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Chapter 27 : The Unfortunate Truth
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I sweep my finger across my desk, leaving a streak of gleaming wood grain amidst the dust. It looks like whoever once worked here has died. Among the littered items are the solidified remains of a cup of coffee, and a half-eaten biscuit. The desiccated plant is nothing new. When I’d signed all of those contracts weeks ago, it seemed like I would be living at Witch Weekly. But this is the first that I’ve returned in weeks. So much for being a full-time employee. Even my personal assistant is just a roving intern, not specifically assigned to me. (He was still horrified today for not realizing I was coming in, caught without my coffee at the ready.)
After Oliver revealed that he’d read the articles several nights ago, I’d considered not coming back. It’s very likely my absence would have gone unnoticed. I was totally prepared to sweep my problems under a rug. But then, in a caffeinated bout of self-confidence, I decided I wouldn’t go down without a fight. Maybe Oliver and I had been wrong. Maybe I could have him and a career.
My writing was good enough to land me a paid job. Who’s to say it isn’t good enough to create a nice story; one that readers would love?
I drop my bag onto the floor unceremoniously. To keep fueling these positive thoughts, I’ll need more coffee. A quick Tergio and the questionable solids are (basically) lifted from the mug. I stroll leisurely through the corridors. It’s a much more pleasant place to be, now that I’m not running around with Ward’s lunch and proofreading. The afternoon sun reflects off the snow and the corridors are bright. The owls even seem more intelligent these days, having the sense to not collide with one another and fall onto passersby. As much as I want to dislike Witch Weekly, I have a real purpose for being here now.
I hop down the last stairs into the kitchens. Several people mill about and we nod politely. The House Elves have left a platter of freshly baked garlic bread. My stomach rumbles. I clamp a slice between my teeth as I pour my third coffee of the day. Then, with a familiar twist in my stomach, I spot Rose at a corner table.
Oliver was supposed to break up with her the day after the wedding. But his practices have taken up all of his spare time. If Puddlemere beats the Chudley Cannons (which they will, because it’s a complete mystery how the Cannons have made it this far), they’re heading to the European Cup. Though I haven’t seen him, we’ve been owling and there is a note folded in my back pocket at this very moment: Finally got in touch with Rose. Today our fake relationship is officially fake-over.
Rose hasn’t noticed me. She looks tired, a bit less than polished, engrossed in proofing some parchment. I swallow. She doesn’t have feelings for Oliver. He said it himself. We had sex, but it doesn’t make us bad people, because she’d do the same thing to me. The knots in my stomach are unwarranted.
Before she sees me I run back up the stairs, spilling coffee along the way.
My knuckles hover above Mr. Ward’s door. I take a steadying breath. I’ve finished the first draft of my article but it’s barely reached the 1,000 word minimum. Writing an interesting story using only vague, unbiased facts is harder than I thought. Retreating to a corner, I glance uncertainly at the parchment in my hands and find a random paragraph.
After a bumpy start with Puddlemere’s loss to Kenmare, Wood’s heralded return is back, full-swing. Despite the injury in his dominant arm, he has guided Puddlemere United to its spot as one of the top two teams in Britain. Recent wins against the Holyhead Harpies and Tutshill Tornadoes have pitted them in a match against the Chudley Cannons. As the final qualifying match of the season, the winner will be moving on to play the Wimbourne Wasps at the 2007 European Cup. After Puddlemere’s loss last year, Wood is more determined than ever to claim the Cup…
It’s not nearly as interesting as the others, but maybe it’s because I know what I’m withholding. Blakeslee and Ward have no idea that Oliver’s parents were killed by Death Eaters, and that he has a little sister. As far as they’re concerned, this is the most interesting information I could find.
Still, I’m faced with an unfortunate truth: my writing was much better when I didn’t care about morals.
I square my shoulders, marching to Ward’s office and rapping on the door. “Do come in!” he bellows jovially. I am entirely convinced he was once a stage actor. Inside I find him standing on his chair, Aguamente-ing a hanging plant. It looks like hundreds of purple butterflies fluttering on a fern. It’s very expensive—I remember that from where I sat in the very back of the Herbology greenhouse, far away from the plants, on Professor Sprout’s orders.
“Ah, Edith! Hello there!”
I close the door quietly, “Hi, Mr. Ward, I’ve brought my first draft—”
“I’m chuffed that you’re hand-delivering it!” He gestures at an empty chair. I sit, annoyed to be interrupted already, though not entirely surprised. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your position with us.”
He comes around to the other side of his desk, leaning against it comfortably. Our knees almost bump and I scoot my chair back, “Yes, I’ve been wondering about that too.” After the January issue is published, will I be kept on?
“Your contract is up at the end of the month, but I’d like to offer you a full-time position.”
This feels oddly similar to when he asked me to hand out refreshments at the WNA Gala. “Is it with the House Elves? Or an administrative assistant position? I know Mildred’s getting a bit up there…”
“No, of course not! You would be a member of our editorial staff. A writer.”
I still can’t make myself feel excited. Nothing good has ever come of our conversations. There must be a catch somewhere. “That’s… Wow, Mr. Ward, I’m honoured.”
“You’ve done well with Quidditch journalism, but unfortunately our sports section will be absorbed back into the Celebrity Watch after January. Girls are more interested in Oliver Wood’s personal life than his athletic career, apparently. Can’t say I’m surprised.”
I glance at the parchment in my hand, “Well, I’m sure not all girls—”
“There’s an opening in our fashion department. If you accept, you would be assisting with editorials and photo shoots, but primarily we want you for interviews. Designers, models, celebrities with a flair for dress, and the like. I know what you’re thinking, and I agree that you don’t have impeccable fashion sense,” he sizes me up as if I was a horse at an auction, “but your interviewing skills are impressive. Can’t figure out for the life of me how you got Oliver Wood to speak so candidly.”
He looks almost suspicious; the silence lasts a second too long. “People just open up to me. Should’ve been a shrink, I reckon.”
He laughs heartily. I titter along and clench my fists until my knuckles are white, “So… If it’s for the fashion department, I would be working with Rose Zeller. Right?”
“I thought you would have known! You would be taking over Rose’s position.”
“Oh… Is she being promoted?”
He sighs and I realize where this is going, “Unfortunately her performance has been lacking lately. Several of her assignments have been handed in late.” I furrow my brow. That certainly doesn’t sound like Rose. No matter how jealous, I’ve always known that she’s a hard worker. But I think of her slumped at the table this morning. She’d looked so tired…
“We’ve also caught wind that she and Wood are romantically involved which, Edith, creates something called a conflict of interest. Unfortunately Witch Weekly is no longer the place for her.”
And there’s the catch.
I swallow, “Does she know?”
“Not yet. This is very confidential, Edith. I wanted to chat with you before we made any final decisions,” he’s leaning very close with the dire secrecy of it all. I catch a sour whiff of coffee breath.
I wish he hadn’t said anything about this. Not only have I taken Rose’s boyfriend from her, real or not, but I’m now taking her job? I hear my own quiet voice, “When do you need an answer?”
His jaw works side to side in dramatic affectation, “Publication day. That’s two weeks, Edith!” Right, because I never learned how to read a calendar. “Plenty of time to decide. Of course, this offer is all based on the completion of your contract. We’ll need another stunning article. I’m sure we won’t have any problems, but it’s important that you understand.”
His eyes land on the parchment I’m holding. Trying to steady my hand, I pass it over. “Brilliant,” my smile is quaky.
The office is suddenly stifling. Jumping to my feet, I clutch the back of the chair for balance and excuse myself. I don’t even know if I remember to close the door behind me. The corridor is a blur of failing light and passersby as I return to my desk. Two weeks. Yes, that’s plenty of time to decide if I want to completely fuck Rose over (after fake-stealing her fake boyfriend.) But it also means facing her for two weeks, not being able to say a word, knowing that she’s about to lose her job.
I sit at my desk for ages, absently drumming my fingers. I have no idea what to do. Finally I throw my cloak over my shoulders and head into the chilly evening. The sun is sinking fast, the eastern sky turning inky blue. To calm myself I focus on the sound of my boots crunching over the snow. I’ve made dinner plans with Justin and Lisa, before they leave for their Budapest honeymoon tomorrow. Dinner isn’t for another hour, but I can’t stay at Witch Weekly any longer.
Despite my heating charm the cold stings my cheeks. Three days until Christmas and all of the shops are open late, packed with people. The enchanted wreathes hanging from the streetlamps sing “The First Noël.” Now that the shop keeps have agreed on one song, rather than twelve different ones all at once in a horrible racket, it’s quite pleasant. Humming along, I peer into the warm glow of the windows. I still have to find a gift for Andrew, after Luke stole my idea of a Recording Orb for his music.
An hour later I arrive later at the restaurant of Justin’s choice, its name some unpronounceable French word. My paper shopping bag contains a book on the history of jazz music in the first Wizarding War. (When in doubt, buy Andrew something related to a saxophone.) To my surprise, Lisa and Justin are waiting outside. They’re chatting with another couple, bundled against the cold. Just before I reach them, the other couple turns around. It’s Rose and Oliver.
“Look who we ran into!” Justin says. “They’ve agreed to join us for dinner.”
I blink, “Wow.”
“Hello, Edie,” Rose bijou-bijous me, something she’s never done. “How have you been? We didn’t get a chance to chat at work today.”
Obviously she and Oliver are still fake-together. He’s staring at me, because he is the worst at subtle eye contact, so I bore my eyes into Lisa’s. “Wow.”
Oblivious, Justin claps me on the back, “Well, let’s get out of this cold.”
Lisa wrenches the door open in a panic, nearly smacking him in the face. Oliver pauses to wait for me. He quickly catches himself and Rose takes his arm. Definitely still together. I trail after everyone like the maid.
The pretty hostess smiles politely, “Good evening! Four tonight?”
I poke my head out from behind Justin, “Five.”
We’re directed to a table that’s meant to seat six. Justin and Lisa sit beside one another, as do Rose and Oliver, forming a nice little quadrangle. I sit askew with a chair full of cloaks for company. Oliver keeps giving me glances but I ignore him. He’d probably try communicating with obvious hand gestures if I give him the chance. Rose is wearing a long-sleeved black dress, the neckline dipping below her throat. She looks stunning and I can’t remember the last time I bathed. When Justin orders a bottle of expensive pinot noir for the table, I take the liberty of keeping it close at hand.
“We were sorry you couldn’t make it to the wedding,” Justin says to Rose. I am suddenly very interested in my salad fork.
She regains herself, “Oh, I’m sorry too. But I’m sure you two know all about being busy with work. I would have loved to have been there.” The squeeze she gives Oliver’s arm looks a bit too tight. Did she not know that he went?
I can’t help it—I finally look at him. Our eyes meet for only a second. It just so happens to be the same second that Rose is watching, “Edie, did you enjoy the wedding?”
“Yes,” I peep. “So pretty.”
A silence settles over us like the snow now gathering outside. Lisa is wearing a look that says she’s figured it out. About time. All the same I avoid her eyes. Justin, for all of his legal prowess, is clueless. “Brilliant! We thought so too, wouldn’t you say?” he takes Lisa’s hand.
Rose takes Oliver’s hand too, eyes never leaving me. The seconds drag by.
“I need a fag,” I announce, jumping to my feet. Healer Lisa doesn’t even scowl. Yeah, she definitely knows. “I’ll only be a moment. Don’t eat my pasta!” I point at them menacingly with the salad fork. Nobody laughs.
The ancient maitre d’ directs me to the smoking area (after repeating himself four times because I can’t understand his accent.) I climb the staircase to a glass door and step outside onto the wrought iron balcony. Thankfully there is nobody out here, and it’s secluded from Lisa’s severe looks.
There actually is one last cigarette in my bag from months ago. I put it between my lips, hands trembling from the cold. I really should quit. I really should have waited for Oliver to end it with Rose. I really should have written nicer articles. I really should have done a lot. My body is shivering so violently that before I can light the cigarette, it falls from my mouth and lands on the slush-covered cobblestones far below.
I peer down at it pathetically. Tonight of all nights. I can’t sit through an entire meal while Rose squeezes Oliver’s thigh under the table—not without every vice in the book.
This is all so stupid. Why should I feel guilty? Rose doesn’t even really like Oliver. He said so himself. She’s being this way to get a rise out of me, because she’s still mad about the articles.
With a quiet pop, Oliver appears on the balcony and I stare, immobilized. He zips his leather jacket to his neck and comes closer. There are snowflakes sticking to his eyelashes. I should tell him to go back inside—could he be any more obvious? Of course everyone knows we’ve gone to the same place. Well, maybe not Justin.
“Rose knows you’re out here,” I break the silence.
“Probably,” he’s close enough to touch and I can’t bring myself to do it. “I tried to talk to her days ago. She kept putting it off. Then when I finally met up with her tonight we ran into Justin and Lisa.”
It’s like she knew. At Lisa’s hen night, Rose had drunkenly confided that she was worried about a breakup. If she’s only interested in the limelight, why mention it? Being dumped would make her look bad. At the time I’d thought she was trying to get a rise out of me.
“I think she actually cares about you.”
“I was afraid of that.” When he sees my look he says, “Not before the wedding! Really. I didn’t lie to you, Edie, I really thought that she didn’t care. She and I have nothing in common. We barely have anything to talk about. How could she possibly?”
“Because you’re a nice person. You’re likeable.”
“What I’m doing right now isn’t very nice.”
My stomach sinks, “I reckon that’s right.”
He pulls me to him, his other hand going to the back of my head. “Sorry,” he mutters. “I know what it probably looked like when you saw us. I didn’t want you to think…”
“I know,” I make the mistake of looking up at him. His lips meet mine and I feel the heat radiating from him. I regain myself, gently pushing him away, “Wait.” It takes everything.
He looks genuinely confused, “Isn’t this why you came out here?”
“No! I wasn’t speaking in code, I actually wanted a cigarette.”
“Oh. You shouldn’t smoke.” I roll my eyes, but even now I’m looping my finger in his coat pocket. Cautiously he says, “So… should we stop then?”
“Well, I suppose the harm is done.”
The words have barely left me before Oliver is kissing me again. Ignoring my good conscience, I let him. A groan escapes him. The sound makes my stomach twist and I kiss him deeper, clutching his waist. He feels so nice out here in the snow. And so strong, I think, as he easily picks me up and my legs wrap around his waist.
I should probably stop this, a small part of me acknowledges. A very small part. Oliver breaks away to murmur a silencing charm before I pull him back to me. Unable to control myself I find his jaw line, devouring him. I don’t care about the others, sitting uncomfortably at the table, ignoring the painfully obvious: Oliver left to find me. He stumbles forward until I’m pressed against the stone wall, resting on a ledge. His mouth on my collarbone burns against my skin, a sharp contrast to the cold.
And suddenly it's happening again; we're peeling back layers of clothes. Oliver almost tears a hole in my tights trying to remove them. I fumble with his belt, which boats quite possibly the most complicated buckle in the history of ever. It isn’t budging, and I’m losing the rare streak of sexiness I had.
“Here,” he moves to help, and instead slams his head into mine.
“Fuck!” I shout and we both slap a hand to our throbbing foreheads. I lean on the wall behind me and boom with laughter. This is all so ridiculous. Oliver is laughing too, adorably, one eye shut behind his palm.
“You have the foulest mouth, Edie.”
“You have the thickest skull!”
Our laughter slowly dies, replaced by a sobering silence. There’s some kind of bond that comes from two people betraying another. We’ve already come too far. The damage has been done.
He takes me by the chin, kissing me softly. The belt buckle comes undone and I pull his shirttails from his trousers. His stomach muscles tense at my cold fingers and he smiles into the kiss. Snowflakes melt on my bare thighs as I quake with the cold or something deeper. His eyes search me. They’re warm, only a shade darker than my own, and I don’t look away as he pushes his hips against me. There is the moment of silent anticipation…
Oliver releases a shaky groan, and I bury my face in his neck.
My heart pounds I hastily button Oliver’s shirt. His own fingers are typing my cloak back in place. I blanch when I see that the snow has almost covered our footprints—we’ve been out here for far too long. Oliver stands up straight for inspection. “Do we look… normal?” he says, lips swollen, hair mussed, face glowing with sweat.
“We’re fucked. See you in there.” I turn for the door handle and he stops me, smoothing the knots in my hair. After consideration he kisses me once more.
“Might as well,” he shrugs.
I break the kiss, straightening my shoulders and heading inside. We haven’t even worked out a cover story. What just happened out there wasn’t exactly passionate drawn-out lovemaking, but it certainly took longer than smoking a cigarette.
When I reach our table everyone is dead silent, their eyes boring into me. Even Justin has finally caught on. I say brightly, “Oooh! Salad’s here!” and, avoiding everyone’s gaze, tuck in. I am under the delusion of the more lettuce in my mouth, the less I will have to speak.
“How was your cigarette, Edie?” Lisa says tensely. Traitor.
“You know, you really shouldn’t smoke,” says Justin. I nod, gulping down wine.
Rose’s voice comes darkly, “Aren’t you going to ask where Oliver is?”
I can’t meet her gaze, “Loo, I reckon.”
She’s crossed her arms tightly, her food untouched. Suddenly she’s shouting, “You are really pathetic, do you know that? Sleeping with somebody else’s boyfriend?” I knew it was coming but I still stare in horror. Rose smiles in disgust, “Yeah, maybe next time you won’t put your shirt back on inside-out.”
I realize too late that it’s a trap; my shirt never came off. But I’ve cast a fearful glance down, and that was all Rose needed. Her chair topples over backwards and before I can react, she dashes her drink in my face. Several people gasp. Dripping with pinot noir, I’m partially embarrassed and partially annoyed that she pulled such a reality television stunt.
At that moment Oliver returns to the table, trying pathetically, “Whoa… what’s going on?”
“And you!” Rose releases a banshee cry, brandishing her wand. Justin and Lisa cry out, and my “Protego!” comes milliseconds before Rose shrieks, “Tentaclifors!”
Thankfully she is so hysterical that the jinx is weakened. It’s easily absorbed into my shield charm, and Oliver looks offended, “Really? You were going to turn me into a tentacle?”
I close my eyes, sighing at him, just as the maitre d’ reaches us. He’s flanked by two burly wizards from the kitchen, scowling in their white aprons. The maitre d’ launches into an enraged flurry of French, and we all stare uncertainly until he shouts, “Zis ees unacceptable! You must leave! Now!”
While Rose, Oliver and I gather our things, Justin says, “I was wondering… Since she and I didn’t…?” He gestures at Lisa, who is hiding her face in her hands.
The Frenchman sighs in defeat, “Oui, you may stay.”
The burly wizards march us outside while the entire restaurant stares in shock. I don’t dare look at Rose. Once we’re out of earshot, the shorter wizard leans in to Oliver, “Give us an autograph, mate?”
They fish around for something to write on, and our dramatic display is put on hold while we wait. Rose stares daggers into the side of my face and I pretend to be very interested in my shoes. At last their aprons have been autographed and they clap Oliver’s shoulder good-naturedly.
After they disappear the silence is thunderous. Rose says acidly, “Well?”
Oliver and I glance at each other. What can we say? That we’re sorry? We knew all along what we were doing.
“Rose, I thought—I thought you weren’t interested in me,” says Oliver at last. “Honestly.”
“Why would you think that?” her voice cracks and there’s a pang in my chest. She really does care for him. Does this change everything? Will he choose her again?
He wets his lips, and there’s genuine kindness in his voice, “We should go somewhere to talk.”
“No. I know what that means. ‘We should talk, Rose.’ I’ve heard it a hundred times before and it always means that things are over.” She bursts into tears, turning to me, “I thought we were better friends than this, Edie!”
“Oh…” I say pathetically, but she turns on her heel. I am beginning to realize that I will never understand our relationship.
Oliver and I are left standing as the two worst people on the planet. We cast a long glance at each other. He says, “I should go talk to her.”
He puts a hand on my shoulder, “Hey. Doesn’t change anything.”
“I don’t think anyone else would have us,” I smile pathetically. “Drinks after?”
“So many,” he kisses my forehead and we instinctively glance at Rose. She’s already halfway down the street, and he jogs backwards to catch up, “Ten o’clock?”
I nod and watch Oliver chase after her, trying to decipher the feeling in my chest. This was supposed to be a clean, easy break. Obviously there would be repercussions. But breaking her bloody heart wasn’t something we’d planned on. I watch as he reaches her, but she only keeps walking. With a groan I remember that she’s about to be fired. And I may be the person replacing her.
I check my watch. Eight thirty. No harm in a little pre-drinks drinking.
I’ve almost reached my favourite, particularly seedy Diagon Alley pub when I spot Theo. He’s across the street, carrying what look like some of his photographs and speaking with an older wizard. Although I’m not particularly in a talkative mood, he’s always been nice to me. I could use some cheering up.
When his eyes land on me he is horror-struck. The older wizard spots me, and even though I’ve never seen him before, he abruptly turns and leaves. I falter. Alright, maybe Theo doesn’t feel like talking for some reason. But I’ve already reached his side and it’s too late. Smiling awkwardly, I glance at the picture in his hands. My heart drops into my stomach. It’s a photograph of me and Oliver from the wedding. We’re in the courtyard, his hands on my waist, kissing.
“What is this?” I didn’t even know he was at the wedding. Theo looks away and I snatch the photograph from him, “Were you giving this to Blakeslee? Do you have something against me?”
He won’t look at me. Suddenly I feel that I have been very, very wrong about Theo. I say darkly, “What the hell is going on? Why do you have this picture?”
It hits me: that night in the Muggle shop, when Oliver and I almost kissed, somebody took our photograph. The flash of light, the puff of smoke… They ran. Oliver tried, but he never caught them.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” he says. “They were offering five Galleons for the first photo. Twenty for this one.”
“The tabloids,” he says indignantly. In his mind he’s an artist; he doesn’t like to admit being one of the paparazzi. The man I saw him speaking to must have been with them. They were working out a deal. “It’s nothing personal, Edie. I have rent to pay, just like you.”
“But this will get me into serious trouble at work! They’ll fire me!”
“Then why are you doing it? Wood is a celebrity. A celebrity with a girlfriend, at that,” he means Rose. “Did you really think the paparazzi would ignore you two? They eat this stuff up.”
I still can’t understand why he’s doing it, “But… I thought you were my friend.”
“Why, because we work together?” A crestfallen gasp escapes me and he has the decency to speak evenly, “Look, Edie, I’ve told you: it’s nothing personal. You want to be a real journalist? Well, this is the kind of stuff that happens. You should know better. I read your stories on Wood.”
I shake my head, “That’s different—”
He laughs and I feel my face burn. “The only difference is that you pretend to better than the rest of us! Your writing gave Wood bad publicity, just like my photos. Don’t give me that holier than thou bollocks. You’re just as bad as me.”
He turns and walks away, leaving me with the photograph, “Keep that, I have plenty.”
Author's Note: Whew! Lots of stuff has come to light. But that's what happens when your last two chapters were almost entirely fluff. So Rose does have feeling for Oliver, Edie is being offered to replace her, and Theo was the one who sold them out to the paparazzi. Any surprises there? I've been excited to reveal this aspect of Theo's character for a long time; mostly because Edie was so certain that he was kind of her friend.
This chapter was supposed to be published pre-Christmas, so hopefully all of the holiday mentions are nostalgic and not feeling awkward and late. Ohh, also, I don't own "The First Noel."
Please let me know what you think! ♥
Thank you to afterglow @ TDA for the stunning chapter image! She's been gone for a while and is back with so many beautiful graphics. Go check out her gallery!
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