Chapter 1 : One
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July 7th, 1956
“This damned heat!”
Those three words had been uttered in many a tone with many a colourful variation in the past few hours. Sunlight streamed in from the vast arched windows, mingling with the dust and smoke that was an ever present cloud in the air. The particles glittered and glimmered as the sun hit them, settling on the oak desks that were littered with cigarette burns and ink stains from many an owner past. Reams of parchment sat precariously atop of every surface available, creating hills and forests of faded yellow as far as the eye could see. At the head of the vast array of hastily arranged seating areas and makeshift offices, the sign ‘The Daily Prophet’ sat emblazoned upon the wall, shining as if it were illuminated by Muggle electricity.
A woman strode in confidently, small black heels clacking as she made her way to her desk. “This damned heat!” she swore, tugging at the neck of her blouse. Dressed to the nines as she was every day, she always felt slightly uncomfortable in her clothing, but one had to look the part all the time in a workplace like this.
Another woman swivelled round in her large leather chair, cracked and worn with use, waving her wand around absently. “Perhaps if you weren’t always sucking on a cigarette you wouldn’t be so hot, Andy?” her tone was reprimanding but there was a cheerful glint in her eye that let Andy know she wasn’t being serious.
“It relaxes me.” Andy fished around in her handbag before pulling out her wand and Summoning the damn thing. Lighting up, she took a grateful breath of the smoke deeply into her lungs and sighed. “That’s better. Corinne, be a dear and fetch us a glass of water would you?”
“Rough morning?” Corinne asked, handing Andy the glass with a smirk. “It’s not even ten yet.”
Andy thought back of the tumultuous few hours she had already experienced, the heat really being the last of her troubles. She pushed the thoughts from her brain, shaking her head slightly. “You have no idea.” She gratefully accepted the water before noticing the sign that stood self-importantly on the wall. “What on earth is that?”
“Just another waste of money, the usual,” Corinne sighed, rolling her eyes. She continued to twirl her wand as yellow sparks flew from its tip, paying no attention to her pretty green dress that now had a slight burn mark on it. “If this place spent as much cash on the actual newspaper, this would be the best print in the world.”
Andy snorted. “Don’t get ahead of yourself there.” Sensing the younger woman’s annoyance, her face pulled into one of concern. “If you’re really bothered about it, Corinne, talk to Desmond about it. You know you’re better than all those accountants put together.”
“But it doesn’t matter,” Corinne said vehemently, “Because God forbid my opinion is taken seriously by him.” Andy bowed her head. It was no secret that Corinne, one of the Prophet’s office clerks, had applied for a transfer to accounts every year for five years with not even a hint of consideration. Instead she was relegated to typing her way to a living, praying that their boss would remember her name instead of going by 'Blondie'. “I like your trousers, by the way,” she said interestedly, changing the subject.
Andy smiled as she looked down at her new peg leg checked trousers, flattering her slim calves. Her smile faltered as she remembered that they were the cause of several arguments this morning. “Thanks,” she replied. “We’ll see what Desmond thinks of them, though.”
“You’ll find out soon enough,” Corinne murmured under her breath as she busied herself with the unending stack of notes that was her career.
“Robson! Andrea Robson!”
Andy turned around at the mention of her last name, plastering on a smile that was befitting of her title the only female journalist on the pay roll. The office had slowly filled up now as other workers arrived in drips and drabs, settling themselves down for another hectic day at the newspaper. The man approaching her was tall and broad, his dark hair going grey at the temples prematurely from stress. He had a huge cigar sticking out of the side of his mouth that he was puffing on every other second, making the stream of smoke that whorled out of his nose in tendrils look like that of an angry bull’s. Andy supposed that was the best description for Desmond Greystone that she could muster for such an unimaginative, bad-tempered man.
“Dezzy!” she leaned back on her desk in a nonchalant manner, flicking away some ash from the end of her cigarette. “Come to give me a good news story?”
“I’ll give you a good news story – women in trousers! Sheesh! What the hell is the world coming to next?” Desmond looked Andy up and down and she ignored the rising feeling of discomposure as his eyes raked over her form, instead standing tall as if wearing trousers were the most normal thing in the world. Of course it was for women in Muggle London, who sashayed about in their unwitting freedom of their choice in clothing, but the wizarding world was rather slow on the uptake at the best of times.
“Oh come on Dezzy,” she cooed, hating herself for the babyish voice that took over her mouth when she was around her boss. He liked it better when she played dumb, so she did just that. “It’s called fashion!”
“It’s called a crime against women is what it is,” Desmond spluttered as he puffed on his cigar angrily. Andy only rolled her eyes at him good-naturedly and laughed, secretly wishing that she could whip out her wand and show him just what the words ‘women’ and ‘crime’ meant. “Anyway, your ridiculous choice of clothes is not why I’m here.”
“What’s up?” Andy noticed that Corinne was surreptitiously listening in to their conversation, as was half the office around her. The owls were already flying in, bringing in anonymous tip offs and passionate life stories from interviewees.
“I’ve got some bad news, Andy.” He looked at her with the same angry glare she was accustomed to, but this time she froze. Did he know? How did he know? Her heart seemed to stop in her chest as she tried to formulate an explanation.
“Mr Greystone, I’m so...”
“We have a goddamn rival!”
“You heard me. There’s a new newspaper on the block. First printed at nine this morning, flying out across the nation two hours earlier than we do. Two. Goddamn. Hours!” He all but screamed the last work, making Andy jump in fright. The whole office was quiet now as their boss turned to address the group.
“We, the Daily Prophet, have been the premier newspaper for wizards everywhere. We are the voice of truth, of justice, of good journalism. And yet we have been viciously slandered, degraded by this, this... ‘Galleon Gazette’!” Desmond thrust the offending newspaper in the air, where the front page was swimming with chunks of texts and moving pictures. “They called us, the mighty Daily Prophet, most read newspaper in the country...” Desmond paused for effect, having the entire office hang on his every word, “...‘ancient fuddy-duddies that are so old-fashioned they wouldn’t recognise a gobstone from a pebble!’”
The insult made no sense in Andy’s mind, but it had the intended effect. Uproar spread across the room like wildfire, members of staff leaping out of their seats with vigour and expressing that they were not, in fact, old-fashioned. Corinne merely rolled her eyes as both of the women secretly agreed with that one sentiment.
“This simply will not do!”
“Old-fashioned? We’re a newspaper!”
“We keep ahead of the times!”
The various chants and cries of the aggravated workers eventually quietened down as Desmond let their rage run its course. He was tapping his foot and puffing away on his cigar like his life depended on it, looking like he wanted to rip the Galleon Gazette that was in his hand into shreds.
“Gentlemen, I most certainly agree with you all.” Andy did not appreciate the complete disregard for the five females in the office, particularly as she was standing right next to him. “We are the best newspaper the country has ever seen, and will see. We are going to write the best articles today for the best edition of the Daily Prophet yet, because this...” - Desmond brandished the offending rag in the air once more – “... is rubbish!” He promptly threw the first edition of the Galleon Gazette on the floor and stomped on it, rubbing his shiny-shoed foot for good measure. The office cheered and hollered, content to return to their status quo within minutes.
Andy was not happy at all. She might have agreed with the Galleon Gazette’s evaluation of her company, but they were a rival. A rival newspaper meant competition for jobs, working even harder for new scoops and stories, and fluctuating sales. Rivalry meant that everything about her job got ten times harder. Sighing frustratedly, she marched over to Desmond who was talking to a young man whose name escaped her. “Desmond,” she started, using his actual name for full effect, “What have they got on us exactly? Anyone can throw names about like a couple of children with a garden gnome.”
“It’s bad, Robson,” Desmond said in a low tone. Her eyes watered at the stink of cigar smoke that was so pungent and permeating all of the time, clinging to the editor like one of his hussies he so enjoyed. “Real bad. They say they’ve got the biggest scoop in a decade.”
“And we’re to believe them?” Andy couldn’t understand why Desmond was taking these people seriously. Her eyebrow arched as the young man looked at her impassively, bored at her interruption of their conversation.
Desmond thrust the front page of the crumpled newspaper before her. In bold black lettering the words “WARNING: IT’S COMING!” were shouting out from the page. Andy’s forehead wrinkled in confusion as she studied the cover, noting the editor’s name: Glenn Potter.
Desmond looked at her as if she were the stupidest person in the world. “I don’t expect a little lady like you to understand,” he seethed as Andy flinched from the insinuation, “But the first rule of journalism is that you don’t know what’s going on, you can’t print it!” He straightened up, satisfied that Andy now understood. Trying to keep her temper down, Andy gave him her brightest smile. She was glad she had worn the red lipstick today.
“Thanks for clearing that up, Dezzy. I really had no idea.” The sarcasm that rang out from her tone went straight over the head of the Prophet’s editor as he patted her on the shoulder as if to say that he knew she was just a woman, but she couldn’t help it, the poor girl. “So you want me to go and find out what they’re up to?”
“You?” Desmond seemed genuinely surprised at her question. “Why would I want you on the job?”
Andy was immediate with her response. “I’m the most senior journalist on the team right now since Gregson left. I’ve covered dozens of cases for you, I know not all of them were hard-hitting journalism exactly, but you’ve given me bigger and better stuff and I know I can do this. I can find out what they’re up to and deliver them their arses on a plate.” Her boss seemed shocked at her crude language as the men around her whistled and made silly noises. They soon shut up as Andy delivered the iciest glare she could muster. “I can do this, Dezzy.”
“It is tempting...” he started, shaking his tie loose as a wet patch formed on his chest from the stifling temperature of the office. “But no. I don’t see it working. Danny Turner here’s gonna do just fine.”
“He hasn’t even been here six months!” Andy protested loudly. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing – this upstart young prick was gonna take her story?
“Listen... Robson, isn’t it?” The man who Desmond referred to as Danny stood up, towering over her fairly petite frame. He was sharply dressed with his suspenders sitting neatly on his shoulders and his tie tucked carefully into a gold pin. Andy supposed he could be considered attractive were it not for the completely patronising look on his features. For the second time in twenty minutes she was looked up and down again like a piece of meat as his gaze lingered on her new trousers. She scowled angrily. “The thing is, articles about hair and nails and just who the ‘hunkiest guys’ are...” his voice dripped with unapologetic arrogance, a cocky grin on his face. “... it’s not exactly cutting-edge journalism, sweetheart. Leave the important stuff to the guys.”
Andy was so angry she could slap him. A second round of catcalls and jibes followed his disdainful speech as Desmond hummed and ahhed uncomfortably, not wanting to voice his agreement but it being written all over his prematurely lined face. Not trusting herself to say anything without screaming or her voice wobbling, Andy turned on her heel and returned to her desk, cheeks flaming with indignation and embarrassment.
Disparaging laughs followed her retreating back which only strengthened her resolve more. She threw herself into her chair and immediately began scribbling notes furiously with her quill.
“Are you okay?” Corinne asked sympathetically, having witnessed the entire event.
“Oh, I’m just peachy,” Andy replied. She finished her note with a flourish, eyes bright as she turned towards her co-worker. “Just fine. You know why?”
“Why’s that?” Corinne looked slightly afraid of her answer as she watched Andy light up another cigarette.
“Because I’m going to prove these bastards wrong.”
A/N: I hope you enjoyed this!
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