Darcy tapped the heel of her boot against the floor, folding her hands in her lap and looking around the dimly lit restaurant for her companion. Long, patient minutes caused her to drum up a rhythm with her other boot heel, tapping once against the floor, then twice against the table leg, and then all over again on the floor. When she tired of this, she picked up her fork, tapping it restlessly on the table. Somehow, the metal found her glass, and it wasn’t until she noticed most of the surrounding patrons staring at her that she realized she sounded as if she were calling for a toast.
Oops, she thought, putting the fork down abruptly. Why was she so nervous?
Darcy waited for ten more minutes before the appointed time of her so-called meeting with Albus came around. Then, just like clockwork, he approached the table, wearing a suit that looked like it had been washed a few too many times.
“Hi,” he said, offering her a smile.
Darcy blushed. “Nice to see you again.”
“Likewise,” Albus replied, taking a seat across from her. “You picked a good place.”
“Thanks,” she said. She had chosen a small Italian café around the corner from her apartment. She often worked on editorials during the day at the restaurant’s adjoining coffee bar, and she had experienced a few lackluster dates over pasta inside the main building, where they were now seated. Something about it was comforting.
The waiter came by and offered them some wine, but both declined in favor of water. Darcy, already being somewhat familiar with the menu, ordered a small plate of vegetarian pasta sautéed with olive oil and garlic. Albus needed more time to decide. Meanwhile, he took an interest in the basket of bread offered by the waiter.
“How’s the spaghetti here?” Albus asked, buttering a piece of bread.
“As expected, I suppose,” Darcy answered, a smile playing at her lips.
“That’s not a particularly strong review.”
“Isn’t spaghetti essentially the same at all Italian restaurants?”
“What I meant was, do you like it?”
“I haven’t tried it,” Darcy said. “But it looks good.”
“Spaghetti it is,” Albus said, folding his menu and leaving it for the waiter. He took a bite of the bread, smiling as the flavor filled his mouth, and then a sip of his water.
Darcy chose a piece of bread for herself. “Must be good,” she mused.
“Mmm-hmm,” Albus answered. “So, how is the story coming?”
“The story?” Darcy asked, taking a sip of her water. The waiter walked by again, and Albus ordered a plate of spaghetti, along with an anticipatory extra helping of bread.
“Your cover story on Rose and Lily.”
“Oh,” Darcy said, a bit taken aback that he was asking about work, especially when she was wearing her favorite little black dress. “I haven’t written much on it so far, but I did organize my notes from our meeting. I guess you could say it’s coming along.”
“I see,” Albus said. “I don’t know you very well, Darcy, but I would predict that you prefer the writing part of all of this to the part where you have to work with people.”
“You can’t really be antisocial and work at Witch Weekly.”
“Oh, sorry, that’s not what I meant, really. I’m sure it would be more comfortable for anyone. You can sit in your flat and drink your tea, you know, work at your own pace.”
“I suppose so,” Darcy replied. “I like playing with words. It’s kind of a fun challenge, trying to find the perfect opening and closing lines. Actually, though, I guess what I like best is trying to pick out the right photos to go along with the story I’m writing.”
“That sounds interesting.”
“No, it doesn’t,” she answered, chuckling.
“Okay, maybe a fashion magazine wouldn’t be my first choice,” he said. “I have to admit, though, having done this agent thing for Rose and Lily for a few months now, I have a new appreciation for your field. It doesn’t seem fit for the faint of heart.”
“Oh, it’s very cutthroat. But I do get free samples once in a while.”
“Another benefit of which I have little appreciation.”
Darcy cracked a smile at his frank tone. The waiter arrived with their food. “What did you do before this?” she asked, folding a warm forkful of pasta, butter and sautéed squash into her mouth, briefly relishing the savory, familiar taste.
“Oh, just odd jobs, really. I spent a couple months waiting tables at the Leaky Cauldron. I got that one because of a family friend, but even that couldn’t compensate for my horrid memory, so I couldn’t keep it. I did paperwork for St. Mungo’s before that, but I don’t do very well with impatient people, so that one didn’t seem like a good fit either.” He took a sip of his water, smiling at her.
“How’s the spaghetti?”
“Good,” he replied. “Anyway, you remember back in fifth year when you had to have a meeting with your Head of House about what career you intended to pursue?”
“Well, I didn’t really know then, and I guess I don’t really know now.”
“What about your exams?”
“I took all the core subjects and a couple others that I liked. My aunt suggested it.”
“All those tests sound pretty painful.”
“You could say that. But I liked the classes themselves.”
“So what do you want to do when Rose and Lily are done modeling?” Darcy asked.
“Honestly, I hope they don’t need my help that long. All the clothes and make-up get pretty tiresome after a while.”
“I can sympathize,” she said with a laugh.
“I think I’d like to travel. That’s been the fun part of this job for me.”
“Anywhere in particular?”
“Everywhere,” he said almost breathlessly, grinning.
Darcy returned the smile. She was surprised at how much she was enjoying her time with Albus—at least, how much she liked talking with him as opposed to just looking at him over fall fashions and bottles of untested hair potion.
The two of them finished their meal and engaged in more polite chit-chat, the water in their glasses refilled twice before they were through. Darcy shared the story of her father and grandmother with Albus, and he in turn told her about his brother’s star law career and their painfully typical argumentative relationship. After he finished the last of his spaghetti, with Darcy’s last bite poised to pass between her lips, Albus stood up and picked up the check. “Want to split this down the middle?”
“Sure,” she said, swallowing her pasta and standing as well.
The two of them walked out into the street, where the sun was just beginning to set. Darcy glanced around, wondering what they could do with the remainder of the evening. She knew of a small Muggle movie theater around the corner, but the sweet shop at the other end of the street was just as appealing. She was about to make a suggestion when Albus turned to her, grazing her fingers lightly with his own. She looked down and blushed brightly, moving to take his hand.
Albus awkwardly moved it away before she could. “How does an evening walk sound?”
“Sure,” Darcy replied, willing her cheeks to drain of embarrassment. “There’s a little pond over in the park. We can take the trail that goes around it.”
They crossed the city street, walking quietly along the pavement and bracing themselves against the occasional gust of wind. Darcy concentrated on the feeling of the breeze teasing apart strands of her hair to avoid dwelling on the butterflies in her stomach. Finally, after traveling across several blocks, they entered the small city park across from Darcy’s flat. There was a couple having a dinnertime picnic under a tree and a young boy playing with his dog, but otherwise, they were alone.
“What do you like to do for fun?” Albus asked, tossing a pebble into the pond idly with one hand and sticking the other into his jacket pocket.
“I sometimes go to midday movies at the theater in town, or over to the sweet shop for pie after I finish dinner,” Darcy replied, giving him a friendly smile. “I’ve taken a few walks around this pond, too, when the weather’s nice, in the spring and summer.”
“It sounds nice,” Albus said. “Is it strange, living around so many Muggles?”
“Actually, it’s not. I try to use magic sparingly so as not to draw attention to myself, mostly for maintenance around my apartment. Once in a while I call the maintenance man properly, too, just so that no one starts to get suspicious.”
They both laughed.
“You seem a bit low maintenance for a Witch Weekly girl.”
“A Witch Weekly girl? What is that, even?” Darcy remarked. “I’m just a girl who works at Witch Weekly. I like the free make-up samples and the steady paycheck. I’d like to break out a little, though, maybe do some fashion design at some point.”
“I see,” he replied.
“Not that you care about any of that girly stuff, though, right?”
“You got it,” he smirked. “Sorry, I don’t meant to offend you, it’s just… all Rose and Lily ever talk about are new products and European trends, and it gets a bit old.”
“I can’t imagine,” Darcy said with a nod. “I think I would get tired of that, too.”
As they rounded the pond, Darcy glanced up at the setting sun, admiring the beautiful purple and orange hues splashed across the sky. She was so drawn to it that she almost felt surprised when Albus spoke again.
“I noticed that you didn’t mention a boyfriend in that list of hobbies.”
“That’s right.” She smiled shyly. “What about you? Do you have a girlfriend?”
“No,” he admitted in a quiet voice, offering her a smile in return.
Darcy couldn’t conceal a grin. It was hard to resist the bemused look on his face, and the palette of colors in the backdrop, and the soft breeze that barely stirred the pond’s water behind them. She hadn’t felt so romantic since her Hogwarts days, staying up late gossiping with her friends in the dormitory and dreaming of her crush of the week. It was so perfect, she was almost unable to resist kissing him.
As darkness gathered, the two finally headed out of the park. The little boy had already departed, apparently, and the couple packing up their food exchanged smiles with Albus and Darcy. They walked back across the street and up the stairs, finally coming to a halt in front of Darcy’s door.
Now or never, she thought to herself. Hold your fire, Darcy Cresswell.
“Well, I had a nice evening with you,” Albus remarked.
“Yes, I had fun, too.”
“I’m sorry I got us a bit off topic there in the park.”
Darcy frowned. What did he mean, ‘off topic’?
“Are you going to use that stuff about me in the story?”
“I just, I think it should be mostly about Rose and Lily, don’t you agree?”
“I—” Her frown deepened. “I’m sorry, Albus, I don’t understand.”
“Isn’t that why you were asking me about my career ambitions?”
“No, I was—well, I was just trying to get to know you better, at least make some conversation.” Darcy leaned against her door frame. “I thought this was a night off.”
“A night off?”
“Yeah, I—I figured we were just spending some time together,” she added.
“Oh,” Albus remarked, and then he understood. “Oh.”
“I’m sorry, I’ve made things awkward.” Darcy blushed, fiddling for her key.
“No, it’s all right. It’s my fault. I misunderstood.”
Darcy found the key, sticking it into the lock and twisting. It clicked open neatly.
“I’m sorry, Darcy,” he tried.
“It’s all right,” she insisted, smiling at him politely as she stepped into her apartment. “It’s late, though, so I should say goodnight.”
“Yes,” Albus said, turning. He nodded to her and started down the stairs.
“Oh,” Darcy called. “I won’t use any of your information in the story.”
“Great,” Albus called, forcing a smile. “Goodnight, Miss Cresswell.”
As his footsteps began to fade, Darcy closed the door and laid back against it, closing her eyes and letting out a huge sigh. “Miss Cresswell, really?” she groaned aloud.
I’m going to call that one a solid never.
Hello, and thanks for returning for another chapter of The Middle Man! Shout-out to ValWitch21 and patronus_charm for being awesome reviewers. I love seeing what you guys have to say when I post a new chapter of this or Yellow!
I don’t write fluff often, so please drop me a note and tell me what you think :)