Chapter 19 : Nothin' but a Number
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Soon I find myself back in Le Chat Noir, where months ago Rose first offered me the article. To my left is Dean, who rests his elbows on the counter, brow furrowed in concentration. On my right Jae leans back, his arms crossed, wearing a similar expression. Seamus is perched on the end stool, halfway listening to the conversation, halfway eyeing girls. At least we fit in with the hip clientele, as we’re already dressed in black. Seamus and Dean have been receiving some looks, only just recently wiping the black paint from their faces.
The reason everyone looks so confused is that I’ve spent the last twenty outlining my entire history with the articles. Multiple times. Having never attempted it before, I hadn’t realized how tangled the web had become. But they’ve been the perfect audience: gasping indignantly when I was sacked, clicking their tongues when I lost my flat. The only thing I’ve left out is the potential romance, though there have been some suspicious glances.
“…And that’s why we broke in tonight,” I finish for the third time.
They all nod with glazed-over looks. Seamus rubs his chin and blinks about a thousand times, “Okay. Explain it one more time. I think I’ve almost got it.”
I drop my head onto my arms exhaustedly. “Can’t we just go over it later? I’m getting bored, and it’s my life we’re discussing.”
“No way,” Seamus shakes his head fervently. “You’ve been hiding everything for this long, and you’ll just do it again.”
I give him a guilty look. Dean adds, “Besides, it’s not our fault you’ve managed to turn everything into a soap opera.” At our blank stares, he clutches his fist adamantly, “One of these days you’ll understand my Muggle references.”
“Okay,” Seamus points his finger at my face, probably because he sees about three of them. He’s been celebrating enough for the lot of us. “So. You write the first article, and Rose puts her name on it. And your boss is all, ‘Yeah Rose, we’re chuffed, brilliant work, we want two more!’ But she knows she can’t do them justice, so she pawns them off onto you.”
Jae continues, “And so you write the second one in secret. Meanwhile, she starts shagging Wood. She knows her name is stamped on the stories, and doesn’t want him think she’s writing these contemptuous articles,” he says the word lavishly, but I have no rebuttal. They are bloody harsh. “So before the second one is published, she writes another, nicer article, and sneaks it to the editor.”
I finish, “So tonight we broke in to replace it. And Blakeslee wants to see the magazine succeed, so she’s taken me on.”
I don’t add what’s gnawing at my thoughts: will Witch Weekly even keep me on, after the stories are published and they’ve gotten what they need?
Dean says, “But as far as Wood knows, it’s your name on the articles. You’ve been doing all the fieldwork, and the research, and interviewing him. He doesn’t like reading about himself, so he may never even see Rose’s name. What does it matter to her?”
I shrug, “I reckon she’s afraid he’ll change his mind, read it, and toss her in the bin. She’d never admit to paying an intern to do her work.”
Jae shakes his head in disbelief, “He must be lying about that, though. Who doesn’t want to read about themselves?”
“Apparently Oliver Wood,” I murmur, stirring the ice cubes of my now-empty drink.
“Well, I’m sorry Edie, but I’m scared for you,” Dean says. “Who knows what Rose is going to do now? You’ve stolen her spot, and she’s already stark-raving mad.”
“Technically I’ve had the spot all along,” I raise a finger. “And no one will know. I don’t plan to rat her out. Plus, I saved her from being sacked. That counts for something, right?”
Dean knocks back the rest of his pint, “I’d watch your back, mate.”
“Oh, who cares!” Seamus bellows, causing us to jump. He’s long since passed speaking at a normal volume. “Edie’s got a job—a real nine-to-five—and that’s all that matters. Cheers!” We smirk at him, but clink our glasses for the umpteenth time. After taking a giant gulp Seamus squints at me, eyes glimmering conspiratorially, “You’ve left out one thing, though.”
“Impossible, she’s been talking for ages,” Dean teases, and I gently pinch his side.
But Seamus says, “You’ve conveniently forgotten to mention that you and Wood almost… y’know.”
I nearly topple off my stool. I’d forgotten telling Seamus about my almost-feelings, that day in the park. Back when I’d thought something would come of it all. My face has gone three different shades of red in the split-second that Jae and Dean snap their gazes to me. Thoughts racing, I try to recall that morning—but I was so loopy with exercise, I would’ve probably given anyone my Gringott’s key. How much did I tell? What does he know?
Damn it, Seamus. You and your big mouth.
“Almost what?” Jae prompts, and there’s definitely a jealous tone in his voice. Dean casts him a look, but then his eyes are back on me.
I manage to shrug off-handedly, “The point is that nothing ever happened between us. Really,” I add to the three quirked eyebrows. “Besides, Seamus is right—what matters is that I finally have a job.”
Despite the very real elation I feel in my ribcage, my smile feels bitter. It must be the alcohol. At least my companions seem quelled, or at least unlikely to mention it again. Dean looks darkly into the bottom of his glass, but says nothing, and Seamus releases another war-cry. He raises his pint—again—as Jae snakes an arm around my waist. I go stiff, uneasy for us to be seen. Neither Dean nor Seamus seems to have noticed, though. Jae grins in a devilish way that I’m surprised sets my nerves on edge. I rest a hand on his leg beneath the counter. I suppose I could use a distraction.
Jae lives in the bottom floor of a small house—I’m assuming his landlord’s—on the outskirts London. I know this firsthand because the two of us outlasted Dean and Seamus at the bar (the latter got entirely too drunk and had to be Apparated home by Dean.) Jae and I remained at Le Chat Noir until the clanged closing bell was clanged with more than a little spite. The walk to his flat was long, leaving plenty of time to stop and snog along the way.
By the time we stagger through the door, everything is spinning and stars. I can hear the blood in my ears as his mouth crashes into mine. I don’t care that he tastes like old beer or that I barely have to crane my neck to reach his lips. I don’t feel shy anymore. Alcohol will do that to you. I grab his shirt collar and pull him against me, jut my hips. But then he gently touches the back of my neck—and suddenly I am back in that strange Muggle shop with Oliver. The feel of his fingertips. The one eye closing. Before I can even think, I slap Jae’s hand away.
He pulls back, looking more shocked than offended. It only takes an instant to recover—but in my head I’m pulling myself from miles underwater, emerging gasping from that stupid memory.
“Sorry,” I say without sincerity, pulling him back. I bite his lip and feel him smirk. He grabs my face again, kisses harder. This time I force myself not to remember. We stumble backwards into the darkness of his home, legs and arms tangling. A small window casts enough light to barely glimpse the clutter of the small space. My mind hasn’t placed us in his small kitchen until I nearly topple over his small dining table.
“Careful,” he teases quietly. Without response I pull off my shirt like an old skin, dropping it onto the floor. No ceremony, no romance, no butterflies. Only something glinting in Jae’s dark eyes, barely visible. I sit on table and wait.
He takes out his wand, says, “Lum—” before I cut him off.
Before he can protest my fingers are at the buttons on his collar. He tugs my skirt off in a move that seems far too practiced, but I don’t care. We undress in a hurry, like coming in soaking wet from a storm, except there is no firelight to huddle near. Jae puts a flat hand on my ribcage and, in slow deliberateness, pushes me back onto the cool, polished table.
With my hands resting near my head, I stare at a patch of moonlight on the ceiling, and Jae moves over me like a shadow.
When I wake in the morning, all sense of reckless freedom has disappeared. In its place is a terrible headache. Oh, gin and tonic. You taste like water and feel like a ton of bricks. I pry my eyes open, caked in leftover makeup. I’m in a tangled nest of blankets, pillows and clothes on the living room floor. Thankfully Jae is gone, as there is a considerable amount of drool on my chin. My hair could easily pass for a ball of Gillyweed. After a glance in the mirror and some quick charms—including Accio pants!—I could pass for human again. I stumble to my feet and pad uncertainly throughout the flat, calling, “Jae?”
No response. Rubbing my temple, I head into the kitchen for a glass of water. The place is surprisingly clean, certainly compared to Seamus and Dean’s. In the gray morning light I lean against the counter, sipping water. My bleary eyes notice a framed photograph on the wall. It pictures two children, a boy and a girl, both with jet-black hair and almond-shaped eyes. The girl appears to be about ten—just on the edge of her Hogwarts acceptance letter. After a moment I recognize her as Cho, Jae’s sister. She still has the same heavy fringe. She and the boy (who I’d guess to be about six) are sitting on the floor behind a table full of delicious-looking Korean food, making faces and waving at the camera.
I didn’t know he has a younger brother. I smile at the thought of a young Jae taking this picture of his siblings.
Footsteps thunder in the flat overhead. My eyes follow the sound as it travels across the ceiling. A door slams, and then someone scurries down through the garden. At last Jae’s front door opens.
He soon appears in the kitchen and I offer a small smile. His arms are full of food—namely a dozen eggs and a loaf of bread. “Sorry,” he grins, “My cupboards are totally bare. Thought I’d pop upstairs and grab some food.” He kisses me, never one for shyness, “Good morning.”
“Morning,” I grin sheepishly. I can’t precisely recall the ins and outs of last night, but apparently it wasn’t too horrid. At least he wants me to stick around for breakfast. Suddenly I grin, “Wait, your landlord just gives you food? That’s brilliant! Mine just always asked me to watch after his parakeet.”
He offers a confused grin, “No, not my landlord. My Mum.”
“Oh!” I say brightly, wishing I hadn’t opened my mouth. “You live under your parents. That’s nothing. I stayed with mine for a few years after Hogwarts. Loads of people are doing it now, what with the economy and all…”
He only continues to smile confusedly, and then a horrible thought strikes me. My eyes fly back to the photograph of Cho and the unnamed younger sibling. Cho is only a year above me. How old is that little boy now…?
I turn my back, bracing my hands on the counter. “Um. Who is that, in the photograph?”
He shifts uneasily, “Me and Cho… Why?”
“Oh my God,” I cover my face. Dreading the answer, I ask lowly, “Jae, how old are you?”
He must catch onto my horror, because he responds in a high-pitched voice, “Nineteen?”
“Jesus Christ,” I whirl around. “You’re actually serious!”
“Yes… Why, how old are you?”
“I’m twenty-six, Jae.”
“MERLIN’S BEARD!” The eggs drop onto the floor, splattering everywhere, “That’s like… seven years older than me! You’d already graduated by the time I was a First-Year! You were—you were an adult when I was only ten!”
“You do have a way with words,” I grumble.
He ignores me, not to mention the eggy mess, and rubs his chin. “I reckon that’s why we’d never met. You probably thought it was because I was Cho’s older brother… Well. That’s interesting.” He pauses to give a roguish grin, “I mean, I’d always wondered what it would be like. Y’know… With an older woman.”
My jaw drops. But apparently he has reached a new stage—one that ranges beyond complete insanity—because he misreads my expression as lust, and makes his way over to kiss me.
Scowling, I put my hand up and his lips smoosh into my palm. “Yeah, I’m gonna go.”
After I’ve awkwardly excused myself, I pause outside his front door. I can’t believe this. The one time a guy is genuinely interested in me (or at least certain parts of me.) Of course this isn’t Jae’s fault. But I am furious at experiencing another embarrassing turn of life-events. I feel like some kind of marionette, being played by the Fates, or God, or whatever divine force may be controlling the strings…
Eyes narrowing, I suddenly realize exactly which “force” is to blame.
And her name is Hypatia Lennox.
Renwick looks just as picturesque as always. I march down the perfectly-laid cobblestones, my shoulders heaving with rage. Butterflies dance in the immaculate hedges. Birds sing from the up-to-code rooftops. But this quaint little town hides a meddling old Witch—all right, a middle-aged Witch—under the disguise of resident quirky artist.
It’s a Saturday. My Mum won’t be in her studio, so I head straight to my childhood home. For a moment I’m held up on the stupid gate latch—why have we never gotten the bloody thing fixed?—but soon I am stomping through the garden. The small brick façade is nothing to brag about. It barely contains six people, but it’s done its job over the years. A thousand things are running through my head, ready to explode in another trademark Edie-Hypatia screaming match (How could you set me up with a nineteen year-old?! Did you really think I was that desperate?! Well… So what if I am?!)
I reach the door and throw it open, bellowing, “MUM! GET DOWN HERE NOW!”
But I am only greeted by a very anti-climactic silence.
No one, not even my brothers—who last I heard have all returned to the nest—is here. Releasing a scream, I search around for something to throw, before reminding myself that I’m not thirteen anymore. Instead I drop to the tarnished wood floor. Crossing my arms tightly, I force myself not to hyperventilate.
You’re overreacting, says miniature-Lisa, always the angel on my shoulder. Your Mum just wants to see you happy. She’s overbearing, but at least she’s always there for you. And age doesn’t really matter that much, does it? It was just a fling.
My breathing is almost back to normal, and I flop onto my back. The familiarities around the den help to calm me down. I study the maps on the walls, the old fireplace and the burlap curtains—made from flour sacks when we were particularly skint, and kept for sentimentality. In fact, coming home seems to have been the best solution to this morning’s turn of events. My eyelids are growing heavy. I didn’t sleep well last night, if you catch my meaning. Normally that would make me want to high-five somebody, but maybe I’ll keep this one quiet.
I don’t realize I’ve drifted off until someone is nudging me with their shoe. Opening my eyes groggily, I’m surprised to see Leo eating a pickle sandwich. His hair is much shorter since our last encounter, though done rather poorly. I reckon he did it himself. Judging by the light, it’s early afternoon.
“Oi,” he says. “You’ve been out for hours. Thought you were dead.”
“I appreciate how concerned you were,” I grumble, and he hoists me to my feet. Without awaiting his response I make a grab for his sandwich, “I’m starving, can I have some?”
“Get your own!” he cries, but I snatch it anyway. After a tussle I manage to bite off a big chunk, and he punches me in the shoulder. I punch him back.
Mouth full, I say, “Where’s Mum?”
He takes an unbelievably giant bite, so that I barely understand the response, “Studio. Show coming up soon, remember? Thought she owled you an invite.”
Whoops. I really need to pay more attention to my post. Wiping my mouth with the back of my hand, I realize I am quickly reverting back to childhood-Edie. “I’m surprised to see you here. It’s the weekend, shouldn’t you be out with your hoodlum friends? Catching tadpoles or throwing rocks or whatever it is you do?”
He scoffs, “I’m not seven anymore. Christ. Just nipping in from the pub. Didn’t wanna pay for food. Liam, Luke and a couple of others are there. We just got bloody murdered in a Quidditch match at the park, figured we’d drink away our sorrows.”
I snort, rolling my eyes, and he pinches my arm, “Oi, shouldn’t you be out with that famous boyfriend of yours?”
For one horrid moment I think he somehow knows about Jae, but then I realize who he means. “Oliver is not my boyfriend,” I say more adamantly than intended.
“Not what he seems to think.”
Leo has a reputation for telling lies to elicit a reaction. After twenty years, I’ve learned to notice it. I’m not falling for this kind of rubbish again. Tiredly, I sigh, “What are you on about? He’s dating my coworker.”
He shrugs, “Well, maybe. But when we all went out in London, he said he really likes you.”
“That’s not funny, Leo,” I scowl, though I feel something moving in my ribs.
He gestures incredulously, “Oi, I’m not lying! Honestly. Yeah, we were all pretty pissed that night, but I remember him talking about you. It was a bit pathetic, really, the way he just went on, and on, and on—”
“What did he say?” I find myself asking.
“Well I don’t recall his words exactly. Just that he kept talking about how cool you are, and how cool it is that you like politics and beer and Quidditch and all that rubbish. I tried to explain that you really aren’t all that spectacular—What?”
Apparently I have gone white as a sheet, because even devil-may-care Leo looks concerned. “You alright? Jesus, I was only taking the mick. You’re so sensitive.” He shakes his head and pops the rest of the sandwich into his mouth, “Anyway, back to the pub for me.”
I nod, still incapable of finding words just yet. He makes his way for the door but stops and swivels around. Rubbing the back of his neck, he asks, “Um… staying in town tonight, then?”
I fight a smile at his hopeful tone. For a moment I’m back at the age of thirteen, when my brothers still thought I was the coolest human being (and the tallest girl) they knew. Now, apparently, the only person who feels that way is Oliver Wood. Or at least he used to, before he became involved with Rose…
“Actually,” I mutter, “I could use a night away from London.”
Leo actually smiles—in that messy, impish way of his—and ruffles my hair. I smile back and he disappears through the front door, whistling. Yeah, some fresh air will do me good. And maybe there will be no Edie-Hypatia screaming match, but she at least needs a stern talking-to. But already I feel the anger slipping away, replaced by pleasant nostalgia for my old home. That feeling of sisterly love disappears, though, when I head into my old room. It’s a complete wreck, covered in dirty clothes and half-eaten food and Quidditch gear. Fighting my anger, I accio an old coat from beneath the wreckage and head out into the clear afternoon. A walk would do me some good.
Unfortunately, I’m not quite getting the alone-time I desired. I’ve forgotten that it’s impossible to go outside without stopping to talk with all of Renwick. I find myself wishing for an invisibility cloak. I am just leaving Mr. Patmore’s hedgerow, and pulling my wooly black scarf tighter, when I hear a familiar screech. Pollock, the family owl—a rather small creature—is circling overhead. He drops a brown envelope at my feet, and with a grumpy hoot, flies off. I snort. Some “welcome home” that was.
Curiously, I crouch down to pick up the envelope. There’s something small and round inside. When I open the parcel, a gold badge bearing the word “Press” drops into my palm. The note, written in messy handwriting, reads:
Hope this letter finds you well. Philbert and I are eager to meet you. Wear this badge over your coat to tomorrow’s match. The charms will allow you into Puddlemere’s VIP booth, which has the best bloody view of the pitch.
Here the word “bloody” is poorly scratched out, enough that I can still read it. No wonder she and Oliver were basically soul mates.
I’ve spoken with your editor, Artie Ward, and he suggests you arrive at ten o’clock. The Portkey is a copy of Quidditch throughout the Ages, at the Leaky Cauldron. Just show the barkeep your badge.
Katie M. Bell
Assistant Team Manager, Puddlemere United
PS – Wear blue.
My heart is beating out of my chest. Katie Bell, the assistant manager to a professional Quidditch team, is writing to me. Normally I would be delivering this message to Rose, like her personal owl, but here it is addressed to me. All of the sudden, my new employment is very, very real. A stupid grin spreads across my face. One thing I don’t understand, though, is why she’s eager to meet me. Shouldn’t she be more wary, especially if she’s read the last article? Shrugging the thought away, I rub my thumb over the polished golden badge.
Press. I am the Press. So this is it, then. It’s really, actually happening. I pocket the badge and continue down the street, waving a bit more merrily to my neighbours.
Author's Note: Phew! I think that's the longest it's taken for me to update since I've begun this story... and I'm sorry for the wait! Hopefully this chapter cleared up some things (like the entire history of Edie-Rose-Oliver and the articles), as well as raised some more questions. And I've been waiting to write the unveiling of Jae's age for SO LONG and it was really fun to do... Did it shock anyone? :D
Thanks so much for reading. Please let me know what you think! Liked, disliked? Somewhere in-between? Reviews are always very much appreciated.
Edit: I've changed Katie's voice in her letter to better suit her character. Not a huge difference, but she sounded way too bubbly beforehand. Oooh, also, I've settled on a new title! And thank you to bathtub. at TDA for incorporating it into a gorgeous chapter image. Just look at those little birds! ♥
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by Katy Dane