Chapter 9 : nine.
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She got out of bed and went straight to her closet. She needed to choose the perfect outfit, especially if there was a chance she’d be called on stage with Dominique to be congratulated for winning the cover contest. Frowning slightly, she pushed the tried-and-true work clothes in the left side of her closet aside, thumbing instead through a small collection of sundresses and gowns that had been shoved toward the back. These were all pieces from previous years, along with some from previous decades, just waiting patiently for the trend they fit to roll around again in the present. One of the perks of being a sample size and working at the magazine was that Darcy occasionally got to take home more than just make-up samples. Some of her favorite jewelry had been discarded after a fashion show. Most of the items were inexpensive and had twenty copies just the same spread out among other employees, but she still loved getting to have a glamorous component to her wardrobe. Now, if only I had a personal style team to go along with it, she thought.
After a few moments of deliberation, Darcy chose a light gold-colored frock, along with a simple pair of black flats. She would look classy, but not too over-the-top, and she could jazz it up with some gold jewelry. She chuckled slightly as she thought about even how her grandmother’s gaudy bronze necklaces and bracelets would look good with this dress. After getting dressed, she moved over to the mirror.
As she straightened her hair and applied eyeliner, Darcy thought about the night to come. It caused her stomach to feel fluttery and her head slightly woozy. What could be more romantic than an evening in Paris with a boy she had a serious crush on? Still, she refused to let herself get too worked up about her conversation with Albus. Knowing her luck, he was going to let her down easy and tell her she wasn’t his type.
Paris, she thought. She hoped Dominique wasn’t too overwhelmed with trying to help the others get set up for the show. It wasn’t that she hadn’t wanted to help, so much, more that she had a job of her own to do. She put some concealer under her eyes, catching a glimpse of the packet of parchment lying on the table behind her. No matter what, she couldn’t look like she had been up all night finalizing it for Lorcan.
Finally, it was done. Darcy slipped on her shoes and a sweater, picking up the packet and considering it. No, best not to trust the Floo. Biting her lip, she Disapparated.
A moment later, she appeared in the main lobby of the magazine’s office, which was deserted except for a handful of interns. They looked slightly irritated to see her, perhaps because they hadn’t scored tickets to attend the show in Paris that night. Darcy ignored them, proceeding down the corridor to Lorcan Scamander’s office. She knocked on the door, hearing the sound of papers rustling on the other side.
“I’m very busy!” a harsh voice cried through the wooden door.
Sighing, Darcy knocked again. “Lorcan, it’s me. I have the cover story.”
The door cracked open, and Lorcan glanced at her through the crack.
“You know, the one on Rose and Lily?”
“Ah,” Lorcan said, opening the door a little wider. Darcy peered in, somewhat surprised to see it in such disarray. There were old issues of the magazine and stray papers everywhere, not to mention the messy pile of photographs on Lorcan’s desk.
“The story?” Lorcan said, interrupting her train of thought.
“Yes,” she replied, handing him the packet. “The photos are in there, too.”
“Good, good,” he murmured, opening it and thumbing through its contents. “These look very nice, Darcy. You and Dominique did good work.”
“Thank you. I hope you have the same opinion of the story.”
“Well, we expect nothing short of excellence at Witch Weekly,” he said smugly.
Darcy fought the urge to roll her eyes. Sometimes she thought he was married to Witch Weekly. “Well, I have to go. I need to finish getting ready for the show.”
“See you there,” Lorcan said absently, already sitting down to read the story.
At eight o’clock, Darcy disappeared from her apartment. She reappeared in front of a beautiful catwalk in Paris, France. She only took in the brilliant scene for a moment before she headed backstage, sidestepping men practicing casting different hues of light with their wands and young girls hurrying from one side to the other with outfits. She passed a larger version of the make-up table from the photo shoot, as well as a crowd of stylists looking for models who still needed to be polished. Then, finally, Darcy spotted her friend and co-worker sitting in the back at center stage.
“You look awesome!” Dominique exclaimed, giving her a hug.
“You, too,” Darcy said, admiring Dominique’s 20s-inspired teal dress. “Where are the girls?”
“They’re in wardrobe. I think Rose got into an argument with someone about the order of appearance. I tried to tell her that last is just as good as first, but… you know.”
“I’m sure I do,” Darcy said, trying not to groan. “Is Albus around?”
“Yeah, actually. He asked me to give you this.” Dominique produced a small slip of parchment. “But hurry. The girls will be done with make-up by 8:30, and we need to make sure they look good and can walk correctly before we send them on stage.”
“The show starts at 9:00, right?”
“Yeah. And not a minute later, knowing Lorcan.”
“Okay,” Darcy said, taking the note. “Thanks.” She moved down the stairs, back out toward where the audience would be, before she unrolled the note.
I’ll be the one not wearing a beret.
Darcy smirked, shaking her head. She wondered how Muggles ever did anything spontaneous, what with their lack of ability to get very quickly from one place to another. No matter, it wasn’t a problem for her to get across the city.
She walked past the stage, looking for an open area—those were the best to Disapparate from, when one was forced to do so. She looked to her right and saw the judges already settled, drinking and chatting about the evening to come. Lorcan was seated at the center, between a very tired-looking Rita Skeeter and Gilderoy Lockhart, who had apparently carved out his old niche anew following the war. As she walked by, Lorcan shot her a questioning look, but Darcy chose to ignore it.
Then, at the top of the small hill overlooking the stage, she vanished.
When Darcy re-appeared, she was facing the Eiffel Tower. She smoothed her dress and hair, looking around. Then she heard someone speak up behind her.
“You took me to your favorite restaurant, so this is my favorite restaurant.”
She turned, smiling as she met Albus’s eyes. “A tea shop?”
“Tea and coffee, actually. Oh, and there are biscuits, but they’re not very fresh.”
“That’s quite the endorsement,” she joked.
“Would you have time for a spot of tea?”
“Sure. But you should know that I’ve already submitted the story.”
“I’d prefer not to talk any more about the story, actually.”
Darcy smiled a little wider. “Sounds fine to me.” She walked over to his table, sitting down across from him. A waitress poured her a cup of black tea without asking.
“I asked you to come because I want to apologize,” Albus said.
“For what?” Darcy asked, sipping her tea carefully.
“I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot at dinner the other night. I thought it was supposed to be a professional meeting, and I got the sense after I left your flat that perhaps you had entertained other ideas.”
“You could say that,” Darcy admitted. There was no point in trying to cover it up.
“I’m an idiot, then. I should have been paying more attention.”
“It’s all right. It’s sort of an honest mistake.”
“Sort of,” Albus repeated, laughing. “Well, I was wondering if perhaps I could have a second try. I doubt I can make you forget how awkward I was, but I’d like to try.”
“What, have a proper date?” Darcy replied.
“Sure. You can even pick the place again, if you like. You have good taste.”
“Does this not count as a date, then?”
“I mean, except for the part where I have to go to the show,” Darcy added.
“Yes, I expect it’s nearly time,” he said, draining the rest of his tea. “Drink up.”
Darcy drank a bit of her tea, and then she stood up. “I’ll go out with you again, but I’m definitely picking the place. They didn’t even offer me sugar for this!”
Albus sighed. “Well, it’s not Britain. It can’t all be perfect here.”
“There’s just one other thing,” Darcy said. She stood up, walking over to him. As the sun began to go down behind the Eiffel Tower, she stepped forward, pressing her lips to his in a sweet kiss. She held it for a few moments before she finally pulled away. “You had some cream under your nose,” she remarked, and he smiled at her.
“Come on, then. We have to make sure no one has taken our seats.”
As darkness gathered, the fashion show kicked off at last.
The Russian girl was up first. She shook her hips a little too obviously as she strutted down the runway, throwing a wink at the judges. Lockhart seemed instantly drawn to her, but the others looked unimpressed.
“I like her dress,” Dominique whispered.
Darcy nodded. Too bad the girl’s figure was far too bony for it.
“I’m glad we took time to monitor Rose and Lily while they walked.”
“You mean I took time,” Darcy corrected. “Their experience came in handy.”
The girl from Beauxbatons was coming out now, and Darcy and Dominique turned at the sound of a loud whoop behind them. Madame Maxime, the retired former headmistress of the school, had risen to her full height and was cheering loudly. This apparently distracted the poor model, who seemed to lose her footing briefly.
Darcy noticed Rita Skeeter look to her green-plumed quill as it jotted a note.
“I don’t know why people would want to do this,” she said. “It’s too much pressure.”
“It’s nice to get attention sometimes,” Dominique answered.
“Depends on who you ask,” Albus cut in softly.
Darcy nodded, but her eyes were drawn back to the stage. She almost laughed out loud as she heard Rita Skeeter, Gilderoy Lockhart, and Madame Maxime gasp in unison. Scorpius Malfoy, in a sleek gray suit and top hat, had just appeared onstage.
The lights changed to a cool blue, making him look like a playboy emerging from the shadows as he strutted down the catwalk. When he got to the end, he tossed the hat up into the air, catching it smoothly as he spun on his heel. More gasps sounded from the audience, and Darcy giggled, unable to hold it in any longer.
Albus put his hand on Darcy’s, gesturing to the stage. She looked at the curtain and noticed Rose poking her head out, watching Scorpius. However, as soon as the girl met her eyes, Rose disappeared behind the curtain again.
Darcy took a deep breath, and she felt Dominique reach for her other hand. This was it. In a moment, Lily and Rose would come out, and any misplaced hairs or mismatched clothes or stumbles along the way would reflect badly on their stylists. They needed to be perfect, like she knew they could be, in front of the three judges.
As predicted, Rose stepped out first, pouting her lips and walking confidently toward the judges. Her silk gown clung expertly to her subtle curves, and her curly red hair flowed out around her face and onto her shoulders like a lion’s mane. Then, behind her, Lily appeared. She was wearing a brilliant smile.
“What is she doing?!” Dominique hissed audibly. “Models aren’t supposed to smile!”
“No,” Darcy said quietly. It didn’t matter. Lily’s face lit up the stage, overshadowing even Rose for a moment. The two girls entwined several of their fingers as they approached the end of the catwalk. When they both stood before the judges, they positioned themselves back-to-back, and by now both smiled with confidence.
Dominique and Albus both squeezed Darcy’s hands in unison, and she barely heard the judges call for the stylist teams to join their respective contestants on stage. Her feet moved automatically, stepping smoothly beside Dominique and coming to rest behind Lily and Rose.
“You were great,” she whispered to both of them, and Lorcan cleared his throat.
“It was not an easy feat, but the judges have made their decision.”
Darcy looked down to see Lily’s hands shaking nervously.
“We have not one, but two winners this year.”
Scorpius broke into a brilliant anticipatory smile, and Dominique groaned.
“Our September cover will be shared by Lily Potter and Rose Weasley!”
The crowd broke into cheers; even those who had applauded the other candidates knew the surnames of the two winners, and Darcy suspected that more than a few people in the audience were pleased to see the Malfoy boy lose. Rose, for her part, immediately stepped closer to him, but he moved past her and stalked offstage, followed swiftly by the Russian model. The Beauxbatons girl congratulated Lily, as she was handily ignored by Rose, and then she also left the stage with her team.
As Rose, Lily, and Albus collected flowers from admirers, Darcy moved to leave the stage, followed by Dominique. The two exchanged happy smiles.
“We did it!” Dominique exclaimed, sounding as she could barely believe it.
“You certainly did,” Lorcan said, approaching them. “Congratulations, ladies.”
“Thank you,” Darcy said.
“I loved the story,” he admitted, giving her a rare smile. “Rita Skeeter says it’s almost as good as what she could have written on the Potter and Weasley girls.”
Darcy swallowed her pride. “That’s high praise indeed,” she lied.
“Of course, there will be edits, though I think we should talk about getting each of you a bigger office and more responsibility,” Lorcan said, clearing his throat again. “But we’ll discuss that on Monday, shall we? You two enjoy the weekend in Paris.”
“We will,” Dominique said. “Starting tonight, actually. Safe travels!”
“Where are we going?” Darcy exclaimed with a laugh, letting Dominique pull her away.
“Well, we’re going to get some French blokes to buy us a drink,” Dominique replied cheekily. “Then, Darcy Cresswell, you’re going to tell me if Albus is a good kisser.”
We’re almost done! Hold tight, though, there’s one more chapter coming soon.
I hope you’ve enjoyed The Middle Man. Next-gen and fluff aren’t exactly the sort of thing I usually write, but it was a nice diversion, and I hope you’ll give me some feedback. How is Darcy as an OC? What do you think of the plotline?
Thanks for all of your support so far, and I hope to see you in Chapter 10!
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