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Chapter 31 : Just Edie
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“Excuse me, if I could just get a quote—”
Not for the first time, I’m ignored. The pack of artsy hipsters doesn’t budge from their tight circle formed in the middle of the gallery. Like so many tonight, they seem to have only come for the free wine.
“Brilliant, thank you,” I mutter, searching for anyone not in the Vaguely Aloof and Ironic Club.
Thankfully my Mum hasn’t noticed that people seem indifferent to her art. She’s wearing her Technicolor Dream Shawl, as my brothers and I call it: a vibrant eyesore that trails to the floor, and which people have been tripping over all night. She’s talking excitedly to an elderly couple who arrived by mistake and have been trying to leave for over an hour. They looked particularly frightened by her, erm, anatomical paintings. I refused to allow Daughter to make its debut. Being in the same room as the poorly disguised, abstract lady-bits is torture enough.
Andrew relaxes against a wall. I don’t think he’s said three words since arriving, but he seems content, somehow sipping hot mulled wine even though it’s stifling in here. It’s the warmest May that London has seen in years. All the windows are open, now that the sun has set, but I’m still fanning myself. I unstick a damp strand of hair from my face. I’ve finally grown out of the wildly unflattering—and blonde, MerlinwhatwasIthinking—pixie cut.
“Excuse me,” I approach a kind-faced wizard, “Would you mind if I asked a few questions about the show?”
“For which publication?” he munches a slice of baguette.
I hesitate, “The Daily Prophet.” The words have barely left my mouth before he’s walking away, and I cry out, “They’re cleaning up their act! Really, it’s not so bad anymore!”
The joys of freelancing.
Sighing in defeat, I turn and see a familiar face: Dean has just arrived. Unsurprisingly, Natalie is here as well in a black dragonskin jacket and short dress. She always looks like a petite motorcyclist who’s just as likely to pull out a switchblade as a cupcake.
Dean and I offer tight smiles, and a one-armed hug, “Wotcher Edie.”
I am sure to quickly hug Natalie, even though she’s made no move. Somehow I always make things more awkward. In fact, she’s probably only still cool towards me because I try so hard to be totally casual. Dean has explained dozens of times that our two-week dating attempt was nothing more than an embarrassing mistake.
“Thanks for coming, you two. Mum really appreciates you finding this venue.”
“Of course. Wouldn’t miss it,” he says, and Natalie smiles politely.
I bounce nervously on my toes, “So how’ve you—”
“Oh, yes, he’s—”
“I’ve been good, sorry, yeah.”
There is silence and Dean offers a beaming smile, Indicator Number One that he is extremely uncomfortable. “We’ll catch up later. Reckon you’re busy.”
I step aside to let them by, saluting awkwardly and regretting it. But I call to his retreating back, “Oi, can I put you down for ‘Compelling work?’” My quill is poised on the parchment as I smile hopefully, a note of our old friendship in the air.
He looks thoughtful. “How about, ‘This exhibition asks more questions than it answers.’”
“Oooh, brilliant!” I jot it down as they disappear to find Seamus. I don’t have the heart to tell them that he’s snogging in a back room with Lena, or whatever the newest girl’s name is. He’s certainly not been lacking in the romance department since he received his Auror’s license. Of course, that could be due to the fake war-stories...
A sudden shrieking noise, like a small rodent being stepped on, momentarily quiets the room. I know the sound too well. Within seconds Lisa and Justin appear, the latter toting no less than three baby bags while pushing a pram.
“Oh, I’m sorry, she’s causing such a scene,” Lisa looks at the tiny bundle in her arms. Poppy Turpin-Finch-Fletchley releases another wail, her tiny two month-old hands grasping. Justin looks as though he’s about to faint with panic, as he always does when Poppy makes any sound he can’t readily identify. There’s something in Lisa’s frazzled hair that looks uncomfortably like baby vomit.
Honestly, it’s quite refreshing to see them without their wits about them.
I put a hand on her shoulder, “Motherhood suits you.”
“Careful, or I’ll make you hold her,” her eyes narrow and I recoil, more serious than she realizes. “We’d best be going. Please tell your Mum we’re sorry. The show looks great, really.”
I hug her, careful not to squish Poppy, “Don’t apologize. I’m so glad to see you two.” It’s rarer and rarer these days.
“Also, we cleared up the hallway as best we could,” Justin says. Lisa’s eyes bulge in a way that clearly says, I thought we weren’t going to tell her.
A shadow passes over his face, “Don’t go in there.”
I’m all too familiar with the sheer volume of vomit Poppy is capable of producing. But they’re already leaving, and in the way they always do these days: a flurry of nappy bags, bottles and blankies.
“G’bye then, Edie—”
“We’ll see you soon! Send me an owl!”
“Do we have everything?”
“Where’s the pacifier?”
“I thought you had it. Oh, here it is—”
“Do we have Poppy?”
“No, Justin, I forgot to pick her back up when I left her lying on the floor.”
“Alright, alright… ‘Bye Edie!”
As guests leap away from being mowed down by the pram, I search for anyone to talk to. I can’t help but notice that everyone has coupled off. Even Jae arrived holding someone’s hand. Now that Rose is dating Conor Fleming (if you want to call it that), I’m the only person who attended this thing stag. My brothers were the only exception, when they appeared for all of four seconds before nipping off to a pub.
I glance at my parchment. Looks like I’ll be making up quotations for the story again. No harm; the Prophet’s arts section isn’t exactly the most widely-read in Britain.
After another circle around the room, I settle back against the wall. It’s nice and cool under my sheer black shirt; the one that I thought looked the most Contemporary Art Connoisseur-y. A magical tray of champagne floats past, but I don’t take one. I’ll need a clear head to meet tomorrow’s deadline.
“Edie,” comes a deep voice.
I whirl around. Andrew raises an eyebrow, grinning, “Expecting somebody else?”
“No,” I flush. “You just snuck up on me, that’s all.”
He nods but doesn’t press the issue further. Bless Andrew and his quiet, unassuming self. My Mum wouldn’t stop until she’d pried me open like an oyster. I glance over her way. The elderly couple has finally escaped, but now she’s latched on to Dean and Natalie. They’ll be stuck here all night.
Andrew and I stand, enjoying each other’s silence. When the room starts to feel a bit too crowded I say, “I should get to work. Tell Mum to check the Prophet tomorrow.”
He nods, and doesn’t tell me that I should say goodbye. He’s always the first to notice when I’m not feeling myself. Besides, I’ll see her at the next weekly breakfast she instated after I finally left the nest. I peck Andrew on the cheek and wave to my Mum, but she’s too focused on whatever story she’s telling Natalie, who looks like she may pass out from boredom. I pause at the door, trying to catch Dean’s eye, but he doesn’t notice. I cast another glance around before making a quiet exit.
My shoes drop noisily onto the polished wooden floor. While I massage my ankles Ginger sits, patiently waiting to be picked up. I’ve been cautious of this ritual ever since the fire-sneezing episode. How a dragon and a bulldog crossbred I’ll never know, but my curtains are still singed.
“Still dormant these days? Not gonna burn my hair off?” I lift her into my arms and she only stares.
With a flick of my wand the fairy lights glow to life. The flat is cozy… Then again, there’s no other polite way to describe something this tiny. Remembering, I juggle Ginger and a quill to scrawl RENT TOMORROW SERIOUSLY EDIE on a scrap of parchment, and Spell-o-Tape it to my door. I don’t want Simon to evict me again. I can’t be too careful; not after our first and only date went so poorly.
Foregoing the fresh head of lettuce for a Cauldron Cake, I munch while I pace, Ginger snuffling up the crumbs. My desk is littered with parchment upon parchment of grant information for the Female Goblin Coalition. The stacks teeter precariously, which really is a good thing: more parchments means more receipts due to more funding. It’s what turned my internship with the FGC into a paid job. But right now would be a good time to create something like Muggle computers. My hand cramps just thinking of the transcribing I’ll be doing.
“Alright,” I sit heavily in my chair. “Finish this and write your article, and you can have a beer.”
Hours later, my fingers are smudged with black and my hand is stiff, but I swear it: the stacks haven’t gotten smaller. They must be enchanted. I flip to a new page in the giant leather-bound ledger of grant records. Groaning, I stretch my arms widely. I’ll have to leave this for the morning if I want to get my story done decently. Nobody will read it, of course, but it’s another bit to pad the portfolio.
“Just one more, I promise,” I tell Ginger, who whines. We’re late for her nighttime walk.
I flip over the next parchment and the quill drops from my hand. There, next to the words Donor Name, it says it.
My voice comes in a whisper, “Oliver A. Wood.”
The name feels like stretching an old muscle; one that aches after disuse. I certainly haven’t spoken about him. My friends, if they’ve heard anything, know not to bring him up. He hasn’t even been in the press since he took the position of Flying Instructor at Hogwarts. There’s been no word of him for months. Until now.
My eyes rove down the parchment. There’s nothing remarkable about it. No special notations, or comments, or marks in the margin. It looks exactly like every other name on the FGC’s standardized record form. But it still sends my heart pounding just to read it.
Donor Name: Oliver A. Wood
Value of Donation: Three Thousand Galleons
I almost fall out of my chair. Oliver donated three thousand Galleons to the FGC? Why would he possibly do that, when he’s never done so before—and with good reasoning? I talked his ear off about the coalition and Grimma Longfinger, but I didn’t think he was so interested.
The next piece of information makes me furrow my brow. Date of Donation: January 21, 2007.
He did this only weeks after we’d stopped speaking.
I sink back, biting my thumbnail while my mind races. This could very well mean nothing. Maybe he’s atoning for the St. Mungo’s children’s ward… But he would have just given the money directly to them. Plus the money came after Grimma was freed from Azkaban. If it wasn’t to serve that purpose, then what?
Oliver was so upset that he’d cost my job at the Poisoned Apple. Did he somehow hear that I’d begun interning for the FGC after the rally? Three thousand is almost exactly my annual salary. Could he have possibly known that his money would go towards creating my job?
My hands run through my hair. A thousand questions are buzzing, but I only know one solid fact. Whether done intentionally or not, Oliver is the reason I have a job.
My eyes dart to the inkwell on my desk. I shouldn’t. It would be too weird. Oliver has never made any attempt to contact me, and our last conversation didn’t leave much room for interpretation.
I jump from the desk, pacing. Then I turn on my shower and start to disrobe, turn the water back off, and come back to the desk in my bra and skirt. I boil a kettle for tea, promptly forget that the mug is steeping, and return to stare at the quill and ink. By the time I remember my tea it’s gone cold.
Is this what Muggles mean, when they talk about text message anxiety?
“You’re being ridiculous. You’re an adult. Oliver is an adult. Adults like to catch up with their old friends.”
This old friend just happens to not be your friend anymore.
In one swift motion I sit down, pull out the parchment, blot the quill, and begin writing so that I don’t change my mind.
Hope you’re doing well back at the ol’ Hoggy-Hog!
I shake my head, vigorously scratching that last bit out. A fair amount of editing charms will be in order. Blowing air through my cheeks, I slow my hammering heart, and imagine that I’ll write this letter and never send it. I just need to speak my mind.
I just wanted to write to say thank you. As part of my job with the FGC I track our grants and donations, and I happened to notice your name on our list. Whether you knew this or not, you’re largely responsible for my internship being turned into paid employment. I really can’t thank you enough.
There is a heavy pause. My palms are damp as if Oliver were actually sitting across from me, brown eyes watching, intently as always. I wet my lips.
Maybe this is completely inappropriate, and please don’t feel pressured to even dignify this with a response. I honestly only intended to say thanks here, but now that I’m writing, it just seems like the thing to do. Would you like to meet sometime soon, just to catch up? I can come visit the old stomping grounds at school, or London is always an easy trip from Hogwarts.
I should probably crumple this letter up (or maybe set it on fire? Remember?) because I totally understand why you would never want to see me again, and maybe that’s why I felt okay writing this, because what are the odds that I’ll actually have to face you afterwards, eh?
I hope you’re doing well. I really mean it.
Talk to you soon, maybe.
I pause, quill hovering over the parchment.
The quill scratches out the word “love” so fiercely that it breaks through the parchment. I curse under my breath—I’ll have to find my book of editing charms for that one.
I decide to leave the goodbye as that: just “Edie.”
The heat doesn’t let up. By June there is no such thing as awkward silence or strained small-talk, because “Bloody hot out, eh?” has become a perfectly acceptable ice-breaker.
Personally I am not relishing the sun, and have become one giant freckle. Rose doesn’t seem to mind, her skin browning evenly like a normal person’s. We’re awaiting iced coffees, fanning ourselves in the very long queue of a cafe. I’ve just come back from a meeting with the Quibbler. They’re contracting me to write a short series on the various species of fairies that are being displaced by modern gardening.
“Do fairies even exist, though, or are they like Nargles?” Rose squints.
“Hold on…” I lift a finger, my nose buried in a copy of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. “Yep. They’re real,” I say with some relief.
Rose clicks her tongue in irritation. The queue hasn’t budged in ages while the barista is busy flirting with a girl at the register. “Calm down, he’ll probably flirt with you too,” I mutter.
“That’s not what I’m worried about,” she says, but looks satisfied. “Conor will kill me if I’m late to work.”
“Doubt it. He’s your boyfriend.”
“Well he’ll still be upset.” She sees my quirked eyebrow and grins, “No he won’t.”
“I can’t believe you found the one publication in Britain that doesn’t mind if you’re dating your boss.”
“Hey, you had your chance.”
“Right, but then I wouldn’t get to do play the Bleeding Heart Activist bit.”
She snorts, and the queue shifts a bit. A man behind us shouts with exasperation, “Finally!” (The heat has created two groups of people: those who turn gorgeous overnight, with browned skin and naturally highlighted hair, and those who turn into sweaty grumps. This man has been puffing “Unbe-lieve-able” under his breath for the last ten minutes.)
Something suddenly falls on my head, and I immediately scowl at Rose. She shrugs, Wasn’t me, and I spot an envelope on the floor. (“Unbelieveable!” the man says again, as it is apparently an enormous inconvenience to watch somebody else receive post.) I just glimpse the unfamiliar owl before it darts out an open window. Out of habit I run over the list in my head. But I’ve paid my rent, my bank account hasn’t been over-withdrawn this month, and my library books aren’t overdue.
Frowning, I tear open the wax seal. I immediately recognize the small, messy script. “Holy shit!” I exclaim.
“What?” Rose is already reading over my shoulder.
Thanks for the letter. I’d wondered if you’d stumble across the donation somehow. Exams are ending tomorrow and I’ll be staying on the grounds for several weeks. Feel free to visit any time before July. Just send an owl and I’ll arrange things with the Headmistress.
The letter has as much personal touch as a magazine subscription cancellation. He could’ve been writing to his landlord. Or a rock. Rose, knowing that I tried to mend things, clicks her tongue in sympathy, “Sounds like he’s still angry. That’s too bad, Edie.”
But I’m beaming, reading the script over and over and over, as if it were some actually some kind of sonnet. He could've ignored me. He could've sent a Howler. He could've Apparated here only to smack me on the back of the head, and it all would've been warranted.
“But he wrote.”
By the time I’m standing at Platform 9¾, the letter feels less like a poem and more like a half-hearted response, done out of politeness. Probably because that’s exactly what it is. Still, I was too eager. I’d written him back the day I received his message, even abandoning Rose in the coffee queue, saying that of course I’ll come visit, and would the next weekend work?
His reply was faster, but no more excited:
Certainly. The Hogwarts Express leaves King’s Cross at 9:00 on Friday, so you could be at Hogwarts by 2:00. Just send a Patronus when you arrive. Once you’re in, we can arrange for you to Floo back home.
I’d been so embarrassed by my one-way enthusiasm that I didn’t even respond. Now, standing with my suitcase at King’s Cross, I read this second letter for the thousandth time, analyzing everything.
So he isn’t going to meet me at Hogsmeade Station? It seems childish to be disappointed. But in my mind our reunion was that of a Muggle film: I would step off the train in a nice dress and the billowing steam from the engine parting to reveal Oliver's figure, the same as I remember. Then there would be either a quiet hello followed by a sweet embrace, or he’d be so dazzled by my sun-dappled skin that we’d run to one another, kissing passionately.
Not that I’ve, like, thought about it or anything.
The train whistle blows and I jump from my reverie. Looks like it’s just me.
The Hogwarts Express runs more frequently these days, but it’s also the only way for non-Ministry officials to get into the school. But I like the idea of having run of the whole train. I haven’t stepped foot inside in ten years.
I levitate my leather suitcase up the steps. It’s my first time boarding when I haven’t immediately been swept into the sea of returning students, bright-faced and eager to start the year, tossing sweets, searching for friends or scrawling out last-minute summer coursework. This time it’s eerily silent. The train still smells like polished wood and the inexplicable scent of Earl Grey tea. I take my time finding the best-looking compartment and sit heavily.
About halfway through the trip the Trolley Witch stops by, and I’m delighted to see that she’s the same old lady as when I was a student. She must be pushing ninety.
“Anything from the trolley, dear?” It’s brimming with sweets and sandwiches and butterbeer, even though I’m apparently the only soul on board.
“No, thank you.”
She smiles with a polite nod and slowly rolls away. Less than a second passes before I leap from my compartment, “Actually!”
Five minutes later I’m surrounded by enough Chocolate Frogs, Pumpkin Pasties and cheese sandwiches to feed the entire First Year, kicking my feet and sipping chilled butterbeer. I hum tunelessly, watching the cow pastures slowly turn into fields and then wild forests. When we pass under a tunnel, I catch my reflection in the darkened window.
I think I look different, mostly because of the chin-length hair. Not drinking a beer every day has made a difference in my muffin top too—although by the time I reach Hogwarts I will have eaten my way back up three robe sizes.
Even with all the sugar coursing through my bloodstream I release a roar of a yawn. I barely slept last night, twiddling the sheets in my hands, buzzing with nerves over today. I wonder if Oliver looks the same. I blink and see him behind my eyelids: tall and broad, with his unruly waves of hair and dark eyes. And the scruff along his jaw, particularly how it felt when I buried my face in it…
When I wake, I look like a sweets addict who has relapsed. I’ve gone on a bender. The compartment is littered with wrappers and there’s chocolate smeared all over my face. Not to mention that I fell asleep with a Cauldron Cake in hand, which has melted all over my smart striped dress. A horrified glance out the window shows that the sun has sunk low. We’re passing over the tell-tale bridge through the mountains—we’re only minutes from Hogwarts.
“Shit,” I try my best to Tergio the stains from the dress.
I knew I shouldn’t have skipped my second coffee today. I wan’t supposed to be sleeping! I was supposed to have time to collect myself, and to work on my first words to Oliver. So far all I’ve come up with is a smirk, a lean against some kind of surface, and “Hey, stranger.”
But I haven’t even practised!
“Arriving in five minutes!” booms the conductor’s voice over a Sonorus spell, making me jump. This is a new addition to the ride. Suddenly I feel very old. Will there still be students on the grounds, staring at the No Longer Teenage but Not Quite Fully-Formed Adult Creature before them?
The train pulls into Hogsmeade Station and my palms are suddenly one hundred percent liquid. I wipe them on my mostly-clean dress and set to gathering my things and trying to clear the sweets wrappers. What am I supposed to do with all this extra food? I quickly shove it in my suitcase, which is already brimming. I’m only staying through Sunday and I’ve packed like I’m moving in.
I’m physically trembling as I don my floppy black hat, remove it, don it again, remove it again, and finally decide to just wear the bloody thing as I paid for it. When I step off the train, lugging the enormous suitcase that I’m too nervous to Shrink Charm, I’m actually glad that Oliver isn’t waiting because I look like a proper idiot.
I need to send a Patronus to tell him I’ve arrived. (My Patronus is a hedgehog, essentially the most embarrassing animal besides a platypus.) I’ve never been skilled with them and it takes a moment to conjure a happy memory. Soon the shaking in my hands steadies. I close my eyes, seeing it clear as day: the crumbling facade of the Italian castle, sky fading inky-blue, my letter from Amelia Jones waving overhead. Oliver, eyes glimmering, hands in pockets, laughing as I skip like a fool.
I wish I could kiss you right now.
I’d say we could bend the rules.
“Expecto Patronum,” the silver light is watery, but it’ll do. With a resigned sigh at the stupid-looking creature I flick my wand. The apparition scurries off, down the road to the castle.
My heart feels like it’s going to jump out of my throat. I swallow against the hammering, shielding my eyes from the sun. And suddenly there it is, the postcard that everyone sends home to Mum their First Year: Hogwarts castle.
Its windows gleam in the late afternoon sun. It’s just as I left it ten years ago, and still I’m in awe. It feels familiar and foreign all at once. The sun is painting the grounds golden and green. A cool breeze rustles the trees and sends ripples skittering over the Black Lake.
I breathe it in deeply: the pine and the dirt, scents that London has long since forgotten. I haven’t even heard the sound of birds in forever. Not like this. Soon enough I’ll be inside the castle’s stone walls, seeing old portraits, smelling the parchment and the smoke of torches and the food from the Great Hall. The picture is the same—it’s me that’s changed. I won’t really be going back. Ten years ago I was a part of this picture, ingrained in its makeup. Today I’m just a tourist.
At the sound of gravel crunching under feet, my shoulders seize. I’m too afraid to turn around. I want to stay suspended like this, in my excitement and nerves, in the moments before seeing him—before things could go terribly wrong. Part of me thinks that this is enough; that he doesn’t hate me enough to let me visit. I could have just read his letter, accepted that he no longer hates me, and learned to move on.
But the other part of me would always wonder what could’ve happened next.
So I turn around.
Author's Note: This chapter was probably my favorite that I've written in a while! Traveling back to Hogwarts and bombarding you with metaphors for change vs. constance was super fun.
And of course there's how everyone has changed in six months!
Dean and Edie had a fling, and it failed miserably, and now he's got a super cute girl named Natalie. Seamus is up to his neck in dates, and Lisa and Justin had their wee babe. Oliver took a job as flying instructor at Hogwarts and Edie is successful now? Freelance writer and grant manager/publicist for the Female Goblin Coalition... Not bad, eh? Oh, and Ginger was totally part-dragon, huehuehue.
There's only one more chapter to write. I can't believe it.
(Don't worry, I have no idea how I want this to end!)
Absolutely PERFECT chapter image by the talented Mintleaf, at The Dark Arts ♥
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