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Keep Calm and Carry On by my_voice_rising
Chapter 21 : Apology Not Accepted
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE



After being partially responsible for a Quidditch team’s loss, making an old lady cry isn’t so bad. Maybe that makes me a horrible ghoul. But really, could things get much worse than Saturday’s match? The memory still sends me into a panic as I peer from inside the Rusty Knight Inn. I’m searching for rogue Puddlemere fans. Behind me, the ancient Mathilda is muffling her sobs with a kerchief. I offer her one last apologetic glance and head outside. The door slams, billowing the dust that has somehow already accumulated. Mathilda releases one last wail.

Well that was a bloody mess.

It took three times of saying, loudly and slowly, “I QUIT,” for her to understand. Then there was awkward hand-patting while I said things like, “It’s not you, it’s me,” and “I need time to focus on myself.” My shoulder is saturated with Mathilda-snot after a very painful hug—she’s surprisingly strong.

I do feel bad. Really. But I also know that in twenty minutes, she’ll have forgotten the whole ordeal. Soon enough she’ll be shuffling around in her slippers, humming pleasantly to herself.

I glance around one more time for good measure. I reckon I’m a bit paranoid. But after the match ended on Saturday, a Puddlemere fan cast a very impressive Bat Bogey Hex that broke through Katie’s protective charms. As she hurried me away from the roar of a thousand enraged hooligans, I was sneezing tiny winged creatures. She had taken me down the spiral staircase, where a little bronze Quidditch trophy sat in a niche. With a clap on my shoulder, Katie had said bluntly, “Good luck. You’ll need it.”

I whimpered and snatched the trophy, disappearing from the pitch.

In the past two days, I’ve received some very unfriendly owl post (just another reason to never check it, as far as I’m concerned.) Then there are the scornful glances in the streets. Yesterday, a very old witch came at me, shrieking and swinging her handbag. It was quite the spectacle; I actually ran and hid in a bookshop.

Lifting the hood of my parka, I extract a tiny vial from my pocket. Things have settled down considerably since yesterday, but I can’t be too careful. In a rare—and unsettling—act of grace, Rose has given me one of her beauty potions. I now sport a short, choppy blonde hair cut in public. It’s wildly unflattering, but nobody recognizes me. Grimacing, I tip the vial back. The weird, tingly feeling, like my scalp being massaged, tells me that it’s working.

Every time I start to feel indignant—or that everyone is being a teensy bit dramatic—I remember the defeated look on Oliver’s face. The way he buried his face in his hands. Not surprisingly, I have not heard from him. I wonder if he’ll even agree to another Witch Weekly interview.

Strangely, most fans agree that he is to blame. I’m not getting the brunt of their anger. The popular opinion is that he should have been paying more attention. Philbert Deverill attempted to come to Oliver’s aid, in his initial press statement. He tittered, huddled under a tiny umbrella before the sea of cameras, “Well, the sun was out, and it can be very bright. You know how you can get all squinty…” Luckily Katie stepped in and made a vague comment about viewing the loss as a positive lesson, and coming back stronger.

I’m still hiding from the rain under The Rusty Knight. Just as suspected, Mathilda has stopped crying. Through the dirty window I glimpse her cheerfully dusting a lantern. Unable to fight my grin, I pull a scrap parchment from my pocket. I scratch “Quit shoddy job” from my list. Next is “Fix living situation,” followed by “Survive hen night.”

Well, first things first. I know good and well that I cannot afford a place of my own. I doubt I’ll be at Witch Weekly long enough to make decent wages. Quitting The Rusty Knight was not the best move financially, but I need to focus on writing. And since Justin and Lisa are expecting, I can’t loaf around the soon-to-be baby room. How would I explain bunny wallpaper to the next man I drunkenly bring home?

It seems there’s only one option, and I don’t like it. I’ve tried to think of any other—even overlooking the Acromantula nest at Dean and Seamus’s—but the answer is clear. It’s time to suck up my pride, and beg my Mum.

*


"Oh, we would love for you to move back in!” Hypatia Lennox throws her arms in the air, the tell-tale “embrace me” pose. I shuffle closer, glancing at my stepfather Andrew. He’s not nearly as expressive as Mum—I suppose that’s why they work—with a pleasant, quiet demeanor. But his mouth is pressed in what I think is a smile, beneath the beard. I had told my brothers, when I arrived, that I needed to speak with Mum and Andrew privately. So, naturally, they are all looking on. They’re wearing a myriad of expressions, somewhere between amusement and horror at having to share the loo with a girl. Hugging my Mum, I say for the eighteenth time, “It’s only temporary—”

“Shhh,” she interrupts, smoothing my hair. She’s more than pleased to have her baby birds back in the nest.

“Oi,” Liam is slouching against our bookshelf, skinny arms crossed. “Where are we to keep all our stuff then?”

I haven’t forgotten the Quidditch gear and food wrappers and dirty laundry strewn across my bedroom. Scowling, I pinch his arm, “You’ll figure it out. That’s my bloody bedroom you’re using as a rubbish bin.”

“Language,” my mother chimes.

I roll my eyes, “Mum, please, I’m twenty-six.”

“…And living at home with your parents,” Leo makes a crybaby motion with his fists.

My face turns darker than my hair. “The—the economy!” I sputter, but he roars with laughter. “Well at least I have a real job, unlike you lot!”

“For now,” says Luke, “You said it yourself. They’ll probably sack you as soon as the articles are written.”

I shoot him a glare. That certainly wasn’t something I planned on telling my parents. I can’t believe they’re ganging up on me like this! Like I’ve never even lived here! Ignoring my Mum’s looks, I advance at them, “Why, you little…” Within seconds, we’re all throwing slaps and pinches and hair-pulls, and our bookshelf is teetering precariously.

“Outside!” my Mum points to the door, while Andrew calmly sips his tea, “Go outside and play!”

Extracting myself from the tangle of boy-arms, I sniff boastfully, “I can’t. Because I have to go to work, at my real job, like an adult. Unlike some people I know.”

Really, I don’t go in to Witch Weekly today. But it sounds better than the truth, which is that I have to go buy a dozen false tiaras with certain male body-parts on them. True to form, I’ve forgotten tonight is Lisa’s hen night, and am rushing around doing everything last-minute.

My Mum rubs my arms, “Of course, Pickle. We’re so proud of you. Now, I’ll have that laundry finished by the time you return. Do you fancy a packed lunch?”

She’s barely finished her sentence before my brothers have toppled over with laughter. Somebody wheezes, “Ickle Pickle fancies a treat, Mum!” but I can’t tell which idiot it was.

“Oh, sod off!” I shout, and then whisper, “Yes, please, a cheese sandwich.” Errand-running is always better with a treat. My Mum winks and scurries off into the kitchen, pleased as punch. At least she’s enjoying this.

Andrew is grinning at me knowingly, so I mutter again, “It’s temporary.”

He nods, cheers-ing with his mug, “Of course… Pickle.”

Giving him my best hey-remember-when-I-was-sixteen-and-full-of-angst sneer, I bewitch my suitcases to float up the stairs. I trudge behind them, ignoring my brothers’ hooting. After hesitating on the precipice for some time, I push open the door to my childhood bedroom. It’s been eleven years since I’ve lived at home. I flew the coop quick as I could, to a one-bedroom flat with three roommates, to chase the London dream. But here I am again. Underneath my brothers’ mess, it looks the same: there’s a photograph of Myron Wagtail on the wall, and my stuffed bunny Philip is still perched atop my pillow. The laugher downstairs has finally quelled, and the house is oddly quiet. I end the charm and let my suitcases drop noisily to the floor.

Ah, adulthood.

*


“Can I help you find anything?” the shop keep’s voice cracks. He looks entirely too young to be working in a place like Use Your Charms. His arms are hanging awkwardly at his sides and one of his shoelaces is untied. But my arms are full of colour-changing feather boas (which I’m pretty sure are actually alive), inappropriately-shaped cupcake tins, and poppers that burst into glitter and sing dirty limericks. I’ll take the help.

“Yes, um, I’m looking for tiaras that have… um….” The kid stares expectantly, but I can’t bring myself to say it. He looks like he’s in the Fifth Year. After Jae, I’m a bit wary of young people. “Ah, how old do you have to be to work here?” I ask in a high-pitched voice.

He blinks, “Seventeen.”

“Right. I’m actually doing great, thanks. Shuffle along, then.”

After performing an Accio spell—which required shouting a word I don’t typically use in public—I have the tiaras. I balk at the cost of it all, but I haven’t been the most emotionally present best friend. Lisa is in a rough place. The least I can do is give her an embarrassing night, complete with inappropriate headwear and baked goods.

Hours later, I’m stumbling down the street, arms full of the aforementioned items, in a dress that is entirely too short. But I’m going to bloody well fit in with these girls. Even if that means wearing leopard-print heels and exaggerating my sex life. Tonight is about Lisa, and she’s going to have a proper hen’s night. It won’t be like the last time I saw them, two years ago, when I was grumping around and trying to raise awareness about the plight of the honeybees. A passing stranger catcalls, and I know it’s because I look like a proper idiot. I could barely squeeze into this tea cozy masquerading as a dress. I found it in the back of my closet, from ten years and ten pounds ago.

At last I see Oswald’s up ahead, and heave a sigh of relief. It isn’t exactly the kind of place I’d picture for a hen’s night—pretty posh, actually. Hundreds of leather bound books line the labyrinthine walls; giant dragonskin armchairs boast fluffy pillows that purr when you pet them.

I push on the heavy wooden door, twenty minutes—and definitely not fashionably—late. The place is very quiet. Soft music is drifting from where a Goblin plucks on something between a harp and guitar. I try to ignore the looks I’m receiving from sensible people, wearing climate-appropriate clothes. From across the room there is a flash of gold hair, and I spot Lisa sitting in a corner with her mates.

My stomach drops. Absolutely none of them are dressed for clubs. They’re all chatting politely, with tiny expensive cocktails in their hands. More than one of them is wearing a pants-suit.

Then I spot the prams.

“Shit!”

Several heads turn. I duck behind a giant oak column, my legs quaking.

Are these the same women?! The last time I saw them, they force-fed me pink liquor and made me sing Celestina Warbeck karaoke. By the end of the night, the Patil twins took turns puking in an alley, and Married-Redhead-Whose-Name-I-Always-Forget came within a hair of snogging a stranger. Now they’re quietly chatting about the weather, yawning by eight o’clock, and bringing infants!

I am such an idiot. Everyone else has moved on with their lives, and I’ve brought cupcakes shaped like breasts. I hide my face. Lisa is going to be so humiliated...

“Edie? What are you doing?”

I peek through my fingers to see my beautiful best mate. She’s put her hair up nicely, and is wearing a very modest blue dress. She eyes my attire, “Isn’t that what you wore to Terry Boot’s sixteenth birthday party?”

“Lisa, I’m so sorry, I’m such an idiot, I ruined everything!” I wail. The over-stuffed bag drops from my hands and one of the tiaras falls out.

Lisa turns beetroot but murmurs, always nurturing, “Oh Edie… Did you at least bring a coat?”

I shake my head and whimper, “Heating charm.”

She clicks her tongue and pulls me into a hug, and I immediately jump back. “You’ve got a bump!” I point to her belly, forgetting everything. The very modest dress makes sense.

She snatches my hand, hissing, “Shhh! They still don’t know, remember? I can’t drink anything so I figured we’d have a quiet evening. That way nobody would be suspicious.”

“Uh, I’m counting two prams over there. I doubt they’re going to care if you’ve jumped the gun on starting a family. You’re engaged.”

“Right, but…” she flushes again, “I still haven’t told Justin.”

My jaw drops, “Lisa, you have got to tell him. You’re, what, three months along? You’ve known for ages. What are you afraid of?”

She grows very quiet and her eyes pinprick with tears. Hormones. I’m still not used to this version of Lisa. At last she whispers in shame, “I’m afraid he’ll be mad that I kept it from him. I don’t want him to leave me again.”

“Oh, no…” I pull her into a hug again, tightening my grip. “Look at that rock on your finger, Lisa. That idiot loves you. He is absolutely mental for you. He made a mistake one time, and this is him telling you that he’ll never pull that again. Sorry mate. You’re stuck with him now.” I grin at her. It takes a moment, but she smiles back.

“I’ll tell him first thing tomorrow,” she says resolutely. “I don’t think this is an ideal conversation to have post-stag night. I’d say they’re three bottles deep into the Firewhiskey by now.”

“I’d say you’re right.” I grip her shoulder encouragingly, “Now, dry those eyes. You’ll want to clearly see their faces when I walk over there.”

Lisa laughs, “You do look like a call girl…”

We make our way over together: beautiful Lisa in her floor-length dress, and me in my strategically wrapped hand towel. “Hello,” I wave timidly, recognizing a few of the faces. It’s difficult though, with everyone’s horrified expressions. “I’m Edie Lennox. Remember me?”

Introductions and re-introductions are made. Nobody mentions that I look like the stripper hired for the evening. I do my best to appear enamoured by the babies, even though they look like little aliens with a penchant for drooling. Apparently I give a convincing performance, because soon one is being passed to me. I manage to deflect it like a Quaffle by purposefully knocking over Padma’s drink. I jump up to buy her a replacement. The Galleon is worth not bouncing somebody else’s spawn on my knee. (I’m going to make a spectacular auntie to Baby Turpin.) In fact, the night is going considerably well, until I catch a whiff of familiar perfume.

No. No, no, no, no, please God, no.

The front door has opened, and Rose Zeller is standing in its entryway. I whip my head accusingly at Lisa. This time she’s the one who peeps, “Shit.” Rose offers us a wave, hurrying over. Before she arrives, Lisa whispers in one marathon sentence, “I invited her back when I thought you two were mates and I thought it would be nice for you to have somebody familiar plus I thought it would be fun for you to have another single girl here so you two could kind of band together and have a good time and I’m sorry I forgot.”

“It’s fine,” I lie. “But she’s not single anymore, I’m afraid.”

Lisa quirks an eyebrow, but the question is answered for her. “Rose, how are you? It’s been ages!” cries Married-Redhead-Whose-Name-I-Always-Forget. “I hear somebody is having quite the romance.”

Rose grins, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Oh... Yes, Oliver and I have been spending some time together lately—” I swear to God she looks at me when she says it, “—but that’s not important. Tonight is about Lisa.”

She is immediately met with protests to hear more. Silently I sip from my Firewhiskey. Lisa catches my eye and tries awkwardly, “Yes, tonight is all about me… Let’s talk more about me… you bitches.” But she’s so selfless that nobody is buying it—everyone is bombarding Rose as she shyly evades their questions. I grumpily raise my glass to Lisa at her efforts.

*


As the night continues, Lisa’s friends drop like Nargles. They disappear one by one, until finally it’s just the bride-to-be, Married-Redhead, Rose and I. At least by now they’ve had enough cocktails to make use of the tiaras. They even politely nibbled at my poor excuse for cupcakes. As fate would have it, a boozy Rose has sidled up next to me, looking though half-lidded eyes. Somehow I’ve managed to steer the conversation away from Oliver, but it’s a losing battle. My urgent hand-signals to Lisa are unfruitful: it appears she’s trying to talk her mate out of getting a divorce.

I’ve completely exhausted the menial work-talk, which means listing my favourite office supplies twice over. I’ve prattled about the parchment-clips that remind you of edits to be made… I’m putting myself to sleep.

Then, just when I let my guard down, “I think Oliver is going to break up with me.”

“Speaking of work,” I mutter.

Rose adjusts her tiara, “We rarely spend time together when we’re not at some kind of public event. I mean, I actually kind of like the media attention.”

And have I mentioned those little parchment-clips?!” I quip hysterically.

“It’s bizarre really—”

“—also those little charms for sorting your post. Quite handy!” I try to strangle one of the fluffy pillows on my armchair. It hisses at me.

“I was even printed in an issue of WitchWatch, can you believe it? I’ve actually been receiving hate mail for it… Mostly from teenagers.”

“—and let’s not forget the Quick Quotes Quill.” I look down and realize that I’ve actually torn bits of stuffing from the pillow. It growls lowly at hops out of my arms.

Rose sighs heavily, “Really, I only see him when he comes to visit me at Witch Weekly, and at special events. D’you think that means something is wrong?”

I can’t help but feel that she’s less concerned with the relationship, and more interested in gossip. It’s the way our “friendship” has always been. We talk about things that are interesting and juicy, only for the sake of avoiding a lull in conversation. Her obsession with Theo, work gossip, and my attempts at pulling guys in bars—but never anything that matters.

“He’s busy,” I say tersely, “he’s a professional athlete.”

“I know,” she rests her chin in her palm. “His practises take up almost all of his nights, but…”

My eyebrow lifts. Unless Puddlemere has completely changed their schedule, I know for a fact that they pull doubles beginning at six in the morning and lasting another ten hours. If Oliver’s coming to see Rose at Witch Weekly, he must be using his only free time of the afternoon, between double-practises. But that would still leave his nights open to spend time with Rose…

“How is…um…how is he?” I hear myself saying, “Y’know. After the match and all.”

Rose studies me and I feel my face turning several shades of pink. Glancing away, I take a sip from my Firewhiskey. It seems she won’t deign to respond, but then she says carefully, “He’s…okay. Oliver doesn’t really talk about that kind of thing. Obviously he’s upset, though.”

I try to sound casual, “Well, any time a Quidditch player loses a match—”

“Of course that’s what it is! Why would he be upset with you?” she snaps. Seeing my stare, she recovers with an indifferent hair-tousle. I realize that she isn’t going to admit that I caused Puddlemere’s loss—that Oliver was looking at me. That I was what distracted him, even though I was sitting directly beside his girlfriend. Until now, I hadn’t even thought about it like that.

Rose murmurs to herself for a moment, searching for a change in conversation. She can’t take that she’s just showed her weak spot. For one wild second I feel genuinely sorry for her. How exhausting it must be, to plan and calculate everything you say and do.

Suddenly she laughs in a chummy way, “I would prefer we had more alone-time, but I’m certainly not complaining about the daytime shags. Let’s just say my desk has not been primarily used for paperwork lately.”

I shoot to my feet, shouting, “Wow, it is so late! How did—when could that have happened? Well I’d better scoot.”

“Oh, of course. Goodnight, Edie,” she says, the old glimmer back in her eye. “See you at work.”

I don’t even glance back at her as I gather my things. She’s drunk, and I’m being suspicious, but our entire conversation felt too conniving. See you at work…where I will most likely be shagging Oliver Wood. Again I wish for a coat. It’s hard storming out with dignity, after you can’t properly bend over to pick up your belongings.

I wave an awkward goodbye to Lisa—Redhead Friend is now sobbing uncontrollably in her arms. I catch the phrase, “…never even says thank you after dinner!” There’s no way in Azkaban I’m going over there. Lisa and I grimace at each other, and I know we’ll be meeting soon to discuss the overall insanity of the night.

Still wobbly in my heels, I head outside. It’s freezing, but I’m so flushed that I don’t notice. Heart pounding, I cross my arms and try to calm down. If I tried to Apparate back to my Mum’s right now, I’d splinch myself into twenty pieces. I close my eyes, taking deep breaths, and when I open them again Oliver Wood is standing in front of me.

I jump a mile, “What are you doing here?”

He’s bundled up in the brown dragonskin jacket, a red scarf knotted at his throat. His expression is entirely unreadable. Not like the last time I saw him, at the match. He had been burying his face in his hands. “I came to make sure Rose gets home in one piece,” he says. We haven’t spoken in forever—I’d forgotten how clearly he speaks; straightforward and with purpose. My legs begin to quake, and I tell myself it’s from the cold. “That’s a new look,” he almost smirks.

I realize I’m still wearing the inappropriate tiara. Snatching it from my head, I pluck a few hairs out and try not to wince. My mouth opens and closes several times before I titter, “I feel like I should say sorry? About the match?” It comes out as a question, punctuated by my nervous laughter.

Oliver shakes his head, his face darkening, “Don’t worry. I didn’t expect you to.”

At first I feel relief. What happened is in the past; it’s nobody’s fault. But then I realize what he really means: that I’m not the kind of person to apologise for my wrong-doings. I won’t admit fault even when it’s my own. He expected nothing more than stubborn silence from me.

“Oh,” I murmur, “Well, I meant…”

“Can you make it home alright?” he interrupts impatiently. The worst part—the thing that makes my stomach sink—is the genuine concern hiding behind his eyes. Wordlessly I nod. He returns the gesture, brushing past me and pushing open the door, “Then goodnight, Edie.”

“’Bye, Oliver,” I murmur, but he’s already gone inside.

Like a completely pathetic moron, I stand at the window and watch as he goes over to Rose. He’s jammed his hands in his pockets, stopping short of the armchair where she’s still seated. He nods curtly to Lisa, ignoring the heads that are turning in his direction. Rose staggers to her feet and he takes her hand in his. She looks like a toddler being guided along as she drinks in everyone’s stares. I turn and walk away before Oliver gets too close.

Snow is flurrying as I make my way down the street. Groups of friends stagger along, booming with laughter. My chest clenches as I think of Dean and Seamus. I have no idea what they’re doing tonight, or where they are. I don’t think I could face them right now, but I don’t want to be alone. In a last-ditch, completely pathetic move, I lean against the cold brick of the nearest building and find my two-way mirror. I stare at my reflection for a long time. The words come out in shame, “Jae Chang.”

Little orange sparks float under the surface of the mirror, like fish in a pond. I wait. After almost a minute I lose hope and am about to end the charm, when Jae’s face appears. The sound of booming music and loud voices is all around him. “Edie?” he shouts, “Is that you?”

“Yeah,” I plaster on a pathetic smile. “I was hoping—”

“I can’t hear you! I’m at this completely mental party. Where are you?”

“I’m in Diagon—”

“What?” he yells again. I’m the lowest scum of the earth, crawling back to him after I’d told myself otherwise. Suddenly his image shifts; somebody else is grabbing his mirror. “Who is that?” a girl laughs—a very pretty girl with coffee-coloured skin. Before she’s able to focus on my reflection, I quickly tap my wand on the mirror and the spell ends. I’m left staring back at my own face, mottled and pink.




Author's Note: So there you have it. Thanks so much to everyone who's stuck with this story. I know updates have been few and far between recently--but it really makes my day to know that some of you still look forward to reading about Edie's misadventures. This chapter's image is by Ande. Isn't it gorgeous?

Thanks for reading, all ♥


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