Here’s the next section of the story, which I am titling Secrets Internalized. Thanks for reading, and if you haven’t seen them, please check out the previous sections here: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9
Half an hour later, Astrid found herself hailing the Knight Bus to a small country lane near Sussex. The sun was high, but the temperature was mild for a June day, and she found herself enjoying the walk to her destination. A smell like wisteria greeted her coyly, and she could hear bumblebees from the green field beside the dirt lane. Reaching the address written in her notebook, she knocked on the door to a large two-story dwelling.
For a moment, nothing happened. Astrid knocked again, certain she had heard a sound from inside, and the door was opened by a round young woman with rosy cheeks and a pleasant smile.
“Sorry, love, had to get my pasties out of the oven! What can I do for you?”
“I’m Astrid Featherley,” Astrid said, holding out her hand, “from the Daily Prophet. I’m following a lead about magically modified pumpkins?” She made the last part a question, feeling nervous and slightly unsure of herself.
The woman’s face lit up. “Of course!” she said. “Do come in! I’m Emma Tarts. Would you care for some refreshment? T here’s fresh pumpkin juice. And pasties!”
“Oh…no, thanks,” said Astrid, “I’m only here on business.”
“Oh, but this is the business you’re here about, isn’t it? You might as well,” Emma said, already leading the way into a cheerfully decorated kitchen. She pulled out a chair for Astrid and made for the cupboard, where she removed two plates and two glasses.
“Well…I suppose it’d be foolish not to,” Astrid said, relaxing a bit and allowing a small smile.
“Right you are, dearie,” said Emma, scooping two pasties onto the plates and setting one before Astrid. “Careful! This one’s still piping hot! Best let it cool a bit first. Here’s some juice while you wait. Auntie Emma makes only the best!”
“You’re Auntie Emma!?” Astrid said, instantly recognizing the biggest name in pumpkin juice in Britain. What luck! This lead wasn’t such a dud, after all.
“Yes, that’s right! I own Auntie Emma’s Finest Pumpkin Juice.”
“You have one of the most popular culinary brands in the country. Why are you seeking an interview with the Prophet now?” said Astrid, readying her quill.
“Well, perhaps Witch Weekly would have been the more logical choice. However, my main goal was to bring a little light to the world, and the paper has been such an awfully dark place of late.” She shuddered. “And after that latest attack this morning…well, the time is definitely ripe for some cheer, wouldn’t you say?”
“Undoubtedly,” said Astrid. “How do you propose to do that?”
“I try to do my little part every day to bring some joy into people’s lives. But I’d like to play a more active role. I’d like to teach gardening classes to anyone who wants them.”
“You mentioned in your message to the Prophet that you had learned how to magically modify the way a plant grows, to control its flavor?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
“Aren’t you concerned someone might steal your secret recipe?”
“Oh, no, dear, my recipe is patented. That isn’t a concern. But I’d like to help others learn how to create more beautiful—and tasty!—things. Together I think we can make the world a better place, in our own small ways, by enriching the senses.”
“What can you tell me about the modification process?”
Astrid discussed herbology, cooking, and positivity with Auntie Emma until well into the afternoon before apparating back to the Prophet to prepare her story. Working diligently, she was able to spin together the uplifting piece she thought Auntie Emma was hoping for before the deadline for the next morning’s paper. Sure, it wasn’t front-page-worthy, but she had worked hard on it and produced a first story that she could be proud of.
She awoke and prepared for work eagerly the next morning, curious to see whether her story would have made it into the paper anywhere. To her surprise she found it, not near the end, but in the middle. She read it carefully. It had been trimmed a bit for length, but nothing else had been tampered with. She couldn’t resist a self-satisfied smirk as she sat at her desk.
Rita hadn’t even bothered to greet her yet that morning. In fact, when Astrid had walked past her upon entering the building, Rita had not even acknowledged her. If she had seen Astrid’s piece, she hadn’t been inclined to comment. Astrid could see her sitting at her desk. She couldn’t be sure, but it almost seemed Rita was blatantly ignoring her.
Astrid took the initiative and approached.
“Good morning,” she said.
Rita did not look up. “Hello,” she said, sounding harassed.
“I’m just going to work on my file, then, this morning, shall I?” Astrid said.
“Oh, yes. You can add this stack to it,” Rita said, handing her another manila folder nearly as thick as the day before, and turning back to her work without another word.
“I’ll let you know if I need anything,” Astrid said, heading back to her desk.
She was surprised to spot the Editor walking over to Rita’s desk a moment later. Perhaps Rita had been unbelievably busy, much too busy to make eye contact with Astrid, a moment before, but all of that was forgotten as she looked up and began fawning all over the Editor.
“Hesiod!” Astrid heard her drawl. “How are you this morning?”
They made boring small talk for a while, Rita’s work long forgotten, before Hesiod said something that drew Astrid’s attention again.
“That new intern you have published something quite unique this morning!”
Astrid saw Rita hesitate for the merest of seconds, glance over, and lock eye contact with her.
“Did she?” Rita said, her smile fading ever so slightly.
“Oh, yes! Whoever would have thought such a light, feel-good piece could come from a simple story about pumpkins?”
Rita grinned. “Of course, I put her onto the thing.”
Hesiod guffawed. “Did you?”
“Indeed! Scoop and spin!”
“I might’ve known!” Hesiod chortled again. “Nothing gets past the Queen of the Quills!”
“It certainly doesn’t,” Rita said, smiling in Astrid’s direction.
“Well, better get to it!” Hesiod said, and walked past Astrid’s desk without so much as a glance in her direction.