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The Art of Small Talk by patronus_charm
Chapter 7 : One Bombshell, Two Bombshell, Three Bombshell, Four.
 
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Chapter Seven - One Bombshell, Two Bombshell, Three Bombshell, Four.

Place: the staff room of St. Mungo’s. Exact location: the sofa with the stuffing spilling out. Time: no idea, but hopefully one of my breaks otherwise I’m dead. Company: the delightful (evil), kind (patronising), Eileen.

‘He’s simply divine, scrumptious dumpious. What a lucky, lucky lady you are Audrey to have Oliver Wood courting you,’ she coos in my ear.

Holding a copy of Witch Weekly up in front of my face clearly hasn’t given out the correct signal. Perhaps next time I should just walk around with a sign telling everyone to piss off. She’ll probably still ignore it though; Eileen has a habit of ignoring things which aren’t quite to her liking. Then again she seems to be using a different language to me with the use of dumpious so perhaps what I say to her equates to me professing my love for her.

I see her body tense up, as the sound of the door swinging echoes around the St. Mungo’s staff room. Oh dear. She’s already preparing herself for her next prey. I guess the only positive for me is that I can escape from her gossip hungry claws.

‘Oh, James,’ Eileen calls, beckoning him over with her finger. Mm, if he comes over I might actually like Eileen. Wait. I’m dating Oliver. I should probably banish these thoughts. ‘We were just discussing Audrey’s latest beau, Oliver Wood. You surely have heard of him, all you men are Quidditch fans-‘

‘I don’t think that statement’s very fair, Eileen.’ I lower my magazine to gain full effect and their eyes are drawn to me. ‘Simply because he’s a man does not make him a fan of Quidditch. My father cannot abide it, so does that make him a woman?’

Ha. Point to prove girl power and a chance to get at Eileen. Totally wasn’t just said for the latter point.

‘No, but no women I know like Quidditch,’ she says tersely, lips pouting. To keep her happy as she’s above me in the employment hierarchy, or to go all girl power? What a hard decision…

‘Well then, you surely haven’t met a very wide variety of women, because I can count plenty of women I know who are Quidditch fans and players.’

Note, Ginny Weasley does count as a Quidditch player I know even if we've only ever had one brief conversation. I raise Witch Weekly to my face to silence her before she finds out I hate Quidditch, and I don’t have a clue how to play it, thus destroying my epic (somewhat epic) argument and chance to own her smug face.

‘Yes, I quite agree, Audrey,’ James announces after a pause. His grey eyes look scrumptious as usually. No, I shouldn’t think that, I am a taken woman. Even if his eyes are impossibly beautiful. ‘I don’t care a thing for Quidditch, Eileen, even if I am man, but I have heard good things about Oliver Wood. I’m rather jealous that he’s yours actually.’

He quickly winks at me before walking out of the door, but I can barely enjoy the wink, because I think something has just been revealed to me. I think jaw-dropping James may have just proven all the women’s worst fear at St. Mungo’s. I think that jaw-dropping James is, in fact, gay.

*


‘Draco, what do you add after the Boomslang Powder has stewed for twenty minutes?’ I ask, attempting to be the mean teacher by quizzing my pupil on potions knowledge. Ha, it’s surprisingly fun so I can see why Snape got a kick out of it at Hogwarts.

‘You don’t. You leave it to rest for half a day, stirring occasionally before adding the Salamander Blood but you have to wait until the potion has a greenish tinge about it, and then you add the blood every two minutes stirring counter-clockwise twice after each drop has been added.’

Draco smirks at me, catching me out on my trick question for the Blood Thinning Potion. Damn, I really thought he would fall for it.

‘Well done,’ I say, a little too bitterly causing him to laugh. ‘You’ve nearly finished the first unit of preliminary medical potions, soon we’ll be onto the more advanced which though exciting can often lead to dangerous results. Have they mentioned it at school?’

He gives a small nod of his head. ‘Yes, they said we can start on the Bone Regrowing Potion soon. We need to do a test first to ensure we haven’t fallen too far behind and then we can begin. They showed us some rather graphic photos of what could go wrong, and it didn’t look too pleasant so it’s probably good thing they have these tests.’

I murmur a reply before wandering over to my desk, sifting through the piles of junk to find some form Eileen accosted me with earlier. Some sort of emotional progress evaluation thing, I don’t know. She just got excited about having another pointless form to fill out, and I wanted to talk to Mary, the assistant in the department, about the developments in regards to James maybe being gay and my fantasy of us flying off to the Caribbean and having a beach wedding now being crushed, so I took it and ran away.

Finding the sheet embossed with the St. Mungo’s seal, I hand it over to Draco, and he lets out a little sigh. It’s become a habit pattern having to fill out form after form. Speaking to some of the other Potioneers in the department, their trainees haven’t needed nearly as many. Then again, I doubt that many of them are former Death Eaters and could possibly poison the potions in some weird revenge plan (yeah, my mind is a little too crazy at times).

The room is silent apart from the slight bubble of the potion and the scratch of Draco’s quill against the parchment. Not being able to take it any longer, I decide to break the news Verity owled me this morning.

‘Do you remember how we were talking about Astoria Greengrass?’

He raises his head, eyes darting out everywhere as if he’s unsure of how he should react.

‘Yes, why?’

‘Well, Jemima may have mentioned that she saw you the other day to her, and Astoria said how nice it would be to meet up again as it’s been ever so long. What do you say? Do you want to see her?’

I watch his reaction eagerly, sensing for anything out of the ordinary. A smile slowly flits onto his face as his head is pulled down in a nod.

‘Yes, I think I would rather like that.’

‘Good, good. I shall let Jemima know straight away, as Astoria was said to be very keen on seeing you.’

He mumbles thanks to me before returning to his questionnaire. I take care in leaving out the crucial details such as this being organised via Verity aka the person who will force two people together even if it potentially means breaking the law, and that Jemima (on Verity’s behalf) has been spoon-feeding Astoria with ideas such as Draco really likes her and misses her and how he must see her again otherwise he may die (ok, the last one may be a fantasy of mine which I hope is reality of Draco’s as it would be so cute). Oh how easy it is to force two people together.

I glance around the room, looking for something entertaining to do when my eyes fall upon the cupboard to left of the brewing Blood Thinning Potion. Shit. Draco. Shit. How do I get rid of him? I’ve barely even allowed myself to think about this in case I think of it too much and the secret pours out and I’m not even sure of the legality of this whole shebang, so I have to get rid of him somehow.

‘Er, Draco, could you run and go and get me a cup of tea? From the tea room in the main hospital ideally, as they do it best. Ta.’

An encouraging smile from me quickly pushes him out of the door, not that it would have been all that hard otherwise. Answering questions to whether I feel happy either most or only a little of the time is tedious at the best of times.

Shooting one quick glance at the glass pane in my door, I run towards the cupboard concealing the secret I’ve managed to hide for three weeks now. The potion which may be able to remove the mark from Draco’s skin. I light the candles which illuminate the otherwise black room and move closer to the cauldron.

To say that the room smells repugnant would be putting it mildly. A mixture of spilled ingredients, a potion which contains all manner of things and a flame means that the smell is only worsened with the heat of the fire. Ladling a spoon into the cauldron, I scoop up a dollop of it and I note the greying colour with amber fumes simmering off of it. Finding a potion which has to remove an unknown mark from human skin hasn’t been the easiest thing, but then having access to Hogwarts’s library (McGonagall, the head teacher now, let me have special permission to use it after writing to her about a secret research project. She always loved me too, I mean who couldn’t?), did make my life considerably easier.

Pouring the liquid back into the cauldron, a faint hissing sound echoes around and it’s only heightened with the three counter clockwise turns I do. This is why it’s so tricky now; it’s reaching a crucial stage where it needs almost constant observation and mixing every few minutes which makes it hard to maintain a normal appearance.

Oh well, it will be worth it once this batch has finished brewing.

*


I’m just about to leave the Ministry after popping into see Dad (who’s been even more insistent about visiting him ever since the scandal in the Daily Owl) when I spy Percy standing absentmindedly by the Fountain of Fair Fortune.

It’s strange no longer feeling any annoyance and wanting to run away when I see him. I feel as if I should be doing that, but perhaps for the sake of keeping my public image in a sort of healthy state it’s a good thing I can sort of deal with him now. I watch Percy scratch his head before turning back to look at the fountain, his eyes never really drifting from the wizard.

Deciding that as I still have half an hour left of my lunch break I might as well go and say hi, as I can then test whether my changed judgement about him is fitting or not, I wander over to him. Plus, running away from him was a great way to burn those calories, so if he does out to be an arrogant prick like usual, I can still get some exercise done.

‘Percy, are you alright?’

He jolts forward, nearly toppling over into the fountain, before smiling at me.

‘Yes, perfectly fine, perfectly fine. Merely musing, don’t mind me.’

Ok, in all the brief conversations I have had with him, he did not ramble, that sort of thing is left to me. Maybe the real Percy Weasley is actually a nervous fellow. Haha, imagine the thought. Oops I can see his mouth and lips moving, I suppose he’s talking to me. Must pay attention, Audrey, must pay attention.

‘So, talk to Hermione Granger if you’re interested at all. She wants all the well-known people to endorse her ideas so they gain more support.’

What. Hermione Granger? Endorse ideas? What? Am I well-known? I guess I am a Quidditch player’s WAG (wife and girlfriend, honestly Witch Weekly teaches you a whole new lingo), so maybe I am well-known.

‘Er, excuse me, but I missed the first part would you mind repeating it for me.’

He blushes red, fingers twitching about like crickets and eyes unable to remain on one focal point. ‘No, no, don’t worry, a mere fleeting thought. Er, cheerio.’

He awkwardly waves his hand in the air before striding off before I even have a chance to realise what on earth has happened. Wait, what was he saying about reforms? Damn, the one time he’s sweet to me I drift off. Typical Audrey.

‘I thought I told you to stay away from him,’ I hear a voice hiss from beside me.

‘You have to be joking,’ I exclaim, unsure over whether I’m talking to either Penelope Clearwater who is standing in front of me or myself. Is my life seriously taking a turn for the worse already? First I have to deal with Percy muttering away beside me and then I go and get his crazed ex-girlfriend looking as if she wants to murder me in my sleep.

‘I don’t see what the joke is, Tinley. I thought I told you to stay away from.’ Penelope edges forward, somehow managing to step on my toes. I try and hold back my cries of pain, not wanting to give her any satisfaction, but stopping my face doing weird contortions due to the pain is proving harder than what I anticipated.

‘Seriously, I honestly do not give a shit anymore.’ Ooh, check out the swearing making an appearance. ‘If I talk to Percy, then get your ass over it. I’m not dating him, nor do I possess a wish to. If it’s any consolation, Clearwater, I doubt that’s going to change any time soon, as I’m seeing someone else.’

She lets out a sound like a hmph before taking a small step back (a submission of defeat I see there). ‘You just watch out, Tinley. I won’t be so sure that everything’s rosy in your world. You shouldn’t underestimate the amount of damage I can cause to your life with a flick of quill. Words are a lot more powerful than you think they are, so unless you’re prepared to realise how much power I posses with them then you’re in for a sorry surprise.’

‘Yes, yes, Clearwater, please, I’m bored of the same old story. Go and scream to Percy about it if you really think he cares that much about you.’

Bam. And that’s how it’s done. I glance around and see a small crowd has amassed around us. I try and see if I can search out anyone I know, and I’m happy to report that the familiar balding head of Dad isn’t present. Once they notice that I’ve noticed them they soon depart, each running off with the heads firmly looking down at the ground and moving at a speed most probably unused to them. It’s not like I’m going to yell at them for staring, I would probably be doing the same thing if an argument was going on right in front of me. Everyone loves a bit of gossip after all.

Only one figure remains stationary. The figure of Percy Weasley. His face is contorted into something I can’t quite interpret but I have a feeling it’s not a good contortion. Once he spots me looking at him, he quickly turns on his feet before merging into the crowd of black.

Shit.

*


‘Jemima, I can begin to see your point about only dating men for a few days, it’s far easy,’ I say, taking a gulp of my Elfian Wine while wailing.

We’re all gathered round her flat (more like house by the size of it) for a meet up. Verity needs to report on something most peculiar, I need to report on Oliver and Jemima needs to report on whoever’s been her fleeting romance of this week.

‘Whatever do you mean? Aren’t things working out?’

‘I don’t know. It’s not Oliver, I really, really like him. It’s just the complications of everything else. What Granny and Dad think of me, having the press hound me at every turn; have Penelope turn even more psychotic towards me and threatening me whenever I have the joy of bumping into her. All those times I dreamt of dating a famous person, I never thought that hassle would turn out to be like this.’

Verity turns her wine glass in her head, her face gloating. She knows something; she’s like this a lot. Refusing to say what exactly made her like this for fear of spoiling the plan, whatever that may be. But still, I can’t help but wonder what she’s realised this time.

‘Oh, I do know what you mean. I remember when the Quidditch World Cup occurred, I somehow managed to find my way into the Irish team’s after party and had a small fling with the player Lynch. Of course it didn’t work out. I didn’t allow it to. Fame is too fickle; you never know whether it’s your friend or foe. It’s much better staying with commoners.’

I splutter out the amber liquid at this point, the last point being far too much for me. ‘Commoners? Am I a mere pleb to you then Jemima?’

Verity snorts out her drink at that point. ‘Yes, Jemima, you’d better be careful of what you say. I’m known to all my Chinese cousins for being very violent with chopsticks when needs be and my wand is a perfectly good substitute for that.’

‘I, ar, er, didn’t mean, I thought you were meant to be my friends?’ Jemima jokes, finally managing to string a series of words together.

‘We are,’ Verity replies. ‘And as your friends we are contractually obliged in the court of friendship to bring you down to earth now and then. If you don’t reduce your ego by several sizes, who else would do it for you? Besides, is we’re too common for you, then you wouldn’t want to attend George’s birthday party.’

It’s my own turn to have a shock. ‘It’s April already? Are you sure, because I’m sure it’s still February.’

Verity sighs, giving both Jemima and I a disparaging look. ‘I honestly do question why I am still friends with you two a lot of the time. It’s been March for sixteen days, so no, it is not April. George is merely being aware of the time and is inviting you so you can clear out of your busy schedules, no doubt filled with men time.’

‘Sorry, Verity,’ Jemima and I say in unison. I have rather neglected her, George and Angelina recently. Though the other two are more excusable as I’ve only gotten close to them recently, but all I seem to be doing with Verity is discussing my love life. Not exactly gripping stuff.

‘Good, as you will be.’ She sticks her tongue, and all is forgiven. ‘Now, back to more serious issues at hand. Astoria has agreed to meet with Draco. The time and date is set. We just need to fix upon a location and everything will be perfect.’

‘Ideally somewhere romantic. There’s no need for all this taking it slow business, rush them into it.’

‘Thank you, Jemima, but I think not. What do you think, Audrey?’

I think back trying to remember a mutual interest. From what Jemima says about her, Astoria’s a Muggle hippie fan who likes art. Draco is a former Death Eater, from a Muggle hating family but is showing a willingness to embrace Muggle scientific ideas. Aha, that’s it.

‘I have an idea…’


Author's Note: The title of this chapter is adapted from the song Hot Cross Buns (the sole thing I can play on the recorder) and though the origins of it are unknown, it first appeared in the Christmas Box published in London in 1798 so credit goes to that. Another boring thing, I got bored of the pattern in the chapter titles as I had to make them fit, so I'll be changing them in a bit and updating the CIs too.

But whoo, new chapter, apologies for the wait I will try and be quicker, March was just a bad month HPFF wise for me. A little bit of Percy action, and ooh, James is gay, any predictions of what that could lead to? Astoria/Draco action should also appear shortly! Thanks for reading, and if you want to be fab please leave a review, even if it's just to say you liked it as it would mean a ton!

Ooh, I meant to say thanks to Sarah, Janelle and Bea for nominating this for Story of the Month and to everyone who voted for TAoST, it means so much :D


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