Chapter 3 : The Proposition
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♔ CHAPTER THREE ♔
“I have got to get the hell away from that place,” I say to 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, once or twice not going in to WW at all, before realizing I don’t have much else to do.
Today was one of those days. I’ve just arrived from Witch Weekly to take on my evening shift at the Poisoned Apple. I’m exhausted, but it’s only 7:00 and the real action won’t begin for hours. Lisa has decided to drop by after her shift at St. Mungo’s, Merlin bless her. She’s even more knackered than me after pulling another all-nighter. I can see her fighting to stay awake, but she’s too polite to tell me she’d rather be cuddling with Justin in her underwear than listening to my problems.
I sit the stout down before the tattooed wizard. He’s pretty fit, in my opinion. “Three Sickles,” I smile, leaning unnecessarily over the bar. But he isn’t listening. He is, of course, staring down the way at Lisa.
I shut my eyes. Honestly, at this point it pains me to watch.
Even in her state of exhaustion Lisa looks like a supermodel. Her skin is pale with lack of sleep, but it only looks like she’s been out all night taking body-shots off the Weird Sisters. I took a long time getting dressed tonight. Meanwhile Lisa is wearing an inside-out cardigan she’s too exhausted to notice.
She and I went out last weekend, and 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-looking dead 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. That seemed to slow them down (though admittedly not all of them.) Lisa didn’t mind my trick; in fact I could tell she felt sorry for me. Her pity inspired my sixth gin and tonic, and also my decision to use a voice-amplifying charm to tell a girl across the bar that her left breast had popped out of her shirt. We left pretty quickly after that—me with smudged lipstick and Lisa with the names of two guys she was too polite to turn down.
At least Dean and Seamus count as male attention, right?
I recall our most recent night of watching Quidditch, when Seamus tried to suffocate me with a pillow for cheering on the Kestrels’ opponents. Meanwhile Dean just laughed and refused to help as he ate my entire stock of Licorice Wands.
No. That does not count as male attention at all.
I’d like to think that I’m a good-looking girl... At least when I’m not within a three-mile radius of Lisa. I have clear skin, strong cheekbones and wide brown eyes. I’m curvy too, which I think some men are supposed to like. But let’s face it: blondes will always win out over us gingers.
“Three Sickles!” I now snap at the tattooed wizard, who jumps out of his Lisa-reverie. He passes the coins over and chuckles as if to say, Can you blame me? I grumble a thanks and stalk back down to Lisa. She is too exhausted to have noticed anything.
“You aren’t letting on to Dean, are you?” she stirs her coffee.
I don’t know how she drinks that rubbish. 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 you’ll do anything to stay awake. She waves her hand in front of my eyes, because clearly I am not paying attention. “It was nice of him to get you an internship. You haven’t told him that you hate it, have you?”
When I only 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.”
I open my mouth to retaliate (surprise), but suddenly the bar door is thrown open. A small herd of people stumbles in. I check my watch, but it’s only 7:30. Nowhere near the usual time for rowdy drunks. Yet here they are: three witches and two wizards. The women are wearing short glittery dresses despite the chilly September air, while the men are in tailored blazers that probably cost a month’s rent on my flat. An involuntary sound of disgust escapes me. I know the type: posh socialites from Chelsea who stumbled across this pub and don’t know a good beer from a broomstick. I’ll be making ridiculously difficult cocktails all night.
They all look to be a few years older than I. 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.
“Right. Well, it looks like we’ll both be getting fucked tonight,” I say crudely, “though I don’t reckon this lot will buy me breakfast.”
Lisa just twiddles her fingers at me in a farewell. She’s enjoying this far too much. As she leaves through the front door, every male’s eyes are trained on her. Their gazes then switch to the beautiful witches stumbling up to the bar in their pumps. I hear them trying to remember the name of “that one cocktail they had in Edinburgh. It had some kind of juice in it. Or something.”
Life is just not fair.
It turns out that these people are essentially harmless. The women at least are friendly. And in really amazing shape, I think, noticing their toned arms. The only exercise I get is sprinting back and forth behind this bar like a caged terrier. They have a celebrity air about them—maybe it’s the way they hold themselves, or their way of talking, but everyone is noticing. In fact I spot a few people murmuring with their heads together, staring at them. So who are they?
One of the men is leaning on the bar. He’s tall and stocky, with messy brown hair and the beginnings of a beard. looks familiar to me, but I can’t place him—probably because he’s wearing a pair of expensive sunglasses. Even though he’s indoors, and it’s nighttime. It’s a wonder he even found his way to the counter, seeing how dim the pub is. When he orders a drink, his accent sounds Eastern European. He has to repeat himself twice, because every time he speaks, his counterparts erupt into laughter from their table. They’re watching our interaction and I get the feeling that I’m the butt of some kind of joke. I roll my eyes and chalk it up to drunkenness.
“Sank you,” he nods curtly as I slide him his Old Fashioned. (His friends chortle again.)
As the night progresses, I lose track of every cocktail he and his friends have me make. 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 ashamed to say, I’m pouring juice with sparkling water. They’re too drunk to notice. But they have become entirely too much to handle.
I’ve kicked my fair share of kicking people out of pubs, and being kicked out. But for some reason, these posh socialites are intimidating. One of the women, a girl with dark hair and green eyes, also looks familiar to me. She’s the soberest of the group, with a serious demeanor. She sends me little apologetic looks now and then, but does nothing to stop the men from making complete asses of themselves. After their third mentioning that they’ve been drinking since 4:00 in the afternoon, my patience is running thin. They’re even more difficult to tolerate when I have to coax the Eastern European down from their table, where he has begun belting a horribly off-key rendition of "I Will Always Love You." All night I’ve managed to endure their volume—they sound like they’re screaming across a gorge at one another rather than sitting at the same table. So far I’m just 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 Eastern European man in there. 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. It’s an occupational hazard. 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 lopsided 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 and scream, “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 clean. 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 vommed.
Thank Merlin for magic. It makes the task quick, but no less revolting. Go ahead and add that to the list of things I never want to experience again. I don’t see how Lisa does this at the hospital on a regular basis.
As soon as the loo is clean(-ish) I throw open the door, shoulders heaving. The Phantom of the Loo has apparently not mentioned his recent adventure to his friends, as none of them seem to be acting out of the ordinary. Ignoring the tattooed wizard’s request for another pint, I storm across the bar and grab the piss-vandal by his expensive shirt.
“Whoa!” his mate smiles widely, giving me a suggestive look.
I open my mouth to scream I-don’t-know-what, but before I even know what’s happening this arsehole grabs my waist and plants his mouth on mine. It is easily the sloppiest kiss—if you could even call it that—I have ever experienced. In fact a bit of my nostril is in his mouth. My hands are on his shoulders immediately, and I shove as hard as I can. He stumbles and two of the girls catch him, mouths open in shock.
“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 all erupt into howls of laughter.
Idiots. All of them.
The other guy throws his arm over his friend’s shoulder—or tries to. I don’t think he has much to offer in the way of motor skills right now. “D’you know who thissis? Thissis bloody Viktor Krum!”
The whole pub goes silent. Even I am taken aback. It does make sense: his build, the accent, how wealthy they all are, why he looks so familiar. But I don’t want to give them the satisfaction.
I am prepared to screech 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 his fist into the air, “YEAH, BULGARIA!”
Then Viktor Krum turns around and punches him in the face.
“WHAT the EVER-LIVING FUCK!” I am completely beside myself. The man topples and his friends dive to his rescue, tackling Krum to the floor. Though they are outnumbered, Krum and his friend still try to put up a fight. The green-eyed witch is in the thick of it, bellowing in a deep voice to break it up. The other women have resorted to screaming and fluttering their hands. It’s moments like this when I wonder why nobody is ever smart enough to use magic at pub fights.
My spell manages to hit all but one of the fighters, though he thinks better of it and backs away. The brawlers are frozen mid-punch, looking like Picasso’s Guernica. One of the girls gives a final shriek before quieting herself.
“Aaaand that’s last call! Everybody get the hell out, I’m done.”
I perform the counter-spell, ignoring the complaints omitting from everyone. 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. I can’t stand the sight of them.
“But I never got my stout!” The tattooed wizard gives a pretty impressive whine considering his bulk.
Unable to even look at any of them, I raise a hand. “Mate, I just cleaned up somebody’s vomit, and was then kissed by that same mouth. Trust me. 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. Krum’s mate doesn’t speak to me at all when he settles his tab, which I’m not too heartbroken about. I slam his change down haughtily, “Have a brilliant night.”
Eventually I have to turn around and perform some breathing exercises that Lisa taught me. Before she became a Mediwitch, she was a yoga instructor—I know, could she be any more desirable? She often forced me to attend her classes. She said it would help my stress. What Lisa didn’t quite understand was that my stress was partially due to the fact that she was getting paid to be fit while I was cleaning loos in a seedy Diagon Alley hotel.
I am almost in my happy place (Dean, Seamus and I frolicking through a field towards a giant pint of ale at the end of a rainbow) when I hear a quiet, “‘Scuse me.”
I open my eyes and find Viktor Krum leaning on the bar. His expensive blazer has been 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.
I respond tersely, “Nine Galleons, two Sickles, seventeen Knuts.”
Whereas I would be horrified at such an amount, Krum merely sets to fishing around in his trouser pockets. I suppose things like this are common to a wealthy Quidditch star. I turn away, waving my wand at the sink to filling it with soapy water. As I charm the pint glasses to wash themselves, I see Krum’s reflection clearly in the mirrors on the wall. He takes forever to count out the proper coinage, which he sets down on the bar. I can feel his eyes on my back as he waits quietly.
I turn, expecting to count out change, but he just slides the pile of closer. “Keep the rest,” he slurs. I nod slightly, not making eye contact. “I really am sorry,” he says again as he stumbles to his feet. A sarcastic salute is all he receives in return.
I’m still refusing to look at him and eventually he makes his way back to the others. When I can see that he is no longer paying attention, my curiosity gets the best of me. Quickly I count the pile of money. To my surprise he’s left me 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 already way ahead of me. There’s a Haileybury Hammers match tonight, and they’ve long 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 yelling at the players 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. I lean back on the bar, folding my arms and reveling in the silence. When I flick my wand at the jukebox, Talking Heads start playing an upbeat little song. Then, thinking more like myself, I subtract four Sickles from my tip jar and pour myself a Firewhiskey and sparkling water.
It’s not until an hour later, as I am locking the door in the chilly night air, that I realise it. Viktor Krum’s Bulgarian accent had completely disappeared when he came to apologise to me. In fact, he’d almost sounded Scottish.
“FATHER CHRISTMAS!” The first exclamation I think of flies from my lips. I drop my too-full keychain and it lands painfully on my toe. Hopping on one foot while massaging the other, I rotate slowly and come face-to-face with Rose Zeller. Her hands are stuffed into the pockets of a bright red pea coat, eyebrow quirked in disbelief.
“That’s how you respond to somebody sneaking up on you? I could’ve hexed you three times over.”
Ignoring the jibe, I release my throbbing foot, “What are you doing here?”
“Well I came to find you. Did you close the pub 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?”
She scoffs, “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 painful moment she says, “I have a favour to ask.”
“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 for money. Now I glimpse Rose casting approving looks at Le Chat Noir’s hip decor, and hope that this is all over quickly. I have a Quidditch match to watch. We make our way 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, a heavy beer with high alcohol content. The barmaid nods curtly, eyeing us. I get the impression that she thinks we’re a couple.
“So,” I say after she disappears. “A favour, eh?”
Rose studies me, and then reaches into her purse. She pulls out a blue folder brimming with parchments that slams onto the table with considerable weight. I laugh, “Please tell me you’re not keeping files on Theo now.”
She glowers, “This isn’t about Theo.”
“This is about the Quidditch article I don’t want to write.”
“Oh,” I sit up. Is this what I think it is? I’m trying not to get my hopes up. After all, Mr. Ward crushed them (and then some) last time. But Rose is smiling knowingly and I’m getting a faint tingling in my stomach.
“Thought that might interest you,” she flips open the folder. Reminding myself to stay calm, I lean back as the barmaid arrives with our drinks. Rose studies her drink, takes a sip, smacks her lips thoughtfully and—will you go on?!
At last she says, “I talked to Ward about giving you the article instead.”
My hand shoots across the table, almost knocking over my beer, and grabs her wrist. “You didn’t!”
“Don’t get your hopes up,” 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—”
“Edie,” she says impatiently. “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. I’m beginning to see where this is going. 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…
I decide to be casual, taking a long sip of my beer. There’s no point in giving her any more leverage. She eyes me impatiently but I only give the slightest shrug of my shoulders, “So, what then?”
I can practically see Seamus high-fiving me approvingly, “Nailed it!”
“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.
“I suppose it’s my fault for not budgeting my time. But that’s beside the point. I’m too busy to write this assignment, but it needs to be done, and Ward needs to think that I’m the one who did it.” Slowly Rose slides the folder across the table.
“…And 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. And this is very unlike Rose. She’s always been very responsible and punctual with her assignments, sometimes writing upwards of five per issue. At the same time, this is the best opportunity to present itself in all my time at Witch Weekly. A chance to conduct a serious interview. It would mean real-life experience writing for an actual magazine. My heart stops.
It means I would be a published journalist.
Rose cracks a grin, “See what I’m getting at here?”
It occurs to me that she knew exactly what she was doing all along. Cleverer than I thought, this one. I’m beginning to feel trapped, even though technically I’m the one doing a favour. I take a long drink, eyes never leaving the blue folder. 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 Firewhiskey from earlier are keeping me from seeing them.
I can’t help my grin, “All right. I’ll do it.”
Rose lets out a squeal. Apparently we’ve both given up on being cautious. “Oh, thank you Edie, thank you thank you thank you! This is such a relief.”
Despite my attempts to stay calm, in seconds I’ve opened the folder to flip through the parchments. They’re mostly clippings, though there are a few handwritten notes. I have to stop myself from laughing when I come across a diagram Rose has made in an attempt to understand Quidditch. Next to the word “Snitch,” she has drawn an arrow pointing to, “Throw it?”
“How is it you know nothing about Quidditch? You went to Hogwarts.”
She shrugs, “I went to a few matches. I’m not interested in sports, though. I find them vulgar and brutal.” She goes on, “So. The article is a feature piece on a player from Puddleme—”
“PUDDLEMERE.” I have slammed down my glass mid-sip, beer sloshing. “PUDDLEMERE UNITED.”
Rose stares blankly, “Yes?”
Once my pulse is back to normal, I put out a reassuring hand, “Let me explain.”
I launch into my prepared story, about how they are one of my top-three Quidditch teams (after Kenmare, before Holyhead.) I also mention my pair of knickers that read Chuck that Quaffle Here across the bum, from their team anthem. In the most abridged history lesson I can offer, I explain that Puddlemere made it to last year’s European Cup. The game lasted an agonizing seven hours, but I held fast through it all, glued to my two-way mirror. We would have won, had it not been for Seeker Amelia Jones pulling a Wronski Feint—why, why would you do that, Jones?—and crashing into the ground. As soon as she was down, the Seeker from the Appleby Arrows saw the Snitch. It was all over in seconds. The following week was a dark one for me.
I gaze reverently into space. But I may as well be speaking Greek, as Rose is nodding with eyes glazed over. “Yeah,” she says with false enthusiasm.
“So. Who will I be interviewing? Jones? I hope it’s Jones. I’ve been dying to ask her about that Feint for over a year, to the point of losing sleep. But she’s never answered my fan mail…”
“Well, the 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?”
Rose pulls out her lipstick and mirror, “Anyway, you’re interviewing Oliver Wood.”
My jaw drops. Wood was a major component of Puddlemere’s success over the past five years. Even better, he’s been turned into a martyr because he injured his shoulder. He’s been out for an entire season doing physical therapy. Puddlemere’s next match will be his first time back on a broomstick. Maybe he’s slipped off the radar, and sure, I’ve heard a rumour about a drinking problem. But I can practically see my pitch now: unsung Quidditch hero still fighting for his place in the game.
Rose watches herself in the mirror, “Do you know who I’m talking about? You two should have been at Hogwarts together for a bit, but I think he’s a few years ahead of you.”
I laugh condescendingly. “Uh, yeah, I think I know who Oliver Wood is.”
Author's Note: Yay, finally a chapter with Oliver! I can't wait for him and Edie to have some more substantial interactions. I went back and edited her talk with Rose so that we get a better feel for exactly how much she likes Quidditch, because I didn't think I conveyed it well enough beforehand.
Updates 11/3/14: Thank you to the reader who informed me that barkeeps in Britain do not typically receive tips. That has been corrected. Other various things have been tidied here and there, mainly Rose's stereotypical "feminine" behaviour being toned down. And thank you to the validators, for putting up with my editing process--I'm sure you've all read various versions of this chapter four times over :)
I do not own Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," or Pablo Picasso's "Guernica."
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