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Keep Calm and Carry On by my_voice_rising
Chapter 3 : The Proposition
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 26


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CHAPTER THREE



“I have got to get the hell away from that place,” I tell Lisa as I pour the tattooed wizard his stout.

It’s been a week since Ward has given me this golden opportunity at the WNAG. I’ve done my best to avoid him since, which hasn’t been too difficult, as he rarely oversees my daily activities to begin with.

I’ve just arrived from Charm to take on my evening shift at the Poisoned Apple. I’m exhausted, but it’s only seven o’clock; the real action won’t begin for hours. Lisa has surprisingly dropped by after her shift at St. Mungo’s, bless her. She’s even more knackered than me after pulling another all-nighter. Clearly she is fighting to stay awake, but she’s too polite to tell me she’d rather be cuddling with Justin in her sweatpants than listening to my problems.

I place the stout before the tattooed wizard. He’s quite fit; I lean flirtatiously over the bar, smiling.

“Three Sickles.”

But he isn’t listening. He is, of course, staring at Lisa.

Even in her state of near-exhaustion she looks like a supermodel; like she’s been up all night taking body-shots off Myron Wagtail. Even her cardigan is inside out, but she’s too tired to notice.

“Three Sickles!” I snap, and the man jumps from his Lisa-reverie. Sliding the coins across the bar, he chuckles as if to say, Can you blame me?

I grump down the bar to my friend. “He’s staring at you.”

“No he’s not,” she mumbles impatiently, like she always does, tucking her hair behind her ear.

Lisa and I went out over the weekend. I was beyond keen—that is, until I remembered that walking into a bar with her is like walking into a flock of Hippogriffs with a particularly scrumptious weasel. All night, I was stuck blathering away to the barkeep, while man after man wedged himself between Lisa and I to talk to her. Finally I charmed her engagement ring so that it glittered blindingly, even in the dim light.

Lisa didn’t mind. In fact, I could tell she felt sorry for me. Her pity inspired my sixth gin and tonic. When we left, I did so with smudged lipstick, and Lisa with two men actually shedding tears at her departure.

“Save some for the rest of us, will you?” I shove a fistful of bar nuts into my mouth, chewing loudly.

“What, is your sparkling etiquette not doing the trick?” Lisa grins at my ugly snacking and I chew louder. “And don’t be ridiculous, you’re always hanging out with boys.”

“Uh, those idiots do not count. Last time I saw them, Seamus tried to suffocate me with a pillow for cheering on the wrong team. And Dean ate all my Licorice Wands.”

There is the sudden prickly feeling of being watched. A glance down the bar reveals that the tattooed wizard is full-on staring at Lisa, balancing his chin on his fist as if she were an oil painting.

“Oh, brilliant!” She shields her face with her hand. “Edie, come on, he’s pathetic.”

“Well, beggars can’t be choosers.”

I’d like to think that l’m mildly visually pleasing, when not within a three-mile radius of Lisa. I have strong cheekbones and wide brown eyes, and I know a thing or two about making my ginger hair look nice. Unfortunately, my best friend is an otherworldly angelic being.

She snorts. “We were talking about your job, I thought, not men. You know, empowerment, glass ceilings…”

As she sips from her coffee I pull a face—how she possibly drinks that rubbish is beyond me. The Poisoned Apple has some of the worst coffee on the planet. But I suppose when your nights are spent collecting bedpans and reading charts until you’re cross-eyed, you’ll do anything to stay awake.

“Does St. Mungo’s need a new Welcome Witch?” I’m only half joking.

“I wish. Dolores is dreadful.” Her eyes narrow accusingly. “You aren’t letting on to Dean, are you? About how much you hate Charm? It was really nice of him to land you an internship.”

When I shift uncomfortably, she clicks her tongue in admonition. “Edie…”

I throw my hands up. “Well? You can’t expect me to control every word that comes out of my mouth when we’re drinking! I can barely do that sober.”

“Right, but it’s Dean,” she says.

“I know, he’s my best mate.” Lisa fixes me with a serious gaze and I add, “Aside from you!”

“That’s not what I was saying.”

Suddenly the bar door is thrown open so hard that it bangs on the opposing wall. Lisa nearly spills her coffee. “What the—”

A gaggle of well-dressed people stumbles in: three witches and two wizards. The women are wearing short, glittery dresses, while the men’s tailored blazers probably cost a month’s rent on my flat. I know the type: posh socialites from Chelsea who stumbled across this bar by accident, and who don’t know a good beer from a broomstick.

And they’re absolutely off their faces. I can tell by picking up on subtle hints, such as how one man raises his arms and releases a war-cry that silences the pub.

Lisa fails to suppress her smirk, downing the last of her coffee. “And on that note…” She rises and collects her purse. (The tattooed man actually wines.)

“Don’t leave me,” I beg.

“Sorry!” she says, but her eyes are glimmering with amusement.

Lisa twiddles her fingers in a farewell and turns on the spot. The crack of her apparating is barely audible over the newcomers’ loud chatter. As they approach the bar, they’re trying to remember the name of “that one cocktail they had in Edinburgh. It had some kind of juice in it. Or something.”

*


It turns out that they are essentially harmless. The girls, at least, are the saving grace of the entire outfit—And in really amazing shape, I think, noticing their toned arms. The only exercise I ever get is sprinting back and forth behind this bar like a caged terrier.

The whole group has a celebrity air about them. Maybe it’s the way they hold themselves, or their way of talking, but everyone is noticing, murmuring with their heads together.

So who are they?

“Excuse me.”

One of the men is leaning against the bar in his pristine outfit. “Ooh, you don’t want to touch the bar, unless you want that to disintegrate.”

He glances down at the fabric, cracking an unsure smile, and I shrug. “Looks expensive.”

He’s tall and broad, with wavy brown hair, and looks familiar, but I can’t place him. Probably because he’s wearing a pair of expensive sunglasses—even though he’s in a dark pub, at nighttime. It’s a wonder he found his way to the counter.

Then he says, “Ken I pleehs hev an Oold Fyeshend?”

His counterparts erupt into laughter from their table. A glance tells me that they’re watching our interaction with great interest, and I have the feeling that I’m the butt of some joke.

“Sank you.” He says curtly as I slide him his Old Fashioned. (His friends chortle again.)

As the night progresses, I lose track of the cocktails he and his friends order. They want champagne with gin and huckleberry vodka, with muddled grapefruit, salt on the rim, bitters over a sugar cube, shaken not stirred, and on and on and on… By the end of it, I’m pouring juice with sparkling water. They’re too drunk to notice and I’m not charging them anymore. But they’ve become entirely too much to handle.

The soberest of the group, a woman with a serious demeanor and startling green eyes, sends me little apologetic looks now and then. She looks familiar, too, and I wonder if she a Hogwarts student. Still, she does nothing to stop the men from making complete asses of themselves.

After their third mentioning that they’ve been drinking since four o’clock in the afternoon, my patience is running thin. Their volume level is like they’re screaming across a gorge at one another, rather than sitting at the same table. So far, I’m only seriously irked.

However, the scale tips in favour of “completely furious” when I run to the ladies’ loo, in one of the spare seconds they give me, only to find the man with the accent. Still wearing his sunglasses. Pissing on the wall.

“Oh my God!”

Believe it or not, part of my job is dealing with a lot of drunk people. But this certainly takes the Snitch.

The man swivels in horror. Yet he doesn’t seem to think he should stop urinating. I focus all of my energy into looking him in the eye—or stupid sunglasses—as he says in bewilderment, “I think you’re in the wrong loo!”

It’s a moment before the murderous red stops clouding my vision. I jab my finger at the door. “Get out!”

At last he realizes that he, in fact, has gotten it all wrong. He mumbles something incoherent and stumbles out, leaving me with a huge mess to clear up. Not only has he pissed everywhere, but he managed to overflow the sink and topple the bin in the process—in which he has apparently puked. (Luckily, my equally sad second job of cleaning hotels in Diagon Alley has equipped me with quick cleaning charms.)

I throw open the door to the toilets, chest heaving. The Phantom of the Loo has apparently not mentioned his recent adventure to his friends. Ignoring the tattooed wizard’s request for another pint, I storm across the bar and grab him by his expensive shirt.

“Whoa!” his mate shouts suggestively.

I open my mouth to scream I-don’t-know-what, but before I even know what’s happening this arsehole says, “Why thank you,” and plants his mouth on mine. It is easily the sloppiest kiss—if you could even call it that—I have ever experienced. My nostril is in his mouth.

I shove him as hard as I can. He stumbles back but two of the girls catch him, their jaws dropped in horror.

“I DIDN’T COME OVER HERE TO KISS YOU, I CAME TO KICK YOU OUT OF MY PUB!”

He raises his hands questioningly. “Vhat for?”

And they erupt into howls of laughter.

Idiots. All of them.

The other bloke throws an arm over his shoulder—or tries. He doesn’t has much to offer in the way of motor skills right now. “D’you know who thissis? Thissis bloody Viktor Krum!”

The whole pub has already quieted at the sudden shouting, but now they’re murmuring again. Even I am taken aback. It does make sense: his build, the accent, how wealthy they are, why he looks so familiar. But I don’t want to give them the satisfaction.

I am prepared to say something along the lines of, “I don’t care who the bloody hell you are,” but at that exact moment, a man in a neighboring group throws a fist into the air.

“YEAH, BULGARIA!”

Then Viktor Krum turns and punches him in the face.

“WHAT the EVER-LIVING FUCK!”

The man topples over and his friends dive to his defense, tackling Viktor Krum to the floor. Though they are outnumbered, Krum and his friend are still trying to put up a fight, but they can barely move with their over-dressed inebriation. The green-eyed witch is in the thick of it, pulling them off of each other, bellowing to break it up. Not for the first time, I wonder why nobody is ever smart enough to use magic in pub fights.

“Stupefy!”

My spell stops most of the fighters, save one, though he thinks better of it and backs away. The brawlers are frozen mid-punch, looking like Picasso’s Guernica. A woman gives a final shriek before quieting herself.

“Aaaand that’s last call! Everybody go home, I’m done.”

I perform the counter-spell, ignoring the cries of complaint. I feel like a mother who’s just told her children that it’s time to leave Honeydukes. The girls are doing their best to pull their friends to their feet, but the combination of high heels and cocktails has made them as wobbly as newborn foals. Before Krum has even made it to a standing position I’ve waved away the blinking Open sign with my wand and retreated behind the bar.

“But I never got my stout!” The tattooed wizard has an impressive whine for a grown man.

“Mate, I just cleaned up somebody’s vomit, and was kissed by that same mouth. If anyone needs a beer, it’s me.”

He must reckon he can’t argue with that, because when I turn around he’s gone.

One by one, Viktor Krum’s friends come up to settle their bills. It’s a slow-going process but I am grateful to not have to deal with them in a group. The girls continue to apologise profusely, and I think they genuinely mean well. They use the phrase “complete sodding disgrace” more than once.

I’m on the verge of breaking the glass that I’m polishing when there is a quiet, “‘Scuse me.”

Viktor Krum is leaning on the bar again. His expensive blazer is ripped at the shoulder and his left eye is already swelling shut. Clumsily he takes a seat in one of the stools.

“Really sorry,” he manages. He gestures pathetically towards his mouth and I assume he means the kiss. Behind him the sober girl—a girlfriend, maybe?—is giving him a grave look, arms crossed tightly over her chest. More than likely the apology was her idea entirely.

My response is a terse, “Nine Galleons, two Sickles, seventeen Knuts.”

Whereas I would be horrified at such an amount, Krum merely fishes around in his trouser pockets. I suppose things like this are common to a Quidditch star. I turn away, waving my wand at the sink to fill it with soapy water, watching the pint glasses wash themselves. Reflected in the mirror over the sinks, Krum clumsily searches for the proper coinage, before giving up and dumping the pile onto the bar with a rattle of change. Like a well-trained pup, he stares at my back and waits quietly.

When I turn he slides the pile over. “Keep the res’.” I nod tightly, not making eye contact.

“I really am sorry,” he says again and stumbles to his feet.

I’m still refusing proper eye contact, unable to forget the stench of his boozy breath on my lips, until finally he staggers back to the others. When he’s not looking, my curiosity gets the best of me—quickly I count the pile of money. To my surprise, he’s left a three-Galleon tip.

“Go Bulgaria,” I mutter.

I count the coins again, this time in terms of how many stress-beers they will buy. No doubt Seamus and Dean are way ahead of me by now; there’s a Haileybury Hammers match tonight, and they’ve long since been at my flat, watching the two-way mirror. (I gave them the password to the front door. Not sure yet if this is a good or bad idea.) No doubt they’re already shouting at the match and decimating my meagre supply of food.

Finally everyone is leaving. Krum offers a pathetic wave as he stumbles out, which I ignore. When the door closes I release the enormous breath that I’d apparently been holding.

It’s not until an hour later, as I am locking the door in the chilly night air, that I realise it: Krum’s accent had disappeared when he came to apologise. In fact, he’d almost sounded Scottish.

“Edie.”

“Father Christmas!” The first exclamation I can think of flies from my lips.

Painfully, I drop my too-full keychain on my toe. The thing could give Rubeus Hagrid a run for his money. Hopping on one foot while massaging the other, I turn and am face-to-face with Rose Zeller in her signature red peacoat.

“That’s your reaction to being snuck up on? I could’ve hexed you three times over.”

Ignoring the jibe, I release my foot. “What are you doing here?”

“Well I came to find you. Did you close this foul chanty early? It’s only midnight.”

“Really long story,” I sigh, waving her off. I’m trying not to focus on the fact that my only kiss in months was from a guy who had just thrown up in a ladies’ room. “Wait, why did you want to find me?”

“Could you be any more suspicious?”

“Well, I just never really saw us as, you know.”

Friends. The word hangs in the air.

After a very painful moment she says, “I have a favour to ask.”

Oh no.

But she’s got her pleading face on, and I know that I won’t be heading home to watch the match until I’ve at least heard her out.

“Well, let’s not just stand here in the cold. Do you fancy a pint?” But I’ve already started walking. If I’m going to be asked to set her up with Theo again, I’m at least going to get a beer out of it. Rose hurries after, the heels of her boots click-clacking down the cobblestones.

Several minutes later, we arrive at Le Chat Noir and shuffle into the warmth of firelight. It’s not a place that I typically haunt, but I saw the look on Rose’s face upon seeing my first choice. Maybe it was the one-eyed wizard hunched outside, hacking up a lung, and asking if we could spare money for his budding music career. At Rose’s approving look we head to one of the polished black tables in the corner.

The barmaid has short bleached hair and a septum piercing, and takes our orders with indifference. Rose coolly orders a double vodka soda with a flick of her hair. Kicked back with arms crossed I order a Peverell Porter. The barmaid nods curtly, and I have the feeling that she thinks we’re a couple.

“So,” I say after she disappears. “A favour, eh?”

Rose studies me before wordlessly reaching into her purse. A blue folder is set gently on the table. “Please tell me you’re not keeping files on Theo now.”

She glowers. “This isn’t about Theo.”

“Oh?”

“This is about the Quidditch article I don’t want to write.”

“Oh.” I sit up like a spaniel eyeing a liver treat.

“Thought that might interest you. Go on, open it.”

Fingers tingling, I reach across the table, feeling the paper-pulp texture beneath my fingers…

“It’s empty,” I frown.

“Exactly.” Roses smiles with satisfaction. Thoroughly confused, my next question is silenced when the barmaid returns with our drinks. I thank her with a silent smile, my heart practically leaping from my chest, as Rose studies her drink, takes a sip, smacks her lips thoughtfully—will you go on?

At last she says, “So far I have nothing for this article. I don’t have the time to write it. I talked to Ward about giving it to you instead.”

My hand shoots across the table and grabs her wrist. “You didn’t!”

“Don’t get too excited,” Rose takes another sip, not meeting my eyes. “He said no.”

“What! Why? Honestly, has Ward even glanced at my portfolio? I have some very impressive work from Hog—”

“I know, you started your own little school newspaper that nobody read.” When I glower at her she says, more gently, “Sorry. I’m still asking for your help. Or, rather, suggesting that we help each other.”

I don’t like her tone, or the glint in her eye. Bartering with journalists is something I’ve always been wary of. It’s an unspoken rule of the game; something gleaned from black and white Muggle films, where men in jaunty hats get themselves into sticky situations by making deals with the press.

But if this is what I think it is…

“So, what then?”

“Well, obviously Ward wants it to be written by an actual, seasoned journalist—” (My hand clenches around the pint glass.) “—but I just don’t have the time. I know, I know. This is not how journalism is run. If you’re given an assignment, you keep it. You see that it gets done, especially when Tallulah Blakeslee gives it to you personally, blah, blah, blah.”

“How in the world did you get a job over me?” I murmur breathlessly.

“The bottom line is that I’m too busy to write this assignment, and it needs to be done, and Ward needs to think that I’m the one who did it.”

Rose slides the empty folder across the table. The little lightbulb goes off. “You want me to write it under your name.”

My intention is to say this flatly, as if it’s a stupid idea—but I can’t. Of course it’s unethical. Of course my hard work would be going unnoticed, again. But it’s the best opportunity to present itself in all my time at Charm: a chance to conduct an actual interview. Real-life experience writing for an actual magazine.

It would mean being a published journalist.

Rose cracks a grin. She knew that I would say yes. “See what I’m getting at, here?”

I take a long drink, my eyes never leaving the blue folder. There is the distinct feeling of being trapped, even though technically I’m the one doing the favour.

There has to be a catch somewhere; something that can blow up in our faces. In fact there are probably hundreds of catches. But my excitement and the alcohol are keeping me from seeing them right now.

“All right, I’ll do it.”

Rose releases a squeal of delight. “Oh, Edie, thank you, thank you, thank you! This is such a relief.”

Despite the fact that this is clearly the absolute worst idea I have ever had, I smile back at her. She says, giddily, “Honestly, I couldn’t give two pence about Quidditch in the first place. I mean it’s so brutal and vulgar—”

Though I can’t argue with this, I’m too excited and interrupt, “So, tell me about the piece! What’s the angle?”

“Right. It’ll be a feature piece focusing on a player from…” She frowns in thought, and I think that she has to be doing this on purpose. “Perth? Plymouth? Oh, it’s Puddleme—”

“PUDDLEMERE.” I have slammed down my glass mid-sip, beer sloshing. “PUDDLEMERE UNITED.”

Rose stares blankly. “Yes?”

I lift a reassuring hand. “Let me explain.”

And I launch into my prepared story, about how they are one of my Top Three Quidditch Teams (before Kenmare, after Holyhead.) I also mention my Puddlemere knickers that read Chuck that Quaffle Here across the bum.

And in the most abridged history lesson I can offer, I explain that Puddlemere made it to last year’s European Cup, wherein the game lasted an agonizing seven hours. It was a complete stalemate. And Puddlemere would have won, had it not been for Seeker Amelia Jones pulling a Wronski Feint—why, why would you do that, Jones?—and crashing. As soon as she was down the Seeker from the Arrows caught the Snitch. It was all over in seconds.

“The following week was… not ideal,” I say darkly.

But I may as well be speaking Mermish, because Rose’s eyes are glazed over. “Yeah,” she says with false enthusiasm.

“So. Who will I be interviewing? Jones? Oh, Merlin, please let it be Jones! I’ve been dying to ask her about that Feint, but she’s never answered my fan mail…”

“Edie, you wrote her fan—? Anyway.” With the shake of her head, Rose chooses not to acknowledge this. “Your first interview is set up for tomorrow morning at ten.”

“Tomorrow morning! That doesn’t give me any time to prepare!”

“Well you’re already a walking dictionary on the subject. What more do you need to know about Pogglemore?”

“Puddlemere.”

“Anyway, you’re interviewing Oliver Wood.”

My jaw drops. “Are you — Seriously?”

Wood is arguably Puddlemere’s best player. Even better, he’s become a Quidditch martyr after a serious shoulder injury that’s left him out for an entire season. For this reason I’ve never seen him play, but everyone knows the name Oliver Wood.

Maybe he’s slipped off the radar, and he’s fairly old for a professional athlete. And I’ve heard a rumour about a drinking problem. But I can practically see my pitch now: Quidditch Hero Still Fighting for Place in the Game.

Rose supplies, “You two should have been at Hogwarts together for a bit, but I think he’s a few years ahead of you. Do you know who I’m talking about?”

I laugh condescendingly. “Uh, yeah, I think I know who Oliver Wood is.”





Updates 6/2017: Another chapter updated! Hopefully this feels more cohesive; I tried to offer more emotional substance and less zingy one-liners, among other things. And Lisa's character is getting a fair amount of doing-over too. I know KC&CO has been finished for ages, but if it's your first time reading, tell me what you think! ♥

I do not own Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," or Pablo Picasso's "Guernica."


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