Chapter 2 : Down
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Light was hitting her square in the face, unforgiving, as she slowly became aware of her pounding head. Groaning, she lifted her arms and massaged her throbbing temples, trying to placate an incoming headache.
Then the events of the night before started to trickle back into her memory— unwanted, sporadic and confusing.
She remembered Margaret, ordering drinks, sitting alone at the bar…
Suddenly, Alice’s body became taut with tension.
The rest of Alice’s day was spent idly roaming around her empty apartment.
Alice knew this wasn’t good for her; she could feel the anxiety tightening in her chest the more she fiddled about restlessly, and could almost hear her mother’s scolding tone in her head, telling her to do something productive. No matter how much she tried, though, she couldn’t do anything about it.
After Potter had left her table, Alice, in her intoxicated state, had almost burst into tears from embarrassment (she had always been a bit of a drunk crier). She’d left the pub minutes later, rushing out of the door. She honestly hadn’t thought of searching Margaret out to tell her she was leaving, the only thought on her mind being Disapparition. Either way, she’d probably been too occupied with Sarah Finnegan to pay Alice any attention.
Upon waking up on Saturday morning, Alice had been unable to move from feeling so heavy so suddenly. It was a world away from what she’d felt like the night before. In bed, all she’d been able to think about was how stupidly she’d acted—everyone knew that it was a touchy subject, so why exactly had she even brought it up in the first place?
It was only when Alice had heard the loud barking of a dog outside her bedroom window that she’d decided she’d wallowed enough, and slowly pulled the duvet off of herself, intent on taking a scalding shower.
Margaret hadn’t bothered contacting her, as Alice had expected: she always got rather drunk when she went out and it didn’t look attractive the next day. It also wasn’t as though they regularly kept in touch outside of work, and though Alice was usually more than fine with this, she felt surprisingly alone. She’d have probably appreciated an owl from Margaret. Or some company, surprisingly enough.
Even her cat Blue, who usually noticed when something was wrong with her, was unable to make Alice feel any better that Saturday—although he did try, periodically rubbing his soft white head against her bare shins.
It was only after hours of milling about pointlessly—eating, feeding Blue, attempting to work on the Anderson case, trying not to think about Friday night and thus inevitably thinking about it—that Alice finally gave in, and called her mother.
Luckily for her, the telephone worked; Alice lived in a predominantly Muggle neighbourhood and her parents were Muggles, so there was a minimal amount of magical interference.
“Hello?” Her mother’s cheery voice asked through the receiver.
“Hey mum,” Alice replied, trying to sound just as enthusiastic. Blue purred lowly at her feet.
“Oh, hi sweetie!” Her mother exclaimed. “How are you? How’s everything going at the office?” She asked, curious but cautious.
Alice couldn’t force the words out of her mouth, so she said everything was fine, her chest contracting painfully from the lies.
Alice looked up from the sentence she had been reading for the fifth time, and came face to face with Margaret.
She was leaning casually on Alice’s desk, eyebrows knitted together in an uncharacteristically concerned look, and wearing bright red robes to match her bright red lips—Margaret had always liked being bold.
Quite belatedly, Alice also realized that it was lunchtime—only now did she notice how quiet the Office had gotten. She hadn’t seen Margaret at all that morning, too focused on trying to catch up on the work she was supposed to have done over the weekend.
“What happened with Potter Friday night?”
As if by instinct, Alice’s chest tightened slightly at the mention of Potter’s name. The subject was mentally exhausting her; she wished she would just stop thinking about it.
“Hello to you too, Margaret,” She responded, and glanced back down at the roll of parchment in her hands.
It was too early for this, she’d decided. Monday morning—well, technically, afternoon. Either way, it was too early for this. But Alice knew that Margaret was expecting a response to her question—she’d seen how her eyes were simply burning with curiosity.
“So? What happened?”
“Nothing,” Alice finally shrugged. “Really, it was nothing.”
She was also starting to recognize that she didn’t particularly want to talk to Margaret about what had happened at the pub, when she’d gone off to find Sarah Finnegan and had thus left her to face Potter by herself.
“Really,” Margaret deadpanned, quirking a penciled eyebrow. There was a beat. “Then why was Dean talking to Martha in the kitchen about how he’d heard you say Potter had nepotistic privileges?”
So Margaret did know what had happened. And other people knew. Of course. It was like Hogwarts all over again, gossip-wise—people apparently still didn’t have anything better to do with their lives.
“That’s not exactly what I said…” Alice replied, trying to sound firm, but still she noted the beating of her heart.
“It’s true, though?” Margaret asked in surprise. “How—”
“I don’t particularly want to talk about it, Margaret.”
“But Alice!” Margaret exclaimed, and Alice wondered if she even cared; she sounded more scandalized than anything, and her eyes conveyed excitement. Margaret seemed to like the drama—as Alice realized this, her annoyance towards the blonde flared up “You do know that it’s a…touchy subject, right?”
“Yes,” Alice said emphatically. “I am aware of that.” Then she paused, and rubbed at her forehead. “I’ve spent all bloody weekend thinking about it.”
There was a silence, the unspoken words between the two girls hanging heavy—they hadn’t owled each other.
Alice knew they just didn’t have that type of relationship, and was pretty sure they never would. They were work friends, if even that, and had been since Alice had started at the Office two years ago. They would probably never be anything more.
They were just too different, too black and white. And although Alice appreciated Margaret in a certain sense—her strong-willed, energetic, unabashed personality—she didn’t believe she could ever come to call her a close friend.
As Alice thought of this, Margaret grabbed her mug from her desk, and took a sip of her coffee. Then she frowned, spit the coffee into the mug as gracefully as she could, and set it back down where she’d found it. Alice looked on, used to this sort of behaviour, but the urge to roll her eyes remained.
“Your coffee’s cold,” Margaret explained, her fingers expertly tracing the sides of her mouth, hoping to find any stray lipstick. “Also, you should talk to him.”
“Yeah,” Alice responded once more. She was beginning to feel like some sort of robot. “I know.”
Another silence, then: “Do you really believe that?” Margaret was frowning again. “That James has it easy here because his dad is Harry Potter?”
James. The way she said his name conveyed familiarity, and it rubbed Alice the wrong way. It seemed everyone respected—admired even—James Potter. Especially Margaret. Was he really that special? Alice wondered if that was the case. If not, didn’t that actually prove her point, no matter how drunk she was when she’d made it?
“I don’t know.”
As Margaret stared at her, almost physically radiating disapproval, Alice suddenly had the almost animalistic urge to slap that condescending look off her pretty face.
But instead of acting on the impulse, she simply looked on at a point on her desk, gaze unfocused, and only glanced back up at Margaret when the girl in question cleared her throat rather obnoxiously, and said, “Well, we have a meeting with him in around twenty minutes. On the Anderson case. You could always talk to him after that.”
Alice nodded distractedly. She’d forgotten about that. Great. Telling Potter she was sorry felt like the absolute last thing she wanted to do at the moment.
“…and there seems to be traces of Dark Magic on the cloak Sabrina managed to procure last week…”
Alice was sitting in the corner of the room doodling on her parchment, hardly listening to Conall Bennett, Head of the Auror Office. She knew that Potter was somewhere in the room, too, but she’d been so anxious to see him when she’d come in after Margaret that she’d simply sat down in some corner, ducked her head, and hadn’t moved since.
It was pathetic, really—Alice was aware she was overreacting, but couldn’t do anything about it.
“…And don’t forget that we are meeting here Thursday at 3 p.m. sharp!” Bennett’s lilting voice rang out like a whip, and, as if in a daze, Alice’s eyes snapped up from the poorly-drawn flower she had been so focused on for the last ten minutes.
The fifteen or so people that had gathered in the conference room were packing up and getting out of their seats, chatting and chittering away.
Alice turned to her right and saw Margaret give her a look before she was also hurrying towards the door. She stared after the tall figure, that spark of annoyance reigniting in her chest.
Nonetheless, she stayed put. She knew that she wouldn’t have to rush if she wanted to speak with Potter, since he always stayed behind to talk to Bennett about… Alice wasn’t quite exactly sure. Potter liked to prove himself more capable than others, she expected.
So she stayed put.
As people continued to file out, Alice sat in her small, wooden, squeaky chair, occasionally stealing glances at Potter and Bennett—who were talking in low voices—but mostly pretending to review the notes she had (not) taken during the meeting.
Then there was only Potter, Bennett, and herself left in the room. The two men were still talking, seemingly in an increasingly agitated manner.
As if waking up from a daze, Alice suddenly shot up out of her chair. She’d realized that it would have probably been wiser to approach Potter outside the conference room, instead of sitting there waiting on him like some idiotic schoolgirl.
Holding her pile of parchment in her arms tightly, she began to walk towards the door, her shoes click-clacking loudly in the quietness of the room.
She would talk to Potter outside. Then she could have a few peaceful minutes to think over what exactly she wanted to tell him, and what she had meant when she’d said that—
Starting slightly, Alice turned around.
Bennett was staring at her. Potter was, too.
“Uh…” Nervously, she dug her fingers into her pile of notes. “Yes?”
Bennett gestured for her to come over.
After a few moments of silent deliberation, Alice click-clacked towards them obediently. And the closer she got, the more she could see that Potter was trying very hard not to look at her, instead resolving to peer at the piece of parchment he had in his hand.
Like some sort of bad small, the awkwardness in the air was palpable as she finally walked up to the two men. Though, somehow, Bennett seemed oblivious to this—he promptly asked her if she’d specialized in Poisons during her Auror training, to which Alice answered that she had.
Then he handed her a picture.
“What do you think of her eyes?” He asked.
Alice took it, and glanced down at it quickly.
She recognized the face immediately: it was the third, and latest, of Anderson’s victims. A woman in her late forties. Plain. Brown hair, brown eyes. As she had the first time Bennett had shown them the picture during the meeting, Alice noticed that the whites of her eyes were blood red.
“—Potter here thinks she ingested Baneberry. What d’you reckon?”
“No,” Alice answered automatically. She scratched the back of her neck. “It’s Moonseed—” She explained, and paused. “Her eyes are filled with blood.”
“Exactly,” Potter replied impatiently. “That’s what I’ve been saying.” Alice glanced up at him, but he wasn’t looking at her. Instead, he was already snatching the picture away from her hands.
She kept silent, thinking about how different he was to how he’d been on Friday. He was like a different person today. But then again, she guessed so was she.
“Sir, blood-filled eyes are a telltale sign of Baneberry ingestion,” Potter continued, as if Alice hadn’t said a word, and for the first time she felt as if he was purposefully trying to make her feel irrelevant.
But Bennett ignored Potter and was looking at her instead. “Why Moonseed?”
“Uh,” Alice began, then cleared her throat. “Blood-filled eyes do indicate Baneberry ingestion, yes. But it usually turns both eyes completely red, not only the whites.”
There was a pause as Bennett and Potter both scanned the picture once again, their heads coming together comically.
Alice waited, trying not to stare at Potter’s unkempt hair too much—she could tell he’d been running his hands through it recently.
“Well,” Bennett said after a few moments, and Alice’s gaze snapped up to meet his. “I do believe Woodward is right, Potter, if I remember anything from training,” He said, a smiled wryly. “I’d frankly forgotten about Moonseed Poison. Gordon ingesting it makes much more sense than her ingesting Baneberry does. Thank you, Alice.”
Potter was still silent. Alice nodded back at her superior, suddenly feeling sheepish.
“Thank you, Sir.”
“Though,” Bennett continued, quirking an eyebrow. “Next time you think of something like this, do speak up. That’s partly what these meetings are for.”
Alice nodded but stayed silent, not exactly keen on admitting that she didn’t particularly enjoy being the center of attention, or that she’d been extremely distracted during the meeting.
Then she turned around stiffly and click-clacked back to the door.
Two minutes later, Alice was waiting impatiently outside the conference room.
Observing the expanse that was the Auror Office, she was mulling over what exactly she’d say to Potter when he eventually did come out. She’d resolved to get the apology over with—she couldn’t continue agonizing over it as she had all weekend. It was mentally and emotionally draining her, and it had just been a harmless joke—well, relatively speaking.
Alice was biting the skin off of her thumbnail when the conference room door swung open, and out came Potter. She immediately straightened upon seeing him, feeling her heart beat.
“Thank you, Sir,” Potter called behind him, and closed the old door shut. He hadn’t noticed Alice waiting: he was looking down at his notes, brows furrowed.
Alice finally cleared her throat, and he glanced her way quickly. As he stared at her inquisitively, the oddest feeling of déjà-vu overcame Alice, as if it was Friday night again and he was grinning at her, eyes sparkling.
“Woodward,” he greeted her curtly after a beat, which jolted her out of her reverie.
“Uhm,” She began eloquently. She couldn’t seem to remember what she’d meant to tell him, and now her face was burning up because he was staring at her expectantly. Shit. “I just wanted to tell you that I was sorry for, you know,” She blurted out, wanting to kick herself. “Friday. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
Potter was looking vaguely uncomfortable. “Oh. Is that it?”
He was trying extremely hard to be polite. In fact, Alice couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him so rigid. And for some reason the thought upset her—there was something in her that was repelled by the notion of someone disliking her, and Potter was usually so easy-going, too. She didn’t want to be one of the few people he felt uncomfortable around.
“I don’t know why I said that, honestly—” She continued, letting out some sort of small, stiff laugh. “I was just—”
Alice paused, brows furrowed, and tried to think of what exactly it was that she needed him to understand. Had she really been kidding? Perhaps, somewhere deep down, she believed what she’d said. Perhaps she did think he had it easy.
“Right…” Potter finally interjected when she had remained quiet for a few moments too long. Alice gaze snapped to meet his, and his hand flew to his hair. “It’s… fine. I’ll, uh, see you around, Woodward.”
And then he was gone, walking down the corridor towards his cubicle.
Alice stood staring after his retreating figure for a few moments, disoriented.
As if from somewhere far away, the thought of how similarly their interactions always seemed to end entered her mind: they’d only ever properly talked twice, and both times had ended with Potter walking away.
Then, with a jolt, Alice realized that perhaps coming to him with an apology hadn’t been necessary—perhaps she’d overreacted and hadn’t made that big of a mess as she’d initially thought. Perhaps he hadn’t been as upset as she’d imagined, and she’d only made things awkward where they hadn’t been before by coming to him with such a formal apology. What had she been thinking when she’d thought it was a good idea to apologize for a joke?
That was likely why there was so much tension between them—Alice had been too upfront about something so trivial, and now it was out in the open while before it had been unspoken. But then again, she was certain she’d said something wrong, since Dean and Martha had found it gossip-worthy and Margaret had told her to apologize.
As Alice slowly walked back to her own desk, these thoughts ran through her head as if in a loop. Suddenly, she felt trapped—whatever she did, it ended up being the wrong thing. It wasn’t the first time she’d felt like this, but now she was becoming increasingly tired of feeling like she was coming upon dead ends wherever she turned.
Hello to those who are reading! I hope you’re enjoying the story so far.
I thought I’d leave my first author’s note at the end of this chapter, since you really only just got a feel of the story.
So, since this is my first time feeling truly committed to writing a novel, it means that you’ll have to bear with me, as I am pretty much in unknown territory. This means that I do not know how often the updates will come (I have a tendency to edit the living crap out of my writing) and that although I do really want to finish this story, I can’t give any guarantees that I will. But I will try my best, I promise!
Because I haven’t written anything like this before, I would also be very grateful for any type of feedback from you guys. Sometimes I have trouble understanding whether a story is entertaining or whether characters are being realistically portrayed (as in, if they are relatable), so I would be extremely appreciative of you if you left me any type of comment on how I was doing in regards to that. Or in regards to anything else, really.
Well, I think that’s it for now!
Thank you so much for reading,
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