"You’re a fire person. What you’re most like is marsh-fire; […] you got witch-oil in your soul."
- Philip Pullman, Northern Lights
Andy’s wand had a puckish and unfortunate fondness for hide and seek. Far too often she would pat down her robes only to find it missing, and with a beleaguered sigh she would go a-hunting under chairs and couches, cushions and work desks. There it would sequester itself in impish self-satisfaction, glowing faintly, then brighter the closer she drew. When at last she swiped it up into her hand once more, the wand would shoot a flurry of cheerful sparks, warmth radiating up her arm and past her elbows until she shushed it with an admonishing shake. Even from the beginning it had done this, clattering from a box high upon a shelf at the candle-lit wand shop and rolling across the floor to a nudging halt at the toe of her leather-soled shoes. When Andy had picked it up at the time it was only with the intention of placing it neatly back in its box and handing it over to the shop's assistant, but the wood had flashed hot in her fingers, searing itself in place like a brand, like a heady promise, like it had -- at long last -- found a home worth having.
Now, bruised and battered from its many roaming adventures across the years and across many a floor, it settled in a fold of her faded, self-patched robes. She patted herself down just to make sure that the wand was still there, and only when she felt it press against her forearm did Andy breathe a sigh of relief. Arms crossed, she gripped its handle and clenched her teeth, trying and failing not to look down.
Immediately Andy wrenched her head back up with a suppressed squeak, looking towards the ceiling. Suspended miles above the ground, the Elias-Clarke office building had been enchanted to float among the sea of stormy clouds high over London, and though Andy knew at least four dozen stories extended beneath her feet, all she could see was a boiling mass of grey streaked with tines of lightning. She flinched, expecting thunder, but the silence that followed was deafening.
Miranda Priestly on the other hand simply licked her finger and turned a page of The Daily Prophet. Upon a high-backed throne-like chair she sat, perched at her enormous desk, surrounded by a sea of crystal and glass -- from the gold-veined quartz of her seat to the mirrored edges of every countertop. Her spectacles gleamed in the flash of lightning. In her dark robes, she cut an opposing figure to her environment. Severely, sleekly Victorian. Peaked shoulders. High-throated collar bound with an emerald the size of a quail's egg that probably cost more than Andy's entire apartment complex down in Barking and Dagenham.
"So," Miranda began, still not looking up. She hadn't bothered to do so even when Andy had stepped into the room, or when Andy's CV had fluttered down like an origami bird and unfolded itself at her elbow. "You want to work at The Wand and the Way?"
Andy kept her arms crossed, feeling the comforting corner of her wand's hilt against one palm. "Yes," she announced as firmly as she knew how.
"And you hadn't heard of me or this establishment before today?"
As Miranda turned another page of The Prophet, Andy stifled the urge to blurt out that she'd much rather be working there at that newspaper than at a place like this. At least The Prophet's offices were firmly underground. Instead, Andy admitted, "That's correct."
Without looking, Miranda reached to one side and pulled Andy's CV over the article she currently read, skimming its contents. Her eyebrows rose and at last she glanced up at Andy over the rim of her spectacles. "It says here you were in Slytherin."
Andy squirmed under the weight of Miranda's scrutiny, those cold eyes taking inventory of every poorly-sewn patch in Andy's robes and of the faint hint of ash still lingering at the tips of Andy's hair from when she had arrived in the lobby by floo powder. Andy hadn't seen the point in listing her Hogwarts House on her CV, but the woman at HR had been insistent, as if it were some kind of wizarding Myers-Briggs test. "Yes. I'm assuming you were, too?"
Miranda's expression hardly changed -- a tightening around the mouth, a hardening around the eyes. If anything, she looked insulted at the notion that she and Andy had ever shared so much as a House. In absolute silence, rain pelted the glass ceiling, the glass walls; sheets of it dripped from the claw-footed legs of Miranda's chair and to the unseen city sprawled far below. She tapped at Andy's CV with her thumb, an intermittent pattern broken by the rolling drum of her fingernails.
When no confirmation followed, Andy cleared her throat. She gripped the hilt of her wand tighter and comforted herself with the fact that at least it hadn't gone running off somewhere embarrassing. The thought of crawling around beneath Miranda's desk in search of it sent a flare of panic lancing through her stomach. "As you can see," Andy nodded to the CV, "I earned Exceeds Expectations in all my courses, with an Outstanding in Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures. In my fifth year, I started my own paper, The Hogwarts Courier, which is still running today, and -"
Before Andy could finish, Miranda waved her away with both hands and a bored look, already turning her attention back to The Daily Prophet. "That's all," she announced, voice soft yet final.
In shock Andy stared as Miranda pulled a long dark wand from her robes and touched its tip to Andy's CV, setting the paper alight. The edges of the page blackened and curled and with a flourish of her wand Miranda siphoned the ashes away while she picked up where she left off in that morning’s paper.
With an incredulous huff of laughter, Andy turned to leave. Her chest burned with shame and something else, something that fumed at the indignation of it all -- all of this, this entire encounter. Her wand bristled beneath her hand, thorny and demanding in her grasp. She hadn't taken more than three steps when she whirled around in the doorway, teeth clenched, jaw set. "You know what?" Andy said, and Miranda peered up, removing her glasses upon hearing the steely note in Andy's voice. "I would do very well as your assistant, whatever you may think. I'm smart. I'm driven. I learn fast. And I'd work harder than anyone you could -"
The glass doors behind Andy opened, and an immaculately dressed wizard brushed by her, mid-speech. Carrying an open case in his arms, he spoke over Andy and swept over to Miranda's desk to place the case before her as one might place an offering before some god or ancient queen: with delicacy and careful decorum. "I have the core samples from Wolfe, but the Thunderbird feathers weren't properly packaged and now they look like someone ran them through a damn printing press. They've lost all their spark! I'm at my wits end!"
At that, Miranda looked away once more, frowning at the case and its contents. Sighing, Andy shook her head, finally uncrossing her arms, letting go of her wand. "Great. Yes," she muttered, stomping from the office. "Thank you for the interview."
The witch at the desk who had screened her earlier -- Emily -- didn't bother to stop scribbling at the many memos flitting from her desk and into the little chimney that puffed in the corner near the cloak closet. She merely flicked her eyes dismissively over Andy as she left. It wasn't until Andy was dipping her hand into the pot of iridescent floo powder in the lobby that she heard someone calling her name, and glancing around, saw Emily waving her back.
"You got a job at a fashion magazine?" Nate sounded as sceptical as Andy felt. A waiter leaned over the table to pour them drinks, red wine sloshing in fat round glasses.
Andy grimaced. "Yeah," she lied. The cover story for The Wand and The Way left something to be desired; nobody said witches and wizards were the most creative when it came to hiding the truth from muggles. Runway, fashion magazine extraordinaire wasn’t even the worst of the lot.
"That makes no sense!" Lily laughed, picking up her glass and taking an emphatic sip. "You hate fashion!"
"I don't hate fashion!" Andy insisted with a grumble. After leaving the Elias-Clarke building, she had discarded her bulky, second-hand robes in favour of jeans and a light sweater. She may have spent several years away from the muggle world, but being muggle-born and raised, and with a friend group composed almost entirely of muggles, she prided herself on having a modicum of fashion sense. Better than most wizards and witches she encountered.
"Do I need to bring up The Robe Incident?" Doug teased.
Groaning, Andy dropped her head to the table. "Not again! That horse is dead, you guys!"
After a gruelling few weeks of O.W.Ls Andy had been picked up from King's Cross in her robes after a particularly long train ride from Hogwarts. At the time Andy, had been able to skirt around the truth by claiming that they were in fact scholarly dress required by the university during examinations. The others had all bought it -- plenty of prestigious muggle schools required that sort of thing -- but they never let her live it down.
Laughing, Lily said, "That horse is dead when we say it's dead. And right now, we say it's just gone out to pasture."
Doug raised his wine, and he and Lily touched glasses with a clink as though toasting a great victory. Andy scowled at them in mock irritation, wrenching open her mouth to fire back a line of her own when her pocket burned. She sat bolt upright, knees banging against the table. "Ow!" She winced as she extricated herself from her seat, rising to her feet. "Sorry, guys! I need to take this! It’s work."
"Already?" Doug asked. "That was quick!"
Rushing towards the door, Andy left the restaurant, digging around in her pocket for the metal coin that warmed against her hip. With all the appearance of a fat golden Galleon, the coin's engraved contents shifted with a Protean charm, taking shape into Andy's first work-related message -- one of many to come. Why wizards refused to move to more modern electronic messaging never failed to befuddle her. She was walking down the street towards the tube, when she heard the restaurant door open and close behind her.
"Andy!" Nate shouted. The soles of his sneakers slapped against the pavement as he chased along after her, waving her battered wand in his hand. "You forgot your -- uh -- stick?"
Back at Hogwarts all her friends had told Andy that she’d been sorted into the wrong House. She loathed the cold and damp, the stark stone rotunda of the Slytherin common room and avoided it whenever possible. She spent her days in the Herbology greenhouses or among the magical creatures scattered along the groundskeeper’s enclosures. She haunted the warmth of the kitchen fireplaces so often the House Elves knew her by name. They would leave tea and biscuits for her on the bricks. She befriended Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors and the rare Ravenclaw, hopping from House table to House table in the Great Hall, but never sitting at her own. She covered the green collars and neckties of her robes with lumpy grey scarves. Most Slytherins hardly recognised her on campus let alone elsewhere, and after a time she stopped trying to avoid their gazes and simply passed beneath them, content to do her own work on her own time, left -- as she preferred -- to her own ambitions.
Now, years later, she was trapped in a building full to bursting with ex-Slytherins, unable to escape.
Andy sat at her desk while Emily towered over her. Emily stood shorter than herself, but boy did she know how to loom. “If I’m not here you are chained to that desk, and I mean it.” Emily was saying, dispensing instructions in that clipped tone of hers. “All notes and memos must be answered and logged into the Protean Calendar. White parchment is for missives. Cream parchment is for calendar updates. Don’t muck it up like the last girl. She once sent a Protean update through the chimney system and it was chaos for the whole week. She now works as a dishwasher at the Leaky Cauldron.”
Glancing down at her desk, Andy was surprised to find she wasn’t already attached to its leg by a manacle. Beside a plain brass-nibbed quill and inkwell set, there sat two stacks of paper that to her eyes appeared exactly the same. “Don’t mix up the two identical colours,” she quipped. “Got it.”
Emily glared at her. “This is not a joking matter. Witches and wizards from all over the world clamour over themselves to meet with Miranda Priestly. She’s only a legend of wandcraft! It is a privilege just to watch her work up close! I had to train for a year overseas to get this job, and you just waltz in here like it’s nothing! No preparation! No zeal! No fashion sense to speak of! You wear muggle shoes, for Christ’s sake!” Emily gestured to Andy, who had sunk further and further into her seat the longer the speech went on. “Honestly how were you a Slytherin? We couldn’t have been more than a year apart. I don’t recall ever seeing you in the common room.”
“I made myself scarce and spent most of my time in the Hufflepuff common room,” Andy grumbled.
Emily snorted, eyeing up Andy’s waistline. “For the nearby kitchens, no doubt. Anyway, I need to go down to the Magical Cores department and take inventory of our stock for this afternoon. Miranda hates it when all the materials aren’t exactly so, and those idiots in the warehouses always manage to muck it up somehow.” She jabbed her finger in Andy’s direction with a stern growl, “Don’t move from that spot unless Miranda herself tells you otherwise! I’ll be back shortly.”
She left. No sooner had Andy breathed a sigh of relief, sitting up straighter, than she heard a soft voice from the nearby office.
“Emily? Emily?” Miranda called.
Craning her neck to peer down the hallway down which Emily just left, Andy fiddled with the quill at her desk for a moment, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth before Miranda said yet again, “Emily?” at which Andy leapt to her feet and scurried into the office, wondering if Miranda would notice the difference between her and Emily if she quickly dyed her hair with her wand.
Upon her entry however, Nigel and Miranda only glanced up; Nigel with a cursory once-over at Andy’s darned robes; Miranda with an exasperated slant to her mouth. “There you are, Emily. How many times do I have to -?”
“Actually it’s Andy.”
Nigel stared at her. Still holding open a case of carved wandwood, he took a discrete step away from Miranda, who smiled, the kind of smile Andy remembered seeing on a lion in a zoo before it ate a live goat, a slow baring of teeth. She did not seem to need to blink; she watched Andy with the fixedness of a great serpent. “I need the latest numbers from our shops in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade Village, as well as the hazel and hornbeam from Wiseacres. And tell Isolt I won’t hear of it; if he tries to use laurel again, it won’t take. He was lucky last time, and he thinks it counts as sheer brilliance. Get a hold of my husband and confirm dinner tonight at Obertelli’s. Then I need you to get a hold of Johannes and tell him I can do three, not four. If he insists on four, tell him I said he’s being unreasonable and remind him that last time he only needed two.”
As she spoke her eyes went cold and steely, watching Andy scramble for a note in the pocket of her robes, a sneer curling her lip when the gesture showed Andy’s converse sneakers peeking beneath the hems. Miranda began to turn away as Andy scribbled furiously with a spare quill, but Andy asked, “Three of what? Sorry?”
Rather than answer, Miranda stared at her until Andy lowered her trembling gaze. Then she waved one hand and dismissed Andy with a calm: “That’s all.”
Hands shaking, nearly crushing her notes and quill in her fists, Andy fled. She was still fretting back at her desk, trying to remember exactly what Miranda had said, trying to decipher her own cramped shaky handwriting, when Emily returned. Her heeled boots clacked as she strode with purpose across the glass floors, a storm billowing beneath her feet, and as she went she ticked off items in a little black book which vanished in a wisp of smoke when she snapped it shut. Taking in the sight of Andy, frazzled and frantically scrawling something on a piece of parchment, Emily demanded, “What happened? I was only away for two bloody minutes!”
“She -!” Andy took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and listed off everything she could recall. “She wanted numbers from some shops, and wood from Wiseacres. And Isolt shouldn’t use laurel, and Johannes only needs two?”
When she opened her eyes once more, Emily was shaking her head and searching Andy’s face for answers. “Did she say what kind of wood? Genus? Lustre? And two of what?”
“I don’t know!” Andy lowered her voice to a hasty whisper. “I tried asking her, but -!”
“You never ask Miranda anything!” Emily hissed. Then she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose in that careful way so as not to smudge her thickly applied cosmetics. “I will take care of this. And you -! You will go to Diagon Alley and visit Wiseacres. Calvin will take care of everything there; he’s the shopkeeper. Ask the receptionist in the lobby for directions if you don’t know where Wiseacres is. Apparition is quickest.”
“I - uh -” Andy gave an apologetic grimace. “I actually don’t apparate.”
“You don’t or you can’t?”
“Oh, I can!”
“Then I don’t see the problem.” Emily snapped her fingers, re-summoning her little black book in a tuft of bluish smoke.
“I splinched myself!” Andy admitted, arms crossed, hands clenched into fists in the folds of her robes. “Very badly. I don’t apparate. I don’t like it.”
Pausing over the notebook, her finger scrolling down the many perfect neat lines of text she had written, Emily relented with an exasperated shake of her head. “That’s -! It will take longer but -! Oh, very well! Take the chimney, then! But hurry!”
Andy hurried. It wasn’t nearly fast enough. By the time she returned, a leather briefcase stuffed full of hazel and hornbeam under each arm, there was already a litany of new tasks for her to perform. Miranda’s twin girls had just headed off to Hogwarts and needed new robes for their Houses: blue trim for Cassidy, green trim for Caroline. Beauvais needed specimen samples from Miranda’s latest dragon’s heart harvesting in order to treat the chords into strings. The lime wood shipment from Turkey had gotten mixed up in logistics and needed tracking down somewhere between Calais and Bursa. The twins needed new broomsticks and nothing less than top of the line Firebolt Supremes would do.
Nigel took the cases of hazel and hornbeam from her with a knowing grin, and with a grateful smile Andy sprinted off to the lobby chimney once more.
Andy never would get used to the silence of the rain-lashed windows. A week as Miranda Priestly's second assistant, and still Andy found herself staring at the floor beneath her feet with a shudder. Fear of heights had never been an issue in the past. Then again, fear of heights had never been quite this pressing or quite this ubiquitous. Perhaps she would buy a floor mat for her chair. At least then she wouldn't feel like she was going to spontaneously plummet to her death through the clouds while she wrote at her desk.
The door to her left opened, and in strode Nigel absent his customary supply case. Instead of breezing right by her into Miranda's office like he normally did, he stopped at Andy's desk and cocked his head. Andy stopped what she was doing, her hand slowing around the quill so that a dot of ink collected on the parchment. "Hi," Andy greeted him, looking over her shoulder when he did not immediately answer to check that Emily hadn't suddenly apparated behind her.
“Let me guess.” Nigel squinted at her behind his glasses, making him appear more owlish than ever. After a long moment of scrutiny, he pointed at her and announced, “Hufflepuff.”
"I - uh -" Andy replied eloquently.
"No?" Nigel rubbed at his chin, contemplative. "Alright, alright. Ravenclaw, like me."
Shaking her head, she set her quill in its matching inkwell and opened her mouth to correct him.
"No, don't tell me!" he sighed in resignation. "I suppose I should have guessed you'd be a Gryffindor. It takes balls the size of continental shelves to wrangle a job with The Dragon the way you did."
"The Dragon?" Andy repeated. "What on earth -?"
She trailed off when he gaped at her, aghast. "No!" he gasped. Then he laughed, laughed until he had to remove his spectacles to wipe at his eyes. "Slytherin? You?"
As he continued to chuckle, Andy glared. She crossed her arms and immediately felt the absence of her wand. With a sigh, she pushed her chair back and dropped to the floor on her hands and knees, searching for it. Nigel stepped back from her desk, ducking down to grin at her while she rummaged and crawled around for her wand. "How did the Sorting Hat decide that little conundrum? Oh, to have been a pixie on the wall of that conversation!"
Grabbing her wand from where it had rolled beneath a cabinet that held an endless supply of enchanted memo pages, Andy grumbled, "That's private."
"Well, Private, you might want to hurry up and finish sweeping the ground for landmines, because I can see Miranda heading this way as we speak."
Andy scrambled to her feet, sparks cascading to the floor in a narrow stream from the tip of her wand. Frantically, she shushed it as she rushed back to her desk to straighten the mess of memos strewn across the surface. Nigel watched her with raised eyebrows. He fluttered his fingers in the direction of her wand. “Does it always do that?”
“Yeah.” Andy shook the wand until its little fireworks display of excitement faded, at which point she stuffed it back out of sight, firmly into its allocated fold in her robes. “Ever since I first bought it.”
“You know, you now work with one of the world’s most prestigious wandmakers.” Nigel pointed out. “I could fix it for you, if you want -?”
Tidying up her desk with a scowl, Andy snapped, “There’s nothing wrong with it! It’s just -- I don’t know! Enthusiastic!”
She fell silent, lowering her gaze as Miranda swept into the room followed by a short squat man with a wide-set face that quivered with heavy jowls. Andy managed to seat herself at her desk and comb her fingers through her hair by the time the two of them approached.
"Out of the question, Irv," Miranda was saying. "The board can dictate many terms to me, but I will oversee my own creative processes as I see fit." Sweeping off her heavy velvet cloak and dumping it atop Andy's desk, nearly upsetting an inkwell in the process, Miranda clearly intended to finish the conversation in her office. She stormed off without sparing a glance at Andy or Nigel, and she would have continued had Irv not stopped in front of Andy's desk.
"Good morning, Nigel." Irv greeted, though he quickly disregarded Nigel's response to direct a smile at Andy. "And who do we have here? Another new face? You run through assistants like eggs through a golden goose, Miranda."
Miranda paused at the doors to her office, briefly raking her eyes over Andy before replying with a sneer, "Last I checked, I could hire and fire whomsoever I pleased. Unless you think the board should also be informed as to the finer details of my second assistant?"
"Someone clearly hasn't had their coffee yet," Irv gave Miranda a thin smile, before holding out his long-fingered hand to Andy. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss -?"
Andy had to stand up and reach down over the table to shake his hand. It slid against the skin of her palm, cool and sweaty. "Sachs. I'm Andy Sachs."
"Well, Miss Sachs, you should count yourself very fortunate. Very fortunate indeed. A million witches would kill for this job."
"A million witches would have gotten my coffee by now," Miranda interrupted with a look both hawkish and brumal in Andy's direction.
Pulling her hand back and discretely wiping it off on the side of her robes, Andy squeaked. "Sorry, Miranda."
As Andy whipped out her wand and summoned a mug from the air, Miranda tilted her head towards her office and said to Irv, "We should finish our discussion in private."
"I think I've said everything I wanted to for the moment." He pointed a long crooked finger at Miranda as if in warning. "The demands of the board aren't unreasonable, Miranda. And you know it."
"I know nothing of the sort," Miranda sniffed, watching him stride off down the hall with an implacable expression. Her hand rested on the handle of the door, and she drummed her fingers against its silvery edge, tonguing at the side of her cheek in a thoughtful manner. She seemed to snap back to reality when Andy tapped the side of the mug with her wand, filling it with fresh, aromatic coffee. Yanking the door to her office open and entering, Miranda snapped over her shoulder, "Unlike some of my previous assistants, my cloak won't hang itself."
Andy gaped after her, aghast. The mug began to overflow, hot coffee spilling across her shoes and splattering across Miranda's cloak. Andy swore. She cleared it all away with a wave of her wand, turning the cloak over to thumb at its underside and ensure not a single drop stained the fabric.
Nigel watched her, his eyebrows arching in near perfect half-circles over the rims of his spectacles. "At least you waited to do that until after she was gone. Congratulations on meeting one of our esteemed Directors by the way. Or should I say: my condolences? If I were you, I’d check to make sure you still have all your fingers.”
Still fretting over the cloak, Andy shot him an unimpressed look. “Just because he’s half goblin doesn’t mean he’s a crook. He’s still a wizard, Nigel.”
"Ah, you noticed that ancestry of his, did you? A touchy subject. I wouldn't mention it to him, if I were you. As for the other allegation -- well. You know what they say about goblins: tiny man; big plans. I wouldn’t trust Irv Ravitz to tell me the colour of a unicorn." Andy only bent half an ear to what Nigel said, trying to balance Miranda’s cloak in one hand and open the closet with the other while still holding the mug of coffee.
Miranda’s voice called softly from her office, “Emily, get me James Holt."
At the sound of Miranda’s voice, Andy only just managed to hang the cloak and not drop the mug. Nigel took pity on her. He pried the coffee from her hand and, walking towards Miranda's office, said, "Welcome to the family."
"She's awful! She's completely and totally awful!" Andy stabbed at the food on her plate hard enough that the tines of her fork left scratches against the cheap porcelain.
"Woah! Calm down there, killer!" Nate reached across the table with a soft smile and a softer look in his eyes, placing a hand on her wrist. He rubbed at the back of her hand with his thumb. "I'm all about death to the evil boss lady, but spare my poor plate, please?"
Sighing, Andy closed her eyes. Even now she could see seared across the velvety backs of her eyelids the negatives of all the notes she had written that day, her hand cramping, going cross-eyed by the time seven thirty in the evening rolled around. "Sorry. I'm just -! You know she basically implied that she drove a girl to suicide? More than once!"
"Yes, you told me. More than once." He let go of her, but his smile remained soft. The space on the table in front of him was clear -- he'd already cooked, eaten and cleaned up by the time Andy returned home late that evening. Her own plate was piled high with food he'd gathered up and left out for her. "That's ridiculous though. She couldn't have actually done that, right?"
With a snort, Andy jabbed her fork full of food and stuffed it into her mouth. "No, but I wouldn't put it past her. She's basically the devil. Did I tell you what they call her at the office?"
"The Dragon," he answered, propping his chin on his fist.
"Yes! I -! Oh." Andy slowed, mumbling guiltily around a mouthful of food. "How many times did I tell you that one?"
"Just a half-dozen. Maybe more." He grinned at her. When she deflated in her chair, he soothed. "Hey. None of that, now. I don't mind listening, but you have been talking about nothing but Miranda Priestly for days."
"Sorry." Andy pushed her food around her plate. Her chest bubbled with something she couldn't name, an appetite for something other than food. Gaze hardening, she glared down at her plate and then up at Nate. "I won't let her get to me. I won't. I'll prove her wrong."
"Ok, I need to see what this lady looks like if this is the kind of reaction she's getting out of you." Nate laughed, pulling his phone from his pocket and tapping in his security code.
As he opened a browser, Andy looked around, "Why don't you use the laptop?"
With a grimace, his fingers slowed against his phone, "I was going to wait until you'd finished eating to tell you, but -" Nate gestured around the apartment, which to Andy didn't seem any different than when she'd last seen it. Though for the last week she, admittedly, hadn't seen much of it at all. Stumbling in and out for sleep and a shower didn't count. "The apartment was broken into yesterday. My laptop is gone. Don't worry!" He added in a hurry when her eyes widened. "I've already spoken to the police. It was a series of break-ins around the area, and they're pretty sure they caught the guy. I was going to put up cameras outside our door though, just in case. Are you alright with that?"
"Oh my god." Andy swallowed a particularly large bite of food with some difficulty. "Yes! That's fine. Put security cameras everywhere!" Silently she wondered if she could get away with a few anti-burglary charms on the premises before deciding against it; best to not risk breaking the Statute of International Secrecy.
"Well, not everywhere. Just over the front door of the apartment is fine." He waggled his phone. "I'll be hooking it up to this so even if someone destroys the camera, we still have a live feed. Anyway! Let's see what this Dragon is all about!"
Craning her neck, Andy shuffled her chair over, its legs scraping against the wooden floors so she could better see the screen. Nate pulled up a few pictures. His eyebrows rose. Images of Miranda with her impeccably swept hair and her severely cut, elegant robes flicked across his phone. "Christ," he muttered. "She really must be a fashion icon to pull off something like that. You’ve got to admit though -- lady looks good for her age."
With a gasp of faux alarm, she nudged his shoulder with her own.
He chuckled, nudging her back. "What? You don't think so? Look me in the eye and tell me your boss isn't a silver fox."
Andy rolled her eyes, but she didn't say a word to the contrary.
Andy was scribbling away at her memos, getting a head start on stacking them up before she lit the chimney to send everything off for that morning, when a wolf trotted into the office. With a start, she stood slowly so as not to spook it. Leggy and with a luxurious roan-red pelt of fur, the maned wolf watched her approach with large reproachful eyes.
"Hey, buddy. Did you get lost?" Andy murmured in a hushed tone. She looked around with a mutter. "How on earth did you even get in here?"
When Andy stretched out her hand, clutching her wand in the other in case of any sudden movements, the wolf straightened. It kept on straightening, its body lengthening swiftly until Emily stood there, hands on her hips. "If you try to pet me, I'll bite your leg off," she growled.
Snatching her hand back as if Emily had snapped her teeth at her fingers, Andy glowered. “Trust me, you’re not nearly as cuddly now.”
Emily rolled her eyes, but let the comment slide. Rounding her own desk, she stopped, then rounded on Andy, jabbing her finger towards the small chimney set in the wall behind her. “Why isn’t the fire going yet? It’s nearly seven thirty! We should have been receiving memos already!”
“I was just about to get to that.” Andy gestured to her desk, stacked with notes ready to be sent. “I’m way ahead of you, Em.”
Emily’s eyes narrowed. She pulled out her wand and lit the fire, little gouts of black smoke filtering towards the ceiling where they passed, untouched, through the glass and into the atmosphere outside. “I can’t have you mucking anything up for me. Not now. Everything must be perfect. Word on the street is that James Holt, the youngest master wandmaker in a century, is searching for an apprentice.” Emily bit her lower lip and straightened her shoulders, positively preening with excitement. “He could pick anyone. Anyone at all! Well, not you obviously.” Voice suddenly flat, she gestured towards Andy. “Not that you’d want the position, anyway.”
For the sake of good manners -- as well as her own sanity -- Andy elected to ignore that comment and instead used her wand to pull her favourite mug from a cabinet to one side. “Why wouldn’t you aim for being Miranda’s apprentice? Why this guy?”
At that, Emily appeared truly gobsmacked. “It -! Well, I can’t say it wouldn’t be an absolute dream, but it would never happen. Miranda doesn’t take apprentices. She never has. Instead she’s helping James get his start in England, aiming to launch his career overseas with a new apprentice in tow.”
“That seems -” Andy cocked her head, frowning as she placed her mug on the desk before her, “-odd? If she doesn’t take an apprentice, then how does she intend to pass down her godlike wisdom to us lesser mortals?”
“Very funny, Andy,” Emily said in a tone that clearly stated she didn’t find it funny at all. She sat at her own desk and grabbed a piece of parchment from a stack of memos, starting on her own daily correspondence in Miranda’s name. Each time she finished a memo, it slipped from beneath the nib of her quill and folded itself in mid-air, flying itself to a ritual self-immolation in the chimney, where it was immediately transported to another office across the globe. “Miranda doesn’t need an apprentice because she has The Book.”
Andy tapped her cup with the side of her wand, and it filled with freshly brewed tea that scented the air with a floral tang of steam. "And what's so special about a book?"
"Not a book. The Book." Emily looked expectantly at Andy, but when no exclamation of understanding was forthcoming, she groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose, unknowingly leaving a smear of ink there. "The Book. It's only one of the single greatest collations of wandlore in the known world. It's locked up here in London, and at the end of every fortnight one of her assistants takes the book to her townhouse, where Miranda writes down everything she's uncovered. It holds the secrets of over two dozen English-speaking wandmakers' lifetimes, and is perhaps the single most coveted item in wandlore. People would kill for this book."
"And we're just allowed to carry it over to Miranda's place like it's nothing?" Andy snorted around the lip of her mug, "I find that hard to believe."
Emily gave her a nasty look. "It's enchanted to Timbuktu and back, obviously! Every time I so much as touch it through the gloves, I can feel the sting of magic needling my skin. I can't imagine trying to grab hold of it with my bare hands, let alone actually go about opening and reading the bloody thing."
Andy took a sip of her tea, wincing at the heat; she automatically had brewed it to Miranda's standards rather than her own. "I'm assuming wandmakers in other communities have something similar?"
"Not to Miranda’s exacting standards, but yes. They have their own collections of knowledge." Emily sniffed, a derisive sound that explained everything she thought about the legitimacy of other lesser wandlore. "That's what Paris is for. It's an annual convention. All the great wandmakers of the world come together in a different major city every year and chose a topic of discussion. They share what they know for the betterment of wizard kind everywhere."
"Somehow I imagine that's only the official party line."
At that Emily allowed herself a telling smirk, turning back to her memo-writing. "A political metaphor. How apt."
Andy sighed. Politics. Great. She cupped her mug of tea carefully in her lap, warming the palms of her hands until it cooled enough for her to drink. "That's what I was afraid of."
"In any case, you needn't worry about all that." Emily set down her quill, stood and crossed over to the little chimney, which had begun to belch putrid black smoke whenever it took a letter. She pulled out her wand and used it to prod at the chimney, clearing up the smoke in a jiffy. "As the first assistant, I'm the one who gets to attend the conference in Paris. And maybe one day, if you're lucky -- and only once Miranda has deemed you to not be a complete psychopath -- you'll get the honour of carrying The Book."
"Lucky me," Andy muttered under her breath. She took an absent-minded sip of tea, and winced when it scalded her tongue.
Andy was brushing her teeth when Nate called out from the kitchen. "Hey, Andy! I found some of your old school robes on the floor! They looked pretty dirty, so I threw them in the wash!"
Eyes widening, Andy spat toothpaste in the sink and rinsed her mouth. Wearing nothing but two towels -- one wrapped around her torso, the other atop her head -- she sprinted into the kitchen. She pinched the towel firmly across her chest as she bent over to yank the washing machine open. Inside, her only two pairs of wizarding robes were sopping wet, sticking to the sides of the metal drum. With a groan Andy shut the door.
Nate looked up from where he was beating eggs to make an omelette, puzzled. "What's wrong?"
She couldn't just up and say she needed to wear those to work. For a wild moment however, she did consider distracting Nate with a story about desperately needing toilet paper so that she could wash and dry a set of robes with her wand while he was at the supermarket. Checking the clock on the microwave, Andy sighed. No time for that, even. "Nothing," she lied. "They're just delicate is all."
The whisk slowed and Nate tapped it against the side of the glass bowl. "I'll be sure to hang dry them. Don't worry."
"Oh, don't thank me. The currency fairy visited me this morning, thanks to your laundry. Finders, keepers! Now I have enough change for a cup of coffee on the way to work." He began chopping a capsicum, wielding the knife with expert precision. "How many ingredients do you want?"
Andy crossed the room to press a kiss against his cheek before hurrying to the bedroom. "Nothing for me this morning, I'm afraid. I need to run."
Five minutes later, she raced down the street wearing her best slacks and blazer combo, pressing the last crust of a piece of toast that Nate had forced her to take with her. She was still chewing when she skidded into the pub at Barking and made her way into the basement. A long line of fellow magical commuters waited in front of a series of fireplaces. Andy tried to ignore all of the odd looks in her direction, wizards and witches alike doing a double take at the sight of her muggle clothes.
In the Elias-Clarke building itself, people disregarded double takes and went straight to downright staring. From the lobby all the way to her desk in front of Miranda's office, they stopped in their tracks to gape and whisper behind their hands. With a self-conscious clearing of her throat, Andy tugged at the ends of her blazer, pulling it more firmly down her waist. She only breathed a sigh of relief when she rounded the corner to sit at her desk, sinking down into the chair waiting for her there.
Sipping at a cup of tea, Emily looked up from her own work station and nearly choked. "Oh, no! No! Absolutely not!" she spluttered, rising to her feet and crossing quickly over to Andy's desk. As she did so Emily checked down the hallway. "Shoes are one thing but this -! You need to go home and change! Quickly! Before she arrives!"
"Well, I can't. My boyfriend decided he would be extra sweet and helpful this morning, so he washed everything." Andy explained. When Emily only looked at her blankly, Andy said, "He's a muggle. He doesn't know about -- well, anything. And I can't magically whisk my clothes dry in front of him without breaking the law."
"As enthralling as your love life is, you cannot be seen wearing muggle clothes in front of Miranda!" Emily hissed, looking over her shoulder in panic as if Miranda would apparate behind her at any moment. "She hates muggle clothes! Besides, you couldn't possibly only own three pairs of robes! What a ridiculous -!" Emily cut herself off. Upon seeing Andy's uncomfortable squirming in her chair, Emily said flatly, "You only own three pairs of robes."
"Two," Andy corrected her with a wince.
"Oh, my god."
"Look, Em," Andy tried using her most placating tone, her most charming smile, "If it's that big of a deal, I'll just take the chimney to Diagon Alley and buy an extra set from Madam Malkin’s. Problem solved!"
"You bloody well better or I'll -!" Clasping both hands beneath her chin as if in prayer, Emily inhaled deeply. When she spoke again, her voice had lowered but retained its usual clipped brusqueness. "Here’s what’s going to happen: You are going to Twilfitt and Tattings -- not Madam Malkin’s! Get some halfway decent robes for once! In the meantime, I will tell Miranda I sent you to fetch some extra inventory items from Diagon Alley. I'll message you which items you need to bring back. You do have your message coin on you at least?"
"Yeah, it's -" Andy patted at her pocket, then froze.
When her face fell, Emily threw her hands up in the air. "You -!" Emily went stock still and stared down the hallway. "Oh, no. She's here! Hide!"
Still seated at her chair, Andy held both her hands up and looked around, seriously contemplating leaping beneath the desk. Then Emily brushed by her with a muttered “For Christ’s sake!” yanking open the closet behind her and draping her own cloak over Andy just as the doors rushed open.
In strode Miranda like a headlong surge of sweltry air. She tossed her cloak onto Andy’s desk, then paused in the act of tugging off her gloves to frown at her two assistants huddled behind a single desk. Her eyes raked over Andy like a poker raking over coals, stoking them to sudden flame. “Why are you wearing Emily's cloak?”
Andy opened her mouth, but Emily answered before she could speak. “She forgot her own and she needs to go to Diagon Alley to buy some more aspen. The batch we received yesterday was blighted and completely unsuitable.”
Andy held her breath as Miranda squinted between the two of them. Tugging at the fingers of one glove, peeling them from her hands and tossing them atop Andy’s desk, Miranda pinned first Emily then Andy in place with the force of her gaze. “Is that so?” Her face never changed, but somehow Andy got the impression she was holding back a small wicked smile. “It’s very unlike Calvin to supply us with substandard materials. Perhaps I should pay him a visit and clear this whole mess up.”
Both Emily and Andy paled.
There was no doubt about it: Miranda schooled her expression, driving the smirk away and replacing it with a glare hard and unblinking as iron. Before Emily could speak, Andy jumped abruptly to her feet. “There was nothing wrong with the aspen,” she announced, tearing off the cloak to reveal the muggle pantsuit beneath. “Emily only said that to protect me. I need to go to Diagon Alley to purchase more robes. It’s my fault.”
Beside her Emily stiffened, going completely rigid. Meanwhile Miranda touched her fingers to her chin and mouth, studying Andy with a look she had never seen before -- something inscrutable in the draw of her brows, sphinx-like in her pose. “An assistant who comes to work wearing completely inappropriate dress, and an assistant who lies to me. And to think it isn’t even eight o’clock yet.” Miranda tsked, tapping her tongue against the backs of her teeth. “How disappointing.”
With that, she left them standing there, striding into her office in a flurry of emerald-trimmed robes. As soon as she was out of sight, Andy let out the breath she’d been holding in a long shaky exhale. Emily meanwhile wouldn’t look at her. She kept her head down, glowering at the floor as she snatched up her cloak and hung it back in the closet, slamming the door shut behind her.
Andy blinked in confusion, then her mouth dropped open. “Oh, no -! Em, I didn’t mean to -!”
“Just -!” Emily held up a hand as she walked back to her own desk. “Just go!”
In quiet apology, Andy brought back a rare edition of an Anthology of Fifth Century Wandmakers from Obscurus’ in Diagon Alley, leaving it on Emily’s desk. Emily didn’t look up or make any motion to take it, but later that afternoon a new message coin appeared on Andy’s desk with a note scribbled beneath it in Emily’s cramped, thorny handwriting: ‘Don’t lose this one.’
In Miranda’s office Andy stood to one side, making herself as small as possible while the others bustled about. She clutched a green suede notebook in one hand, quill in the other. She had taken a cue from Emily and jotted down everything she heard, though perhaps not in as neat handwriting, and already her own first notebook was nearly halfway full. All around Miranda, people bustled, while Miranda herself sat, leaning one arm against her gold-veined chair of quartz like a queen attended by her fawning court. For her critical approval, they presented mock ups and magical cores, ranging from common materials to increasingly coveted and rare, until she was surrounded by a hoard of veritable treasures. Andy could live comfortably for the rest of her life on the wealth accumulated in this room alone.
None of it seemed to impress Miranda however, if her bored expression had anything to say on the matter. She sighed and waved away one of the pretty drones from the Magical Cores department -- they were all pretty and most of them were women. Sometimes Andy wondered if being a pretty girl was a prerequisite for working with The Dragon; though if that were the case it wouldn’t explain why Miranda had hired her.
“No, no. Where is the sycamore I asked for? And where’s the poplar and unicorn hair from Sirkka?” When the drones paused in a moment of panic then began buzzing around the room again in search of the items she asked for, Miranda sighed. She rose to her feet and began to pace, restless as a beast in the confines of its lair, growling at everybody yet nobody in particular, “You people have had hours and hours to prepare. Why is no one ready?”
At last Nigel stepped forward from the side-lines, holding up two mock up wands carved from poplar that looked exactly the same but for a bit of detailed carving. “It’s a difficult choice,” he said, balancing them in his hands with a frown. “They’re both so different.”
Andy couldn’t help herself. She bit back a snort of laughter, but even that small noise sent a stillness rippling through the office
They all turned to look at her. She shrank beneath their scrutiny.
Without a word, Miranda held out her hand. Hesitant, frowning in confusion, Andy pulled her wand from a fold in her robes and gave it to her. Miranda put on her glasses and turned the wand over between her fingers. As she inspected it, she spoke aloud, her voice quick, clipped and efficient, “Twelve and three-quarter inches. Chestnut and dragon heartstring. Limber and adaptable. A wand for powerful beast-tamers, adventurers and epicures.” Miranda gave Andy a scathing look that spoke volumes about just exactly how she felt about the match. Then, turning her attention back to the wand, she scowled at the many scratches and dents along the fine woodgrain. “Would it really kill you to give it a polish and a touch of oil? Do you use it as a backscratcher or something?”
Shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, Andy grumbled, “It’s just a wand.”
A hush fell over the room as Miranda stared at her over the rim of her spectacles, and for a moment the only noise was the lash of rain against the windows. Finally, Miranda asked, “Do you know who made this wand?”
Andy’s mouth went dry. “You did.”
“That’s right. I did. As such, I expect you to keep my things in better condition.”
“Actually,” Andy heard her own voice as though from a distance, “It’s not yours. It’s mine. I bought it. It belongs to me.”
That god-awful silence returned with a vengeance. Andy squirmed as Miranda studied her with eyes cold and hard as flint. Contemplative, she tapped Andy’s wand against her cheek, then without preamble Miranda said in a soft, dangerous voice, “Dragons are my speciality. We have an understanding, you see. Savage, powerful, admirable creatures. Highly intelligent and growing more endangered by the decade. I toiled for years petitioning foreign Ministries to ensure that dragon-hunting was banned throughout Europe. These days the necessary materials are only gathered once a dragon has died of natural causes. An expert is called out to the site, and the body is harvested.”
Miranda held up the wand between herself and Andy like a torch, and like a torch its tip flared, brief and bright, before dimming once more. “Seventeen years, twenty-two days ago, an Antipodean Opaleye was found dead in the Southern Alps, and I travelled to the mountains at the ends of the world to harvest its corpse. Its mate was lurking in the nearby peaks and -- enraged at my mutilation of the body -- it attacked me. With my own hands, I killed the dragon whose heart made this, this instrument of blood-sacrifice, and for three long years I held onto this wand, reluctant to put it out on my shelves. Eventually however I had to trust that it would fall into worthy hands, and so I parted with it, hoping for the best. Then -- after all that -- in the end it chose you. And here you stand, telling me that it’s just a wand.”
She pushed the wand back into Andy’s hands, and Andy clutched it close to her chest in stunned silence. Miranda turned and snatched up one of the mock up poplars from Nigel’s hands. Then pulling out her own wand -- narrow and dark-stained with a silvered handle -- she gave its tip a flick. The mock up was suspended in air, upright, perfectly perpendicular to the floor. With another dextrous gesture of her wand, a single lustrous strand of unicorn hair drifted up from a jar at her desk, gliding through the air to stretch out beside the poplar.
It took less than a moment, less than a handful of heartbeats thundering in Andy’s chest. A blinding flash of light, the lingering taste of scorched ozone at the back of the tongue, and Miranda had fused the two together to create a flawless instrument of magic.
Miranda reached out, plucking the wand from the air with a nearly reverent look on her face, and it was the softest expression Andy had ever seen on her. Turning her creation over in her hands, aiming a dark look at her assistant, Miranda murmured, “Hopefully someone will actually treat this wand with the respect it deserves.”
Andy threw her arms around her father and held him tight. The tweed of his three-piece suit scratched against her cheek, but the warmth of his embrace staved off the biting London air. With a laugh, he kissed the side of her head the way he used to when she was young, and rubbed one of his hands across the backs of her shoulders.
"It's nice to see you, too." He sniffed at her hair, pulling back to make a face. "Have you taken up smoking, Andy?"
She grimaced and stepped away, tuck a few dark and wayward strands of hair behind her ear. "It's from the chimneys." When he gave her a blank look, she explained. "Haven't I taken you and mom by floo powder before? I could've sworn I did."
Smiling, he shook his head and draped his arm across her shoulders to lead her inside the restaurant and out of the autumnal chill. "I think we'll stick with airplanes and automobiles, thanks."
"Thanks," she said quickly as he held open the door for her, and together they stepped into the warmth with identical shivers at the shift in temperature. "You know that floo powder is perfectly safe, right? Not to mention cheaper and much much faster."
"We've been using airplanes for years just fine," he replied, waving down a waiter in order to grab them a table. Ever since he'd heard about her splinching accident, both he and her mother had been reluctant to dabble in any magical modes of transportation.
"What's the point me being the only witch in the family if I can't shower you guys with awesome displays of magical prowess with the wave of my wand?" Andy said as they walked to their table, the waiter leading the way with two leather-backed menus in his hands.
Her father glanced nervously at the waiter's back when she mentioned the words 'witch' and 'magic,' speaking from the corner of his mouth, "Trust me, you wowed us plenty when all of your chores did themselves back at home."
They were seated, and her father only visibly relaxed when the waiter left them with the menu, their order of wine, and tall glasses that sweat with icy water. Food was nowhere yet in sight; still Andy draped her napkin across her lap, scooting her seat forward to lean her forearms against the table. "I was sixteen. I've learned a lot since then."
"Of that, I have no doubt." Her father raised his glass of water to her and took a sip. "I always knew you were destined for great adventures. Even from a young age. That boarding school of yours wasn't even the start."
Boarding school -- her parent's unofficial name for Hogwarts. Whenever anyone back home in Cincinnati asked after Andy, their reply always followed the same lines: Andy's mother was a British citizen with an American green card. Andy, having dual citizenship, received an acceptance letter from two schools for gifted young minds -- one in America, and one abroad -- and in the end, she chose boarding school in England. Well, Scotland, technically speaking.
"You mean Hogwarts," Andy said firmly. Over a decade, and she still struggled to make her muggle parents comfortable with even basic terminology.
"Yes, of course. That's what I meant."
“Dad, please.” Andy reached across the table and placed her hand over his. “You’re one of the few people close to me who actually knows what I am.”
“I know, honey. It’s just -” He cleared his throat, glancing around at the other crowded tables in the busy restaurant. Then he leaned forward to whisper, “Between us? That Ministry of Magic fellow that showed up at our door explaining the whole Statute of Secrecy thing terrified me. You visiting us at home is one thing but...It’s been years, and I still don’t know what’s appropriate to discuss in public.”
With a snort of wry amusement, Andy patted the back of his hand. “You don’t need to worry that much. Talking about it is generally fine. So long as I don’t go hexing random people in a subway station. Then, we might have a problem. Though, considering how my life has been going lately, I’m about this close to doing just that.”
A waiter arrived to pour them each a glass of wine, and Andy pulled her hand back to her side of the table. Her father smiled at the waiter, waiting until he was gone to continue. “Does Nate know anything about you being a witch?”
Andy shook her head, lifting the wineglass to her mouth and taking a sip. “Not yet. I know we just moved in together and all that, but we haven’t even been together for a year. I want to make sure things are -- you know -- ironclad before I start dropping those kinds of bombs on the poor guy.”
Her father chuckled, and the noise was muted by his own glass of wine. “I can see your point. It was difficult enough coming to grips to it as your parents. Not -!” he insisted, placing his glass firmly back on the table, “Not that we don’t love and support you, of course! I just don’t think I’ll ever really get used to the idea of magic.”
“I know, Dad.”
He watched her sigh and take a particularly large gulp of wine. The waiter reappeared with a basket of fresh-cut bread, warm beneath a scarlet cloth, and he offered Andy the plate of olive oil and balsamic that came with it. As she dipped the bread, he asked, "So. Hexing random strangers on trains? Work's that bad, huh?"
Andy groaned around a mouthful of bread, "You have no idea. If you think being a personal assistant in the muggle world is bad, try having to perform actual literal magic just to complete basic tasks." Viciously she grabbed another piece of bread from the basket, tearing it into two pieces between her fingers. "Do you know I had to travel to eight different countries last week? All in the same day! Just to track down a few pieces of wood! It wouldn't be that bad, if -- ow!"
She jumped with a startled hiss, the Galleon that pressed against her thin jeans burning against her hip. Carrying it in her cloak pocket was one thing, but having a Protean charm sear against her skin whenever Miranda had so much as a passing thought made Andy's jaw ache from clenching her teeth so often.
"Are you alright?" her father asked, brows scrunched up in concern as Andy dug through her pocket and bounced the coin between her palms until cooled down.
"Yeah, I'm -" Andy saw the message and closed her eyes. The Galleon still smouldered, but she gripped it tightly in her fist regardless, relishing the burn of irritation. When she managed to rein her anger in, she opened her eyes. "I'm sorry -- I really am -- but I need to take this."
Pushing her chair back, she stood. "I'll be back as soon as I can. I promise. Meet you at the hotel?"
She sprinted off, already fishing her wand from her handbag and cursing under her breath. By the time she finished and arrived at the hotel with a bottle of wine, her father answered the door in his pinstripe pyjamas, peering groggily at her above the chain. With a sigh, he let her in, pulling out two coffee mugs for the wine, and a takeaway plate from the fridge for Andy. She ate at the writing desk in his hotel room, quiet.
"Is this what it's like all the time?" Her father asked from where he sat on the edge of the bed, the sheets rumpled and still warm.
"Pretty much," she mumbled. The ends of her hair were greyed with ash, and a streak of blackened powder marred her jaw. She must smell like a coal miner.
"Far be it from me to tell you what to do with your life, but -" He took a sip of wine from the cheap ceramic mug. "I think you should look for a new job."
The thought of quitting, of giving up, of admitting defeat sent a flare of fury lancing through her stomach and up her throat, curdling on the back of her tongue, sharp and acidic as bile. Her father sighed -- he knew that look. Andy stabbed her plastic fork viciously at the cold food, and did not answer.
Andy had always imagined the Magical Cores department to look like a muggle warehouse: steel beams arching with riveted triangle supports and laced with strips of corrugated iron, with mesh wire and aluminium light fixtures shaped like upended bowls spilling out brightness, pouring it out in harsh wan sheets. Nigel's office however appeared nothing like that. Here the muted witch-fire glow filled the room with warmth. He had hung pictures on every inch of the walls. Diagrams and sketches and mock-ups. Painstakingly detailed prints from rare tomes shielded from overexposure to the elements with charms that could magnify and enhance at the snap of one's fingers. Though he worked alone, his doors remained open at all hours, and the place tended to bustle from sunup to sundown and beyond.
Late one evening when all others -- even Emily and Miranda -- had left work, Andy found herself wandering downstairs to lean in Nigel's doorway, exhausted. He glanced up from his work, saw her frazzled appearance, and promptly returned to his meticulous woodcarving. "You look like you've been chewed up and spat out by a sphinx, Private."
Andy laughed. The sound tasted bitter in her mouth. "I feel like it, too." She approached his high-floating workbench and propped her elbows on it with a groan, resting her cheeks on her palms and rubbing at her eyes. "I don't know, Nigel. Maybe this isn't the job for me."
Nigel wielded his wand with a delicacy Andy could never hope to achieve, his manicured fingers guiding it like an instrument, like a violinist's bow, and when he moved it a block of pale yew lazily rotated in mid-air, light as a leaf caught on a breeze, shedding little wood chips and shavings to reveal a slender form beneath. "You wouldn't be telling me this if you truly believed it. No, I know you. Don't try to tell me otherwise," he said when she opened her mouth to object. "If you wanted something, you'd take it. If you didn't want something, you'd leave it. And yet you're still here. That's not quitting. That, my dear, is what we in the industry call: bitching. So!" He waved his free hand at her. "Bitch away! I'm all ears."
Pushing her fringe back from her forehead, Andy glared at the countertop, strewn with flakes of wood, cases of raw and bloodied dragon heartstring, perfectly spherical jars filled with unicorn hair that gleamed, cold and silvered, like moonlight given flesh. "I just -! I run around like an escapee from Saint Mungo's. I break my back, day and night. I hardly see my boyfriend -- or any of my friends for that matter. This job has become my whole life, and somehow nothing I do is ever right for her! Just once -!" Andy held up a finger, biting back tears, "Just once, I'd like some respect! But no! She's always so -! And it's not just me! The way she treats everyone else -!" Andy clenched her hands into fists rather than slam them on the table. She took a deep calming breath. "Being muggle-born just makes it all that much more difficult. I feel like I have no connection to any of this!"
At that, Nigel gave her a sceptical look. "What kind of rubbish excuse is that? Being muggle-born never stopped me." The yew Nigel was carving took further shape, rotating itself into careful existence. "Mother was Italian. Dad was Irish. Both staunch Catholics, which didn't incline them very well to either my magical abilities or my sexual preferences. One they might have been able to handle, but both?” He shook his head. “Too much to ask, apparently. Magic is as much a part of me as -- oh, I don't know -- knowing how to choose a good necktie. And when I discovered this world, I discovered a part of myself that had been missing for eleven years. That's what wandlore is, you know. It isn't just a bunch of information and instructions on how to make simple tools tossed aimlessly together. You think goblins and vampires and hags lust after wands because they're just useful? Wands are a tenant of wizarding identity. They hold power and meaning beyond the years, beyond ourselves, revealing who and what we truly are -- our heart of hearts."
He reached out and plucked the piece of yew from the air, running his fingers along the fine smooth edges he had carved, intricate vines twining up the stalk in a pattern stunning and pale as ivory. "Miranda Priestly is a witch with talents the likes of which this world sees only once every few centuries. Each of her creations is a triumph of the craft. She makes it all look so easy, but make no mistake -- she has spent years clawing her way into the position she is now, toiling over technique and style and artistry. Yet here you are crying in my office after three lousy months, wondering why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a chocolate frog for your efforts."
Using the freshly hewn yew wand mock-up, Nigel tapped Andy gently on the forehead. "Wake up, sweetheart."
Andy sniffled and gave a rueful, watery laugh. "You know," she admitted, wiping her shining cheeks. "When I came in here, I was hoping you'd make me feel better about all of this."
"Oh, god no. That's not how this little arrangement works. You come in here. You bitch. I listen. I give you advice and you take it like a champ and proceed blow us all out of the water."
He jabbed the mock-up wand at her with a stern expression. "I mean it, Private! I want to see you in the trenches tomorrow, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!"
"Of course, Nigel. Whatever you say, Nigel."
Once again Andy stood in the corner of Miranda's office, keeping near the door as if ready to bolt the moment Miranda so much as looked at her way. She kept her careful notes, quill twitching in her hand.The drones were all scurrying around, organising the displays of cases for Miranda, who stood beside Nigel in front of her massive desk. They conversed quietly, the two of them, and it was the nearest pose to relaxed Andy had ever seen, as though relaxation was something Miranda had to feign. Her natural state of being seemed to centre around activity; even when standing still she appeared sleek and tense, poised on a cliffside of motion. The effect was only heightened by the swells of dark thunderclouds brewing at the glass floor beneath her feet, pressing up against the soles of her polished leather boots.
When at last the presentation was prepared, Miranda broke off her conversation with Nigel and peered down at the cases neatly arrayed across her desk. "The rowan looks almost passable today. I may faint."
Nigel gave a huff of laughter and approached the desk. "It would pair up well with a unicorn hair, I think. They have similar temperaments: steadfast and pure-hearted."
Andy wrote, and Miranda hummed a note of agreement. "I'm glad to see someone arrived prepared today. And the fir?" Nigel opened his mouth to answer, but she waved him away, speaking to the rest of the room but not raising her voice. "Someone other than Nigel this time. Or is everyone else completely useless around here?"
Everyone in the room exchanged nervous glances. Nigel stepped back, allowing them to more clearly view the materials on display. Andy flicked through her notebook, then frowned at the phoenix feathers that gleamed a burnished brilliant red-gold in their cases lined with black velvet. Hesitant, one of the drones drifted towards where the case of dragon heartstring was affixed between hooks, peeled back and suspended in a thick red soup of blood to keep them pliant and viable. As soon as the drone did so, a flicker of disappointment crossed Miranda's face and her mouth thinned, not even waiting to hear the decision before breathing a near indiscernible sigh from her nose.
"Um -?" Andy raised her hand as if in a classroom, and everyone turned to look at her. She waited for Miranda to arch a questioning, permissive eyebrow, then continued. "The phoenix feather."
At that, Miranda cocked her head. Her eyes sharpened to fine, glittering points, pale as silver Sickles. "And why do you say that, Andrea?" she pressed, taking a step towards Andy. It was the first time Miranda had said her name, and Andy suppressed a fine shiver.
Andy's fingernails dug into the soft undersides of her palms and she resisted the urge to retreat a step back. Instead she swallowed down the lump of self-doubt lodged in her throat and stammered, "It's -- ok, this is going to make me sound crazy but -- it's the right temperature."
Miranda made no motion to interrupt, to confirm or deny Andy's claim, so Andy forged on. "Fir is resilient. It can withstand ice and snow and all manner of cold mountain climates. One might be inclined to use dragon heartstring, and that would make a perfectly serviceable match, but it wouldn't be --" Andy searched for the right words, "--hot enough? I'm not describing this well...It wouldn't thaw properly. The wood needs to be broken in. It needs heat."
Miranda met Andy's gaze and held it, like trapping a buzzing fly in warm liquid amber. The look sent a muted hum prickling just beneath the surface of Andy's skin. "Well," Miranda murmured. "A spark of competence from one of my assistants? Groundbreaking."
When Miranda turned away to combine the fir and the phoenix feather, Andy's shoulders sagged in relief. Her ears rang, drowning out all else but for the sound of Miranda's robes rustling around her heels, the whisper of Miranda's wand in her slender fingers. Andy tore her eyes away. To her side Nigel was trying to hide a grin, but he gave Andy a thumbs-up under one arm, and for the first time Andy felt a dizzying rush of triumph flutter and flame in her chest at a job well done.
A Hufflepuff would’ve quit this job by now. No -- scratch that. A Hufflepuff would’ve had more self-respect and never would’ve taken this job to begin with. A Hufflepuff would’ve been working for some quaint little rag like The Quibbler, and spending more time with her boyfriend, and actually seeing Lily and Doug rather than coming home every night too exhausted to do more than eat and sleep and shower. A Hufflepuff certainly wouldn’t have taken masochistic pleasure in performing a difficult deed correctly, in finally conquering some aspect of her chaotic life and putting it in its proper place. A Hufflepuff wouldn’t face an insurmountable challenge for the sheer thrill of subjugating it, of clambering atop its back and seizing the reins.
Of course, Andy Sachs was not a Hufflepuff.