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The Network by teh tarik
Chapter 2 : Sneak
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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THE NETWORK


Chapter Two: Sneak






The offices for the Floo Network Authority were in chaos. More of those black hornlike objects had come popping out of the Grateway and the fireplaces of the other offices, releasing clouds of black acrid vapours. Quotidius Quarkley, the new head of the Department of Magical Transportation had ordered a team of Ministry officials, which included Floo Network Regulators and Death Eaters to search every household which still had an active Floo unit to determine the source of all the trouble.

Ettie was sure that the culprits when caught would be sent to Azkaban immediately on the charges of conspiring against and attempting “to bring about the downfall of the Ministry” – a saying that was being parroted by most senior Ministry officials these days.

There was an envelope on her desk when she clocked in for work that morning. She opened it, and out came a rush of air, an exhalation from the paper. That strange, sudden gust wasn’t the only thing from the envelope; she thought she heard a low voice whispering an incantation.

It began to rain in her office. Not just any rain, but a terrific downpour, crashing all around her, reducing the ordered stacks of Floo transcripts into a mush of paper, rivulets of ink streaming across her desk. The green fire in the Grateway spluttered and went out. Ettie threw up her hands in frustration and bewilderment. She grabbed a scrap of parchment from a drawer, scrawled something on it, and it folded itself into a paper aeroplane, leapt into the air and began its rather strained flight through the rain and toward the door. Her hair was lank against her skull, and her robes clung to her body like an ill-fitting skin.

Minutes later, the door flew open and in came Reg Cattermole, looking thoroughly harassed. “Merlin’s beard! How did – what the – it’s raining inside your office?”

“That’s very sharp of you,” she snapped.

There was a flash of light and the whole room shook with a clap of thunder. Bloody thunderstorm in an office. No, she had not seen this coming at all.

Reg was ineffectually flicking and jabbing his wand and yelling through the deluge every counter-spell he knew, none of which seemed to work. Another bolt of lightning speared straight through a filing cabinet, turning it into a sizzling wreck.

Meteolojinx Recanto!” he yelled in desperation.

The rain thinned to a drip before stopping. Ettie sat down at her desk miserably, up to her ankles in floodwater, the cold percolating into her bones.

“I – suppose that’s been taken care of,” Reg said, glancing at her uncertainly. He looked a sight, his hair plastered to his skull, the same colour as his skin. His robes were black with water, and they made a sickening glopping sound as he moved. “I’ll get rid of all the water on the ground as well.”

He uttered an incantation which she did not know, and the water slowly subsided, trickling down the walls, and draining into the floor. Only the parchmentwork of several hundred transcripts could not be salvaged. Quotidius Quarkley would not be pleased. But then again, Quotidius Quarkley be damned. Ettie was cold and drenched. So was Reg, standing there, shifting foot to foot, trying to shake the water out of his shoes.

“Let me,” she said irritably, and jabbed her wand toward Reg. His robes dried instantly. She did the same to herself.

“Thanks,” he muttered, his gaze sliding toward the door. “Well, I’ll go then. Kevin Brocklehurst has just made a complaint about a plague of canaries in his office.”

“Wait,” Ettie said. She pulled out a flask from her bag and conjured up two cups. “Coffee?”

He looked astonished. He even dropped his wand. “N-now?”

She shrugged and before he could refuse her directly or come up with some pathetic excuse, she poured out the coffee. “I don’t have any tea if that’s what you prefer.”

He pulled a chair over and sat down opposite her. “C-coffee’s fine.”

He took a large gulp from his coffee, made a strangling sort of noise from his throat and spat it back into his cup.

“It’s – hot,” he stammered.

She stopped herself from rolling her eyes just in time.

“So,” she said, “you’ve been working here for long, then?”

“Fourteen years,” he muttered darkly into his cup, “perhaps a bit too long. I’d leave now if I could.”

She pretended to inspect the damage done to her desk from the storm.

"How did that come about?" he asked.

"It came in the post. There was an envelope on my desk from an unknown sender."

Reg's face screwed up. He sighed. "Yes, we've been having a lot of trouble with those. Milton received one of those. His office turned into a desert. We had to pull him out of the sand, that poor chap."

The door opened and Ettie jumped up, knocking over her mug. She jerked her wand abruptly, Vanishing her spilt drink along with the mug still in Reg’s hands, who looked positively baffled as he turned up his now-empty palms. What would people say, Marietta Edgecombe having bloody coffee and conversation with some bloke from Magical Maintenance? Her mother entered the room, forehead rumpled with worry and the edges of her lips wilting like they always did when she was tired. Behind her was a tall wizard in black robes, a sneer fixed on his face, which deepened at the sight of Reg sitting at Ettie’s desk. She knew who he was: Yersinius Yaxley, one of the Death Eaters on the Commission along with Dolores and her mother.

“Ettie?” her mother said, brow furrowing at the mess her office was in, and at Ettie and Reg in their sodden robes.

“Having a pleasant conversation with Miss Edgecombe here, Cattermole?” Yaxley cut in.

“Wasn’t interrupting, now, was I? Because the walls of Macnair’s office are sprouting poisonous trumpetweed flowers and if I remember correctly, he sent in a memo twenty minutes ago.”

Reg stood up at once, face colouring up into a shade of beet. “N-no, of course, no.”

“It was raining inside my office,” Ettie said, “Reg here just helped clear it off.”

Reg looked even more uncomfortable than ever. “The Atmopsheric Charm was tampered with. I’ll go at once – to, er – Macnair’s office.” He turned towards the door, but not before saying, “Well, thanks for the coffee, Marietta.”

She stiffened, gave a curt half-nod as he stepped quickly out of the room. Yaxley’s jaw pulled into a smirk.

“Ettie,” Marie Edgecombe said, “Is everything alright here?”

“Of course. Why are you here?”

Her mother straightened up. “Just to pass a message. Dolores would like to have a word with you – not today, she’s much too busy – at noon tomorrow.”

“Alright, I’ll be there.” But there must have been a note of displeasure in her voice, because her mother’s eyebrow lifted, and something like a warning glinted in her eyes. The image of Dolores Umbridge’s face flickered in Ettie’s mind, and she felt a faint tweaking in her throat, like fear or nausea.

“Well,” said Marie, “Yersinius and I are off to a meeting. Minister Thicknesse will be there so we’ll leave you to the rest of your work now.”

Ettie nodded as her mother turned and left. Yaxley, however, tarried for a moment. Just as he was about to step out, he turned round and leered at her, “I didn’t know you were the kind who preferred older men, Marietta.”

Her knee jolted again, connecting against the table leg. A hot flush swept through her.

“Don’t know what you’re on about.”

“Cattermole,” Yaxley answered slickly. “You were having a comfortable moment with that old buffoon, weren’t you?”

Ettie flared up. “What’s that got to do with you, anyway? If you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”

Yaxley took two strides toward her, clapped his hands on the desk and angled forward until his face was inches from her and she was glaring into his eyes, pale almost colourless irises that stung when they scrutinised her own face, turned over every inch of her marred skin with its carefully suppressed acne.

“Careful there, Marietta. Your mother’s on the right side of the Ministry, but I can’t say I’m confident about your allegiances. Your history suggests the tendency to fall in with the wrong group.”

There was a momentary ache in her chest as she thought of Cho, a blip in her heartbeat. But she steeled herself and spat back at Yaxley. “I’m not in Hogwarts any longer. It would do you well to remember that.”

Yaxley’s face resumed its old sneer as he left.

 

Cho hadn’t written to her in the days that had passed since their chance meeting in Diagon Alley.

Ettie looked out the grimy window of the apothecary’s at the near-deserted street rather dully. Her face was still tingling with a fresh application of her daily potion. She went outside. She’d been looking for Cho every day for the last two weeks, hoping to catch a glimpse of her hurrying around the corner. Once, she had even Apparated out to Muggle London and gone to wait in the cafe that they’d sat at last time. No sign of her. So this was what it was like to be miserable. Miserable Cho. Miserable Marietta. Marietta the Miserable. The two of them ought to be best friends. And they had been for some time, miserable best friends, until the end of their last term at Hogwarts when the vacant, languid summer broke over their lives like a silence.

She began to walk down Diagon Alley. There was nothing to see. It was still August but a chill had crept into the days, and the deep blue edge of evening was skulking over the tops of the buildings. There had been a duel of some sort last night right outside Florean Fortescue’s; the cobbles had been dug right out of the road by a barrage of spells, and the holes had filled with rainwater. Red-brown stains speckled the ground as though the stone itself was rusting.

A strange light was glowing further down the Alley. She walked toward it. It was the joke shop belonging to the Weasleys. Of course it would be that stupid joke shop. It reminded her of Hogwarts again. She hated that shop – and yet it was the only cheerful place in the whole boarded-up and shuttered blight of a street and she was drawn to it.

It was past business hours now, but the windows were still framed with indoor light, the items on display illuminated. Such a curious array of items they were – an assortment of glass tops and globes with collars and cones, and a sign at the corner of the window read in squiggly maroon lettering: Selected Sneakoscopes for Sale!

From the interior of the shop, a flicker of green caught her eye; there was a greenish glow coming from one of the backrooms, which looked suspiciously similar to Floo fire. Surely the joke shop didn’t have an active Floo unit? She would know about it.

Ettie inched a little closer to the window. One of the Sneakoscopes began to spin. Faster and faster it went, its clear globe filling up with a livid crimson colour. Slowly, one after another, the other Sneakoscopes spun into life, humming and buzzing and shining like a swarm of wasps until the entire display window was alive. Passers-by were beginning to stare and from inside the shop, came the sound of voices.

She darted away from the window and walked back up Diagon Alley a few steps before Apparating back home.

Her mother was not home yet. She felt her face, an old habit. Her reflection in the window revealed plain, unspoiled skin. But it seemed like those lumps of acne had been ingrained into her fingertips because she felt them all over, on every part of her skin she touched.

 

“Marietta,” Dolores Umbridge said, smiling sweetly, hands clasped into a prim knot on her desk, “I must say I’m very pleased with the standard of your work so far.”

“Thank you, Dolores.” Ettie found herself mirroring Dolores’ posture, crossing her legs, putting her hands on her lap, folding herself into a neat stack of limbs, the lines of her back running parallel to the back of the chair, which she would most likely never lean upon once throughout her meeting with Dolores. There was a cup of tea in front of her (again).

“We at the Ministry,” Dolores began, her chest puffing up as she took a deep breath, “must always be vigilant, even toward our own employees. There are those among us who seek to bring down the order of the magical world, and such conspiring against the Ministry is not to be tolerated.”

Her office had cats everywhere, pictures and pictures of sleek purring cats with glistening, plasticky whiskers. Cats eat rats. Ettie tried to focus on what Dolores was saying.

“Some of the Ministry workers are still believed to be associating most shamefully with those of Muggle birth, and as such, we have to hold them suspect. And others have already been found guilty.”

“Juniper Swift.”

“Precisely, Marietta. Swift has proven herself guilty of treason against the Ministry and she has paid for it. Her case is a fitting warning to those who attempt to follow in her footsteps.”

Dolores picked up a roll of parchment, which was bound by a pink silk ribbon knotted into a fat bow, and held it out to Ettie. “This is a list of Ministry workers whom, shall we say, have not been exhibiting very exemplary behaviour. You probably know some of them already – Edwin Arbuthnot, Clarissa Clegg, Arthur Weasley,” she paused at the last name, a look of contempt distorting her features, “one of the biggest blood traitors ever – well, you know them.”

Ettie could only nod in reply.

“Their movements are to be tracked; their Floo units are to be monitored at all times, and any owl post they receive is to be intercepted and perused for any evidence of criminal activity.”

“I’m working in the Department of Magical Transportation,” Ettie said before she could stop herself, “I’m not sure if I have the authority to intercept post.”

Dolores’ expression didn’t change, but when she spoke, her voice was slower, and there was a sharpness edging her words. “I thought you would be proud to have the additional responsibility. Am I mistaken, Marietta?”

“No, of course not! I was just – surprised, that’s all. I wasn’t complaining!”

“Well, I shall tell you then,” Dolores flicked a hand toward Ettie’s untouched cup, “do drink your tea, Marietta.”

Ettie took a sip. Sugar flooded her mouth.

“There will be major restructuring in several of the Ministry Departments, including yours. We don’t need the Portkey Office, since Portkey travel is of little use to us in these times. Or in Broomstick Regulatory Control, or even in the Floo Network Authority. Your Department will soon have a different focus, – a focus on, shall we call it, wizarding surveillance.”

“How – and when will that come about?”

“All in good time, Marietta.”

Ettie put down her cup. Wizarding surveillance. It shouldn’t have shocked her; after all, it was practically what she was doing already, wasn’t it? Eavesdropping on the conversations of the magical populace, trying to detect what Dolores had termed “disgraceful and most ungrateful revolutionary sentiments” among the magical populace. Except now what she had been doing was given a name, it seemed a lot more real.

“You may go.” Dolores was still beaming. Her smile was as sugary as the tea Ettie had just drunk.

Ettie got up and left, eager to get out of that overpowering office, and all its dangerous shades of pink and sweetened teas and cats pawing at their gilt frames on the walls.
She practically flew down the corridor, not looking where she was going, heading for the lift. This place – she was beginning to hate it. Why on earth had she been so eager and so bloody proud to work in the Ministry, in this godforsaken underground cave with its network of windowless passages and creeps like Yaxley and nightmarish figures like Umbridge? She rounded the corner and ran headlong into a Ministry employee, who dropped his clipboard with a clatter.

“S-sorry,” said the man without looking up. His navy blue robes and slumped shoulders as well as the stutter in his voice were familiar.

“Reg?”

He stopped abruptly. “Marietta. I wasn’t expecting to see you here.”

“I had a meeting with Dolores.”

He seemed to flinch at the mention of the name, but then again, he flinched at everything. He shrugged and stepped around her. “I have to get to Bletchley’s office and renew the Ventilation Charms there.”

“Reg!” she said loudly and he paused.

“What?”

“I fancy a drink.”

He stared at her. “A – drink?”

“That’s right.” She was uncertain now. “You know, like in a pub or something.”

“P-pub?”

“Don’t colleagues sometimes have after-work drinks together?”

He looked completely stupefied. His jaw opened and shut at least twice but no words came out of his mouth.

“Well?” She tapped her foot impatiently.

“Well! Well, I – I sometimes go for a pint and to listen to a game with Smith and Caughey after work at the Grappling Gryphon. I s-suppose you could come along with us.”

“I don’t want to go with your mates,” she said, “And I most certainly am not interested in Quidditch. Do you know a different place where we could go?”

“There’s this small pub I know – ”

“Great, we can go there.”

“Marietta, this isn’t the best time for me to –”

Ettie drew herself up and tilted her chin upwards. “That’s settled, then. I’ll meet you at half-five outside the Ministry entrance.”

 

Of course, by the time the end of the working day approached, she regretted being so impetuous with Cattermole.

She rolled up the last transcript (a record of a rather dull conversation between Clarissa Clegg and her somewhat deaf ninety-year-old mother which involved a bacon-and-egg pie, and the Chroniquill writing down the transcript had captured Clarissa’s yelling down her Floo unit very well through the use of excessive capitalisation and exclamation marks) and sent it zooming for the filing cabinet. She tidied the rest of her desk with a tap of her wand, pulled out a pocket mirror and examined her face. All clear, though perhaps she should apply an extra layer of Fenella Flutterby’s Fabulous Flaw-fixing Facefresh Foundation just in case.

There was a weight slung over her shoulders and she couldn’t shake it off. She had no real wish to go and have a drink with some strange middle-aged bloke who was also a bit of a nitwit. But neither did she wish to spend another evening walking by herself along the depressing stretch of Diagon Alley.

Reg was skulking behind a skip in the alley outside the Ministry’s entrance. He looked even more unenthusiastic than her.

“Er, hello,” he mumbled.

“So, where are we going?” she said in the brightest tone she could muster.

Reg stuck out his arm without looking at her and she placed her hand lightly on it. Her pulse did a quick skip. She had never done Side-Along with someone as old as him – and was he really that? A colleague? In fact the only other time she’d done Side-Along was with Cho, during Ettie’s eighteenth birthday over the Christmas break of their final year and they’d both been a little tipsy, swinging against each other – but that was a long time ago.

They Apparated and when the whoosh of air and movement died down, she saw that the “small pub” Reg had mentioned was in fact The Leaky Cauldron.

“Are you serious?” she demanded.

“Sorry, I don’t know where else.”

“Whatever. Let’s go in.”

The Leaky Cauldron had always looked like a squalid sort of place to Ettie but today it seemed even more rundown; the squat flames in the grate cast shadows over the pub, making everything look dark and grubby. There was a suspicious-eyed barman turning glasses round and round in one hand, a polishing cloth in the other. There were a few other patrons, hunching over their drinks; she had the feeling that they were watching her and Reg and probably anyone else who came in the door through the ends of their eyes.

“Butterbeer,” Reg nearly whispered to the barman, whose expression didn’t change, though the corner of his mouth twitched as he lowered the shot glass he was polishing.

“Really?” Ettie scoffed.

“I – I shouldn’t be drinking.”

“I’ll have the same,” she said curtly to the barman who was looking more and more doubtful.

“What are you two doing here?” the barman said.

“Can’t I have a drink with a colleague?” she forced as much emphasis into the word as possible. The sound of the word seemed to buckle in the ensuing silence, the consonants like the cut of a scythe. Reg pretended to be examining an ugly painting of a troll and a grindylow on the walls, but from behind, the tips of his ears, jutting through his wispy hair were pricked with scarlet.

The barman filled two dented tankards with Butterbeer capped with a thin yellow fizz instead of the usual puff of foam blossoming out of the mugs and shoved them across the countertop. Liquid slopped down the sides, making the handles sticky and Ettie scowled at him. Reg didn’t seem to care, merely scooped them up roughly, spilling more on his sleeve, and went to the far end of the counter. He shifted on his stool a fair few times; his body was fixed at a stiff slant away from her, towards the wall.

“N-nice Butterbeer,” he said, throwing a sideways glance at her and breaking through the uncomfortable space between them.

She took a swig. There was no zing, no verve to the drink. It tasted flat and tepid, passing through her mouth and down her throat. Everything she drank these days seemed to taste bad.

“Tastes like horsepiss,” Ettie said bitterly.

Reg coughed, and the force of that jolted his arm, which of course made more drink spill. “Well, it does,” he admitted, “a little.”

He was grinning a bit, though the smile quickly dropped off his face and he cleared his throat with a fist raised to his lips.

“Listen, Marietta, may I ask you something?”

“I’m listening.”

“What are you doing?”

“Excuse me?”

“I mean, why are we sitting here drinking Butterbeer in the Leaky?”

“Can’t two people just sit in a pub and have a drink after work? Especially since we’re – working in the same place?”

Reg was looking more and more unsure. “It’s – it’s well, strange b-because – you’re not, you’re not interrogating me or anything, are you?”

“Interrogating you?” Ettie exclaimed. “Aren’t we friends?”

She didn’t think he would refute that statement of hers, and she was right.

“Yes, of course,” he added hurriedly. “I just thought you might be gathering information or evidence or something. I swear I’ve already told everything I know about myself to Magical Law.”

“Just because my mother is in the Commission doesn’t mean I’m working for her. I have my own job. My work has nothing to do with her.”

A lie, of course. She owed everything to her mother, including this job. Not to mention her own name.

“If I may ask,” Reg said, “I never found out what happened to Juniper Swift.”

Out of habit, she jerked her head around to see if anyone had been somehow listening in on them. The image of Juniper Swift’s cold, critical face stuttered behind her eyes, and for a moment, she could almost smell the thick sweet fragrance of her lily-scented office.

“N-never mind.” Reg buried his face into the depths of his tankard.

“Do you know who the Harts are?”

“Michael and Hester Hart? Muggle-born? They’re wanted by the Commission, aren’t they?”

“That’s right,” Ettie said lightly. Her forefinger traced the curve of the handle. “They left the country earlier this month. Juniper Swift helped them escape.”

“And – and she got k-killed because of that?”

“She must’ve fought back when the Ministry came to arrest her. I suppose the Death Eaters got her.” Ettie shrugged, trying to sound casual. But she felt anything but light-hearted. Juniper Swift. Juniper Swift. The dead woman’s name was heavy as cast iron on her tongue, and the syllables had unpleasant aftertaste.

Reg, meanwhile, had gone pale. “H-how did the Ministry find out about Swift?”

Ettie was growing impatient. “What does it matter? Why are you so interested in Swift, anyway? You’ll be arrested if anyone overhears you discussing a traitor.”

“It’s just – never mind,” he said, shaking his head, over and over again, before repeating, “never mind.”

She sighed. “Well, Swift is a good friend of the Harts. She was the last person they contacted through their Floo unit and the details of their conversation were – suspicious.”

“F-floo?” Reg gaped at her. “But that’s – ”

“You’re right.”

Something was building up in Ettie, rising inside her, and cresting at the base of her throat, incriminating words ready to spell themselves out. Her eyes clouded over, following the motion of her finger, still skimming the arc of the handle.

“It was me, of course. I intercepted the message between them.”

It hadn’t been Juniper Swift’s fault, really. Swift had been careful; her Floo conversations had always been neutral and dull and with nobody held suspect by the Ministry. It had been the Harts who had never known that the Ministry had taken to listening in on everyone’s fireplaces. Ettie remembered the transcript, the muttered conversation, Hester Hart’s half-sobbing and half-gabbling and Swift’s usually low, cool voice hissing urgently, not here, not now, we’ll talk about this later. As far as Ettie knew, by the time the Death Eaters got to Swift, the Harts had already left via illegal Portkey arranged by Swift herself.

Reg’s face was now the shade of tissue paper. His knuckles had become a queasy, strained yellow as he tightened his grip on his empty tankard. “I – I know S-Swift. She was a good person.”

“Well, she was against the Ministry.”

There was a pause. There was a scuffing of stools dragged against the floor as a couple of surly patrons rose and slunk out the door. The petulant fire had flattened in the grate, and the pub was splotched with a residue of light and fitful shadow.

“Are you on the other side, then?” Reg whispered miserably.

“I’m not on any side. Why do I have to choose a side? Don’t be so naive!” She shook her head. “You might want to be careful there. The Ministry has changed.”

Reg slumped in his stool, thumped his elbows on the table and rubbed at his jawbone with the heel of his hand. He did seem more despondent than usual, though she hadn’t noticed until now.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing. My wife, I suppose.”

Ah. She glanced over at his hand. No wedding ring, but there was a white pinched stripe on his finger where one might have been.

Ettie straightened herself and continued on in that casual light-hearted tone she’d adopted earlier. “Are you having problems, then?”

Reg was silent for a minute and then his face shot out of his hands, looking indignant. “No! There’s nothing wrong between me and my wife, if that’s what you’re implying!”

Ettie threw up her hands, more out of embarrassment than anything. What would she know of such things, anyway. She began to feel resentful toward Reg. “Alright. What are you so upset for, then?”

“I thought you’d know. I thought that’s why you wanted this meeting,” Reg went on, shaking his head unhappily. “Mary has a hearing with the Commission in September.”

“Your wife is Muggle-born?”

“There’s nothing wrong with that!”

“I didn’t say there was,” Ettie retorted. What should she say? Apologise about the situation?

“Can’t you do something about this, Marietta?” Reg pleaded. “Y-your mother – she’s in the Commission. I can assure you, Mary is a witch through and through even if she is Muggle-born.”

“I have no authority with the Commission,” Ettie cut in coldly. The reality of him asking her for help, her of all people struck her, and there was a strange flutter in her stomach, a dryness in her mouth. “Nor do I want to get involved with them. Like I said, my work has nothing to do with my mother or the Commission.”

“Will she get a fair hearing? What happens if they’re wrong? Where do they take those people? Maisie and Ellie and Alfred can’t go on without their mother. Maisie’s about to start school next – ”

Reg was getting worked up. Something hard and clear and angry seized her, and before Ettie could stop herself, she hissed, “I don’t want to hear about your children. I can’t help you. You’re endangering the both of us like this!”

In her hands she had been cradling her tankard, as though it was a stupid teacup, one of those stupid pink strawyberry-patterned teacups from Dolores’ office, brimming with sugary, insidious tea. She set the tankard down on the table rather roughly. She should go. There was nothing about him that she wanted after all. He had a wife and three kids. She was just some eighteen-going-on-nineteen year old, a new recruit in her first real job with no real friends or acquaintances. Not to mention what the barman or the other patrons must have been thinking: a middle-aged man and an eighteen-going-on-nineteen year old girl walk into a bar. What an absolutely ridiculous situation.

Reg was staring at her when she turned to him. ‘T-there’s something – your face –”

Her daily skin potion. She had forgotten it. Scrabbling through her pockets, she whipped out her compact mirror, flicked it open and examined her complexion. In the muted light of the room, her pallid, powdered face was beginning to seethe with a deep plum colour. The surface of the skin was pulsing very lightly, about to erupt into those cursed alphabetic pustules any moment now. She leapt up, leaving behind a befuddled Reg, though not for long, because she heard him follow, the scrape of his stool against the planked floor.

“Marietta!” he wheezed as he caught up with her, placing a tentative hand on her shoulder.

It was dark enough outside that he wouldn’t be able to see. She spun around. It ought to have amused and flattered her, him jumping off his seat and running after her like that, but she felt anything but flattered.

“Reg,” she said slowly, “go home. I’m sorry to have kept your wife waiting. You’d best go back to her.”

“It’s – it’s quite late; are you sure you can get home by yourself?”

Such considerateness. She laughed. “Oh, go on.”

She kept on walking, ignoring him, until she rounded the corner into another dark street, the endless vacant night unravelling before her. There was a streetlamp ahead and she walked toward it, but just before her face was illuminated, she Apparated home.

 





A/N: Thank you for reading! There's only one chapter left, and hopefully I'll get it up before NaNo begins. And many thanks to everyone's who reviewed so far.
 


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