The article was swiftly followed by front page news breaking the scandal of Johannes Jonker’s mass fraud like the breaking of clay jars, headlines shattering across the page in bolded print. International papers everywhere delighted in spilling ink over Johannes’ reputation, snapping pictures of him being dragged through the courthouses by Aurors. Always he smiled fiercely through the fizzle and flash of camera lights, glaring from the page as if glaring specifically at Andy from every news stand from the Barking floo station to the Leaky Cauldron. Even now, nursing a drink with Nigel and Emily in a corner of the bar, Andy could not escape his reproachful glower as a man two tables away read that evening’s Prophet.
Emily noticed as well. Her face contorted into a snarl of fury and distaste when she saw where Andy was looking. “Christ, what a nightmare!” she growled, clenching her Daisyroot’s Draught in one fist. A line of three other shot glasses filled to the brim with pale golden liquid extended before her, one of which was already empty. “Work’s been hell ever since that article came out!”
Nigel added his own sigh to the mix, pushing his spectacles aside to rub at the dark bags beneath his eyes. “That’s the price of cutthroat industries. One magnate topples, and the others swarm like vultures.” When Andy remained silent, Nigel mistook her anxiety for confusion and he explained, “We’re pushing into North America now. Isolt and Violetta are fighting over Johannes’ territory and Miranda’s finally muscling her way into the U.S. market. Our first store opens in New York in three weeks.”
The sound of Miranda's name sent a shiver through Andy, a burn prickling and skin-deep.
“Ha!” Emily barked out a mirthless laugh and took a fortifying shot, grimacing past the burn and slamming the finished glass back down on the table. “Like that’s going to happen! Three weeks, Nigel! I haven’t slept since Monday.”
“Look at you! Actually sleeping while the rest of us drones toil beneath the whip!” Nigel mocked, grinning when Emily gave him the middle finger across the table.
“North America,” Andy said weakly. She hadn’t touched her butterbeer after the first sip. It grew cold between her hands. “Wow. That’s -”
“- Bloody impossible!” Emily finished for her. She snatched up another shot and gestured with it, careful not to spill a single drop. “A month we might have been able to do, but even that would’ve been a stretch.”
With a snort, Nigel said, “You’d best limber up, because Miranda will have your guts for garters if we don’t open on time.”
Throwing back her third shot of the night -- and they’d only just sat down not ten minutes ago -- Emily snarled, “Lord, she’s been an absolute terror lately! What billywig got into her bonnet? You’d think she would’ve been pleased about Johannes getting pinned by the authorities -- you know she can’t stand him! There must be something else -”
Andy’s hands went numb. They shook when she raised her butterbeer and took too large a gulp, trying to hide her guilty expression but instead choking.
“You alright there, Private?” Nigel watched Andy with raised eyebrows while she thumped at her chest with her fist.
“Fine,” Andy croaked, her eyes watering.
Emily watched her with eyes narrowed in creeping suspicion, but instead of grilling Andy she turned to Nigel and said, “You know, Jane came to my office in tears the other day. Something about Miranda nearly biting her head off because she’d left the page on Magic News in her morning paper.”
When Andy went very still -- a deer caught in the headlights -- Emily pounced. “A-ha!” She pointed a finger at Andy in vicious triumph. “I knew this was your fault somehow! Fess up! What havoc could you have possibly wreaked now!”
“Nothing,” Andy insisted, sounding hollow to her own ears.
“Bollocks!” Emily growled. “You’re a terrible liar! Always have been!”
“There’s nothing -! I didn’t mean to -!” Andy choked on the heat licking the lining of her stomach, the cinders blistering and boiling over into her mouth.
“Don’t give me that rubbish!”
“Emily,” Nigel began in a slow, warning tone, glancing at Andy’s face. “Maybe you shouldn’t -”
“Stop protecting her, Nigel! You’re always protecting her!”
Even the memory of kissing Miranda tasted like the spiked butterbeer she’d been served in the Arctic -- all heady caramel and woodsmoke. Biting her lower lip, she put her butterbeer down now, her gut clenching at the thought. Taking a deep steadying breath, Andy could not keep the slight tremour from her voice, the mounting heat in her words. “We talked,” she said. “That’s all.”
Scoffing, Emily picked up her next shot and drained it. “Do you really think I’m going to believe -!”
Slamming her hands down, a torrent of flame and green and gold sparks burst from Andy’s fists. They scorched the tabletop in an ash-blackened fan of smoke. Nigel and Emily jumped in their seats. The whole bar went quiet.
“I said,” Andy hissed in a low, deadly voice, “That’s. All.”
Everyone was staring. Emily’s eyes had gone wide and Nigel was slowly lowering his spectacles. Andy’s outburst had knocked over two glasses on their table. Steam rose from the charred surface. Little specks of embers gleamed brightly, trapped in the woodgrain, and alcohol dripped to the floor.
“Andy -” Emily began, her voice small and breathy and not at all like her usual self.
Scraping her chair back, Andy pushed herself to her feet. The tips of her fingers wouldn’t stop shaking and her throat burned. Murmurs started up as she fled to the fireplace, hushed whispers circling around the other patrons. Andy could make out only snatches here and there, the rest swirling together with the ringing in her ears. Breathing heavily, she grabbed a fistful of floo powder and flung herself into the fire.
Bartholomew knocked over a cup of cold coffee onto Andy's personal copy of 'Flesh-Eating Trees of the World', which she'd been using as a reference for her work on a piece about the crisis of bloodthirsty beech trees creeping further north into England. With a sigh, Andy held up the soggy pages to her cat and pointed, "What am I supposed to do with this, huh?"
In answer Bartholomew eyed up a glass of water at the edge of the writing table in her apartment.
"Oh, no you don't!" Andy scooped him up under one arm, tossing him onto the floor, where he sauntered off, tail held up in the air, composed as you please.
Pulling out her wand, Andy tried to salvage what she could, but ink ran along the pages right across the spread about European deciduous trees of the carnivorous variety. She tossed the textbook into the rubbish bin and the next morning on her way to work, she made a stop at Flourish and Blotts. Clutching a mug of lukewarm coffee in one hand, Andy made a face at the bustling shop. Hogwarts students in trimmed robes denoting their House affiliations all crammed together inside the bookstore, elbowing each other out of the way in order to get at the more commonly required textbooks. Andy turned her wrist over to check her watch and groaned. August 30th. She should've known -- term started in two days.
Squaring her shoulders and taking a fortifying swig of caffeine, Andy pushed inside. She mumbled apologies with only a pinch of sincerity as she shouldered her way past a trio of Slytherin fourth years arguing with a lone Ravenclaw who was jealously guarding the last copy of 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.' The further Andy squeezed her way towards the back of the shop, the less crowded it became, until she could walk through the advanced N.E.W.T textbooks without fear of tripping over a gaggle of first years.
"God, I can't believe I ever looked that young," Andy muttered to herself as she perused the Herbology section, ignoring the odd look she received from a fifth year Gryffindor with bushy black hair and freckles across her dark skin. Andy spared her a glance only to note the badge on the girl's arm denoting her as a House prefect before turning back to the stacks.
Rows upon rows of books staggered along the crooked shelves. Andy ran a finger along their spines, singing the ABC song in her head as she went. Just as she was nearing the E section however, she heard a voice that made her eyes widen.
“I don’t see why we couldn’t have simply ordered your books like we normally do," Miranda grumbled, her voice muffled somewhat by the stacks.
Shoulders going tense, Andy crept to the end of the bookshelf and peered around. There stood none other than Miranda Priestly with her back to Andy. A vision in her favoured stern black velvet cloak, she had her arms crossed and was glowering at her surroundings while Caroline and Cassidy picked through a shelf in the History of Magic section.
“We were already coming to Diagon Alley for new robes. Besides,” Cassidy insisted, without looking up from her perusal, “It’s fun.”
“It’s crowded,” Miranda countered bluntly, grimacing in distaste as a messily dressed young wizard bumped into her and backed away with a mumbled apology.
“Relax, Mum,” Caroline sighed as she flipped through a book and leaned against a shelf. Her nails glittered with enchanted paint that flashed from gold to black and back again. “You could've just let us come alone, if you're that busy.”
The recrimination soured Caroline's tone, but rather than bristle, Miranda’s voice softened somewhat. “You leave in two days, after which I won't see you for months. Diagon Alley is hardly the stuff of trials and tribulations in comparison.”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever.”
Holding her breath, Andy squeezed herself past a tower of books that reached her waist. She peeked around the corner of the bookcase and spotted a gap in the crowd, leaving a hole that led straight to the exit. To hell with the copy of ‘Flesh-Eating Trees’ she needed to buy -- it could wait until tomorrow. She made a dash for freedom, only to hear Caroline’s voice cry out.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Andy froze in her tracks. She could apparate away from her problems again, but the very thought made her palms sweat. Instead she put on a broad smile and turned. “Well, if it isn’t the two little devils themselves. What are you guys up to?”
Rather than appear insulted, the twins grinned at her, their eyes sparkling with their usual mischief and -- Andy blinked in surprise -- genuine delight. “Buying books for school.” Cassidy answered.
“Obviously,” Caroline added with a roll of her eyes.
At fourteen they already stood at a height with their mother. In another year they would surpass Miranda even when she wore the high-heeled boots she so favoured. Their earlier mention of robes made sense looking at them now; their ankles were showing beneath the hems of the robes they currently wore. Andy held up her hand to gauge their heights, closing one eye as though aiming at something far in the distance. "You two are a lot bigger than I remember."
Cassidy shrugged her lanky shoulders. "We stretched out just last summer."
"Hurt like a motherfu-"
"Language, Caroline," Miranda interrupted, and though her tone was cold it was nowhere near as frosty as the glare she aimed at Andy.
Once Andy might have quailed, but even after the incident in the bathroom nearly two weeks ago Andy met her gaze without flinching. "Miranda," she nodded in greeting.
All too clearly she could remember what Miranda looked like the last time they had seen one another and the memory burned hot enough to make Andy's breath hitch in her throat. Miranda's eyes narrowed. Now, sleek and poised, Miranda appeared as detached as ever, far-flung as a light on distant shores warding ships from approach. The only thing that belied her standoffish airs were the fists clenched at her sides, all but hidden behind the long divided sleeves of her dark cloak.
"Andrea," Miranda said. "What an unexpected surprise."
"Hardly unexpected when I work just down the street." With her free hand, Andy pointed in the direction of The Prophet's offices.
Miranda bared her teeth in a fierce wintry smile. "How silly of me. Here I thought you'd moved up in the world and started working as a bookstore attendant."
"Oh, there are worse places to work," Andy fired back, meeting Miranda glower for glower. "Trust me -- I know."
Smiling back at Miranda, Andy could feel the temperature creep down a few more degrees. The twins had gone unusually quiet, watching with a cruel glee as their mother and Andy exchanged verbal blows. Caroline had even pulled out a box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, and the two of them were munching away as if attending a much anticipated prizefight. When both Andy and Miranda turned their glares upon them, Cassidy said, "Don't mind us."
"Please, keep going." Caroline added. "This is the most emotive we've seen Mum since her last divorce."
"Girls -" Miranda growled, but they ignored her.
"You know," Cassidy turned to her sister as if Miranda hadn't spoken at all. "She was a little off after her last trip a few weeks ago. What was it for again?"
Caroline snapped her fingers and answered, "North America with Johannes. Something about wand core collection? I think there was even an article written about it in The Prophet. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you, Andy?"
Head spinning, reeling between anger and bewilderment, Andy tried to stammer out a response but before she could form more than a few incoherent strangled syllables, Miranda snapped, "That's quite enough. Go buy your books and meet me at Twilfitt and Tattings in ten minutes. And don't vanish through the chimneys," she added with a growl.
Rolling their eyes in identical expressions of expert teenage indifference, Caroline and Cassidy stomped off to collect their books and wait in the ever-growing queue to slowly approach the till.
Under her breath, Andy muttered while watching them go, "They're way too observant. How the heck do you deal with them?"
"Practice," Miranda drawled. "And a great deal of wine." Then she frowned in puzzled irritation at the moment of camaraderie shared suddenly between them.
At that, Andy snorted. “Jesus, they really are related to you.”
“Was that ever in question?” Miranda replied with an arched brow.
A few more students clamoured past, and in order to let them by Miranda took a step forward. The moment she and Miranda were once again in close proximity with one another, Andy tensed and swallowed, eyes darting about to seek that escape route once more. It was, of course, gone. Typical. Clearing her throat, Andy tried to make her voice as steady as possible. "I should - ah -" She jerked her thumb towards the exit to the side. "Get back to The Prophet."
"Of course. Don't let me keep you. As if I could," Miranda snapped in reply. "You made that very clear."
"I didn't -!" Andy steeled herself with a deep breath, lowering her voice. "I was angry and said a lot of things that night that I regret."
Miranda's lip curled. "Don't insult me by lying and claiming that you didn't mean what you said. You know I can't stand dithering, Andrea."
Glaring, Andy said, "Oh, I meant it, alright. But that doesn't mean I don't regret what happened. What we did was -"
"We are not having this conversation in the middle of Flourish and Blotts!" Miranda hissed, glancing about as if afraid the twins would reappear at any given moment.
Andy gestured around the busy store and outside towards the even busier sidewalks of Diagon Alley. "Where then?"
"Why is it that I am the one who has to -?" Miranda began, only to be cut off by a jostle of students bearing armfuls of books who smacked into Andy as they passed by.
Stumbling forward a step, Andy caught herself just in time so that her coffee didn't fly everywhere and make an already sticky situation stickier in a more literal sense. She shouted over her shoulder to the passing students, "Hey, watch it!" before shaking her head in irritation. "Not even a 'sorry, ma'am' either. I swear they -"
She ground to a halt when she looked up to find Miranda staring down at her with an unfathomable expression, close enough that they breathed the same air. Not exactly inscrutable anymore. Andy studied the flickers of brief emotion across Miranda's face, the same look she'd worn after they'd kissed in the bathroom -- bewilderment and a wistful sort of hunger. As if she'd been surprised with the appearance of the exact meal she'd been craving without needing to ask for it.
Miranda was the first to step away, lifting her chin and crossing her arms in a manner that once might have appeared ominous but now appeared only nervous, "The girls are waiting - "
"- At Twilfitt and Tattings, yeah." Andy waved her off, weakly gesturing around her mug, her voice sounding strained to her own ears. "You should go. And I should -- to work, you know."
"Yes." Miranda would not meet her eye, already in full retreat. She left with a furtive backward glance before merging into the crowd. Andy followed her shock of white hair until Miranda's black cloak whipped out of sight beyond the camed shop windows and down Diagon Alley.
Exhaling a breath she hadn't realised she was holding, Andy drained what was left of her cold coffee. With a grimace at the bitter taste, she shuffled back towards the Herbology section, dodging students as she went. At least now she could buy that book in relative peace -- rowdy Gryffindors notwithstanding.
When Andy knocked politely on the open door of Dave’s office the next morning, he leaned around in his chair to see who was standing outside. “Sachs! Excellent! I was wanting to talk to you! Get in here!”
A chill raced down Andy’s spine. The last time Dave had wanted to talk to her -- and all that followed the conversation -- still burned in recent memory, but she stepped inside, crossed the room and took a seat across from Dave’s desk. The door she left open, as Dave preferred; he only closed it when he needed to discuss sensitive material, usually of the private variety.
Cheerily, he tossed his miniature Quaffle through the hoop on the opposite side of his room just over Andy’s shoulder. The ball bounced off the rim and zoomed back into his hand while he cursed under his breath. “So, you know that quarterly inter-office gala whatever next Monday?”
Plucking at her robes so that they settled more neatly over her knees, Andy replied tentatively, “I know of it, yes.”
“Everyone’s invited of course.” Dave closed one eye and stuck his tongue out of the corner of his mouth in concentration as he aimed the Quaffle. “I was just thinking -- you remember what Miranda Priestly said back in the Arctic?”
Andy went very still. That old familiar flame stirred in her gut at the mere mention of Miranda’s name these days, scalding the sensitive skin at the top of her mouth. “What - uh - what about? I mean -” Andy was on the verge of babbling, but couldn’t stop. “She said a lot of things back then.”
“The bit about blindsiding people.” Dave threw the Quaffle again and -- again -- missed by a hair’s breadth. “Damn!” He snagged the Quaffle out of the air when it zipped back towards him, then sighed. “I don’t want to blindside you, is what I’m saying.”
Andy went pale. She could feel the blood rush from her face and she choked, “Is she -? Is Miranda going to be at the event?”
Oh, God. Oh, please -
Dave paused in his next aim and blinked at her in bewilderment. “What? No, no! Why the hell would she attend something like that?”
Even as the words washed over her, Andy clenched her hands into fists atop her lap, the heat spreading from the pit of her stomach all along her arms and settling somewhere between wrists and palms. She exhaled a shaky sigh of relief.
“That’s a good one, though, Sachs! Ha! Miranda Priestly coming to a news event of her own volition! I’m pretty sure a gala at The Prophet is what her Boggart would turn into.” Dave resumed his aiming, miming throwing the Quaffle a few times but not actually releasing it. “I just wanted to warn you beforehand that Cuffe is going to be there. I didn’t want you to be caught off guard if he talks to you about the pulled interview.”
“Oh,” Andy breathed.
“Anyway -- that’s all.” Dave took no notice of the way Andy tensed at his choice in words. He simply threw the Quaffle and pumped a fist into the air when the ball went soaring through the little hoop. Smiling in triumph, he snagged the Quaffle back out of the air and looked over at Andy. “Was there something you wanted to talk about?”
Forcing her fingers to unclench, Andy sat up straighter in her seat. “Yes, actually.”
“Well, it’s about the topic we were just discussing -- sort of.”
Dave frowned at her in confusion. “Barnabas Cuffe?”
Shaking her head, Andy said, “No. Miranda Priestly.” When Dave gestured with the Quaffle for her to continue, she took a deep breath and the words poured from her in a rush. “Did she ever give me a reference? I looked in my files, but I couldn’t find anything and I just -- I’d like to know. For personal reasons.”
Whatever Andy had been expecting, it wasn’t for Dave to fling his head back and laugh. He slapped the Quaffle between his hands then pointed at Andy. “Did she ever! It’s right over there!”
It took Andy a moment to realise that Dave was not in fact pointing at her but at a space behind her. Twisting in her seat, she peered around. As usual, the walls of Dave’s office were covered floor to ceiling with miscellaneous paraphernalia, not a bare square centimetre of painted plaster visible behind the mass of curiosities he had accumulated over the years. Rising to her feet, Andy walked slowly over to the wall behind her, her eyes flicking about, searching until --
There. Beside an enormous poster of the Holyhead Harpies signed by Ginny Weasley, Dave had tacked a bit of parchment that bore a familiar script, a hand written in dark forest-green ink at once elegant and sharp as jagged glass. The message was a mere two sentences long, punctuated at the end by Miranda’s signature:
Of all the assistant’s I’ve ever had, Andrea Sachs is by far my biggest disappointment.
If you don’t hire her, you’re an idiot.
For a long moment, Andy stared at the bit of parchment, committing to memory every fluid stroke of a quill nib. Behind her Dave spoke, his voice accompanied by the whoosh of the Quaffle sailing through the air and scoring another point through the hoop to Andy’s right. “I sent an owl to The Wand and The Way after your first interview and the next thing I knew this fluttered down onto my desk. I immediately made room for it on the wall and pinned it up. Whenever I have a bad day, I look at it and laugh.” Andy turned around in time to see Dave catch the Quaffle and smile kindly at her. “Best reference I’ve ever seen.”
Both muggle and wizarding work functions involved too many cheese platters and too much wine. In fact, the only difference Andy could spot were the trademark Weasley fireworks that sparkled through the air. She ducked as a catherine wheel went whizzing overhead and rounded a few pillars, gambolling with a few flying pigs with silver wings. Nobody else seemed concerned; the rest of the congregation all continued chatting and drinking in groups, utterly unfazed.
Dave nudged Andy with his elbow. Lowering his voice he nodded towards an area across the crowded room. “There’s Cuffe over there. C’mon,” he started towards the punch bowl, pushing his way through a hoard of people draped in dress robes. “I’ll hide you behind the bar, if it comes down to that.”
“No.” Andy steeled herself. “No, I think I’d like to ask him a few questions.”
Dave looked at her in surprise. “You sure?” Andy didn’t have to answer. Dave simply saw the look on her face and held up his hands. “Alright, then. Just let me know if you want to be rescued. I’ll be the one at the bar trying to chug a pint of Gamp’s Old Gregarious.”
Andy shot him a grin. “And you think I’m the one who needs rescuing?”
Placing a hand over his chest -- his own dress robes dishevelled in a way that somehow remained just this side of fashionable -- Dave announced with solemn conviction, “That hundred Galleon prize will be mine if it’s the last thing I do.”
Shaking her head, Andy watched him go before heading off in the other direction. As she approached Barnabas Cuffe, he entertained a pair of witches with a story that -- judging by their faces -- was about as enthralling as a phonebook listing. The moment Andy arrived to introduce herself, the two witches made their hasty escape with grateful looks in her direction. She saw one of them pocket a Puking Pastille with relief.
“Mr. Cuffe?” Andy held out her hand. “I’m Andy Sachs.”
He blinked at her before shaking her hand. A portly wizard with short greying hair, he wore a pinstripe robes and cloak three piece set complete with a golden skeleton pocket watch that hung in an arc from a chain. As they shook hands, his face lit up in recognition. “Ah! Andrea! The Andrea!”
“Um -?” Andy began with an uncertain smile.
“I was wondering when I’d get to meet you in person! You’ve made quite the impression already, I assure you!” Barnabas retracted his hand and -- in what appeared to be a nervous sort of habit -- fiddled with his pocket watch, smoothing his thumb across the gears and glancing down every so often to check its face.
“I - Well, thank you, I guess -?” With an inquisitive frown, she tried sneaking a glance at the pocket watch before Barnabas tucked it back into his pocket. An assortment of numerous dials spun round and round, some slow and some quick, and rather than numbers along its edges there were engraved letters that shifted seemingly at random.
Even as Barnabas gave Andy a thorough once-over, he toyed with the gold chain at his waist, running his fingers along the links. “First, young David has nothing but good things to report about you during your first year and a half with us, and then Miranda Priestly pays me a visit in person.” His rheumy eyes lacked a piercing quality, but they settled on Andy with a weight regardless. He watched the way she shifted from foot to foot with a small knowing smile. “I never thought I’d live to see the day Miranda would step foot in my office. It must be the end times.”
“Must be,” Andy repeated, her smile fading. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you about that interview, actually.”
“I had a feeling you might.” Barnabas pulled out his pocket watch once more, quickly scanning its face before tucking it away. Looking at Andy, he said firmly, “There was nothing wrong with your interview. In fact, it was good -- and I don’t give praise lightly, Miss Sachs.”
“Then, why -?”
Before Andy could finish asking the question, Barnabas answered it. “As far as I’m aware her only concern was personal privacy. I told her that short of denying every quote, she would have to pry the interview from my cold dead fingers. So, she denied everything. With great reluctance, I might add.” At that, he aimed a hard look at Andy, tilting his head back and scowling as if trying to scour the very flesh from her bones. “She made it quite clear to me that your integrity was not to be questioned. We are old friends -- classmates in Slytherin, you know -- and I’ve never known her to do anything of that sort.”
Mouth dry, Andy pressed, “And what ‘sort’ might that be?”
“The sort that involves looking out for anyone else’s interests but her own.” He chuckled, a wicked sound that made Andy’s skin crawl. “You can bet she owes me for this. Can you imagine the number of copies we would've sold? What an interview!”
“That’s - that’s it?” Andy shook her head, incredulous. “There has to be something more to it than that.”
Barnabas shrugged. “I’m afraid not. Though, young David certainly believed otherwise. He threw himself to your defense even when there was nothing to shield you from.” With a snort, Barnabas checked his pocket watch once more, except this time his eyebrows rose. “Do you have a quill at the ready?”
Taken aback at the abrupt change in topic, Andy blinked. “What? Why?”
A chorus of cheers burst from the other side of the room where a crowd had begun to gather around the bar. Barnabas pointed in that direction. “That’s why. Something newsworthy just happened.”
Standing up on the tips of her toes to see over the heads of the crowd, Andy caught sight of the bar. “I think Dave just won a hundred Galleons.”
Barnabas gave a contemplative hum, winding back a few dials on his pocket watch. “The Gamp’s Old Gregarious challenge? Bloody idiot -- he’s not going to be able to taste anything else for a week. A small article about his accomplishment can go on tomorrow’s page sixteen, I suppose. If you’ll excuse me, Miss Sachs.”
Synthetic sunlight streamed through the tall windows of The Daily Prophet’s office. It crept along the table, alighting upon a stack of unused notes beside her wand. Andy worried her lower lip between her teeth and eyed the notepad. Her fingers drummed a staccato rhythm against the arm of her chair and her quick-notes quill stood at attention, its tip fluttering nervously in time with the rap of her fingers and the jitter of her leg. Finally, the quill dipped into the inkwell, its nib coming away black and glistening, before blotting out a note in its haste.
Snatching up the note, Andy crumpled it between her hands and started another.
‘Dear Miranda --’
Too formal. She crushed another bit of parchment, glaring at her quill as though the entire affair was its fault rather than her own. It wilted under the force of her frustration.
Too informal? Too vague? Racked with indecision, Andy crumpled it between her hands regardless.
‘Miranda -- Can we meet to discuss --?’
Discuss what? How much Andy would very like to resume what they’d started in a restaurant bathroom? The thought made her clear her throat and cross her legs, looking around to see if anyone in the office noticed any erratic behaviour. They didn’t. Her quill, on the other hand, tapped enthusiastically at the unfinished note.
“Oh, hush!” Andy scolded and the quill bristled with indignant fury. Meanwhile, her nearby wand on the desk started to roll away of its own accord, forcing Andy to dive forward before it could clatter to the floor and wander off to God only knows where. “Would you two quit it!” She snapped, tucking her wand firmly into the pocket of her robes and muttering to herself, “Why does everything I own have an overabundance of personality?”
In an act of defiance, her quill began scribbling away at the note, putting to words every lurid fantasy she’d been entertaining for weeks -- Miranda up against a wall, Miranda’s thighs around her head, Miranda’s breast beneath her mouth. With a high-pitched squeak, Andy leapt forward and slammed her hands down on parchment and quill alike before anything could be spirited off prematurely. Her cheeks burned as she wrestled the quill away from the page. “Shit! Shit! Shitshitshitshitshit!”
“Everything ok there, Sachs?”
Both Andy and the quill went stock still, turning to find that Dave had paused on his walk towards the elevator. “Fine!” Andy croaked. The half-written note nearly tore itself in two beneath her hands, she was twisting it so hard.
With a shrug, Dave said, “By the way, I have some free tickets to The Weird Sisters. Do you want them?”
“Sure,” Andy said in the hopes that agreeing with him would make Dave leave faster.
It worked. “Great! The concert’s in a month. You can find the tickets on my desk.” And he continued on his way without prying further.
Andy breathed a sigh of relief, then glared at her quill so fiercely that it creaked in her grasp, threatening to snap it apart. “You’re not my wand. I can always just buy more of you,” she growled, and after that the quill did exactly as it was told, and not a single letter otherwise.
Are you free to talk sometime this week?
Sending the new note off and burning the rest with a touch of her wandtip, Andy slumped back in her chair. Then, abruptly leaving desk and quill behind, she stood and walked over to the kitchens to make herself a cup of tea. Just as she was back in her seat, tea in hand and summoning the energy to work on her latest article on the latest centaur liaisons in the Teutoburg, a reply note fluttered down to her desk like an origami bird.
For a long moment she just stared at it, holding her breath. Reaching forward, she unfolded it atop the desk with shaking fingers to read:
‘Townhouse. 1pm tomorrow. - M.’
Her quill tapped at the reply, underlining the last letter with an almost miffed air. “Yeah, yeah, you’re right,” Andy relented with a grumble. “We should’ve gone with ‘M.’”
Turning over her wrist to check the time, Andy stood at her desk. “Tell Dave I might be a bit longer on my lunch break than usual.”
Michael paused in his tapping away at the keyboard of his laptop to look up at her incredulously. “Are you feeling ill again?”
“What do you -? Oh.” Andy’s eyes widened. Of course, the last time she had taken any sort of time away had been after the Obertelli’s incident. Clearing her throat, she said, “I’m fine, I think. I just have a meeting with someone. But after that -- who knows.”
Michael took her enigmatic answer in stride and simply pushed his tortoise-shell spectacles further up the bridge of his nose as he returned to his work. “Alright.”
Andy had taken two steps towards the elevator, when she stopped and asked over her shoulder, “Is there a closer floo station to Knightsbridge than the US Embassy?”
He started to type the question into a web browser before sighing. With a grimace, he replied, “I think Buckingham Palace has one?”
Snorting, Andy shook her head. “Thanks but no thanks.” She started off again, muttering to herself, “A meeting with one queen for the day is enough.”
By the time she’d rushed through Hyde Park, Andy’s face was flushed with cold, the hems of her cloak sopping wet from cutting through the tended green, her hair windswept and speckled with mist from the indecisive weather. Climbing the steps to Miranda’s townhouse, Andy ran a hand through her hair to very little effect before knocking on the front door.
Miranda on the other hand looked as sleek and elegant as ever. Cool, unruffled, not a hair out of place, she opened the door and raised an eyebrow at Andy’s appearance. Without a word, she stood to the side in an unspoken invitation for Andy to enter.
“Hi,” Andy said lamely as she stepped inside, the familiar foyer extending towards the kitchen. “Thanks for meeting with me.”
Miranda shut the door and started off towards the kitchen, leaving Andy, who was shucking her shoes and cloak, behind. “Coffee?” she asked, not looking at Andy as she swept by her.
In the past Andy had never dared to venture any further than the kitchen apart from a few peeks around the archway -- one excursion up the stairs had been eventful enough to shear a few years from her lifespan, thank you very much. The hall sprawled out into an open floor combining both kitchen and dining room along with numerous doors on either side that, when Andy stole a glance, led further to a living room and study and bathroom. She blinked at the surprisingly modern appliances set into the walls so that they were flush with the cabinets, the enormous fridge shielded with the same warm wood-panelled material so as to blend seamlessly with the walk-in pantry.
Sitting at one of the low-backed stools around the kitchen island, Miranda waved her wand and the espresso machine in one corner began work on their coffees without further instruction. She gave Andy a pointed look and nudged the stool next to her with her toe. She wore socks patterned with little silver stars and wands. When Andy had to bite her lip to keep a grin from her face, Miranda rolled her eyes. “My latest Christmas gift from the girls,” she explained, adding defensively. “They’re warm.”
“They look it.” Andy sat. The chrome-faced espresso machine hissed and steamed, frothing milk and pouring shots simultaneously. Glancing around the large empty space filled only with a terse silence, Andy said, “You know, we could have done this at Rosa Lee’s.”
Miranda’s eyes flashed. “Seeing as this -” she gestured between herself and Andy, “- is of a private nature, I thought it best if this conversation were done in private.”
Two cups of steaming coffee soared through the air, landing before each of them on the marble-topped island. Grateful for the distraction, Andy snatched up her mug and drank even though the heat of it burned the roof of her mouth. She winced. In contrast, Miranda crossed her legs in an officious manner and sipped at her coffee with every outward appearance of lofty hauteur, belied by little signs. How rigidly she sat. How primly she tucked her ankles beneath the iron-wrought rung of her seat.
Setting her coffee firmly aside and gathering herself, Andy broke through the silence. “I spoke with Cuffe the other day.”
Miranda hummed. “And how is Barnabas?”
“Difficult to read,” Andy answered truthfully.
“Just like his articles,” came Miranda’s dry reply as she balanced her cup between her fingertips. When a huff of laughter escaped Andy at that, Miranda’s gaze gleamed with vicious delight.
Rather than look at Miranda, Andy pushed the coffee cup round in a circle by prodding at its handle, ceramic scraping against stone. “I asked him why you pulled the article.”
Andy waited for more than a brief confirmation of understanding, but when none was forthcoming, she continued, glancing at Miranda’s guarded expression out of the corner of her eye. “Was that -? Was privacy really your only concern?”
For a moment Miranda did not answer. She took her time drinking her coffee before saying in a matter-of-fact tone that sounded all too rehearsed, “I was willing to let the interview be published under the condition that I could revise some of the more sensitive material. Barnabas gave me an ultimatum -- all or nothing. So, I gave him nothing.”
“You should have just told me.”
Miranda’s mouth thinned. She clenched her hands so tightly around the coffee mug, Andy feared it might crack. “I asked Barnabas as a favour -- and you should know I loathe owing anyone any favours. I didn't think your career would suffer.”
“It didn't,” Andy sighed, dragging a hand through her still damp hair. “In fact the only thing that seems to have suffered is my pride.”
Picking up her coffee once more, Andy took a tentative sip to find that it had cooled to a drinkable temperature. She drained it, bolstered more by the idea of caffeine than the actual coffee itself. Meanwhile, Miranda set aside her mug and cleared her throat too delicately. “Was there anything else you wanted?”
Miranda was watching her reaction very closely and that inscrutable expression had returned. Carefully, Andy set her cup down. “That depends on what you want.”
Miranda sat up a bit straighter. “I asked first.”
“What are we? Five?” Andy countered, incredulous.
Miranda’s mouth wrenched open to snap back a retort, before she shut it almost immediately. Breathing deeply, she clasped her hands in her lap and fixed Andy with an intense look. “Andrea, the imbalance between us is such that, coming from me, any suggestion of sexual overtures would be inappropriate.”
Andy’s heart hammered in her chest and blood swelled in a riptide that roared in her ears. Dimly she heard herself speak as though from a great distance. “What if I don’t want appropriate? What if I want -?” She swallowed past the dryness in her throat, the heat coiling like scaled spines in her stomach. “What if I want to kiss you again? What if -?”
She stopped when she saw how Miranda’s face shifted from unfathomable to ardent in an instant.
“Oh, hell,” Andy muttered. Then she stood, leaned across the short space between them and kissed her.
A note of soft surprise was caught in Miranda’s throat the moment their mouths met. Andy cupped Miranda’s face in her hands, feeling fingers dig into her robes, clutching at her back. The heat sprouted wings and soared in her chest and Andy pressed forward with enough enthusiasm that the stool’s legs screeched against the floor. She had to slap a hand down on the kitchen counter to keep from tipping them both over.
Pulling back, Andrea breathed in a rush, “I swear I came here to apologise.”
“I don’t want your apology.” Miranda tugged impatiently at the clasps holding Andy’s robe together. “I want you to take this off.”
While Miranda hastened with her clothing, yanking the robes open so that they hung from Andy’s shoulders to reveal the muggle jeans and white collared shirt she wore beneath, Andy tugged at Miranda’s collar, urging her to her feet. “Do you have a -?”
“- Bed?” Miranda finished for her, loosening Andy’s plain tie and working at the buttons of her shirt. “Several, in fact.”
“I would’ve settled for a couch, to be honest. Or here,” she gasped as Miranda slipped her hand along Andy’s ribs and pulled her forward for another open-mouthed kiss. “Here’s looking pretty good.”
In answer, Miranda pushed her towards a door leading to the office. Couch it was, then. Except once inside the two-storied rotunda study, Miranda led Andy not to the couches but to the tightly-wound spiral staircase leading to the open second floor. She halted their progress twice to kiss Andy up against the wooden banister, unhooking the clasps of her own cloak and hanging the black fabric from one of the balusters, along with Andy’s abandoned necktie.
Bookcases lined the curved walls, but for one section where a rumpled bed sprawled across the space like an intrusive oddity -- less of a proper bed than a nest that consisted of two mattresses stacked atop one another directly on the floor. The office’s second floor even had its own ensuite bathroom, and one glance at the space proved that it was probably more frequently haunted by Miranda than her actual master bedroom. Andy shivered as Miranda’s hands trailed down her back and began to toy with the waistband of her jeans. “You sleep in your office?”
“Sometimes I forget. Time, it’s -- ” Miranda mumbled against Andy’s throat. Without shoes, they stood of a height, Miranda perhaps a hint shorter. “I need strict schedules, otherwise I’ll look up and it’s dawn already and I need to leave home again.”
Andy cut Miranda’s explanation short by finding the zipper at the side of her long robes and tugging it down. Thank God the wizarding world had at least cottoned on to the wonders of zippers -- she would’ve died of old age trying to undo all the buttons required otherwise. The material pooled to the floor in a puddle of black and Miranda stepped out from the ring at her feet until she stood in only a silk chemise and whimsical socks.
“Have you ever -?” Andy fumbled with the question, unsure how to phrase it without sounding like a bad cliché.
Miranda stared at her. “Andrea, I should hope the fact that I have twin daughters is indication enough that I’ve had sex at least once before.”
“No, I know that! I meant -! You know -!” Andy motioned to herself with sharp, choppy gestures.
In answer, Miranda dragged her fingers from throat to sternum and pushed Andy -- a single sustained pressure -- until the backs of her legs bumped against the bed. “Well, I’ve taken care of myself enough times. How hard can it be?”
Unbidden, the image came to mind. Miranda’s hands between her legs. Miranda arching against the sheets. Miranda biting her lower lip to stifle any stray whimpers. She all but choked on the thought when Miranda continued to move her fingers lower, plucking at the lace of Andy’s bra strap. When Miranda’s long fingernails scraped her skin however, Andy snatched at her wrists, halting their movements.
“No way are you getting those claws anywhere near me,” Andy warned firmly. She remembered those scratches along her back in the bathroom all too clearly. She pulled her wand from a pocket of her robes -- still hanging from her shoulders -- and pointed with it towards the mattress.
Miranda sniffed but sat nonetheless, allowing Andy to pull her hands into her lap and begin cutting her nails with a clipper summoned from thin air. “Honestly, can’t you just shorten them with your wand? I distinctly remember David wildly proclaiming your mastery of beast handling.”
“Oh, sure. I can declaw a sphinx in ten seconds flat, but that particular spell would remove the entirety of your fingernails.” Andy set down the clippers and reached for her wand. “But if you insist -”
Miranda snatched her hands back too hastily to be considered calm and glared. “Don’t you dare.”
Picking up the nail clippers once more with a smug look, Andy dragged Miranda’s hands back into her lap. She continued in silence for a bit, the only sound the careful snip of metal against keratin, until Andy admitted, “The last time I did this, it was only by the grace of God the manticore didn’t eat me alive.”
“And what makes you think this time is any different?”
The silkiness of Miranda’s voice was honed to an edge, and when Andy glanced up it was to find Miranda watching her with a dangerous avidity. Clearing her throat, Andy focused her attention back on the task at hand and tried to ignore the flush of heat that crept up the back of her neck. Of all the scenarios she had imagined from her day, clipping Miranda’s nails and sitting half-naked on a bed in her townhouse office all while Miranda eyed her up like a particularly fine cut of steak was not one of them.
Miranda didn’t wait for her to finish before using her free hand to begin stripping Andy of what remained of her clothes as best she could. With increasing difficulty, Andy tried concentrating on what she was doing, only for a few of Miranda’s fingers to sneak between fabric and skin, lifting her shirt from her shoulders and teasing it down her arms. “You’re not making this any easier,” Andy accused, when her forearms were trapped and could barely move.
“Would you like me to stop?”
With a hum of amusement, Miranda leaned forward to scrape her teeth across Andy’s revealed collarbone and Andy came close to nicking Miranda’s fingers with the nail clippers. When Miranda’s tongue entered the mix, moving down the swell of her breast, Andy gave up. One and a half hands trimmed of nails was surely good enough. Tossing the nail clippers to the floor along with her shirt, jeans and the majority of her restraint, she pushed Miranda’ back enough to straddle her atop the bed and bring their mouths together.
“Are you-?” Andy mumbled between kisses. “Are you sure about this?”
Gripping Andy’s hair in one hand, Miranda gave a firm tug, yanking Andy’s head away just enough so that they looked one another in the eye. “I've been thinking about this for weeks. Possibly longer. And I just let you give me the world's worst manicure.”
“If that's not romance, I don't know what is,” Andy quipped dryly.
Miranda's eyes flashed, a gleam both dangerous and hungry. “Romance has very little to do with it.”
A sinking chill in her stomach should have ruined the moment, but Andy was too busy burning up beneath Miranda’s stare, beneath Miranda’s hands to care. Instead she yanked at the hem of the silk chemise, pulling it over Miranda’s head and casting it aside. Afternoon light slanted through the tall narrow windows and over the bed, so that when Andy pushed Miranda back against the sheets she was strewn half with sunlight. Even when Miranda squinted past the glare in her eyes, Andy’s breath caught in her chest at the sight. Swallowing thickly, she crouched over Miranda’s prone figure, hands planted to either side of her shoulders until Miranda reached up and pulled Andy atop her.
Miranda inhaled sharply when one of Andy’s thighs slipped between her own. The sound drove Andy forward and she kissed Miranda roughly, nipping at her lower lip and grinding her thigh until Miranda was panting and lifting her hips to rut up against her.
“How long?” Andy asked without preamble, urging Miranda up somewhat in order to reach behind her and unhook her bra.
“What?” Miranda gasped. She slid the bra off and threw it carelessly away.
“How long have you been thinking about this? Since when we were still -? At work -?”
Miranda made a face. “No,” she growled. “Wh- when you -- oh --” She hissed through her teeth when Andy nipped at a particular spot where neck met shoulder. “When you came to my tent, I thought about this. But instead you asked me for an interview.”
At the thought -- alone with Miranda back in her tent in the Arctic, Miranda wearing that robe of shimmering cloth, how it would have felt under her hands, slipping it down Miranda's shoulders where it would pool to the floor, and then making good use of the enormous four-poster bed sequestered from the world by a sheath of drapes -- Andy’s breathing grew ragged.
Miranda continued, “After you walked away in Paris, your absence was -” the words stuttered in her throat when Andy ran a hand up her inner thigh. “-noticed.”
“My absence was noticed?” Andy repeated, stroking her fingers in soft circular patterns higher and higher towards their goal until Miranda’s head dropped back against the sun-brightened mattress. “How demonstrative of you.”
Eyes squeezed shut, Miranda ground out through clenched teeth, “I don't do grand declarations of affection, if that's what you're after.”
“So you admit it?” Andy grinned. “You feel affectionate towards me.”
“What I 'feel' is a desire to fuck you until you can't walk straight. Designs which you seem hell-bent on foiling, I might add.”
Andy got the hint and stopped talking in favour of pressing her mouth against Miranda's in a searing kiss. When her fingers slipped up to the slick juncture of Miranda’s thighs, hands clawed at Andy’s bare shoulders and back, making Andy twitch and whine. Miranda groaned into the kiss, the sound warming the air as Andy broke away to mouth along Miranda’s breasts. Scratches along the plains of Andy’s back urged her on, painting pinkened lines across skin while Miranda bit back a gasp with every stroke of Andy’s fingers.
Kissing down Miranda’s stomach, Andy stopped at her navel and looked up. “Can I -?”
In reply, Miranda tangled a hand in Andy’s hair and shoved her further south. The first touch of Andy’s tongue evoked a strangled “Fuck.” It may not have been romance, but it did make a shiver of desire crawl down Andy’s spine. She composed symphonies with her tongue, eliciting quiet gasps and whimpers and -- when she slipped one and then two fingers inside -- a low moan accompanied by a heel digging insistently into the small of Andy’s back.
Far too soon Miranda was grinding herself against Andy’s mouth, hips canting forward not with a cry but with a tense sigh that unspooled as she flung her head back. Miranda kept a firm grip on Andy’s dark hair, guiding her until she’d finished then nudging Andy away with a weak muttering chant, “Stop. Stop stopstopstop.”
Pulling back, Andy panted breathlessly, “Sorry.”
Her wrist ached. The entire lower half of her face was smeared with wetness, which she wiped away with the back of her hand, while Miranda stared up at the ceiling, breathing heavily. Andy stared down at Miranda -- Miranda who was dazzling and drenched in warm sunlight and still wearing those silly socks -- and couldn’t bring herself to care about anything else.
“You’re wonderful,” Andy blurted out before she could stop herself.
At that, Miranda blinked up at her through the afternoon light. Andy must have looked a fright -- hair incredibly mussed, cheeks flushed, wholly naked and starkly wanting -- but a wry smile curled at the corner of Miranda’s mouth and she huffed with self-deprecating amusement. Miranda pushed herself upright with her elbows. Pulling Andy down by the back of her neck, Miranda kissed her, twisting them around so that Andy fell against the sheets and Miranda’s knees settled on either side of her waist.
“I’m not wonderful. I’m a cad, who is sleeping with a former employee.” Miranda smoothed her hands down Andy’s chest, palming her breasts, thumb flicking across Andy’s nipples. When Andy twitched, Miranda’s gaze sharpened and she added, “A very young former employee.”
Miranda paused with a frown. Afraid she’d suddenly done something wrong, Andy froze. “What?”
Miranda hummed a non-committal note and traced along the hint of whorling patterns across Andy’s right shoulder, where evidence of her near-death splinching darkened with scar tissue in a tight woodgrain that swept jagged lines across the skin of her back. “I’ve never seen this type of injury up close. Does it still ache?”
Of course Miranda would never be so distracted from a task or destination to splinch herself during apparition. Not like Andy, who at the ripe old age of seventeen had managed to distract herself when her wand tumbled from her pocket while she apparated during the tests, leaving a chunk of her torso -- which had included a few rather important organs -- on the other side of the classroom. Andy shrugged at the memory. “Sometimes. Mostly it itches like crazy.”
“Hmm.” Carefully, Miranda raked her shortened nails along the scars and Andy tensed with a squeak. A wicked smile crossed Miranda face then. “I’ll have to remember that.”
Andy’s mouth dropped open to reply, but all that came out was a sharp hitch of breath as Miranda reached between her legs. When Andy squeezed her eyes shut, Miranda used her free hand to yank Andy’s chin up, growling, “Look at me.”
Opening her eyes, Andy struggled to hold Miranda’s gaze as two fingers thrust into her. Miranda was watching her -- hard, intent and unblinking -- as Andy’s hips moved in time with her hand. Miranda scraped the nail of her thumb lightly down Andy’s throat. Every time Andy’s eyelids flickered, Miranda would grind her palm against Andy’s clit and give a reprimanding squeeze at her neck, her breasts, her waist. And every time Andy’s breathing grew quick and erratic, her fists clutching at the bedsheets, Miranda would still the driving of her fingers to lean forward and brand Andy’s skin with lavish bitemarks until Andy was reduced to a squirming panting mess sprawled across the mattress.
The fourth time this happened, Andy’s teeth clenched so hard she could feel her jaw creak. “Could you -?” she gasped, “Could you add another finger and not stop this time?”
Miranda grunted in disappointment but did as requested. She nudged Andy’s legs wider apart with one of her knees and crouched over her. Slowly, she spurred Andy on with three fingers pressed up to the knuckle until Andy choked on a desperate cry, a sound Miranda swallowed with a bruising kiss.
A few dark strands of hair stuck to Andy’s sweat-stippled brow. Miranda’s fingers were still firmly buried inside of her, and when Miranda pulled them out Andy hissed. Miranda gave her a piercing look and Andy assured her, “I’m alright.”
“Good.” Miranda grabbed one of Andy’s hand, her own fingers still sticky, and said, “Again.”
Some time later -- thirty minutes? fifty? Andy turned her wrist over to check her watch only to discover that she’d lost it somewhere along the way -- Miranda lounged atop Andy, utterly spent and boneless.
“This was supposed to be my lunch break,” Andy confessed breathlessly to the cream-coloured ceiling and the towering bookshelves to either side.
Miranda mumbled into the side of Andy’s shoulder, “Everyone at the office thinks I’m travelling to Uganda.”
“At least my story has a modicum of truth to it,” Andy said.
Miranda pulled back to give Andy a puzzled frown.
In answer, Andy grinned and ran her hand down Miranda’s flank. “I did eat something.”
With a tortured groan, Miranda rolled off of her and pointed to the door. “Go. Get out.” When Andy just snorted with laughter, Miranda glared at her. “I mean it. I’m supposed to be in Africa and I still need to shower.”
“I - Oh. Alright.” Sitting up, Andy swung her legs over the side of the bed. She sat there in awkward silence, internally debating whether or not she should say something while Miranda stood and walked into the ensuite bathroom. Finally Andy rose with a sigh and began to gather up her clothes from the bedroom floor. “Where’s the nearest floo station? I had to come via Hyde Park.”
The hiss of a shower, and Miranda’s voice said over it, “You can use my fireplace. It’s downstairs behind my desk.”
Of course it was. Andy could just imagine Miranda seated at her desk before a crackling open fire, outlined in flame. Andy pulled on her underwear and the collared shirt she wore beneath her robes. As she buttoned it up, she called out, “I thought you hated traveling by floo powder.”
“I do. But the girls can’t apparate yet, and sometimes they like to stop by outside of the holidays.”
Miranda’s voice sounded closer, less muddled, and when Andy glanced up she found Miranda, robe-wrapt and watching her from the doorway. Her intent gaze fixed into the movement of the shirt over Andy’s bare thighs in much the same way her teeth had fixed into skin not long before. She did not flush or look embarrassed when Andy caught her staring, though she straightened her shoulders in an attempt to appear taller, more formidable; the effect was ruined by her mussed hair, by the bruise already forming on her throat, by the hunger that honed her eyes the sharp steely points.
Just as Andy was about to suggest joining her in the shower for another round, Miranda tore her gaze away and shut the bathroom door without another word.
At this time of night, the Leaky Cauldron was packed with witches and wizards seeking a drink after a long week’s work. Andy stood at the bar with Nigel, trying for the second time that evening to get the bartender’s attention by standing up on her toes and raising her hand into the air with a strained smile.
Meanwhile Nigel watched her with a pensive expression, leaning his elbow against the counter, his back to another patron crammed into close quarters beside him. “So, can I rightly inform Emily that you’re no longer angry with her?”
Andy blinked and lowered her hand. “Angry with -? Where did she get that idea?”
“You really don’t know, do you?” Nigel sighed. Reaching out, he prodded the furrow between her brows with a fingertip, smoothing out the skin that bunched there. “Have you ever looked in a mirror in -- oh, I don’t know -- your whole life?”
“Nigel -” Andy growled in warning.
He flicked her between the eyes, which only deepened her scowl. “Just hear me out before you bite my head off.” Settling back in his chair, Nigel announced very solemnly, “Andy Sachs, you are a terrifying witch.”
“I’m not -!”
“Oh, shut up for two seconds, won’t you?” Nigel looked to the heavens as though praying for strength before fixing Andy with a stern look. “I’ll admit, your whole ‘winsome smile’ act is very convincing; you fooled me for almost four months. But you -- now, look at me --” He leaned forward, pointing to his own face when Andy scoffed and rolled her eyes. Frowning and apprehensive, she did as he said. “You are as shrewd and ambitious as anyone I’ve ever met. No, don’t be so glum! I’m giving you a compliment here!”
Blinking back a burning in her eyes, Andy mumbled thickly, “This doesn’t feel like a compliment.”
Indeed, it felt like Miranda slicing Andy open on a dissection table back in a certain carriage ride through Paris. She was peeled back and cracked apart with chain hooks, prodded with scalpels underneath a glaring magnifying lens -- and Nigel insisted the whole process was ‘a compliment.’
He patted at her hand in a manner that would have come off as patronising but for the real warmth in his gaze. “There’s nothing wrong with a little will to power. Just -- not too much, alright?”
“Nigel, you know I adore you -”
“- But you are absolute shit at compliments.”
“I’ll be sure to work on that,” he drawled. In an instant however, all levity drained from his expression. The look he gave her wasn’t stern, but the softness of his gaze was filed to an edge. “Are you ready to tell me what’s been going on with you?”
“I’m -” She tried to say ‘fine’, but it got tangled up on the back of her tongue where she held all her misgivings. Andy slumped where she stood, leaning her forehead against the countertop with a groan. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Closing her eyes, Andy took the plunge and confessed in a rush, “I may be seeing Miranda.”
He frowned and said slowly. “You mean you have plans to see her for coffee or -?”
“No.” Andy’s voice was muffled, so she lifted her head and propped her chin atop the countertop. Now that she’d begun, the words barreled headlong, swelling up and tumbling from a place deep in her chest until she couldn’t stop. “Like -- I think I’m seeing her. But it’s a bit unclear? I mean -- we had a bit of a thing back in the Arctic? If you can even call it that. And also I kissed her in a public bathroom. Or, more like -- I came this close to having sex with her in a public bathroom and she seemed keen. Real keen. Keen enough to invite me over to her townhouse. And if you don’t believe me, I might still have the scratches on my back to prove -”
Sharply, Nigel held up his hand to halt her. Then he just stared at her. Without a word he gestured to the bartender. When the bartender came ‘round to pour them glasses of single malt, Nigel muttered, “Leave the bottle.” Inhaling deeply, Nigel tossed back a glass, then poured himself another. He nudged Andy’s glass closer to her and ordered, “Start from the beginning. And -- I beg of you -- leave out the sordid details.”
Andy fell back into old habits. She did not hear from Miranda after their encounter at the townhouse. She assumed the worst. She wrote an article on a Grindylow infestation in the Thames. She did not send word to Miranda, and weeks passed without contact.
Then one windy afternoon Andy's wand slipped from her pocket while she was rushing down the street to work. It bounced along the cobblestones, trundling its way over a kerb, and Andy whipped around to chase after it. She took a lunging swipe, missed, and clambered after it on her knees. Finally her wand came to a halt, its path stopped abruptly by a pair of black-canvas button down boots. The leather-tipped toes were pointed and polished to a shine. On her hands and knees, Andy paused mid-reach for her wand and slowly looked up to see Miranda Priestly staring down at her.
Clearing her throat, Andy grabbed her wand and pushed herself to her feet. Her wand -- as usual -- spouted sparks upon being caught in its merry escape. In her heeled boots, Miranda stood a smidgen taller; she continued to look at Andy as if she had sprouted a set of horns right there in the street.
“Hi,” Andy greeted lamely, shaking her wand in an attempt to staunch the flow of sparks.
Immediately Miranda’s expression darkened. "No word from you in three weeks and that's all you have to say to me? Hi?"
Blinking in confusion, Andy admitted, "I didn't think you wanted to hear from me." Her wand's cascade of sparks did not cease, instead turning a deep burgundy hue, and Andy furiously whacked it against the flat of her hand, scolding, "Not now! Behave for once, please!"
“Not want to hear -!” Miranda started to say in outrage, then snapped her mouth shut. The sparks had turned a red so deep they bordered on purple. With a huff of irritation, Miranda snatched the wand from Andy's hand. "You need to be more firm with it. This one has a lively spirit." Glaring down at the wand, Miranda growled, "That's quite enough from you."
The sparks dimmed at once to a muted glow, and if pressed Andy would describe it as sulky. Miranda gave a sharp satisfied nod and handed it back over.
"Thanks," Andy said slowly. Their fingers brushed, and the wand went warm all over, a rod of heat held in stasis between them. Flushing, Andy pulled the wand to her chest and clutched it there. "I mean -! You're right; I should have contacted you sooner. I just thought that I should let you make the first -- well, one should always maintain strict etiquette with hippogriffs."
Clamping her mouth shut, Andy took a deep breath through her nose. Miranda was scowling at her, arms crossed, the fingers of one hand drumming against her opposite arm. Andy braced herself, wand warm in her hand, and met Miranda's stare with a steely one of her own. At that, Miranda's eyes widened.
"Oh," Miranda murmured in understanding, raising a hand to hide a sudden smile. Her gaze sparkled with a mischievous mirth as Andy's face flooded with bright red panic. "In that case, shouldn't you be bowing to me as well?"
Unable to keep the embarrassed flush from her cheeks, Andy nevertheless maintained eye contact, which only made Miranda's smile widen behind her fingers. "Mock me all you like. It worked on you for all these months before you realised what I was doing."
Clearing her throat free of a sound that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle, Miranda schooled her features, though the corners of her mouth still twitched. "Keep your etiquette then, but from now on I'd recommend a touch more initiative. Though we can revisit the bowing at a later date."
Miranda looked positively impish as she turned and began to walk away. Andy was sure she must have been flushed scarlet by now. Her wand burned, a beacon in her grasp lighting the way forward, and Andy announced to Miranda's retreating back, "I have three tickets to see The Weird Sisters. Work gave them to me."
Shooting her an incredulous look over her shoulder, Miranda paused. "And you think I want to see The Weird Sisters?” She gave a haughty sniff, “You must have hit your head on the pavement."
"No," Andy took a step forward before she could stop herself. "But the concert is scheduled for the school holidays, and I know two teenagers who would love to attend."
Facing Andy fully now, Miranda hummed a thoughtful note in the back of her throat. "That's two tickets accounted for. And the third ticket?"
Andy took another step forward until Miranda was within arm's length. "They're only thirteen. They'll need a chaperone, since their mother's going to be busy taking me to dinner that evening."
Miranda arched an amused eyebrow at her. "You know, when I said ‘take initiative’, I didn't mean right now."
"I like to get a jump on things," Andy shrugged, then regretted her choice of words when Miranda's eyes flicked down to her legs.
"The way you jumped at my feet just before?"
Coughing, Andy stuffed her wand away to resist the urge to fiddle with something and show any sign of nerves or weakness. "Do you want the tickets, or not?"
There was no doubt about it now; Miranda was smirking. No hiding behind hands or the pages of morning newspapers. Miranda showed the briefest hint of teeth, and Andy was viscerally reminded of the time she was trapped in a manticore enclosure during her final year at Hogwarts. She'd been fortunate enough to escape the incident with only a few clawmarks across her shoulders -- now she hoped to be so lucky.
When Miranda spoke, her voice held a silky, wicked edge. "I'll see if I can clear up my schedule."
Miranda wasn’t wearing exactly the same outfit she’d donned for Paris where she had greeted all those foreign officials like heads of state, but these new dress robes bore such a striking similarity they might as well have been the same in Andy’s mind. The cut of dark fabric hugging her hips, the creamy baring of her shoulders, the neckline that plunged down, down in sharp angles until Andy had to snap her gaze back up for fear of staring in public. In contrast, Andy felt dowdy and out of place. She tugged at her hems in the hopes that the action would somehow transform her dress robes into something that even faintly resembled elegance.
“Are these alright?” Andy gestured to herself with a hopeful look.
In a brief once-over, Miranda glanced at Andy and her gaze hesitated at the neckline -- hardly daring and décolleté in comparison to Miranda’s own outfit -- before she looked away very quickly. “Fine,” Miranda said, her voice a little hoarse, already heading towards the restaurant door.
As they approached together, walking abreast, they floundered for a moment at the entrance, both within arm distance of the door but neither wanting to reach for the handle at the same time. Finally Andy took a deliberate step forward and held open the door before they could linger outside and stew in awkwardness. As far as first dates went -- if this even was a date; she still couldn’t be completely sure no matter how much her heart hammered in her chest -- Andy was on track to die of embarrassment before the amuse-bouche.
Outside the restaurant appeared unassuming -- an unmarked door flanked by weathered pillars on a street in Hammersmith -- but inside the walls were painted in rich dark colours and festooned with heavy fabrics, creating an impression of warmth and intimacy. The many round tables were spaced far enough apart for privacy, attended by vigilant waiters wearing liveried waistcoats beneath their smart robes. One such waiter greeted them with a smile and a murmur of welcome, guiding Andy and Miranda to their table without needing to ask their names or clarify reservations.
A cavalcade of candles floated in midair just above their heads, gilding Miranda’s silhouette in warm silvers. They sat near the back, their table draped in pale silk. A few candles dipped behind Miranda and in this lighting she appeared banded in a soft glow, outlined like an eclipse with pale eyes that caught the light and held it fast. Throat dry, Andy snatched up the napkin and placed it in her lap before the waiter could do so for her. Instead he poured them each a glass of wine, but Andy left hers untouched for now with only a passing nod of thanks.
Andy sat very stiffly at the table, looking around the restaurant, at the empty stage meant to hold a string quartet. “Honestly I’m a bit confused as to why you agreed to this.”
Miranda raised an eyebrow, lifting her wineglass to take a sip. “And why is that?”
“You don’t really strike me as the type to go to dinner with your greatest disappointment.”
With no small amount of satisfaction Andy watched Miranda cough, handing her a spare serviette. Miranda cleared her throat, waving Andy’s offering aside. “Well.” She tried sounding as officious as possible, but the effect was ruined by the hint of pink in her cheeks. “I told you I wrote a reference.”
Taking a deep breath, Andy swallowed down a lump of bitter crow. “I know. And I'm sorry for calling you a liar. I was wrong.”
She expected Miranda to gloat, but instead Miranda only looked at her oddly, a slight furrow to her brow the only indication she’d heard Andy at all. Setting down her glass of wine, Miranda leaned back in her seat to fix the napkin in her lap and announced without preamble, “I highly recommend the osso bucco here.”
Andy stared. “Wait, that’s -?” She sat forward, wrists resting on the corner of the table. “That’s it? You don’t want to rub it in my face?”
For some reason, Miranda shifted in her seat and pretended to be very interested in catching the waiter’s eye for a refill. The waiter appeared by her side in an instant, pouring her another glass of wine before departing once more and tending to the other guests.
Then it clicked. Andy’s eyes widened. “Oh, I see.” Her face relaxed into an impish grin. “That explains everything. Here I thought I’d just gone mad.”
“Oh, for God’s sake -- speak sense, Andrea!” Miranda snapped as she lifted her glass.
Andy could feel her grin bloom into a fully fledged smile and she teased, “You’re embarrassed.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Miranda sipped at her wine with as much contempt as she could muster -- and that was quite a lot of contempt, to be perfectly honest -- but the flush had begun to creep into her cheeks and all the way to the tips of her ears.
With a shake of her head, Andy contained her smile. “We both said some awful things that night. Honestly, I was afraid men would show up at my door with body bags.”
“The thought did cross my mind,” Miranda muttered under her breath. Delicately, she set her glass back down on the table and traced the stem with her fingers. She studied Andy across the table, her expression as inscrutable as ever. “But then I came to the unlikely realisation that I wanted something else instead.”
“And what might that be?”
In reply Miranda just fixed her with an intense, unblinking look that made Andy regret the fact that she’d given Caroline and Cassidy tickets to a concert in London, since it meant the townhouse would doubtless be off limits for the remainder of the night.
Now it was Andy’s turn for her face to burn. “Oh.”
“You can’t seriously be that thick.” Miranda gestured between them, to the candle lit table draped with rich cream-coloured cloth, to the other clients -- nearly all of them couples out for a romantic meal. “Unless this isn’t what you meant by taking you out to dinner.”
“It is!” Andy insisted hastily and one of Miranda’s eyebrows tilted up in amusement. Oh, yeah. She was definitely going to die well before they got served food. “I mean - I thought we’d -” Andy cleared her throat and seized up her glass of wine for a first heady gulp, nearly choking. “So, the osso bucco, you said?”
Miranda hummed a note of confirmation around her own glass. “Or the lamb sous vide.”
“Sounds great,” Andy croaked.
That awkward air returned, blanketing them in a silence thick enough to stifle. Every so often Miranda would cast furtive glances towards the other tables, even though nobody else seemed to pay them any regard. Soon the waiter apparated back at their table to take their orders, refusing to let them chose their own wines, which were paired up according to dish at the chef's insistence. Andy went with the lamb, Miranda with the veal. Miranda kept her mouth pinched tight into a narrow line, not speaking a word until the waiter had left once again.
Resisting the urge to temper her nerves with wine -- last time that hadn't helped so much -- Andy asked, “Are you worried about what the press might say?”
Miranda sniffed, but sat a little straighter all the same. “Barry Winkle was married eleven times that we know of, and chased tail well into his five-hundreds let alone his fifties.”
“Barry Winkle isn't you.” Andy pointed out. “And I definitely wouldn't let him into my pants.”
"Oh, I don't know," Miranda mused with a lift of one shoulder. "I hear he's still chipper as a doxy these days."
Andy bit at her lower lip to fight back the grin to no avail. Then she lowered her voice and continued, "In all seriousness, though. This -?"
"- Is fine," Miranda finished for her. "My only concern is maintaining the privacy of my personal affairs."
"And I'm one of your affairs," Andy said slowly, brows furrowing.
Leaning forward, Miranda made an abortive motion, reaching for Andy's hand on the table before stopping herself and simply placing her own hand close by so that they rested on the silky tablecloth like mirror images of one another. "That's not what I -" Miranda began, pausing to collect her thoughts with a frown and muttering, "I'm afraid I'm not very good at this."
Andy took the plunge and placed her hand over Miranda's. "I know. And I’m not much better, to be fair."
Miranda was staring at Andy's hand over her own with a blank expression. For a moment she said and did nothing, but when the waiter reappeared, his arms laden with two dishes, Miranda snatched her hand back to her lap as if scalded. She swallowed and folded her fingers safely away atop her napkin as the waiter set down the plates before them and whisked away their glasses of wine with a wave of his wand, only to conjure new glasses.
"Let's concentrate on enjoying our meals first," Miranda said, voice taut, picking up her knife and fork.
"Right,” Andy mumbled. She clenched her hand into a fist in an attempt to rid it of the warm prickle even that brief contact had imparted. When that failed, she busied herself with her own plate. “Right. Ok."
Together they tucked into their food. The silence had returned, but this time it felt less like the smother of a sauna and more like slipping into a bath -- warm, pleasant and concordant. They exchanged murmurs of praise for the food and little else. More than once, Andy caught Miranda sneaking looks at Andy's fingers, her mouth, her chest. Andy could hardly complain when she was caught red-handed in turn, though after the third time this happened she shook her head and gave a rueful smile.
Then without preamble, Miranda set her cutlery aside and pulled out her wand. For a fleeting, terrifying moment Andy had the irrational thought that Miranda had finally snapped and was going to kill her. “You claimed to have loved your job at The Wand and The Way. So -” Miranda flipped the wand between her fingers so that she held it out, handle-first. “-tell me what you see.”
Hesitant, Andy took the wand. The wood was warm from being pressed up against Miranda’s flank in her robes. Swallowing thickly, Andy made no move until Miranda gave her an expectant look. Then, putting down her own cutlery and wiping her hands clean on her napkin, Andy took the wand. She turned it over in her fingers. “Thirteen and a half inches. Walnut and unicorn hair.” She tested its spring by trying to bend it slightly between her hands. “Sturdy and intractable. This is-” Andy frowned and tried to hand the wand back over, “-an unusual mix? I can’t describe it.”
Miranda made no move to take the wand from her. “Go on,” she said, and her voice held no note of encouragement, only a firm quiet insistence.
“It’s -” Andy sighed, casting her mind back to the copious notes she’d scribbled down over the nine months she’d worked for Miranda, the articles and books she’d poured over night after night in an attempt to glean some inkling of the ever-elusive art of wandlore. “Unicorn hair doesn’t make the strongest wands. Its strength lies in consistency, but walnut’s lies in versatility.” She paused then before continuing to run her thumbs along the dark-stained wood, admiring the richly dappled grain. “Once subjugated, walnut wands will perform any task for its owner. This is an inventor’s wand. With it you can create anything you put your mind to.”
Miranda was studying her with the same inscrutable intensity she always wore whenever combining raw materials at the altar of her desk. “I’m glad to see you haven’t completely lost your edge over at The Prophet.”
Andy gave an incredulous snort, holding out the wand. “I have an edge? This is the first time I’m hearing about it.”
With a roll of her eyes, Miranda snatched her wand back, but no amount of eye-rolling could hide the small smile curling at one corner of her mouth. "Before you left, I was seriously considering naming you my apprentice." Miranda confessed, stowing her wand away and turning her attention back to the plate in front of her.
"I never wanted to be your apprentice. I'm not sure I even ever really wanted to be your assistant." Andy replied. "Besides, Nigel would be far better suited to being your apprentice. Or -- hell -- even Emily."
Miranda's face tightened. She cut into her veal with more vigour than usual, viciously tearing the meat into bloodied strips with her serrated knife. "I do believe I'm the best judge to deem who is most worthy. After another year or so of learning, you would have been perfect for the role." She scowled at the veal, stabbing it onto her fork. "But of course! How foolish for me to presume you would want any labels that belonged to me."
"I never said that."
The words slipped out before Andy could stop them. Miranda stared at her. The candle flickered in place, tossed in a draft, and the firelight caught in the pale resin of her eyes. Steeling herself, Andy pushed aside the tangled mesh that ignited in her chest, and held Miranda's gaze. Miranda was the first to look away, clearing her throat and lifting her fork to take a bite of veal. The silence extended between them, warm and bursting with all the unspoken things they dared not breach. Andy might have been tempted to blurt out something inane and ill-advised, but she only lifted her drink and took a sip when she spotted the slight pink flush that touched Miranda's high cheeks.
The rest of the dinner passed without much incident -- not counting the game of footsie Miranda instigated that made Andy nearly knock everything off the table in shock -- and as they left, pinning their cloaks on outside, Andy asked, “So, does this constitute as romance?”
Lips pursing, Miranda said after a moment, “There were no flowers.”
At that Andy made a face. “Are flowers the absolute hallmark for romance? Because if so, I romanced you at work a lot.”
Miranda shot Andy a flat unimpressed look but said, “I suppose you'll have to find your answer after our next dinner.”
Andy smiled. “So, there's going to be another dinner?”
Exasperated, Miranda rolled her eyes. “Of course there is. Do I need to spell everything out for you?”
“Actually? Yeah. That would be super helpful.”
Miranda glared. Then, she stepped closer, her voice lowering to a sly lilt even as her gaze remained hard and glittering as shards of glass. “Why is it -?” she began in a cloying dangerous tone, “- That I’m always the one left footing the bill when it comes to saying what I mean? Hmm?” When Andy did not answer, Miranda cocked her head. “Hypocrisy is a poor colour on you, Andrea. All rough tweed.” She shuddered in a show of disgust, reaching out to smooth her hands lightly over Andy’s bare shoulders. “Why don’t you spell everything out for a change?”
Blinking in confusion, Andy fumbled for a response. “You want me to -?” When Miranda arched a cool eyebrow at her, Andy drew a deep breath and straightened. “Alright. I’d like for this to be a romance or whatever.”
“What a wordsmith,” Miranda said in a deadpan drawl. “I feel faint with passion.”
“You -! You know what I mean!”
The sharp reply died on the tip of Andy’s tongue. Reservation veiled Miranda’s features, hiding the careful hope with which she waited for Andy’s response. Of all the words the two of them had exchanged -- words of anger, of pride and ambition and sexual intent -- none had involved Andy actually drawing a firm boundary in the sand. Meanwhile Miranda had toed what lines she could see, never crossing, always waiting, poised for Andy -- for once -- to make the first move.
“I want you and everything that entails,” Andy breathed in a rush. “I can’t think of anything I’ve ever wanted as much as I want you.”
Almost imperceptibly Miranda’s eyes softened. She tucked a stray lock of hair behind Andy’s ear and murmured, “Alright.”
When Andy arrived on the steps of the townhouse less than a week later, she knocked on the door for two whole minutes without answer. She still owned a cellphone for contacting her parents and sometimes Michael from work, but as far as she was aware Miranda didn’t own a single speck of muggle technology outside of her fancy kitchen appliances. Andy checked her watch, which read seven fifteen. At a loss for what else to do, she jiggled the handle. Immediately she heard the clicking and turning of internal cogs, and the door unlocked itself, swinging inward. Taken aback, Andy stared for a moment before stepping inside. The door shut itself behind her with a soft click.
“Miranda?” she called out, wandering into the foyer.
She leaned over the railing to peer up the lengths of stairs, but the two floors above were cloaked in the encroaching night. The only light issued dimly from beyond the kitchen. Cautiously -- this felt too much like something from a bad horror movie she’d been terrified by as a girl, involving well-dressed gentlemen with smiles like surgical scalpels -- Andy approached to find the door to the office ajar, casting a sliver of light across the shadow-darkened kitchen and dining room floor. Andy pushed the door open.
In the office itself, Miranda paced, her brows furrowed in concentration. Her head jerked up when she heard the creak of floorboards behind her, and she turned. The moment she saw Andy, her fierce scowl cleared somewhat and she gave a dismissive little wave by way of greeting. “Oh, it’s just you.” Then she looked to the handsome clock hanging over the fireplace, grunting in surprise at the position of the hands.
“Take your time. The reservation isn’t until seven thirty,” Andy reassured her, moving further into the room. Miranda’s posture relaxed somewhat at her words.
“I’ll just be a moment,” Miranda said, already distracted and returning to her dappled snakewood desk where multiple missives were being scrawled by three quick-notes quills in rapid succession. She frowned at the letters in turn, stalking round the large semi-circular desk with all the avidity of a raptor circling a valley. Every now and then she would snap her fingers and mutter under her breath, wholly invested in task and motion.
Andy crossed the rotunda office, scanning the wood-panelled shelves lined floor to ceiling with books, the surprisingly comfortable-looking couches, the fresh flowers and half-drunk pitcher of water. In one section, The Book was chained to a lectern, regal as a pulpit. Miranda moved through the space, utterly at ease. The striking dissimilarities between Miranda’s home life and Miranda’s work life would never fail to surprise. In public: stark, dramatic and suspenseful in every sense of the word -- whether herself suspended by glass above the ground or keeping others in a state of anxious uncertainty, never knowing what her movements might be. And now in private: warm, composed and stormless, cast all in bronzed witchlight. She was entrenched in reality by the stray curl of hair above her ear and by her socks patterned with broomsticks and golden snitches.
Smiling softly at the sight, Andy crossed the room, holding out a package of liquorice wands she'd picked up from Diagon Alley. “They’re not flowers, but I thought you might like these.”
Miranda blinked and stopped her pacing. She took the liquorice wands but did not immediately open them. “On occasion, yes.” The quick-notes quills continued their work, diligent to the end.
“You know,” Andy admitted, “for all that time I spent running around, fetching your food and setting up those flowers and whatnot in your office, I still can’t predict your tastes. I mean -” she laughed and gestured to herself. “Who’d have thought, right?”
Miranda cocked her head, her eyes narrowing, and set the liquorice wands beside the skull of an infant basilisk floating in a glass jar atop her desk. “Are you saying I have poor taste?”
“What? No!” With a rueful laugh, Andy shook her head. “How could I possibly complain about that when I’m clearly the beneficiary of said taste?”
The corners of Miranda’s mouth twitched and Andy could have sworn she was withholding a grin. Then she smoothed her features and turned to tear open the package, peeling back the glossy wrappings. "I wouldn't worry about trying to predict my tastes, if I were you. It would be an exercise in futility on a scale even you would find daunting." She pulled out one of the wands and nudged the package to one side so that the opened portion faced Andy in an unspoken invitation to partake.
Moving forward, Andy leaned her hip against the desk and took a candied wand. In unison the quills stalled for a moment before striking up their missives once more. "Oh, come on. You know I like a challenge. And I got it right this time, didn’t I?” For good measure, she waved the drooping wand in Miranda’s direction as though trying to cast a spell.
A snort of amusement escaped Miranda then. “And you just so happened to guess I liked liquorice wands, hmm?”
“I thought it seemed thematic.” With a shrug, Andy bit into the black liquorice, admitting, “I may have also had a tip off from the twins -- but I still had to guess which flavour!”
“At last the truth is revealed,” Miranda murmured. She took a bite of her own, then chewed slowly, thoughtfully. For a moment they ate in silence and the only noise in the room was the harmonious scratching of nibs against parchment. While Andy was polishing her liquorice off, Miranda announced without preamble, “It’s more about the smell, if you must know. And the colour. Usually it’s about colour and sound. Though, that’s not always the case. Sometimes -- very rarely, mind you -- it’s a texture.”
Andy’s chewing slowed. She stared. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“It’s -” Miranda stuck her thumb into her mouth to lick away any lingering stickiness there. “Well, it’s situational.” When Andy gave her a blank, questioning look, Miranda sighed and waved her away. “I told you: don’t bother.”
“Oh, you’ve already got me all kinds of bothered. What’s one more?” Smiling at the way Miranda rolled her eyes, Andy slid closer so that she leaned back against the polished desk. “So, what is it about this situation that makes black liquorice wands acceptable to your exacting tastes? I mean -- it’s not like it’s a popular flavour to begin with.”
Miranda hummed a wordless note, and though her expression revealed very little -- as usual -- she did not move away. Her fingernails rapped against the desk’s surface, near enough that Andy could feel the vibrations against her forearm. “Fennel,” Miranda began, “might taste terrible alone, but paired with other ingredients it can be not only palatable but appetising. In much the same way, I might have turned up my nose at a liquorice wand yesterday, but find it perfectly acceptable today.”
“And what ‘ingredients’ -” Andy emphasised the word with little air quotes, “- have changed between yesterday and today?”
“You’re here, for starters.”
“Are you saying that I look good enough to eat?” Andy joked.
Immediately all three of the quills halted in their tracks and the portentous silence that followed filled the office with unspoken promises.
Miranda’s answering smile sent a slow shiver racing up Andy’s spine. “You might interpret it that way, yes.”
When Miranda moved forward for a kiss, Andy parted after a long moment and said, “You still taste like liquorice.”
Miranda’s mouth canted upwards in a smile against hers. “And you -- like scorched absinthe.”
Andy’s nose scrunched up. “That doesn't sound very appealing.”
“No?” Miranda nipped at her bottom lip. “I think it's a good colour on you.”
“Think we’ll make it to your actual bedroom this time?” Andy murmured even as sat fully atop the desk and parted her legs so Miranda could step between them.
With a thoughtful hum, Miranda slid her hands beneath Andy’s robes, hiking the material above her knees and smoothing her palms along Andy’s thighs. “Eventually, yes.”
She unbuttoned Andy’s jeans and dragged them down her legs with her underwear. Andy had to lift her hips and toss the clothing aside with a flick of her foot. When Miranda sank down to her knees, Andy’s eyes widened and she glanced over to where she could see a sliver of the kitchen through the open door. “The door -!”
Miranda nuzzled at Andy’s inner knee. “Last I checked, I’d made you a perfectly good wand, Andrea.”
With a wordless hiss, Andy scrambled for her wand in the pocket of her robes as Miranda’s roving mouth slowly sucked and nipped further along her thighs. A flash of panic coursed through her when she couldn’t immediately find her wand, but then Miranda was draping Andy’s legs over her shoulders and Andy grabbed hold of her wand in the other pocket. She tore the wand free of her robes and slashed it through the air in a chopping motion at the door. A spate of magic careened through the air with enough force to rip the door from its topmost hinges so that it slumped at a crooked angle across the threshold, but by that point Andy couldn’t bring herself to care. Miranda’s tongue was on her and everything else faded in its wake.
Andy pressed her hands against the desk as she leaned back to tilt her hips forward, and her wand went rolling away, lit up like a green and gold sparkler. The desk shuddered beneath her as she rocked against Miranda’s mouth. Her hands clenched, seeking purchase against the polished wooden surface but finding none. Miranda gripped Andy’s waist to steady her in place, but when she sucked at Andy’s clit, Andy jerked with a gasp. Miranda tried to lighten the circling of her tongue to make the moment last, but Andy ground down, her gasp turning into an insistent whine. Tipping her head back, Andy came with a soft cry and a rolling of her hips.
“You’re too quick,” Miranda grumbled as she rose to her feet and used the edge of Andy’s robes to wipe her face relatively clean. “I don’t have time to enjoy myself.”
Tugging playfully at Miranda’s high-throated collar, Andy promised in earnest, “I’ll pay you back.”
Miranda turned her disapproving glare upon the door, which hung haphazardly from a single hinge. “You’ll need to repair that.”
Pulling Miranda in for another kiss, Andy began stripping off Miranda’s robes. She yanked at the material in her eagerness and fired back Miranda’s own words, “Eventually, yes.”
They never did make it to the master bedroom or to dinner. After thoroughly debauching Miranda’s desk, they retired to do the same to the bed on the office’s second floor, and sometime past ten in the evening, Andy left Miranda snoozing and sated in bed with the promise of food from the kitchen. As she opened the fridge wearing Miranda’s bathrobe, which she’d stolen from the study’s bathroom, Andy eyed the office door. She’d had to pry it open and duck under after leaving her wand upstairs among the pile of her clothes. It wouldn’t take long to fix. Her stomach rumbled and Andy turned her attention back to the fridge; she’d fix it after a bite to eat.
She was folding cold cuts against a few slices of bread layered with lettuce and tomato, when she heard an oddly familiar whooshing noise from the office. Paying it no mind, Andy placed the two sandwiches on a plate.
From the office, a voice called out, “Mum! The office door is broken! Were you experimenting with Thunderbird feathers again?”
“Ugh! this happens all the time!” another voice groaned.
Andy nearly dropped the plate. Eyes widening, she froze. She just had enough time to tighten the belt around the robe and tug the neckline higher before one of the twins righted the door with a wave of her wand, and both Caroline and Cassidy walked into the kitchen.
The three of them stared at one another in a silence that was stunned and absolute.
Then Cassidy said slowly, “Ok, that does not happen all the time.”
Still holding the plate piled up with sandwich slices, Andy replied eloquently, “Uh -”
Caroline’s eyebrows rose as she raked her eyes over Andy’s dishevelled appearance. She held out a hand to her sister and said, “Pay up.”
Glaring, Cassidy snapped, “No way! This isn’t proof!”
“Look at her neck! She looks like she’s been attached by an Acromantula!” Caroline pointed in Andy’s direction for emphasis.
“Miranda?” Andy called out weakly towards the office door. “Help?”
The twins exchanged unreadable looks before turning in unison and darting back into the office. Swearing softly, Andy dropped the plate onto the kitchen counter, where it clattered, and chased after the twins. The two of them crossed their arms in the centre of the office, craning their necks to stare up at the open second floor. There near the balustrade, Miranda stood, wrapped in a pale bedsheet that was the same shade as her face. Andy’s bra dangled from the banister and she snatched it up, hiding it behind her back.
Grumbling under her breath, Cassidy handed over a Galleon to a triumphant Caroline, who grinned and flicked it up into the air with her thumb before pocketing it.
With a clearing of her throat, Miranda gathered every last shred of dignity she could muster and lifted her chin. “What - ah - what are you doing back here so soon? I thought you weren’t due until tomorrow evening.”
“We got out of class early,” Cassidy explained, just as Caroline rolled her eyes and said, “We sent word to your office after tea.”
“Ah.” Miranda shifted guiltily and pulled the sheet more tightly around her torso when it threatened to slip down to her waist.
Retreating a step, Andy jerked her thumbs over one shoulder in a faint gesture towards the front door. “I should -”
“Oh, no no no,” Caroline said in a mocking sing-song tone. “Please, don’t go, Andrea.” She emphasised Andy’s name the way Miranda might have said it, earning a disapproving glare from her mother that had absolutely no effect.
“Yeah, can you make more sandwiches? Those looked good,” Cassidy added.
“Girls -” Miranda began, but was cut off by the grumble of her own stomach. Her cheeks went pink. Shooting Andy a contrite look, Miranda asked delicately, “Sandwiches, you said?”
With knowing grins, Caroline and Cassidy started back towards the kitchen, each twin grabbing one of Andy’s arms and hauling her along. “Make yourself decent,” Caroline called over her shoulder to her mother. “We’ll be in the kitchen.”
They only released her from their clutches when the three of them entered the kitchens. Caroline and Cassidy rounded the island and perched themselves atop the seats there to better study Andy. Shifting uncomfortably beneath their unblinking stares, Andy busied herself with making more sandwiches with the ingredients she had thankfully left out not long before. Without asking, Caroline and Cassidy helped themselves to what Andy had already made, pulling out two more plates from one of the cabinets with a wave of their wands and dividing the food between themselves.
Caroline removed the top slice of bread from her sandwich. “You’ll need to make sure she eats more regularly.”
“She forgets when she’s at home.” Cassidy picked out the slices of tomato from her sandwich wedge, placing them on Caroline’s plate, where they were then taken by Caroline and added to her own sandwich.
Watching their orchestrated eating rituals, Andy finished cutting up what remained of the tomato atop the wooden board and mumbled, “I figured.”
“And never wear tartan,” Caroline warned with a grave expression as she picked up her sandwich and tore into it with her teeth.
“And only wear yellow on Tuesdays.” Cassidy began ticking items off on the fingers of one hand.
Slowly layering up two more sandwiches, Andy stared at the twins. “Do you guys have a list or something you give to potential suitors? Because I’m not going to lie -- that would be really handy.”
Cheeks bulging with food, the twins looked at one another and some unspoken message passed between them before they shrugged in unison. “We can draft something up for you,” Cassidy replied.
Caroline grinned. “But you’ll owe us big time.”
“Of course, it comes with conditions. Great.” With a sigh, Andy crossed to the sink to pour herself a glass of water. “Like mother like daughters.”
Like all true teenagers, the twins seemed trapped between looking simultaneously pleased and insulted at the implication that they resembled their parents in any form or fashion. Before they could protest outloud however, Miranda strode from the office in her robes, looking immaculate and leaving Andy as the most underdressed person in the room by an imperial mile. Fan-fucking-tastic.
As Miranda drew closer though, Andy spotted her lack of makeup and a rumpled quality to her normally iron-pressed robes. She crossed the kitchen and lowered herself into one of the high-backed stools beside Caroline and Cassidy, directly across the island from Andy. When Andy slid the plate of sandwiches towards her, Miranda took one and murmured primly, “Thank you, Andrea.”
The twins looked between Miranda and Andy, wearing little smirks that made Andy more nervous than facing down deadly magical beasts ever did. Shoulders squared, Miranda picked up a sandwich slice and took a stab at normalcy by asking, “How is school?”
Gamely, the girls played along, rambling on about Cassidy’s crush on a Hufflepuff boy -- a rumour Cassidy herself hotly denied -- about Caroline’s latest victory as a Chaser on the Quidditch pitch, about Cassidy’s top marks in Herbology from Professor Longbottom, and even about their numerous run-ins with Headmistress McGonagall, which only seemed to amuse Miranda, if anything.
After a suitable length of time, Miranda sent the twins marching off to bed. Cassidy rolled her eyes and Caroline winked at Andy, who returned the gesture with a flimsy wave and an uneasy turn of her stomach. As soon as they’d vanished up the stairs to their rooms, Miranda cleared the mess the four of them had made on the kitchen island with a gesture of her wand. She said nothing to Andy. No matter how she tried, Andy couldn’t bear to break the untenable silence that fell in the twins’ absence.
Finally Andy started towards the office and announced. “I’ll get dressed and go.”
“Oh, stay,” Miranda snapped, rising from her seat. “If you don’t, they’ll just accuse me of driving you away, come morning.”
Stopping at the threshold of the office, Andy stared at Miranda, who refused to meet her eye. “Listen, Miranda, if the twins have to twist your arm in order for you to let me stay the night, then I should really go.”
Miranda crossed her arms in a defensive stance. “Who said I didn’t want you to stay the night?” Then she walked past Andy and into the office, making her way back towards the stairs and the bed awaiting them. “I’m on the right side. No exceptions. And if I wake up to start working in the middle of the night, don’t interrupt me.”
Trailing after her, Andy said, “I - uh - I snore?” When Miranda shot her a dirty look over her shoulder, Andy raised her hands. “What? I thought we were sharing?”
Miranda climbed the spiral staircase and crossed to the bed, running her hand along the silky grained wooden banister as she went. “My husbands -” She cleared her throat, coming to a halt and turning away to start taking off her robes. “Well, the others stayed upstairs. This has always been my space.”
“Oh.” Andy’s steps slowed and she leaned against the railing. She fiddled with the belt of the bathrobe while she watched Miranda undress. “I can sleep in another bed if you prefer?”
Black robes slipped from Miranda’s shoulders to the floor. In her silk shift, Miranda stepped towards the bed and sank onto the mattress. “That’s not what I meant to imply.”
Andy picked nervously at a loose thread unspooling from the grey fabric of the belt. She babbled, “I know -- I mean -- No, I didn’t know. This is new to me, too, and I don’t want to overstep any boundaries or -- Just be clear with me, alright? If I do something dumb, just tell me and I’ll -”
“Get in the bed.”
When the bartender at the Leaky Cauldron dropped a full bottle of firewhiskey onto their table, Emily’s eyebrows rose. “Bloody hell, Nigel. I know work has been bad, but -”
“Trust me,” Nigel unscrewed the top and began pouring them all glasses. “You’ll need it.”
Fidgeting in her seat, Andy said, “So, did you guys manage to open that store in New York on time?”
“By the skin of our teeth,” Emily answered, catching her glass as Nigel slid it towards her across the table. “And then I slept like the dead for a whole weekend.”
“Cheers to that,” Nigel murmured, raising his own glass and tapping it against Emily’s. The two of them drained their shots while Andy merely sipped at hers, relishing the burn as it slid down her throat.
Sitting back in her chair, Emily fixed Andy with a hard look. “Are you finally going to tell me what’s going on with you? Or are you going to breathe fire at me again if I ask?”
“I -” Andy glanced nervously at Nigel.
In reply, Nigel held up his hands. “I haven’t told her anything.”
“Well, the cat’s out of the bag now, anyway,” Andy sighed. “The twins found out.”
Eyes widening, Nigel asked, “Did they -?” He cut himself off and mimed walking with two of his fingers.
“No, they didn’t walk in on us. Thank God.”
Creeping suspicion began to dawn on Emily’s face. “I must be going stark raving, because it sounds like you’re implying that Andy -- our Andy -- is sleeping with Miranda. And that would be -” She laughed at the idea, and the sound tinged on the border of hysteric. “- completely mad!”
Andy and Nigel exchanged looks -- Andy’s guilty, Nigel’s amused.
Emily reached for the bottle and rasped hoarsely, “Oh, Jesus fucking Christ.”
By the time Andy finally saw the upstairs master bedroom, she and Miranda had been dating for over two months. Begrudgingly and with a great deal more grumbling than was proper for a witch of her age, Miranda allowed herself to be physically pried away from her work and up two flights of stairs to a bed that was more than two mattresses stacked atop one another on the floor. When Andy pointed out that no matter how expensive said mattresses were didn’t change the fact that they lacked a proper bed frame, Miranda glowered fiercely. For all her veneer of grand inclinations, Miranda clung to her creature comforts like a bowtruckle to wandwood.
The darkened master bedroom glittered with motes of dust as Andy opened the door, admitting a flood of light from the hallway. Blinking at the sterile hospital whites and blues of the room -- so sharp a contrast to the rest of the house -- Andy said, “I think I can see why you prefer the office now.”
Miranda hummed an annoyed note in the back of her throat, but swept into the room nonetheless. She crinkled her nose and waved at a plume of dust that floated up from the duvet when she sat on the bed. “I’ll be having words with the House Elf service I employ about their lacklustre efforts.” Then after a pause she added, “Though their last orders concerning this room may have come from Stephen. In which case -”
From the doorway Andy stared at her incredulously. “You haven’t slept in this room for two years?”
Miranda lifted her chin, but no amount of hauteur could hide the touch of pink on her cheeks. “No,” she growled.
“Do you think his stuff is still here?” Andy asked in a hushed voice, her eyes darting to the closed doors of the walk-in closet.
With a nonchalant shrug, Miranda replied, “How should I know?”
“Ok, as your current paramour or whatever, I have my concerns.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, Andrea.”
“Oh, I’m dramatic, am I? Look who’s talking!” Andy spluttered, gesturing to Miranda, who sat proudly on the edge of a marital bed that she hadn’t slept in for two years after her second divorce.
No sooner had Miranda rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to retort however, than Andy’s wand slipped from the pocket of her robes and tumbled across the floor amidst a shower of gleeful green sparks that singed the carpet. Andy took a swipe at it, but the wand evaded her best efforts and rolled over to a stop at Miranda’s feet. There its tip shone from green to brilliant gold as Miranda stared down at it.
Bending over, Miranda picked it up off the floor and the moment her fingers touched it, the sparks began to drip with flames. “How long has it been doing this?”
With a grimace, Andy answered, “Since I bought it. That’s how it chose me.” She hesitated before walking across the room to stand in front of Miranda. “Nigel implied it was something that needed to be fixed.”
One of Miranda’s eyebrows rose and she sniffed, derisive. “And he wonders why I haven’t promoted him,” she muttered under her breath. With a brief brusque shake, she halted the wand’s effusive response. Handing the wand out to Andy, handle-first, Miranda said, “There’s nothing wrong with your wand. It’s perfectly suited to you.”
A smile pulled at the corners of Andy’s mouth. “I know that.”
When she took the wand, it warmed beneath her touch, sending an electric current running straight up her arm. Miranda must have felt it, too, for she jerked her hand back and shook out her fingers with a frown. Aiming her scowl at the damage Andy’s wand had done during its adventure, Miranda muttered, “Well, I suppose it’s past time I redecorated in here anyway.”
“Sorry,” Andy said, pocketing her wand, but Miranda waved the apology away. Tentative, Andy sat beside her on the bed, and together they looked out at the massive empty room. “You know,” Andy began when Miranda remained silent with her hands clasped firmly in her lap, “This is the only room that doesn’t feel like home.”
Miranda stared at her. Flushing at how that must have sounded -- admitting that Miranda’s townhouse felt like home at all -- Andy continued, “Not that my apartment doesn’t feel like home either, just that your place is -- you know -- nice.” She winced at her own word choice.
“How on earth were you ever hired by a newspaper?” Miranda drawled.
Andy nudged Miranda’s shoulder with her own. “I had a good reference.”
At that, Miranda laughed with a rueful shake of her head.
Smiling, Andy reached over to trail her fingers along Miranda’s thigh, scrawling soothing but not suggestive patterns with her fingertips. After a moment in which Miranda’s clenched hands relaxed somewhat, a bit of colour returning to her bloodless knuckles, Andy said, “Do you remember back in the Arctic? You asked me how I got into Slytherin.”
“I remember your dissatisfactory answer, yes,” Miranda replied, but despite the dry tone of her voice she held one hand flat so that Andy could draw nonsense patterns across the sensitive skin of her palm and inner wrist.
Andy chewed on her bottom lip before announcing, “You can’t tell anyone. Not a single living soul.”
Miranda scoffed. “Have I ever struck you as the chatty type?”
Andy’s fingertips quickened their path along the long lines Miranda’s palms. A single stripe of light extended from the open door and touched their ankles. Andy took a deep breath. “It’s dumb, really. I was a hatstall. Sat there in front of everyone for the longest five minutes of my life. Nobody had told me much about the Houses, and the House structure isn’t really a thing in America so I was already confused. I looked out at all those tables with their fancy banners and whatnot and thought ‘green is my favourite colour’ and the next thing I knew I was being pushed over to Slytherin.”
“I spent years thinking I’d been sorted into the wrong House. Everyone who knew me said so, too. They made convincing arguments for pretty much every other House. I hardly spent any time in my own common room. I never got along well with other Slytherins.” With a self-deprecating smile, Andy tapped an uneven rhythm along Miranda’s fingertips before spreading her hand out so that their palms both lay flush together. “Isn’t it funny? I didn’t realise the Sorting Hat had made the right choice until after I’d left Hogwarts.”
Her smiled faded when she glanced up to find Miranda watching her with a soft warm expression. In the dark, her eyes gleamed a blue so pale to appear silver. Miranda laced their fingers together and murmured, “I can’t imagine you anywhere else.”