Chapter 22 : Twenty-Two
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My shoes click powerfully down the marble corridors of Witch Weekly. There’s an important-looking stack of parchments in my arms. People nod politely as they pass. Nobody asks me to fetch them a sandwich, or to organize post. If I ignore the fact that I’ve just Floo’d from my parents’ house, I feel like a proper adult. My clothes have been really laundered; not just doused in fresh fragrance charms after weeks of wearing the same trousers. I’ve even got some spare Sickles for a proper lunch. It’s going to be a brilliant day. And after last night’s humiliating attempt at meeting Jae, I could use one.
I duck, narrowly avoiding a stressed-out owl as it barrel rolls away. When I right myself, my twitchy assistant is waiting for me outside my little cubicle. He’s wearing a different pair of thick glasses, holding a cuppa. I cannot wrap my head around having an assistant, especially because I think we’re the same age. When he sees me, he starts in excitement. “Here you are, Miss Lennox!” he hands the steaming mug over. “Today’s schedule is on your desk, as well as a message from Katie Bell.”
“Thank you, erm…” I never learned his name at the Puddlemere match. It’s my first real day back on the job, since officially taking over Rose’s article. The amount of contracts I’ve signed and charmed and finger printed is staggering. I could very well have signed away my left leg, for all I know.
“Ian,” he finishes for me, adjusting his trendy bowtie. I smile apologetically. “Miss Blakeslee and Mr. Ward are waiting for you in the atrium.”
Trying to look as though this is not a total shock, I thank him again. This must be another assignment that Rose conveniently forgot to mention during the transition. (I’ve already missed a meeting with Katie, scheduled for yesterday. The message on my desk is probably a response to the nine million capitalized “SORRY”s I owled her.)
I lean in closely to Ian, “Erm, remind me of the purpose of this meeting?”
“Oh, it’s the photo shoot for the next issue.”
“Photo shoot!” I gush. Ward mentioned the possibility of a formal introduction for me, their newest writer. But I’ve been expecting a tiny blurb at best. A photo shoot is beyond exciting. I pat my hair self-consciously, murmuring, “I wish they’d told me, I haven’t even properly washed. Well, I suppose there will be a hair and makeup artist…”
Ian stares vacantly, a polite smile on his face, “Of course.” He eyes my giant stacks of parchment, “Shall I organize these for you?” Soon he’s trotting off, pleased to have an assignment. The word “Labrador” comes to mind again. I want to pat his head and give him a treat. I silently vow to never give him the kind of rubbish Intern tasks that I was given.
The stone walls of the atrium rise into a dome, enchanted to let in the sunlight. Stained-glass windows of haute couture models line the walls. Hundreds of paper airplanes and owls dart overhead in a flurry of wings, parchment and feathers rustling. Ward and Blakeslee are waiting near the reception desk, chatting idly with the young and beautiful witch seated there. I swear I’ve never seen the same girl twice.
“Good morning,” I sigh when they turn to me. “This is such an honour, really, to be a part of this photo shoot. I can’t thank you enough.”
Blakeslee smiles strangely, but Ward is blunt as usual, “Why wouldn’t you be a part of it? It’s your job. Wood should be camera-ready by now. Shall we?”
“W-wood,” I repeat, stuttering.
How idiotic of me. It’s not my introductory photo shoot—it’s meant to go alongside my article. I clear my throat. “Oh, actually, wouldn’t Rose be better suited for this? She has more experience with our photography department—”
Blakeslee’s harsh look stops me. I’ve been on thin ice since she caught me breaking and entering. Making a fool of myself at the match was no help either. It appears the ice is melting faster than I thought. “You know, I’d actually love to oversee this,” I peep.
Edie, for once in your life, keep your mouth shut.
I silently follow the two editors, more conscious than ever that I am only here until the articles are published. I doubt I’ll even make a proper name for myself at Witch Weekly.
But I don’t have time to feel sorry for myself, because soon enough we’re in the photography wing of the building. It’s in the dungeons, and has always reminded me of a cheerier version of the Hogwarts Potions classroom. Except for the darkroom—that place is terrifying. An intern once got locked in there for a whole day; by the time they let her out she thought she was Celestina Warbeck.
My heart is hammering so much I think my ribs are about to collapse. It was less than pleasant to see Oliver last night. I certainly didn’t think that it would happen again so soon. We reach a large oak door. Two words have been magically carved into the grains: “Solid Wood.”
“The new title for your article?” interrupts Ward, “Yes.”
Inside, the back wall has been bewitched to look like a Quidditch locker room. Several photography assistants, dressed in all black, wave their wands and it becomes a pitch. More wand waving and the clouds roll in, the sun sets, and stars come out. Willing my eyes not to wildly search around for Oliver, I watch the backdrop as it changes.
“Wotcher,” Theo appears behind me. I turn a shaky smile on him, and my heart leaps into my throat—Oliver is standing a ways behind him. He’s watching me over Theo’s shoulder.
“Theo!” I screech, for some reason grabbing his arms and digging my nails into them. He winces but I’ve already gone too far. I pull him into a boa constrictor hug, even though we’ve never so much as shaken hands. He cries out in pain and I immediately let go. “Great day for a photo shoot!”
“Well, that’s not actually the real weather,” he points out—the Quidditch pitch is back to a gorgeous blue day.
“Oh… you,” I titter, playfully shoving him. He rubs his arm, looking at me strangely. Behind him Oliver is massaging his jaw, trying not to laugh. Twat. Theo quickly excuses himself, probably fearing for his life, and I abruptly turn away from Oliver. There’s an oddly large amount of people here. Most I’m certain aren’t even involved with the article, or the photo shoot. Why so many spectators? And where is Rose? Searching for somebody to speak to, I spot Mildred standing rigidly. I decide to try my luck.
Leaning against the wall next to her, I sip loudly from my tea. She doesn’t so much as glance my way. I reckon she’s even less fond of me after she caught us breaking in. “So…” I begin, but she only sniffs and goes to stand elsewhere. “Right, we’ll catch up later,” I call.
And then there’s nothing left to do but acknowledge Oliver. I hardly think Ward and Blakeslee would be happy with how strained our relationship has become. We’ve skipped right over the line of “professional,” and managed to entirely muck up “personal” along the way. But I remember the ice melting under Blakeslee’s impressive glare. I’d best swallow my pride and do my job.
I glance at Oliver again. He’s speaking with Theo, who is gesturing exaggeratedly, trying to explain some photographic concept. He’s always felt stifled here. He’d probably rather be doing some avant-garde nonsense, and not the Hottest Styles to Keep You Looking Cool. Oliver is giving him his undivided attention: feet planted apart, arms crossed, one hand massaging his chin as he analyzes. He’s wearing a dressing robe. I wonder exactly what kind of concept they’re going for here.
Somebody calls Theo over to examine the backdrop, and I seize the opening. Cupping my tea like a talisman to ward off uncomfortable conversation, I make my way. At least I’m wearing clothes that fit me today, and no genitalia-related tiara. “Hello,” I murmur.
“Hello,” he says too civilly. Strangely, I’m thankful for Ward’s probing eyes. I search for something to say, but he interrupts, “So… ‘Solid Wood,’ eh?”
My face turns scarlet, “I swear to God, I did not come up with that title.”
He smirks. He’s being cordial and distant, but I swear there’s some kind of that old mirth in his eyes. “Did you have fun last night?”
I wince, “I made a right fool of myself, if that’s what you mean. Dunno if you noticed.”
“Yeah, I almost didn’t recognize you without the tiara,” he teases. My gaze lifts to his, my lips parted. Are we back to joking with one another again?
“Did Rose make it home okay? She seemed a little, um…”
He stands a little straighter, goes a little more rigid. “She was fine. I saw that she got to her flat in one piece.”
She didn’t stay with him? That seems odd to me, and it makes something in my chest stir. Where is she now, anyway? Why isn’t she here? Theo is watching us from across the room, probably ready to get started. But I have to know. And then, because I’m incapable of not sabotaging our conversations, “So, is that what you wanted to tell me that day? After our interview, when we…” I clear my throat. “You said you wanted to tell me something in person. Was it that you picked her?”
As soon as it’s left my mouth I regret it. Picked her? But Oliver surprises me when he responds evenly, “Yes.”
My stomach sinks. So that’s it. No romanticised nonsense; it was simple and nonchalant. Two women were throwing themselves at him, and he chose one of them. I can feel that awful sinking feeling of wounded pride again. Why does this keep happening? Why is there this magnetic pull between us, if it’s clearly not meant to happen?
He moves as if to touch my shoulders, but stops himself. He wets his lips, “It’s not what you think, Edie. Can we talk about this later? When we’re not…” he gestures vaguely around us.
There’s something burning behind his eyes again, something desperate. I’ve seen it before, but what has it led to? “No,” I put a hand up. “That’s all I need, I think we’re done here.”
He presses his lips together, exhales loudly, bores his eyes into mine. I’ve frustrated him. Good. The silence between us is electric.
“Oliver, we’re ready for you,” Theo calls. He’s watching us knowingly and I can’t meet his gaze.
“Right. Excuse me, Edie.”
He pauses self-consciously, his hands going to the ties of his robe. Wait, what? And then, maintaining complete eye contact, he removes it. And I’m such an idiot, because he’s not wearing the robe for the photo shoot—he’s wearing the obnoxious pair of tiny men’s underwear. He looks completely idiotic, but he’s too competitive to back down. Clearly he’s humiliated—he’s blushing all the way down his neck to his chest…
A weird sound escapes me. There are muscles where I didn’t know muscles could exist. The scar circling all the way around his shoulder is visible, but I barely notice it. He isn’t cut like a diamond, or flawless. There’s definitely physical evidence of his love for a Peverell Porter. But it’s even better; more real. I realize that my jaw has dropped, that I’m staring, that everyone knows I’m staring, and worst of all—that Oliver knows. I swear to God there is smugness under all that embarrassment.
He tosses his robe carelessly, it lands over my head like a lampshade. “Hold that,” he quips and turns on his heel.
Tittering laughter fills the room and I pull the robe off my scarlet face. I wish it were an Invisibility Cloak. Glancing around, I see several WW employees whispering knowingly.
I embarrassed him, so he turned around and did the same to me, tit for tat.
What a spiteful little…
Oliver is awkwardly taking directions from Theo. Apparently he doesn’t do anything halfheartedly. But I can’t watch him stretch out on the locker room bench, looking stonily into the camera lens. The flash of light and puff of smoke jolts me back. Quickly I drape the robe over a chair. Trying to ignore everyone’s looks, I speed-walk from the room. Well, now I understand the large number of women there watching… I pace along the corridor for a moment, hands on my hips, trying to even my breath. Well I was certainly not expecting all of that. Suddenly I stop and look up—Mildred is a ways down the corridor, and spots me. She’s leaning against the wall, flushed and fanning herself. We both freeze. There is an awkward pause. And then for once in our entire lives, Mildred and I share a knowing look.
I am not okay with how attracted I am to Oliver Wood.
My shoulder-bag drops to the floor of the Lennox family den. With the heaviest sigh my lungs are capable of, I slump into our squishy armchair. Thank Merlin nobody is at home, unless Andrew is in our shed playing his music. I couldn’t face my invasive mother or hyperactive brothers right now. It’s been a very strange day. Perhaps I’m being melodramatic. But it’s more than annoying that I had such a visceral, physical reaction to somebody who I’m supposed to be “over.” If I’ve even been “under” Oliver in the first place.
Before I am able to contemplate the different images associated with being under him, I snatch a newspaper from the nightstand. Somewhere in all of the anger—and, let’s face it, sexual frustration—I find dull excitement that it’s an issue of The Oracle Underground. Quickly I thumb through to the back, to the employment section. I wonder if they position for reporter has been filled yet, as I haven’t heard anything back. My eyes scan the parchment in excited curiosity…
But the position is no longer listed. It’s been filled by somebody else. My shoulders slump. This time there wasn’t a rejection letter; not even a “We were impressed by your portfolio, but unfortunately…” I reckon I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, it was a very competitive position—I’m sure hundreds of people applied. I should be thankful for my stint at Witch Weekly, however brief. But for some reason my eyes feel like they’re beginning to sting.
Blinking the sensation away, I hear the back door opening and my mother’s high-pitched voice. She sounds like she’s talking to somebody, but instead of footsteps I hear a click-clack trotting across the floors. I furrow my brow.
I turn around and see my Mum, grinning from ear to ear, holding a squirmy little ball in her hands. Whatever it is, it’s making grunting and snuffling noises, and it’s covered in short hair. “Mum, what is that?”
“I’ve got you a dog!” she says proudly, and then it looks at me with the most pathetic face I’ve ever seen. There’s something gooey dripping from its squished-in nose.
“Are you sure?” It looks more like a bug-eyed rat to me. “Mum, what are you doing? I don’t need a dog.”
She sets the thing down and it immediately runs over to me, jumps on my lap, and stares me in the face. But it doesn’t lick or squirm around; just stares. It’s the size of a large housecat, with bat-like ears. My hands are glued to my sides; I’m behaving as though it were a Blast-Ended Skrewt. Hypatia is oblivious, clasping her hands beneath her chin. “I knew this would cheer you up! You’ve been so glum lately. And you can keep her here—”
“That’s a she?” I warily glance down at the oddly still creature, and it whimpers.
“—just until you’re back on your feet. I thought you could use a pet. You’ve never even had one, really. You’re the only person I’ve met whose owl ran away your First Year …”
“For the last time, Mum, owls cannot run!” I bellow.
But she’s right. I haven’t seen Pigeon since Year One and every animal since—owl or otherwise—hated me. So I cannot fathom why my Mum thought one would make a good gift. But Hypatia is notorious for getting an idea into her head, and bulldozing past everything and everyone. Tentatively I reach out and clumsily pat the creature’s head. It doesn’t bite or run away—I even think its curly-cue of a tail wags. What a pathetic little thing. Maybe we’ll get along better than I thought.
Apparently I’m mimicking the dog’s forlorn expression, because my Mum says, “Edie? What’s the matter?”
“Oh, nothing,” I murmur absently.
But my Mum quirks an eyebrow and waits.
Maybe it’s the way this animal’s enormous eyeballs are boring into my soul—or it’s just the fact that I’m so tired of keeping secrets. I don’t know what it is; or why I choose this moment; or especially my mother—but I tell her everything about Oliver Wood.
I tell her how we met in the pub, and how he kissed me, and pretended to be Viktor Krum because he wanted to get a laugh from his stupid teammates. I mention seeing him at St. Mungo’s, and how different he was. How he refused to continue his appointment with Lisa until she made sure I was okay. The way he acted at the pub when he came in with Rose, and how he watched me, and how he came to the WNA Gala. I don’t realize it until I’m relaying the story that he wanted to ask me out for a drink that night, but his shyness got in the way.
My Mum has gotten up to make me a cheese sandwich, because I’m nearing hysteria, when I get to the part about him almost kissing me after the interview. She is in the other room, but the clinking of dishes stops for a moment. After the silence I tell her about the note he gave me that I couldn’t read, all the way through the photo shoot today.
When I’m finished, I lay back in the chair, exhausted and nibbling on the cheese sandwich. My Mum is silent for a very long time—which is incredibly rare. Halfway through my story, the little dog fell asleep on my lap. I’ve been absentmindedly stroking her back. This little bugger isn’t so bad after all.
It’s begun to rain, tapping on the windows lightly. By some miracle, nobody else has returned home. My Mum stares out the window so long that I begin to think she wasn’t listening to me at all. At last she turns and says, “Don’t you realize that you’re trying to convince yourself that you don’t have feelings for him?”
I freeze mid-pet, a feeling in my stomach somewhere between nausea and elation. But I recover quickly, “That isn’t the point. He’s with Rose, now.”
“Well when did you give him a chance?” she throws her arms in the air, exasperated. I’m shocked. Perhaps it’s selfish, but I was hoping for empathy, not to be chastised. “It sounds like there’s a reason he didn’t go after you the way he did Rose—why else would he write you a note?”
I shake my head, “You’re just doing what Lisa does. You’re just trying to make me feel better. Oliver doesn’t like me that way, because—”
“Oh, bugger that!” Hypatia rises to her feet in another dramatic display. “He’s just doing to Rose what you did to that awful Cormac fellow.”
I pause to consider this, but I just can’t see it. Hypatia is nowhere near done, though.
“Edie, you know I love you. But you have got to stop being so critical of people. Yes, he has power and money and he’s not a philanthropist, but you don’t know the whole story!”
“That’s the thing, Mum. I do, because I’m interviewing him—”
“Don’t be so blind,” she interrupts again. I want to tell her to drop the histrionics, but she says, “I’m sorry to be harsh with you, darling, I really am. But somebody has got to tell you. You don’t know everything, because he tried to explain himself on numerous occasions, and you let your wounded pride get in the way. Oliver has tried to apologise, a few times in fact. And you’re going out of your way to hurt him with your articles, because he hurt you. That’s not…that’s not nice. In fact it’s rather wicked, and I think you’re better than that.”
I am stunned into silence. Is this really true? I haven’t really heard anyone else’s opinion on the matter. Then again I’ve kept everything a secret. Lisa tried to say something about my cruel article, but I completely wrote her off. Have I really been so arrogant? Am I actually at fault here?
She sits back down, our knees almost touching. “I love how strong-willed you are. It’s one of my favourite things about you, and I am so proud to call you my daughter. But right now, you have to allow yourself to see the other side to the story. This Oliver fellow isn’t perfect, because he’s human. Merlin knows you’ve made your share of mistakes—we all have.”
My Mum puts a hand on my own, which has gone limp. The dog shifts and grunts in my lap but falls back asleep. “Edie, if you don’t really care about this person, then leave it alone. The damage is done. Write your articles and you’ll never have to speak to him again. But if you do care about him—” her eyes bore into mine, “—and I think we both know which it is, then you need to forgive him. You owe it to Oliver, and you owe it to yourself.”
I honestly can’t think of a word to say. There is a ringing in my head. How arrogant and hurtful have I really been? Suddenly everything that Oliver has ever done—the almost-kiss, his willingness to apologise, the written note, the way he treats Rose—is in a different light. Why haven’t I allowed myself to contemplate another side to this story? Why have I been so utterly biased, unwilling to examine the possibility of another truth? Apart from it being bad journalism, it makes me a rotten person. I want to crawl into a hole somewhere and sleep for days.
I don’t even notice that my Mum has gotten up until she plants a hand on my shoulder; a kiss on my head. “Love you, darling,” she says into my hair. I murmur something back—I think—and the next thing I know, she’s disappeared. The rain has picked up, playing a quiet rhythm on glass. It’s grown much darker outside. My eyelids feel like lead.
I want to sleep for days…
When I awake, still on the armchair, there is a crick in my neck. The dog has disappeared from my lap. Somebody, probably my Mum, has draped a blanket across me. A fire is going in the hearth, and I roll over, trying to settle back down under the weight of everything. My eyes land on the newspaper, lying open on the coffee table. It’s open to a black-and-white photograph of a very small woman being guided by two Aurors. It’s a moment before I recognize Grimma Longfinger, and despite my heaviness I lean closer.
I can barely read the headline in the dying firelight: GOBLIN RIGHTS ACTIVIST ARRESTED.
Author's Note: Phew. That was a bit of a heavy chapter, but it was time for Edie to see things from another person's perspective. Poor Lisa tried to talk some sense into her, but she's just too polite and Edie steamrolled right over her.
So what do you guys think? Is Hypatia right, or is Oliver totally past the point of being forgiven? I reckon this is more of a "fluffy" chapter, in that it's a lot of romanticalish emotions. And I promise the dog is relevant to the story, although it may not seem like it now.
Thanks so much, everyone. The end isn't far away! ♥
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