair Lily and her plain, straight red hair.

“When do we get to choose outfits?” Lily asked, admiring herself in a tiny hand mirror, touching the edges of her purple-lined eyelids gingerly with one finger.

“That won’t come until later,” Dominique said. “The shoot is about makeup, so we have to make sure that we have that set before we start thinking about clothes.” She glanced over at Darcy. “Maybe we should do a natural look now.”

“Sounds fine,” Darcy replied, motioning for Lily to come over for makeup removal.

“So, how was your visit with your grandmother?” Dominique asked her.

“Clients,” Darcy reminded her softly. “I’ll tell you about it later.”

“Nonsense, they’re family.” Dominique began fluffing Rose’s curly hair.

“Did you go for a home-cooked meal?” Albus asked, clearly bored.

“No.”

“Oh. I just—we go visit my grandmother for that reason all the time.”

“Yeah, Grandma Weasley makes the best breakfasts,” Dominique confirmed.

“Not to mention lunches and dinners.” Lily giggled.

“Sounds nice,” Darcy said quietly, wishing her grandmother still had enough of her mental faculties in order to make a home-cooked meal. Perhaps her father and his brother would respond better to that than the prospect of visiting the hospital.

“I’m sorry,” Albus replied. “I didn’t mean to upset you. Is she ill?”

“I don’t know. She doesn’t have it all together, but she doesn’t have cancer or anything. There’s just not really anyone to help take care of her in my family.”

“Oh,” he said again.

“I don’t think this will work for me,” Rose interjected. “My eyes don’t look dark enough, and my lips don’t pop. Lily, is there any color in my skin?”

“No, not really,” Lily said, licking the strawberry-flavored gloss on her lips.

“No, this won’t do,” Rose said. “What’s the next look?”

“I think we’re good to move on to the more specific looks,” Dominique replied. “I think it’s clear that smoky is the one for you, Rose.”

“Lily, you look best in the floral and the natural. I can’t decide,” Darcy added. “I’ll try a couple of each and you can tell me which one you feel more comfortable in, okay?”

“Okay,” Lily nodded.

After another half-hour, most of which was spent trying to keep Rose on task and away from the more expensive cosmetics on the table, the looks were decided. Darcy and Dominique both felt pleased with their efforts, and Darcy had to admit that the duo of redheads made for an interesting cover image, especially given the post-war surge in popularity of red hair dye. She made a mental note to feature a small variety of red-hued hair tonics in her article for the September issue.

“Homework time,” Dominique said, carrying an armload of bottles and vials from the back of the room. “We need you to take some of these home and see how they work with your hair types. These are the latest and greatest out of the beauty potion industry, so handle with care. I’ll give each of you one designed to add volume, one that adds lovely natural scents, and one to boost your color a little more.” She began to divide up the bottles into a pile for Lily’s straight hair and one suited more for Rose’s wild waves. “That last set will be great, especially with the double feature.”

“Homework?” Rose asked. Darcy couldn’t restrain her eye roll this time. You know, I really would have hated to be one of her professors back at Hogwarts. What a diva.

“When should we get back to you?” Lily asked.

“Well, I need to work on my cover story – the actual article, I mean,” Darcy replied. “I’ll need to sit down and… talk… to the two of you…” This could be difficult.

“Why don’t you and I get tea and discuss it?” Albus offered. “It’ll be easier, I mean… I’ve known them both from birth, pretty much. I think I have a good perspective.”

“I’ll bet you do,” Darcy said with a relieved smile. “Let’s talk about it this weekend. You can choose the place; just owl the office and let me know where to meet you.”

“Be sure to bring the results of the hair product test with you,” Dominique cut in.

“Sure thing,” Albus said, standing up. “So, erm… are we free to go?”

“Yep,” Dominique said. “Plus, the girls are all made up for a night on the town.”

“Good. I’m hungry,” Rose said, and she and Lily headed out of the building.

As the group spilled out into the street, Albus trailed behind, idly listening to the girls bicker back and forth about where to go for dinner. Though he had only met her a few days beforehand, he found himself wishing he was taking the pretty brunette to dinner instead of just going out with his family members like always. Oh, well, Albus thought, suppressing a smile. At least I can join her for tea this weekend.



Author’s Note:

Hi there, and welcome to another chapter of The Middle Man! I hope you’re still enjoying following Darcy, Dominique, Albus, Lily, and Rose as they attempt to traverse the (wizarding) world of high fashion. Either way, won’t you please take a moment and leave a review? I’d appreciate it very much :)

Everything you recognize from canon belongs to JKR, including the story of Dirk Cresswell, Darcy’s grandfather. He was a Muggle-born arrested during the Second Wizarding War for attempting to falsify his family tree. However, he escaped on his way to Azkaban and joined up with the Order, traveling with Ted Tonks, Dean Thomas, and a couple of goblins, whose language he spoke fluently. Later, he, Ted, and one of the goblins were all killed by Snatchers. Dirk left behind a small family, though his story was only mentioned in canon.

Thanks to all my readers and reviewers!

-Amanda


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