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Chapter 28 : A King on Her Throne
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♔ CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT ♔
On Christmas morning, as always, my Mum wakes us before dawn. Even after twenty-six years of repetition I growl, “What are you doing?” furling the covers over my head. She’s standing above me in her lumpy Christmas tree jumper and bauble earrings, a cup of cocoa at the ready. No matter how many protective charms I’ve placed on my door over the years, nothing keeps Hypatia Lennox from her Christmas morning sunrise walk.
It’s dreadfully annoying.
Soon enough, my brothers and I are bundled and grumpy in our living room, blinking in the darkness. Ginger is the only change to this year’s go-around. She’s slumped over in a little jumper my Mum got her, looking as annoyed as the rest of us. But if I have to endure this, so does she.
“Why doesn’t Andrew have to come?” Liam is the one to whine this year, and our mother chimes, “Musicians never wake up early! It’s part of his artistic process.”
As we trek miserably through the snowy streets, carrying our hot cocoas (they’re charmed to be bottomless—we’ve come to realize it’s the only way we’ll survive these mornings) I can’t help but think of Theo.
I’m beyond humiliated. All this time I thought of him as a friend, or at least a work-mate; meanwhile he didn’t think twice before selling me out to the Wizardazzi. When Oliver and I regrouped that night, it turned out to be a glum evening.
The empty bar was playing grainy American folk music, the sole purpose of which is making life horribly depressing. Oliver felt rotten about Rose. He told me that she cried the whole way through—even begged him not to end it, it pains me to say. She’s more terrified of being alone than I thought. Then I told him about Theo, and the photograph, and our impending doom. He barely touched his bourbon as we sat mostly in silence. When we parted it was with a peck on the cheek. With Puddlemere’s practices and Lennox Family Christmas Time (during which my Mum annually takes us hostage) I haven’t seen Oliver in a week.
“Keep up, Edie!” shouts Luke.
“Excuse me for trying to take my time and enjoy the scenery!”
“It’s bloody dark out, you idiot.”
Ginger is trailing so far behind that I’m pretty sure she’s given up on life. I hurry back to carry her, and she squirms with what I believe is gratitude.
We’ve reached the base of the hill that overlooks town, which means our walk is almost over. It also means that we’re going to be entirely too early for the sun, just like every year, and will have to stand in the dark for half an hour with snow soaking our boots because we were too tired to perform any charms. The hill feels steeper this year, and we really let Mum have it, whining and growling like a pack of pups.
“Can you believe—”
“We’re going to catch our death!”
“How dare you, mother!”
“I’ll be reporting this to Magical Child Protective Services.”
We at last crest the hill and I drop Ginger, hands on my knees, heaving for air. I have got to get in shape. Especially if Oliver and I are going to keep… erm. Y’know.
After that night, I’d worried that he’d given up. But a Christmas parcel I received yesterday said otherwise. Inside the box was a posh-looking coffee brewer shaped like an hourglass, and a bag of Bartholomew Binkin’s Bottomless Beans. I’ve read the note, written in Oliver’s messy script, a thousand times: “Reckon it’s time you had one of these, you junkie. Let’s see each other soon.”
Mum takes me out of my reverie, “I was sure it would have started by now…”
My brothers and I have learned to settle for disgruntled glances as we stand, frigid, waiting. Soon enough there is idle chatter, followed by snow-kicking, followed by a full-on snowball fight. The boys attempt once more to play fetch with Ginger, and fail, as the sky begins to tinge with pink.
When the first fingers of sunlight crest over the hills, we grumble along to our Mum’s sing-song, “Another beautiful Christmas Day!”
None of us would ever actually admit that we like watching the sunrise with our Mummy.
“Is everyone warm enough?” she checks and we nod, gulping cocoa with enough marshmallows to send any normal person into a diabetic coma. The countryside below looks pretty bloody perfect, the blanket of snow turning colors with the sky. We stand on the hill together until Andrew has most likely crawled out of bed to start breakfast. And, as it’s the one day a year my mum lets bacon in the house, my brothers and I sprint all the way home with newfound energy.
Unfortunately, bacon is not the main headliner on this year’s Christmas breakfast spread. I greet Andrew with a peck on the cheek, and he points to the table with the spatula he’s using for potato pancakes. There is an envelope with a frightening resemblance to a Gringotts over-withdrawal notice at my place setting.
“An owl came by while you were out. It looked quite angry to be working on Christmas Day. Must be important.”
Cautiously I open the letter, my stomach churning—shouldn’t have had all of those marshmallows. My nosey brothers watch for all of four seconds before losing interest. The script is one I don’t recognize, neat and looping:
My apologies for contacting you on Christmas. However, as we are nearing publication day, I must be frank.
I read over your recent draft submission, and I’m afraid it isn’t up to par with the previous articles. It simply does not adhere to Witch Weekly’s voice. Most of our readers won’t understand, let alone be interested in, the Quidditch jargon. More importantly, there’s very little detail about Wood personally. Perhaps you’ve made the mistake of using your most savoury findings up front. The best course of action is to schedule a final interview, perhaps with one of Wood’s acquaintances or teammates. I’m afraid an entire rewrite is in order.
I understand that you’re new to this. However, I did clearly state that you would be held to the same standards as the rest of my staff. If you need incentive, don’t forget that a strong third article could mean a promotion.
Publication day is the 30th. Please use the next few days to reconsider your angle and to find a new voice. Owl your newest draft to Ward by no later than the 28th. Enjoy the rest of your holiday.
I groan, dropping my head back. Did I really think that she would be charmed by my mediocre sports-writing? Even I knew it was terrible. Once more, there is a lurching sensation that the walls are closing in on me. What more could possibly go wrong? Oliver and I decided to be honest with each other and Rose, but it’s only opened more doors to more problems. Have we not atoned yet?
All along, I’ve thought that I’ve been given an ultimatum: Oliver or a career. But as I stand with Blakeslee’s letter in my hand, I realize that was never the case. I can’t take Rose’s job. Not after everything else I’ve done. I can’t stop Theo from printing the photographs. I can’t betray Oliver’s trust and tell the world about Ada, and the murder of their parents.
There never was a choice. There was always only one answer, and it was handed to me from the beginning. It’s only taken me this long to realize it.
The door to Blakeslee’s office feels like it’s made of lead, but the parchment in my hand is somehow heavier. I could have owled it in, but I needed to do this in person. The office is as starkly black-and-white as ever, the fashion designer’s portrait behind her desk looming. Blakeslee removes her small reading glasses and sets them neatly aside. Today is only the day after Christmas, and I’m early for my deadline, but she’s unsurprised to see me.
“Hello, Edie. You have the article.”
“Yes.” I haven’t moved from my spot just inside. She motions me forward and, incapable of hiding my trembling, I hand the parchment over. It’s visibly shaking.
She regards me for a very long time and I wither under her gaze. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were nervous.”
“Sorry,” I breathe.
Her eyes turn down to the article and I release a tiny breath, shutting my own eyes, waiting for the backlash. It’s only a moment before she notices. With obvious disappointment she says, “You haven’t edited this.”
“Oh, um, I did. There’s less Quidditch jargon, as you suggested, and it discusses more of Oliver’s personal interests. I went to his house, and it’s surprisingly modest—it goes deeper into that as well. Did you know he’s an avid reader? Interesting, for a stupid athlete, heh.”
Sighing, she rubs her eyes tiredly, “What are you hiding, Edie?”
“Look at you—wringing your hands, covered in sweat. You know something about Wood, and now you don’t want me to know. What is it, then? The St. Mungo’s Children’s Ward fiasco?”
She’s studying me like I’m some kind of abstract painting. But she’s looking for meaning in the wrong places. I don’t have information about the children’s ward to withhold. She couldn’t possibly know about Oliver’s parents, murdered by Death Eaters, leaving him to raise a sister. It would make a great article.
But Oliver fought so hard, for years, to keep his family private. It would ruin everything. And I can’t do it to him—I won’t.
“What I don’t understand is why you’ve suddenly changed your tune,” Blakeslee says. “Two months ago you would have jumped at the chance to tell the world his secrets. Your first articles were so biased that they were more about yourself than anything. And this…” she shakes her head incredulously. “So what changed? Why are you refusing to do your job?”
There is sharpness in her voice now and I can’t help but look away. But I can hear her bitter smile, “Come, Edie. We both know what this is. If only it were actually something interesting with you—blackmail or threats. But it’s far more predictable; far more insipid. You think you’ve fallen in love.”
My eyes lock with hers. She knew all along. She only wanted to hear me say it; to admit my weakness.
Crying in front of your boss is one of the more self-degrading things you can do, but there’s no stopping the pinpricking in my eyes. “I just hoped my writing was good enough without being cruel.”
“Cruel!” she laughs. “If you were a man doing this, would you be cruel? Or would you just be a hardened reporter, doing whatever it takes to get the job done? You were biased, yes, but never cruel.”
I think of Lisa’s reaction to the way I had written about Oliver, and my mother’s. “But everyone said that I was,” as soon as the words have left my mouth I realize how stupid they sound.
“Edie, if you allow yourself to feel guilty, before you know it you’re apologizing for doing your job. You can’t let yourself be weak. You may think you’re taking the high road right now, but you’re closing doors and ruining opportunities. Now you’re another Could-Have-Been. All for a man.”
Stop it. You’re getting inside my head.
I’ve known for a long time that I feel strongly about Oliver. Even when I tried to ignore it, the feeling was there. But… we certainly aren’t running off to the wedding chapel. I wouldn’t even call him my boyfriend. What if the electric pulse between us has only been the thrill of the chase? In a few days, weeks, or months down the road I could suddenly realize that he wasn’t worth this.
I wish I could say that, looking at Blakeslee now, I have an epiphany. I wish I could say that I see her for what she is: a bitter woman who never allowed herself to fall in love. But I don’t, at all. Instead I see somebody far braver than me. I see a woman who took every chance she was handed, who made a name for herself, who has spilled blood and never thought twice about it. I see a king on her throne.
“I suppose this is your resignation,” she says.
I nod. “Resignation” is a strong word. The job was a dead end from the beginning. Still, when I blink, fat tears run down my cheeks. Hastily I wipe them away.
“Crying won’t get you anywhere.” She rises to her feet, extending a hand for me to shake. “You have to seize what’s yours and never apologize for it. Good luck, Edie.”
By the time I get in touch with Oliver, my face is swollen and puffy. I haven’t been sleeping the past few nights, nor keeping up with a bathing regimen. I’ve worn these trousers for the past two weeks—as much time as it’s been since our last reunion. Ideally things now would be a little more picturesque, but I can’t think of anywhere else to go after leaving Blakeslee’s office. Lisa and Justin are in Budapest and I can’t see Seamus without risking seeing Dean.
Puddlemere United’s practice stadium is in the middle of nowhere, disguised as an old bottling company. I stand before the run-down brick façade, arms crossed against the sleet and cold. Suddenly the building wavers as the protective charms are undone, and for a moment I see it for what it is: an enormous stadium bearing the Puddlemere twin bulrushes. Oliver steps out of the front gate and the stadium flickers back to its disguise.
To my relief, he looks happy to see me. Part of me knew not to let Blakeslee get inside my head, but the other truly feared that things had changed. “I just saw your letter. Katie’s had us on the pitch since six o’clock. Have you been waiting long?”
He pulls me in for a hug, his uniform damp with sweat but I don’t mind. “I dunno,” I say honestly. I could’ve been standing there for seconds or days. Everything feels strange. “I just quit Witch Weekly.”
He holds me at arm’s length, blinking in surprise, “Shit.”
“Yeah.” He only continues to stare and I say, “Are you… surprised?”
“No,” he says. “Well, yes. I’m very surprised. Sorry. I realized after we last spoke that I’d been pushing you towards quitting your job for me. So I kind of, erm, backed off from you. I wanted you to decide what you wanted for yourself.”
“Oh. Well, thank you for that. But…did you really think that after everything, I was going to write about your family?”
He pauses for only a second too long, “No, of course not.” His eyes meet mine but his gaze is moving past me, through me.
Does Oliver still not trust me?
Before I can think of anything to say, he glances up at the sleeting, granite skies. “C’mon. Let’s go inside where it’s dry. I’m on break for the next few hours.”
It takes him performing ridiculously complicated wand movements and several passwords before the arena reveals itself. I silently follow, trying not to stew on his words.
Maybe I’m over-reacting. After all, he has plenty on his mind. The final match of the playoffs is in a matter of days, and even though I’ve insisted that Puddlemere will beat the Cannons, and that nobody understands how they’ve made it this far, Oliver’s still nervous. Even now his hands are clenching and unclenching anxiously.
We’re traveling along the rounded walkway of the concourse, Oliver in the lead, when a passing teammate eyes me with a low whistle. He must be mental. I’m so red and puffy from crying that I look like I’ve had a bad shellfish reaction. I realize that he was part of the group who came to the Poisoned Apple and got me sacked. He’d been such an ass.
“Watch it, Bellingham,” Oliver calls warningly, before taking my hand. “C’mere. I know where we can go.”
Soon we reach a small doorway that leads to an old equipment room. The weak light from a single window illuminates millions of dust motes, and Oliver lights an oil lantern with his wand and sends it floating midair. I glance around. Dozens of cases full of Bludgers, Quaffles and Snitches are stacked in odd places. I study the rows of broomsticks mounted to the walls, most of them damaged, as Oliver sifts around through the clutter.
“A-ha!” he pulls out a bottle of very high quality Firewhiskey and two small glasses. “Bellingham’s private stash. Serves him right.”
I smile warmly and we each take a dusty old trunk, sitting across from one another. As Oliver pours a finger of the gold liquid I say, “Won’t it make practice more difficult?”
“Are you suggesting I’m not the most talented Quidditch player in the world? That I couldn’t do this blindfolded with my hands bound?”
I take the proffered glass, “Easy with the nice imagery there.”
He laughs and a blush rises up his neck. It makes my stomach twist in a pleasant way. The uneasy feeling beings to subside and he raises his drink, “To new beginnings.”
It’s cheesy but I smile anyway, because he’s right. Today wasn’t just an ending. “Cheers.”
I take a sip and he says, “So blindfolds, huh?”
When I snort Firewhiskey shoots up my sinuses which, let me tell you, is only a peg below the Cruciatus Curse. Oliver rubs his jaw, laughing as I stamp my feet in agony.
“You’re the worst,” I croak.
“Sorry,” he puts a hand on my knee, gently swaying it from side to side. “Thanks for the book, by the way. You remembered.”
My Christmas gift to him—and one that I immediately regretted owling—was an anthology of Arthur C. Clarke’s stories. We haven’t spoken about him at all since that night in Alchemy Coffee, months ago, when Oliver bested me in literary facts.
I smile widely, “I was scared that you wouldn’t remember! I felt like such a creep.”
“Need a few more Bludgers to the head before I start forgetting,” he gently squeezes my kneecap. I place my hand over his, sipping only a tiny bit from my glass. I still have to clean out my little nook at Witch Weekly, and I doubt doing so drunk would earn me a positive recommendation for future employers.
I fight down the anxiety that starts bubbling at the thought of another job-search. Thankfully, Oliver says something to distract me, “Erm, so…there’s something I want to tell you. Y’know, in light of us deciding to cut all the lying bollocks. It’s about St. Mungo’s.”
Now seems like an odd time to me. “Oliver, you really don’t have to do this right now. You don’t, like, owe me an explanation.”
“No, I think I do. I wanted to tell you the day you met Ada, but I didn’t want you to hear it as a journalist. I wanted to tell Edie—y’know, stubborn, loud, over-caffeinated. You may know her.”
“I may,” I smile through the worry. What’s he going to tell me? That he couldn’t donate because he’s squandered his fortune on beer and Cheese-Wiz?
Instead he says slowly, “I didn’t donate to St. Mungo’s because of Ada.”
“Oh?” The day I met her, I’d stood in the bathroom mirror of their home, clutching the sink, feeling that some kind of question had just been answered. But I hadn’t known which one.
“Yeah. When our parents died, everything fell to me. We don’t have a big family, and everyone who was still around wasn’t much help. None of my grandparents were ever… particularly kind,” he pauses. “When I tried to settle my parents’ estate, I found out that they were severely in debt. I had no idea. We’d always had a comfortable lifestyle—nothing lavish, but we always ate well, and had a nice house, and were able to go on holidays. I reckon it was right in front of my face, that way. We’d always had money. It just wasn’t actually ours.”
“If you don’t mind me asking… How bad was it?”
“Hundreds of thousands,” he says gravely.
“Oh, God.” Just hearing it makes me sway. My family has always been skint, but we were never that bad off. I’ve never even considered that Oliver could have ever experienced in financial trouble.
“So, obviously, there was no money to cover their funeral costs. And those were astronomical. I dunno if I just got in touch with a bad lot, or if it was the economy in the war, but it was absurd, Edie. And I wasn’t going to just put my parents in a bloody cardboard box in the ground—”
He stops, blinking hard, and I seize his hands in mine. Until now he’s barely spoken to me about his parents. But until now, I was a journalist. I wasn’t somebody he fully trusted. I swallow thickly and push the thought away. “It’s okay,” I squeeze his hands.
“I know there are millions of people who are worse off than we were. I’m lucky to have a job like this, or we would never have gotten back on our feet. But almost all of my first few years’ earnings went to consolidating my parents’ debt. While I was still a Reserve I sold the house we grew up in. Ada and I lived in a two-bedroom flat in Knockturn Alley with Katie. That was when we broke up. It was just too much of a strain on the relationship. And then there were the legal cases…”
He pinches the bridge of his nose. The landslide of information is overwhelming, and I don’t see how there could possibly be more. Gently I say, “Oliver, you don’t have to tell me anything that you aren’t comfortable—”
“No, I want to,” he says resolutely. “You deserve to know. But… this thing I’m about to tell you. It’s what I’m most ashamed about, ever. And…”
He doesn’t finish, and I nod numbly, “Okay.”
“Magical Child Protective Services tried to take Ada away. Because I used to, uh,” he sighs helplessly, “I used to have a drinking problem. Right after my parents died. I took it horribly, and I didn’t act like an adult, and I really let Ada down. I would hire a nanny for the evenings and go out on a bender with my mates.”
Though he can’t look up from the floor he stills, seemingly awaiting some kind of reaction: for me to stand up and leave, or to tell him he’s as terrible as he believes. When I only wait, he goes on.
“This was before they’d really cleared out the Ministry of Death Eaters and, as you know, Ada and I aren’t Purebloods. Not to take the blame off myself,” he says quickly. “Our bloodline certainly didn’t help my case, but I wasn’t always a good guardian to her.”
“You were so young,” I say, “You’d been through so much. I can’t even imagine…”
He finally meets my gaze. “That’s how I know Justin. He did me a huge favour by taking my case. He let me pay him back over five years without interest. We knew each other from Hogwarts, barely, and he wanted to help me. He won the case and I was granted custody.”
I am stunned. Not only have I completely misjudged Oliver in so many ways, but I never would have thought Justin could show so much compassion. Have I ever taken the time to know him as a person, instead of as the man who stole my best friend?
“It took me a long time to get back on my feet,” Oliver says. “I know that’s hard to believe, with a professional athlete’s earnings. But everything that I haven’t spent on my parents’ debt, treatment for my shoulder injury, and paying back Justin—it’s gone to Ada. I’ve paid for all of her Hogwarts tuition in advance, and I’ve set up a trust fund in her name. There’s enough for a flat after she graduates, and now I want to give her enough for university. I know it’s important that she earns her own money, and knows the importance of hard work,” he says forcefully. “But I don’t ever want her to live like we used to, again.”
“You didn’t donate to St. Mungo’s because you wanted to take care of her first,” I murmur.
“It was a hard decision to make. But I owed Ada so much.”
My eyes are glistening. I drop down between Oliver’s knees and pull him tightly against me. After a pause his arms rest heavily around my shoulders. “You’re an exceptional human being, Oliver,” I murmur, feeling his grip tighten.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you before. I just… I had to be sure. Ada doesn’t know that I almost lost her. I want to tell her, but I can’t. Not yet.”
“You don’t want her to hear it from a magazine. You want it to come from you,” I rest my forehead against his, cupping his face, “I understand.”
And I do.
Several hours later I’m back at Witch Weekly, clearing out my tiny corner of the building. I don’t even have one of those cardboard boxes that people always seem to have on-hand for sacking. Instead I’m tossing everything into a small pouch I’ve charmed and will probably never empty. Leaving WW would be a difficult experience, were it not for the fact that my mind is swimming. All along, I’d thought that Oliver was some kind of selfish miser, spending his money on some bachelor penthouse and expensive nights out. But I’ve been beyond wrong. No matter how Blakeslee had gotten into my head earlier, hearing Oliver’s story has only made me realize that things will turn out.
The sex didn’t hurt either, I smile, unceremoniously dropping the desiccated plant in the pouch. With Ada back at Hogwarts, we’d Apparated to Oliver’s house for the remainder of his break from practice and, erm, spent the afternoon together. And the best part was: there was nothing to risk. I’m no longer his interviewer and while Rose is still mending, she’s been cut free. Everything was completely, perfectly normal.
Giving a final glance around, my eyes land on the magical typewriter. It was my favourite part of coming to this job. Would they notice if I took it? Probably. Part of me wishes that I could use it to write a third article, exonerating Oliver. He doesn’t care about his publicity or public opinion, I know. But if there was some way to undo the damage I’ve done…
Pausing, I run my fingers over the smooth, rounded keys. They’re tingling with magic. I glance around; it’s still the work holiday and the building is empty. I could have one final run without being caught. Lowering into my chair, I carefully place my fingers on the keys and roll the tension from my shoulders.
One last story to absolve Oliver…
It takes less than an hour to pour everything out onto the parchment. It’s the easiest I’ve ever found writing these articles to be; easier even than when I was fuelled by my own spitefulness. Everything is there. The story of how I met Ada, his reaction, how they have the same mischievous look in their eyes. I’ve written everything I learned today about the costs of his parents’ funeral, and pulling their family out of debt, and Justin’s favour to him, and the way he almost lost Ada.
It’s the article I should have written: brutally honest, raw, unbiased, and it holds him accountable for his alcoholism, even if I personally don’t. It’s good journalism.
Oliver doesn’t want credit for his heroism. He doesn’t care that people don’t know why he didn’t donate to St. Mungo’s. This is what I remind myself as I read the article once, twice more, and unsheathe my wand.
The parchment catches quickly and I drop it in the bin, watching the paper blacken and char. I wait as the flames smolder and die, erasing all evidence, before Vanishing the ashes. Nobody will ever know his story, but I feel somehow that Oliver has been redeemed. I have no more unfinished business with this job. I push in my chair, grab my pouch of belongings, and Disapparate from Witch Weekly for the last time.
Author's Note: Reveal of all reveals (at least for this story?) Sorry about the wait--this chapter was so hard to write. After three revisions I think I'm happy with it. Also, as a note, I know that "hundreds of thousands" of Galleons is an obscene amount to be in debt, and I should have used a conversion from Muggle to Magical money, but it just has more impact than if I said "thousands," because, let's face it, many of us are a couple thousand in debt (yay student loans!)
So how about it, does anyone like Edie now? Hopefully she seems like less of a brat. It's been difficult keeping up with the tone of the story, and staying humorous, while having the main character go through a pretty big transition, in terms of not being such a jerk.
Thanks to DirtyDeedsDoneDirtCheap for the term "Wizardazzi" (and also for reviewing this whole story start to finish in like a week, seriously, cannot get over that.)
It's all winding down, folks!
Thanks to a.leksy @ TDA for the chapter image of Blakeslee, one of my personal love-hates ♥
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