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Chapter 17 : Incendio!
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Tears run down Lisa’s (annoyingly symmetrical) nose as she grips her cocoa mug. We’re in a small park just off Diagon Alley, one of the additions in its post-War expansion. As soon as she released me from her vice-hug, I dashed into the nearest café and ordered two cocoas, dumped all of my coins onto the counter, snatched the mugs, and ran. In the park we found a small, concrete bench sheltered from the rain. We sit in silence, as if Lisa hadn’t just spilled a huge secret, until she sniffles, “You really shouldn’t have spent money on me. Especially if you lost your job...”
I rub her arm, a bit awkwardly, “Don’t worry about that right now. So… Does Justin know?”
“No,” she sighs. “Obviously, I’m going to tell him. Just… not right now. He’ll be upset that I waited, but things are so stressful for him. He’s dealing with the Female Goblin Coalition fiasco, now.”
My ears perk up, but I fight the desire to ask. I’ve spent too long not listening to Lisa’s problems.
“Of course we want kids,” she continues, “but we planned on waiting a few years.”
“You know, there are options,” I say carefully.
She looks like I’ve just slapped her in the face. “I’m keeping it, Edie,” she says resolutely, and I drop the subject. But then she wails, “I just wanted three years of marital bliss! We’re supposed to be having newlywed sex, like, four times a day. Not changing diapers! And I’m finally becoming a Healer. I’ll only have a few months before I have to take maternity leave. I was so close to having everything I wanted. A baby just wasn’t a part of it, yet. Is that so selfish?”
“Of course not,” I say with conviction. “It’s anything but selfish. You wanted to be financially and emotionally prepared, before bring a human life into the world.”
At this last bit, she bursts into more sobs. It’s really bizarre to see Lisa lose her composure like this. I pat her hand until she heaves something between a sigh and a groan. “I’m sorry. I’ve been so mental lately. It must be the hormones.”
“You don’t have to be sorry,” I soothe. “How, um, far along are you then?”
“Two months,” she sighs. “I work in a hospital, for Merlin’s sake, how did I not notice this?”
I shrug, “You have a full-time job, and you’re planning your own wedding. It’s easy to get swept up. I mean, at least it isn’t one of those situations where you don’t even know you’re pregnant, until suddenly you’re standing in your own—”
“I get the picture,” she interjects, smiling weakly.
“Sorry,” I smile back. “So I suppose I should find a new place to live, then.”
She looks at me with such guilt that I wish I hadn’t even brought it up. “I’m really sorry, Edie, I know you’ve just moved in. Stay as long as you need. We’ve got months before we need your room.”
“It’s no trouble,” I wave her off. “I’ve managed to save some money lately.”
Lies. But she doesn’t have to know that. I swat away the nagging question, What the hell do I do now? We let the silence envelop us again. It’s actually quite nice, listening to the rain on the leaves. Lisa shuts her eyes, collecting herself. Then something dawns on her, “Well, this certainly throws a hex into our plans.”
“What do you mean?”
“My hen night is next month.”
A bride-to-be is expected to get completely trashed on her hen night. And I’m the only attendee who wasn’t in a Witching Circle in Healer school. (Lisa’s work-friends are more like acquaintances. I’ve met them before; they still embroider their Circle’s runes onto their jumpers. They’ll be handing her shots left and right.) “I reckon you don’t want anyone to know yet.”
“You’d reckon right,” she presses her lips together in thought. “We’ll tell them I’m doing a juice cleanse.”
I make a face. While that sounds on par with being thrown in the stocks for two weeks, it is something she would do. “They’ll fall for it. But you’re going to be dreadfully bored.”
“I’ll just have to watch you make a fool of yourself,” she teases, poking me in the side. My brow knits defensively. I really am trying to turn over a new parchment, but now isn’t the time to mention it (or being evicted, or Oliver.) If she’s feeling better, then that’s all that matters.
So instead of coming clean, I plaster on a smile. “You know me!”
Soon Lisa guilt trips me into returning the mugs to the café, and we set off. The rain hasn’t let up, and it runs off our brightly coloured boots. As we stroll Lisa grows silent, and surprises me when she says, “So, about your article.”
“Yeah?” I grin, but her expression is somber. I remember her reaction to it earlier today. Her only words had been that it was mean. I tease, “Don’t tell me you’re going soft on the guy.”
“That’s just it,” she says. I furrow my brow and she adds, “Oh, don’t think I didn’t appreciate the quality of writing. It’s great journalism, Edie, it’s just… It really is mean.”
I can’t help my scowl. “I thought you were angry about the St. Mungo’s charity. You called him a wanker.”
“That’s not it,” she shakes her head. “You didn’t even mention the charity in this article.”
“Because he refused to talk about it!” I cry.
“I agreed with you about that donation, at least at the time. And Wood was careless to slip up about his manager being replaced. That much is his fault. But… it’s what you wrote about the shoulder injury. That’s quite personal.”
“How can it be so personal if he was willing to talk about it?”
It’s difficult to keep my anger down. She’s supposed to be on my side! If I can’t even convince my best mate that I’m in the right, how am I supposed to convince readers? What could have possibly happened between the first article and now? There’s only one explanation.
“Has he got you under an Imperius Curse?”
“No, no,” she flaps her hands exasperatedly. “You’re right about the injury. He did tell you about it himself. But I think you took it in the wrong direction.”
“Where should I have taken it, then?” I say through clenched teeth.
“You could have been more sympathetic. There are ways to talk about it, without making it sound like it was his fault—”
“It was his fault. He chose not to take potions.”
I may as well have just said, “I’m part unicorn!” the way she’s staring. Regaining herself, she says, “I just don’t understand. Why are you even attacking him like this? You barely know him. Did something happen between you two?”
Hopefully, she does not notice my stumble. Of course she has no idea about what happened between Oliver and me. Because somewhere along the line, I stopped treating my mates like mates. I say offhandedly, “It’s just good journalism. You said it yourself.”
“Right, but the way you used his private information… I have no idea how you even got it out of him, but...” she flushes and blurts out, “it sounds like a petty excuse to publicly humiliate him. I’m sorry, but that’s how I feel.”
“What!” I gape, but she won’t meet my eyes.
Whether or not she’s right isn’t something I want to consider. Sure, I haven’t stopped to think about a lot of things lately. I was expecting backlash over the article—from Wood’s fans, or his team mates, or maybe even star-struck Seamus. But I surely wasn’t expecting it from my best friend.
I recall her tending his shoulder at St. Mungo’s. Surely that was just a fluke in her schedule, or she would have mentioned it before. “Do you… know something?”
We’ve reached the café. Instead of responding, Lisa points to my cocoa mug. “I’ll take that inside for you,” she offers, suddenly polite. Without a second glance she pushes the door open, and it chirps, “Hello, hiya, welcome!” By the time she returns (“Goodbye, thank you, ‘til next time!”) it’s like nothing ever happened.
“Thanks for the cocoa,” she says. But something in her smile tells me that our previous conversation is over.
Ever since my argument with Lisa earlier this week, I’ve done all of my article-writing at Witch Weekly. Still, I can’t wrap my head around her sudden disproval. Of course she’s sympathetic by nature. This would be enough to convince me that nothing else was going on, if she hadn’t been so anti-Oliver just a month ago. The only possible conclusion I can deduce is her hormones. I’ve seen my mum go through that emotional rollercoaster, three times over. Let me tell you, it’s not pretty.
Hiding the article at WW is tricky, but it’s my only other access to a typewriter. I’ve cast charms so that to anyone else, the parchment appears blank. (The first try ended in the parchment shouting everything that was written on it. I narrowly escaped a Mildred catastrophe there.) There’s been a spike in my productivity lately. It’s the result of a complicated formula: too much coffee, a buzz from the cleaning potions used at The Rusty Knight, no sleep, and a personal vendetta.
I glance at my calendar for the umpteenth time. It says aloud, tiredly, “Still the twenty-fifth of September, mate.”
The article is due on Ward’s desk—erm, Rose’s desk—today. She and I haven’t spoken since I declared war via Flatulence Charm. She never even acknowledged the draft I slipped under her door earlier this week. Reckon she’s still a bit touchy. She’s still in the dark about what happened between Oliver and me (though I’d never turn to her for a shoulder to drunkenly cry on.) What’s more, she thinks I’m the same way about the two of them. The thing that’s weighing on me is whether or not to use this. The article could stand to be longer…
“Of course you shouldn’t use it!” exclaims my conscience, which I imagine as a miniaturized Lisa. “Be the bigger person here! Think of how that would make you look to Blakeslee.”
“Fine, I won’t,” I grumble to myself, all the while thinking, At least for now.
Rose’s voice makes me jump out of my skin. I throw a hand to my heaving chest, “Merlin’s beard! Why are you always doing that?!”
She’s standing in my doorway, looking put-together as usual in smart black pumps. Only the slight messiness to her hair, like she’s been clenching it, betrays her stress. With a cool and collected façade, she quirks an eyebrow, “Doing what?”
“Lurking about!” I wiggle my fingers at her exasperatedly.
“I’m hardly lurking, Edie—”
“Oh my God, what do you want?”
She crosses her arms, shifts her weight to the other hip. “It’s about the article,” she says, “Are you aware that it’s to be sent to layout first thing tomorrow morning?”
“Of course I know that,” I snap. Does she think I’m not taking this seriously? Tension crackles in the room. There’s a forty percent chance this will end violently. “I’m giving it a final proofread right now. I’ll be done within the hour.”
“That’s just it,” she examines her fingernails. “I meant to tell you earlier, but it must’ve slipped my mind. I already wrote the second article myself. It’s sitting on Ward’s desk right now.”
My quill drops, “Excuse me?”
I must not have heard right. Rose wouldn’t be so thoughtless. Not to be a completely arrogant twit, but she can’t write the kind of article I did—she said so herself. Blakeslee would be disappointed, and Rose would be to blame. It doesn’t make sense. But then…
“You have got to be joking,” I murmur. It takes everything in me not to go for my wand.
She doesn’t want Oliver to see her name on the article.
“It just wasn’t working out,” she shrugs. “Your article was good, but it didn’t really address his personal life. That’s what Blakeslee wanted.”
“It’s for the sports section!” I cry indignantly. “I talked about his athletic career.”
She ignores me, “So really, there’s no need for you to write the third article. I’ll still pay for all three, of course.”
“I don’t want your bloody money!” I bellow, although I could certainly use it. “We had an agreement!”
“Right,” she says in a voice typically reserved for small children, “and I’m holding up my half by paying you. It’s not like you were getting your due credit, anyway. Honestly, I thought you’d be relieved. Judging by your writing, you can’t stand being around the guy long enough to interview him.”
In my head, I shout, “And you can’t be around your interviewee without shagging him!” But what I actually say is, “This isn’t fair!”
She considers my words, “No, I suppose it isn’t. But it’s the way that this business works, I’m sorry to say. A lot of people just aren’t cut out for it. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
“Oh, you insolent little—”
Before I know it, both our wands are drawn. I’ve stood up so quickly that my chair has toppled over. We stare each other down like two snarling Kneazles. But suddenly there are footsteps echoing in the corridor. Sheathing her wand, Rose apparently spies the visitor. A look of alarm crosses her face, but it’s instantly replaced with a smile. Meanwhile I’m doing my best to look casual, making a show of leaning across my messy desk. Then Oliver appears in the stone archway, and my elbow slips.
“Wotcher,” he greets Rose with the tilt of his head. Then he notices me and freezes. Rose tries to respond, but only makes a sound like a teakettle whistling. Suddenly I am very interested in my potted plant, which now looks more like sticks of charcoal. I can feel Oliver’s eyes boring into me.
“Well!” Rose suddenly quips, too high-pitched. Our entire argument is forgotten. “Oliver and I have some things to discuss about the article. Shall we get started?”
“Mm,” is his response, but she’s already scurried away. Her heels click down the hall at an almost-run. Throwing him to the wolves, I see. Top-notch lady you’ve got there, mate.
I still haven’t turned to him, though I can glimpse that he hasn’t budged. He’s staring me down as if I don’t actually realize he’s there. Not really one for subtlety, eh? At last I’ve shuffled and re-shuffled every parchment on my desk, and can’t ignore him any longer. Slowly I swivel towards him and gesture violently, as if to say “What?”
In response, he glances over his shoulder and steps inside. I recoil as though I’ve been bitten. Though he looks bewildered by my reaction, he begins to dig around in his coat pocket. Is he looking for his wand? What, is he going to Obliviate his way back onto good terms? Although I’d like to quip something witty like this, my mouth has gone dry. Finally he extracts an envelope from his pocket and thrusts it at me. Though his face is Gryffindor scarlet, he won’t look away.
A note? He wrote me a bloody note? What is this, the Fourth Year?
Because I can’t take him standing there looking stupid any longer, I snatch it from him. He breaks the silence, murmuring, “Open it. Please.”
Unbelievable. Who is he to go around making demands? I grab my wand as if to use it as a letter-opener. Instead I murmur, eyes boring into his, “Incendio.”
The note bursts into flames. It would be a pretty tough gesture, I suppose, had I not forgotten that fire is quite hot. I hold my defiant expression as long as possible as the flame grows. Oliver glances from it, to me, and back. His expression betrays shock and—to my great annoyance—amusement. At last I throw the note into the bin, resisting the urge to blow on my stinging fingertips.
Finally he shakes his head, smiling bitterly. “Fine, Edie. If this is what you want. But don’t tell me I didn’t bloody well try.”
Though I have no idea what he means, I’m not about to ask. Without another word, he turns and leaves. I listen to his footsteps echoing down the corridors. Off to Rose’s office, to do God-knows-what under the disguise of journalism.
I count to three (or try, and only make it to one-and-a-half) and then madly snatch up the bin. “Aguamente!” is the first spell that comes to mind, which I immediately regret. The flames become a bucket of water that hisses with steam. I probe around the mess until at last I find the note. Shamelessly, I try to open it, though the parchment tears. Cursing under my breath, I try a drying charm. But it’s no use. It’s too charred, and what little ink that remains is too runny. Dimly, I realize that I’ll probably never know what Oliver wanted to tell me. Flicking my wand at the door so that it slams shut, I slump in my chair.
Well, there’s no use crying over spilled potion. Back to my old standby: repressing any semblance of emotion. But more important matters are at hand (at least this is what I tell myself.)
Rose said her draft is on Ward’s desk right now. It’s already six o’clock, and he’s gone for the evening. That means until tomorrow morning, he has no idea what the final draft will look like. A sudden thought strikes me. Yes, it is a thought fuelled by an entire cauldron of coffee, and the lack of sleep. Yes, it’s probably the stupidest plan I’ve ever hatched. But desperate times call for desperate measures, or so the cliché goes. And I’m pretty damn desperate.
I’ll need a task force, and I know just where to go. With a maniacal grin smeared over my face, I snatch the article from the typewriter and Apparate from the building.
“Edie!” Dean nearly jumps out of his skin when I reappear in their sitting room. He’s splayed out on the beer-stained sofa, drawing in his sketchbook and listening to some Muggle band on his record player. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been here. But their flat looks the same: poorly lit, the walls covered with posters of the Kenmare Kestrals and West Ham football players. The floor is so littered with balled up sketches, dirty clothes and beer bottles that I can barely see the old carpet. At least a fire is roaring in the hearth, casting a cheery glow around the mess.
Nearly tripping over a rogue football, I hurl myself onto the arm of the sofa. “What are you doing tonight?” I fire, clutching the article so tightly that it crinkles.
I must be leering extra creepily, because he grimaces, “Nothing…?”
Seamus strolls into the room, shirtless and eating two cheese sandwiches. He says with mouth full, “Thought I heard ‘at voice,” crumbs falling onto the floor.
Entirely too gleefully, I exclaim, “Want to help me break into my editor’s office?!”
They exchange looks, eyebrows raised. No doubt that Dean, always the voice of reason, is going to shake his head and say, “That is the worst idea you’ve ever had. You’ll be in such trouble.” Not to mention Seamus reminding me that could lose his Auror’s license for something like that. I could use being shut down. I should just go home and get some sleep; let Rose and Oliver fly off into the stupid sunset. I should spend my time doing something productive, like finding a job, or a new place to live.
Dean and Seamus answer me at the same time:
“Sure, why not.”
“Nothin’ better to do.”
My insane grin is so wide that it hurts my cheeks. “You two are absolutely brilliant,” I pull Dean into a crushing hug; Seamus takes a step back to remain safe. Once again channeling Gwendolyn Phyre, I say with excitement, “Meet me outside Witch Weekly at ten o’clock. Apparate down the street and walk the rest of the way. We don’t want to be heard. There’s an entrance ‘round back… That’s where I’ll be waiting.”
There is a beat of silence.
“Brilliant, gives me time for a kip. Cheers,” Seamus raises a sandwich and exits the room.
“Do we have to wear black?” Dean wonders, rubbing his chin. “We probably should. But I don’t know if I have a proper black jumper. And it’s too cold out for a tee shirt…”
My task force, ladies and gentlemen.
Author's note: I have finally nitpicked this into what I consider an acceptable chapter. In case you didn't catch it, the Witching Circle was a play on sororities, and the runes embroidered on their jumpers were Greek letters ;3 Also, I have to thank Siriusly89 for mentioning Seamus eating a cheese sandwich. It was just so... Seamus-y!
Thoughts? Is Edie's plan a good one, or just a horrible amalgamation of no sleep and a coffee overdose? What about the note from Oliver, and Lisa's reaction to the article? Does anyone want their very own talking, cheerful door? How about a bewildered calendar?
Thanks to à nos étoiles for the lovely CI. And thanks to everyone who has stuck with this story from the beginning. It's getting harder to find time to update, but I'm really in love with KC&CO and promise I'll see it through ♥
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by Tani Potter