Anything for the Story

Whether or not you’ve been following along (and if you have, you know I love you bunches right now), here’s the newest section of Secrets Internalized!  I’d love to hear about it if you’re enjoying the story or even if you have a constructive critique!  If you’d like to start reading it from the beginning, here are the previous parts:  Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10

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Two weeks passed in much the same way.  Rita left Astrid largely to her own devices and Astrid worked overtime to churn out stories no one cared about, while Rita stole the recognition for any actually noteworthy pieces for herself.

One night when Astrid thought she couldn’t take it anymore, she stormed to Adrian’s desk at the end of her shift, teeth bared and hair askew, and growled, “Let’s go.”

“All right,” he said, wide-eyed, “let me just clear up my things.”

They headed to the Leaky Cauldron, where Astrid immediately ordered drinks for both of them before unleashing all her pent-up aggravation.

“She doesn’t even look at me when I pass her, Adrian!  Won’t even acknowledge my presence!  She’s supposed to be my boss!  I’m supposed to be able to look up to her!  Glean inspiration!  And everything I do is just wrong, might I add!  She finds a hundred things to nitpick out of every story I put out!  And then when I try to do something the way she told me to do it, suddenly that’s the wrong way to do it, too!  And it’s all my fault because how could I have been stupid enough to misunderstand her the first time?  I don’t even know anymore if the problem is me or her!  I mean, it must be me, right, because everyone loves her, so clearly I’m missing something!  I mean, is she just screwing about with my head, or am I really that pathetic?”

Adrian watched somberly throughout this diatribe and spoke up when Astrid paused for breath.

“Yeah, I thought this might happen,” he said.  “You’re not the first, you know.  I’ve seen four interns walk out because they couldn’t deal with her anymore.  And yes, she’s definitely screwing with your head.  Don’t even think you’re pathetic because you’re not!  You do good work with what you’re given to work with!  I’ve seen it!”

Astrid let forth a scream of rage at this.  “And that’s the other thing!” she said.  “I know I’m only just starting, but how am I ever supposed to advance from under her?  With her constantly shitcanning me to everyone above her, how can I ever get ahead?”

“You’re resourceful!  You’ll think of something.  And I doubt she’s shitcanning—”

“I’ve heard her!” Astrid interjected.

“Well…even so.”  He looked uncomfortable.

As Astrid began to devour her toad-in-the-hole, she happened to glance over into the same corner she had spotted Barty Crouch, Jr. in a couple weeks before and found him again, this time dining alone.  It was then that the hatchling of an idea began to come to her.  Resourceful.  Yes, she was resourceful.  If Rita was going to actively work to stunt her career at the Prophet, then maybe…maybe she would just find the story of the century on her own.

She continued to eat her supper, this time without taking her eye off him.  After a while, Adrian noticed and turned to look where she was watching.

“What are you staring—blimey, it’s Barty again!”  He looked back at her, suspicious.  “What’s your obsession with him all of a sudden, anyway?”

“What?  I’m not obsessed!”

“Yeah, you went on about him strangely a while back and now you can’t keep your eyes off him.  Are you in love or something?  I know he was interested in you back at Hogwarts—”

“Not love,” Astrid said, “just…interest.”  She found Adrian’s suspicious a useful cover for her real intentions.

“Well, go and talk to him, then.  What have you got to lose?”

“I’m just nervous, that’s all.  We haven’t been close for years.”

“So rekindle something!”

“There was no kindling there in the first place.  We were just friends, that’s all.”

“Friends, right.  I remember how he stopped speaking to you when you started seeing Dirk all those years ago.”

She took out her wallet, prepared to pay in case she had to get up in a hurry, and just in time, too, for at that moment, Barty stood up.  She hurriedly threw some cash on the table.

“I’ve got to go, Adrian, sorry!”

“Now?”  He turned back to look at Barty.  “Oh, I see.  Best of luck to you, then!”

Astrid downed a shot of Firewhisky and bade Adrian a quick farewell before chasing after Barty, heart pounding against her chest.  Anything for the story, right?

~~*~~

The next section is here!

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Astrid’s First Byline

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.

~~*~~

Find the next section here!

Dark Muggle Prophecy

Sorry for the delay on the story, everyone, but I’m back with the latest addition!  If you haven’t yet seen the previous parts and would like to read from the beginning, you can find them here:  Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8

And now on with the latest!

~~*~~

Back at the Prophet later that morning, Astrid eagerly reached for a copy of the late morning paper, updated to include the breaking news of the most recent Death Eater attack, and carried it to her desk.  The story took up the entire front page, of course.  She scanned for the byline she was seeking and found it in a sidebar titled “GOSSIP”.  The headline read, “LATEST VICTIM RAISES QUESTIONS OVER DARK MUGGLE PROPHECY”.

Today’s Death Eater attack on a young woman leaves even muggles fearing for their futures, writes Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent.  Eyewitnesses to the slaughtered remains of the once-beautiful Beth Greeley, 23, Muggle, were understandably filled with dread.  Although of course unable to grasp the true poignancy of the grisly scene that awaited them right in the heart of London this morning, it was clear the muggles could sense something deeper underlying the crime.  One witness, who wished to remain unnamed, referred to the murder as a sign of the so-called “End of Times”—an elusive date certain muggles believe will be brought about by an unstoppable force of evil destroying the world and everyone who lives in it.  This “Apocalypse”, as it is also sometimes called, will revolve around one very powerful dark wizard, feared by many and esteemed by an elite few chosen ones who do his bidding.  “I don’t know what demons they were trying to summon, but there’s evil in the air…you can feel it, can’t you?” the witness remarked.  When pressed for further details, he stated that this was “obviously the work of evil forces” and “maybe Lucifer himself”.  Is it possible there is a connection to this ancient muggle prophecy and the current events of our own world?  Could we be living in the muggles’ “End of Times”?  Perhaps we have more to fear from the Dark Lord Voldemort and his followers than previously imagined.  After all, if they can traverse worlds to do his bidding in attacks such as the one on Miss Greeley, maybe the muggle prophecy has more to say about our collective impending doom than we had previously accredited it.

On the other hand, there is some speculation that Miss Greeley’s death, while tragic, was simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  56-year-old Molly Plummer, a tired-looking woman with a Cockney accent as thick as her coif, suggests that the crime was so avoidable, it could even have been expected.  “She were [sic] prettier than she had any right to be,” Mrs. Plummer told the Daily Prophet.  “A trollop like that should know better than to go wandering the streets at night.”  With an expression that suggested she understood more than she was willing to say, Mrs. Plummer concluded,“It’s just one of those things where you keep away from trouble and trouble keeps away from you.”

Just one of those things, or dark muggle prophecy interlocking the fates of us all?  The Prophet leaves it to you to decide.

Astrid was fuming.  She could not believe the rubbish in her hands.  She had been there as Rita had interviewed these people.  These quotes were inaccurate and taken out of context.  The so-called “Molly Plummer” had never even provided a name!  This was the organization she had so longed to work for?

Rita approached just then, wearing a smile that read to Astrid as victorious.  No doubt she was being congratulated all over the building for her latest bilge.  Astrid scowled back.

“So,” said Rita, in the sweetest voice she had ever directed at Astrid, “do you think you’re up to the challenge of your own first story?”

“Sure!” Astrid said, carefully swallowing her resentment.  “What do you have in mind?”

Rita dropped a thick manila envelope on Astrid’s desk with a dull thud.  “These are the owls that come in each day that get left behind after everyone has their assignments.  Many of them don’t get covered, unfortunate as that might be.”  She didn’t look as if it was unfortunate at all, or as if she cared.  “But now we have you to help us with some of the extra weight!”  Her smile brightened, but behind it Astrid sensed something impure.

“Great, I’d love to,” Astrid said.

“Excellent!  Choose whatever you like.  Follow a lead today and maybe see your name in the morning edition.  Good luck.”  With that, she turned and left Astrid alone with the file.

Astrid could see that she had just been handed every odd, dull, or otherwise undesirable lead that had entered the building for perhaps the last month.  Oh, well, she thought, it has to be better than following Bozo and Bimbo all day.  She sighed and began flipping through the file.

~~*~~

Thanks as always for reading, and here I’ll leave you with a preview of more to come!  Here’s the next part!

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Scene of the Crime

Apologies for the slight delay in updating, but try as I might to keep ahead, you’ve now caught up to the part of the story I am in.  Part 8 is ready, but before we get there, if you haven’t yet read them, the other parts are here:

Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7

And now here’s the latest:

She didn’t get to sleep through the night, as she was awoken at 4 in the morning by owl post from Rita, advising her to get to the Prophet straight away, don’t even bother washing up; they had a Death Eater attack to cover.

The vendors weren’t even out selling their wares yet as Astrid made her way to work 20 minutes later, out of sorts, eyelids drooping and hair a disaster, but awake and ready for duty.

“What took you so long!?” said Rita, who looked flawless and exasperated.

“Sorry,” said Astrid, “I—”

“Never mind.  Just fetch a quill and follow me.”

The scene they Apparated to was more gruesome than Astrid had been prepared for.  They were on a street in downtown London, and despite the early hour, a crowd had already gathered, drawn by the violence.

The body of a woman not much older than Astrid sat propped against the side of a building, leaning into a dumpster.  The woman had been beautiful, Astrid could see.  She imagined a lot of work had gone into her makeup and teased blonde hair before she had gone out the night before.  But now her makeup looked as though it had been through a fight, and her hair had fallen down around her bare shoulders where her top was torn.  Astrid took a closer look.  It appeared someone had carved a word into the skin across the woman’s chest.  “MUGGLE”, it said.  There was a lot of blood.  Astrid felt sick to her stomach.

A group of Aurors was divided between examining the scene of the crime and obliviating muggle bystanders, one of whom, a middle-aged woman in pajamas and slippers, Rita immediately cornered.

“Rita Skeeter, Gossip Correspondent for the Daily Prophet,” Rita said to the muggle woman in a sugary voice.

“The Daily ‘oo?” the woman asked.

“Would you be interested in answering some questions about what happened here?”

“Dunno much,” the woman replied.  “Me ‘usband is a street sweeper.  ‘E was doin’ ‘is job and rang me to get down ‘ere, a trollop ‘ad been done in.  I came down quick as I could.”

“How did he know she was a trollop?” Rita said, sounding almost overly-eager to Astrid’s ears, under the circumstances.

“Well, ‘e was lookin’ at ‘er, at ‘ow she was dressed, wasn’t ‘e?”

“Would you say that, in a way, this woman got what she deserved, being out late at night by herself?”

Astrid’s mouth fell open; she could not have heard Rita clearly.

“I dunno as anyone deserves murderin’ just for lookin’ as she does…and I dunno wot a muggle is, but I can take a guess,” she added knowingly.

“But the situation could have been avoided had she not been out alone in the middle of the night?”

“Obviously she wouldn’t’a been walkin’ in the pathway of a murderer otherwise.”

“Thank you,” Rita said, looking delighted.  She grabbed a nearby Auror by the arm and said, “This one can be obliviated now; I’m through with her.”

Astrid rushed over.  “Weren’t those leading questions you were asking just now?”

“Hm?” said Rita.

“That woman.  You asked her leading questions.  You know, a question designed to get the answer you want?”

Rita looked disinterestedly at Astrid.  “How else do you expect to get the best quotes?”

“But that’s unethical!” said Astrid, though Rita had already approached another bystander and made no sign that she had heard Astrid, or cared.

Bozo pushed past Astrid with a smirk.  “Why don’t you stay out of the way and let the big kids do the job, eh?” he said, promptly turning his back on her.

She heard Rita asking a young man whether he had seen anything suspicious.

“I didn’t see anything myself, but I did hear there were a few fellows in dark robes, like judges or summat.”

“How interesting,” said Rita. “Would you say they were wearing masks?”

“Yeah, that’s what I heard, all right.  Big scary ones, like–like animal skulls, someone said!”

“Perhaps like….”  Rita paused as though to find the right words.  “Perhaps like a…Satanic…ritual?”

Astrid rolled her eyes.

The man’s face lit up.  “Just like that!” he said.  “Did you see what they wrote on her?  ‘Muggle’, it said.  That’s a term from Demonology, it is!”  He nodded emphatically.

“Would you call this a ritualistic human sacrifice?”

“Absolutely,” the man said.  “I don’t know what demons they were trying to summon, but there’s evil in the air, you know?  You can feel it, can’t you?”

“Almost like the…End of Times?”

“It feels just like that!” the man said, as though he had lived through the End of Times countless times before and this was just par for the course.  Astrid couldn’t resist an audible “tut” and the man looked over at her, surprised.  She pretended to cough.

“So this must be the work of someone very evil indeed?” Rita pressed.

“Mebbe…mebbe Lucifer himself!”

Astrid was in disbelief.  This couldn’t be how things were done at the biggest newspaper in the British wizarding world…could it?

~~*~~

Thanks for reading!  Here’s the next part!

Not Now, Son

Once again, I’m so appreciative of you all for reading, and happy to hear that you’re enjoying it!  I’ve got the latest part of the story for you, but before that, here are the previous parts if you haven’t yet seen them:

Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6

And here’s the latest:

She was pensive that night as she walked back to her flat and began preparing for bed.  She thought about her new job, about poor Adrian and his sister, about her parents—her birth parents—and the state of her world, which had been at war for almost as far back as she could remember.

And mostly, she thought about Barty.

She could remember the first time she had ever met Barty Crouch, Jr.  The Crouch family had invited the Featherleys to supper at their estate one night in autumn when she was 5 years old and Barty was 6.  It was the largest house Astrid had ever seen, before or since, and also the first time she had seen a house-elf.

The Featherleys had asked Astrid whether she would like to bring a gift to the young boy she would be meeting at dinner.  Astrid had generously brought along a book of nursery stories she had read numerous times.  When they arrived, Barty, Jr. had hidden behind his mother’s legs after first spotting Astrid.  Understanding his timidity, she had wordlessly held the book out to him.  After a pause, he had reached for it, and then, excitedly, addressed his father:  “Father!  Father, lookit!  Lookit what she brought me!”

“Not now, son,” his father had replied, already deep in conversation with Astrid’s father.

Astrid did not recall what they had eaten that night.  Something gourmet, no doubt.  What she did remember was the adoration Barty had shown his father, and how little his father seemed to notice.  It made her heart ache for him, and also for herself and what she had lost.  The Featherleys were good to her, but she longed to be noticed by her own parents, as well.  To be loved by them, held in their arms.

After supper, the children had been excused to the nursery, accompanied by the house-elf Winky, who read aloud to them from the book Astrid had brought.  Barty had grinned at Astrid and held her hand during one of the stories.

“You’re good at this, Winky,” the boy had said.  “But I sometimes wish Father would read to me.”

“Doesn’t your father read to you?” Astrid had asked.

“I don’t think Father ever notices me much,” the boy had replied.  “He isn’t home much.  And when he is home, he just says, ‘Not now, son.’  I’m not one of those Death Eaters; that’s all he cares about.”

The house-elf had thrown her hands over her ears and cried out, “Master Barty mustn’t say such things about his father!  His father is a good man!  His father loves Master Barty!”

Astrid was horrified by his words.  “You shouldn’t say that.  Those are bad people.  That’s why our fathers have to catch them.”

“Have Death Eaters ever stopped your father reading to you?”

Astrid imagined she had felt her heart stop at these words.  “They stop lots of people’s fathers reading to them.  Sometimes forever.”

Barty had evidently not known what to say to that, and Winky had insisted on reading more of the storybook.

Astrid had seen Barty again from time to time over the years preceding Hogwarts.  He was always kind to her, always pleasant, yet she saw a sadness in him that he tried to keep hidden.  He was like her in that way.

They were chummy and competitive in their earlier years at Hogwarts.  He being a Slytherin and a year ahead, she did not expect to see much of him after being sorted into Ravenclaw, but Astrid’s astronomical grades got her noticed by Professor Horace Slughorn and inducted into his Slug Club for extraordinary students midway through her first year.  When she arrived to her very first meeting, shy and terrified to find herself surrounded by unfamiliar students of every age and house, she had been pleased to see Barty there, as well.  Here was someone she knew, someone she could look up to.

The Slug Club were a close-knit bunch.  In her 4th year Astrid began dating a 6th year member by the name of Dirk Cresswell, who impressed her with his talent for languages.  After he wrote her a poem entirely in the Goblin language, Gobbledegook, she was smitten, and Barty became quite distant towards her.  The one time she had ever received detention had been for sneaking out of her dorm in the middle of the night to meet Dirk.  Instead she had run into Barty, who was by then a Hogwarts Prefect.  She had tried and failed to appeal to their past friendship; he had coldly advised her that he had orders and he couldn’t make allowances for her gallivants, boyfriend or no boyfriend.  She had been marched straight to her head of house, who informed her exasperatedly that sneaking around was “for Gryffindors and people who are up to something”.  She had never gone late-night exploring again.  As a hopeful journalist, she really could have used the practice.

Although she had ended things with Dirk later that year, she and Barty did not rekindle their past friendship after that.  There was a frost between them that never lifted.  They saw each other and were polite enough when necessary in Slug Club meetings, but that was as far as it went.

It was only after he graduated that she started to hear things that made her blood run cold.  Only whispers, nothing more, about the company he had begun to keep and speculation as to where his loyalties lay.  Another Slug member—a 6th year named Lockhart from her own house—swore he had personally spotted Barty heading into Knockturn Alley with “a nasty-looking fellow”, but Lockhart didn’t know much more than that, and as he had a bit of a reputation for embellishing, Astrid wasn’t sure she believed him.

Still, as they hadn’t been close for years, she hadn’t worried too much about it.

Until now.

“Just look who his father is,” Adrian had said.

Not now, son, was Astrid’s final coherent thought as she drifted off to sleep.

~~*~~

Please read Part 8 here!

Familiar Faces

I’m honored beyond words that you all have been following this story.  I’ve got the next part ready for you.  If you like it, please drop me a line to let me know.  If you’ve got a constructive critique, I’d love to hear that, too!  As always, here are the previous parts in case you haven’t already seen them:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

And here’s Part 6:

The day was spent being rushed around by Rita to various interviews.  “I hope you passed your Apparitions tests,” Rita said, without bothering to look back at Astrid for acknowledgment, “because we’ve got lots to cover this morning!”  At the site of their first location, Astrid had been handed a quill and instructed to simply “Write down everything.”  She was eager to do as she was told, though as Rita already had a quill that seemed to magically “write down everything” for her, it all seemed a bit pointless.  Still, Astrid decided to consider it good practice for the day when they would let her do this on her own.

As she hadn’t had time for a proper lunch, Astrid found her way, exhausted, over to Adrian’s desk at the end of the day, and the two headed down the street to the Leaky Cauldron for supper and drinks.

“So how was your first day?” Adrian asked after they’d been seated.

Astrid sipped her Firewhisky too quickly and grimaced as it went down, burning her insides.  “I can handle it.”

“How was Rita?”

“She was all right, I suppose.”

“I know she can be….”  Adrian trailed off.

“What?”

“You’ll keep this between us, yeah?”

“Of course.”

“Well, let’s just say the Queen of the Quills, star reporter though she may be, doesn’t shine quite so brightly on a personal level.  I mean to say, she hasn’t made many friends among her admirers.”

“She is a bit impersonal.”

“And very competitive.  Watch your back around that one.  And learn everything you can!”

“That photographer of hers is certainly something.”

Adrian straightened up at this.  “Bozo?  Not surprising.  He’s got a bit of a reputation, himself, hasn’t he?  Always creeping out the ladies.  If he gives you a hard time, you just let me know, all right?  I’ll deal with him.”

“All right, thanks.”

They spent some time catching up about old friends and acquaintances.  Adrian had graduated a few years before, so Astrid filled him in on events at Hogwarts since he’d gone.

“So how’re your parents, then?” he said, when they had exhausted this subject.

But Astrid’s attention had suddenly been arrested by another familiar face in the far corner.  She had almost missed it, hidden by shadow as it was, but there, leaning against the wall, was the all-too-recognizable lanky figure of Barty Crouch, Jr.  He was surrounded by three ominous-looking older people Astrid did not know, and they appeared to be deep in a serious conversation about something.  He did not seem to have noticed her, so fixated were they on their discussion, but she glanced quickly away when he turned towards her a second later.

“Hm?  Oh…they’re still safe.  Yeah, everyone’s well.  Thanks, Adrian.  How’s your family?”

“We lost my little sister.  Darling Sarah.”

“Oh, no.”

“Yeah.  Group of Death Eaters attacked a playground, of all places.  Slimy bastards.”

“Adrian, I’m so sorry.  I read about that when it happened!  They didn’t name any of the children.  I had no idea.”

“That’s very kind of you, thanks.”  Adrian stared into the frothy mug in front of him for a moment, during which Astrid was certain she saw a tear form and then fall.

“A playground!  Of all places!  Is no place sacred from those beasts?”  The posh accent he normally affected (at, Astrid suspected, Professor Slughorn’s prompting) seemed to vanish more with every sip he took.  “And we’re of pure blood and all that!  I thought that’s what it was all supposed to be about.  The whole bloody war.  Some folks is worth more’n other folks on account of what body they was born into.  But what sort of—of vermin attacks children?  I ask you!”

Astrid stole another uneasy glance over towards the corner, only to discover that Barty and his friends had vanished.

Adrian continued:  “If I ever find the bastards what done it, I’ll kill ’em meself!  I’ll swear to that!”

“Adrian, have you ever heard any rumors about Barty?”

“Crouch?  Junior?  What sort of rumors d’you mean?”

“He hangs around with some sketchy people.”

“Well, he’s a Slytherin, isn’t he?  He can hardly help but be acquainted with some creepy folks.  It don’t make him a Death Eater, though, if that’s what you’re implying.  Couldn’t be.  Just look who his father is!”

Astrid did not point out the absurdity in Adrian’s two claims:  That merely being associated with suspicious sorts did not make Barty himself suspicious, but that being associated with his father made him innocent.  She chose to let the matter drop.  After all, if she was wrong, it was a risky accusation to make.

“Well, I should be getting home,” she said.  “I think I’m going to need my energy tomorrow.  Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine.  See you in the morning, then!”

~~*~~

This is me again–because I have it, I’m going to leave you with a hint of what’s to come in the next section.

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The Intern

I suppose I’m just going to see this thing through until the end now, since I can see you all are reading.  As always, thank you so much and please let me know if you have a comment or a critique!  Here are the previous sections:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

I’ve actually been borrowing my friend’s laptop and snatching a few minutes here and there at work to post these for you the last few days.  Here’s the latest:

She stopped on the stoop, taking a swig of pumpkin juice and a deep breath.  “This is it,” she muttered before turning the knob.  “Time to show them all what you’re made of.”

The world inside the Daily Prophet was in stark contrast to that outside in the alley.  Employees who appeared to have been awake for hours bustled about in a frenzy, bumping into each other in their haste to arrive wherever they were going.  Paper airplanes whizzed by her head, reminding her of outings to the Ministry of Magic to visit her father.  She could hear the steady hum of a printing press, and then a low blast from a distant wand caused her to jump.

Astrid shrank into her clothes, trying to make herself appear smaller, although no one seemed to have noticed her.  She wasn’t quite sure what to do or even who to ask for directions.  She had met with the editor only briefly before and knew how very busy he must be; it would be improper and downright embarrassing to go to him for help.

A tall, thin woman with her face buried in a piece of parchment bumped into her.  “Watch it!” the woman said in an irritated tone.

“Sorry,” Astrid said instinctively.  The woman hurried on without acknowledging her again.

“Astrid?” came a male voice from behind her.

Filled with relief at having been spotted, she flung around.  “Adrian!” she said, recognizing an old school chum.  Adrian had been a few years ahead of her, but she had seen a great deal of him in the Slug Club.

“I heard you were starting today!  Old Sluggy came through for you, did he?”

“Yes, he was very helpful.  I wouldn’t be here without him.”

“Who will you be working with?”

“I’m…not entirely sure.” Astrid flushed.

“Oh!” Adrian looked confused.  “Well…come and meet me on your break if you’d like.  No sense going out alone, times like these.  I sit over there.”  He pointed to a vague spot in the middle row of desks.

“Right.  Thanks.  See you,” said Astrid, already peering around again for anyone else who might recognize her.

She stood for another minute until she was approached by someone new.  This woman wore high heels and bright red lipstick with her short, platinum-blonde curls, which made her resemble a 1950s pin-up model.  A heavyset man carrying a camera followed closely behind her.

“Miss Featherlight?” the woman said.

“Featherley,” Astrid replied, “but Astrid is fine.”

“Quite.”  The woman held out her hand and spoke with an air of importance.  “Rita Skeeter, Gossip Correspondent.”  Astrid reached out to shake her hand; Rita had a very stiff handshake.  “You’ll be working under me.  This is Bozo,” she said, jerking her thumb toward the photographer.

Astrid shook hands with Bozo, who held on just a fraction of a second too long and stared into her eyes in a way that seemed somehow invasive.  “Hello,” she said.

“I’ll show you where you can place your belongings,” Rita said, walking briskly to an empty desk in the far corner of the room.  “Quickly, quickly!  We have very little time before the day’s first interview.  This will be your desk.  No one will disturb your things.  And…,” and here she peered around as though seeking something.  The desk was bare but for some abandoned, impersonal office supplies, but amongst the clutter, Rita spied an ugly paperweight shaped like a fat black rat and smiled, scooping it up.  “Ah,” she said.  She held the rat in one hand and produced a wand with the other.  “Scriptorio,” she said, pointing the wand at the rat.

Astrid watched as shiny gold lettering reading ‘Astrid Featherly’ appeared across the side of the rat.  “There’s actually another ‘e’ in Feath–,” she began, but Rita interrupted, setting the makeshift nameplate atop Astrid’s new desk with a clunk.

“No time, no time,” Rita said.  “We’ll get you a new one later.”

~~*~~

Thanks for reading!  Find the next part here.