"You’re a fire person. What you’re most like is marsh-fire; […] you got witch-oil in your soul."
- Philip Pullman, Northern Lights
Andy’s wand had a puckish and unfortunate fondness for hide and seek. Far too often she would pat down her robes only to find it missing, and with a beleaguered sigh she would go a-hunting under chairs and couches, cushions and work desks. There it would sequester itself in impish self-satisfaction, glowing faintly, then brighter the closer she drew. When at last she swiped it up into her hand once more, the wand would shoot a flurry of cheerful sparks, warmth radiating up her arm and past her elbows until she shushed it with an admonishing shake. Even from the beginning it had done this, clattering from a box high upon a shelf at the candle-lit wand shop and rolling across the floor to a nudging halt at the toe of her leather-soled shoes. When Andy had picked it up at the time it was only with the intention of placing it neatly back in its box and handing it over to the shop's assistant, but the wood had flashed hot in her fingers, searing itself in place like a brand, like a heady promise, like it had -- at long last -- found a home worth having.
Now, bruised and battered from its many roaming adventures across the years and across many a floor, it settled in a fold of her faded, self-patched robes. She patted herself down just to make sure that the wand was still there, and only when she felt it press against her forearm did Andy breathe a sigh of relief. Arms crossed, she gripped its handle and clenched her teeth, trying and failing not to look down.
Immediately Andy wrenched her head back up with a suppressed squeak, looking towards the ceiling. Suspended miles above the ground, the Elias-Clarke office building had been enchanted to float among the sea of stormy clouds high over London, and though Andy knew at least four dozen stories extended beneath her feet, all she could see was a boiling mass of grey streaked with tines of lightning. She flinched, expecting thunder, but the silence that followed was deafening.
Miranda Priestly on the other hand simply licked her finger and turned a page of The Daily Prophet. Upon a high-backed throne-like chair she sat, perched at her enormous desk, surrounded by a sea of crystal and glass -- from the gold-veined quartz of her seat to the mirrored edges of every countertop. Her spectacles gleamed in the flash of lightning. In her dark robes, she cut an opposing figure to her environment. Severely, sleekly Victorian. Peaked shoulders. High-throated collar bound with an emerald the size of a quail's egg that probably cost more than Andy's entire apartment complex down in Barking and Dagenham.
"So," Miranda began, still not looking up. She hadn't bothered to do so even when Andy had stepped into the room, or when Andy's CV had fluttered down like an origami bird and unfolded itself at her elbow. "You want to work at The Wand and the Way?"
Andy kept her arms crossed, feeling the comforting corner of her wand's hilt against one palm. "Yes," she announced as firmly as she knew how.
"And you hadn't heard of me or this establishment before today?"
As Miranda turned another page of The Prophet, Andy stifled the urge to blurt out that she'd much rather be working there at that newspaper than at a place like this. At least The Prophet's offices were firmly underground. Instead, Andy admitted, "That's correct."
Without looking, Miranda reached to one side and pulled Andy's CV over the article she currently read, skimming its contents. Her eyebrows rose and at last she glanced up at Andy over the rim of her spectacles. "It says here you were in Slytherin."
Andy squirmed under the weight of Miranda's scrutiny, those cold eyes taking inventory of every poorly-sewn patch in Andy's robes and of the faint hint of ash still lingering at the tips of Andy's hair from when she had arrived in the lobby by floo powder. Andy hadn't seen the point in listing her Hogwarts House on her CV, but the woman at HR had been insistent, as if it were some kind of wizarding Myers-Briggs test. "Yes. I'm assuming you were, too?"
Miranda's expression hardly changed -- a tightening around the mouth, a hardening around the eyes. If anything, she looked insulted at the notion that she and Andy had ever shared so much as a House. In absolute silence, rain pelted the glass ceiling, the glass walls; sheets of it dripped from the claw-footed legs of Miranda's chair and to the unseen city sprawled far below. She tapped at Andy's CV with her thumb, an intermittent pattern broken by the rolling drum of her fingernails.
When no confirmation followed, Andy cleared her throat. She gripped the hilt of her wand tighter and comforted herself with the fact that at least it hadn't gone running off somewhere embarrassing. The thought of crawling around beneath Miranda's desk in search of it sent a flare of panic lancing through her stomach. "As you can see," Andy nodded to the CV, "I earned Exceeds Expectations in all my courses, with an Outstanding in Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures. In my fifth year, I started my own paper, The Hogwarts Courier, which is still running today, and -"
Before Andy could finish, Miranda waved her away with both hands and a bored look, already turning her attention back to The Daily Prophet. "That's all," she announced, voice soft yet final.
In shock Andy stared as Miranda pulled a long dark wand from her robes and touched its tip to Andy's CV, setting the paper alight. The edges of the page blackened and curled and with a flourish of her wand Miranda siphoned the ashes away while she picked up where she left off in that morning’s paper.
With an incredulous huff of laughter, Andy turned to leave. Her chest burned with shame and something else, something that fumed at the indignation of it all -- all of this, this entire encounter. Her wand bristled beneath her hand, thorny and demanding in her grasp. She hadn't taken more than three steps when she whirled around in the doorway, teeth clenched, jaw set. "You know what?" Andy said, and Miranda peered up, removing her glasses upon hearing the steely note in Andy's voice. "I would do very well as your assistant, whatever you may think. I'm smart. I'm driven. I learn fast. And I'd work harder than anyone you could -"
The glass doors behind Andy opened, and an immaculately dressed wizard brushed by her, mid-speech. Carrying an open case in his arms, he spoke over Andy and swept over to Miranda's desk to place the case before her as one might place an offering before some god or ancient queen: with delicacy and careful decorum. "I have the core samples from Wolfe, but the Thunderbird feathers weren't properly packaged and now they look like someone ran them through a damn printing press. They've lost all their spark! I'm at my wits end!"
At that, Miranda looked away once more, frowning at the case and its contents. Sighing, Andy shook her head, finally uncrossing her arms, letting go of her wand. "Great. Yes," she muttered, stomping from the office. "Thank you for the interview."
The witch at the desk who had screened her earlier -- Emily -- didn't bother to stop scribbling at the many memos flitting from her desk and into the little chimney that puffed in the corner near the cloak closet. She merely flicked her eyes dismissively over Andy as she left. It wasn't until Andy was dipping her hand into the pot of iridescent floo powder in the lobby that she heard someone calling her name, and glancing around, saw Emily waving her back.
"You got a job at a fashion magazine?" Nate sounded as sceptical as Andy felt. A waiter leaned over the table to pour them drinks, red wine sloshing in fat round glasses.
Andy grimaced. "Yeah," she lied. The cover story for The Wand and The Way left something to be desired; nobody said witches and wizards were the most creative when it came to hiding the truth from muggles. Runway, fashion magazine extraordinaire wasn’t even the worst of the lot.
"That makes no sense!" Lily laughed, picking up her glass and taking an emphatic sip. "You hate fashion!"
"I don't hate fashion!" Andy insisted with a grumble. After leaving the Elias-Clarke building, she had discarded her bulky, second-hand robes in favour of jeans and a light sweater. She may have spent several years away from the muggle world, but being muggle-born and raised, and with a friend group composed almost entirely of muggles, she prided herself on having a modicum of fashion sense. Better than most wizards and witches she encountered.
"Do I need to bring up The Robe Incident?" Doug teased.
Groaning, Andy dropped her head to the table. "Not again! That horse is dead, you guys!"
After a gruelling few weeks of O.W.Ls Andy had been picked up from King's Cross in her robes after a particularly long train ride from Hogwarts. At the time Andy, had been able to skirt around the truth by claiming that they were in fact scholarly dress required by the university during examinations. The others had all bought it -- plenty of prestigious muggle schools required that sort of thing -- but they never let her live it down.
Laughing, Lily said, "That horse is dead when we say it's dead. And right now, we say it's just gone out to pasture."
Doug raised his wine, and he and Lily touched glasses with a clink as though toasting a great victory. Andy scowled at them in mock irritation, wrenching open her mouth to fire back a line of her own when her pocket burned. She sat bolt upright, knees banging against the table. "Ow!" She winced as she extricated herself from her seat, rising to her feet. "Sorry, guys! I need to take this! It’s work."
"Already?" Doug asked. "That was quick!"
Rushing towards the door, Andy left the restaurant, digging around in her pocket for the metal coin that warmed against her hip. With all the appearance of a fat golden Galleon, the coin's engraved contents shifted with a Protean charm, taking shape into Andy's first work-related message -- one of many to come. Why wizards refused to move to more modern electronic messaging never failed to befuddle her. She was walking down the street towards the tube, when she heard the restaurant door open and close behind her.
"Andy!" Nate shouted. The soles of his sneakers slapped against the pavement as he chased along after her, waving her battered wand in his hand. "You forgot your -- uh -- stick?"
Back at Hogwarts all her friends had told Andy that she’d been sorted into the wrong House. She loathed the cold and damp, the stark stone rotunda of the Slytherin common room and avoided it whenever possible. She spent her days in the Herbology greenhouses or among the magical creatures scattered along the groundskeeper’s enclosures. She haunted the warmth of the kitchen fireplaces so often the House Elves knew her by name. They would leave tea and biscuits for her on the bricks. She befriended Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors and the rare Ravenclaw, hopping from House table to House table in the Great Hall, but never sitting at her own. She covered the green collars and neckties of her robes with lumpy grey scarves. Most Slytherins hardly recognised her on campus let alone elsewhere, and after a time she stopped trying to avoid their gazes and simply passed beneath them, content to do her own work on her own time, left -- as she preferred -- to her own ambitions.
Now, years later, she was trapped in a building full to bursting with ex-Slytherins, unable to escape.
Andy sat at her desk while Emily towered over her. Emily stood shorter than herself, but boy did she know how to loom. “If I’m not here you are chained to that desk, and I mean it.” Emily was saying, dispensing instructions in that clipped tone of hers. “All notes and memos must be answered and logged into the Protean Calendar. White parchment is for missives. Cream parchment is for calendar updates. Don’t muck it up like the last girl. She once sent a Protean update through the chimney system and it was chaos for the whole week. She now works as a dishwasher at the Leaky Cauldron.”
Glancing down at her desk, Andy was surprised to find she wasn’t already attached to its leg by a manacle. Beside a plain brass-nibbed quill and inkwell set, there sat two stacks of paper that to her eyes appeared exactly the same. “Don’t mix up the two identical colours,” she quipped. “Got it.”
Emily glared at her. “This is not a joking matter. Witches and wizards from all over the world clamour over themselves to meet with Miranda Priestly. She’s only a legend of wandcraft! It is a privilege just to watch her work up close! I had to train for a year overseas to get this job, and you just waltz in here like it’s nothing! No preparation! No zeal! No fashion sense to speak of! You wear muggle shoes, for Christ’s sake!” Emily gestured to Andy, who had sunk further and further into her seat the longer the speech went on. “Honestly how were you a Slytherin? We couldn’t have been more than a year apart. I don’t recall ever seeing you in the common room.”
“I made myself scarce and spent most of my time in the Hufflepuff common room,” Andy grumbled.
Emily snorted, eyeing up Andy’s waistline. “For the nearby kitchens, no doubt. Anyway, I need to go down to the Magical Cores department and take inventory of our stock for this afternoon. Miranda hates it when all the materials aren’t exactly so, and those idiots in the warehouses always manage to muck it up somehow.” She jabbed her finger in Andy’s direction with a stern growl, “Don’t move from that spot unless Miranda herself tells you otherwise! I’ll be back shortly.”
She left. No sooner had Andy breathed a sigh of relief, sitting up straighter, than she heard a soft voice from the nearby office.
“Emily? Emily?” Miranda called.
Craning her neck to peer down the hallway down which Emily just left, Andy fiddled with the quill at her desk for a moment, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth before Miranda said yet again, “Emily?” at which Andy leapt to her feet and scurried into the office, wondering if Miranda would notice the difference between her and Emily if she quickly dyed her hair with her wand.
Upon her entry however, Nigel and Miranda only glanced up; Nigel with a cursory once-over at Andy’s darned robes; Miranda with an exasperated slant to her mouth. “There you are, Emily. How many times do I have to -?”
“Actually it’s Andy.”
Nigel stared at her. Still holding open a case of carved wandwood, he took a discrete step away from Miranda, who smiled, the kind of smile Andy remembered seeing on a lion in a zoo before it ate a live goat, a slow baring of teeth. She did not seem to need to blink; she watched Andy with the fixedness of a great serpent. “I need the latest numbers from our shops in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade Village, as well as the hazel and hornbeam from Wiseacres. And tell Isolt I won’t hear of it; if he tries to use laurel again, it won’t take. He was lucky last time, and he thinks it counts as sheer brilliance. Get a hold of my husband and confirm dinner tonight at Obertelli’s. Then I need you to get a hold of Johannes and tell him I can do three, not four. If he insists on four, tell him I said he’s being unreasonable and remind him that last time he only needed two.”
As she spoke her eyes went cold and steely, watching Andy scramble for a note in the pocket of her robes, a sneer curling her lip when the gesture showed Andy’s converse sneakers peeking beneath the hems. Miranda began to turn away as Andy scribbled furiously with a spare quill, but Andy asked, “Three of what? Sorry?”
Rather than answer, Miranda stared at her until Andy lowered her trembling gaze. Then she waved one hand and dismissed Andy with a calm: “That’s all.”
Hands shaking, nearly crushing her notes and quill in her fists, Andy fled. She was still fretting back at her desk, trying to remember exactly what Miranda had said, trying to decipher her own cramped shaky handwriting, when Emily returned. Her heeled boots clacked as she strode with purpose across the glass floors, a storm billowing beneath her feet, and as she went she ticked off items in a little black book which vanished in a wisp of smoke when she snapped it shut. Taking in the sight of Andy, frazzled and frantically scrawling something on a piece of parchment, Emily demanded, “What happened? I was only away for two bloody minutes!”
“She -!” Andy took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and listed off everything she could recall. “She wanted numbers from some shops, and wood from Wiseacres. And Isolt shouldn’t use laurel, and Johannes only needs two?”
When she opened her eyes once more, Emily was shaking her head and searching Andy’s face for answers. “Did she say what kind of wood? Genus? Lustre? And two of what?”
“I don’t know!” Andy lowered her voice to a hasty whisper. “I tried asking her, but -!”
“You never ask Miranda anything!” Emily hissed. Then she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose in that careful way so as not to smudge her thickly applied cosmetics. “I will take care of this. And you -! You will go to Diagon Alley and visit Wiseacres. Calvin will take care of everything there; he’s the shopkeeper. Ask the receptionist in the lobby for directions if you don’t know where Wiseacres is. Apparition is quickest.”
“I - uh -” Andy gave an apologetic grimace. “I actually don’t apparate.”
“You don’t or you can’t?”
“Oh, I can!”
“Then I don’t see the problem.” Emily snapped her fingers, re-summoning her little black book in a tuft of bluish smoke.
“I splinched myself!” Andy admitted, arms crossed, hands clenched into fists in the folds of her robes. “Very badly. I don’t apparate. I don’t like it.”
Pausing over the notebook, her finger scrolling down the many perfect neat lines of text she had written, Emily relented with an exasperated shake of her head. “That’s -! It will take longer but -! Oh, very well! Take the chimney, then! But hurry!”
Andy hurried. It wasn’t nearly fast enough. By the time she returned, a leather briefcase stuffed full of hazel and hornbeam under each arm, there was already a litany of new tasks for her to perform. Miranda’s twin girls had just headed off to Hogwarts and needed new robes for their Houses: blue trim for Cassidy, green trim for Caroline. Beauvais needed specimen samples from Miranda’s latest dragon’s heart harvesting in order to treat the chords into strings. The lime wood shipment from Turkey had gotten mixed up in logistics and needed tracking down somewhere between Calais and Bursa. The twins needed new broomsticks and nothing less than top of the line Firebolt Supremes would do.
Nigel took the cases of hazel and hornbeam from her with a knowing grin, and with a grateful smile Andy sprinted off to the lobby chimney once more.
Andy never would get used to the silence of the rain-lashed windows. A week as Miranda Priestly's second assistant, and still Andy found herself staring at the floor beneath her feet with a shudder. Fear of heights had never been an issue in the past. Then again, fear of heights had never been quite this pressing or quite this ubiquitous. Perhaps she would buy a floor mat for her chair. At least then she wouldn't feel like she was going to spontaneously plummet to her death through the clouds while she wrote at her desk.
The door to her left opened, and in strode Nigel absent his customary supply case. Instead of breezing right by her into Miranda's office like he normally did, he stopped at Andy's desk and cocked his head. Andy stopped what she was doing, her hand slowing around the quill so that a dot of ink collected on the parchment. "Hi," Andy greeted him, looking over her shoulder when he did not immediately answer to check that Emily hadn't suddenly apparated behind her.
“Let me guess.” Nigel squinted at her behind his glasses, making him appear more owlish than ever. After a long moment of scrutiny, he pointed at her and announced, “Hufflepuff.”
"I - uh -" Andy replied eloquently.
"No?" Nigel rubbed at his chin, contemplative. "Alright, alright. Ravenclaw, like me."
Shaking her head, she set her quill in its matching inkwell and opened her mouth to correct him.
"No, don't tell me!" he sighed in resignation. "I suppose I should have guessed you'd be a Gryffindor. It takes balls the size of continental shelves to wrangle a job with The Dragon the way you did."
"The Dragon?" Andy repeated. "What on earth -?"
She trailed off when he gaped at her, aghast. "No!" he gasped. Then he laughed, laughed until he had to remove his spectacles to wipe at his eyes. "Slytherin? You?"
As he continued to chuckle, Andy glared. She crossed her arms and immediately felt the absence of her wand. With a sigh, she pushed her chair back and dropped to the floor on her hands and knees, searching for it. Nigel stepped back from her desk, ducking down to grin at her while she rummaged and crawled around for her wand. "How did the Sorting Hat decide that little conundrum? Oh, to have been a pixie on the wall of that conversation!"
Grabbing her wand from where it had rolled beneath a cabinet that held an endless supply of enchanted memo pages, Andy grumbled, "That's private."
"Well, Private, you might want to hurry up and finish sweeping the ground for landmines, because I can see Miranda heading this way as we speak."
Andy scrambled to her feet, sparks cascading to the floor in a narrow stream from the tip of her wand. Frantically, she shushed it as she rushed back to her desk to straighten the mess of memos strewn across the surface. Nigel watched her with raised eyebrows. He fluttered his fingers in the direction of her wand. “Does it always do that?”
“Yeah.” Andy shook the wand until its little fireworks display of excitement faded, at which point she stuffed it back out of sight, firmly into its allocated fold in her robes. “Ever since I first bought it.”
“You know, you now work with one of the world’s most prestigious wandmakers.” Nigel pointed out. “I could fix it for you, if you want -?”
Tidying up her desk with a scowl, Andy snapped, “There’s nothing wrong with it! It’s just -- I don’t know! Enthusiastic!”
She fell silent, lowering her gaze as Miranda swept into the room followed by a short squat man with a wide-set face that quivered with heavy jowls. Andy managed to seat herself at her desk and comb her fingers through her hair by the time the two of them approached.
"Out of the question, Irv," Miranda was saying. "The board can dictate many terms to me, but I will oversee my own creative processes as I see fit." Sweeping off her heavy velvet cloak and dumping it atop Andy's desk, nearly upsetting an inkwell in the process, Miranda clearly intended to finish the conversation in her office. She stormed off without sparing a glance at Andy or Nigel, and she would have continued had Irv not stopped in front of Andy's desk.
"Good morning, Nigel." Irv greeted, though he quickly disregarded Nigel's response to direct a smile at Andy. "And who do we have here? Another new face? You run through assistants like eggs through a golden goose, Miranda."
Miranda paused at the doors to her office, briefly raking her eyes over Andy before replying with a sneer, "Last I checked, I could hire and fire whomsoever I pleased. Unless you think the board should also be informed as to the finer details of my second assistant?"
"Someone clearly hasn't had their coffee yet," Irv gave Miranda a thin smile, before holding out his long-fingered hand to Andy. "A pleasure to meet you, Miss -?"
Andy had to stand up and reach down over the table to shake his hand. It slid against the skin of her palm, cool and sweaty. "Sachs. I'm Andy Sachs."
"Well, Miss Sachs, you should count yourself very fortunate. Very fortunate indeed. A million witches would kill for this job."
"A million witches would have gotten my coffee by now," Miranda interrupted with a look both hawkish and brumal in Andy's direction.
Pulling her hand back and discretely wiping it off on the side of her robes, Andy squeaked. "Sorry, Miranda."
As Andy whipped out her wand and summoned a mug from the air, Miranda tilted her head towards her office and said to Irv, "We should finish our discussion in private."
"I think I've said everything I wanted to for the moment." He pointed a long crooked finger at Miranda as if in warning. "The demands of the board aren't unreasonable, Miranda. And you know it."
"I know nothing of the sort," Miranda sniffed, watching him stride off down the hall with an implacable expression. Her hand rested on the handle of the door, and she drummed her fingers against its silvery edge, tonguing at the side of her cheek in a thoughtful manner. She seemed to snap back to reality when Andy tapped the side of the mug with her wand, filling it with fresh, aromatic coffee. Yanking the door to her office open and entering, Miranda snapped over her shoulder, "Unlike some of my previous assistants, my cloak won't hang itself."
Andy gaped after her, aghast. The mug began to overflow, hot coffee spilling across her shoes and splattering across Miranda's cloak. Andy swore. She cleared it all away with a wave of her wand, turning the cloak over to thumb at its underside and ensure not a single drop stained the fabric.
Nigel watched her, his eyebrows arching in near perfect half-circles over the rims of his spectacles. "At least you waited to do that until after she was gone. Congratulations on meeting one of our esteemed Directors by the way. Or should I say: my condolences? If I were you, I’d check to make sure you still have all your fingers.”
Still fretting over the cloak, Andy shot him an unimpressed look. “Just because he’s half goblin doesn’t mean he’s a crook. He’s still a wizard, Nigel.”
"Ah, you noticed that ancestry of his, did you? A touchy subject. I wouldn't mention it to him, if I were you. As for the other allegation -- well. You know what they say about goblins: tiny man; big plans. I wouldn’t trust Irv Ravitz to tell me the colour of a unicorn." Andy only bent half an ear to what Nigel said, trying to balance Miranda’s cloak in one hand and open the closet with the other while still holding the mug of coffee.
Miranda’s voice called softly from her office, “Emily, get me James Holt."
At the sound of Miranda’s voice, Andy only just managed to hang the cloak and not drop the mug. Nigel took pity on her. He pried the coffee from her hand and, walking towards Miranda's office, said, "Welcome to the family."
"She's awful! She's completely and totally awful!" Andy stabbed at the food on her plate hard enough that the tines of her fork left scratches against the cheap porcelain.
"Woah! Calm down there, killer!" Nate reached across the table with a soft smile and a softer look in his eyes, placing a hand on her wrist. He rubbed at the back of her hand with his thumb. "I'm all about death to the evil boss lady, but spare my poor plate, please?"
Sighing, Andy closed her eyes. Even now she could see seared across the velvety backs of her eyelids the negatives of all the notes she had written that day, her hand cramping, going cross-eyed by the time seven thirty in the evening rolled around. "Sorry. I'm just -! You know she basically implied that she drove a girl to suicide? More than once!"
"Yes, you told me. More than once." He let go of her, but his smile remained soft. The space on the table in front of him was clear -- he'd already cooked, eaten and cleaned up by the time Andy returned home late that evening. Her own plate was piled high with food he'd gathered up and left out for her. "That's ridiculous though. She couldn't have actually done that, right?"
With a snort, Andy jabbed her fork full of food and stuffed it into her mouth. "No, but I wouldn't put it past her. She's basically the devil. Did I tell you what they call her at the office?"
"The Dragon," he answered, propping his chin on his fist.
"Yes! I -! Oh." Andy slowed, mumbling guiltily around a mouthful of food. "How many times did I tell you that one?"
"Just a half-dozen. Maybe more." He grinned at her. When she deflated in her chair, he soothed. "Hey. None of that, now. I don't mind listening, but you have been talking about nothing but Miranda Priestly for days."
"Sorry." Andy pushed her food around her plate. Her chest bubbled with something she couldn't name, an appetite for something other than food. Gaze hardening, she glared down at her plate and then up at Nate. "I won't let her get to me. I won't. I'll prove her wrong."
"Ok, I need to see what this lady looks like if this is the kind of reaction she's getting out of you." Nate laughed, pulling his phone from his pocket and tapping in his security code.
As he opened a browser, Andy looked around, "Why don't you use the laptop?"
With a grimace, his fingers slowed against his phone, "I was going to wait until you'd finished eating to tell you, but -" Nate gestured around the apartment, which to Andy didn't seem any different than when she'd last seen it. Though for the last week she, admittedly, hadn't seen much of it at all. Stumbling in and out for sleep and a shower didn't count. "The apartment was broken into yesterday. My laptop is gone. Don't worry!" He added in a hurry when her eyes widened. "I've already spoken to the police. It was a series of break-ins around the area, and they're pretty sure they caught the guy. I was going to put up cameras outside our door though, just in case. Are you alright with that?"
"Oh my god." Andy swallowed a particularly large bite of food with some difficulty. "Yes! That's fine. Put security cameras everywhere!" Silently she wondered if she could get away with a few anti-burglary charms on the premises before deciding against it; best to not risk breaking the Statute of International Secrecy.
"Well, not everywhere. Just over the front door of the apartment is fine." He waggled his phone. "I'll be hooking it up to this so even if someone destroys the camera, we still have a live feed. Anyway! Let's see what this Dragon is all about!"
Craning her neck, Andy shuffled her chair over, its legs scraping against the wooden floors so she could better see the screen. Nate pulled up a few pictures. His eyebrows rose. Images of Miranda with her impeccably swept hair and her severely cut, elegant robes flicked across his phone. "Christ," he muttered. "She really must be a fashion icon to pull off something like that. You’ve got to admit though -- lady looks good for her age."
With a gasp of faux alarm, she nudged his shoulder with her own.
He chuckled, nudging her back. "What? You don't think so? Look me in the eye and tell me your boss isn't a silver fox."
Andy rolled her eyes, but she didn't say a word to the contrary.
Andy was scribbling away at her memos, getting a head start on stacking them up before she lit the chimney to send everything off for that morning, when a wolf trotted into the office. With a start, she stood slowly so as not to spook it. Leggy and with a luxurious roan-red pelt of fur, the maned wolf watched her approach with large reproachful eyes.
"Hey, buddy. Did you get lost?" Andy murmured in a hushed tone. She looked around with a mutter. "How on earth did you even get in here?"
When Andy stretched out her hand, clutching her wand in the other in case of any sudden movements, the wolf straightened. It kept on straightening, its body lengthening swiftly until Emily stood there, hands on her hips. "If you try to pet me, I'll bite your leg off," she growled.
Snatching her hand back as if Emily had snapped her teeth at her fingers, Andy glowered. “Trust me, you’re not nearly as cuddly now.”
Emily rolled her eyes, but let the comment slide. Rounding her own desk, she stopped, then rounded on Andy, jabbing her finger towards the small chimney set in the wall behind her. “Why isn’t the fire going yet? It’s nearly seven thirty! We should have been receiving memos already!”
“I was just about to get to that.” Andy gestured to her desk, stacked with notes ready to be sent. “I’m way ahead of you, Em.”
Emily’s eyes narrowed. She pulled out her wand and lit the fire, little gouts of black smoke filtering towards the ceiling where they passed, untouched, through the glass and into the atmosphere outside. “I can’t have you mucking anything up for me. Not now. Everything must be perfect. Word on the street is that James Holt, the youngest master wandmaker in a century, is searching for an apprentice.” Emily bit her lower lip and straightened her shoulders, positively preening with excitement. “He could pick anyone. Anyone at all! Well, not you obviously.” Voice suddenly flat, she gestured towards Andy. “Not that you’d want the position, anyway.”
For the sake of good manners -- as well as her own sanity -- Andy elected to ignore that comment and instead used her wand to pull her favourite mug from a cabinet to one side. “Why wouldn’t you aim for being Miranda’s apprentice? Why this guy?”
At that, Emily appeared truly gobsmacked. “It -! Well, I can’t say it wouldn’t be an absolute dream, but it would never happen. Miranda doesn’t take apprentices. She never has. Instead she’s helping James get his start in England, aiming to launch his career overseas with a new apprentice in tow.”
“That seems -” Andy cocked her head, frowning as she placed her mug on the desk before her, “-odd? If she doesn’t take an apprentice, then how does she intend to pass down her godlike wisdom to us lesser mortals?”
“Very funny, Andy,” Emily said in a tone that clearly stated she didn’t find it funny at all. She sat at her own desk and grabbed a piece of parchment from a stack of memos, starting on her own daily correspondence in Miranda’s name. Each time she finished a memo, it slipped from beneath the nib of her quill and folded itself in mid-air, flying itself to a ritual self-immolation in the chimney, where it was immediately transported to another office across the globe. “Miranda doesn’t need an apprentice because she has The Book.”
Andy tapped her cup with the side of her wand, and it filled with freshly brewed tea that scented the air with a floral tang of steam. "And what's so special about a book?"
"Not a book. The Book." Emily looked expectantly at Andy, but when no exclamation of understanding was forthcoming, she groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose, unknowingly leaving a smear of ink there. "The Book. It's only one of the single greatest collations of wandlore in the known world. It's locked up here in London, and at the end of every fortnight one of her assistants takes the book to her townhouse, where Miranda writes down everything she's uncovered. It holds the secrets of over two dozen English-speaking wandmakers' lifetimes, and is perhaps the single most coveted item in wandlore. People would kill for this book."
"And we're just allowed to carry it over to Miranda's place like it's nothing?" Andy snorted around the lip of her mug, "I find that hard to believe."
Emily gave her a nasty look. "It's enchanted to Timbuktu and back, obviously! Every time I so much as touch it through the gloves, I can feel the sting of magic needling my skin. I can't imagine trying to grab hold of it with my bare hands, let alone actually go about opening and reading the bloody thing."
Andy took a sip of her tea, wincing at the heat; she automatically had brewed it to Miranda's standards rather than her own. "I'm assuming wandmakers in other communities have something similar?"
"Not to Miranda’s exacting standards, but yes. They have their own collections of knowledge." Emily sniffed, a derisive sound that explained everything she thought about the legitimacy of other lesser wandlore. "That's what Paris is for. It's an annual convention. All the great wandmakers of the world come together in a different major city every year and chose a topic of discussion. They share what they know for the betterment of wizard kind everywhere."
"Somehow I imagine that's only the official party line."
At that Emily allowed herself a telling smirk, turning back to her memo-writing. "A political metaphor. How apt."
Andy sighed. Politics. Great. She cupped her mug of tea carefully in her lap, warming the palms of her hands until it cooled enough for her to drink. "That's what I was afraid of."
"In any case, you needn't worry about all that." Emily set down her quill, stood and crossed over to the little chimney, which had begun to belch putrid black smoke whenever it took a letter. She pulled out her wand and used it to prod at the chimney, clearing up the smoke in a jiffy. "As the first assistant, I'm the one who gets to attend the conference in Paris. And maybe one day, if you're lucky -- and only once Miranda has deemed you to not be a complete psychopath -- you'll get the honour of carrying The Book."
"Lucky me," Andy muttered under her breath. She took an absent-minded sip of tea, and winced when it scalded her tongue.
Andy was brushing her teeth when Nate called out from the kitchen. "Hey, Andy! I found some of your old school robes on the floor! They looked pretty dirty, so I threw them in the wash!"
Eyes widening, Andy spat toothpaste in the sink and rinsed her mouth. Wearing nothing but two towels -- one wrapped around her torso, the other atop her head -- she sprinted into the kitchen. She pinched the towel firmly across her chest as she bent over to yank the washing machine open. Inside, her only two pairs of wizarding robes were sopping wet, sticking to the sides of the metal drum. With a groan Andy shut the door.
Nate looked up from where he was beating eggs to make an omelette, puzzled. "What's wrong?"
She couldn't just up and say she needed to wear those to work. For a wild moment however, she did consider distracting Nate with a story about desperately needing toilet paper so that she could wash and dry a set of robes with her wand while he was at the supermarket. Checking the clock on the microwave, Andy sighed. No time for that, even. "Nothing," she lied. "They're just delicate is all."
The whisk slowed and Nate tapped it against the side of the glass bowl. "I'll be sure to hang dry them. Don't worry."
"Oh, don't thank me. The currency fairy visited me this morning, thanks to your laundry. Finders, keepers! Now I have enough change for a cup of coffee on the way to work." He began chopping a capsicum, wielding the knife with expert precision. "How many ingredients do you want?"
Andy crossed the room to press a kiss against his cheek before hurrying to the bedroom. "Nothing for me this morning, I'm afraid. I need to run."
Five minutes later, she raced down the street wearing her best slacks and blazer combo, pressing the last crust of a piece of toast that Nate had forced her to take with her. She was still chewing when she skidded into the pub at Barking and made her way into the basement. A long line of fellow magical commuters waited in front of a series of fireplaces. Andy tried to ignore all of the odd looks in her direction, wizards and witches alike doing a double take at the sight of her muggle clothes.
In the Elias-Clarke building itself, people disregarded double takes and went straight to downright staring. From the lobby all the way to her desk in front of Miranda's office, they stopped in their tracks to gape and whisper behind their hands. With a self-conscious clearing of her throat, Andy tugged at the ends of her blazer, pulling it more firmly down her waist. She only breathed a sigh of relief when she rounded the corner to sit at her desk, sinking down into the chair waiting for her there.
Sipping at a cup of tea, Emily looked up from her own work station and nearly choked. "Oh, no! No! Absolutely not!" she spluttered, rising to her feet and crossing quickly over to Andy's desk. As she did so Emily checked down the hallway. "Shoes are one thing but this -! You need to go home and change! Quickly! Before she arrives!"
"Well, I can't. My boyfriend decided he would be extra sweet and helpful this morning, so he washed everything." Andy explained. When Emily only looked at her blankly, Andy said, "He's a muggle. He doesn't know about -- well, anything. And I can't magically whisk my clothes dry in front of him without breaking the law."
"As enthralling as your love life is, you cannot be seen wearing muggle clothes in front of Miranda!" Emily hissed, looking over her shoulder in panic as if Miranda would apparate behind her at any moment. "She hates muggle clothes! Besides, you couldn't possibly only own three pairs of robes! What a ridiculous -!" Emily cut herself off. Upon seeing Andy's uncomfortable squirming in her chair, Emily said flatly, "You only own three pairs of robes."
"Two," Andy corrected her with a wince.
"Oh, my god."
"Look, Em," Andy tried using her most placating tone, her most charming smile, "If it's that big of a deal, I'll just take the chimney to Diagon Alley and buy an extra set from Madam Malkin’s. Problem solved!"
"You bloody well better or I'll -!" Clasping both hands beneath her chin as if in prayer, Emily inhaled deeply. When she spoke again, her voice had lowered but retained its usual clipped brusqueness. "Here’s what’s going to happen: You are going to Twilfitt and Tattings -- not Madam Malkin’s! Get some halfway decent robes for once! In the meantime, I will tell Miranda I sent you to fetch some extra inventory items from Diagon Alley. I'll message you which items you need to bring back. You do have your message coin on you at least?"
"Yeah, it's -" Andy patted at her pocket, then froze.
When her face fell, Emily threw her hands up in the air. "You -!" Emily went stock still and stared down the hallway. "Oh, no. She's here! Hide!"
Still seated at her chair, Andy held both her hands up and looked around, seriously contemplating leaping beneath the desk. Then Emily brushed by her with a muttered “For Christ’s sake!” yanking open the closet behind her and draping her own cloak over Andy just as the doors rushed open.
In strode Miranda like a headlong surge of sweltry air. She tossed her cloak onto Andy’s desk, then paused in the act of tugging off her gloves to frown at her two assistants huddled behind a single desk. Her eyes raked over Andy like a poker raking over coals, stoking them to sudden flame. “Why are you wearing Emily's cloak?”
Andy opened her mouth, but Emily answered before she could speak. “She forgot her own and she needs to go to Diagon Alley to buy some more aspen. The batch we received yesterday was blighted and completely unsuitable.”
Andy held her breath as Miranda squinted between the two of them. Tugging at the fingers of one glove, peeling them from her hands and tossing them atop Andy’s desk, Miranda pinned first Emily then Andy in place with the force of her gaze. “Is that so?” Her face never changed, but somehow Andy got the impression she was holding back a small wicked smile. “It’s very unlike Calvin to supply us with substandard materials. Perhaps I should pay him a visit and clear this whole mess up.”
Both Emily and Andy paled.
There was no doubt about it: Miranda schooled her expression, driving the smirk away and replacing it with a glare hard and unblinking as iron. Before Emily could speak, Andy jumped abruptly to her feet. “There was nothing wrong with the aspen,” she announced, tearing off the cloak to reveal the muggle pantsuit beneath. “Emily only said that to protect me. I need to go to Diagon Alley to purchase more robes. It’s my fault.”
Beside her Emily stiffened, going completely rigid. Meanwhile Miranda touched her fingers to her chin and mouth, studying Andy with a look she had never seen before -- something inscrutable in the draw of her brows, sphinx-like in her pose. “An assistant who comes to work wearing completely inappropriate dress, and an assistant who lies to me. And to think it isn’t even eight o’clock yet.” Miranda tsked, tapping her tongue against the backs of her teeth. “How disappointing.”
With that, she left them standing there, striding into her office in a flurry of emerald-trimmed robes. As soon as she was out of sight, Andy let out the breath she’d been holding in a long shaky exhale. Emily meanwhile wouldn’t look at her. She kept her head down, glowering at the floor as she snatched up her cloak and hung it back in the closet, slamming the door shut behind her.
Andy blinked in confusion, then her mouth dropped open. “Oh, no -! Em, I didn’t mean to -!”
“Just -!” Emily held up a hand as she walked back to her own desk. “Just go!”
In quiet apology, Andy brought back a rare edition of an Anthology of Fifth Century Wandmakers from Obscurus’ in Diagon Alley, leaving it on Emily’s desk. Emily didn’t look up or make any motion to take it, but later that afternoon a new message coin appeared on Andy’s desk with a note scribbled beneath it in Emily’s cramped, thorny handwriting: ‘Don’t lose this one.’
In Miranda’s office Andy stood to one side, making herself as small as possible while the others bustled about. She clutched a green suede notebook in one hand, quill in the other. She had taken a cue from Emily and jotted down everything she heard, though perhaps not in as neat handwriting, and already her own first notebook was nearly halfway full. All around Miranda, people bustled, while Miranda herself sat, leaning one arm against her gold-veined chair of quartz like a queen attended by her fawning court. For her critical approval, they presented mock ups and magical cores, ranging from common materials to increasingly coveted and rare, until she was surrounded by a hoard of veritable treasures. Andy could live comfortably for the rest of her life on the wealth accumulated in this room alone.
None of it seemed to impress Miranda however, if her bored expression had anything to say on the matter. She sighed and waved away one of the pretty drones from the Magical Cores department -- they were all pretty and most of them were women. Sometimes Andy wondered if being a pretty girl was a prerequisite for working with The Dragon; though if that were the case it wouldn’t explain why Miranda had hired her.
“No, no. Where is the sycamore I asked for? And where’s the poplar and unicorn hair from Sirkka?” When the drones paused in a moment of panic then began buzzing around the room again in search of the items she asked for, Miranda sighed. She rose to her feet and began to pace, restless as a beast in the confines of its lair, growling at everybody yet nobody in particular, “You people have had hours and hours to prepare. Why is no one ready?”
At last Nigel stepped forward from the side-lines, holding up two mock up wands carved from poplar that looked exactly the same but for a bit of detailed carving. “It’s a difficult choice,” he said, balancing them in his hands with a frown. “They’re both so different.”
Andy couldn’t help herself. She bit back a snort of laughter, but even that small noise sent a stillness rippling through the office
They all turned to look at her. She shrank beneath their scrutiny.
Without a word, Miranda held out her hand. Hesitant, frowning in confusion, Andy pulled her wand from a fold in her robes and gave it to her. Miranda put on her glasses and turned the wand over between her fingers. As she inspected it, she spoke aloud, her voice quick, clipped and efficient, “Twelve and three-quarter inches. Chestnut and dragon heartstring. Limber and adaptable. A wand for powerful beast-tamers, adventurers and epicures.” Miranda gave Andy a scathing look that spoke volumes about just exactly how she felt about the match. Then, turning her attention back to the wand, she scowled at the many scratches and dents along the fine woodgrain. “Would it really kill you to give it a polish and a touch of oil? Do you use it as a backscratcher or something?”
Shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, Andy grumbled, “It’s just a wand.”
A hush fell over the room as Miranda stared at her over the rim of her spectacles, and for a moment the only noise was the lash of rain against the windows. Finally, Miranda asked, “Do you know who made this wand?”
Andy’s mouth went dry. “You did.”
“That’s right. I did. As such, I expect you to keep my things in better condition.”
“Actually,” Andy heard her own voice as though from a distance, “It’s not yours. It’s mine. I bought it. It belongs to me.”
That god-awful silence returned with a vengeance. Andy squirmed as Miranda studied her with eyes cold and hard as flint. Contemplative, she tapped Andy’s wand against her cheek, then without preamble Miranda said in a soft, dangerous voice, “Dragons are my speciality. We have an understanding, you see. Savage, powerful, admirable creatures. Highly intelligent and growing more endangered by the decade. I toiled for years petitioning foreign Ministries to ensure that dragon-hunting was banned throughout Europe. These days the necessary materials are only gathered once a dragon has died of natural causes. An expert is called out to the site, and the body is harvested.”
Miranda held up the wand between herself and Andy like a torch, and like a torch its tip flared, brief and bright, before dimming once more. “Seventeen years, twenty-two days ago, an Antipodean Opaleye was found dead in the Southern Alps, and I travelled to the mountains at the ends of the world to harvest its corpse. Its mate was lurking in the nearby peaks and -- enraged at my mutilation of the body -- it attacked me. With my own hands, I killed the dragon whose heart made this, this instrument of blood-sacrifice, and for three long years I held onto this wand, reluctant to put it out on my shelves. Eventually however I had to trust that it would fall into worthy hands, and so I parted with it, hoping for the best. Then -- after all that -- in the end it chose you. And here you stand, telling me that it’s just a wand.”
She pushed the wand back into Andy’s hands, and Andy clutched it close to her chest in stunned silence. Miranda turned and snatched up one of the mock up poplars from Nigel’s hands. Then pulling out her own wand -- narrow and dark-stained with a silvered handle -- she gave its tip a flick. The mock up was suspended in air, upright, perfectly perpendicular to the floor. With another dextrous gesture of her wand, a single lustrous strand of unicorn hair drifted up from a jar at her desk, gliding through the air to stretch out beside the poplar.
It took less than a moment, less than a handful of heartbeats thundering in Andy’s chest. A blinding flash of light, the lingering taste of scorched ozone at the back of the tongue, and Miranda had fused the two together to create a flawless instrument of magic.
Miranda reached out, plucking the wand from the air with a nearly reverent look on her face, and it was the softest expression Andy had ever seen on her. Turning her creation over in her hands, aiming a dark look at her assistant, Miranda murmured, “Hopefully someone will actually treat this wand with the respect it deserves.”
Andy threw her arms around her father and held him tight. The tweed of his three-piece suit scratched against her cheek, but the warmth of his embrace staved off the biting London air. With a laugh, he kissed the side of her head the way he used to when she was young, and rubbed one of his hands across the backs of her shoulders.
"It's nice to see you, too." He sniffed at her hair, pulling back to make a face. "Have you taken up smoking, Andy?"
She grimaced and stepped away, tuck a few dark and wayward strands of hair behind her ear. "It's from the chimneys." When he gave her a blank look, she explained. "Haven't I taken you and mom by floo powder before? I could've sworn I did."
Smiling, he shook his head and draped his arm across her shoulders to lead her inside the restaurant and out of the autumnal chill. "I think we'll stick with airplanes and automobiles, thanks."
"Thanks," she said quickly as he held open the door for her, and together they stepped into the warmth with identical shivers at the shift in temperature. "You know that floo powder is perfectly safe, right? Not to mention cheaper and much much faster."
"We've been using airplanes for years just fine," he replied, waving down a waiter in order to grab them a table. Ever since he'd heard about her splinching accident, both he and her mother had been reluctant to dabble in any magical modes of transportation.
"What's the point me being the only witch in the family if I can't shower you guys with awesome displays of magical prowess with the wave of my wand?" Andy said as they walked to their table, the waiter leading the way with two leather-backed menus in his hands.
Her father glanced nervously at the waiter's back when she mentioned the words 'witch' and 'magic,' speaking from the corner of his mouth, "Trust me, you wowed us plenty when all of your chores did themselves back at home."
They were seated, and her father only visibly relaxed when the waiter left them with the menu, their order of wine, and tall glasses that sweat with icy water. Food was nowhere yet in sight; still Andy draped her napkin across her lap, scooting her seat forward to lean her forearms against the table. "I was sixteen. I've learned a lot since then."
"Of that, I have no doubt." Her father raised his glass of water to her and took a sip. "I always knew you were destined for great adventures. Even from a young age. That boarding school of yours wasn't even the start."
Boarding school -- her parent's unofficial name for Hogwarts. Whenever anyone back home in Cincinnati asked after Andy, their reply always followed the same lines: Andy's mother was a British citizen with an American green card. Andy, having dual citizenship, received an acceptance letter from two schools for gifted young minds -- one in America, and one abroad -- and in the end, she chose boarding school in England. Well, Scotland, technically speaking.
"You mean Hogwarts," Andy said firmly. Over a decade, and she still struggled to make her muggle parents comfortable with even basic terminology.
"Yes, of course. That's what I meant."
“Dad, please.” Andy reached across the table and placed her hand over his. “You’re one of the few people close to me who actually knows what I am.”
“I know, honey. It’s just -” He cleared his throat, glancing around at the other crowded tables in the busy restaurant. Then he leaned forward to whisper, “Between us? That Ministry of Magic fellow that showed up at our door explaining the whole Statute of Secrecy thing terrified me. You visiting us at home is one thing but...It’s been years, and I still don’t know what’s appropriate to discuss in public.”
With a snort of wry amusement, Andy patted the back of his hand. “You don’t need to worry that much. Talking about it is generally fine. So long as I don’t go hexing random people in a subway station. Then, we might have a problem. Though, considering how my life has been going lately, I’m about this close to doing just that.”
A waiter arrived to pour them each a glass of wine, and Andy pulled her hand back to her side of the table. Her father smiled at the waiter, waiting until he was gone to continue. “Does Nate know anything about you being a witch?”
Andy shook her head, lifting the wineglass to her mouth and taking a sip. “Not yet. I know we just moved in together and all that, but we haven’t even been together for a year. I want to make sure things are -- you know -- ironclad before I start dropping those kinds of bombs on the poor guy.”
Her father chuckled, and the noise was muted by his own glass of wine. “I can see your point. It was difficult enough coming to grips to it as your parents. Not -!” he insisted, placing his glass firmly back on the table, “Not that we don’t love and support you, of course! I just don’t think I’ll ever really get used to the idea of magic.”
“I know, Dad.”
He watched her sigh and take a particularly large gulp of wine. The waiter reappeared with a basket of fresh-cut bread, warm beneath a scarlet cloth, and he offered Andy the plate of olive oil and balsamic that came with it. As she dipped the bread, he asked, "So. Hexing random strangers on trains? Work's that bad, huh?"
Andy groaned around a mouthful of bread, "You have no idea. If you think being a personal assistant in the muggle world is bad, try having to perform actual literal magic just to complete basic tasks." Viciously she grabbed another piece of bread from the basket, tearing it into two pieces between her fingers. "Do you know I had to travel to eight different countries last week? All in the same day! Just to track down a few pieces of wood! It wouldn't be that bad, if -- ow!"
She jumped with a startled hiss, the Galleon that pressed against her thin jeans burning against her hip. Carrying it in her cloak pocket was one thing, but having a Protean charm sear against her skin whenever Miranda had so much as a passing thought made Andy's jaw ache from clenching her teeth so often.
"Are you alright?" her father asked, brows scrunched up in concern as Andy dug through her pocket and bounced the coin between her palms until cooled down.
"Yeah, I'm -" Andy saw the message and closed her eyes. The Galleon still smouldered, but she gripped it tightly in her fist regardless, relishing the burn of irritation. When she managed to rein her anger in, she opened her eyes. "I'm sorry -- I really am -- but I need to take this."
Pushing her chair back, she stood. "I'll be back as soon as I can. I promise. Meet you at the hotel?"
She sprinted off, already fishing her wand from her handbag and cursing under her breath. By the time she finished and arrived at the hotel with a bottle of wine, her father answered the door in his pinstripe pyjamas, peering groggily at her above the chain. With a sigh, he let her in, pulling out two coffee mugs for the wine, and a takeaway plate from the fridge for Andy. She ate at the writing desk in his hotel room, quiet.
"Is this what it's like all the time?" Her father asked from where he sat on the edge of the bed, the sheets rumpled and still warm.
"Pretty much," she mumbled. The ends of her hair were greyed with ash, and a streak of blackened powder marred her jaw. She must smell like a coal miner.
"Far be it from me to tell you what to do with your life, but -" He took a sip of wine from the cheap ceramic mug. "I think you should look for a new job."
The thought of quitting, of giving up, of admitting defeat sent a flare of fury lancing through her stomach and up her throat, curdling on the back of her tongue, sharp and acidic as bile. Her father sighed -- he knew that look. Andy stabbed her plastic fork viciously at the cold food, and did not answer.
Andy had always imagined the Magical Cores department to look like a muggle warehouse: steel beams arching with riveted triangle supports and laced with strips of corrugated iron, with mesh wire and aluminium light fixtures shaped like upended bowls spilling out brightness, pouring it out in harsh wan sheets. Nigel's office however appeared nothing like that. Here the muted witch-fire glow filled the room with warmth. He had hung pictures on every inch of the walls. Diagrams and sketches and mock-ups. Painstakingly detailed prints from rare tomes shielded from overexposure to the elements with charms that could magnify and enhance at the snap of one's fingers. Though he worked alone, his doors remained open at all hours, and the place tended to bustle from sunup to sundown and beyond.
Late one evening when all others -- even Emily and Miranda -- had left work, Andy found herself wandering downstairs to lean in Nigel's doorway, exhausted. He glanced up from his work, saw her frazzled appearance, and promptly returned to his meticulous woodcarving. "You look like you've been chewed up and spat out by a sphinx, Private."
Andy laughed. The sound tasted bitter in her mouth. "I feel like it, too." She approached his high-floating workbench and propped her elbows on it with a groan, resting her cheeks on her palms and rubbing at her eyes. "I don't know, Nigel. Maybe this isn't the job for me."
Nigel wielded his wand with a delicacy Andy could never hope to achieve, his manicured fingers guiding it like an instrument, like a violinist's bow, and when he moved it a block of pale yew lazily rotated in mid-air, light as a leaf caught on a breeze, shedding little wood chips and shavings to reveal a slender form beneath. "You wouldn't be telling me this if you truly believed it. No, I know you. Don't try to tell me otherwise," he said when she opened her mouth to object. "If you wanted something, you'd take it. If you didn't want something, you'd leave it. And yet you're still here. That's not quitting. That, my dear, is what we in the industry call: bitching. So!" He waved his free hand at her. "Bitch away! I'm all ears."
Pushing her fringe back from her forehead, Andy glared at the countertop, strewn with flakes of wood, cases of raw and bloodied dragon heartstring, perfectly spherical jars filled with unicorn hair that gleamed, cold and silvered, like moonlight given flesh. "I just -! I run around like an escapee from Saint Mungo's. I break my back, day and night. I hardly see my boyfriend -- or any of my friends for that matter. This job has become my whole life, and somehow nothing I do is ever right for her! Just once -!" Andy held up a finger, biting back tears, "Just once, I'd like some respect! But no! She's always so -! And it's not just me! The way she treats everyone else -!" Andy clenched her hands into fists rather than slam them on the table. She took a deep calming breath. "Being muggle-born just makes it all that much more difficult. I feel like I have no connection to any of this!"
At that, Nigel gave her a sceptical look. "What kind of rubbish excuse is that? Being muggle-born never stopped me." The yew Nigel was carving took further shape, rotating itself into careful existence. "Mother was Italian. Dad was Irish. Both staunch Catholics, which didn't incline them very well to either my magical abilities or my sexual preferences. One they might have been able to handle, but both?” He shook his head. “Too much to ask, apparently. Magic is as much a part of me as -- oh, I don't know -- knowing how to choose a good necktie. And when I discovered this world, I discovered a part of myself that had been missing for eleven years. That's what wandlore is, you know. It isn't just a bunch of information and instructions on how to make simple tools tossed aimlessly together. You think goblins and vampires and hags lust after wands because they're just useful? Wands are a tenant of wizarding identity. They hold power and meaning beyond the years, beyond ourselves, revealing who and what we truly are -- our heart of hearts."
He reached out and plucked the piece of yew from the air, running his fingers along the fine smooth edges he had carved, intricate vines twining up the stalk in a pattern stunning and pale as ivory. "Miranda Priestly is a witch with talents the likes of which this world sees only once every few centuries. Each of her creations is a triumph of the craft. She makes it all look so easy, but make no mistake -- she has spent years clawing her way into the position she is now, toiling over technique and style and artistry. Yet here you are crying in my office after three lousy months, wondering why she doesn't kiss you on the forehead and give you a chocolate frog for your efforts."
Using the freshly hewn yew wand mock-up, Nigel tapped Andy gently on the forehead. "Wake up, sweetheart."
Andy sniffled and gave a rueful, watery laugh. "You know," she admitted, wiping her shining cheeks. "When I came in here, I was hoping you'd make me feel better about all of this."
"Oh, god no. That's not how this little arrangement works. You come in here. You bitch. I listen. I give you advice and you take it like a champ and proceed blow us all out of the water."
He jabbed the mock-up wand at her with a stern expression. "I mean it, Private! I want to see you in the trenches tomorrow, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed!"
"Of course, Nigel. Whatever you say, Nigel."
Once again Andy stood in the corner of Miranda's office, keeping near the door as if ready to bolt the moment Miranda so much as looked at her way. She kept her careful notes, quill twitching in her hand.The drones were all scurrying around, organising the displays of cases for Miranda, who stood beside Nigel in front of her massive desk. They conversed quietly, the two of them, and it was the nearest pose to relaxed Andy had ever seen, as though relaxation was something Miranda had to feign. Her natural state of being seemed to centre around activity; even when standing still she appeared sleek and tense, poised on a cliffside of motion. The effect was only heightened by the swells of dark thunderclouds brewing at the glass floor beneath her feet, pressing up against the soles of her polished leather boots.
When at last the presentation was prepared, Miranda broke off her conversation with Nigel and peered down at the cases neatly arrayed across her desk. "The rowan looks almost passable today. I may faint."
Nigel gave a huff of laughter and approached the desk. "It would pair up well with a unicorn hair, I think. They have similar temperaments: steadfast and pure-hearted."
Andy wrote, and Miranda hummed a note of agreement. "I'm glad to see someone arrived prepared today. And the fir?" Nigel opened his mouth to answer, but she waved him away, speaking to the rest of the room but not raising her voice. "Someone other than Nigel this time. Or is everyone else completely useless around here?"
Everyone in the room exchanged nervous glances. Nigel stepped back, allowing them to more clearly view the materials on display. Andy flicked through her notebook, then frowned at the phoenix feathers that gleamed a burnished brilliant red-gold in their cases lined with black velvet. Hesitant, one of the drones drifted towards where the case of dragon heartstring was affixed between hooks, peeled back and suspended in a thick red soup of blood to keep them pliant and viable. As soon as the drone did so, a flicker of disappointment crossed Miranda's face and her mouth thinned, not even waiting to hear the decision before breathing a near indiscernible sigh from her nose.
"Um -?" Andy raised her hand as if in a classroom, and everyone turned to look at her. She waited for Miranda to arch a questioning, permissive eyebrow, then continued. "The phoenix feather."
At that, Miranda cocked her head. Her eyes sharpened to fine, glittering points, pale as silver Sickles. "And why do you say that, Andrea?" she pressed, taking a step towards Andy. It was the first time Miranda had said her name, and Andy suppressed a fine shiver.
Andy's fingernails dug into the soft undersides of her palms and she resisted the urge to retreat a step back. Instead she swallowed down the lump of self-doubt lodged in her throat and stammered, "It's -- ok, this is going to make me sound crazy but -- it's the right temperature."
Miranda made no motion to interrupt, to confirm or deny Andy's claim, so Andy forged on. "Fir is resilient. It can withstand ice and snow and all manner of cold mountain climates. One might be inclined to use dragon heartstring, and that would make a perfectly serviceable match, but it wouldn't be --" Andy searched for the right words, "--hot enough? I'm not describing this well...It wouldn't thaw properly. The wood needs to be broken in. It needs heat."
Miranda met Andy's gaze and held it, like trapping a buzzing fly in warm liquid amber. The look sent a muted hum prickling just beneath the surface of Andy's skin. "Well," Miranda murmured. "A spark of competence from one of my assistants? Groundbreaking."
When Miranda turned away to combine the fir and the phoenix feather, Andy's shoulders sagged in relief. Her ears rang, drowning out all else but for the sound of Miranda's robes rustling around her heels, the whisper of Miranda's wand in her slender fingers. Andy tore her eyes away. To her side Nigel was trying to hide a grin, but he gave Andy a thumbs-up under one arm, and for the first time Andy felt a dizzying rush of triumph flutter and flame in her chest at a job well done.
A Hufflepuff would’ve quit this job by now. No -- scratch that. A Hufflepuff would’ve had more self-respect and never would’ve taken this job to begin with. A Hufflepuff would’ve been working for some quaint little rag like The Quibbler, and spending more time with her boyfriend, and actually seeing Lily and Doug rather than coming home every night too exhausted to do more than eat and sleep and shower. A Hufflepuff certainly wouldn’t have taken masochistic pleasure in performing a difficult deed correctly, in finally conquering some aspect of her chaotic life and putting it in its proper place. A Hufflepuff wouldn’t face an insurmountable challenge for the sheer thrill of subjugating it, of clambering atop its back and seizing the reins.
Of course, Andy Sachs was not a Hufflepuff.
At the beginning of month four, Andy fell into bed at the early hours of the morning beside a snoring Nate. Five hours later an alarm whistled in her ear, and she stumbled out of bed with a groan. It was during her five-minute shower and ten-minute dash to the nearest public floo station in a pub's basement in Barking, that Andy came to the decision that a different approach to her job was in order.
Stepping into the lobby of the Elias-Clarke building, she slapped the ash that greyed the hems of her robes. A cloud of sparks and embers whipped along in her wake, fanning at her heels, but she ignored it. Today was one of those rare days where that was the only cloud in Andy's life, and she glanced dubiously down at the sheer drop to the ground nearly twenty miles beneath her feet. Wishing that the rain would return and shroud the earth from sight, Andy walked along to her waiting desk, footsteps brisk and clacking against the sturdy glass floors.
Emily was already at her own desk, standing atop her chair and furiously trying to coax a flustered owl from its perch high on the ceiling.
Andy's pace slowed as she entered. "You alright there, Em?"
With an undignified yelp, Emily nearly fell from her chair, steadying herself on the wall. She glared over her shoulder, "Send me a Howler next time, why don't you! At least it would have a bit more grace and subtlety!"
Andy placed her things behind her desk and went to stand beside Emily, craning her neck to peer up at the owl. "I see you made a friend."
"Yes. I'm simply bursting with friendly sentiments this morning," Emily drawled. Then she sighed and stepped down from the chair, taking Andy's offered hand of assistance. "I don't suppose you could help? I've tried everything, but I'm no good with animals -- magic or no magic."
“Probably doesn’t help that your animagus form is a predator." Andy cocked her head, pursing her lips to one side as she studied the bird. It's brown and white feathers stuck up in every other direction, and one of its wings was held at a slant. In spite of all that it clasped a letter firmly in its beak, jealously guarding its postage to the end.
"Well?" Emily hissed, looking between Andy and the owl in question. "Aren't you going to do something? Miranda's due to be here early for the cedar shipment from the Urals, if you recall."
Shooting her an admonishing glance, Andy pulled out her wand, pointed it at the owl, and said, "Ferula!"
With a shuffle of its now healed wing, the owl shook its head free of any lingering pain before soaring down to land on Andy's outstretched arm. She bit back a wince as its talons dug into the soft skin of her forearm. It hooted gratefully at her, closing its eyes when she smoothed back a few of its ruffled feathers. "Long flight all the way up here, huh buddy? I'm impressed you made the trip, to be honest."
It gave an affirmative, worn-sounding hoot.
Emily stared at her as though she'd sprouted an extra head. "My God, this explains so much about you. You're that weird hippogriff girl."
Andy glared and stowed her wand away, removing the letter from the owl's clutches and handing it over to Emily. "I solve your owl problem, and this is how you repay me?"
"Yes, yes. Thank you, Andy." Rolling her eyes, Emily took the letter. No sooner had she broken the wax seal along its back however, than the doors behind them burst open and in strode Miranda.
"Emily, I need you to send a message to Violetta and tell her that under no circumstances will I accept Kelpie in lieu of Veela. It has to be Veela. Then I want you to get a hold of Isolt and ask him where we got to with our next harvesting trip. Move it from Tuesday -- I never travel on a Tuesday. And I don't want a repeat of last time. Shared accommodations while unicorn-tracking in Norway? What a fiasco. I also want an update on the cedar shipment; it isn't here yet. It should be here by now. Does nobody do their job in this place? Why do I even pay you? Is that an owl?"
Miranda halted in the doorway to her office, one foot over the threshold, frowning at the owl perched on Andy's arm. Emily shot Andy a dangerous look as though this was all her fault to begin with. Steeling herself, Andy straightened and said, "He arrived with a letter just now, and we're -"
"Owls shouldn't be flying this high.” Miranda interrupted. “Get it gone. I don't want to see one on the premises again, do you understand?" Miranda waved her hand and started to turn away, but before she could take another step, Andy bristled.
"He broke his wing on the flight up," Andy said, her tone firm. "I healed him as best I could, but I won't send him away until he's had a bit of rest first."
To one side, Emily stiffened as if hit with a full-body bind curse. Miranda's eyebrows rose, but Andy met her eyes with a staunch glare of her own. The air faintly chilled, yet Andy could only feel a blistering of her stomach lining, boiling up in her throat. She held Miranda's stare, unflinching, and after a long moment Miranda's eyes narrowed. With a light hum of annoyed acceptance, Miranda turned away and swept into her office, not looking back.
As soon as the doors closed behind her, Emily exhaled in relief. She clutched her chest with one hand, gripping the edge of her desk with the other. "Next time could you challenge her to a duel over something a little more important than an owl? Or better yet, do it when I'm not around. I like my head to be firmly attached to my shoulders, thank you very much."
"Sorry, Em." Andy gave her an apologetic grimace. The owl nipped at her fingers when she stopped petting him, and Andy renewed her efforts. "I think you're important," she cooed to him.
"Oh, Lord. Please stop talking to it."
Nobody would look Miranda in the eye. Only Nigel dared hold her gaze for more than a few moments, but even he would lower his face when Miranda’s voice dropped to a certain gravelly pitch, or when Miranda’s mouth ticked at a particular angle, or when Miranda’s hands clenched. Everyone scurried around her with all the cowed frenzy of a hive of ants that had been kicked. Even Emily -- sharp-tongued, e’er-efficient Emily -- kept her head down when Miranda was on the warpath.
“And why haven’t we heard from Johannes yet? Is it really so difficult to send a letter? Do I need to do everything myself around here?” Miranda growled. She stood, glowering, over her desk, fingertips resting on the mirrored surface. Occasionally her long nails scraped a series of restless staccato notes against the glass. Thunder crackled in an electric undercurrent beneath her words and her eyes burned like the afterimage of lightning -- or perhaps that was the storm. Andy couldn’t tell.
“He’s out scouting for raw materials in the arctic,” Emily said, shrinking and lowering her gaze when Miranda turned the full force of her attention upon her. “I’ve tried everything -”
“Well, have you considered seeking him out in person?” Miranda snapped.
For a second, Emily’s mouth moved without sound. “I - no. I can’t say I have.”
That gravelly tone returned to Miranda’s words, a near-whisper that promised a swift and uncharitable death. “Are you a witch, or aren’t you? Summon yourself some fur-trimmed robes and some actual competence and get out there. I don’t care if you have to wrestle a polar bear on your way -- find him.”
Going pale, Emily nodded and hurried out the door. As she left, Miranda raised her voice just enough so Emily could hear, “While Emily doggedly tracks down Johannes, will someone give me an update on our unicorn hair problem? Why have our stocks been allowed to fall so low?”
Nigel opened his mouth to take the fall, but before he could speak Andy stepped forward. “The order went out too late last Friday, and Calvin wasn’t able to process it until Monday morning.”
The surface of Miranda’s square glasses flashed, but Andy only straightened her shoulders when that glare found her. “Then when -?”
“Tomorrow,” Andy interrupted. “I’ve already double-checked it.”
“- Appointment with Wolfe is confirmed for this afternoon.”
When Andy refused to lower her gaze, refused even to blink, Miranda leaned back, her brow knitting with a puzzled frown. She removed her spectacles, toying with them at the emerald clasped at the base of her throat while she studied Andy. She stared and the longer Andy maintained eye contact, the more the air in the room seemed to shiver with a prickle of heat. Beside her, Andy could hear Nigel suck in a sharp breath and hold it. The moment stretched for an age. Andy pushed down the twinge of unease at the base of her spine. Any sliver of doubt now could only end in disaster -- Miranda would smell it.
At last, Miranda hummed a curious wordless note in the back of her throat. She waved towards the both of them. “That’s all.”
As they scuttled from the office together, doors shutting behind them, Nigel pulled Andy aside at her desk. “What are you doing?” he asked slowly, his tone measured and speculative.
“Trial and error. You know -” Andy shrugged. “Experimenting.”
Nigel squinted at her. “I can't tell if that's some kind of euphemism, but for your sake I really hope not.”
Heat crept into Andy's cheeks, scorching. “Nigel!” she hissed, appalled. She glanced to the closed glass doors, as if she would find Miranda standing there, eavesdropping.
“Oh, so you are just trying to get yourself killed.” He placed a theatrical hand over his heart. “That makes me feel better. Although, I have heard the theory that she's secretly a breed of mantis, so either which way -”
“Nigel.” Andy glared.
Holding up both hands in surrender, he walked away. “Alright! It's your funeral!”
As it turned out, Andy’s funeral arrangements were circumvented by a series of successful experiments as well as an investment in a handsome silver-nibbed quick-quotes quill. She spent a weekend hiding from Nate in their apartment to calibrate the quill to herself so that it spun out notes across the page with the merest thought. She began to use magic for even the most minor tasks around the office until she had her routine nailed to an art form. With the flick of her wand, Andy strode from the fireplace every morning amidst a flurry of efficiency, cleaning the ash from her robes, memos and notes swirling around her, coffee brewing in Miranda's preferred floating glass mug, the Protean calendar updating itself with the latest movements in schedule -- organised chaos at its finest.
Meanwhile she applied to Miranda the same focused dedication she had applied to her favourite advanced courses in Care of Magical Beasts back at Hogwarts. Create a stable environment. Ensure the early presence of everything required for comfort. Minimise anything that could startle or spook -- no excess noise or bright clashing colours. Always meet her gaze and let her make the first move -- first to breach the silence, first to ask the questions, first to turn away.
Each of these interactions was met with muted bewilderment. Often Miranda would trail off mid-sentence to stare at her in disbelief when Andy maintained eye contact all through her note-taking and rapid-fire question-answering. Then, blinking and frowning, Miranda would clear her throat and continue with whatever instructions she’d been relaying. As Andy would walk back to her desk, she could feel Miranda’s eyes, digging holes into her shoulder blades like awls.
In those moments, Andy told herself it was pride blistering at the lining of her stomach. A mystery solved. A task conquered.
At the beginning of month six, Nigel watched mutely from the side-lines as Andy performed her morning ritual of dressing and preparing Miranda’s office before her arrival. In one hand, she waved her wand with absent-minded little gestures while she frowned down at her notepad in the other. The quill jotted down her thoughts for that day’s early memos, the pages fluttering themselves over as fast as she could think. Confirm brunch for ten thirty. Triple-check Thursday’s travel plans to America. Draft a speech for Miranda’s visit to Ilvermorny and keep it short. Message Calvin and make sure to buy him a thank-you gift for pushing through last week’s order despite the late notice.
“You know what they’re calling you now, don’t you?” Nigel remarked, picking at his perfectly manicured nails.
“Hmm?” Andy glanced up from her notes but not at him.
The empty vase to the left of Miranda’s desk needed filling every morning; Miranda did not abide anything less than fresh flowers. Freesias had warranted death glares. Roses had not offended unless they were yellow, then Miranda pursed her lips and made snide comments -- What a bitter little plant. How about I just chew on a stick of turmeric? It’ll have the same effect . Andy had no clue what that was supposed to mean, but she had blacklisted yellow roses all the same. Lilies couldn’t be trusted to do the job either. Something about the smell. When Andy tried lilies, Miranda had eaten very little and complained about the taste of everything, from the first sip of coffee to the last bite of lunch. Tulips Miranda deemed satisfactory, excepting the one time Andy had chosen variegated yellow and pink, which Miranda had set aflame on sight with a sneer of disgust pulling at her upper lip. Andy had then made a note blacklisting the colour yellow entirely.
Now, with a wave of her wand, Andy filled the vase fit to bursting with wallflowers. Simple and short and inoffensively red. Surely, Miranda couldn’t find fault with this choice. Though, knowing her, she might do so out of sheer spite.
Nigel blinked at the flowers. “Wallflower?”
Frowning in confusion, Andy finally turned her full attention to him. “They call me a wallflower?”
“What? No, no.” He pointed to the vase overflowing with soft red petals. “Are you flower literate, or is this not an intentional joke?”
With a sigh, Andy snapped her notebook shut and it vanished in a wisp of greenish smoke along with her quill. “Nigel, it’s too early in the morning for riddles. If you’re going to run me around in circles, you could at least have the decency to do it over caffeine.”
He rolled his eyes and gave a little huff. “Well, now you’ve gone and stolen my thunder. Spoilsport. That’s what they should call you instead.”
Arms crossed, tapping her wand at her elbow, Andy fixed him with an unimpressed look. “Go on, then. What do they call me?”
His eyes gleamed with mischief and suddenly Andy wasn’t sure she wanted to know anymore. “The Dragon-keeper.”
“I swear, all of the girls are saying it now.” He raised his voice to a higher pitch to mimic them, “Andy this and Andy that! And - oh, the Devil is on the loose today! I hope the Dragon-keeper is on her toes!”
“That’s -!” Andy gripped her wand, and beneath the tightening of her fingers it emitted a few stray sparks. “You’re joking,” she repeated, stuffing her unruly wand away and busying herself unnecessarily at Miranda’s desk. She straightened a few papers that didn’t need the attention and in fact suffered from it. “You must be joking.”
“I’d take it as a compliment, if I were you. I mean -- look at this!” Gesturing around the room to the pristine, exacting conditions Andy had created in a matter of minutes, Nigel said, “I’m impressed. And a little frightened, to be perfectly honest. It’s like watching osmosis in action.”
Andy glared at him over her shoulder. “Don’t you have something to do other than bother me?”
“ Meow! You’re even starting sound like her, too.”
“I -!” Andy flushed. “I do not!”
With a coquettish shrug and grin, Nigel turned to leave but paused in the doorway. “Fidelity in adversity.”
She stared at him blankly. “Riddles, Nigel. We just talked about this.”
“That’s what they mean.” He nodded to the flowers. “Fidelity in adversity.”
Later, when Miranda walked into her office, she paused at her desk, eyes alighting upon the vase. Andy held her breath just outside of the doorway with her arms full of Miranda’s cloak, the fabric skin-warm and dark and heavy. Miranda cocked her head at the flowers, then proceeded to sit at her desk as though nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. As she settled her spectacles on the bridge of her nose and opened that morning’s Prophet, she waved at the vase -- a vague, almost bored gesture -- and the flowers bled colour, changing from red to a rich ochre-yellow, just a shade away from orange.
Andy made her retreat in silence to hang up the cloak, and in her notebook her quill automatically scrawled a hasty addendum beneath the blacklisted yellow. Exception: wallflowers.
It didn’t take long for Andy to be sniffed out the moment she stepped foot into the art gallery. She arched up onto her toes, looking across the heads in the crowd only for a familiar voice to say behind her, “I’m sorry, but have we met? Because you look an awful lot like a friend I used to have.”
Andy turned to find Lily grinning at her. Returning the smile, Andy swooped in for a hug. “Hey, stranger.” She gave Lily’s shoulders a squeeze then stepped back, gesturing towards the room. “This place looks fabulous, by the way.”
“Oh, no. You’re not getting off the hook with a bit of flattery.” Lily appeared to be one gesture away from an actual finger-wagging, her hand motions as broad and expressive as ever. “Where the fuck have you been? I know for a fact your ‘tall dark and brooding’ cooks my breakfast more often than he does yours these days.”
“I know! I know! It’s just -!” Andy sighed and ran a hand through her hair, but when she lifted her arm her wand tumbled from her jacket pocket. Before it could clatter to the floor however, someone scooped it from the air.
At a glance, Andy could tell that the two men standing beside her were wizards. She could always tell -- something about the tilt of molecules in the air. Andy’s wardrobe choice could hardly be called drab, but compared to these two it looked downright frumpy. Wrapped in more suave designer labels than Andy could name, one of them turned her wand over in his hand with a cunning, inquisitive lift of his eyebrows.
“Chestnut and dragon heartstring? Careful, Christian,” the man said, holding a drink in his free grasp, “we have an adventurer on our hands.” He held out Andy’s wand and introduced himself with a smile. “James Holt. And this is Christian Thompson.”
“Andy Sachs,” she replied, taking back her wand and hiding it from Lily’s prying gaze.
“Always a pleasure to see one of Miranda’s pieces -- she has such a distinct style to her work. A finesse, or flavour if you will. What compels a lovely pair of witches like yourselves to mingle with the unwashed masses?”
Lily’s eyebrows shot upwards. “A pair of what, now?” She appeared two seconds away from a round of fisticuffs and Andy couldn’t blame her.
Hastily Andy jumped in, stuffing her wand away and aiming a pointed glare at the two wizards. She knew their kind. She’d seen enough smug purebloods walking the halls of the Slytherin common room to last her a lifetime. “I think you’ll find that not all of us here are - uh - in the same industry.”
“Ah,” James aimed a look of understanding between Andy and Lily. “My apologies. I didn’t mean to offend.”
“And what industry might that be?” Lily shot back, arms crossing over her chest.
James smiled and raised his glass to her. “Good taste.”
Lily narrowed her eyes, not mollified in the least.
Beside him, Christian added, “Officially speaking -” he gave Andy a meaningful glance, “- James here is something of a fashion savant, whereas I dabble in the realm of publishing. Procurement, to be precise. I’m always after a good book.”
“Starting the gallery from the back was inspired,” James added, but rather than ingratiate himself in Lily’s good favour, she began to tap her foot against the floor.
“They're my boss' colleagues,” Andy explained before James could well and truly dig himself into a hole. “Kind of.”
“One could only aspire to be considered a colleague by Miranda Priestly.” James gestured to Andy, “Your friend here is very lucky to be working with her.”
“Uh huh. She knows that most of all, from what I can tell.” Lily aimed an unimpressed scowl at each of them, Andy included. Uncrossing her arms, Lily did not lower her voice when she said, “I’m going to go get us a drink and when I get back, these two had better be gone.”
Lily stalked off and Andy rounded on the wizards, eyes dark and blazing, “Alright, what the hell are you doing here? Did Miranda send you?”
James raised his hands in surrender, and though he was smirking his smile held a penitent lilt. “No, no. We have covers to maintain. I’m sorry. We didn’t mean to almost out you to your muggle friend. If it’s any consolation, Christian here is a bit of an expert with memory charms. He can take care of her, if you need.”
At that, Christian spread his hands and pretended to give a little bow. His slicked-back hair curled golden behind his ears, and though his stylish muggle clothes fit him like a glove he moved in them with an awkwardness that belied his preference for wizarding robes.
“That won’t be necessary,” Andy said quickly.
James looked over her shoulder, “Uh-oh. Your friend is returning. We’d best make ourselves scarce.”
As they made their retreat Christian flashed her a roguish grin. “And don’t be a stranger!”
Feeling like that time she’d just fallen off a surfboard and been tumbled headlong by a crashing wave, Andy turned to find Lily approaching from the bar. “Nate was right,” Lily mumbled, pressing a champagne flute filled with punch into Andy’s hands and scowling after Christian and James. “Something weird is definitely going on with you these days.”
Andy buried her face in her drink to buy herself a bit of time. “I’ll be the first to admit it: work is ridiculous and out of this world insane. That -” she pointed after Christian and James, “-was the very least of it, trust me.”
“If that was the least of it, then I don't even want to know.” Balancing her own glass of punch between her fingers, Lily held up her hands and made a motion as of brushing dust from her palms. “You do you. I'm just here to look great and work my magic in the art world. When you want to actually talk, you know where to find me.”
“You're the greatest, Lily.”
“You best believe it!”
Changing the topic, Andy grinned and teased. “So, no flattery, huh?”
With a faux glare, Lily linked arms with Andy and proceeded to drag her towards the back of the gallery. “Hell no! After you ignore me for over a month? I’m going to explain in agonising detail each one of these art pieces and I expect you to heap praise upon me. Consider it reparation.”
“Well, then, I should get right on that. Have I mentioned your eyeliner is on point tonight?”
“Keep it up. The night is young and I have a lot of sterling qualities for you to extol. Better yet,” Lily joked, “you can make restitutions by buying a piece. Nothing says I love you like PayPal. And God knows you need a bit of taste in your life."
At the thought of exchanging her money from Gringotts into muggle currency, Andy made a face. “Do you take cheques?”
Andy expected Miranda to own a cat or a lofty Borzoi. She expected Miranda's house to look like the Batcave, like the setting of a Penny Dreadful or one of the murder locations of Jack the Ripper in Whitechapel: all creaking wind vanes and arrow-slit lancet windows, gargoyle-ensconced finials and steep archways sharp enough to impale a man upon. She did not expect Miranda's house to be a handsome marble building in Knightsbridge, lined with warm wooden accents and cream-coloured walls and plush carpeting that sank beneath the weight of each step. She did not expect Patricia to be a big lumbering cuddle-fiend of a St. Bernard, who headbutted the backs of Andy's thighs in the perennial quest for a scratch behind the ears.
Andy delayed Patricia's obligatory walk in Kensington Gardens in order to sit on the bottom step of the townhouse staircases and give the dog a proper pat, dragging her fingers through Patricia's long fur until one of Patricia's legs thumped appreciatively against the floor. Later, on the walk itself, Andy glanced down at her watch -- its glass face turned towards the inside of her wrist so as not to flaunt its extraordinarily muggle origins at work -- then swore, tugging at the leash and hauling Patricia away from a bit of enthusiastic sniffing at a section of manicured lawn. For the first time in weeks Andy showed up late at the office, with barely enough time to magic away every scrap of dust and dog fur she could find on her robes.
Before she could even sit at her desk, Miranda called Andy into her office. With a quiet groan, Andy slouched in for what was bound to be a ferocious tongue-lashing. Sure enough Miranda was pacing her office, dictating to a quill on her desk that scratched away at a piece of parchment, lightning-quick. She glanced up and frowned at Andy's entrance. "You're late," she snapped, a note of surprise in her voice, as though she had already grown accustomed to Andy always being on time.
"Yes, I know. I'm sorry, Miranda -" Andy began, but didn't get far before Miranda interrupted.
"Stop," she commanded, and Andy froze, arms at her sides. Miranda blinked at the reaction however, and looking over at the desk Andy saw that the order had been directed not at her but at the quill, which had gone stock still, balancing upright on the parchment, awaiting further orders. A shallow huff of amusement escaped Miranda then, and she continued, "Where are the -?"
"Phoenix feathers from the Wadi Rum?" Andy interjected boldly. "I've already had them sent to the Magical Cores department for prep."
"And the -?"
"Shipment of redwood from California? I have Nigel overseeing the wood's treatment and initial mock-up carvings. Lunch with your husband is scheduled for one o’clock this afternoon, and I've arranged for the twins to be picked up from Platform 9 and 3/4 by Cara." Andy supplied again, relishing the burn of satisfaction that glowed like a furnace in the pit of her stomach at Miranda's look of blank shock.
"Yes. Well." Miranda narrowed her eyes at Andy, and when she opened her mouth it was only to shut it once more as a cup of steaming coffee in her favourite glass mug floated through the air and nudged at the backs of her knuckles. Andy could not stifle the smug grin when Miranda took the coffee with a befuddled scowl. She aimed a suspicious glare at Andy over the brim of the mug as she took a sip. "Tell Emily I want you to deliver The Book to my house tomorrow evening."
Pride should not have felt so warm and gratifying, so cloyingly sweet, yet Andy all but beamed with it. "Of course, Miranda."
"And Andrea?" Miranda gestured her forward with an imperious sweep of one hand.
Hesitant, Andy approached. When viewing Miranda from a distance, she seemed larger than anyone or anything else in a room; she filled up the space around her, a presence poured out and scattered like a flash of oil, like a torrent of Greek fire, wine-dark and heady. Now though, the closer she drew, Andy could tell Miranda was taller only by the grace of her heeled boots, a finger-breadth of difference in heights that would vanish the moment Miranda stepped out of her shoes. Still Andy could not hide a slight flinch as Miranda reached out. She steeled herself for Miranda to grab her, haul her in by the shoulder or the hair and do -- something. Instead Miranda only plucked a single long white strand of dog fur from the hood of Andy's robes, holding it delicately between them before -- with a snap of her fingers -- burning it to ash
There was no table. Emily had specifically said there would be a table and to place The Book on said table. Andy took a reluctant step forward to peer into the darkened kitchen then looked back to the length of blank wall beside the closet where the alleged table should have been positioned. She shifted her grip on The Book and the embossed dragon on the leather-bound cover gleamed gold in the low light, its single large emerald eye glaring in profile. Her hands slipped somewhat around the pristine white gloves Emily had given to her along with a catalogue of strict instructions. You don’t touch The Book with your bare hands. You guard The Book with your life. You don’t make stops on your delivery of The Book to Miranda’s house. And you certainly don’t go wandering through the house at night when its occupants are just upstairs.
Andy whipped around, saw no one, then craned her neck and peered from beneath the lip of the curving staircase. Two heads poked between pillars in the carved white-painted balustrade, framed by long titian hair. One of the twins -- Andy couldn’t tell which was which at this point and certainly not from this angle -- whispered, “You need to bring it upstairs.”
Incredulous, Andy looked back to the hallway. “But -! There’s supposed to be a table!”
“Does it look like there’s a table?” The other twin mocked with a roll of her eyes.
“Shit.” They had a point.
One of the twins gave a faux gasp and drawled, “Ooo no swearing in the house!”
Shit. Andy repeated silently in her head. She climbed the stairs to the second-floor landing, where the twins watched her approach between the balustrade bars. When Andy moved to place The Book on the nearest table she could find -- a low-slung coffee table that supported a vase filled with something that looked like persimmons instead of flowers -- the twins stopped her. “No, not there.”
In answer, they pointed up another flight of stairs just past her. The landing above it emitted a soft hazy light, and a blanket of silence shrouded the air like a dense cage. Andy squinted at the twins, who blinked their big blue eyes at her innocently and fiddled with their wands. The Book’s numerous enchantments drove needles into her hands as she gripped it tighter, thorny points that made her skin crawl through the gloves while Andy slowly made her way up the next flight of stairs. Her heart hammered in her chest, fluttering at the back of her throat; Andy swallowed it back down -- the only noise apart from the occasional creak of her steps.
There on the landing in front of a wall of books, Miranda and her husband, Stephen, were locked in furious conversation. Their mouths moved but no noise followed. Sharp hand gestures and fingers pointing in faces and cheeks flushing red with recriminations -- all held in a stasis of silence like the flickering of a Charlie Chaplin montage without humour or closed captions. Holding her breath and praying that whatever spell they had woven would mute noise both ways, Andy retreated a step and the weight of her foot creaked in the stairwell.
Stephen saw her there and threw up his hands, stalking out of the room with an unheard parting comment towards Miranda, who stood, motionless. Her hands were clenched. A lock of her silvery hair fell awry across her brows. Miranda turned and Andy felt the breath driven from her body from the force of that glare. Andy could just see the headlines in tomorrow’s Prophet now: Young Woman Found Murdered In Stairwell.
As she sprinted back to the front door with The Book still clutched to her chest, Andy did not dare look back over her shoulder to check if Miranda pursued. Upon reaching the foyer, she did a double-take. A long narrow table with handsome iron-wrought legs leaned against the wall beside the cloak closet. From the stairwell above, Andy could hear identical giggles from a pair of little red-headed demons.
Steadying herself with a deep breath, Andy placed The Book upon the table. Then, drawing her wand from her pocket, she pointed it towards the second-floor landing. “Expelliarmus!”
Twin exclamations of alarm rang out as two wands flew down into Andy’s waiting gloved hands. With a sense of bitter triumph, she snatched them from the air. Then, setting them beside The Book and not waiting another moment, she fled.
With nothing left to lose apart from her job and any hopes for a future career -- so, basically her whole life in general -- Andy sent off a note to the last person she could possible think of contacting who might be able to help. The note winged its way to the chimney and turned to ash. No sooner had Andy slumped back in the chair of her desk to stare at the ceiling and plan out the possibility of moving back in with her parents and living as a muggle for the remainder of her days, than a return message flapped over to her desk and settled itself in front of her like a swan alighting upon a body of water. She lunged forward, scrambling to open the letter without tearing it in half, and scanned its contents. The next moment she was striding towards the chimney and grabbing a fistful of floo powder.
"Leaky Cauldron!" She threw the powder at her feet and was swallowed by a roar of green-streaked flames.
When she emerged coughing on the taste of ash lingering at the back of her tongue, Andy took out her wand and attempted to make herself as presentable as possible. There, watching her from his perch at the nearby bar, sat Christian Thompson. His sleek hair gleamed golden in the low light and he flashed a bit of teeth, overly-white. In robes he looked far more well-composed, at home and comfortable with the drape of blue fabric from his elbows in a way he never was when she'd seen him wearing muggle clothes.
"Thanks for meeting me on such short notice." Andy moved forward to sit at the stool beside him. When the bartender ambled over, she waved him away. "Honestly, I wasn't sure you'd even remember me."
"How could I forget?" Christian swirled a crystal glass filled with a finger of liquid the same colour as his eyes, all amber-mellow and resin-brown. "The nice Miranda-girl with the muggle friend -- you made quite an impression in even so short of time."
Andy leaned her elbow onto the bar and grimaced. "Not to be rude, but I'm really strapped for time. I promise we can revisit social pleasantries at a later date."
"How could I refuse?" Christian drained his glass and set it aside, giving Andy his full attention. "What sort of favour do you need?"
"I know you're not actually in publishing, but -"
He stared at her, incredulous. "Wait, wait, wait. You need a book?"
With a wince, Andy said, "In theory, yes. In practice, it's a bit more complicated than that. I need a book that hasn’t been written yet. So, I need to go a year into the future to get it."
If anything, that only seemed to relieve him. "Oh, that's much easier. I'm well known for my special -- well, you might call them ‘procurement skills’ , but I’m afraid my knowledge of publishing begins and ends with Flourish and Blotts."
Andy sat up straighter on the bar stool, her eyes brightening with a daring of hope. "So, you can help me?"
Rather than answer, Christian gestured towards the bartender, who sidled back over. "I'd like to buy this lovely lady a drink. Whatever she wants -- put it on my tab." The bartender nodded and Christian turned back to Andy. "And you," he pointed at her with faux severity, standing and adjusting his robes so that they fell elegantly at his wrists. "I want you to sit back and relax. I'll return shortly."
She tried smiling at him, but her face felt frozen in the panic that had been gripping her stomach since she walked in on Miranda and Stephen the night before. "Ok, but how shortly is shortly? Because when I said I was 'strapped for time', what I meant was I have two -- maybe three -- hours before I'm fired and blackballed from life in the wizarding world as we know it."
Undaunted by her claims, he smirked. "Colour me intrigued! Whatever did you do to piss off Miranda so badly? Or did a billywig go buzzing into one of her pointy hats and you're just a hapless victim?"
"Miranda doesn't wear hats. At least, none that I've ever seen." Andy replied. "And let's just say I intruded on a rare moment of human weakness, and leave it at that."
"Mysteries upon mysteries," Christian murmured. Then without further ado, he apparated on the spot, leaving the bar empty but for Andy and a lone wizard on the far side of the room nursing a firewhiskey.
Andy blinked at the place where Christian had stood not a moment earlier, then glanced to the side. The bartender was watching her expectantly. Andy sighed and relented. "A butterbeer, please."
The bartender placed a glass in front of her and it filled automatically. Pulling the drink towards herself, Andy took a gulp, letting the butterbeer spread heat all the way down to her toes. She sagged against the bar, cradling the warm beverage between both hands. Her leg bounced on a rung of the bar stool, a nervous non-stop jitter of her thigh, while she turned her wrist over every thirty seconds to check her watch. Within ten minutes, Andy was staring down at the dregs of her butterbeer. Within twenty, she was pacing restlessly in front of the fireplace while the bartender cleared her glass from the countertop with a wave of his wand.
Exactly twenty-eight minutes later, Christian reappeared in the same spot he had left. He caught sight of her by the fireplace and, with a rueful shake of his head, he approached. In his hands, he cradled a small trinket that sparkled gold, pooled at the centre of a coiled chain. Individual links glinted where they spilled between his fingers. Andy's eyes widened.
"You have an hour." Christian held out the time-turner to her. "And with this, an hour should be all the time in the world."
She took it with trembling hands and breathed, "Thank you."
Christian's smile widened, revealing a few extra gleaming white teeth, but the smile never seemed to touch his eyes. "Oh, don't thank me. A favour for a favour. You owe me."
The scarlet steam locomotive puffed billows of smoke in long white plumes that trailed over the platform and the many people bustling upon it. Families gathered together to see off their loved ones, great crowds exchanging hugs and endearments as students hauled their trunks onto the train and waved out the windows. Not far from the brick archway entrance, Andy stood beside Caroline and Cassidy, watching the other families. The twins scoured passing faces for someone they recognised, but whoever they were looking for never appeared and their expressions remained desultory.
"Hey," Andy reached into her robes and pulled out her wand. "Did I mention that I have a gift for you two?"
Two pairs of guarded eyes turned to inspect her. Ever since Andy had disarmed them that night, they had treated her with a wariness fringing on dour respect. Cassidy shrugged at her blue-trimmed robes. "It's not your wand, is it? Because no offense, but it looks like it's seen better days."
"Yeah," Caroline's nose wrinkled. "Mum could make us something way nicer."
Andy frowned down at them. "First of all, your mother did make this one. Secondly, I like my wand and it likes me -- so, lay off! Thirdly, how is that an appropriate response to someone telling you they have a gift? Who raised -?"
She choked on the end of that sentence before finishing. Now, the twins' expressions had gone from cautious to downright icy and, boy, did they resemble their mother more than ever. Clearing her throat, Andy flicked her wand in a circular motion. She pulled two books from the air and floated them over to the twins -- one for each. Curiosity and confusion warred across their faces, and then they turned the books over to read the titles on the front.
Caroline's eyes widened. "No way," she breathed.
“How did you -?” Cassidy began, but stopped as she wrenched open to the first page, already eagerly scanning the print.
Feeling unbearably smug, Andy tucked her wand away and crossed her arms. She waited. And waited. The twins had their noses buried firmly between the pages and showed no intention of emerging any time soon. Finally, Andy rolled her eyes. “What do you say?” she prompted.
At least Caroline and Cassidy had the decency to look contrite, even if they only grudgingly mumbled, “Thank you, Andy.”
“You’re very welcome.” With a smile, Andy shooed them off, grateful that their trunks had already been hauled aboard the train and that she didn’t have to do it herself. “Now, go on! Get! Scram, you little gremlins!” At that Caroline stuck out her tongue, and Andy did the same right back at her. “And buy lots of sweets off the trolley! Make sure you eat a liquorice wand for me!”
“Ew, gross! Liquorice wands are the worst!” Cassidy made a face.
Caroline shuddered. “Yeah, you sound like Mum.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Andy drawled. She started when the train wailed a final boarding call. “Ok, you two really do need to hurry.”
They dashed off, clambering aboard the nearest carriage, books clutched in their arms, black robes whipping about their ankles. Parents wedged their shoulders up against Andy to wave their kids off, and she jostled among them. Through one of the carriage windows, she could see Cassidy take a seat with Caroline across from her. As she glanced out onto the platform, she caught Andy’s eye as if by accident. Hesitant and feeling a bit foolish, Andy gave her a little wave. The train pulled away, creaking along the tracks. Cassidy did not return the gesture.
Beneath her desk, Andy discretely flicked over her cell phone to see its screen. The display read 10:37pm, and where there should have been bars in the top right hand corner there was instead a small white x. Swearing under her breath, Andy stuffed the phone back into a pocket of her robes.
Emily watched her from across the aisle between them. She rolled her eyes, shook her head and sighed. "Just go already."
Andy's head jerked up, and she gave Emily a wide look. "But -?"
Already Emily was scratching the nib of her quill against a piece of parchment, pointedly not looking at her. "I know you want to make a good impression, but checking your muggle communication devices every two bloody seconds isn't going to help you much there. Besides -" she gestured to the empty halls beyond their doors. "-we're the only ones left apart from Nigel and Miranda. I can handle it from here."
"Thanks, Em." Andy grabbed her bag -- packed an hour ago, when everyone was supposed to have long left the office behind. "You're a lifesaver."
Emily jabbed the end of her falcon-feathered quill, as scarlet as her hair, in Andy's direction, "You owe me!"
"I'll bring you a sugar quill from Diagon Alley!" Andy shot over her shoulder.
"Don't you dare!"
Waving, Andy jogged through the halls and to the lobby. The glass walls and floors reflected an inky roiling black. She rushed through a world of white glass suspended over black, dark robes billowing behind her in her haste. Grabbing up a fistful of floo powder, she hunched her shoulders to stand in the massive fireplace before the darkened reception desk and threw the powder at her feet. "Barking!"
Nobody paid her any heed when she appeared in a roar of green-coloured flame at the pub in Barking, dusting off her clothes and brushing ash from her fringe. Pushing through the crowded area towards the exit, Andy hadn't taken more than a few hurried steps from the pub when the phone buzzed in her pocket. With a groan, she read the screen. Seven missed texts and four missed calls.
By the time she returned to her apartment, it was nearly eleven. A lonely feeble light shone from one of the small windows. She didn't bother with the broken elevator, clomping her way quickly up the three flights of stairs until -- huffing and puffing -- Andy fished the keys from her pocket. She'd almost opened the door when she squeezed her eyes closed and cursed under her breath. She'd forgotten to buy a damn cake. Leaving the keys dangling, Andy patted around for her wand.
"Oh no." She slapped her flanks, her hips, her butt. "Shit! Shit! Shitshitshitshitshit!"
Andy trailed a steady stream of curses as she whipped around and sprinted back down the stairs. Her eyes darted all about, searching. All the way back to the pub she ran, ducking to peer beneath cars and down stairwells. When she finally found it, her wand glowed brightly, happily in a gutter. She snatched it up with a furious growl, "You just had to pick today!"
It sparked, leaving little blackened holes burnt into her robes. Swearing, Andy started back towards her apartment, mending as many holes as she could find. Back at the door of the apartment, she conjured a small squashed vanilla cupcake in one hand. She could never manage any flavour beyond vanilla, and frosting forever eluded her. Then she fumbled with the wand, the cake and the keys before shouldering her way inside.
Standing in the kitchen in his boxer briefs, Nate stared down at his phone in one hand, holding a mug of something cold in the other. A spoon stuck from his mouth. He frowned as Andy flashed her most apologetic and brilliant smile, approaching him with the cupcake outstretched like an offering, a lousy and inadequate expiation.
Her smile flickered, then died. "Happy birthday."
With a rueful shake of his head, Nate pocketed his phone and pulled the spoon from his mouth, dropping it back into the mug, where it clattered. "Why don't you ever take any of my calls anymore? What? You can't pull yourself away from the job for two minutes to answer a text on my birthday?"
Andy closed her eyes, heaving a sigh. She approached, placing the cupcake on the kitchen countertop. "I told you, I can't take any calls while at work."
"Can't? Or won't?"
"Can't!" she insisted. "I swear I'm not lying!"
He nodded, sucking at the backs of his teeth. Then he gestured at her robes with his mug. The spoon slipped against the porcelain brim. "Then what are you wearing? You said those were for school."
"They -!" Andy clenched her hands into fists at her sides. She hadn’t had the time or presence of mind to change before barging into the apartment. "They were!"
"Is this some kind of fancy new dress code at your fashion magazine? Does it also involve weird wands that can pull cupcakes from thin air? What about disappearing into that pub without reappearing for hours, or coins that shift like magic?" His laugh slipped out, bitter, and he turned to place his mug into the sink, where it clacked against a few pieces of spare cutlery. When he turned back, he pulled a familiar coin from his pocket and tossed it onto the countertop. It slid over towards Andy, coming to a halt near the cupcake. Then he placed his phone on the table and played back a video of her just earlier, waving her wand, summoning a cupcake.
Her blood ran cold. "Nate," she whispered, taking a step back. "Nate, don't do this."
Nate scrubbed his hands over his face and through his hair, sweeping it back from his forehead. "I don't know what to think anymore, Andy. It might even be alright if you stopped lying to me. Was everything you ever told me a lie?" He bit his lower lip, and when he looked up at her his eyes shone with unshed tears only to find Andy pointing her wand at him. "What -?"
Slowly and with shaking hands, Andy lowered her wand. Nate's eyes were glazed and glassy; they were mirrors awaiting her orders on exactly what to reflect.
"I've been a terrible girlfriend to you, Nate." Andy began, pausing to sniffle and lean against the counter, crossing her arms. "And you've been lovely and kind. I worked late hours. I took my boss' calls but never yours. I missed your birthday. I lied to you, but I never cheated on you. Deep down you understand I did this to protect you, but you'll never know why. You're going to leave. You're going to move. When you see me on the street, you won't recognise me at first, and even if you do, you'll want nothing to do with me. You'll turn and walk the other way."
Wiping at her cheeks, Andy finished her instructions, unable to look at him, keeping her gaze fixed on the ground beneath her feet. The floor was scuffed and wood-panelled and somehow less solid than all of the floors of her glass office-building. For a moment Nate did nothing, then he took halting steps, rummaging around in a drawer.
Through her tears, Andy frowned in confusion as Nate pulled out a notepad and ballpoint pen. "What are you doing?"
"I can't go without at least leaving you a note," Nate answered. He sounded like an automaton, his voice flat and inflectionless. He began to write down the events she had just described, explaining why in his mind he was breaking up with her.
Choking back a sob, Andy fled to her room and shut the door behind her.
The next morning Nate was gone along with most of his clothes. He'd left behind an old sweater that he knew Andy liked to wear as pyjamas. A note was pinned beneath the untouched cupcake. Andy rubbed at her forehead in the kitchen, listening to the whistle of the kettle as she brewed herself a cup of gunpowder black tea. She ate the cupcake for breakfast. She didn't bother to read the note.
Emily blew her nose hard enough that her eyes watered. Andy handed over another napkin from the canister on the bar, which Emily took from her with a weak murmur of thanks. “You look awful,” Andy offered with a sympathetic grimace.
“Oh, why thank you,” Emily mumbled, her voice stuffy as she blew her nose again. “I hope I get over this before Paris.”
Nigel sat on Andy’s other side. All three of them slouched on their barstools in a neat line, nursing drinks. Emily and Nigel were, as always, pristine in their dress, whereas Andy had all but rolled out of the fireplace of the Leaky Cauldron. “And you’re one to talk, Private” Nigel told her, reaching over to brush a bit of ash from the top of her head, ruffling her hair in the process.
Andy glowered and shooed him away. “I can look however I like outside of work.” She still took out her wand to fix her hair however. Outside, the wind howled and battered at the windows, but inside the pub the air remained warm and charm-warded from the elements.
“Shame,” Emily crumpled up the napkins and stuffed them into the pockets of her robes. “Your appearance has been such a marked improvement lately. I’d hoped it would spread into the rest of your life.”
“Haha,” Andy said without any real mirth. “No, I’m afraid the rest of my life is still circling the drain.”
“Really? Sounds like it’s time for a promotion.” Nigel swirled the contents of his glass around, glumly watching the ice cubes clink against one another. “Have you considered working in my department? I could use a good whipping boy, and I promise to wield the cat o’nine tails with less ferocity than the likes of Miranda Priestly.”
Emily snorted, choking back a bitter laugh. “You’d have to pry her from Miranda’s cold dead fingers. Do you know she called me Andrea the other day? I thought I’d had a bloody stroke or been struck with a memory charm.”
Andy’s cheeks flushed with heat and she tried to cover it up by hastily lifting her goblet of spiced wine to her mouth. Any retorted died on the back of her tongue at the memory of Nate’s stunned look, the blankness of his eyes. Her own eyes started to prick with tears, and she took a large gulp of wine to drive the thought away.
Nigel and Emily exchanged looks over the scuffed counter. Nigel motioned for Emily to do something, but Emily shook her head and held up her hands. Finally, with a roll of his eyes, Nigel sighed and patted Andy on the back. “What happened?”
“Nothing,” Andy lied. She sniffled and took another sip of spiced wine, letting it warm her stomach, warding off the chill of early spring. “I’m just swearing off of muggles for a while. I can’t handle that again.”
“Welcome to the party,” Emily raised her glass as though in a toast. “I’ve had a strict No Muggle policy for years now. You start to feel a little guilty about obliviating them to the next life and back after they’ve gone rummaging around your drawers and stumbled across something they shouldn’t have seen. Mostly I’m annoyed. I specifically tell them not to go through my things! But it does tax the spirit after a while, I suppose.”
When Nigel murmured in agreement and removed his hand to tap his glass against Emily’s, Andy gaped at the both of them in shock. “You two -? You both have had to -?”
“Once was enough for me.” Nigel gestured to the barkeep for a refill, watching the amber-coloured liquid spill into his glass, two fingers high. “It’s difficult enough to have estranged muggle family members let alone friends or -- heaven forbid -- significant others.”
Emily shuddered at the very idea before reaching for another napkin to use as a tissue. Then with simultaneous groans, they all felt their pockets burn at the same time.
“Does she ever sleep?” Nigel sighed, wiping his glasses clean on the edge of his cloak in order to squint down at his Protean coin’s message.
Andy didn’t even bother taking out her own coin. She simply slouched against the bar, face pressing into the weathered wooden surface. “That would imply she ever stopped her hunt for those ruby slippers long enough to get off her broomstick.”
The reference flew right over Emily’s head. “My God, Andy, why would Miranda travel by broomstick? In this of all weather!”
Nigel, the only other muggleborn, laughed. Then, he pocketed his coin once more and lifted his drink. “Come on, ladies. We have one hell of an evening ahead of us.
Together, the three of them drained their drinks and slammed their glasses onto the bar.
Like identical sculptures flanking the doorway, Emily and Andy took notes in Miranda’s office while she dictated to them from her chair. She frowned off into the distance rather than look at them, as if they really were statues that just so happened to walk and talk and breathe. The scratching of their quills very nearly drowned out the faintness of her voice; Andy had to strain to hear, leaning imperceptibly forward to hang off the sheer precipice of every word.
Beside her Emily sneezed into the crook of her arm. At the interruption, Miranda went quiet and blinked. With a little shake of her head as if startled that Andy and Emily were present at all, she turned her scowl upon them. Her mouth thinned to a sour slant when Emily sniffled and dug around in the pocket of her robes for a tissue. Clearing her throat, Andy held out a spare tissue for Emily, who took it with a grateful look.
Rapping her fingernails against her desk, Miranda watched and waited as Emily blew her nose. With every blaring note, Miranda’s lip curled further in a sneer. “If you’re quite finished accompanying the London Philharmonic,” she drawled when Emily tucked the used tissue away, “I need you to visit James. Ensure he has everything he needs for his debut in Paris this week and make sure you don’t infect his entire office while you’re at it.”
“Yes, Miranda.” Emily made a descending motion with her knees that Andy could have sworn was two centimetres shy of an honest to God curtsy, before scurrying from the room.
Closing her notebook, Andy turned to leave as well, but Miranda’s voice stopped her in her tracks. “Not you, Andrea. Stay.”
The door slid shut behind Emily and trapped Andy alone with Miranda. The rain-lashed office hung in fitful suspense. Miranda sat behind her desk with her chin resting on her laced fingers, narrowing her eyes at Andy, while Andy shifted her weight from foot to foot. After Andy had pulled the rhetorical rabbit out of the hat with the twins and their Not-Yet-Written Books, Miranda hadn't made a single comment on Andy's accidental snooping in the townhouse three weeks ago. Now, she lacerated Andy with her eyes, scouring Andy's robes, unable to find fault but seeking it out regardless.
Once Andy had twisted in the wind for a satisfactory length of time, Miranda lifted a piece of parchment from her desk. “I received a letter from Caroline and Cassidy, in which they specifically asked me to say on their behalf: Hello.” Her mouth twisted at the word, as if she had bitten into a lemon.
“That’s -” Andy searched for the proper adjective and ended up with, “- nice?”
Letting the parchment drift back to her desk, Miranda aimed a ponderous look over the rims of her spectacles. “That’s all you have to say?”
“Oh! Uh -” While Andy dithered, Miranda summoned a chair across from her desk and pointed to it. Andy obeyed the wordless command and sat. “Tell them I said ‘hello’ back. And -- I guess, ask them if they enjoyed the book.”
In reply Miranda hummed a note short enough to be an indifferent grunt, but followed it up with, “I’ll be sure to add a postscript to my return letter.”
Andy scooted to the edge of her seat, feet folded under her, ready to flee. She had never seen anyone else sit in Miranda’s office before, as though the space were reserved for one. Even other master wandmakers visiting London were forced to stand in Miranda’s presence. Andy squirmed. “Is there anything else you need?”
“Yes.” Miranda removed her glasses, folding them and placing them atop the letter before she leaned against one of the arms of her chair. Veins of gold branched through the quartz of her seat. They glimmered in a flash of silent lightning. “I expect only the best from my employees, and Paris will be no exception.”
“Of course.” Andy nodded. “Emily -”
“- Is no longer the best.” Miranda interrupted, as nonchalant as you please. She could have been discussing the weather. “You will be attending. See to it that Emily knows. That’s all.” She gave a little wave of her hand, but when Andy didn’t move Miranda’s eyebrows rose. Elbow propped along the arm of her chair, she rested her cheek against her fingertips in a pose that could only be described as lounging. “Do you not want to join me in Paris?”
Andy very nearly choked on the thought. Not want -? “I didn’t say that,” she said, too quickly.
“Well, then.” Miranda’s eyes glittered with a serendipitous sort of triumph, as though she had dipped her fingers into her pocket and found a Galleon when she’d been expecting lint. She smiled, and Andy felt her mouth go dry. “I don’t see the problem.”
“You’re leaving for Paris the day after tomorrow,” Andy pointed out, feeling numb.
Rather than firing back scathing retort at being told the obvious, Miranda’s smile seemed to widen with a positively wicked kind of mirth. “Then you’d best inform Emily of your aspirations immediately.”
When Andy stood, her seat melted back into the floor. For the first time in months the glass felt unsteady beneath her feet as she walked from the office and back to her desk. She never had gotten around to buying that mat beneath her chair, and now she sat, staring down at the rain falling between her feet, the clouds black and boiling. Andy pulled the Protean coin from her pocket and turned it over between her fingers. The letters along the edges waited for her to transmit a message to Emily, but she could not find it in herself to relay the words.
Then the coin burned with a message of its own from Emily, and Andy nearly dropped it to the floor.
There was some measure of comfort to be found in the knowledge that all hospitals, even wizarding ones, looked and felt the same. Sterile white walls striped with blue, tile-panelled floors guiding visitors with painted signs and room numbers, Healers bustling down corridors in red robes trimmed with white like Great War nurses. Clutching a small bouquet of flowers, Andy hastened along a hallway on the fourth floor of St. Mungo’s at a pace just below a jog. She scanned each room for a name only to keep moving, already searching for ‘Charlton’ beside the next door. When she finally found it, she froze and loitered outside before steeling herself and entering with a broad smile that felt plastic even to herself.
Dressed in a white hospital gown, Emily lay propped up in a bed. A box of tissues and an empty bottle of Skele-gro sat atop a table beside her. Glancing down at the bed, Andy could see Emily’s feet poking out beneath the covers. The skin of her legs sagged against the mattress -- the bones of her shins and ankles missing entirely. Out of modesty, Andy looked away and crossed the room. There, she busied herself at the windowsill, pulling out her wand to summon a vase and arranging the flowers.
Emily blew her nose. “I sneezed when apparating. Splinched myself. The Healers say it will take two days to regrow my bones. Not to mention this damn cold -- they refuse to do anything about it unless it gets more serious. They say it’s best to let the body handle it for now.” With a sigh, she tossed the tissue beside the bottle of Skele-gro and sniffled. “There’s nothing for it. You’re going to need to take my place on the first day in Paris. I’ll follow after that, and then you can come back to London.” Emily reached for another tissue, then frowned at the guilty expression on Andy’s face. “What is it? What’s happened?”
Andy bit her lip. “Well…” she began slowly, lowering herself into an incredibly uncomfortable chair by the window.
“Oh, spit it out already!” Emily snapped, dabbing at her reddened nose with a tissue before crumpling it up and throwing it onto the table. She missed and the tissue fell to the floor. “This is painful enough without you hemming and hawing.”
Andy winced, more at the memory of her own interactions with Skele-gro; she could still feel the splintering sensation of her shoulder knitting itself back into existence when she was sixteen. Finally, she blurted out, “Miranda asked me to come with her to Paris.”
Emily’s frown deepened, a few more furrows digging between her eyebrows. “Two assistants? Why would she need two of us there?”
“No -- I mean --” Breathing in deeply, Andy steadied her voice, sitting even straighter in the chair. “Instead of you.”
“Instead of -?” Emily trailed off, her mouth dropping open in shock. Tearing her gaze away from Andy she reclined in the bed, movements sluggish and stiff. She closed her mouth and her jaw tightened. “You -! I can’t believe this is happening.” Emily’s eyes filled with angry tears. She clutched at her bed sheets and growled through grit teeth up at the ceiling, refusing to look at Andy, “I’ve been waiting for this, slaving away for nearly a year to attend Paris and you -!” When Emily turned her glare upon her at last, Andy wished she’d go back to looking at the ceiling. “You hate wandlore! You hate your job!”
“That’s not true! I love my job!” Andy insisted with a vehemence so genuine it gave her pause. Her mouth opened and closed in abortive speech. Her eyes widened and she slumped heavily back in her chair. “Oh, fuck,” she whispered, repeating with a sense of slow self-inflicted horror, “ I love my job.”
Emily stared at her, then let loose a bark of watery laughter. Chuckling wryly, she swiped beneath her eyes. “Christ...You really are just as bad as the rest of us.”
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that no portkey of Miranda Priestly’s could be anything less than extravagant. The diamond chain-link choker sat on the pale marble-topped island in Miranda’s townhouse kitchen, where Andy had been ordered to meet her for their departure for Paris. Nigel had already arrived in Paris the night before to prepare for the delegation, leaving only herself and Miranda to follow. Outside the horizon dimmed with the encroaching dawn and Andy stifled the urge to yawn. Instead she eyed the choker as though it might suddenly rear up and bite her; she hoped that the choice in transportation wasn’t a metaphor.
“ This is your portkey?” Andy pointed down at the necklace. To hell with Emily's rule of you don't ask Miranda anything . It was too damn early to go grabbing a hundred thousand pounds worth of diamond-studded chains.
In answer Miranda arched one eyebrow at her across the kitchen countertop. “Is that a problem?” she asked, cool as can be -- as though it were just another normal morning routine for her to rise at the crack of dawn and converse idly with her assistant over a piece of jewellery worth double said assistant’s salary.
“Of course, not. I just think we should have a cup of coffee before our international travel via Cartier,” Andy said, her tone dry.
“No coffee,” Miranda growled, unexpectedly waspish about the suggestion. “And don’t be ridiculous. This is goblin-forged.”
Of course, it was. A hundred thousand pounds? Not even close. Eat your heart out, Cartier.
“Have you ever thought what would happen if a thief tried to steal this?” Andy muttered, admiring the lustre of the gemstones as they caught the amber-flossed light from the ceilings fixtures. The entirety of their luggage, of which there was enough to dress a small village, swung from a small purse at Andy’s hip, enchanted to accommodate half of London should the need arise.
“I imagine they’d have a nasty surprise in store for them.” Miranda brushed her hands down the front of her sleek black robes before gesturing for Andy to ready herself. When Andy reached out to grab hold of the choker however, Miranda snatched at Andy’s wrist, stopping her firmly in place. “Don’t do that,” she warned, a dark note to her voice. “I haven’t disenchanted it yet.”
The heat of Miranda’s hand sent a warmth shivering down the back of Andy’s neck and pooling just behind her navel -- perhaps she had already touched the portkey by accident, Andy swallowed past the sudden dryness in her throat. “Right. Sorry.”
Miranda let go, but the impression of her fingers continued to burn. Andy rubbed at her wrist in the hope that the sensation would fade. It didn’t.
Rather than take out her wand, Miranda stretched out her hand over the necklace and closed her eyes. Inhaling deeply, she whispered something fast and unintelligible under her breath -- a flurry of incantations in fluid Latin that sparked a glow from the centre of her palm, shedding outwards until the diamonds floated in a pool of liquid golden light that crackled like thunder. Miranda’s voice faded and the necklace slumped back down atop the marble with a gentle clink.
With a tired sigh, she nodded at Andy. “Now you may touch it.”
Hesitant, Andy curled her fingers around a section of the choker, the links cool to the touch. She waited, but when Miranda made no move to touch the portkey she looked up. Miranda was worrying her bottom lip between her teeth, frowning down at the choker with something like apprehension in the draw of her brows. When she caught Andy openly watching her though, Miranda’s expression soured, growing pinched and irritated.
“Is something wrong?” Andy ventured.
“No,” Miranda lied. Lips pursed to a thin line, she steeled herself and seized the choker without another moment’s hesitation.
Andy was aware of the brush of their fingers, the smooth backs of knuckles sliding against one another, before the portkey hooked into a place behind her navel and gave a firm yank. The world spun into a dizzying soup of mismatched colour, all blending together in a sickening wrench that tasted of bile and lurid half-thoughts. Andy thanked her father for inheriting his poor sense of direction and iron-clad stomach when, at last, the carousel ride from hell came to a crashing stop.
Unlike Miranda, Andy landed flat on her stomach still holding the portkey. Spindles of fog whirled along the ground, blanketing the buildings around them until they loomed like pale shadows in the morning light. Grit from the Parisian cobblestones dug into the palms of her hands as she pushed herself up with a grunt, checking for the strap of her purse and finding it with a sigh of relief. When she rose, pulling out her wand to whisk away any hints of debris, Andy blinked over at her travelling companion. Miranda may have landed firmly on her feet, but she was also holding a hand over her mouth. Her skin was cast in a pale, greenish tinge and her eyes were squeezed shut.
“Miranda -?” Andy started, but stopped.
In reply Miranda held up her other hand and bit back a dry heave. Well, that explained the no coffee remark and the earlier reluctance.
Andy fought back the urge to pat at Miranda’s back; losing a hand was not part of the day’s agenda. “You know, there are alternatives to traveling by portkey.”
Lowering her arms, Miranda swallowed thickly, still pale but regaining her colour by the second. She cautiously opened her eyes, wincing. “I’ll be cold and dead in the ground before I step into a fireplace. And a yappy little dog mentioned that somebody doesn’t like apparating.”
Eyes widening, Andy stammered, “We could have -! I just -! So long as it’s not me doing the apparating I’m usually alright.”
“You might have mentioned that a bit earlier,” Miranda hissed through grit teeth, pausing to close her eyes once more and draw another deep breath to fight back a wave of nausea.
Her smile softening, Andy held out the diamond choker. “Thank you, by the way. I appreciate it.”
Miranda opened her eyes only to glare daggers at Andy and swipe the necklace up in a huff of anger. “Next time we are apparating.” She shooed Andy away with an irritable wave of her hands, the diamond choker glinting in the low light. “Now, go see to the carriage while I send this home with the proper enchantments.”
Andy turned around. Sure enough a carriage trundled towards them down the street. Right on time. It emerged from the fog amidst a swirl of mist, pulled by twin Thestrals. Their leathery wings were tucked against their backs. Their hooves made no sound across the cobblestones, and in eerie silence they trotted forward to stop directly in front of Andy.
“Been a long time since I’ve seen one of you,” Andy murmured as she approached, holding out her hand for one of the Thestrals to nose. Instead its nostrils flared at the scent of fresh blood from the minor scrapes across her palms, and it lapped at her hand with a papery black tongue while its partner stretched its neck against the yoke to do the same. She winced. “Hey, that stings, guys! No nipping!”
She gave an admonishing push to one long nose, and both Thestrals snorted but got the hint. They dropped their heads and she stroked at their silky black manes. “Thank you. That’s better.”
“What part of ‘see to the carriage’ did you not understand?”
Miranda stood to one side behind her, scowling. It must have looked very odd: Andy talking to nobody and petting the empty air. She pointed to the yokes that from Miranda’s perspective must have hovered in place without horses. “I helped tend to the Thestral herd at Hogwarts, and I just thought -” Andy’s voice trailed off when one of the Thestrals flicked its bony tail and Miranda’s eyes tracked the motion. “Oh,” Andy breathed. “You can see them, too.”
Miranda went very still, very quiet. She did not confirm the statement. Through the deafening silence, Andy could hear the distant sounds of the city sluggishly coming to life in the early morning fog. The sputter of a car engine wheezing itself awake. The slam of a cafe door. All down the street, one by one, the lights began to wink out as it grew just bright enough to see without them.
“It was a complete stranger.” Andy announced, not looking at Miranda and scratching behind the horn-like ridges that protruded above the divot of the Thestral’s ears. “I was thirteen and visiting home in America for the holidays. There was a car crash. I caught a glimpse of the man inside as he died. Apparently, that's all it takes.”
Miranda did not respond. Instead there followed a brisk clack of heels against the cobblestones as she strode over to the carriage and yanked one of the doors open. Without a word, she slid inside, closing the door behind her with a muted click. Sighing, Andy gave the Thestral a last parting pat along its skeletal neck before rounding the other side of the carriage and sliding into the seat beside Miranda. The moment she shut the door, the carriage lurched into motion, dark wheels lumbering along and carrying them towards their destination.
They did not speak. Andy filled the time with watching Paris slide by, quick as a blur. The Thestrals pulling the carriage knew implicitly where to go, trotting down broad avenues and narrow alleys alike, laneways too small to pass through that the carriage nevertheless squeezed right along, buildings and cars stepping aside to make way. None of the muggles they passed glanced in their direction; all eyes slipped right over them like a stone skipping across a body of water.
“It was my father.” In a faint murmur, Miranda spoke as if to her dim reflection in the breath-misted glass rather than to Andy. “Twenty some odd years ago. I watched him die in a hospital bed.
Looking out her own window, Andy pretended not to hear. That seemed to suit Miranda just fine.
Beneath a marble arch Miranda stood, flanked by Andy and Nigel, while the event's attendees approached Miranda in a long line, greeting her like a string of ambassadors from foreign courts. They took her hand and pressed their cheeks against hers. Some even bowed over her wrist in a sweeping bow as though of fealty, at which Andy could have sworn she saw a glimmer of haughty approval in Miranda's eyes. Standing just behind her, whispering in Miranda's ear all the names of those who approached, Andy felt less like an assistant and more like a servant of state; she should be wearing striped leggings and a golden codpiece.
Despite that -- or perhaps because of it -- Andy could focus on little else apart from Miranda, who would tilt her head towards Andy every so often to hear her whisper as though the two were indulging in shared secrets. Even in sleek dress robes of changeant silk that gleamed black and burgundy, the most glamorous item Miranda wore was a smile. Andy had grown so accustomed to the high-throated Victorian collars and dour expressions Miranda usually donned, that to see her smiling -- however fake it may have been -- drew Andy’s gaze back time and time again. She could count the individual downy hairs at the nape of Miranda’s neck, the fine lines at the corners of Miranda’s eyes. Now and then Miranda would thumb at one of her earrings, and the quartz burned with ebony fire at the crux of her jawline.
Not to mention that plunging neckline and the subsequent swell of cleavage.
Andy jerked her eyes up and felt her face flush. Gazing out across the assembly, she was struck by the sudden fact that powerful witches and wizards could live a very long time indeed. Andy herself could easily look forward to over another century of life, outstripping her muggle parents by a length of time she avoided dwelling upon at all costs, and she didn’t rank herself as a particularly powerful witch. Even aged -- what? -- fifty years old now, a witch like Miranda Priestly could very likely outlive over half of the people congregating here. She could outlive Nigel. She could certainly outlive Andy. She could even, perhaps, outlive her own children.
Miranda was looking at her very intently now, and Andy could not tear her eyes away for the inexplicable fear that Miranda would hear her thoughts. Shielding the motion with her body, Miranda reached a surreptitious hand over and pressed her fingers against the soft skin of Andy’s wrist. Andy inhaled a sharp breath at the brief contact, but then Miranda glared and cocked her head to one side, eyes flicking in the same direction, until Andy turned to find two people approaching and seeking to make their introductions.
Quickly, Andy cleared her throat and leaned forward to whisper in Miranda’s ear, “That’s Mafalda Hopkirk, head of the Improper Use of Magic Office, and her husband, William.”
Andy stepped back the moment Mafalda and William reached them, and Miranda turned her attention upon them, flashing that broad fake smile. While they spoke, Andy stared straight ahead over Miranda’s shoulder and crossed her hands behind her back to grip her wrist tight -- the one Miranda had touched and continued to burn.
Now Nigel was looking at her with a guarded expression, but when he spoke all he said was, “Watch your six, Private. We’ve got incoming.”
Andy looked around. Nigel had been looking over her shoulder and behind her Irv Ravitz, James Holt and Christian Thompson were all three advancing on their position in a wedge formation directly out of a military history manual. Mafalda and William were making their farewells, and Andy reached out to tap Miranda’s shoulder, alerting her to the newcomers. At the last moment however, she hesitated and when Miranda turned, Andy’s outstretched hand brushed against her soft cheek.
Snatching her hand back, Andy stammered, “Ah - Sorry - But we have, uh -” She wavered before the intensity of Miranda’s hard, expectant look, then Andy just gave up and jerked her thumb over her own shoulder towards Irv and the others.
Nigel bought them time, stepping forward to greet the trio. “Irv, you look happy! Who died?”
“Funny, Mr. Kipling.” Irv smiled in such a way that his wide cheeks went taut. “But I wouldn’t be so flippant, if I were you. Miranda here can’t protect you forever.”
Returning the smile, Nigel replied, “Oh, I think I’ll take my chances. Besides -- some of us are capable of defending ourselves.” He turned his attention to the others. “Christian.” He nodded. “James, it’s wonderful to see you again.”
“Always a pleasure.” James took Nigel’s outstretched hand, giving a hearty squeeze and a generous smile. “I got your note, by the way. We should talk. Irv, do you mind?”
When James looked over, Irv just nodded stiffly. “Yes, yes. Go.”
Nigel shot Andy an apologetic look over his shoulder before walking away with James towards the bar. Glancing uneasily between Irv and Christian, Andy opened her mouth but beside her Miranda spoke before she could. “Odd seeing you here, Irv. You don’t normally grace my little parties with your presence.”
Expression going dull and sour, Irv shot back, “This is an international gathering of minds that my company helps fund. I’d hardly call them your parties. ”
Miranda’s smile took on a thorny edge and she stepped forward to loom over him, a vicious gleam in her eyes. “When people travel from all over the globe to line up to shake your hand, then you can call them whatever pleases you. Until such a time however, I’ll call them whatever pleases me.” To further drive her point home, Miranda gave Andy a little wave. “Andrea, see to delegation, won’t you? I need to have a chat with our esteemed director.”
Noticing the nervous glance Andy shot at the numerous witches and wizards of note waiting to speak with Miranda, Christian stepped forward and offered Andy his arm. “Allow me to assist, Miss Sachs.”
Miranda and Irv, already engaged in a heated glaring match, their smiles gleaming like iron pyrite, made no objections, so Andy allowed herself to be steered away. “Thank you,” she muttered under her breath.
“Don’t mention it,” Christian gave her hand a quick squeeze. “So, I was right?”
Andy blinked up at him. “What do you mean?”
“ Miss Sachs?”
For a moment, Andy just frowned, puzzled. And then she said, “Oh! I mean -? Yes. I suppose -”
“Excellent. I can call in my favour without any problem, then.”
Suddenly suspicious, Andy leaned back and narrowed her eyes. “That depends on the favour.”
Christian shrugged, slowing their pace until they stood just out of earshot of the witches and wizards waiting in line. “Nothing extravagant, I assure you. I want Miranda’s complete schedule for her time here in Paris.”
“Miranda’s -?” Andy shook her head with a rueful laugh. “Why would you need that?”
“So that I know the best time to take you out to dinner.” He nudged Andy’s hip with his own. “You two are attached at the hip these days; don’t think everyone hasn’t noticed! She’s a fearsome witch -- I’ll be the first to grant her that -- but if it means taking you out on the town, then I’m willing to go toe-to-toe on the duelling strip.”
“Oh, ha ha.” Andy rolled her eyes and nudged him right back. “Alright. But only because I’d have to clean up your dead body from the strip, and I’d rather not get my dress robes dirty; they cost a small fortune, you know.”
At that he pretended to stagger a bit as if struck by a wounding blow. “What happened to the nice girl I met in an art gallery?”
She swatted his arm for his antics. “I’ve figured out a few things on my own. Turns out I’m not as nice as you thought.
Christian’s eyes sparkled. “I should hope not. Now -” Turning them both towards the hopeful delegation, his smile gained a few more watts. “-I suppose we’d better schmooze like we actually mean it.”
On her way to her hotel room, feet aching, wishing for nothing more than a decent night's sleep and groaning under the knowledge that the day was far from over, Nigel kidnapped Andy. He dragged her into his own room just a few doors down and popped a bottle of Gigglewater that fizzed when poured into fluted glasses. When he pressed a glass into Andy's hand, his eyes sparkling and his smile wide, Andy asked slowly, "What exactly are we celebrating?"
"You know how James Holt has been searching for an apprentice?" He twirled his glass, waiting for Andy's nod of affirmation before saying with a broad grin, "I'm it."
Andy stared at him. The Gigglewater simmered and frothed in her glass, little sparks leaping from the brim and onto her wrist. "You're serious?" she asked, her own mouth splitting into a smile.
With a nod, Nigel sipped at his drink and laughed uncontrollably. "I've been speaking with James for the last few weeks and he just confirmed it with me this evening at the opening party."
"And Miranda -?" Andy jerked her head towards the door, where Miranda's suite was situated down the hallway.
Nigel's eyes widened in understanding. "Oh, God! She knows! Of course, she knows! She recommended me in the first place! She'll be announcing it at tomorrow morning's ceremony!"
Relieved, Andy held out her glass for a toast. "To you, Nigel," she said, their drinks clinking delicately together. "You deserve this."
"You bet your workaholic ass, I do."
They drank. The Gigglewater simmered on her tongue like champagne, but when she swallowed a fit of indomitable laughter welled up in her mouth. She hid a graceless snort behind one hand, and Nigel chuckled, patting her on the back. "Your first time drinking this, I wager?"
Another snort, louder this time, and Andy nodded. "I think -" she gasped around another burst of uncontrollable giggles, "I think I'll stick with butterbeer."
Nigel took another sip, laughing. "And deny the world the joy of seeing you like this? Unacceptable." Andy snorted again and Nigel had to put his glass down for fear of dropping it, he was laughing so hard. "This is too much. You are adorable."
"You take that back!" She poked his sides. Their revelry was halted firmly in its tracks however, when Andy felt the Protean coin in her pocket burn. Unable to keep the grin from her face, Andy pulled the coin from her pocket and shook her head. "Miranda."
"Again?" Nigel plucked the fluted glass from Andy's fingers and set it beside his own. "This is your only free time during the whole trip!
Andy hiccupped on a snicker. "When has that ever stopped her?" She turned to leave then, pausing, pressed a chaste kiss to Nigel's cheek. "Congratulations, Nigel. I really am pleased for you."
"Don't you dare go soft on me, Private!" He scolded. "It took me long enough to sharpen you up as it is. You'll undo all my hard work!"
Andy gave a little wave over her shoulder as she closed the door behind her. She had to stifle down the aftereffects of the Gigglewater all the way to Miranda's room, stopping at the cream-painted double doors to collect herself. She struggled to recall ever laughing in Miranda's presence -- apart from that time Miranda had made a scathing and shockingly self-deprecating joke about unicorns, virgins and her own long since misplaced virtue, which Andy had laughed at out of sheer nerves and then immediately regretted doing so when Miranda had glared, as if the logical conclusion to a joke was not, in fact, an outward display of amusement.
Andy knocked, waiting for moment before allowing herself inside. The suite unfolded, opening itself up onto a broad balcony beyond stained-glass doors depicting St. George charging across the far rooftops on a gold-maned horse. All of the furniture stood, untouched, but for a white towel that had been flung at the foot of the bed, in the process of crumpling to the floor as it dangled from the mattress. Gazing out the windows, Miranda had her bare feet tucked up beneath her legs atop a striped chaise. Wearing nothing but a bathrobe and spectacles, folded upon herself, she appeared very small, her shoulders narrow and her hands slender. She twisted the wedding ring at her finger.
Andy cleared her throat to make her presence known and Miranda twitched at the sound. She did not look around, though her head tilted to one side in an unspoken invitation for Andy to approach. Crossing the room -- no less than fourteen steps -- Andy sank into a cushioned armchair angled across from the chaise, notebook already in hand, quick-notes-quill awaiting instruction.
"Took you long enough," Miranda mumbled. She continued to stare out the doors, not looking Andy's way, though her eyes followed the leadened cames that shot through the glass. Removing her glasses, Miranda drew a deep breath and tapped at her chin with the folded spectacles.
After an awkward length of time had passed in silence, Andy ventured, "Is there something you needed?"
That seemed to jerk Miranda out of whatever reverie she was in. She blinked and Andy could see her eyes hardening. Sitting up straighter and clearing her throat, Miranda said, "I need you to inform the House Elves at the site that there will be one less place at my table tomorrow morning. And cancel the carriage that's supposed to be picking up Stephen."
Andy's quill slowed its scratching across the page. "Oh! Stephen isn't coming anymore?"
The muscles at Miranda's jaw clenched and her voice grew sharp, honed to a bleeding edge. "No. Not unless you can convince him to rethink the divorce. Otherwise, be my guest."
Andy’s eyes widened. “Miranda, I’m so sorry.”
“Another disappointment.” Miranda released a huff of joyless laughter. “Another divorce. Another father-figure.”
Miranda never fidgeted, but right now she was definitely fidgeting with her glasses. She opened and closed the silver-lined arms, over and over, as if mesmerised by the squeak of their hinges. A twitch of muscle at her cheek appeared every time the hinges creaked, like an irrepressible wince. "What am I going to tell the girls?" she wondered aloud, her voice very small -- not at all soft and commanding like it usually was. "They never got along all that well with Stephen, but what am I going to -?"
Miranda disguised the crack in her voice as a weak clearing of her throat. The squeaking grew faster as she fiddled with her glasses at a pace that was quickly approaching a panicked tick. Andy couldn't say what possessed her, but she placed her notebook and quill aside, leaned forward, reached out and stilled Miranda's hands. A sharp hissing intake of breath and Miranda stared down at Andy's hand covering her own.
"They're tough," Andy murmured. "They'll be alright."
When she stroked her thumb over ridges of Miranda's knuckles, Miranda flinched back, snatching her hands away. Her glasses clattered to the floor, but she did not bother to pick them up, instead making abrupt little motions with her fingers -- clenching and unclenching her fists -- before crossing her arms and folding her hands from sight. Miranda's usual baleful glare had returned with a vengeance and Andy froze in place, afraid to do anything more than breathe.
Miranda gathered herself up in her seat and in an instant her entire demeanour shifted. Gone was the crumpled divorcee and in her place a vengeful despot who burned dissenters at the stake. She glowered at Andy for daring to witness yet another moment of weakness and the growl that slipped from her crept on the verge of a snarl, "That's all."
If Andy had thought she'd made a hasty retreat back at the townhouse so many nights ago, it was nothing compared to this. By the time she slumped against the closed door to Miranda's suite, Andy's lungs scorched as if with blackened coals and it took her a moment to remember to breathe. She shook her head, gulping down air until her heartbeat slowed. Then, checking her watch, Andy sighed. 7:32pm. She was already late to an outrageously expensive dinner with Christian. She gave the door to her own room a longing glance down the hallway, then headed towards the lobby.
Out on the street amidst a glimmering of lights, Christian kissed her. It was abrupt; it was messy; it wasn’t entirely unpleasant or even unwanted; and it had been -- Andy did the maths in her head -- nearly three months since she’d last had sex. So, when Christian pulled back and asked if she wanted to indulge with him in a so-called ‘nightcap’ back at his hotel on la rue Vernet , she said yes.
When they entered his hotel room, Christian wasted no time in shucking their cloaks and hanging them in a nearby closet. “Would you like to join me for a shower?”
While Andy wasn’t necessarily opposed to the idea of foreplay in an incredibly fancy walk-in, actual shower-sex had been blacklisted from her repertoire ever since the Great Shower Curtain Disaster of 2014. “No thanks,” she gestured vaguely towards the rest of the suite. “I’ll just make myself comfortable. You know -- pour myself a drink. Explore.”
With a chuckle, Christian pointed to the sideboard. “Feel free. But not too much exploring, alright? A man needs to keep some secrets.”
He disappeared into the bathroom and as soon as he was out of sight Andy kicked off her high-heeled shoes with a sigh of relief. The hiss of water from the shower was muted behind the bathroom door. Andy had just enough time to glance around the room and take in the pale furnishings, the broad-plained bed draped all in sterile white like a hospital room, before her wand went for a tumble out of the pocket of her dress robes. Swearing, she took a swipe at it, but her clumsy fingers only hit her target and propelled the wand forward, sending it rolling beneath an armoire across from the bed. With a sigh, Andy crouched down on her hands and knees to fetch it.
Her wand was nestled up to a square package wrapped in thick plain brown paper near the back wall. Andy had to lie flat on the floor to reach beneath the armoire, extending her arm across the carpet. When she grabbed the wand however, her fingers brushed up against the package and a familiar jolt of potent magic went racing up her arm, prickling like the spines of a shrake. Andy went very still and held her breath, her eyes widening. Slowly she dragged out both her wand and the package, then stood, holding the weight of it in her hands. A simple knot had been tied around the crinkled brown paper, binding its contents in twine. Swallowing thickly, Andy placed the package on the bed and -- careful to not touch what lay inside -- unwrapped The Book.
She stared down at her reflection in the wyrm's single emerald eye, and its snarling profile seemed to track her movements. Andy held her wand slackly between her fingers, but her grip tightened when she heard the bathroom door swing open behind her. Christian wandered out, his hair slicked back against his skull, naked but for the towel wrapped around his hips.
"What the hell is this?" Andy croaked, pointing at where The Book lay among its nest of brown paper atop the bed.
Christian's eyebrows rose, but rather than look surprised he smiled and crossed the room to the sideboard that Andy had ignored. "What does it look like?" he asked. He went through the motions of pouring himself a drink, but when he turned to face her again he held a scotch in one hand and his wand in the other. Gesturing with his glass towards The Book, he said, "James Holt has been dying to get his hands on the contents of that dusty old thing. And Irv -- well. Irv is, like so many of his kind, a businessman. He understands its value, and I understand the value of procuring it for him. And thanks to your little tip earlier, I knew exactly when to do just that."
Andy’s blood ran cold. "Irv is paying you to steal the secrets of wandlore for -- what?" She shook her head. "He's already on the board of directors. What could he possibly want this for?"
"You still don't get it, do you?" Christian laughed, taking a healthy swig of his scotch. "How long have you worked at The Wand and the Way? A year? I thought you were supposed to be one of the smart ones, Andy." Gritting her teeth and clenching her wand in her fist, Andy said nothing as Christian continued. "Irv and his goblin friends aren't paying me a mint because that rag over there is pretty to look at, you know. A million people would kill to get their hands on that book. Do you know how many have already died in the attempt?"
Delicately Christian put his now empty glass down while with his other hand he raised his wand. Andy tensed. Her palms were sweating. Her heartbeat drummed and roared in her ears. "Lucky for you," Christian shrugged, "I'm not the killing type. Like you said: it's awfully messy. Not to mention, I have no talent for it."
"Then -" Andy started slowly, her mind racing, her eyes flicking to The Book and back to Christian. "-what are you going to do?"
The tip of his wand was fixed on her. He grinned. "Don't you worry. Nothing too damaging. A simple memory charm, and then we can pick up where we left off before you decided to go snooping around. Seems like a waste of a perfectly good evening otherwise."
With a fluid flick of his wand he snapped, “Obliviate!” but Andy was ready. She ducked. Her wand hand shot up and deflected the spell, which went careening off into the armoire, sending a ripple of energy fizzling out through the wood like a current through transistors. Christian raised his wand again, mouth opening, but before he could utter the word for a spell Andy’s arm snapped forward and she yelled, “Expulso!”
In a flash of blinding bluish light, Christian went flying back, his body slamming into the opposite wall, his wand clattering to the ground. With a groan, he slid down the floor, sitting upright and grabbing the back of his head. Wincing, he looked up and his face went slack with fear when he saw Andy advancing upon him, wand clenched in her fist, eyes dark and blazing. She kicked his wand aside with her bare feet before he could make a grab for it.
"Now, now!" Christian scrambled away, following the wall until he sat in the doorway to the bathroom, where steam still billowed up from his recent shower. He snatched at his towel in an attempt to maintain some last scrap of dignity even as his looked furtively all around for an escape, finding none. "Let's - Let's be reasonable about this! I'm sure we can work something out, baby. How much do you want?"
Standing over him, her jaw set in a line unyielding as steel, Andy pointed her wand. "I'm not your baby," she growled. “Stupefy!”
He slumped, limp and unconscious. With a last parting sneer in his direction, Andy stalked back over to the bed, pocketing her wand as she went. There The Book lay just as she’d left it, untouched, its leather surface bound all in glossy brass. She checked her watch. 11:32pm. More than enough time to grab The Book, haul ass back to her own hotel room across town via chimney, and return The Book to Miranda well before the ceremony even started tomorrow morning over breakfast.
Andy reached down to pick up The Book with her bare hands, but as soon as her fingers touched the leather exterior it curled upon itself, coiling inward like a snake devouring its own tail until she grasped nothing but plumes of green and blackened smoke. She gaped. The Book had transported itself to god only knows where, and now she had exactly ten hours and thirty -- no, scratch that -- twenty-five minutes to track it down and return it to Miranda before the next slimy thief came along and tried to sell it to a horde of vindictive goblins for a vault full of gold.
Ragged and dead on her feet, Andy hastily pulled on her dress robes. On her hotel room’s bedside table her watch read 10:03am. Her bed sheets were tucked beneath the mattress, unmussed, unslept. Her makeup had long since faded, and she barely paused at the mirror hanging over her room’s writing desk to conceal the dark circles under her eyes before rushing out into the hallway.
Ten hours on her feet. Ten hours sprinting between fireplaces across half of Europe, two-thirds of North America, a quarter of North Africa and even once in Australia and Southeast Asia. Ten hours and still no Book.
Now Andy struggled to remain on her feet and not trip on the long hems of her dress robes, the subtle snake-skin patterned cloth a choice Nigel had insisted upon when she had dragged him along to Twilfitt and Tattings in a panic the day before leaving for Paris. Her feet ached; she hadn’t brought any sensible shoes with her on the trip. Then again, she hadn’t exactly been expecting to lug her way across a handful of continents in one night. In retrospect, Andy had worked for Miranda long enough that she should have known something like this would happen. Never a dull moment.
In a limping jog, Andy made her way to Miranda’s room and knocked on the door. No answer. She knocked again, louder this time, more insistent, and kept knocking until the door wrenched open. A grim-faced Auror wearing a red coat and black gloves stood there. “Can I help you?” he asked, his voice deep, his eyes dark and suspicious.
Taken aback, Andy floundered. “I - oh -! Uh - is Miranda here? I really need to speak with -”
As if summoned Miranda appeared, sliding ahead of the Auror and blocking Andy’s view into the suite, where three more Aurors sat at a table. “Have you completely lost your mind?” Miranda snapped. She waved the Auror away, and he returned to join his fellows.
When Andy tried to peer after him, Miranda yanked at the door until the opening framed her and showed nothing else. “I need to talk to you about Irv Ravitz,” Andy began in a rush, lowering her voice. “And James Holt and Christian-”
Miranda didn’t wait for Andy to finish before hissing, “Go to the ceremony and do not disturb me again” and shutting the door firmly in her face.
All but jumping up and down in a fit of fury and fatigue, Andy pulled out her wand and contemplated blasting the suite doors open and strapping Miranda to a chair to make her listen. Breathing deeply, Andy swore under her breath and stuffed her wand away once more, storming off towards the lobby. She didn’t have to wait in line at the main lobby’s fireplace long, most witches and wizards of this calibre -- and wearing dress robes -- preferred to travel by portkey or apparition. On the other side of the chimney, House Elves had erected floor-length mirrors for the guests to check themselves after their travel by floo powder. Andy spared herself only a cursory glance and a wave of her wand to clear away the ash before marching towards the grand dining hall.
Round tables filled the hall, columned, arched and domed like the nave of a basilica. Soft light blotted out the ceiling’s hard edges, so that the room faintly floated in a cloud of rose petals and streaming banners bearing the crests of each representative in attendance. Already people were congregating around their tables, chatting idly. Along the edges of the hall, reporters readied their quick-notes quills and photographers polished the lenses of their cameras. A handful of House Elves made last minute adjustments to the stage at the far end of the building, raised like an asp, some altar of stately self-aggrandizement or perhaps a royal dais. Miranda would be giving a speech there later that morning and Andy couldn’t think of a better place for her to stand.
“There you are!” Nigel greeted Andy with a full grin and took her arm. He looked as resplendent as ever in his pristinely fashioned dress robes. “Come on. Our table is at the front. You look tired, by the way. Did you not sleep well last night?”
Andy couldn’t muster a smile in return. As they wound their way through the maze of tables towards the stage, she tamped down the sick acidic feeling curdling her stomach. “Not really. Nigel, we need to -”
She trailed off, her spine going rigid as she saw who else was seated at their table. James Holt and Irv Ravitz sat side by side, already sipping glasses of water and looking incredibly calm for a pair of thieves that had quite possibly pulled off the greatest heist in two hundred years. They looked up at Nigel and Andy’s approach, and for once Irv’s smile seemed genuine, even if it was unbearably smug.
“Mr. Kipling, Miss Sachs, how are you this fine morning?” Irv asked, and for the first time Andy could see that his teeth set in his wide mouth were very fine and very sharp. His black eyes glittered behind the round spectacles perched atop the bridge of his nose.
“Just peachy,” Nigel answered for the both of them when Andy said nothing.
“You two haven’t seen Christian, have you?” James asked. “The rascal probably had too good a time on the town last night, and I haven’t seen him all morning.”
With a furious shake of her head, Andy swallowed. Christian was probably still sprawled on the bathroom floor where she’d left him, completely unconscious. She hadn’t stupefied someone since her seventh year at Hogwarts. The duelling club had been angling for new members and invited passers-by on the grounds to engage in a demonstration. They’d roped Andy onto the duelling strip and the boy she’d struck with a stunning spell had been in the Hospital Wing for nearly two whole days. She hadn’t joined the club.
She was saved from making pained polite conversation by a buzz in the crowd. The House Elves had all made themselves scarce, and the glow from the ceiling dimmed somewhat, wordlessly announcing that the ceremony was about to begin. Nigel guided Andy around the table to sit across from Irv and James. All around the hall, hundreds of other witches and wizards took their seats as well, and the air was filled with the scrape of chairs against the richly patterned marble floors.
Perched at the very edge of her seat, unable to sit still, Andy craned her neck, seeking everywhere for that familiar head of silver hair, for that graceful walk and haughty tilt of chin. It wasn’t until the entire assemble was seated that Miranda -- who could do nothing by halves -- apparated directly at the centre of the stage.
All fell silent. A single shaft of pale light from the ceiling engoldened motes of dust until the air around Miranda shimmered in a spectral haze. Her dress caught the light and cast it back, winking here and there like tiny links of black plate mail stitched together to create a draped cuirass that slinked from chest to ankle. Miranda was drenched in light, her skin suffused with it, incandescent in a way that made Andy’s chest ache with that old indescribable feeling.
“Thank you,” Miranda said, wand tip pressed to the base of her throat, her voice carrying with the Sonorous charm she’d cast. Her face was alight with the intermittent flash of photography; journalists crowded the edges of the hall. “Any day where so many talented witches and wizards gather together to share in the inviolable knowledge of wandlore, is a day I look forward to most of all. Being on this stage is an honour, and one I’ll not soon forget. But before we begin I have some news to share with you all.”
Miranda looked across the crowd and held each of them captive with a smile like blood-warm resin from the bark of summer pines. Listening to the speech, Andy gripped the skirts of her dress robes with trembling fingers, the fabric leaving faint impressions against her palms. “As many of you may know, recently James Holt has made his debut as the youngest master wandmaker in recorded history.” Miranda paused to allow a smattering of applause, to which James rose halfway from his seat and took a little bow. Nigel fidgeted with excitement to the side, and Andy couldn’t bear to look at him. “As a master wandmaker it is his prerogative to take an apprentice, and it was with my blessings that James came to London to choose from among the family. It is however, my great disappointment to announce that this is no longer the case.”
A murmur shivered through the crowd. Out of the corner of her vision, Andy spotted red-coated Aurors prowling the perimeter of the congregation, blocking off exits. Andy glanced across the table to see that both James and Irv had gone pale, their eyes wide with shock. Finally, she met Nigel’s bewildered gaze at her side and reached out to clasp his hand beneath the table. His fingers had gone very cold; they trembled in Andy’s grasp.
“This morning it was brought to my attention that my manuscript was stolen.” Miranda’s grave expression gave away nothing as her words were met with shocked gasps. “Since then, the authorities have found damning evidence that James Holt with the aid of Irv Ravitz and Christian Thompson conspired to sell the secrets of wandlore to goblin-kind.”
The murmurs had escalated into the scrape of chairs and cries of outrage. Irv and James leapt to their feet, but before they could pull their wands or even apparate, four Aurors descended upon them, appearing in a scorch of ozone with wands drawn and levelled, their eyes hard. They clapped Irv’s and James’ wrists in iron-twisted manacles that smoked to the touch, tendrils of dark mephitic fumes peeling off into the air. Journalists from every corner of the globe clamoured to take their picture, bulbs snapping in a haze of brilliant light until Andy’s vision purpled. James stared straight ahead, jaw tense, while beside him Irv was spitting invectives that one of the Aurors quickly silenced with a wave of her wand. Her partner dug around in the pockets of each of their dress robes and pulled out their wands -- Irv’s short, stout and inflexible; James’ long, cunning and limber.
Holding Nigel’s hand, Andy watched in mute awe as three of the four Aurors dragged Irv and James away, while the last carried the two wands over to the stage. Climbing the steps, the Auror approached Miranda and held out the wands the way a knight might offer a blade to a monarch for an accolade. Whatever solemnity Miranda may have donned earlier was long gone now. She positively glowed with a savage brand of joy. When she smiled, she bared her teeth, taking between her hands first James’ wand and then Irv’s, and -- one after the other -- snapped them into pieces.
They did not speak in the carriage. Twin Thestrals pulled the vehicle along. Andy could just see the flick of a bony tail through the little window where a driver normally would have sat and wielded the reins. Rain drummed atop the lacquered rooftop, and inside the seats were stretched with white leather. The two of them remained silent for upward of three blocks before Miranda said, “You really thought I didn't know?"
Andy glanced over to find Miranda idly toying with the emerald brooch at her throat, studying the passing grey-washed cityscape with a gaze slow and warm as bat's blood soup. Andy said nothing and listened as Miranda continued with a muted scoff. "I've known for quite some time. If there's one thing you can always depend on, it's the greed of goblins and men. Irv Ravitz has been a covetous little wretch since trolls lived in caves. I've been keeping watch on him for as long as I've known him, waiting for him to make a mistake. It was only a matter of time before an eager young upstart like James Holt came along, tempted by promises of wealth and glory. I let him think he was my competition because it suited me. And that rat, Christian Thompson? Simple avarice made him an accomplice in Irv's schemes. I saw them conspiring from miles away, plotting to steal the mysteries of wandlore. Bloody rebellions have been fought for less.”
"There's a reason why goblins are forbidden from owning wands. Disaster would ensue. They must never be allowed to have them again. These secrets, these treasures are ours to guard, and I intend to sequester them away for safekeeping no matter the cost. Competition?" Miranda waved one hand. "James was never even a player in the game, just someone else's pawn on the board for far larger stakes."
"At first I thought you were a pawn as well. Some incalculably inept patsy sent to spy on me." Miranda snorted, a sound that from anyone else would have been graceless, but which from her was lofty and derisive. "Then it quickly became clear that you really were that incompetent. You changed, though. You grew capable. You grew a spine. You looked me in the eye."
Right then Miranda arrested Andy with her pale gaze. The emerald at her throat glinted until Andy could see her own reflection winking back. "I must confess: I was impressed by how ardently you defended my best interests today. How you battled Christian. How you tried to inform me about the events that transpired, even when The Book had returned itself to me after you touched it. Oh, yes. I know all about that.” Miranda smiled at the comprehension on Andy’s face as Andy glanced at the emerald, the enchanted twin of the jewel on The Book. “I never thought I'd be saying this, but I see a lot of myself in you, and -- well --" Miranda’s dress robes gleamed darkly as if sewn together with scales of black articulated glass. Colour pinked her cheeks; she was flushed with vicious triumph. She reached across the carriage and brushed her fingers across the snake-skin green trim of Andy's dress robes. "Green really does suit you, you know."
She retracted her hand, never once grazing Andy's skin, though Andy felt her touch all the same, the cauterizing force of her eyes. Being in the same space as Miranda Priestly stifled, seared away the air's oxygen, leaving her breathless. Andy shook her head free of the dizzying sensation, half convinced it must be the effects of some spell. "I don't think it does. Not as well as it suits you." Andy whispered. She wrenched her stare away, looking instead out the rain-tinted window, mist gathering at the corners of the glass. "I couldn't do what you do."
To the side a wry breath of laughter came from Miranda. "Nobody can do what I do."
"No. I mean -" Andy clenched her hands into fists, twisting them in her lap. "I couldn't do what you did to Nigel. I couldn't do it, Miranda."
Miranda hummed a note of wordless amused understanding. "You already have." Andy turned to stare at her, and Miranda's mouth was curled in a cruel smile. "To Emily."
Blinking, Andy shook her head in denial, but she couldn't shake the sinking sensation in her gut, the embroiling indecipherable feeling to which she could finally pin a name. "That's not -! That's different! I didn't want -!"
Miranda studied the shift in Andy's expression with grim delight. "You didn't want this? You didn't want to excel? To exceed? You didn't want to push ahead, to see beyond simple needs and pierce the core of things? You don’t fool me, Andrea. I could build a city on your ambitions."
Andy’s mouth moved, but no sound came out. The carriage slowed. A building loomed before them, tall and gaunt as a castle. With a sharp briary smile, Miranda did not wait for a footman to trot over to her door, opening it herself and stepping into the grey and dismal drizzle. Not a single drop of rain touched her hair or shoulders; the water was suspended in the air above her in a jewel-like sheen. Numb, Andy exited on her own side, but did not follow. The reporters all flocked to Miranda, streaming in from all sides, and she loomed -- presiding over them like a behemoth among so many glittering flashing hoards of silver and light -- larger than life.
Andy stared after her, watching her ascend the steps with a sense of innate fascination and dawning horror. Tearing herself away, Andy turned and stalked off, not looking back.
By the 1990s, the average age of witches and wizards was about 137 years, with the oldest wizard on record being 775. Andy ‘Accidentally Stupefied A Boy Half To Death’ Sachs thinks she isn’t that powerful and therefore that she’ll only live to an average age for a witch. She is, of course, wrong and will make it past 400. That being said, I maintain that Miranda -- being a god damn powerhouse -- will outlive everyone in this cast by a good margin. Fight me.
Three months after leaving The Wand and the Way, Andy plucked up the courage to send Nigel a note by owl. The moment she tumbled from the fireplace in the Leaky Cauldron, he only gave her just enough time to clean the ash from her robes before clasping her shoulders and greeting her with a smile that warmed her all the way to the soles of her feet.
Then he frowned and stepped back to cast a critical eye over her. “Have you lost weight?”
Andy smiled apologetically. “I'm not the best cook.”
“Well, it's not all bad. It makes your cheeks look fantastic.” He turned her around, adding, “And your ass.”
With a chuckle, he led her towards the bar and paid for their drinks. “When does the new job start?”
Startled, Andy said, “How did you know I was starting a new job?”
“Please. Give me some credit.” Nigel pulled his glass of firewhiskey close, nodding in thanks to the bartender. “I had a hunch you were waiting to contact me until you had something lined up. So -- spill.”
Grabbing her tall glass of butterbeer, Andy warmed it between her palms. She grinned with sheepish excitement. “I start next week at The Daily Prophet.”
A slow smile spread across his face and he held up his drink. “Cheers to that.”
Sitting up straighter on the barstool, Andy tapped their glasses together and drank. After they’d set their glasses back down on the counter, she asked, “How’s Emily?”
“Lording over her new underlings that came with her recent promotion, and also pretending you never existed.” Nigel leaned forward and lowered his voice. “Don’t tell her I told you, but she’d love to see you again. She also visits Wiseacres every Tuesday at seven in the morning, sharp.”
Andy put on her best solemn face, but a grin pulled at the corners of her mouth regardless. “My lips are sealed.” The grin quickly faded however, as she tentatively asked, “And - everyone else?”
At that, Nigel’s eyebrows rose. “Everyone else? Or somebody else?”
A flush rose to Andy’s cheeks, which she attempted to hide -- poorly -- behind her glass of butterbeer as she lifted the drink and took a sip. “I just meant -” she began, floundering under Nigel’s brook-no-nonsense stare. “You know she didn’t give me a reference?”
With a snort, Nigel aimed an incredulous stare at her. “You expected Miranda to give you a reference?”
“I didn’t expect -! I just -!” Andy trailed off and didn’t finish the thought. Instead she glowered into the froth of her butterbeer. When she’d gone in for her interview at The Prophet, she hadn’t dared to hope for anything so magnanimous as a reference from the likes of Miranda Priestly. It hadn’t stopped the sting, though.
At last Nigel took pity and said softly, “She’s fine. And nothing’s changed, you know.”
“Oh.” Andy blinked. “That’s - good? It’s good, right?”
“Oh, absolutely. But it’s also decidedly odd.” Nigel sipped at his drink. “She still mixes up the names of her new assistants, of course. Calls them Emily but never Andrea.”
“Nice to know I’m that easy to forget,” Andy grumbled.
Mumbling around the lip of his glass, he said, “Somehow I’m not sure that’s what it’s all about.”
Frowning in confusion, she said, “Then what is it?”
“God, you think I know? You’re the Dragon-keeper. You tell me.”
“I’m not -! You know I hate that name, Nigel!”
He waved her objections aside like they were pixies tugging at the lapels of his robes. “Doesn’t make it any less true.”
Grinning over the countertop at her, he needled, “You know you sound just like her when you do that.”
True to Nigel’s word, Andy ran into Emily in Diagon Alley just outside of Wiseacres one misty Tuesday morning a month into her new job. The street -- normally a-bustle with near constant activity -- hung with a curtain of quiet fog, shrouding the empty shops and cobblestones in a veil of pale grey. Andy was hurrying from the fireplace at the Leaky Cauldron -- her new daily commute from Barking -- when she heard the clack of high-heeled boots against the kerb and glanced up to find a tell-tale shock of red hair.
“Emily?” she asked, stepping closer.
Hearing her voice directly behind her, Emily all but leapt out of her skin with a graceless yelp.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” Emily clutched at her chest, startled and gaping at Andy. “You’re like one of those terrifying muggle toys that pop out of nowhere when you wind them up!”
“A jack-in-the-box?” Andy supplied.
“Whatever they are, they put the fear of God in me.” Breathing easier, Emily placed her fists on her hips and gave Andy her most formidable glower. “What do you want, Andy, I’m very busy, as you well know!”
Andy warded off the glare with her usual smile. “Listen, I’m just on my way to work. But -” she added in a wheedling note, “- I have time for a cup of tea at Rosa Lee’s?”
Emily opened her mouth to snap out a brusque retort, but paused. She glanced from Andy to Wiseacres, chewing on her lower lip before tossing her head haughtily and announcing, “One cup of tea. And you’re paying!”
Andy allowed herself to be hauled along down Diagon Alley. “Of course. My treat.”
Every Tuesday after that, at exactly four minutes before seven in the morning, Andy walked into Rosa Lee’s Teabag to find Emily seated by the fire, already sipping a cup of tea and glaring impatiently for Andy to join her.
For over a year Andy covered Magic News at The Daily Prophet. She wrote articles on the latest innovations in sorcery and beast handling. She lived alone. She grew tired of living alone and bought a black cat with white-socked paws named Bartholomew, and when he was particularly chatty with his demands for food and scritches in the mornings she mocked him by calling him Bartholomeow. She drove away loneliness by cleaving to work like a limpet. She got a promotion but still couldn’t find it in herself to feel passionate about her job. She did not dwell on her disappointment that she never received a reference from Miranda Priestly. In fact, she did not think about Miranda Priestly at all.
This was a lie.
She comforted herself by insisting that she did not think of Miranda Priestly much.
This was also a lie.
Growing up on a farm outside of Cincinnati, Andy had participated in her fair share of winters. Her old wardrobe back home held enough cosy flannels to satisfy a lumberjack, and she had stomped her way through fields of knee-deep snow until her thighs burned and her cheeks ruddied from exertion. Now however, she hid her hands in the folds of her thick robes and thanked God for the fur trimmings that back in London she had decried as 'excessively unnecessary.' She wasn't about to tell Dave that, though. He would smirk and make smug 'I-Told-You-So' faces at her every time she shivered and stamped her feet for the remainder of the trip.
The snow had receded enough that little tussocks of grass bristled above the sheets of white, their spindly edges tinged and rime-riddled. Looking out across the expanse of snow, broken only by a staggering of mountains along the distant horizon, Andy shifted her shoulders in her robes, wishing the fabric were thicker still again. An encampment had been erected nearby, tents lined up in neat rows. A few chimneys even poked through the ceilings of fabric, stippling the air with fragrant woodsmoke. With a sniffle against the cold, Andy turned to her work partner and asked, “Tell me why I'm here again, Dave?”
Swaddled in robes that bore a striking similarity to Andy's, Dave stood only a few inches taller at her side. As the editor of Magic News, Dave oversaw the entire office and was answerable only to Barnabas Cuffe, the editor-in-chief, yet in spite of that he still dabbled in the field when he could smell a good story on the horizon. One of the youngest editors of The Prophet -- apart from Ginny Potter in Sports -- Dave preferred a lackadaisical approach to his management style that involved tickets to the Holyhead Harpies and drinks with the lads at the Leaky Cauldron. Emotional whiplash in comparison to what Andy had grown accustomed to back at The Wand and The Way, but she was hardly about to complain.
He stuffed his gloves more firmly down his fingers in a vain attempt to preserve what little warmth remained in his hands and answered. "The Canadian Wizengamot follows the arctic policy to the letter -- promotion of economic and social development, fierce protection of the environment, all that jazz. As such --"
"No, no. I get all that." Andy interrupted, stuffing her hands under her arms. "I can read a Wikipedia article, thanks."
Dave gave her a curious look. "What's Wikipedia?"
With a sigh, Andy shook her head. "Nothing. Don't worry about it. Just tell me what sort of scoop we're chasing that requires me specifically to go tramping through the arctic tundra on a Wednesday afternoon?"
Dave's fringe of dark curly hair framed his furrowed brows, but he shrugged and answered, "Johannes Jonker -- American wandmaker asshole extraordinaire -- has been working with the magic-using Inuit in the Sverdrup Islands to track what he believes is the world's largest known herd of wild unicorns. And he would know, being the expert. We -" he gestured between himself and Andy, "- have been invited to observe and report. You specifically are here because I know what your CV looks like. I hired you for your special talents with magical beasts in the field. And because you're a halfway decent writer, I'll grant you that." Rubbing his hands together, as much with glee as with the hope to generate heat through friction, Dave said, "I don't know why, but I have a good feeling about this trip. Something big is going to happen."
Andy listened to his entire speech before repeating bluntly, “Unicorns.”
“So, what you're really saying is: you chose me out of everyone else in the office because of my so-called special talents.” And then she gestured to her chest with a cupping motion of her gloved hands.
Dave grinned. “Also yes.”
“Have you ever thought that this kind of behaviour is the reason why your department struggles to keep women on its staff?”
“Never crossed my mind,” he replied with a look of wide-eyed innocence that somehow also managed to appear coy.
Andy bent over to grab a handful of snow and chuck it at his face. He laughed, dodging out of the way. "You'll need to do better than that, Sachs!"
When he packed a snowball between his hands and hurled it at her in retaliation, Andy ducked too late and got a shoulder full of snow. "Oh, it is on now."
Struggling to wade through the snow far enough away to put distance between them, Dave yelled, "Do you really think it's a good idea to attack your boss?"
"Yes!" Andy shouted back, already scooping up a small mound of snowballs as ammunition.
Doing the same, Dave laughed, "Working for the likes of Miranda Priestly did you no good, Sachs!"
"Oh, you have no idea," Andy muttered to herself, gathering another round into her hands.
When Andy lobbed another snowball in his direction, Dave pulled out his wand and swept his arm in a broad gesture. A wall of snow leapt up to defend him, before settling down in a short wall.
"Hey! That's cheating!" Andy accused with a gasp.
"I'm sorry -- were there rules?" He called back, not sounding sorry at all. With another gesture of his wand, he sent a flurry of snowballs hurtling through the air towards her. Fumbling in her robes for her own wand, Andy dove out of the way, only narrowly avoiding being pummeled half to death and instead earning herself a faceful of snow. Grunting from the force of her fall, she rolled over, mumbled a quick spell under her breath, and cast a jet of bluebell flames that melted the snowballs, whittling them away to nothing.
By the time she struggled to her feet -- movements impeded by her bulky robes -- Dave had summoned six more snowballs. They hovered over his head, rotating in a menacing manner as he waited for Andy to stand upright. Her eyes widened as did his grin. "Give up while you still can!" he jeered good-naturedly.
"Yeah, that'll never happen!" Andy retorted.
"O-ho! The Slytherin's got fangs!"
He raised his wand arm, but as soon as he did so, Andy pointed her own wand and shouted, "Engorgio!"
The snowballs over his head swelled up, expanding to the size of small boulders, then larger still. Dave's charm weakened, and the snowballs overhead gave a precarious wobble until finally they fell right from the air. No matter how much Dave tried to scramble away, he couldn't move quick enough. Great mounds of snow descended upon him until only his arms and the top of his head could be seen.
"Andy Sachs takes the match and the crowd goes wild!" Andy crowed with triumph, pumping her fists into the air, her wandtip erupting in a shower of green and silver victory. The snowballs she had prepared earlier along the ground lifted into the air and danced among the sparks.
Then, directly behind her, a chillingly familiar voice spoke. "So, this is what you get up to nowadays?"
Whirling about, her eyes wide, wand arm held out, Andy accidentally sent a cluster of five snowballs careening towards none other than Miranda Priestly. Calmly, as if giving a small wave of greeting, Miranda raised her hand and the projectiles all came to a halt directly in front of her before, with a dismissive flick of her gloved fingers, they fell to the ground at her feet. She lowered her arm and folded her hands together, long sleeves draping across her forearms and trailing almost to her knees.
Miranda was draped all in uncharacteristic white. She seemed to blend into the surroundings, from her white hair to the silver-gilded tooling all along her sweeping ivory robes. The pale lengths of cloth glittered when she moved until she appeared frost-touched. Andy had assumed Johannes had been the one to invite them to Nunavit. It hadn't occurred to her earlier that an American wandmaker tracking magical beasts in Canada would have simply invited representatives from his own country's newspaper.
Andy gaped at her. "Miranda! What are you doing here?"
One eyebrow arching -- God, it was like no time had passed at all since Andy had fled Paris nearly two years ago -- Miranda sniffed, "You of all people should know that I like to keep close tabs on potential new avenues of procurement. The world's largest known herd of unicorns? Do you really think I'm going to let the likes of Johannes Jonker keep that kind of treasure trove to himself?"
"Ah yes, because it would be so much better under your direct control," Andy replied, then blanched at her own unforseen audacity. Still, she suppressed a wince at the tirade sure to come and squared her shoulders, ready to meet whatever Miranda could dish out, head-on.
Instead of the expected hostility however, the corners of Miranda's mouth twitched in a tell-tale smile. "Time has made you bold, Andrea." Her pale gaze, so like chips of ice when set in this wintry clime, roved over the clumps of snow stuck to the dark fur of Andy's robes, settling on Andy's tousled hair and cheeks, flushed a rosy hue from the cold. "It suits you."
Andy thanked the Powers That Be that her fierce blush at an actual compliment could be attributed to the frosty air. The words bore such a resemblance to the last they had exchanged -- Green really does suit you, you know -- that Andy felt a frisson of not entirely unpleasant heat creep up her spine.
A noise from a few metres away dragged their attention elsewhere as Dave finally managed to extricate himself from his prison of snow. Swearing loudly, he slapped at his robes, shaking free a shower of pale powder from the fabric. "God damn, Sachs! You really know how to -!" Seeing who was standing with Andy however, Dave cut himself short, his jaw going slack.
Clearing her throat, Andy held out a hand, gesturing between them. "Miranda, this is my current boss, David Lewis. Dave, this is -"
"Miranda Priestly," he breathed. Then, brushing his gloves through his hair to get rid of most of the snow still gathered there, Dave stumbled forward, slogging through the drift. "I didn't think you'd actually show."
"You knew she was coming?" Andy hissed at him when he arrived at her side, low enough that Miranda could not properly hear. "Why didn't you tell me?"
In reply he only offered a shrug and a weak smile.
Apparently Miranda heard regardless and had witnessed far more of their snowball fight than previously implied, for she needled, "I see your tactic of blindsiding your opponents doesn’t extend just to the battlefield, David."
At that, Dave flushed pink. He tried stammering out some defense of his character, but Miranda -- already bored with him -- turned her gaze back to Andy. “And how is work?” Miranda’s gaze flicked between Andy and Dave, who was still brushing loose snow from his dark hair. “Apart from the innappropriate frollicking, that is.”
“It’s -- alright.” Andy grimaced, reluctant to say anything more while Dave stood within earshot. The sudden urge to confess reared up in her throat -- about how unfulfilled and wanting her current job left her, about how much she missed the thrum and welter of Miranda’s presence. Instead she blurted out, “I got a promotion last month.”
Miranda’s eyes glittered as though she’d plucked Andy’s still-beating thoughts right out of her chest. “With ambition like yours, I'm not surprised.”
Andy's mouth shut with an audible click and she felt her gaze harden, which only seemed to amuse Miranda even more. Before Andy could say something well and truly dumb, Dave jumped in. "Andy is one of our best correspondents where magical beasts are concerned. I've never seen a more talented witch in the field. I'm amazed you let this one go, but -- hey! Your loss is my gain!"
At that, Miranda's lips thinned to a narrow line. She aimed a death glare at Dave, who went stock still and immediately dropped his gaze. Then she let him stew in unease for a few moments before repeating in a tone slow and dangerous, "Let her go?"
"I mean - yes?" Dave mumbled, studying the nervous shuffle of his boots in the snow, daring to only peek up at Miranda every so often. "I'd assumed she'd sprinted for the hills, but she never has anything but nice things to say about -"
"Thank you, Dave!" Andy interrupted, her voice too loud, her smile too wide, too bright. He glanced at her in surprise, though his relief was palpable when her interruption meant that Miranda's intense scrutiny turned to Andy instead.
Miranda was watching her with a familiar expression now, the same kind of puzzled disbelief with which she used to study her when Andy had first started meeting her gaze without flinching -- as though she had fully expected Andy to badmouth her at every turn after leaving. Then she gathered herself, stacking her walls high until she glinted like carved ice. "Well," Miranda said, perfunctory and brusque as ever. "Don't let me keep you both from your -" she gestured with a sneer towards the remnants of their snowball fight, "- buffoonery."
As Miranda turned to walk away, sweeping through the snow towards the encampment, Andy watched her go with a sense of inexplicable wistfulness. The words boiled up into her mouth, escaping before she could stop them. "It was nice seeing you again."
Miranda paused, but did not face her. Instead, she aimed a sidelong glance over her shoulder and gave a small nod -- an acknowledgement that anyone else might have missed -- before continuing on her way without looking back again.
“She’s talking to you,” Dave mumbled in a daze, staring after Miranda. A clump of snow melted against the back of his neck, trapped between his fur-trimmed robes and his skin. He wiped at it with dumbfounded slowness. It was a look Andy had seen frequently before; Miranda could and often did leave grown men stunned and winded with just a passing glower.
“Yeah, I’m surprised, too. Especially after -- well. Everything.” Andy shrugged and refused to say anything more about her time working at The Wand and the Way.
“No, I mean -” Dave turned his shocked expression to Andy, “-she’s actually talking to you. She loathes the press. For years she’s gone out of her way to avoid exchanging words with anyone from the press. And now she invites us and -” Without warning, he grasped Andy’s shoulders and breathed, “This is it! You have to use this to get an interview with her!”
“Are you insane?” Andy shrugged his hands off. “She hates me! She’s probably only talking to me because she likes to watch me squirm! Like a -- I don’t know -- a sadistic cat skinning a mouse alive! And you want me to just -- ‘oh hey, Miranda, while you’ve got the knife there, maybe we could have a chat about your career and gab about Witch Weekly and braid each other’s hair?’ Oh, yeah! That’ll go down well!”
He waved away her concerns, pressing on. “Listen, Andy. All we know about Miranda Priestly is what you can read on the inside cover of a textbook blurb. This could be big. Really big. I don’t care how you do it, but you need to use whatever is going on between you two -- animosity, sexual tension, I don’t care. Just get that interview!”
“Sexual -!” Andy bit her tongue. Her face flushed hot enough to steam the snow right from the air. Something acidic boiled in the pit of her stomach. “Dave, you can’t be serious. Where the hell do you think you're going? Dave!”
He didn’t seem to notice her internal screeching halt. Already he was walking away towards the encampment and waving over his shoulder. “I’m counting on you, Sachs!”
For much of the duration of the trip however, Miranda played an expert game of ‘How To Pretend Andrea Sachs Does Not Exist.’ Indeed, Miranda’s tactics seemed to include ignoring everyone, including colleagues and rivals. At the mess hall tent where everyone gathered among rows of tables to eat, she cloistered herself in a far corner furthest from the banquet, sipping at a cup of too-hot coffee and reading a newspaper, though how she got her hands on a fresh edition of The Daily Prophet way out here was beyond Andy. The one morning Dave tried approaching with Andy in tow -- despite Andy’s vehement protests -- Miranda snapped her newspaper open and sneered at him so mightily that he immediately abandoned the siege. As Andy steered him towards Johannes Jonker’s table, she caught sight of Miranda watching their hasty retreat over the brim of her coffee mug, looking far too pleased with herself.
“Nice going,” Andy muttered to Dave as they dropped down onto the benches, placing their trays of steaming porridge and coffee onto the table.
“I think I just saw my whole life flash before my eyes,” Dave whispered. He turned his wide-eyed gaze to Andy. “Is this the afterlife?”
“Yes.” Andy pushed a spoon at Dave. “Eat up. You’ll need your strength if you think that was bad.”
“I can’t believe you worked for her for almost a whole year,” Dave mumbled, taking the spoon and stuffing porridge into his mouth. “If I ever get that bad, promise you’ll polish me off.”
“I’ll consider it a public good,” Andy answered gravely.
Across the table, Johannes and his companion, Hunter Okpik, sat nursing their mugs of coffee, already finished with their meals. “Good morning, Mr. Lewis. Miss Sachs.” Hunter nodded towards both of them, as polished and professional as ever.
Johannes nudged Hunter with his elbow. “Lighten up, won’t you? Our guests will think they’re not welcome.”
With a scowl, Hunter scooted a little further away from Johannes on the bench. “Need I remind you that you are also one of my ‘guests’, Mr. Jonker? My people’s sovereignty extends to -”
Rolling his eyes, Johannes waved Hunter away. “Blah blah blah and Canada respects its indigenous peoples despite evidence to the contrary. I know the party line, thanks. I’ve done this before.”
“Yes, and if I remember correctly last time you stole sensitive material from the field, Mr. Jonker.” If Hunter had seemed distant and flinty before, his tone had turned positively venomous now. “I assure you, while I’m here that won’t happen again.”
Andy’s eyebrows rose and she exchanged a meaningful look with Dave as she dug into her porridge. On day one, Johannes had introduced Hunter as his ‘friend’ but ‘cultural minder’ seemed more appropriate given this turn in conversation. She and Dave both kept their mouths shut, listening to the tense exchange, taking mental notes short of whipping out their quick-notes quills.
Leaning back in his seat, Johannes regarded Hunter with an amused expression. “You seem more prickly today than usual. What brought this on?”
“You have a history -” Hunter began.
Johannes interrupted, “Many do, I imagine.”
“You have a history of unprofessional behaviour to say the very least,” Hunter repeated more firmly, his voice dropping to a frosty note, his dark eyes narrowing as he glared. “And we will no doubt come across the herd today. I hope you have elected representatives to approach the herd, Mr. Jonker, because I assure you that you won’t be going within fifty metres of the specimens on my watch.”
In reply Johannes gave a cavalier shrug, lifting his coffee mug with a smirk. “It’s a surprise.”
Hunter gave him a flat look. “I hate surprises.”
“That’s because you’re joyless, Hunter. Even our British friends know.” Johannes turned to Andy and Dave for backup. “Isn’t he joyless?”
Dave said nothing -- though in his defense, his mouth was full -- but Andy set down her spoon on the corner of her bowl and looked Johannes in the eye. “I’m American, actually.” She smiled at him, the muscles of her face taut. “And better a joyless stickler for rules than an insufferable cad.”
Hunter raised his mug towards Andy. “Thank you, Miss Sachs.”
Picking up her own coffee, Andy tapped their mugs together in a toast.
Johannes managed to juggle a condescending sneer and a wounded ego with aplomb. “I expect nothing less from one of Miranda’s creatures.”
Before Andy could retort, a voice said from the side, “Better a bird of my tongue than a beast of yours.”
Twisting in her seat, Andy found Miranda standing not far from their table, newspaper folded and tucked beneath one arm. She rapped her long fingernails against the porcelain of her empty coffee mug. Johannes glowered at her and snapped, “So, that was your plan all along? Bring more watch dogs on the trip.” He gave a derisive snort. “The press should be crawling over you, Miranda, not me.”
Unfazed, Miranda lifted one of her shoulders, pressing her chin to the soft white fabric there in a nonchalant shrug. “Then let them crawl. They’re welcome to it.”
Something brushed against Andy’s thigh and she nearly leapt out of her skin. Glancing down, she saw movement beneath the table and leaned back as surreptitiously as she was able to get a better look. Dave’s quick-notes quill scrawled furiously at a leather-bound notebook, jotting down the entire conversation. When Andy raised her eyebrows at him, Dave simply grinned around his spoonful of porridge.
Johannes was watching Andy with suspicion, but when she gave him her best doe-eyed look his blue eyes gleamed and his face spread in a wicked smile. Suddenly ignoring Miranda completely, he turned to Hunter, slapping his hand against Hunter’s back. “You wanted to know who’s going to make first contact with the herd in my stead?” Johannes gestured towards Andy and Miranda with a smug show of teeth. “There they are.”
Andy and Miranda both stiffened in shock. “Wait - what?” Andy squeaked at the same time Miranda growled, “Excuse me?”
But Johannes appealed to Hunter. “Well? What do you say? Do they tick all your ridiculous bureaucratic boxes?”
Hunter’s dark eyes moved with contemplative caution between Andy and Miranda. “I see no reason why not,” he said slowly. “Unless you two have any objections?”
A tense silence in which Andy floundered before Miranda answered for the both of them. “None whatsoever.” When Andy stared at her incredulously however, Miranda was too busy glaring at Johannes to pay her any mind.
On the other hand, Hunter looked at Andy with an unspoken question. Sighing, Andy resigned herself to her fate. She picked up her spoon and poked at her now cold porridge without any real gusto. “Fine. I’ll do it.”
“Excellent. Now that that’s settled.” Johannes swung his legs over the side of the low bench and stood, leaving behind his dishes on the table for the House Elves to clean up. “I’ll meet you all at the rendezvous point in twenty minutes. Gentlemen. Ladies.” He nodded to Hunter, Dave and Andy, then shot a smile at Miranda, which she did not return.
With a crack like the snap of a whip and the stench of scorched ozone, Johannes apparated away. Immediately Hunter leapt to his feet, swearing loudly, and pursued. Scrunching up her nose at the smell, Andy let her spoon clatter back into her bowl and pushed the tray away, all appetite gone.
Miranda started off as well, stacking her empty mug atop Johannes’ tray before tapping her finger atop the table. “You might be a bit more discreet about your note-taking next time, David.”
Then, with a parting glance at Andy, she strode from the mess hall tent without another word.
Dave stared after her. “Jesus Christ,” he muttered, shaking his head. “These people are fucking nuts.”
“And you wonder why I left,” Andy grumbled. Pushing back from the table, she stood and crossed over to the buffet table to start stuffing the pockets of her robes with spare sugarcubes beside the tea and coffee station.
“Yeah, because you never actually told me. You were very careful in your interview to avoid the topic, if I recall correctly,” he pointed out.
Andy jerked her head towards the tent flap through which Miranda had just disappeared. “Clearly it was just because of the bad pay.”
Snorting, Dave slurped at the dregs of his coffee. He gestured with the mug towards Andy. “What’s the sugar for?”
Andy popped one of the cubes into her mouth, where it promptly dissolved. She winked. “You’ll see.”
Andy really should have brought goggles or sunglasses or something. The sun struck the snow headlong, reflecting it back into Andy’s eyes until she used her hand as a shield. Blinking, she saw little afterimages and even with her eyes closed they burned with the searing brightness. Stumbling along in a single file through the snow, the small group of witches and wizards tramped along after Hunter, who led the way deeper north. In the distance, Andy could just make out the dim grey line of the ocean if she squinted hard enough. Out across the sea, Greenland stood only a few miles away.
Dazzled by the harsh light, she ran right into Dave, who walked ahead of her. “Woah! You alright there?” He steadied her with a hand on her shoulder.
“Yeah. Sorry about that.” Andy staggered back a step when she saw Miranda ahead of Dave, scowling at the two of them.
“Shh!” Johannes chided, leaning around Miranda to add his own glare to the mix. He motioned at them to keep their voices down for good measure.
At the head of the group, Hunter squatted down, his face mostly obscured from this angle by a broad hood pulled over his head. After a moment, he gestured for Miranda and Andy to join him. When they flanked him on either side, Hunter nodded across the valley spreading out before them in a wide bowl-shape. “There they are.”
Andy held up her gloved hand to her forehead. “Where?”
In answer, Miranda leaned closer until their shoulders brushed and pointed. Looking along the line of her arm, Andy finally saw them. A massive herd filled the valley, the nearest only a few hundred yards away. Andy began to count but a few of the unicorns flicked their tails, casting glimmers of light from their coats that made the snow appear grey. She had to blink the shimmer from her eyes and lost count.
“Oh, wow,” she breathed. “How many are there do you reckon?”
Miranda lowered her arm. “Over three hundred.”
“Four hundred and twelve by my last count,” Hunter confirmed. Then he turned to them with a serious expression. “Now, you are to make first contact. I hope I don’t need to tell you how important it is you make a good impression. No loud noises. No sudden movements. How the herd regards humans in the future all rests on this moment.”
“Great,” Andy grumbled.
Dave patted her on the back. “No pressure.”
From the sidelines, Johannes butted in, “How many reagents are they allowed to harvest?”
Hunter’s expression soured, as it frequently did whenever Johannes spoke. For a moment it looked like he would deny any harvesting whatsoever, but in the end he relented. “Ten.”
Johannes pointed at Andy and ordered firmly, “Bring back twenty.”
Ignoring him, Andy kept her voice as level as possible while addressing Hunter, “Let’s focus on contact. If all goes well, we’ll see where we go from there. Right, Miranda?”
At that, Miranda gave Andy a sharp look. Most likely she was after securing a new line of reagents with just as much fervent dedication as Johannes, though she did not show it quite as baldly. Unlike Johannes, Miranda kept her schemes under close lock and key, pinning them to her chest like a fan of cards. Lips pursed, disgruntled at her designs being so neatly thwarted, Miranda nodded in affirmation. After Hunter’s attention turned momentarily elsewhere however, she shot Andy a glare that would have made anyone else wither up and perish on the spot. Andy on the other hand blinked innocently until Miranda huffed in irritation and looked away.
When Hunter turned back to them, he said, “Alright. You may approach.”
Miranda was already striding away, having started off the moment Hunter spoke. With a sigh and a grimace at the long stretch of snow between their group and the unicorns, Andy tugged her gloves more firmly down her wrists and followed. She bounded through the dense powder to catch up, until she and Miranda stumbled along side by side.
As they waded through hip-deep snow towards the herd, they did not speak. Once they were well out of earshot however, Miranda grumbled half to herself, “He’s just doing this to punish me, damn him.”
Andy glanced over at her, squinting and blinded by the vast canvas of white. “Who?”
Miranda’s eyes flashed, her cheeks pink from cold and exertion, and she snarled, “Johannes! He knows that unicorns and I -- well.” She huffed. “We don’t usually get along.” Then she glared daggers at Andy as though this were all her fault. “I’m sure they absolutely fawn over you, though.”
Unwilling to give Miranda the satisfaction of being right, Andy deflected, “If first contact with the herd is so important, why would he risk sending you out?”
“No doubt he’s already made first contact when his Inuit minder wasn’t looking, but he can’t admit that without breaching seven different kinds of international law. Hence -” Rather than finish her sentence, Miranda simply gestured to herself.
“And how -” Andy began carefully, “- might one go about breaking said international laws?”
A cruel smile twitched at the corners of Miranda’s mouth before she smoothed her features and answered very calmly, “Well, I’m no expert -- not like Johannes -- but hypothetically speaking one might falsify a claim that this herd actually originated in Greenland, thereby committing mass-scale fraud. Of course this scenario would rely on the assumption that one has cut a deal with a certain colleague in Nuuk.” Miranda said all of this quickly and in an airy tone, not once glancing over at Andy. She could have been discussing the weather. “In any case, it would be disastrous to one’s career if that sort of information were to be exposed.”
“Right.” Andy said numbly. Her mouth went dry and she tried not to stare at Miranda’s profile. When she opened her mouth to speak again however, Miranda held up a hand and Andy immediately went silent.
They’d drawn close enough to the herd now that a few curious heads turned towards them. A number of unicorns swivelled their ears around, tense and alert. Through the long legs of a mare, Andy spied a foal with a coat that gleamed a pure liquid gold. It watched them approach with dark lustrous eyes fringed with silver lashes.
When Miranda took a step too near, one of the unicorns stamped a golden hoof and tossed its head, ears pinned back flat against its skull. Miranda froze in place, shooting Andy a look that on anyone else might have bordered on pleading.
“Relax,” Andy murmured, slowly reaching into her pocket.
“I am relaxed,” Miranda hissed.
With a snort, Andy said, “Miranda, I’ve seen more relaxed women giving birth. Now, loosen up and take these.”
“Take what -?” Miranda blinked as Andy grabbed a hold of her hand and dropped a few sugarcubes onto her palm. “Your optimism is touching, Andrea, but there’s no way a few lumps of sucrose could endear me to anything.”
“Yeah, well, lucky for you, unicorns are their own special category of sweet-tooth.” Andy placed a hand on the small of Miranda’s back and gently encouraged her forward. “Come on. Let’s go.”
With a reluctant grimace, Miranda took a few hesitant steps forward with Andy at her side. “Dragons are far easier to predict.”
“For you, maybe.” Andy nudged at Miranda’s elbow. “Hold it out to the foal. They’re more trusting.”
“If this all goes horribly wrong, I’m blaming you,” Miranda grumbled sullenly, but did as she was told.
The unicorn foal’s nostrils flared and it raised its head to scent the air. Ears pricking forward, it moved towards them, step by agonisingly slow step, while its mare oversaw the encounter with a wary eye.
“Hand flat,” Andy instructed in a low murmur so as not to frighten the foal off.
“I know that much at least,” Miranda muttered. As she straightened her fingers, one of the sugarcubes rolled right off the edge of her palm and dropped into the snow, vanishing from sight. “How many of these did you bring?”
The foal lipped at the treats in Miranda’s hand, pulling its head back to chew at the sugar. Once finished, it stepped forward eagerly for more, nosing at Miranda’s white robes and nearly pushing her right over. She glared when Andy laughed.
“Here. Don’t use them all at once.” Andy gave her another handful, then turned to the mare, which had started walking towards them when it saw the foal getting food. Offering the cubes one at a time to the mare, Andy dared to reach out and pet the unicorn beneath its horn and it didn’t toss her hand off. Instead it snuffled at her pockets until she pushed its head away, nearly goring herself by accident in the process.
“Greedy, aren’t they?” Miranda said, but for all her arrogant front she scratched at the foal’s long silky forelock.
Andy felt her face relax into a genuine smile. “All things considered, I think this expedition went well.”
At once, Miranda’s gaze sharpened. “Well enough to gather a few reagents?” she asked with a sly kind of hope.
Rolling her eyes, Andy gave the unicorn a hearty pat along its neck. “You’re the worst, you know that?” she retorted. Nevertheless she trudged around, pulling out her wand to cleanly and painlessly pluck a few hairs from the unicorn’s tail -- no more than ten.
Miranda fed the foal another sugarcube and looked immensely smug. “Thank you.”
With a rueful shake of her head, Andy smoothed her free hand over the unicorn’s rump. “For the purposes of the article,” Andy began, raising her wand and trying to sound as nonchalant as possible. “How much would this herd be worth in real world terms?”
Miranda hummed a low wordless note, tonguing thoughtfully at the inside of her cheek before answering breezily, “By my maths -- roughly three billion pounds.”
When Andy dropped her wand in absolute shock and had to go scrambling for it in the knee-deep snow, Miranda laughed.
After reuniting with the others back atop the hill, Andy grabbed Dave’s arm as they headed towards to camp. She held him back a few paces, then lowered her voice and asked, “Do you know anyone in Nuuk?”
Face screwing up in puzzlement, Dave whispered back. “Isn’t that the capital of Iceland or something?”
“Right. And no. Not a single contact.” Dave frowned, but did not pull his arm away. “Why do you ask?”
Andy’s eyes darted to Johannes, then settled on Miranda, who was weighing a small leather satchel of unicorn hair between her hands. “I think -” Andy swallowed thickly. “I think this story just got a whole lot bigger.”
At the celebratory dinner later that evening, Andy spent as much of her time with Dave and Johannes and Hunter as possible. She sipped at the mulled wine and found excuses to cross the room to join a different conversation whenever Miranda strayed too near. All the while Dave kept giving Andy pointed looks and jerking his head towards Miranda, which Andy ignored to the best of her abilities. About an hour and a half into the celebrations, Miranda’s keen sense of timing reared up, and -- not a minute after it could be deemed appropriate to do so -- she made her escape back to her tent.
At that point, Dave physically prodded Andy after her. She slapped away his insistent finger and grumbled, “Alright, alright! I’m going!”
“I’ll have an owl to your parents on standby,” he said with faux solemnity. “In case I need to notify your next of kin of your untimely demise.”
“You’re a real pal, Dave.”
When he flashed her a thumbs up, Andy snorted in amusement and left. Outside the sun had long since slipped beyond the horizon, yet the snow still glittered in the dazzling crescent moonlight. This far North, the sky was a smear of starlight. Andy could have quite happily navigated across the camp without the aid of the gentle witchlight that floated at intervals between the rows of tents. In any case, she didn’t bother pulling out her wand and illuminating it with a whisper of “Lumos!” preferring instead to admire the far-flung glimmering mountains as she trudged through the snow.
Miranda had pitched her tent along the outskirts of the camp, fringing along the edges with just enough distance between the next nearest tent to make a point. Where all the others hunched with plain white canvas, Miranda’s tent was made entirely of striped silk in stark blacks and silvers. Standing at the entrance, Andy debated how best to go about knocking on the door of something that lacked a door in the first place. Her breath misted the air in a frosty haze and she could feel the skin of her nose start to go numb from prolonged exposure to the cold. After a moment of deliberation however, she caught sight of a tasseled rope hanging to one side of the tall tent flap. Hesitating, she pulled it, giving a firm yank before stepping back and waiting.
After a brief moment, the tent flap was pulled open and there Miranda stood. Having shed her ivory cloak, she wore long simple robes stitched from a shimmering grey material that rippled to her feet. When she saw who was shivering outside her tent, Miranda’s eyebrows rose. “Have you come for a night cap?” she asked dryly.
“I - uh -” Andy shifted her weight from foot to foot before squaring her shoulders. “Actually - yes. I have.”
At that Miranda blinked. “Well, then,” she murmured and to Andy’s complete shock, Miranda stood aside, holding the tent curtain open and gesturing for her to enter.
As Andy stepped inside, a blast of heat washed over her, seeping through her clothes and settling somewhere between bone and sinew. Shucking her cloak, Andy hung it on a rack that already held Miranda’s, then began tugging at the fingers of her gloves. She turned to find that Miranda had let the tent flap drop shut behind them and was studying Andy with a curious expression.
The moment Andy tried to move further into the tent, Miranda’s eyes sharpened. “Boots. Off.”
Glancing down at her boots, caked with ice and snow, Andy offered a grimace of apology. “Sorry.” She bent over to undo the laces and as she did so she spotted spare sets of slippers filed in neat rows beneath the cloak-rack. “May I -?” Andy asked, toeing off her boots and kicking them to the side.
“That’s what they’re for,” Miranda replied with a dry edge to her voice, already wearing a pair of her own. She waited for Andy to finish, hovering nearby with crossed arms before pointing towards the lounge, where two couches and a number of armchairs clustered around a low coffee table. “Sit,” she ordered.
Skirting around her, Andy mumbled, “Thanks.”
As was the case with all wizarding tents, the interior sprawled with a variety of rooms and all the comforts and fixtures of a proper house. And as was the case with Miranda, the interior and exterior never matched. Miranda moved through the elegant warm-toned furnishings towards the kitchen, opening cupboards accented with honey-coloured woods to reveal an array of glasses and bottles. “What’s your preference?” she asked, already pulling down hefty glass mugs and placing them atop the marble counters.
“Butterbeer, please,” Andy answered. Lowering herself onto the nearest couch in the very centre of the cushions, she peered around the tent. “This is a very similar set-up to your townhouse. Just -- you know -- condensed onto one level.”
A hum of acknowledgement from the kitchen overlooking the sitting room, and Miranda unscrewed the cap on a bottle of firewhiskey. “I’m very particular about things.”
“Yeah, I remember.”
Miranda shot an arch look over her shoulder at Andy’s tone, then poured a healthy shot of firewhiskey into each mug before mixing it all with butterbeer. The firewhiskey dyed the brew a rich golden colour that faintly steamed, cutting the air with the scent of caramel and woodsmoke. Andy watched from her place on the couch, mesmerised by the reality of Miranda doing something so mundane as mixing a drink.
Crossing the space between them, Miranda handed over one of the mugs, which Andy took carefully so that their fingers did not brush. She only took a sip once Miranda had seated herself in the corner of the opposite couch so that they faced one another across the coffee table. The spiked butterbeer sent a burst of warmth through every extremity with each sip and Andy released a gentle sigh of relief, shoulders sloping down as she relaxed into the couch.
On the other hand, Miranda simply studied her unexpected guest wearing that same curious expression with which she had regarded Andy at the door -- cautiously intrigued by Andy’s appearance.
“How - uh -” Andy cleared her throat and cupped the warmth of her beverage between her hands. “How are the girls?”
Miranda paused in raising her own glass mug to her mouth. “They’re fine.”
With a humourless smile, Andy said, “I bet they don’t remember me at all.”
“If only,” Miranda muttered around the lip of her mug, taking a sip.
For a moment Andy stared in disbelief, then she laughed. “No way. You must’ve gone through half a dozen new assistants since I left.”
“None of whom seem to be able to compare,” Miranda replied with a wry twist of her mouth. She raised her voice in a mocking tone to mimic her daughters. “‘Jane is useless, Mum! Andy would’ve been able to do it!’ Ugh.” Miranda rolled her eyes and took another sip. “They have impossible expectations of your abilities.”
“Like mother like daughters,” Andy muttered darkly.
Back straightening, Miranda sniffed, “I was under no illusions where your abilities were concerned. The fact that you exceeded my expectations should be enough evidence of that.”
“And here I’d set my hopes on an ‘Outstanding’ in my Miranda Priestly N.E.W.T course,” Andy drawled. With a level look, Miranda nonetheless gave a delicate huff of amusement.
Andy admired the way Miranda drank her spiked butterbeer, the way she smiled between sips -- not much more than a droll smirk, a crooked pull at one corner of her mouth and a heady, animated glint of her eyes. Andy could feel herself relax into the couch, warmed by the beverage, by the company, by the unanticipated intimacy of the moment. “This is nice,” she heard herself say, surprised at the sincerity of the statement. “If I’d known you were like this outside of work, I would’ve quit way earlier.”
At that, Miranda blinked. She leaned back slightly in her seat to study Andy with a sudden furrow in her brow, her expression caught somewhere between insulted and incredulous. “Is that why you’re here? You think -- what? That we’ll suddenly be friends?” Miranda’s lip curled at the very idea.
“Not - not exactly.” To buy herself time, Andy took another gulp of her drink. Miranda offered no reprieve, only narrowed her eyes and waited, perfectly content to let Andy squirm in silence. Finally Andy admitted, “I was hoping for an interview with you.”
For a long moment Miranda only stared at her -- taken aback for God only knows what reason -- then she snorted with rueful laughter. “Of course you were,” Miranda sighed. With one hand she rubbed at her eyes, and Andy was struck by how tired she looked, how disappointed at the request.
“We don’t have to,” Andy insisted, sitting forward and setting her drink down on the low coffee table between them, ready to stand at a moment’s notice. Indeed, she was already halfway to her feet. “I can leave right now, if you’d like.”
Leaning her elbow against the arm of the couch, Miranda glared at Andy. “Don’t be ridiculous. Sit down. And use a coaster, for heaven’s sake,” she snapped.
Slowly, Andy did as she was told, lowering herself back onto the couch before reaching for a stack of coasters and slipping one beneath her drink. Perched on the edge of her seat, she waited with bated breath, not believing her luck.
Mouth pursed to a narrow line, Miranda drained a bit more of her drink with a thoughtful deliberate air before setting it aside. “I’m a very private person,” Miranda began, resting her chin on her hand and tapping at her cheek with her fingertips. She regarded Andy with a slow-moving gaze and Andy had to resist the urge to shift. “I’ll answer your questions under one condition.”
Of course there was a catch. With Miranda Priestly there was always a hidden agenda -- like a razor blade pushed inside an apple, waiting to cut the mouth of whosoever dared take that first bite. “What’s the condition?” Andy asked, her voice heavy and suspicious.
Miranda’s eyes gleamed, which couldn’t be a good sign. They only gleamed like that -- hard and unyielding as flint, pivoting on the threshold of hunger -- when she had her quarry in her sights. Never in her life had Andy never felt more like a proverbial rabbit in the snare. “Quid pro quo,” Miranda said, her voice nearer a purr than anything else. “I’ll give you something, if you give me something in return.”
After a pause wherein Andy mulled over the deal, she snorted. “Alright, Hannibal Lecter. I’ll bite.”
“A serial killer reference?” Miranda drawled in that signature bored tone of hers, reaching for her drink once more and taking a sip. “How original.”
Andy chose to ignore the barbed comment; she’d already taken the bait once tonight and she didn’t have a death wish, though that was arguably up for interpretation. With a snap of her fingers, she summoned her quick-notes quill and notebook, flipping open to a blank page with a thought. The familiarity of such actions -- preparing to take notes while Miranda dictated -- sent a warmth spreading through Andy’s stomach that had nothing at all to do with the spiked butterbeer. When the silver-nibbed quill stood poised and at attention, awaiting her command, Andy looked up.
“So - When did you - ?” Andy fumbled for where exactly to begin, having prepared nothing for an interview she’d been sure would be denied. She was struck momentarily speechless when Miranda kicked off her slippers and tucked her feet up beneath herself, curling atop the couch like a great cat and blinking, slow, owlish and cunning, giving away nothing. At ease yet alert and sharp in a hawkish way. The long grey robe hiked up Miranda’s calves to reveal the slender hollows of her ankles. Andy cleared her throat and tore her gaze away. “You - uh -”
Miranda rolled her eyes. “I see you’re far more eloquent on the page than you are in person.”
Andy gave a sheepish shrug and grin. “Some things never change. Hang on -” She pointed at Miranda. “You read my articles?”
Caught off guard, Miranda lifted her chin in an attempt to salvage some hauteur. “I read The Daily Prophet and seeing as you write for The Prophet, it is incidental that I also read your articles.”
“But you think my articles are eloquent.” Andy’s grin widened.
Miranda’s scowl did nothing to diminish the frothy feeling bubbling in Andy’s chest. “I wasn’t aware interviews began by fishing for compliments,” she replied waspishly as she took another sip, adding a sneer around the brim of her glass for good measure.
Undeterred, Andy quipped back, “I’ve never been known for my orthodox methods.”
“Do these unorthodox methods of yours involve actually asking questions, or must I provide those as well?” Miranda aimed a pointed glower at Andy, who stuck out her tongue in a fit of childish pique. “Charming,” Miranda said flatly.
“Alright, alright.” Andy cleared her throat and adopted a more officious attitude, which failed to impress Miranda just as effectively. Her quick-notes quill tapped at the notebook, impatient for the interview to begin. “Is Miranda Priestly your real name?”
Rather than deflect and skirt around each question, Miranda answered bluntly, “No. I was born Miriam Princhek in London and raised in upstate New York.”
As Andy’s quill began to scribble away, Miranda raised her eyebrows at her, expectant. Andy fidgeted in uncertainty, even glancing over her shoulder to see if Miranda were really looking at her. Then her eyes widened and she pointed to herself. “You - you want to know about me?”
“What else do you think I meant by quid pro quo?” Miranda snapped. She swirled the last of her butterbeer in its glass, the corners of her mouth turning down after another sip before she set the mug aside and did not pick it up again.
Scratching at the back of her neck, Andy confessed, “I don’t know. I thought you’d want something else.”
Miranda arched a cool brow. “Such as?”
Andy opened her mouth to answer, but shut it almost immediately when Dave’s words about ‘sexual tension’ came to mind. Cheeks flaming, she glanced towards the enormous four-poster bed visible through a sheer curtain partitioning off the bedroom across the tent. “I mean -” With a furious little shake of her head, Andy snatched up her spiked butterbeer and took a heady draught, refusing to look at either Miranda or the bed.
“I’m American born and bed -- bred!” Andy corrected herself and slamming her drink down on the table. “I grew up just outside of Cincinnati. My mother is a British citizen and I have dual citizenship, so I ended up at Hogwarts.”
With a wordless hum, Miranda’s mouth twitched at the corners. “And who was insipid enough to cheapen your name to Andy?”
“My mother,” Andy answered, scowling. “And back off! I like my name!”
“I see poor taste runs in the family.”
Bristling and indignant, Andy bit back an acidic retort and said, “My turn. What was home life like for a young Miriam Princhek?”
At that Miranda went stock still. Her lips thinned and her expression soured. For a moment it seemed she would not answer, until she did. “My mother was a witch. My father was a muggle.”
Andy blinked. “Oh! I always thought you were a purebl-?” Seeing the withering glare forming on Miranda's face, Andy coughed and didn't finish that sentence. “I mean -! So, you grew up with your mother?”
If Miranda's glare was dangerous before, now it was downright thunderous. “No,” she said through grit teeth.
Casting around furiously for something to say that might crack the ice that was starting to grip the room, Andy blurted out, “Both my parents are muggles. I’m the first witch in my family.”
“So I gathered,” Miranda sneered.
The tip of her quick-notes quill quivering with the force of her irritation, Andy snapped, “Alright, enough with the act! You’re the one who wanted this whole quid pro whatever, so get off your goddamn high horse! I’m just following the terms of the agreement, here!”
If anything Miranda seemed pleased with herself for managing to get under Andy’s skin. “Don’t be unprofessional, Andrea. It’s incredibly unflattering.”
“Unprofessional -!” Andy bit back the raised note in her voice. “You didn't even write me a reference!”
At that, Miranda stared at her. “A -- What?”
“When he hired me, Dave said he sent word to The Wand and the Way, but you didn't give him a reference!” Andy snapped.
Understanding crossed Miranda's features. “He said that, did he?”
“Well, he -” Suddenly Andy floundered. Dave had, in fact, never outwardly stated it. “He didn't -”
Miranda glowered. “No, he didn't. Because I did give you a reference. One I'm sincerely regretting right now.”
Taking a deep breath to soothe her smarting pride, Andy straightened in her seat. “So, your father? What was he like?” Andy asked, tone crisp, ignoring Miranda’s death glare. If she wanted professional then -- by God -- she’d get professional.
The rapping of Miranda’s fingers against the scrolled arm of the couch failed to produce its usual sinister portents when the sound was muffled by layers of silk cushions. “He was a hoarder,” Miranda admitted, pulling each word from her mouth with distaste. “His more charming hobbies included growing seven different kinds of mold in his kitchen and forcing me join him on dumpster diving expeditions.”
Andy snorted, but Miranda did not smile or even appear amused. “I mean - I -” Andy leaned back into the couch cushions. “You were being serious.”
Miranda’s face darkened. “Whatever you may think of me, Andrea, I’ve never lied to you.”
Glancing down at her quick-notes quill, Andy tilted her notebook so that Miranda could not read what it said. She made a mental note to strike out any comparisons between Miranda and her father -- where one hoarded stacks of rotting newspaper taller than a grown man in his hallways, the other hoarded secrets of wandlore and magical reagents. Jealous guardians, the pair.
“Did you ever visit him after leaving America for Hogwarts?” Andy continued.
“Only the once,” Miranda said and the words ‘on his deathbed’ hung, unutterable, between them.
Andy’s quick-notes quill worked hastily, flipping over to a fresh page in her notebook. “I can’t imagine not having a relationship with my family. I visit them as often as I can.”
Miranda lifted one shoulder in a desultory half shrug. “I made my own family. One I’m actually fond of.”
“Apart from the two ex-husbands,” Andy pointed out, earning herself another curled lip from Miranda.
“Obviously,” Miranda growled.
It shouldn’t have felt like such an achievement, ruffling Miranda’s feathers, yet Andy all but preened. She checked her notes briefly before asking, “And are there any additions to the family on the horizon, so to speak?”
Brows rising, Miranda quipped, “Are you writing a gossip column now?”
“I know what sells. Besides, I’m interested.” When Miranda’s eyes widened, Andy panicked at how that must have sounded. She spluttered, “That’s not what I -! I just meant that -! It’s -” Andy finished lamely with a limp gesture, “- interesting.”
“Careful,” Miranda murmured. The look of shock had vanished and in its place something dangerous and unreadable. She sat coiled atop the couch, continually drumming her fingernails the way a snake might rattle its tail in warning. “I’m no Seer, but since you find it so interesting -- no. I don’t spae any additions to the family in the near future. There hasn’t been anyone since Stephen, and you know perfectly well when that fiasco fell apart.”
Andy focused on her quick-notes quill, not meeting Miranda’s gaze. She could feel her cheeks flaming. Maybe if she were lucky she’d spontaneously combust and no longer have to suffer the humiliation of this conversation. “Right,” she croaked.
Then Miranda waited for Andy to answer in turn. Her long nails scratched against the couch, kneading the silk. She did not blink.
Oh, yeah. Spontaneous combustion was looking really good right about now.
Andy snatched up her drink and drained what remained, the dregs of firewhiskey scalding the back of her throat. She choked, coughing at the sudden sting of alcohol. “There’s no one,” Andy wheezed, setting her finished glass back on the table.
“You and David seem awfully chummy,” Miranda replied with forced indifference.
Making a face, Andy gave an exaggerated shudder. “No, thank you. In my experience, work kills romance dead in its tracks.”
“Doesn’t it just?” Miranda smirked.
Shifting uncomfortably, Andy steered the conversation towards other topics, probing into Miranda’s time at Hogwarts, her fierce rivalry with Minerva McGonagall -- whom Miranda definitely did not knock off a broom during a Quidditch match, causing McGonagall to suffer a severe concussion, several broken ribs as well as the loss of the House Cup, a tale which Miranda nevertheless related with perverse glee -- her graduation and introduction into wandlore, her encounters with her first husband and her early years with Caroline and Cassidy. With every question answered, Andy’s quill scratched away, page after page, and yet with every question Andy offered her own reply. She told Miranda of the time she saved a fellow Slytherin boy, whom she loathed, from being mauled by a griffin despite her reservations, of the time she was sentenced to three whole weeks worth of detention for sneaking off to the Forbidden Forest to parlay with centaurs and -- admittedly -- cheat on her Astrology homework, of how she took a so-called break from the wizarding world, returning to her muggle roots during which time she met Lily and Doug and started dating Nate.
Together they traded pieces of themselves like purveyors of virtues and iniquities. Time slipped away from them. Miranda offered another drink, which Andy refused on the basis that she was far too tempted by the notion of letting herself grow muzzy and enchanted by Miranda’s presence. Instead, jaw set, eyes hard and dark, Andy asked her final question, “Why did you invite me on this trip?”
Miranda’s face went too smooth, too controlled, her gaze too sharp. “I didn't invite you. I invited The Prophet.”
“Which I work for,” Andy shot back.
“David could have picked anyone from your office,” Miranda maintained in that infuriatingly lofty manner of hers. “I played no direct part in your being here.”
“But you hoped he would pick me.” It slipped from Andy like an accusation.
Miranda cocked her head and regarded Andy with a sly, sidelong glance. “Is that a question?”
Opening her mouth, Andy stopped herself before checking her watch. The illuminated dial read well past midnight and into the witching hour. Turning her wrist over, Andy answered carefully, “No. I think I have everything I need.”
Andy got to her feet and Miranda rose as well to see her to the exit. She stood just out reach as Andy shrugged into her cloak and bent over to stamp her feet into her boots. When Andy straightened, she caught Miranda admiring her figure. Rather than appear abashed at stealing glances, one corner of Miranda’s mouth canted upwards in a wolfish smirk.
“You still owe me one more question,” Miranda said, her voice low and silky.
The air lurched in Andy's throat, burning in her lungs like a physical thing. She breathed, “Shoot.”
Miranda stepped closer, near enough to touch, near enough that Andy almost rocked back on her heels but instead felt herself lean imperceptibly forward. Tilting her head, Miranda’s stare roved across Andy’s face, to her shoulders, tracing her jawline before settling on her eyes, locking gazes like the locking of horns. Andy shivered and Miranda bared her teeth in a smile of knowing triumph. “How did you end up in Slytherin?”
Andy froze. Of all the questions concerning family, concerning upbringing, concerning past dalliances and romances, somehow this hit the hardest, pierced to the core of her. She could lie. She could chose not to answer entirely. She could be truthful and peel back the essence of herself -- hide by wretched flayed hide -- all for Miranda’s amusement. The very thought rankled.
Instead Andy met Miranda’s gaze and stated flatly, “I was put there by the Sorting Hat.” Then she turned and pushed open the tent flap to leave. “Thank you. For the interview.”
Miranda made no further comment and Andy did not look back as she ducked through the flap and stepped back out into the cold.
Returning to their shared work-issued tent halfway across camp, Andy stomped her boots free of fresh snow in the threshold and grinned weakly at Dave, who had only just recently returned from drinks at the mess hall tent, if his state of undress was any indication. Flannel pyjama bottoms and woolly socks and naught else.
He pulled a thick sweater over his head, mussing his dark curls, and dropped heavily onto his allocated cot, well across the tent from her own. “Any luck?”
No amount of lip-biting could withhold her broad smile as Andy held up her green notebook. Her stomach was an uneasy soup of victory, sloshing at the brims and windpipes until she felt sick with it. “Gird your loins, Dave.” She waggled the notebook in her hand. “I got something big for you right here.”
His face brightened, and he pretended to swoon with an exaggerated sweep of his arm over his forehead. “I wish all women would say that to me.”
She glared at him. “Don’t be gross.”
“Speaking of gross.” Dave swung his legs onto his cot and pulled up the blankets as though preparing for an especially juicy bedtime story. “What did you have to do to get that interview? Spare no detail.”
Andy spent far too much time hanging her cloak, fiddling with the fur-trimmed edges. “There’s nothing to tell. We talked. That’s all.”
Staring at her in disbelief, Dave flopped onto the cot and groaned, “You’re such a disappointment, Sachs.”
“Yeah,” Andy sighed, crossing the room to ready herself for bed. “I suppose I am.”
The next morning, Miranda's corner of the mess hall tent sat bare. While Dave sat beside Hunter and made polite conversation, Andy blinked at the empty corner as if staring long enough would summon Miranda from thin air. Across the table from her, Johannes squinted suspiciously, watching Andy's every move.
“She left before first light,” he said, lifting his mug of coffee. “Probably off terrorising someone else.”
“Probably.” Andy stirred a few lumps of brown sugar into her porridge. There was no use denying that Miranda did in fact enjoy sowing terror wherever she went. However, Johannes’ mouth twisted thoughtfully to one side when Andy didn't leap at the opportunity to slander Miranda's name when she wasn't present.
“So,” Johannes slurped at his coffee. “Was this trip everything you desired? Do you have enough information to write something decent for that little rag of yours over in England?”
Smiling widely to show as many teeth as possible and warming herself from head to foot with her plans to write up an article that would put Johannes’ career six feet under, Andy said with exaggerated sweetness, “Oh yes, Mr. Jonker. I think you’ve given us quite the story.”
Back in London, leaning her elbows on the bar of the Leaky Cauldron, Andy cradled the remains of her butterbeer. “I saw Miranda.”
Emily almost choked on her drink and Nigel went very still. While Emily spluttered and coughed, he asked carefully, “And?”
With a shrug, Andy said, “It was nice.”
“Nice?” Emily wheezed. She stared at Andy, then turned to Nigel. “We need to take her to St. Mungos straight away. She’s unwell, Nigel. Deeply unwell.”
“Oh, come on!” Andy laughed. “I mean it! She wasn’t completely awful. She even did me a favour -- in her own way.”
At that, Emily laughed, an incredulous chuckle that made her start coughing again. “Miranda doesn’t do favours.”
With a hum, Nigel sucked at the backs of his teeth, studying Andy. Then he abruptly took off his glasses and began cleaning them on the edge of his robes. “There’s nothing for it, Emily,” he sighed. “My diagnosis is: she’s a lost cause.”
“Alright, you know what -?” Andy held up her empty glass and tapped at it to get the bartender’s attention. “This is the last time I tell you two anything.”
“Good!” Emily said.
“Not good!” Nigel admonished, nudging her sharply with his elbow. “I’ll waste away for lack of entertainment!”
“You two are the worst friends.”
With a snort, Emily drained what was left of her drink, “You’re only just realising this now?”
“A-ha!” Andy rounded on her in triumph, causing Emily to freeze. “You just said we were friends! No take backsies!”
Indignant, Emily straightened on the edge of her barstool. “I did no such-! That’s not how it -!”
When she looked to Nigel for assistance however, he held up his hands and grinned. “Don’t look at me.”
The bartender was filling Andy’s glass with his wand. Emily pushed her own glass towards him and snapped, “I definitely need another.”
As Andy raised her butterbeer to her mouth, Nigel eyed her across the counter. “All joking aside, Emily’s right.”
“I usually am.” Emily sniffed.
“About what? That I’m crazy?” Andy huffed and accidentally blew a bit of butterbeer froth right out of her glass, where it dripped onto her robes. Swearing, she set down her drink.
Nigel drew a pressed silk handkerchief from his pocket and handed it to her. As she dabbed at the spill, he said, “No. About Miranda.”
“Nigel -” Andy sighed.
Before she could object further, he pressed on, his expression stern but not unkind. “Just be careful. And take it from someone who knows best -- Miranda Priestly doesn’t do anyone any favours.”
Not for the first time Andy lent Michael MacLeod a stack of printing paper with a stern look. Smiling gratefully at her, he slipped a silver Sickle onto her side of the desk, “Thanks, Andy.”
She returned the smile with a rueful one of her own, returning to the work shining on her laptop screen. By now everyone in the office had gotten used to Andy bringing technology into their offices at The Prophet. For the first few months however, she’d had to ward off her fair share of staring and blatant murmurs. When she first started working here, she’d taken one look at the antiquated typewriter she was expected to use and decided that no amount of magical shenanigans could make it worth her time. The next day Andy had arrived with her laptop, a handful of extra batteries and a portable printer.
Michael, a tall stooping Scottish wizard and the only other muggleborn in the office, had been driven nearly to tears of relief and followed suit. Now they sat across from one another, their laptops humming gently atop their open desks while the rest of their colleagues rattled away at their typewriters, the air filled with the intermittent chimes of a finished line, then the scratch of ribbon.
Glancing down at the corner of her screen, Andy swore. “Oh, God dammit!” Then she aimed a pleading gaze at Michael over the top of their laptops.
Without needing to be asked, he grinned and passed over a spare battery, taking back the silver Sickle with a wag of his finger. “You really need to remember to charge yours back at home.”
“I know,” Andy groaned, saving her work and turning her laptop off in order to swap the batteries out. “When will the wizarding world discover the wonders of electricity, is the real question.”
Michael’s grin turned seedy. “The moment they discover the internet and its vast hoards of pornography.”
With a snort, Andy tucked her old battery into the bag leaning on the floor against her desk. “I hate that you’re probably right about that.”
He shrugged, smiling, then said, “Hey, do you have that latest draft on the Lethifold attack in Jakarta?”
“Oh, yeah! Let me just -” As her laptop was booting back up, Andy went digging through her bag. She held up the USB with exaggerated triumph and slid it across the table to Michael.
He plugged the USB into a side port of his computer, muttering, “Next stop on my purchase list is a hotspot with unlimited data.”
“I will go halfsies with you on that in a heartbeat,” Andy breathed, her eyes going wide and glassy. “I’m not joking, Michael. I will give you my firstborn.”
“No thanks. I only accept payment in gold, not infants.”
Before Andy could fire back an indignant retort that he was slandering the quality of her potential future child, the door to Dave’s office opened and he stuck his head out. “Sachs!” he called out, gesturing for her to join him.
Pointing at Michael, Andy said, “Hold that thought.” She shut the lid of her laptop, putting it to sleep, then walked over to Dave’s office.
He held the door open for her before shutting it, giving a brief respite of privacy from the constant buzz of the office. “Take a seat.”
The walls of Dave’s office were hung with a glut of objects. Framed pictures, stray bits of paper tacked to corkboards, Quidditch posters taped to the space between windows. Some were work-related. Most weren’t. Andy hardly paid attention to most of them. He’d even set up a miniature hoop and would frequently throw a little Quaffle through it, after which the enchanted ball would soar back into his hands. Today however, the Quaffle sat atop a stack of fresh papers, untouched.
“Is everything alright?” Andy lowered herself into the seat across from his desk.
With a deep sigh, Dave sat on the corner of his desk rather than behind it in his seat. He picked up the Quaffle and tossed it between his hands. “Good news or bad news?” he asked without preamble.
Cradling the Quaffle in his hands, Dave turned it over, tracing the stitching in the red leather. “The good news is: our scoop on Johannes Jonker’s massive fraud has been approved by Cuffe. It’s going on page 6 in two days, and I want to invite you to dinner at Obertelli’s with a few other people from the office. There’s been good solid work done these last few months. We deserve a bit of celebration.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Andy said slowly. She leaned back in her seat. “What’s the bad news.”
“See now, there’s the catch.” Dave palmed the Quaffle and pointed around it towards the ceiling. “The higher ups have also come back on the interview piece you submitted.”
When he went quiet, she gestured for him to go on. “And -?”
Dave’s fiddling with the Quaffle had turned into a nervous fidgeting. He spun it in one hand. “I don’t know how to break it to you, Sachs, but they’ve canned it. All of it.”
At the outrage on her face, Dave grimaced, holding up his hands as though warding off a physical blow. “I know! I know! But when they contacted Miranda about it to check your quotes, she denied everything. Refused to let them publish a single letter.”
Andy gaped at him. “She -?” Swallowing past the lump of hard fury rising in her throat, Andy choked, “She refused to -?”
Leaning forward, Dave nudged Andy’s knee with the Quaffle in a manner that should have been comforting, but which she did not feel at all, too numb. “Don’t worry. I've shielded you from the worst of the fallout from the likes of Cuffe. You still have a place here. Always will, if I have anything to say about it. And look at the bright side! She approved everything on the Jonker article!”
Staring up at his strained smile, Andy clenched her hands around the arms of her chair. “Of course.” Andy spat bitterly. “Of course she did.”
“Anyway.” Clearing his throat, Dave stood and rounded the desk to sit. He leaned back in his chair and tossed the Quaffle into the air, catching it on the way down. “I hope Johannes’ is sitting down when he reads it. He isn’t going to know what hit him.”
“Yeah,” Andy croaked, unable to muster even a shaky smile. “Great.” She pointed at the door. “Can I -?”
“Oh! Go for it!” Dave waved to the door. When Andy had opened it and was about to leave, he added. “I really mean it, Sachs. We couldn't have done the Jonker article without you.”
Nodding mutely, Andy left. Her gut seared with a vicious heat. It spread to her arms, making her fingers tremble, tinting her vision red. Her feet felt too steady what with the earth tilting beneath her. Walking over to her desk, she paused there. “Hey, Michael?”
He didn't look up from his typing. “Yeah?”
“What basement floor do they keep all our personal files and records?”
In answer Michael held up four fingers on one hand.
“Thanks,” Andy mumbled.
The elevator ride down to the basement was mercifully empty. At one point the doors opened and a mousy-looking woman started to enter, saw the look on Andy's face, and immediately turned back around with a fearful squeak. The iron-barred doors ground shut once more and did not reopen until the dial above them pointed to the proper level.
Stepping out into the basement, staring at the endless rows of darkened corridors that extended before her, Andy pulled out her wand. A moment later, a small box came zipping along through the air from the 'S’ section. The files came to roost on the ground at her feet, and she gazed down at it, fighting back the rise of bile in her throat.
Then she tore open the box, rifling through its contents. Pages of her CV, of her photographs, of her test results, of her past achievements with the newspaper she had started and run at Hogwarts. Even files on her parents and extended family, confirming their compliance with the International Statute of Secrecy. Everything Andy could possibly imagine.
Everything except a reference from Miranda.
Breathing heavily, Andy dumped the contents of the box, scattering pages about. She spread files with her hands, going down on her hands and knees, scavenging for even the barest scrap of something she might have overlooked. In the end after Andy had combed over everything twice and three times, she sat back on the floor and laughed. Laughed until she wanted to cry.
Normally Andy wouldn't attend a dinner at Obertelli's simply because it was too far out of her price range for everyday fare. She could content herself adequately with an overabundance of Thai food and a bottle of wine over expensive mousseline of grouse any day. When your editor was treating you and a handful of your colleagues for a job well done on the latest big scoop however, you put on your best dress robes and went to a restaurant like Obertelli's regardless. With her fork, Andy pushed around a few lonely pine nuts on her plate and tried to pay attention to whatever Dave was talking about -- something about Rita Skeeter's latest novel on Newt Scamander that Andy had yet to pick up -- but she found it difficult to pay attention to anything Dave said when Miranda Priestly was seated at another table just across the room.
Andy's fork impressed lines in her palm, she was gripping it so tightly. Glaring across the restaurant, she stabbed at a pine nut and it skittered across her plate. The moment Miranda had waltzed through the front door and was shown to her table along with a group of wizards from the board of directors at The Wand and The Way, Miranda had spared Andy only a passing glance. She hadn't looked at her since and was halfway through her own main course. Meanwhile Andy had ordered the first thing off the menu and eaten it without tasting it at all. Her work mates had tried engaging her in conversation, but Andy had replied with terse monosyllables and blunt grumbles around her second, third and now fourth glass of red wine.
"Andy, you've been looking at that table all night," Michael sighed. Leaning back in his chair, he adjusted his thick tortoise-shell glasses and squinted over her shoulder. "Isn't that Miranda Priestly? You know her, right?"
"Not as well as I thought," Andy growled, draining her glass of wine but placing her hand over the top when the waiter immediately came around to pour another. She'd rather not get completely soused at a work event, however private.
“Hey,” Michael tapped her shoulder with the back of his hand in a camaraderie-like fashion and asked, "Is it true she cursed a reporter who tried to follow her to St. Mungos when she was in labour?"
Andy stared at him in disbelief. "If reporters tried trailing me to St. Mungos when I was about to give birth to twins, I'm pretty sure I'd stun them to hell and back, too."
He grinned at her and shrugged. "Aye, fair enough." He nudged her shoulder. "Go on, then. I'll order you desert."
"What are you talking about?"
Michael rolled his eyes as though talking to a petulant child. "You obviously want to exchange words with her. Go. You like chocolate mousse, right?"
Exchange words? No. Exchange blows? Oh, definitely. Still, Andy pushed her chair back and stood, tossing her napkin onto her seat. "Chocolate mousse sounds perfect."
In answer, Michael raised his glass of firewhiskey in a toast as she headed off towards the other table. Crossing the room, only four or five tables away, Andy approached and the restaurant faded in the wake of the ire that had been burning an ulcerous hole in her stomach all evening. Slabs of dark emerald glinted at Miranda's ears, playing off the light with the trademark gem at her throat. In black silk-lined dress robes she was the essence of herself -- poised, elegant, utterly enthralling and utterly distant; she could transform even the most basic seat into a throne. Eyes going hard with every step she took towards Miranda's table, Andy could feel her teeth grind, her anger mount.
Miranda saw Andy coming and her eyebrows lifted with indifferent disapproval. "Excuse me, gentlemen," she murmured, rising to her feet.
A few of the wizards glanced over at Andy, some with a vague curiosity in their eyes, others with complete disinterest. "Off to powder your noses, ladies?" one of them asked, earning low chuckles from the rest of the table.
At that Miranda smiled, the same kind of smile she'd worn when she snapped Irv Ravitz's wand in half two years ago, and the wizard who had spoken cleared his throat nervously, snatching up his brandy and burying his nose in the glass. Without another word, Miranda headed in the direction of the restrooms. When she touched a guiding hand to Andy's elbow however, Andy jerked her arm away with a warning glare, to which Miranda responded with a blink of surprise. She made no move to touch Andy again.
As soon as they were in the bathroom, Andy stalked around the room to check each cubicle, ensuring that they were alone. Miranda watched her from her place by the door. "What is this about, Andrea?"
Slamming the last cubicle door shut, Andy stormed back over to Miranda. “You pulled the interview!” Andy snapped without explanation as she advanced. “I can’t believe you pulled the interview!” She reached aside to lock the door so they wouldn’t be disturbed during what was bound to be a screaming match -- certainly Andy felt like screaming at Miranda. And maybe murdering her while she was at it. No wands -- only uncivilised fists.
With a shrug, Miranda brushed her hands down the front of her robes, looking for all the world as if she had intended to end up in a public bathroom with her ex-employee, as if it were all part of her master plan. “I told you: I’m a very private person.”
“Of course. Of course! How could I have been so stupid to believe you’d ever follow through with your word!” Andy started to pace, filled with vicious delight when Miranda bristled at her words. The high heels of her shoes clacked against the tiled floors and the noise jerked her to a halt. She forced herself to stand still, fuming. “Why lead me to believe there was the possibility of an article at all? If you’d just told me, then I would’ve left and stopped bothering you!”
“That -” Miranda began, choosing her words very carefully, mulling them over, all her airs of grace strained and fraying at the edges, “-was the last thing I wanted.”
Andy shook her head and pressed, “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I - Well.” Miranda grimaced. She looked about as thrilled with this conversation as she was with the idea of muggle dentistry. Finally, she admitted, “Seeing you wasn’t entirely unpleasant. I did not want you to leave again.”
“You’ve got a funny way of showing it!” Ignoring Miranda’s indignant expression -- how dare she look indignant! -- Andy seethed. “You made it look like I’d fabricated the whole thing! My credibility is in tatters because you pulled that interview!”
Miranda’s genuine shock only made Andy want to slap it right off her face. “That wasn’t my intent,” Miranda said slowly.
“Your intent means shit when these are the actual god damn consequences!” Andy nearly reached out to throttle her, but instead she just flung her hands into the air. “You used me! You used me to tear down Johannes because he was in your way! And now this -- to add insult to injury! Do you really hate me that much?”
“Hate you?” Miranda stared at her, aghast. “Is that what you think?”
“What else am I supposed to think! You -!” Andy pointed an accusing finger, and Miranda looked about two seconds away from biting it off. “You slithered back into my life just to toy with me!”
“Need I remind you that you left? Toying with you -! You’re the one who -!” The moment her voice began to rise, Miranda paused to collect herself. She closed her eyes and inhaled through her nose before glaring at Andy and continuing in a measured tone, “What do you want from me, Andrea?”
“Nothing,” Andy snapped. She pushed down every fluttering fuming feeling in her chest and told herself that what she said was true.
“So, you dragged me into a public bathroom to exhume our past history because you want absolutely nothing to do with me?” Scoffing, Miranda rolled her eyes. “I find that hard to believe.”
“I never said I wanted nothing to do with you. I want nothing from you. There's a difference.” Andy said. “I left because I didn’t want anything more to do with the job.”
“I am my job!” Miranda’s voice slipped to a low dangerous growl. “And since you hated the job -”
“I didn’t hate the job! I loved the job! Even when it all went up in smoke -- no!” Andy corrected herself with grit teeth and blazing eyes. “Especially when it all went up in smoke! And that scared the hell out of me! That’s not who I am!”
“Oh?” Miranda drawled, leaning back against the tiled wall as aloof as you please, though there was an unmistakable quaver to her voice and hands that belied her nerves, her own anger simmering to the surface. “Have you looked in a mirror lately?”
“Don’t -!” Andy snarled, her hands clenching into fists. “Don’t you dare!”
Miranda’s eyes flashed. “Oh, I dare! One of us has to be honest with ourselves, and the task seems to have fallen to me.”
A bitter laugh escaped Andy then. “You want to talk about honesty? Alright. What about my reference?”
Rearing back, Miranda stared at Andy as though seeing her for the first time. “Your reference?”
“Back in the Arctic, you said you’d written me a reference. So, I went back and did some digging and -- surprise, surprise! There was no reference.” Andy took a furious step forward. “You lied to me!”
“I am many things, but a liar is not one of them!” The tone of forced cool had long since vanished from Miranda’s voice, replaced by a livid hiss. “The blame for your editor’s shoddy file-keeping can hardly be laid at my feet!”
“You’re unbelievable!” Andy spat. “Even after everything -- nearly two whole years -- and you still manage to drive me crazy!
“Me? You self-righteous little -!” Miranda pushed away from the wall and pulled herself to her fullest height, using every last centimetre to her advantage as she glowered. “I have never claimed to be anything other than what I am! Meanwhile you dare call me a liar when you wander through life blinded by your own willful ignorance! You can hide behind smiles and social pleasantries all you like, Andrea, but I’ll always know who and what you are!”
Undeterred and hackles raised, Andy snapped back, “Yes, I try to be a nice person -- so what! At least I can live with myself! And you know what? I’m glad I escaped when I did.” Eyes black as a storm, Andy drove home the final blow. “From the very beginning -- from the very first moment I stepped foot into your office -- I knew! Everyone knows! All they have to do is look at you to see your arrogance, your spite, your complete and utter disregard for anyone else’s feelings! I comfort myself knowing that you could have gifted me the moon and it wouldn’t have made a single difference! There’s literally nothing you could have done that would’ve convinced me to stay with you!”
They were well past anger now. Rage darkened Miranda’s eyes to a tarnished ocean-silver and Andy could feel her clenched fists trembling with the force of her fury. They were standing close enough that Andy could count the faintest clumps of mascara blackening Miranda’s eyelashes. A handful of heartbeats, the thunder of blood in her ears, and all Andy had to do was angle her head forward before they were kissing.
Miranda’s mouth slanted against her own, a heated demanding pressure that nearly drove Andy back a step. With a growl, Andy refused to give ground and, seizing Miranda by the waist, shoved her back against the wall. Miranda went with a startled grunt and Andy could feel the sneer against her lips. Reaching up, Miranda gripped Andy’s long hair as they kissed, fingers curling into fists, nails scraping against Andy’s scalp until she shivered. Andy moved her shaking hands up to tug at the high-throated collar of Miranda’s robes. The emerald brooch clung to the cloth by a needle as Andy made hasty work of the first few buttons, pinning Miranda against the wall with her hips.
The motion made Miranda hiss, her head jerking back and her teeth clenching when Andy bowed to suck hard at Miranda's revealed throat and was rewarded with hands grasping at her shoulders. As Andy grazed her teeth over skin, Miranda yanked at her robes until she could rake her nails down the bare skin of Andy's back, leaving reddened lines along her shoulder blades. With a gasp, Andy twitched but did not wrench away. She began hiking up the hems of Miranda’s robes, scrambling to get at more skin, but when instead her fingers grazed the rough texture of stockings and -- Andy felt faint -- an honest to God garter, she allowed Miranda to pull her in for a bruising kiss, groaning against the softness of her mouth.
The door handle rattled, followed by inquisitive voices outside. They froze. Waiting for whoever it was that needed to use the bathroom to leave seemed to take an age, and through the whole thing Andy stared at Miranda, near enough to feel Miranda’s every exhalation against the side of her face. The only sound in the bathroom was the intermittent drip of the tap and their own laboured breathing. Miranda’s mouth was a carmine smear of lipstick, her cheeks flushed, her eyes wide, her robes tousled, a lock of mussed hair falling into her eyes; Andy didn’t need a mirror to know she must have looked much the same. She was struck dumb by the sudden knowledge that had they not been interrupted, she would have gladly fucked Miranda up against a wall in a public bathroom.
With a shaky step backwards, Andy held up both hands as though in surrender. She swallowed past the scratchiness in her throat and croaked, "I didn’t - I'm sorr -"
"Don't say it." Miranda glared, her voice a hoarse breathless whisper. "Do not say it."
"Right. Sor - I mean -" Andy grit her teeth, biting back the automatic apology that boiled up in her mouth, threatening to overflow. "Right. Ok, then."
The moment Miranda reached up to wipe the smudged lipstick at her own mouth, Andy's eyes followed the movement until she was staring. Her heart hammered away in her chest, loud as a smithy, all searing dross and clanging anvils, white-hot iron doused in hissing barrels. Hands trembling, Andy fumbled with the lock, yanked the door open and fled. She wiped her own mouth roughly on the back of her hand as she hurried back to her table to gather up her things -- cloak and bag and whatever tattered scraps of dignity she had left over.
Everyone at the table looked up at her sudden shambles with puzzlement. "Everything alright there, Sachs?" Dave asked.
"Fine," Andy rasped. She nearly dropped her bag when she saw the bathroom door open on the far side of the room and out stepped Miranda, cool and collected as ever. "I'm just -- I'm not feeling well. I’m going to head home and get some rest."
“What about your mousse?” Michael pointed to the absurdly displayed dessert at her setting.
“I’m not hungry,” she lied.
Miranda was crossing the room with slow, measured steps, not a single hair out of place. Andy didn't bother pinning her cloak properly. She simply draped it over her shoulders and rushed towards the front door before Miranda could follow. Once out on the street and for the first time in nearly a decade, Andy held her breath and apparated directly to her apartment. It didn't matter she had no license for apparition or that the action left her shaking and drenched in a cold sweat. She had to get away. She had to -
She nearly dropped her keys twice while trying to open the front door. Only once Andy was safely sequestered inside her apartment did she try stilling the uncontrollable tremour of her fingers. She leaned back against the door and closed her eyes. She focused on her breathing. At her feet Bartholomew arched his back against her ankles and purred. When the room stopped tilting, Andy opened her eyes and looked out at her messy apartment, seeking comfort in the normalcy of leftover cups of tea in the kitchen sink and the stacks of books on the table for work, but finding none.
She told herself she hadn't enjoyed kissing Miranda Priestly.
This was a lie.
She told herself she hadn't enjoyed kissing Miranda Priestly much.
This was also a lie.
1) McGonagall in the film is far older than McGonagall in the books (by about 35 years difference). For the purposes of this fic, I’m using McGonagall’s book age so that she and Miranda attended Hogwarts at the same time. Miranda would have been a year or two younger.
2) While I never stated Miranda’s position on the Quidditch pitch, I headcanon that she was a Beater and that she took great pleasure in striking members of the opposing team from their broomsticks. Her talents as a Beater rested not in having the greatest strength, but the greatest balance and accuracy.
3) I’m very probably maligning the character of Johannes Jonker, but since JKR has said absolutely nothing about him, I’m taking over. My city now.
warning: rating change to Explicit ahead
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.”