When I was born, my grandmother took one look at me and decided there was something missing.
Barbara Skeeter, the long-time contributor and Editor-in-Chief of Witch Weekly, whose illustrious career as a journalist flourished from the twenties to the late-fifties, was inarguably intuitive (a distinction she believed was purely a blessing, never a curse). This, along with her skill of imposition, kept her concern from being swept away with some condescending reason, as is the usual case with grandparents. Instead, my mother Daisy, lying spent on the hospital bed in the maternity ward of St. Mungo's, handed me over.
I remember, even though I was freshly born then (for I am endowed with the gift of an unnaturally strong memory), her green eyes looking at mine. For a short while she studied me, trying to pin down that vague off-ness, as if it were a butterfly flitting about my head.
My father William had been watching this from Mother's bedside. A stout man with a painfully meek nature, he asked timidly, "What is it, Mum?"
Barbara's eyes were like two searchlights, beaming even in the dull, sterile lighting that is typical of hospitals. Suddenly, she held up a finger. "I know just what it is." She shifted me to one arm, earning small noises of alarm from my parents, and dug through the ubiquitous purse hanging at her side.
What she came up with: a quill. A beautiful quill with a slender form, meant for only the most purposeful and artful of hands. Its red colour was as vivid as Barbara's own lips. The quill had a huge black feather that might've belonged on some twenties-era headband. She bestowed this upon my flinching, soft, fleshy mass of a hand, and I curled my fingers around it, gurgling happily. "She'll have my quill."
"Oh, I'm not sure you'd want to give that away, Mum. Not now, anyway." William stepped forward, wringing his hands nervously. "It's your most prized possession. She's much too young to appreciate it."
"Nonsense." Barbara let out a full-bodied laugh that vibrated through me, as I was pressed against her expensive dress which smelled sharply of drink and lemons. "Start 'em as young as you can. The world will only go faster."
And this was only too true. But evidently I was too young then; I flung the quill at a wall and released sharp, brutal cries. Barbara, noting the drool glistening my mouth, handed me back with a little disgust and went to retrieve her gift from the floor. "Perhaps when she's older, then."
I grew from that tear-streaked baby swaddled in blankets into a child with an insatiable curiosity. My parents remarked on how quickly I picked things up in my developing years - how I had learned to talk in a week and walk in only twenty minutes.
William and Daisy Skeeter were a Pureblooded couple, living in a spacious house in an affluent division of Wizarding England. Physically, Father had inherited nearly nothing from his mother. Like his own father, he had a handsome, strong-boned face, but his dark red hair was to inevitably be touched by the hand of baldness. Independent from either parent was his stooped posture and averting eyes, which sang of some lingering adolescent despondency.
Monetarily, well, he was certainly Barbara's child.
My grandparents were married for two years. Their relationship, as Barbara had once told me, was something from which she "gratefully woke up with the sense to see that it must end." William was their last connection. Strung between two households, it was only natural that my father developed a timorous nature, and no matter how much carping Barbara did (until her very last breath, as Father would tell you), this nature remained his inseparable companion. His only companion - until Mother dropped into his life, quite literally.
A mouse of a woman, Daisy Porter had limp brown hair that swept the small of her back when it wasn't held in a strict style. Bangs made an awning over her twinkly eyes. And those eyes were forever squinted, as if she'd been languishing in the grip of some perpetual laugh. My mother had been part of the nursing effort, Healing fell soldiers from the battlefield, before the conflict settled and she found herself doing secretarial work in the Ministry's Education Department. A few years younger than her, Father was studying to become a Potioneer. He excelled in the subject, earning special distinction in school, and was en route to joining an institution dedicated to the subject. He'd needed his license; she'd needed lunch. One rainy afternoon, on the way to their respective destinations, they bumped into each other and became husband and wife.
They were a short, quiet pair, completely unassuming - as finely fitted as two matching socks, contently tucked away into the drawer of life. Commuting to work, the house they'd chosen was like a slightly larger dollhouse, quiet and dainty, reflecting their complementarily gentle natures. Mother's parents were knowledgable of my father's roots. "They didn't like reporters," Mother told me, "and your grandmother made them very tense." But they were taken with William's noiselessness and his intense passion towards his modest field.
However, Barbara didn't like my mother. "She never liked anyone really - not even her own son. But you? You were like a golden mirror reflecting back her image. I guess the genes skipped a generation."
My grandmother was tall and beautiful. Time had been as kind to her as the words in the commemorative speech read at the The Society of Wizarding Journalists' annual dinner - only a week before I came bursting into the world. "Robust, daring, a pillar in the history of magical reporting." I've often looked at her photos and found the same prominent cheekbones, the same blonde tresses, and, most obviously, the same probing eyes. At that time, she was nearing sixty, and despite a few grey hairs she'd neglected to magick away out of "permissible laziness," nothing had really lost their "oomph," as she called it.
There's an old saying about those in the journalistic profession - that the very best of them have the kind of eyes that dig the story out of you before their words do (and she had a deep, husky voice that commanded rather than said). It's a very old saying, with an untraceable origin - but in that case it could be said that I was perhaps destined for the job.
William and Daisy managed bringing me into the world and raising me, though that was done "with little effort," according to my father, because I'd been adamant in my acceleration through those developing years, acquiring so much and wanting even more. "You didn't even ask us questions when you were interested about something," he said. "Whatever you wanted to know, you found out, somehow." This observation aligns with memories of staying up way past my bedtime, listening to the forbidden adult-speak that drifted up from my parents' holiday parties. (I could never glean anything beyond predictions as to what the weather might be like in the coming week. My parents were never inclined to gossip or anything similarly disruptive, and birds of a feather flock together.)
You can assume that this sort of dry atmosphere would only cultivate a taste for more colour and motion. You'd be right. My parents were good ones - there's no doubt about their sincerity and effort - but I will say that growing up with them would have been nearly the same as spending those years in a white, padded cell. I wanted life. Primal, glowing, snarling life, a cut knee or a prick from a thorny bush. I imagined myself running away to a place where I'd feel the stinging nerve and beating heart of experience. The only place outside my imagination where this feeling, or something close to it, was possible, was my grandmother's.
I fondly remember spending weekends with Barbara. She was never subtle about disliking my name. "Margaret. How quaint," she scoffed, stubbing out another cigarette as she continued an article on her typewriter. We were in her study; she'd let me stay up past the quaint time of seven-thirty, into the more glamorous nine-thirty. "Little wonder your parents had picked it."
Before anything was final, Barbara suggested a smattering of options, from the likes of Anais, Vivianne, and Sloan. All of them smacked of intellectuality but she may have just wanted something with an air of interestingness. Something distinct - "Something with pizazz, you know?" - something that had the capability of being recognised throughout the years to come. To her (and therefore to me) Margaret just wasn't it. "Ah, well," she sighed, punching out a word. "You can always have a pseudonym."
She named her typewriter after her first husband, Edward, whom I don't believe she ever completely stopped being fond of. My grandfather was only her third outing in the romantic field, and that that had yielded a child and went crashing and burning into the ground, to borrow her observation, was nothing to get hung up over. (I don't believe things ever really got to Barbara. If they did, she hid it well, behind a mask of coolness and wisdom, mascara and red lipstick. No one knew what went on beneath that film of face powder, because anyone who got close enough was stung. Metaphorically, of course, by the point of her quill. I was all the while mesmerized.)
This typewriter was a constant sound whenever I'd visited. Entranced by the rhythm of its pounded keys, quick and buoyant, I was determined that midnight to produce the same effect. Of course, this resulted in just wasting its ink with lines and lines of nonsense. The next morning, when she discovered, Barbara only laughed that movie-star laugh of hers and set me off into the yard with that beautiful red quill. Her direction: "Find me a story!"
For the next three hours, I walked around her manor, quill pointed toward a pad should any story suddenly reveal itself. Beside the horror of watching a robin's egg get devoured by a squirrel, and having been chased away by house-elves from the garden, I had nothing to report.
Finding her in her study, as ever, the cigarette ashes in her tray now amassed into a small, flaky mountain, I shoved out my bottom lip. "I couldn't find a story."
"Don't worry," she said, waving off my disappointment, which was only affected in anticipation of her own. "Next time, just look harder. There's always something." She curled my fingers back around the quill and smiled. From then on, I developed the habit of slipping it inside my pocket, should, without warning, it be needed. Barbara's words echoed through me every time. "Always be alive to the possibility of a story." Consequently, I kept myself porous.
Barbara would die in her sixty-seventh year from lung problems. The cigarettes she'd persisted in smoking - hiding the fact from her son, and ostensibly blowing smoke when out of his sight - had her removed from Witch Weekly and placed in a grave. The Editor-in-Chief position was suddenly vacant until it went to Ethel Cunningham. Reigning with a slight smirk, she seemed to have had been waiting for death to strike. (The thought of my grandmother retiring was not a realistic one.)
To my eyes, that red quill had become an embodiment of her. I was to follow in her footsteps, unwaveringly, with the luck of avoiding whatever holes she came across and whatever holes she dug herself.
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