Chapter 1 : Act I Scene I
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Terry Boot had done more than his fair share of interviewing since he had started working for the Daily Prophet ten years ago. He had travelled overseas to interview foreign witches and wizards, had shoved his way through enormous crowds to get a word in with famous Quidditch players, had even talked to the Minister of Magic over tea. Now, for the first time in ten years, Terry was the one being interviewed – and he was starting to shake.
“Ready, Terry?” said Barnabus Cuffe, Terry’s boss. Well, ex-boss, now.
Terry glanced into the mirror again, patting down his curly blond hair and straightening his robes. His thin face looked even paler than usual, and his eyes were red from two sleepless nights of writing.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” he said, and took his seat next to Barnabus on the leather sofa. They were in Barnabus’ office, a round room furnished with dark mahogany and wine-colored leather. Purple curtains with silver tassels were closed over large windows that looked out into Diagon Alley. Looking around, it was hard for Terry to believe that in a week’s time this room would be his domain.
“Right then,” said Daphne Greengrass, with a flourish of her quill. Daphne was sitting across from Terry and Barnabus, looking sleek and put-together as usual. “Let’s get this over with. Barnabus?”
“Yes,” said Barnabus, nodding his wizened old head, which looked a bit like a whitish-pink raisin covered in white fuzz. “At this time, I’d like to officially announce to the Wizarding World my retirement as editor-in-chief of the Daily Prophet. My years with the Prophet have been the best and most exciting years of my life, but I’m sure that some of you have begun to catch on to the fact that I’m getting old. I plan to spend my remaining years with my family in the countryside.”
She is beautiful and she is his. Terry presses her against the wall and mashes his lips into hers. She is breathing quickly, she seems flustered, and he likes that. He likes for any woman he’s sleeping with to feel faintly afraid of him. She is soft, she is supple. Underneath her dress robes she will be softer and suppler. Terry’s fingers find the fastenings and tug at them.
“Old?” said Terry, clapping Barnabus on the back. “Nonsense, Barny – you don’t look a day over eighty-five.”
Barnabus chuckled. “This cheeky young lad will be taking over for me as editor-in-chief. He’s served with the Prophet for the past ten years, working as editor for the last four of them. I trust that Terry will steer the proper course for the paper, as he’s already proven his impartiality, wit, and willingness to breach common decency for the sake of a story.”
She pushes at his chest, looking anxious. “We shouldn’t do this here.”
“Why not?” says Terry, trailing her lips over her forehead, her high strong cheekbone, her jaw. “Everyone’s having a lovely time at the party downstairs. Nobody will find us up here.”
His voice is low and gravelly and he feels her breathe harder. He grins wolfishly. People are predictable. A kiss here, a stroke here, a deep voice. Her body will react to the queues of his body.
“But it’s your boss’ bedroom,” she says, her voice breathy.
“Would you rather do it in the attic?” says Terry, and she laughs.
“It’s not a breach if you don’t understand ‘common decency’ in the first place,” muttered Daphne under her breath, just loudly enough for Teddy to hear. “Mr. Cuffe, why don’t you outline some of the adventures you’ve had over the years for us?”
Barnabus’ shriveled old lips twisted into a grin. “Well, I’ve overseen plenty of excitement in my days – both Wizarding Wars, the rise and fall of You-Know-Who! But I’ll always say that the best day I had with the Prophet was my third day on the job. I started off from the very bottom, you know, working in the owl office. But one day…”
Making sure to maintain a bright-eyed, engaged smile, Terry looked over at Daphne. Her quill scratched relentlessly against the long scroll of parchment she’d brought along for notes. Daphne never missed a word. She was a good reporter, a better reporter than Terry had been. If he got the chance to do it, he would promote her to editor in a heartbeat.
Her beauty was another strong point on her resume. Even in their Hogwarts days, Terry had admired her hair, a silky medium brown, which she was something of an expert at styling. Some days she wore it in a thick braid that wrapped around her head; other days, she wore it half-up in a stylistically dilapidated bun. But it was the eyes that were the most striking part of her appearance. They were dark gray and sort of silvery, like unicorn blood. Padma Patil and her friends had kept up an ongoing argument for the better part of seven years about whether or not she had charmed them that color.
Daphne’s legendary eyes were full of spite as they flickered up to meet Terry’s. “What do you think about that, Mr. Boot?”
“Oh,” Terry was caught unawares – he hadn’t been listening to a word of what Barnabus was saying. Terry was fond of Barnabus in the same way that people are fond of their old, rich relatives, but had never found him to be very interesting. “I, er…”
Her heavy dress robes fall the floor around her ankles. She is so soft, so supple. Terry wants to press his lips against every soft, supple inch of her. She breathes very loudly and his body feels very hot, his pulse is everywhere. He threads his fingers into the warm mass of her hair, up in an elegant chignon. He pulls and she makes a small noise – it is pain and something else – and the hair comes loose, tumbling over her shoulders.
“Give him a break.” Barnabus laughed his wheezing, dry laugh. “Poor kid’s been up all night, drafting his first editorial for next week.”
“Right.” said Daphne curtly. “Next question. Do you have any regrets about your time as editor-in-chief?”
Barnabus’ face turned somber. “It’s no secret that the Prophet’s treatment of Harry Potter during his school years was…rather indelicate. I’ll always regret that. And, of course, I couldn’t do anything about it, but I’ll always regret the period in which the Prophet fell under the control of You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters. The Ministry was under their control, and from there I regret to say that it wasn’t difficult for them to get their hands on our offices. Since the Second War, security measures have of course been tightened, and I can confidently say that it is impossible that our defenses will be breached again.”
“Incidentally,” said Daphne, “what course do you see the Prophet taking in the future?”
She wraps her legs around him, long legs, and he carries her to Barnabus’ bed. Both of them are laughing. He drops her and she lands with a thump on the thick gold duvet. Her hair is spread out around her, strikingly black against the gold fabric. His pulse is everywhere, hot, insistent. He thinks of Barnabus downstairs, taking pictures with all the notable names, dull even in his drunkenness, unaware that his successor is about to take a beautiful woman on his own bed.
Terry laughs, and begins to unfasten his own robes.
“Well, that will be up to Terry here,” said Barnabus fondly. “I hope, expect, and have full confidence that he will put his full energy into the same cause that I have strived to achieve – keeping the Prophet unbiased and unparalleled in its quality. I have faith that Terry’s brightness (as well as ruthlessness) will inspire our reporters.”
Barnabus answered a few more questions, speaking carefully and, in Terry’s opinion, abominably slowly. Finally, Daphne swung around to her last prompt for old Barny: “Let’s have one last word or two on Mr. Boot, his career so far, and what qualifies him for the position.”
“Terry started from the bottom, like I did,” said Barnabus. “He thought up an entirely new delivery schedule that maximized our output and efficiency. It was so brilliant, I had no choice but to promote him to the head of the owl office. He was made a reporter in his second year with us, and he was a damn good one. Always willing to go after a story, no matter how time-consuming, inconvenient, or downright dangerous the chase might be. It was a shame to lose him as a reporter, but four years ago Martin Blanche resigned as editor, and Terry was the man for the job. It turned out that his managing skills were just as good as his writing ones, and he’s been a brilliant editor. I can’t imagine anyone more qualified for the position of editor-and-chief – he might even be more qualified than I am!”
Afterward she lays across his chest, catching her breath. Terry strokes her with his fingers, but her body is slick with sweat now – his and hers – and the softness and suppleness escapes his notice. Even her hair is damp with it. He extracts herself from underneath her body and realizes, looking down at her, that she has fallen asleep. In sleep, she is not beautiful. Her makeup is smudged and she is slack-jawed, lying naked in their sweat.
Terry frowns, and slides off the bed. He finds his robes and pulls them on, fastening them with moderate difficulty. His head is buzzing. He is parched.
He slips out of Barnabus’ bedroom.
Daphne laughed politely, shooting an icy glare at Terry.
“Thank you, sir,” said Terry, directing a carefully calculated modest smile at Barnabus, who ruffles his hair in return.
“I had some questions for Mr. Boot as well,” said Daphne as the two men stood up.
“Oh, they’ll be answered anyway in his editorial,” said Barnabus, waving his arm at her lazily. “If we dabble around here any longer, we’ll be late for the party. Ready to be off, Terry?”
Terry nodded eagerly.
“Right then, let’s get to it!” said Barnabus, crossing the room to his fireplace. Though his voice and appearance had been aged by the years of excitement and scandal, Barnabus’ walk was still energetic and sprightly. He grabbed a pinch of Floo powder from a small bowl on his desk, and threw it into fire, which had been dying down but now erupted into a bright chorus of green flame. Barnabus hoisted himself into the fire and cried “The Cuffe mansion!”
Then he was gone.
Terry walked over to Barnabus’ empty desk and held the bowl of Floo powder out to Daphne. “You first, Miss Greengrass.”
Daphne was stowing her ink bottle and quill away in the pockets of her robes. Without a word to Terry, she stalked across the room, produced a jar of Floo powder from her purse, threw a pinch of it into the fire, and disappeared.
Terry frowned. Was it just him, or was she acting haughtier and more spiteful than usual? It was hard to tell with Daphne.
“Terry, old boy,” says Barnabus, “we were wondering where you’d got off to.”
Terry smiles at the old man, whose words are slurred and eyelids are drooping. In his drunken stupor, he is pathetic.
“Just enjoying my spoils,” he says, and Barnabus chuckles. “Perhaps you’d like to sit down, sir?”
He leads Barnabus away from the crowd of partygoers he’s been entertaining, and sits him down on the nearest sofa. Barnabus smiles vapidly up at Terry, rocking slowly from side to side. Terry considers leading up to his bedroom, wondering how he would react to the naked girl sleeping there. It would be comical, no doubt. But Terry is tired, and bored of this party.
“I think I’ll be heading out, sir,” he says in his most respectful tone. “Thank Mrs. Cuffe again for the party.”
Barnabus mumbles something incomprehensible. Terry smiles and nods, knowing that he won’t remember any of this, anyway. He leaves Barnabus on the sofa, offers polite goodbyes to the more distinguished partygoers, and makes a dash for the fireplace before any of the less significant guests tries to get his attention. As he stumbles out of the grate in his own flat, he grins.
Not bad, for a day’s work.