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Chapter 2 : Front Page News
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As much as an evening with your estranged aunt sounds thrilling, I actually have to work late tonight. There’s no rest for the wicked and all that. I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch as usual.
P.S. Please find attached that drawing of the drunk niffler I was telling you about the other day.
“The Sydney Opera House was very much ahead of its time…” I muttered to myself. “The Sydney Opera House was clearly ahead of its time… Way ahead of its time, the Sydney Opera House…”
I was ready to bash my head on the surface of my note and draft-littered desk at this rate. I had reached that point in my writing process where the words had started to lose their meaning and my syntax was ready for a stiff after-work drink. My brain clearly didn’t understand the concept of working to deadline and I knew already that it was going to be a late night. I wasn’t the only one, though; plenty of my colleagues still sat at their desks in the Daily Prophet main office even though it was already well past seven o’clock.
“Still ahead of its time…” I rubbed my temples. Perhaps it was best if I just scrapped what I’d already written and started all over again.
“Are you still writing that Sydney article?”
I frowned at the arrival of my best friend, Teddy Lupin. It was all right for him – by the time I came to write my articles he had already done all his hard work. He’d submitted the photographs for the Sydney article last week when we’d flown back from a two week research trip. I had yet to provide my part of the project.
“You know damn well I am,” I said haughtily, resisting the temptation to poke his abnormally straight nose. “Can’t you go and bother someone else?”
“Actually, no I can’t.” He flicked my sticky-notes off my cork board and smiled at me infuriatingly. “Thane wants to see us in his office.”
I paled. “Didn’t you tell him I’m nearly done with the article? It’ll be on his desk tomorrow as promised.”
“It’s not about that,” he said, waving my worries aside with a carefree gesture. “Though it wouldn’t hurt to remind him.”
I sighed heavily, as if that would relieve the weight pressure I felt constricting my lungs. “Okay, fine. I’m coming.”
I set my quill and notes aside and walked along the length of the open plan office to a door at the end of the room with the words “Adrian Thane” engraved in gold letters on the door. Teddy knocked, waiting for permission before entering.
The door opened with a squeak and we shuffled into his office. It was an imposing room with grand bookcases that stretched from floor to high, arched ceiling covering every wall. Every issue of the Daily Prophet since Thane became Editor in Chief eight years ago was located on those shelves somewhere. In the middle of the office stood a mahogany desk with a lanky man sitting behind it with his fingers clasped and his gaze fixed on us as we approached him.
“Lupin,” he said with a nod to Teddy. “Weasley.” A nod in my direction. “Good, take a seat.”
Two straight backed chairs were conjured with a flick of his wrist and we sat down in front of his desk to await further instruction.
“I have a problem,” he began, a spindly finger brushing a lock of sandy hair from his eyes. “My newspaper doesn’t seem to be selling quite as well as it used to.” I heard Teddy swallow beside me. “New papers keep springing up, offering more specialist and more scandalous news than we can match. You see, we’re not here to offer scandal. We’re here to offer stories. And we need to find ourselves a story, wouldn’t you agree?”
Both Teddy and I nodded.
“Luckily I have just the thing. It’s going to be the story of our generation and I need you two to create it for me.” Thane fixed his beady eye on each of us in turn, watching every millimetre of movement on our faces. “What do you say?”
Teddy and I finally had the chance to sneak a glance at each other. As always I could tell he was sold on the job, whatever it was. He never passed up an opportunity and this would be no exception. Sighing internally, I faced my boss again.
“What’s the story?”
Thane lips twitched at my response. He reached down into his desk draw and pulled out a grey file, slapping it on the desk with relish before sliding it across the table towards us.
Teddy met Thane’s expectant gaze and opened up the file, fishing out the first piece of parchment. Several black and white images were printed onto the grainy surface: an elephant kneeling in a shallow puddle, blood seeping from a wound in its leg and mingling with the muddy water; a hornless rhino attempts to defend itself against a rival; a lion lies limp on a roadside.
“Kenya, last month,” Thane elaborated as Teddy and I sat there in stunned silence.
He reached across the table to pluck out another piece of parchment. More images stained this document, more images of wounded animals staring back at us.
“Tanzania, the same day last month.” As Thane reached into the file again I saw that it was thick with parchment and I swallowed. “Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia… There are more in this vein, I won’t bore you.” He snapped the file shut and reached back into his desk drawer for another. “In here you’ll find all the current information we have on a mysterious increase in similar attacks across Eastern Africa, all within hours of each other. Why am I asking you now? It just so happens that my correspondent in Nairobi reported another spate of attacks a few hours from him. You’re to pack your bags tonight and head out there tomorrow. Uncover the story behind this and it’ll make the front page and launch your careers. Questions?”
I swallowed again. There was too much information for me to process and I could feel my thoughts slowing down like legs wading through deep water. It was becoming harder to think of something to say the more I tried.
When neither Teddy or I spoke, Thane clapped his hands together and stood up. “I’ll give you half an hour to look through the files and come to a decision.” The door clicked behind him as he left us alone in the office.
I turned to face my best friend with a heavy apprehension. Just from the beady look he was giving me I could tell exactly what his answer was.
“I need to think about this,” I said slowly, reaching for the second file.
“Come on, Tor!” he said with a sigh of exasperation. “You can’t be having doubts now? We’ve waited years for this big break. It’s finally your chance to be a travel writer who really travels. This is your big dream!”
“We travel all the time,” I replied defensively. “We just got back from Australia.”
Teddy rolled his eyes. “This is real travel, Victoire, not writing about the top tourist spots from the inside of an air-conditioned hotel. You heard what Thane said – dig up a good story and this will make front page news. What more do you want?”
I chewed at my lip. He was right of course, and he knew it. I couldn’t remember how many countless nights we’d stayed up to design our perfect assignment out there in the big wide world. Victoire and Teddy, complete with pen and camera, out there in the wilderness reporting on headline news.
Sadly, that dream didn’t include my long suffering fiancé and a mother with a potentially life-threatening illness, both of which I had to consider before I went off gallivanting long-term. This assignment didn’t seem like a long weekender to me.
“It’s all right for you,” I grumbled. “You’re not getting married in three months. I can’t just take off now for Africa.”
Teddy shrugged, grinning wickedly. “Let Rob do it. He can cope without you for a few weeks no problem, I’m sure.”
I huffed, pointing the file at his face dangerously. “It’s not too late for me to get you a dress to match the bridesmaids, you know. You’ll be the first Maid of Honour in history to wear a suit to a wedding.”
“Are you going bridezilla on me?” he challenged, snatching the file from my unsteady hands and opening it with a flourish. “You underestimate your poor fiancé. He’s quite capable of choosing napkin colours and finding ornamental swans.”
I rolled my eyes. “You know full well that I organised the ornamental swans months ago because I was ranting about that idiot from Japan who sent them to some Weasley woman in Mexico instead.”
“Whatever,” he said, thrusting a new piece of parchment in my hand. Clearly my wedding was no concern of his. “Let’s prioritise, shall we. Do you want to come with me on an adventure to track down a bunch of nasty poachers in the wilds of Africa or do I have to find someone else?”
I frowned. “What do you mean, “find someone else”? You wouldn’t go without me, surely?”
“Who says I wouldn’t? Do you think I could bear to see someone else’s name on that front page? Because that’s what will happen – if we say no, Thane will just ask someone else. Someone like Biggins.”
I grimaced. “Biggins is a moron.” I recalled momentarily Alfie Biggins’ first day at the office; he had strolled past my desk without a single word and had addressed himself to Godfrey in the Marketing depart, calling him “Victor Weasley”. The name, sadly, had stuck in the memory of certain members of staff and to this day I still often received messages for “Victor”.
“Exactly,” Teddy agreed. “Think how difficult it will be to wake up the morning of the big release and see his name plastered under the headline instead of yours.”
I looked down at the sheet of parchment in my hand for a distraction. My gaze was met with a number of figures of poaching incidents in the last two weeks alone in a number of African National Parks.
I groaned. “Fine. Fine. Let’s accept his offer then.” Teddy started to grin broadly but I cut him off sharply. “But I reserve the right to back out of if I change my mind overnight, got it?”
“Got it,” he said, holding his hands up in surrender.
I sighed, resuming my inspection of the documents in my hand. Under each date from the last month there was a list of countries followed by a figure indicating how many animals had been targeted. Comparing this to the figures from six months prior, there was an increase of almost fivefold across the continent. This was definitely going to be a big project, the biggest we’d ever undertaken. The choice was simple: take the next step in my career or watch as someone else took my place.
The door clicked behind us and we turned to see Thane smiling confidently. “So I take it you’re both in?” Teddy and I both nodded. “Good. Take tomorrow off but be back here ready to leave at closing time. And Weasley? Don’t forget the Sydney article, will you? I want it on my desk, one way or another, by noon at the latest.”
I crept through the flat as quietly as I could. It was well past midnight by the time I’d finally left the office and I knew Rob was sound asleep in the next room. I dropped my keys onto the kitchen counter and boiled the kettle with a sigh. I still had to finish up that article on Sydney before tomorrow so I had at least another two hours’ worth of work left to do. Not to mention I somehow had to explain to Rob that I was dashing off on an adventure a few months before the wedding and could he please finish up the arrangements. That was not going to go down well.
After making tea, I nestled myself at my desk in the corner of the room. Papers spread out before me, I could already feel my eyes beginning to droop.
“You’re back late,” came a voice from the hall.
I started, looking at my watch to see that I’d dozed off for fifteen minutes. I rubbed my eyes.
“I didn’t think you’d still be up,” I said groggily.
Robin stood tall in the doorway, his fair hair messy from sleeping. Dark circles hung under his eyes as he observed me attempting to tidy my desk up. “I wasn’t, but I was worried about you.” He came over to kiss me briefly before tugging at my hands. “Come to bed. Do this in the morning, I’m sure it can wait.”
I wriggled out of his grasp. “It can’t, actually.”
Rob rolled his eyes. “You work too hard. I’m surprised you even have time to come to our wedding, and that’s only because we had to wait two years before you had a spot free in your diary.”
I grimaced. “Yeah, about that – we need to talk. I was going to wait until the morning but you’re here now.”
Sighing, Rob sank into the armchair opposite me and ran a hand through his hair. “Is this the part where you call the whole thing off? I suppose it’s better now than being jilted at the altar…”
“Of course I’m not calling the wedding off,” I snapped. “Don’t be stupid. I have to go away on a trip for work, that’s all.”
Rob’s grip on the arm of the chair lessened considerably. “Oh. A trip? Is that all? You’re always away on trips. Where are you going this time?”
I sighed, my eyes heavy. “I’m going to Africa. For a month.”
His eyebrows shot up before he could control his expressions. “Africa, huh? So I suppose you’ll be turning up to our wedding with malaria, then.”
I gritted my teeth. “I won’t come back with malaria. There are potions for that.”
He cleared his throat. “Fine, so you won’t get malaria. That’s not the only danger that’s out there, Victoire. They’ll send you back in a box.”
I crossed my arms on the desk in front of my and buried my head in them. “I can’t believe you’re doing this.”
“Doing what?” He knelt down beside me and forced me to look at him with a hand under my chin. “Talking some sense into you? Africa is wild. If it’s not dangerous animals then it’s lawless criminals going unpunished by their corrupt governments. It’s not safe.”
I reached out of his grasp. “I suppose that’s a direct quote from some sensationalist newspaper, is it? Would you even listen to yourself? It won’t be like that. I’ll be perfectly safe with Teddy.”
“Oh, right.” His eyebrows jumped higher this time and he didn’t bother to hide it. “You’ll be perfectly safe with your best buddy, huh? He really looked out for you that time in Singapore, didn’t he? I’m so reassured that you’re going with him.”
My eyes had narrowed into slits. I turned away from him and started to gather up my papers. “I told you – we had agreed that it would be like that! There was no other way to get word back to the Ministry.”
“Wasn’t there?” Rob interrupted cynically. “Could you not have sent the message while he spent three days in some fetid cell?”
“It was actually perfectly pleasant,” I snapped, finding the last page of notes and adding it to the pile of parchment in my arms. “I’m not going to discuss this any further. I’m leaving for Africa tomorrow so you can either support me or continue to fight it but I’m going anyway.”
I stood up, making for the door to our bedroom but he stopped me before I could go.
“I don’t want to fight with you, Victoire! You know I don’t.” I blinked a few times to steady the frustrated tears that had gathered there before looking up at him. His dark blue eyes were fixated on me. “I’m terrified. I don’t want you to get yourself into a situation you can’t handle. I want to stand beside you on our wedding day at the church like we planned, not sit at your bedside while you recover in hospital.”
I swallowed. “You’re only scared because you don’t understand. It’s not like I haven’t been to dangerous places before. This won’t be any different. I’ll write to you every day so you don’t have to worry, I promise.”
“So you’re just going to ignore me.”
Groaning in frustration, I pulled myself out of his reach. “This is my big break, Rob! Why can’t you be happy for me? It’s scary enough as it is without you making it worse. I just wanted you to be supportive.”
He seemed to finally understand. He ran a hand across his weary face and his whole body sagged. “Of course I’m happy for you. It’s just hard for me sometimes. You’re going to be my wife, but sometimes it feels like I never see you.”
“Sorry,” I said, meaning it and taking a step forward to plant a quick kiss on his lips. “It’s not going to be like this all the time. I just really need to write this one article. It’s going to be front page news!”
Rob drew me into his arms, my cheek pressed against his chest and he pressed his lips to the top of my head. “I know. And you know I’ll be proud. Just make sure you’re ready to be Mrs Right when you get back.”
“That’s Miss Weasley, actually,” I reminded him.
I could feel his lips smile against my hair. “Oh yes, how could I forget? I still think you’re passing up the chance of a lifetime. Not every woman gets the chance to be Mrs Right, you know. Think of all the wasted jokes…”
I laughed. “Sorry to disappoint you, but I plan on keeping my name. You’re still Mr Right so that’s the most important thing.”
“I should hope so too!” He kissed me again before letting me get back to my work. “Go on, finish up that article. I’ll see you in the morning.”
He disappeared back into the bedroom, leaving me to rearrange my desk and resume the last ditch effort on the Sydney article. After that, I supposed I needed to start packing my suitcase.
My palms were sweaty by now. Teddy was late, as usual. My passport in my left hand was feeling heavier by the minute as I waited for him to arrive. He surely wasn’t about to stand me up? After I’d spent the entire night scrambling through my wardrobe and drawers for appropriate clothes to pack, I wasn’t feeling very forgiving.
Teddy hastily let himself into Thane’s office, depositing himself and his backpack in the chair next to me.
“I thought you weren’t going to show,” I hissed, ensuring that he caught my glare before I returned my attention back to Thane.
“Good, glad you could make it, Lupin,” Thane remarked sardonically as Teddy caught his breath. “Now, there’s some things we need to go over before your portkey is ready.”
He pushed a few forms across the table towards us and handed each a quill. “Just fill out the details and hand your passports over to this gentleman here.” Thane gestured towards the burly man leaning against the bookshelves. “He’ll check your documents and then you’re off to Nairobi. Any questions?”
The dismissive tone in his voice informed me that he didn’t really expect us to ask anything, and he was right that both Teddy and I had nothing more to say. We were both in a state of nervous anticipating. As far as I knew, Teddy had never been to Africa and nor had I. To say that I was apprehensive was an understatement. Rob had not managed to quite get enough lunch down me when I'd dropped by my parents' to break the news to them to settle my quivering stomach and as a result I was now both tired and had a painfully empty stomach.
“Good,” Thane concluded. He waited for us to hand the forms back to him and took our passports. The burly man from the Ministry checked them over before handing them back to us with a curt nod. The reflection of the late afternoon sun gleamed off the top of his shiny bald head when he bent down. Once that was all done, Thane handed us a new file for me to tuck into my rucksack.
“That’s your briefing, maps and fake IDs should you need them. Remember, it’s best that the Kenyan government don’t know that you’re snooping around. Keep a low profile, don’t get that camera confiscated,” he pointed to the large bag on Teddy’s lap that held all his photography equipment, “and stay out of trouble. I’ll see you back in my office in a month with the shorthand notes and polaroids, got it? Good luck.”
He stood back from his desk, eyes fixed on a large cushion placed on the surface of the desk. Teddy and I watched it expectantly. Within seconds, it glowed blue.
“Here we go then,” Teddy remarked with a grin as we both held out our hands. I caught his eye just before we made contact with the portkey and caught his contagious excitement. I couldn’t believe it; we were actually off to Africa.
Author's Note: A new chapter! Exciting stuff. It's bringing back all sorts of lovely memories of my travels while I write this so I'm very much enjoying it. Thank you to all the lovely reviews I got on the first chapter - I can't tell you how much I appreciate and am grateful that even after I went away for ages that I still have loyal readers and reviewers (and that I am also still getting new reviewers here and there!). Any thoughts on this latest chapter would be really lovely so don't hold back. Let me know what you did and didn't like. Thanks! Marina
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