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Chapter 14 : A Funny Thing Happened
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Scrubbing toilets is surprisingly conducive to deep thought. At least, this is true at The Rusty Knight Inn. You're so desperate to put yourself out of the moment, that you'll think about literally anything else. I've made some of my biggest life decisions while cleaning these loos.
I am just realizing how pathetic that is.
The Rusty Knight may have missed me--the cobwebs are proof--but the feeling was not mutual. Nevertheless, I needed a job desperately. Several things helped me come to this realization. One was the two nights of absolutely no sleep I had, after The Hanging Moon. Jittery on coffee and desperate to distract myself, I spent 48 hours cleaning every single surface in my flat. I even sorted my sock drawer (where I found an unopened bottle of Firewhiskey--bonus!) Another factor was the final "Sorry, not hiring" owl I received, this time from the Daily Prophet.
Finally, there was the note from my landlord, Simon. It came in the form of a Madame Puddifoot's receipt spellotaped to my front door. My rent was two weeks late again, and he was quite upset. Simon is a Squib, but continues to glumly reside in a magical area of London. He's a high-strung bloke. Once he had a full-on panic attack when his parakeet, Peony, got loose in his flat. I could hear him screaming and thundering around for hours. Eventually, I felt sorry enough to go upstairs and help. It took all of two seconds with an Accio Peony. He and I have had the rent conversation a hundred times before, and I'm not too worried about it. No matter how angry he gets, he always just ends up awkwardly asking me out for a drink.
Although I knew it was an empty threat, Simon had a point. I needed money. This was made apparent when the Gringotts Goblin actually winced during my balance inquiry. So yesterday morning I swallowed my pride down with my tea. It was time to go back to The Rusty Knight.
This place makes The Poisoned Apple look like a five-star restaurant. If my mum knew that I was back, she'd be begging me to carry Skrewt-Spray again. Knockturn Alley isn't as scary as it once was, but you don't want to be caught there alone. The Rusty Knight is no exception. The curtains are moth-eaten, the rooms are rented by the hour, and I'm pretty sure one of them is actually a brothel.
The innkeep, an ancient woman named Mathilda, hated to see me go two years ago. (I'm particularly good with cleaning charms.) For a few months after, she still owled me her homemade puddings. But I rarely touched them, as the treacle fudge looked more like dragon droppings. She was elated when I came in yesterday, tail between my legs. Well, eventually she was. Her eyesight's so bad, even with enormous spectacles, that she couldn't see me at first. She's practically deaf too, and thankfully didn't hear my cry of shock that she was still alive.
Standing a foot away from her reception desk, I yelled "E-DIE LEN-NOX" twice. When she finally understood, she planted a sloppy kiss on each cheek (I probably still have fuscia smudges.) But she gave my job back, easy as pie. Clearly the place needed some tidying.
So here I am, scrubbing away at toilets on absolutely no sleep. I look like a mental patient, with the dark circles under my eyes a lovely purple. At least they compliment my ratty pink apron, which contains sanitizing potions and a glossary of cleaning charms. The Rusty Knight needs the strongest dose of each.
To separate myself from the messes unearthed in each room--trust me, you don't want to know--I let my mind wander. But it doesn't have to wander long, before coming to rest on Oliver.
I haven't tried to contact him by owl, floo or broomstick. That much I'm quite proud of. Girls like Rose can give an air as unaffected as they please. But the second things get physical with a guy, they show up at his flat with cupcakes and a selection of Weird Sisters albums to pick their song from. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been "checking my appearance" in my mirror every half-hour. But each time I was met with my own brown eyes. It's been surprisngly disappointing.
Which leads me to the question, Why do I care so much?
Alright, so he kissed me. (I think.) What does it matter though? It's not like he hasn't done it before. Forget handshakes; our first formal greeting went straight to liplock. I mean, things did feel different this time. (If it even happened.) Maybe he wasn't drunk, as I'd thought. So maybe he'd actually meant it? That is, if he even kissed me. (Which he probably hadn't.)
Perhaps I just need to talk this all out. To figure out what exactly happened, and where we should go from there. This can't just go unmentioned. Let's not forget, I am writing an article on the guy. And I couldn't give everything away for some silly, maybe-crush.
"No!" I throw my scrubby stick at the wall (the occupant in the next room pounds back irritably.) This is ridiculous. I refuse to put my life on hold for someone I barely know.
I pull myself to my feet and face the splotchy mirror. "He is just a guy," I resolve forcefully, gripping the porcelain sink. "You don't even fancy him. Just because he turned out to be nicer than you'd thought. Maybe funnier too. And just because he likes books, and Quidditch, and good beer, it absolutely does not mean--"
My two-way mirror sounds and I jump a mile, shrieking (more wall-pounding from the other room.) I jam into my apron pockets, erratically tossing the potions over my shoulders in my search. When I at last find the mirror, I fumble and nearly drop it in the toilet.
"Oliver? I mean--ah--hello? Hi?"
"Edie." I'm halfway-mortified-halfway-kind-of-excited that it is, in fact, Oliver. "Oh, should I give you a moment? It kind of... looks like you're in the loo."
"I was, I mean, I am. But it's not like... It's not what you'd think..." He's looking more and more confused, and mildly horrified, so I blurt, "I'm at Witch Weekly. I'm getting some of the models dressed for a photoshoot." I call to a rickety armchair in the next room, "Five more minutes, girls!"
I am such an idiot.
But Oliver must buy it, because he looks impressed. "Oh, brilliant." There is a moment of silence and then he grins, "...What?"
I catch my reflection. Sure enough, I'm beaming like a complete nutter. "Oh, you know. It's just going to be a... really fantastic photoshoot."
"You'll have to tell me about it sometime," he ventures. I want to kick myself for the fluttering in my ribcage. He wets his lips, which I am trying not to stare at, and a look of concern crosses his face. "Listen, there's something that I need to tell you. Well, a number of somethings, actually."
"Of course," I stammer. "I feel the same way."
"Are you free this afternoon? We could get coffee. You know, at that place with the bad indie music."
"I wish I could. But I've got--erm--work, until six o'clock. What about afterwards?"
"Practise," he says glumly. "The Kenmare match is this weekend, so we're pulling two a day. I'm on my lunch break right now." For some reason, imagining Oliver eating lunch in-between practises is kind of endearing. Wait. Practise. How have I not thought of this before?
Abandoning all shyness I screech, "Oh my God, can I come to your practise?!"
"Erm. I don't think that's a good idea."
"Oh, it'll be totally off the record, I promise. And I'm not, like, a spy for Kenmare or anything, I just happen to like them." I'm blabbering like an idiot, but I've always wanted to see a live Quidditch practise. Especially if there's the chance of speaking with the players. "Oh my God. Is Amelia Jones there right now?"
"She is on the team..."
Trying not to squeal, I say delicately, "Has she ever mentioned anything about fan-mail? Regarding the Wronski Feint from the European Cup?"
He snorts, because of course the wound still stings for wound-up Oliver Wood. "I'm sure she's received loads of post for that, though I doubt it's from fans."
"But I've been dying to know what happened, and she's never answered my letters..."
His lips spread into a huge smile. "You wrote her?"
"Only once or twice..." He quirks an eyebrow and I add, "...a month."
"Wow," he laughs. "I thought only twelve year-old boys wrote their favourite athletes."
"Oi!" I protest, but he continues, "Anyway, it's not really my place to talk about it."
"Of course, you're totally right." Silence. I bite my fist and say in a high-pitched voice, "Could--could you just ask her for me? About that Feint...?"
"Sorry, sorry! You're right, we shouldn't meet during your practise. But we're both busy, so..." I feel my damned blush returning. "Well, could you not just tell me now then? Whatever it is?"
"I think it'd best be done in person. I have to say it's been on my mind a lot today, but I'd rather wait."
I swallow against the pygmy puffs somersalting in my belly. "I understand. Tomorrow? I could sneak away for an hour."
"Alchemy Coffee at one o'clock?"
"That sounds good," I fight my smile.
"See you then, Edie."
I don't think I even say goodbye before snapping the mirror shut. There's a churning in my belly, a pounding in my heart and a ringing in my head. I don't think I'm cut out for this kind of thing. Whatever "this" is. Last I checked, he was just Wood, and I was brandishing my wand on a crusade to take him down. But I also have the bad habit of not looking past first judgments.
I've always written Oliver off as a thankless, wealthy twat. But it seems that I may have been... wrong? Me? That certainly isn't something I like to admit. And if I was wrong about him, who else have I been unfairly judging? I labeled Mr. Ward an idiot, Mildred as a stuffy old witch, and Rose as a conniving monster. I suppose it's possible that Mr. Ward deserves his job, and that Mildred spoils the grandchildren I've never imagined. Maybe Rose even has an ounce of good in her.
I told you, scrubbing toilets is good for self-realizations.
At six o'clock sharp, I march out of the inn's rickety door. It's nearing dusk, and as a dodgy-looking wizard is hobbling toward me, I turn and Apparate. The air in Diagon Alley is cold when I reappear, and the leaves on the trees are copper and red. In just two weeks it'll be October. In the same time, my second article will be published. I'll have an updated draft on Rose's desk later this week.
Pushing the thought from my mind, I continue along my stroll. When I pass the magazine stand I pause. I haven't stopped here since the night I was sacked. Back then, I was so sure that Oliver Wood was nothing more than an inconsiderate ass. Right now I don't know where I stand.
The curiosity gets the better of me, and I cross the cobblestones hesitently. Hands in my coat pockets, I scan the rows of tabloids. Nobody at Witch Weekly mentioned the photo of me kicking him out of the pub. But it was part of the article I wrote; it made everything juicier. This new photograph could seriously ruin things. Where could it be by now? All of them? None? For old times' sake, I grab a copy of Crystal Ball. The short wizard manning the booth recognizes me and rolls his eyes, but I ignore him, flipping through the pages until I at last find it. Once again, it's part of a larger collage of paparazzi photographs. But there it is.
A huge sigh of relief whooshes from my lungs. I'm unrecognizable. Apparently my back was to the photographer. So my question has been answered. But I can't tear my eyes away from the room, glaring and red like a harsh sunrise. The silly light-up figurines are blurred and out of focus. My coat is draped over one arm, our clothes dripping rainwater as Oliver advances toward me. A tendril of my wet hair clings to my neck; my head turns slightly and I see my cheek flush. I remember that Oliver had just used the sleeve of his shirt, easily five Galleons, to clean the freckled skin there. I study his figure. He's certainly taller than me, but not by as much as I'd thought. From where I stand he's always looked so big.
What really strikes me is the lashes of his one visible eye, slowly closing. The tilt of his head. The way his expression changes from trepidation and worry to something else. The hand on the nape of my neck; the tenseness disappearing from my shoulders as my chin lifts. And then--
The photograph starts over on its loop. It was taken before our lips met; he never actually kissed me.
"You gonna buy that?" the Wizard says harshly, rattling me.
As if a door to the street was opened, the busy sounds of Diagon Alley are sucked back into my head. How long have I been standing here? The Wizard regards me impatiently, and I glance back at the magazine. In the photograph, Oliver gently touches my neck again.
"Actually," I search for my coin purse. "Yes. One copy, please."
With the issue of Crystal Ball hidden in my bag, I make my way home. I fight a shiver as I pull my hood tightly over my head, cursing the damp England chill. All I want to do is sit down on my sofa, in the dark, and try to figure out what to do. It will probably also involve sweets and a beer. When I reach the bright green door to my flat, I murmur the password ("Peanut brittle") and turn the knob. It doesn't move. Frowning, I repeat it, this time ramming my shoulder into the door. Still nothing.
Ugh, has Seamus changed the password again? He finds it so funny. For some reason he's very entertained by women saying dirty words. Crossing my arms I say flatly, "Hippogriff shite." Again I try the knob, but nothing happens.
Neither of his old stand-bys, eh? I growl, stamping my foot like a petulant child. It's freezing out here. I'm going to kill him.
I am wracking my brain for more dirty Seamus-phrases when an owl flies overhead, carrying both a red envelope and a small package. The parcels drop at my feet and my eyes widen in horror. As if it were a grenade, I bolt and do an impressive running leap over a nearby bin. Crouching low, I plug my ears against the oncoming explosion.
The Howler rips itself open and my landlord's voice booms, "I TOLD YOU I WAS SERIOUS THIS TIME! RENT IS DUE ON THE FIRST! THE FIRST, LENNOX. TODAY IS THE SEVENTEENTH. WHO TAUGHT YOU WHO TO COUNT, EH? EH?!"
I dare a glance around me. Several passers-by have stopped to stare at the girl hiding from a piece of paper, in a pile of rubbish.
"THIS WAS YOUR THIRD WARNING, AND IF YOU ACTUALLY READ YOUR LEASE, THEN YOU WOULD PROBABLY KNOW THAT THIRD WARNING MEANS EVICTION. EVICTION. YOU CANNOT LIVE HERE ANY MORE!"
"What!" I cry indignantly. "That's ridiculous!"
"AND LOSE THE CHEEK, I KNOW YOU'RE BEING CHEEKY. BUT I CAN'T HEAR YOUR WHINGING. BECAUSE THIS IS A PIECE OF PARCHMENT."
I tuck a strand of hair behind my ear, "Your mum is a piece of parchment."
There is a break in the screaming, punctuated by Simon's hyperventillation. Cautiously I peer over the bin, but jump again when the Howler adds, "ALSO MY OFFER FOR A DRINK STILL STANDS." Then it tears itself into a dozen pieces and explodes in a puff of smoke.
I can't believe it. I never actually thought Simon would go through with this. But he did lock me out... Maybe I'm not the best with paying the rent on time, but I've never missed a month. I even gave him a free pint or two at The Poisoned Apple! Sulking, I drag myself over to the remaining parcel. Though it's the size of my palm, when I pick it up it's surprisingly heavy. With a groan I realize that it's all of my belongings, given a shrinking charm. Well, at least he saved me the trouble of packing.
I look up at the brick facade. It wasn't the best flat, but it was home. The sinks all leaked and the water never got hot enough. The kitchen fireplace almost burned the whole building down, once. A family of pixies lived in the walls, and ate my Cauldron Cakes if I left them out. But the dodginess is what made it so charming!
It feels strange to be without a home. Thinking about it in those terms makes everything real. My heart picks up and my palms begin to sweat. What am I supposed to do now? Where am I supposed to go? I don't have a place to live.
Shit, I don't have a place to live!
I sit down, right there on the dirty street, head between my knees. After several deep breaths, the lightheaded feeling goes away, and I'm able to think. Time to weigh my options.
I could move in with Justin and Lisa--she did offer. She wouldn't mind one bit, but I know Justin would be put out. Plus, he doesn't wear a stitch of clothing from the second he comes home. I know this because I've made the mistake of Apparating inside their flat, instead of knocking. I will never un-see Justin reading the paper, completely starkers in an armchair. I could crash with Dean and Seamus, but there's a reason why they always come to mine. Their flat is an absolute pigsty. Seriously, I think Dean's closet contains an Acromantula nest in the making. Then there's always my Mum. The Floo commute would be irritating--and, let's face it, so would she--but it's a free place to live. I then recall her habit of throwing me at every available bachelor in Britain, and shake my head. No way.
Miserably, I dig through my bag until I find the mirror. With a heavy sigh, I flip it open and mutter the incantation. As my reflection disappears, I make an effort to put on a smile. Then I wait.
"Lisa!" I say too brightly. "My lovely best friend. Remember that time you said I could live with you and Justin? Well, a funny thing happened..."
Author's Note: Yay, another update! I'm proud with how quickly I churned this one out... but it also makes me nervous. This chapter is on the shorter side, but the last one was sooo long and I wanted to take it easy on you guys! Sorry for any spelling/grammar mistakes. I'm using my new laptop, which doesn't have Word in it yet and I've been writing with WordPad xD
So what do you guys think? What does Oliver have to tell Edie? Will she be able to live with Justin and Lisa? Are are there any Simon/Edie shippers out there? xP
Thanks so much to Eponine @ TDA for the stunning CI. She even put Peony the parakeet in there ♥!
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