Happy holidays, el_em_en_oh_pee! (Romilda/Hannah, PG-13) Title: Personal Journalism Author: ??? Recipient:el_em_en_oh_pee Rating: PG-13 Length: ~8,500 words Pairing(s): Romilda Vane/Hannah Abbott, implied Romilda/Rita Skeeter Summary: Romilda knows she's going to be the next great wizarding reporter. But her next assignment is more difficult than she could have imagined. Warning(s): None
“Ms. Vane, she wants to see you.”
A young woman with long dark hair looked up from her book. Beside her, on a shiny wooden desk, a thin, glowing quill scratched rapidly across parchment. “Splendid,” said Romilda Vane, smiling vaguely. She looked to the quill. “That will do for now.” The quill stopped writing immediately, settling itself down and losing its glow.
“You’d best hurry; She doesn’t like to be kept waiting.” The man speaking was a young, nervous assistant named Quentin, who had started here at about the same time as Romilda. As such, he seemed to believe they were contemporaries, though Romilda found him to be beneath her in his clumsy daftness.
“She doesn’t mind waiting for me,” Romilda said with a mischievous grin, rising from her desk. She winked at Quentin and strode past with broad steps, quickly leaving the young man behind, to stare after her with hints of confusion and intrigue.
“I heard she once spent a summer writing for The Quibbler,” a high-pitched voice was saying as Romilda walked past. Two older women stood by a bulletin board, upon which numerous notices and photographs were pinned. One of the subjects of the photos had been speaking, and the voices abruptly halted as Romilda approached.
She raised an eyebrow, her faint smile widening slightly. “I hope you aren’t gossiping about yours truly,” she said confidently. “I may be new around here, but you’ll soon find I come from slightly more honorable places than The Quibbler.”
The older women gave her dirty looks and turned away. Romilda continued on her way unfazed, casually dodging several flying paper airplanes as she headed down the back corridor. She had charmed her professors and housemates in school; surely it would be only a matter of time until she had charmed her coworkers as well. Romilda Vane prided herself on her social abilities.
There was a door at the back of the building few people dared to knock upon. It looked simple enough, plain oak like all the others, adorned with a small plaque in the center. It was the name on the plaque that gave people cause for concern. Romilda leaned up against this door as casually as an old friend, and knocked lightly. “It’s Romilda,” she said.
“Come in, darling, don’t be shy.” Romilda swung open the door to reveal a large, cluttered desk stacked high with books and sheets of parchment. As was the case with Romilda herself, the occupant of the room used self-writing quills. The only difference was that young Romilda used only one at a time, while this room held two or three, all writing at once on separate pages.
Behind the desk sat a witch resplendent in flowing violet robes. Her hair sat in perfect blonde curls, while her eyes sparkled behind large jeweled spectacles. “Romilda, dearest, thank you for dropping in.” Rita Skeeter, owner and head editor of the Flaming Star, Britain’s newest gossip paper for the wizarding world. She only looked more glamorous as she got older, Romilda thought proudly, smiling at her mentor. She could still remember her second year of Hogwarts, the year of the Triwizard tournament. Rita had been around often interviewing people, and Romilda had admired her style and boldness.
“Never a trouble,” Romilda said casually, taking a seat across the desk. She flashed Rita one of her most charming smiles. “What can I do for you?”
“What can’t you do, darling?” Rita purred, leaning forward and placing her elbows on two stacks of paper. Her smile slowly widened, revealing several golden teeth. “As you might know, Romilda, there is an opening for an assistant editor. Whoever takes the job would be working closely with yours truly. Very closely.” She chuckled mischievously. “If you’re interested, I may consider you for the position. You show so much promise, my dear. And so, to test your prowess, I have an assignment for you.”
“You would consider me? I’m flattered.” Romilda placed a hand delicately on her chest. She had heard about the promotion through the office gossip line, and, though she liked to think of herself as Rita’s favorite, she was honestly surprised to receive an offer such as this so soon into her career.
“Who else could I trust to take care of my best interests?” Rita winked and leaned back, fluffing her curls a bit. She looked down at one of the Quick Quotes Quills. “Enough.” The quill immediately dropped to the desk. “Now, Romilda, here’s your subject.” She spoke warmly, Romilda’s name sliding off her lips with the ease of intimacy. She grasped the stack of papers directly in front of her and held them aloft, raising her delicately kept eyebrows.
Romilda allowed herself to smile more broadly as she took the papers from Rita, purposely sliding her fingertips across her editor’s shiny purple nails. Slapping the papers onto her lap, Romilda studied the photograph centered on the front. It was a tired young woman with long, blonde hair and pursed lips. Her eyes were focused downward, though as Romilda gazed at her, she glanced up for the briefest moment, revealing irises pale as ice. “Who is she?” Romilda asked, feeling faintly stunned as she looked back to Rita, who was watching her intensely.
Rita lost her friendly appeal and settled into a pure businesslike manner, shuffling papers about as she deflected her gaze. “Miss Hannah Abbott,” she said, her voice gone cold. “She works for a robe shop in Muggle London. You’re to interview her about the conditions of her workshop.”
“Why?” Romilda, confused by the story as well as Rita’s manner, flipped through the few pages of her report. Apparently Hannah Abbott had known Harry Potter back at Hogwarts, though Romilda couldn’t remember ever seeing the blonde girl in her attempts to attract young Potter. She had been a Hufflepuff, severely injured in the final battle against Voldemort and going to work for Centurion Robes almost immediately after finishing school. “Centurion isn’t even a popular robe shop.”
“Because Miss Abbott may have some information that could be of interest to us,” Rita said firmly. “Just go and ask her about her job and her past. Perhaps something about Hogwarts affected her deeply enough to change her aspirations.”
Romilda raised an eyebrow. Rita had allowed the tiniest smirk to cross her face, a look Romilda knew very well. Glancing back down at the preliminary report, it jumped out at her. “Are you digging for Potter?”
Rita smiled serenely. “I know you’ll do a wonderful job on this one.”
“Because I know exactly what to ask.”
Rita stood up and walked around the desk to stand beside Romilda. Placing a cool hand on her shoulder, she sighed dramatically. “It’s hard to be persecuted, as I have. Getting this job was no easy task, you know. I’m aware of my glorious fame, my good looks. But I have suffered, dear Romilda. You’ll know all about it eventually.”
Romilda placed her hand over Rita’s and looked up at her mentor. “I did wonder why you hadn’t done it before. You’re brilliant at digging up secrets.”
“And now you will take my place, and together we will get what is rightfully mine.” Rita’s face hardened briefly before she removed her hand and stepped back. “I’ll expect the report in a week.”
“I’ll have it in five days,” Romilda countered, standing up. She slowly walked by her boss, sliding her fingers up Rita’s arm with a meaningful look as she passed. “You can count on me to deliver.”
“As always,” Rita said with a smirk. Their hands briefly clasped, and Romilda gave her a wink before she left the office.
Miss Hannah Abbott did not work in any of Centurion’s three shop branches. Her “office,” if one could call it such, was located in the basement of a Muggle building. Romilda couldn’t feel any difference in the air as she walked through the doorway, and yet she knew there were magical enchantments around her. Two Muggles were coming out as she entered; they stopped to hold the door open and stared with open confusion as the dark-haired witch headed down a steep flight of stairs. Romilda watched them, recognizing the signs of befuddlement charms; she realized that the entire lower level of the building was invisible to those without magic.
Clutching the banister so that her heels wouldn’t lose footing, Romilda walked steadily down the stairs and stopped when she came to the bottom, looking in appreciative wonder at the sudden change in scenery. There were no doors; the hallway simply opened up into a large, seemingly ceiling-less room filled primarily with what appeared to be two extremely large looms. Even the lighting seemed different; Romilda glanced up to find lanterns floating in midair. Sweeping her long hair back, Romilda stepped forward tentatively. “Hello? Is anyone here?”
“Who is that?” The voice alerted Romilda to a long table set alongside the wall to her left. Several small unrecognizable devices sat upon it, whirring and moving and pulling cloth through their wheels by themselves, and at the end, a young blonde sat in a hard wooden chair, her hair pulled back into a long, messy ponytail. She was staring Romilda down, seemingly emotionless, her eyes as icy blue as they had seemed in her picture.
“I’m Romilda Vane, from the Flaming Star.” Romilda spoke loudly, to be heard over the noise. She walked quickly over to the table and offered her hand, flashing one of her most winning smiles. “You must be Hannah Abbott.”
Hannah’s eyes remained blank as she looked from Romilda’s eyes to her hand and back again. “What can I do for you?” She cocked her head and shook hands gently.
“I’m sorry, I thought my editor had spoken to you. I’m here to conduct an interview about your work.” Romilda kept smiling, though she was a bit thrown off by Hannah’s stoicism.
“What for? It’s not very important.” Hannah did not seem saddened by this; she spoke the words as nothing but mere fact.
Romilda, of course, was never unsure of how to act; she could handle the passionate and the stoic. “I think it’s thrilling,” she said warmly. “Might we be able to step outside and have a chat? I know we’ll both enjoy it; I’m thrilled to have a chance to learn what you do here.”
“Mostly I just keep the looms going,” Hannah said, casting her eyes over toward the large machines. “They need fresh charms every hour. And when they’re finished I tidy things up a bit. You see, here, this one needs a sharper collar.” She held up a robe that had a bit of a crooked edge, frowning slightly as she examined the threadwork. “And I thread the lace sometimes, on the dress robes. Somehow they’re not good with that; I expect the fabric’s too delicate.”
Romilda, slightly taken aback by the sudden outpour of information, fumbled with her bag. “That is fascinating,” she said. “Could you just wait one moment, while I grab my quill? I really do look forward to writing all of that down. May I have a seat?” She did not wait for an answer, yanking a second chair out from beside the wall and sitting close to Hannah. She noted, as she set her bag upon the floor, that Hannah had lovely pale skin. Her hands were small and delicate; they fluttered like tiny birds as the blonde woman set her robes aside to make room on the table for Romilda’s quill and parchment. “All right, let’s see, do you mind if I use a Quick Quote Quill? Wonderful.” She was already preparing the set. Sucking on the end of her quill, she set it upon the parchment and gave it a quick nudge, whereupon it sprung to life, beginning to write furiously. Without even glancing at the quill’s words, Romilda smiled again and regarded Hannah. “Let’s begin again, shall we?”
“I don’t think your readers will be interested in the basement job of a loom charmer,” Hannah said certainly. “There’s not much to it, you know.”
“I think it’s a glorious job,” Romilda lied with a flourish, still smiling. “Why don’t we start with your history? What made you choose this sort of position?”
She was thrilled, more than she thought she ought to be, by Hannah’s reaction; the blonde woman smiled faintly as her cheeks turned pink. Hannah looked away briefly before bringing her eyes to Romilda’s; the reporter almost shrunk back from their astonishing beauty. “I didn’t have the best time of it in school,” Hannah confessed, wringing her hands. “I wasn’t really at the same level as everyone else.”
Romilda nodded in what she hoped to be a sympathetic manner. “Tell me more about that,” she urged.
“Well.” Hannah spoke slowly, as though it were troublesome to pull the words from the depths of time. Her voice was soft and gentle. “It was during the war. You-Know-Who was about, and school was very difficult for me. All of these terrible things were happening, and all of these difficult spells and potions and long essays were being assigned as though everything was okay, when it very clearly wasn’t. Harry Potter was always doing all of these scandalous and heroic things; he was in my year, you know.”
Romilda almost laughed aloud at how easy it was. “Were you close to Harry Potter, then?”
“Well, no, not really, he was in a different house. But everyone always knew what he was up to; he couldn’t really hide, Harry. Mind you, he was still nice to everyone. Most people, anyway. Sometimes it just seemed like he was trouble, but he was really the best one of us all.”
“He was trouble, wasn’t he?” Romilda smiled with nostalgia. “Didn’t he get into a lot of fights in school? He could be awfully rebellious. Wasn’t he suspected to be Slytherin’s heir?”
Hannah paused, uncertain, cocking her head again and studying Romilda, who stared back with innocently wide eyes. Hannah sighed and pushed a few stray strands of hair out of her face. “I understand,” she said. “I guess people always want to know more about their heroes.”
Romilda knew she’d gone too far. “I’m not here about Harry. I really do want to talk about you.”
Hannah had a sad look in her eyes. “There’s nothing to talk about. I was a stupid girl and now I’m paying for it.” She stood up and clutched a robe to her chest. Turning away, she walked slowly over towards the giant loom. “I don’t know why you’d come to me, anyway. He hardly ever spoke to me. You’d have better luck with the Weasleys, I’d imagine.”
Romilda pursed her lips and remembered Rita talking of persecution. Standing quickly, she snatched her quill and parchment and followed Hannah. In the center of the room, before the biggest loom, she placed a hand on Hannah’s shoulder. The blonde jerked visibly and turned quickly, looking at Romilda in shock. “Maybe we could reschedule this interview,” Romilda said apologetically. “I’ll reconsider my questions and we’ll do it right.” She smiled. “Do you agree?”
Hannah’s eyes seemed to shine up close, and Romilda could see a very faint batch of freckles across her nose. The blonde nodded slowly. “All right. If you’re set on it.”
Romilda’s smile widened. “Perfect. How about tomorrow, in the afternoon? When do you have lunch; I’d love to join you.”
“Around one, I suppose,” Hannah replied, looking down at the robe in her hands.
“One it is, then. I’ll meet you here, if that’s all right.” Hannah nodded, and Romilda smiled confidently. “Good. I shall see you then. Keep up the good work, Hannah.” She nodded emphatically and turned to go, collecting her bag and flipping her hair back. At the beginning of the stairs she turned back; Hannah was already back in her seat, hunched over a robe and reworking the threading. Romilda smiled to herself, a real smile, and went on her way.
Later, in the sitting room of her flat, Romilda unfolded her notes and spread them out on the table. She was very impressed with the skill of her Quick Quotes Quill; it was able to capture the emotions of a scene perfectly and tie them into the words spoken, as well as including the reporter’s thoughts. Romilda peered over the notes and frowned.
“Hannah Abbott, a mysteriously innocent young woman, sits with a sort of comfortable melancholy in the dimly lit basement of her looming center. Her flowing blonde locks cry out for attention, for a set of perfectly manicured nails to run through them and lay them straight. Her eyes, a pair of ice sculptures, lure you into her world of isolated uncertainty, draw you into her inner sanctum of hidden sadness and projected stoicism. She shines in her darkness; she is resigned to her convictions.
“If you speak to her, her eyes wander; her lips quiver. She will tell you of her troubled past, her brush with failure, and her distant relationship with one famous Harry Potter. What she cannot tell you of is the heavy weight of disappointment that lies upon her chest, strangling her heart. She will tell you of her troubles, but not of her loneliness, her desperate hope for someone who will claim her, lay her down and warm her with promises of salvation. Her skin, pale and flawless, shivers beneath old, tattered robes. Would that she could sample the delicious velvet and lace that she creates there in that dark, dingy basement; would that she could be confident and successful like the beautiful reporter who sits just a tad too close. Would that she could touch her, succumb to her beguiling smiles and bedroom eyes, surround herself in something other than cold air and dust particles.”
“Well, this isn’t quite what I had in mind,” Romilda said. She moved to open a window; she was sweating. It was raining outside; she watched the street for a moment, shivering in the wind. Then she stepped backwards and pursed her lips, staring at the notes on the table. She snatched the parchment off the table and crumpled it into a ball, tossing it onto the floor. “I’ll do better tomorrow.”
“Romilda, darling.” The voice startled Romilda so badly that she gasped, collapsing onto the sofa. Rita Skeeter’s head had appeared in her fire. “Oh, dear, I’m sorry I frightened you. I thought for sure you would have expected me. So, how did the interview go?”
“It was fine,” Romilda said, angry at the call, angry that Rita had skipped straight to business, angry at the blonde woman’s arrogant smirk. She pushed her hair back and sat up straight. “We’re meeting tomorrow for lunch to talk more.”
“Did you discover anything interesting, dear?” Romilda wondered where Rita’s body was, if she kept a cushion in front of the fireplace, to make leaning forward on her knees a little easier. She wondered what Rita was wearing, some bright-colored night dressings, perhaps. Or maybe she wore nothing at all; after all, no one would know the difference, and it would be so easy to play games with her audience. Romilda could easily picture those perfectly manicured fingers gently stroking in her secret places, flashing a silly grin at the fact that Romilda would never know for sure.
“Yes,” Romilda said, wondering if Rita liked the sound of her voice as much as she enjoyed her own, wondering if Rita imagined it was Romilda’s fingers touching her, Romilda’s tongue sliding along her folds. Romilda shook her head to clear her thoughts. “I will elaborate in my report.”
“About that,” Rita said, drawing out her words. “I was wondering if you could prepare two separate reports.”
“One for the magazine and one for you,” Romilda guessed, resting her chin on her fists.
“Of course, you know me so well.” Rita winked flirtatiously. “Oh, Romilda, I am lucky to have you, aren’t I?”
“You certainly are,” Romilda replied, unable to fake any smiles. She just stared blankly as Rita winked again and shook her head, fanning her perfectly styled curls.
“Now, here’s what I’d like. One copy for the paper, the story of poor Hannah’s troubled childhood and dead-end job. And the other, for me, containing the more… sensitive information, if you know what I mean.”
“Of course,” said Romilda, finally managing a smile. “Anything for you.”
“Romilda, I adore you,” Rita said. “Have a good night, darling.” She raised her eyebrows. “I’m certain I will.” She winked yet again and disappeared.
Romilda collapsed back against the cushions and sighed deeply. This was her chance to finally secure that promotion; all she had to do was prod icy-eyed Hannah Abbott and keep flirting with her boss. It had all seemed so easy twenty minutes ago. “I just need some sleep,” Romilda decided firmly, heading off to bed.
The room looked exactly the same the next day, with the only difference residing in Miss Hannah Abbott herself. As Romilda entered the room, she noticed the blonde right away, standing before the second of the looms, waving her wand slowly up and down before it as an enormous spool of thread wound itself around the edges. “Hello, Hannah? It’s Romilda Vane.”
Hannah turned with a smile and gave the loom a sharp tap with her wand; the spooling continued as she walked over to meet Romilda. “I almost thought you weren’t coming,” she said, reaching out to shake Romilda’s hand. Hannah’s skin was cool in a pleasant way, and her shake was firmer than it had been yesterday.
Romilda smiled broadly. “I never cancel appointments,” she said, looking Hannah over. There was a change in the girl; her fine hair had been pulled into a high ponytail, without a single loose strand. Her cheeks were flushed a delicate shade of pink, and her robes hung on her gracefully. “You look well.”
Hannah smiled. “Thank you.” She glanced at the looms; they had started to move, their giant wheels and spokes turning and beginning to work the thread. “I’ve just placed all the fresh charms; everything should be all right for about an hour.”
“Wonderful.” Romilda tried to show some interest, tried to watch as the machines worked, but her gaze kept moving back to Hannah, who was draping a blanket over her wooden chair. The blonde knelt down to retrieve a small bag from beneath the table, and Romilda felt a flash of heat hit her face. “It’s a bit stuffy in here,” she remarked, flipping her long hair back and forcing her eyes elsewhere.
“I feel fine,” Hannah replied, giving her a confused look. “I usually place weather charms in here to give the place a bit of a breeze; it can get pretty dry without any windows.”
Sure enough, when Romilda concentrated, she could feel the smallest hint of wind brush her cheek. “You’re good at charms,” she said, raising her eyebrows. “You could have worked in a variety of positions. I’m very curious as to how you ended up here.”
Hannah shrugged. “I expect you’ll want to wait for your quill before I answer,” she said, with the mere hint of a smile.
“Yes, of course.” Romilda grinned broadly. “Shall we go, then?”
“Tell me about your family.” They were sitting across from one another at a small black table in an upscale restaurant. It was run by Muggles, but Romilda didn’t mind; the food was delicious and the atmosphere charming.
Hannah chewed her food slowly, taking her time to mull things over. “I grew up with my parents in Godric’s Hollow. I’m an only child.”
“You’re pureblooded, aren’t you?” Romilda asked curiously. Beside her, the Quick Quotes Quill was writing a bit slower than it usually did. Romilda had decided to chance using the quill again, giving it a stern warning to keep things clean this time around.
“I don’t really see how that matters,” Hannah replied. “Blood’s not really important anymore, is it?”
“It never was,” Romilda countered with a confident smile. “I’ve always been comfortable with my half-blood status. There are many things about me old fools don’t agree with.” She let her smile linger, slowly twisting into wickedness, before she caught herself. Clearing her throat, she lightly tapped her quill, to get it to retract her last remark. “But on to schooling. How did you deal with the transition to Hogwarts?”
Hannah paused, her lips twitching briefly before she answered. “It was all right, I suppose. My parents had already told me a lot about it, seeing as they went there, too. I was put into Hufflepuff, which was fine by me. I didn’t think I’d fit anywhere else, anyway, from hearing that sorting hat sing about it. I’m not particularly witty or brave.” She smiled as her pink cheeks darkened. “I made friends pretty quickly. We had our own little group, Ernie and Susan and me.” She paused again. “I haven’t seen them in a while; they both work for the Ministry these days.”
“And when did you first encounter Harry Potter?” Romilda asked casually, idling over her tea.
Hannah frowned. “I thought this interview was about me,” she said stiffly, sitting up straighter in her chair.
“Of course it is; I’m just asking out of curiosity. I knew Harry in school, too, you know. I was just wondering what you thought of him.”
“Well, he wasn’t so fanciable back in his first year,” Hannah said. “He was just a child; we all were. I only thought of him as The Boy Who Lived. I think he was a bit shorter than I’d imagined.”
Romilda laughed loudly. “I never fancied Harry Potter,” she said.
Hannah looked confused. “But you all did,” she said. “I remember hearing you talking with the other girls in the restrooms. It was in my fifth or sixth year, I can’t remember now. You were learning love potions and such.”
Romilda laughed again, and beside her the Quick Quotes Quill sped up a bit. “Oh, that,” said Romilda, grinning broadly. “That was merely a status symbol, Hannah. Can you imagine how popular I would have been if I’d bagged Harry Potter?”
“That’s not very nice,” Hannah said, frowning. “And what if Harry had fallen for your scheme? You would’ve hurt him.”
“Oh, he would have gone out with me for a bit and then forgotten all about it once I stopped giving him potions. Anyway, he never did, so what does it matter now? It was a silly child’s game, that’s all. Harry isn’t my type; no man is.” Romilda felt her face flush as she realized she’d said too much.
Hannah ducked her head quickly, staring intently into her food. “Are you into girls, then?” Her voice sounded strained.
Romilda couldn’t help but grin. “I always have been,” she said, rather enjoying the way Hannah squirmed in her seat. “But we’re not here to talk about me, are we? And we’re drastically off the subject. Let’s continue with your schooling. Were there any classes you particularly enjoyed?”
“Charms, I suppose, though I’m not entirely sure what this has to do with my job with Centurion,” Hannah said softly. “I’m sure your readers would much rather read about some wizard rock star or Quidditch player. Aren’t you a gossip rag? I’d expect to find Ginny Weasley on your front cover; youngest professional Quidditch player takes to the skies. People don’t want to read about me.”
“Of course they do,” Romilda assured her, though she was not so sure of this herself. “Centurion Robes is making major headway in the clothing business. People want to stay on top of the latest fashions, don’t they? And everyone loves a success story, how someone young and beautiful triumphed over her personal troubles.”
“I don’t know if I want to tell the world about my personal troubles,” Hannah said nervously. “I struggled with magic sometimes, sure, but I don’t really want to say any more than that.”
Romilda paused, glancing over her notes. She frowned as she read over some of her quill’s work. “Hannah bristles as the conversation turns to Harry Potter, the hero of her youth. Can the memory of a man strike jealousy into the heart of a woman, as she recalls how this reporter once seemed to yearn for Harry’s attentions? There is no cause for concern, as the dashing Romilda Vane soon confesses her own dark secret; she is not swayed by the male sex. It is the pink flush of a delicate cheek, the icy shine of blue which ruffles the reporter’s feathers.” Closing her eyes briefly, Romilda huffed angrily and snatched the quill out of the air, stuffing it hurriedly into her bag.
Hannah jerked back in her seat. “I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “We can talk about other things.”
“No, it’s not that,” Romilda replied, flashing Hannah a reassuring smile. “My quill isn’t exactly cooperating lately.”
“I thought it writes down whatever we say,” Hannah said, leaning forward to read the parchment. Romilda, fearing what else might be written, quickly snatched the paper out of sight. Hannah’s eyes widened, though she did not move. “Is everything all right?”
She was very close to Romilda, leaning over the table and staring the reporter in the face. Romilda, caught off guard for the first time she could remember, did not know what to say. She stared into beautiful blue eyes and finally allowed herself to think about what the quill was telling her: she was very attracted to Miss Hannah Abbott. Taking a deep breath, Romilda leaned back and placed a self-assured smile on her face. “Of course, everything’s fine. I just wouldn’t want anyone to read my notes until they’re edited and printed. We can’t have sneak peeks, can we?” She was surprised by her own voice, amazed at the extent of her ability to fake confidence.
Hannah sat back, her cheeks flushed, and nodded demurely, glancing downward. Romilda, feeling like she had regained control, laughed and leaned forward slightly. “So, my dear Hannah, what personal secrets are you hiding? Our readers would adore learning all about them.”
“I’m not here to talk about secrets,” Hannah replied softly, keeping her gaze focused on the table. “I finished Hogwarts with a handful of N.E.W.T.S. and went searching for a job I could handle. Centurion was just starting, and the owner took me on. I sit in a basement and cast spells on looms and such. That’s my life.”
“There’s always more to one’s life than that,” Romilda countered. “What about passion; what about pain?”
“This article is about my work,” Hannah replied. “Your editor said I would only have to talk about robe-making. Your readers don’t want to hear anything else.”
“What if I want to hear everything else?” Romilda asked, keeping her voice casual.
Hannah paused and raised her eyebrows incredulously. “I don’t really see why,” she confessed, her lips twitching again. “I told you before, I’m not very interesting.”
“Well, you won’t let yourself be interesting, Hannah,” Romilda replied. A sense of frustration was beginning to grow within her.
“I just don’t understand why I have to tell the world my secrets,” Hannah said, starting to get angry herself. She leaned forward and frowned. “I’m not a very forthcoming person in these situations. I only agreed to this interview because I understood it to be about Centurion Robes, not Hannah Abbott.”
“I want to put a spirit to the name,” Romilda explained. “Our readers want to know where you come from, how you got to the place you are now. It’s very boring reading about how a magic loom works.”
“You said my job was interesting,” Hannah snapped. She stood abruptly, tossing her napkin onto her plate. “I knew this was a bad idea. You’ll have to find another person to interview.”
“Now, wait just a moment,” Romilda said sharply, standing to meet Hannah’s eyes. “You can’t back out now; you promised to do this.”
“That isn’t fair,” Hannah replied simply. The pink of her cheeks faded, and she began to walk away.
“Oh, darn it,” Romilda said to herself, hurrying to gather her things. She fumbled with her coin purse, trying to remember how Muggle money worked. She knew that Hannah could apparate away at any moment, and yet she was determined to try and follow her. She was angry with Hannah; it was the blonde who had ruined this interview, not Romilda. Tossing some money onto the table, Romilda hurried off, slinging her bag awkwardly over one shoulder as she struggled to run in her heels.
“Hannah!” Romilda caught sight of the blonde girl ahead and rushed to catch up. Hannah was walking rather slowly, and Romilda clutched her shoulder desperately as she neared. Hannah stopped and looked at her with a surprising calmness. “You’re being difficult,” Romilda said, breathing heavily. “Let’s just sit down somewhere and start again.”
“I’d rather not,” Hannah said simply, though she made no sign of leaving.
Romilda stared at her curiously. “You’re awfully calm when I’m angry with you.” “You don’t really have much reason to be angry,” Hannah replied. “I wasn’t the one being remarkably pushy.”
“Pushy?” Romilda asked incredulously, releasing Hannah’s shoulder. “I was merely trying to ask you a question.”
“I don’t even know you,” Hannah said slowly, stepping awfully close to Romilda. “You’re a reporter, and I don’t want to talk to you anymore.”
“I have a deadline, you know,” Romilda snapped, pushing her hair out of her face as she met Hannah’s glare. “I can’t just come up with a new interview at the eleventh hour.”
“What sort of interview was I, really?” Hannah demanded, raising an eyebrow. Romilda watched as the color came back into her cheeks. “You ask me about school, Harry Potter, secrets. Not once did you ask me a single question about how my job works.”
“I would have gotten to that if you’d just answered the preliminary questions,” Romilda replied angrily.
“They were awfully personal for being just preliminary,” Hannah said.
“I thought we had a connection,” Romilda said desperately, realizing that she had suddenly stopped talking about school and Harry Potter and questions. She was thinking of the way Hannah smiled at her, and the pink of her cheeks. She was thinking of pursed lips and soft hands, of icy blue eyes and they way they shined when Romilda complimented her.
“What sort of connection?” Hannah asked suspiciously.
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake,” Romilda said, grabbing the back of head and kissing her fiercely. Hannah’s mouth was warm and soft; Romilda thrust her fingers through Hannah’s silky blonde hair and gripped the witch tightly around the waist with her other hand. Hannah’s entire body stiffened, and then Romilda felt the tiniest shock of a moan vibrate through her system as the blonde woman gently placed her small hands on Romilda’s shoulders. Romilda kept her eyes shut tight as she savored the taste of Hannah’s tongue, and it was not until somebody gasped nearby that the two witches broke apart, each staring at the other in bewilderment.
Three young girls were standing in the doorway of a dress shop, giggling madly behind their hands and trying not to stare at the scene. Romilda eyed them with frustration. “You know you’re dying to try it,” she said sharply, offering her hand to Hannah.
Hannah hesitated as the younger girls shared a look of embarrassment and fright and darted into the shop. She glanced down at her feet and tentatively took Romilda’s hand. “That was rather unexpected,” she said nervously. “I’m not sure what to say.”
Romilda gave her a genuinely strong grin. “You seemed to enjoy it,” she said, filled with buoyant confidence. She licked her lips, pleased with the fact that she could taste Hannah’s lip-gloss. “Why don’t I apologize for being so forward, and you can accept my offer to take you to dinner this weekend.”
“Well.” Hannah hesitated again, and Romilda felt the beginnings of doubt sink into her stomach. When the blonde grinned, it sent a thrill of warmth down Romilda’s spine. “As long as I don’t have to finish my interview.”
Romilda laughed and placed a hand upon Hannah’s shoulder. “I promise to keep things strictly personal.” She winked and squeezed gently. “You’re adorable. Friday evening, then?”
“I suppose so,” Hannah said nervously, as her face began to turn red.
Rita was perched at the very edge of her desk, peering down at Romilda from above her jeweled spectacles. “This article is below you, Romilda. Where is the dirt? I seem to recall your last subject weeping in shame after you were through with her. This,” and she indicated the stack of papers in her hand, “is woefully bland.”
Romilda squirmed in her seat. “I don’t think Hannah Abbott is the best choice for this magazine.”
“And why not?” Rita leaned over slightly, shifting her cleavage so as to give Romilda the best view.
“She doesn’t know anything about dressmaking,” Romilda said, embellishing the truth a bit in order to save herself and Hannah. “She casts a protective spell over the looms, then sits and reads while the clothing makes itself. Her personal life is literally devoid of anything even remotely interesting, and she has not seen or heard from Harry James Potter since the day Voldemort was killed. There’s nothing there for you, Rita. She says you’d be better off asking the Weasleys.”
“Weasleys.” Rita sneered at her, pushing her glasses up her nose. “Don’t you think I would have known that, Romilda, dear? There are … circumstances involving the Weasley family; we don’t have access to them. It is not your place to suggest who I speak to, Miss Vane. It is your place to do as I say.”
“I don’t think you’re going about it the right way,” Romilda insisted.
Rita pushed off the desk and came to stand beside Romilda’s chair. Romilda stiffened as Rita knelt down and slid a hand into Romilda’s robes and across her bare abdomen. “You’re forgetting our arrangement,” Rita said sweetly, whispering into Romilda’s ear. “You do things for me, and I do things for you.” Slowly, Rita’s perfectly manicured fingernails traced a path down Romilda’s stomach and into the waistband of her panties, brushing delicately across the top of her pubic mound. “Isn’t that right?”
Romilda placed her hand over Rita’s, fighting off a sudden sense of nausea. From the day she had started working for this magazine, she’d been so sure of her plans, so certain that she knew how to work people. Using Rita’s obvious desire for her was bound to get her the articles she wanted, the top positions. It wasn’t until this very moment that Romilda realized that she was the one being used. “Yes,” she said breathlessly. “That’s right.”
“Wonderful,” Rita purred into her ear, sending a not-unpleasant chill down Romilda’s back. Rita stood up and adjusted her outfit, tapping a quill against the desk. “Now, let’s see what we can do about this interview. Perhaps Abbott wasn’t a very good candidate, after all, but she must know someone who would be. Go back and question her again, Romilda. Get me some names. The Potter story must be told, and we both know who is to tell it.”
Her smile widened, and Romilda sighed silently. “I’ll try,” she said, standing shakily. Taking a moment to regain her balance, she forced a smile and nodded curtly. “And I’ll polish what I’ve got so the magazine has a filler.”
Rita chuckled. “This was never about the magazine, dear,” she confided. “Who wants to read about a poor, boring seamstress apprentice? It’s just as you said, Romilda, she doesn’t know anything about anything. Loom charms, how dreadful. Just get me those names.”
Romilda felt a tight heat in her chest and stomach. She narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth to speak. The sight of that smug grin, with those golden teeth and dark red lips, silenced her protests, and Romilda pursed her lips and left the office, silently seething all the way to her desk. It was people like Rita Skeeter that made people like Hannah so insecure.
Brushing aside some stray notes and books, Romilda rested her head in her hands and thought over her new predicament. With her newfound attraction to Hannah, it was suddenly difficult to keep up her flirtations with Rita. But how was she, a relative newcomer with not much experience, going to stay on top if she withdrew her ministrations? Rita was sure to drop her support of her if she realized that she couldn’t get anything sexual out of the deal. It was the entire reason she had started to depend upon Romilda. She couldn’t fool herself; she was as talented as the rest of the staff, if not less so. It wasn’t her words that had swayed someone as arrogant and ruthless as Rita Skeeter.
But how could Romilda pursue Hannah if she was involved with Rita? And on the other hand, how could Romilda give up her dream of becoming a journalist just for a potential relationship? It was true she could continue to work for Rita, but things would certainly be strained. She didn’t have many options; Romilda would never admit to it aloud, but no one else would hire her. She’d been called bland, unoriginal, and mediocre. Witch Weekly had even used the word “trashy.” It was enough to dissuade any lesser witch, and until now Romilda had refused to acknowledge her failures, preferring to focus on the idea of her eventual success.
Romilda sighed and brushed her hair out of her face as she set to work. She picked up her quill and struggled to edit her latest article, the one she’d been working on before this Hannah problem had started. There was no chance of using a magic quill on this one, not with her inner agonizing clouding the air. It was better for her to try putting her entire focus on writing articles on her own for a change, without magic. Then perhaps she could stop thinking about Rita and Hannah. She hadn’t even gotten through one date with Hannah; what if things didn’t go well between them? Romilda pursed her lips and tried not to think about it.
Hannah’s long pigtails shone as though enchanted; Romilda couldn’t take her eyes off of them. There was something icy blue shimmering within those pale tresses, a glittering string of pearl lights that matched Hannah’s glowing eyes. “I hope you don’t mind the mess,” the blonde was saying, flicking her wand quickly and casting a few stray items out of the way.
Romilda entered the sitting room of Hannah’s home and smiled warmly. “Your place is wondrous,” she said, managing to look away from Hannah’s hair for a moment to examine the place. It was a small house on the outskirts of Godric’s Hollow, almost invisible if you didn’t know what to look for. Romilda had been to the wizarding village before, for interviews and her own personal curiosity, and she had walked straight past the Abbott home without looking at it. She remembered the firm grip of Hannah’s small hand as she had directed Romilda here through apparition, and the reluctant glance they had shared before letting go.
Hannah’s home was warm and cozy. The furniture looked new, yet comfortable, and there were small candles floating in the air, casting a hazy glow about the room that seemed to fit the place. There was only one photograph, that of a smiling older couple and a little girl between them, waving merrily at Romilda as she came in. “Is that you?” Romilda asked, moving closer.
“Yes,” said Hannah, smiling nervously. She placed a hand on Romilda’s shoulder. “I think I was about seven when that was done.”
“Where are your parents living now?” Romilda asked curiously, turning to face Hannah. She still felt little thrills in her stomach when Hannah smiled and flushed.
“This isn’t going into any interviews, is it?” Hannah asked, keeping her smile to let Romilda know she wasn’t serious.
“I’ve given up your assignment,” Romilda told her for the second time that evening. “They’re replacing your segment.”
“I know,” Hannah said, but her smile widened and her eyes glistened. The smile faded almost immediately after. “My Mum’s dead. She was killed in the war.”
“Oh, that’s dreadful. I’m so sorry,” Romilda said, sincerely. She had been used to hearing this sort of answer back in her first days of journalism, when everyone was still in mourning. Hearing it from Hannah seemed to hurt more. She placed a hand on Hannah’s arm.
“Let’s have a drink,” Hannah said quickly, flashing Romilda a weak smile before retrieving her wand. She waved it casually in the air, and a bottle of wine floated in from the kitchen. It proceeded to pour the women two drinks as Hannah led Romilda to the sofa. “Sit, sit, we’ll talk over some drinks.”
Romilda sat, still unused to Hannah’s forwardness. The dinner between them had gone well, but Romilda had not at all expected to be invited to Hannah’s home so quickly. She could only assume that Hannah was feeling the same thrilling feelings of attraction that made Romilda’s entire body feel as though it were on fire. She grinned at Hannah as her glass floated over to her. “Thank you,” she said. “For giving me another chance.”
“You’re not a great reporter,” Hannah said seriously, taking her own drink from the air. “But….” She hesitated, her lips twitching again. “You’re a pretty amazing person.”
Romilda kept grinning. “Yes, I suppose I am,” she said with a laugh. “As are you, of course.”
They had talked at length over dinner, about their likes and their struggles. Without the idea of a million readers seeing her words, Hannah had opened up to Romilda about her frustration with her job and her life. She had pictured working for Centurion to be hands on, to be involved with customers. Sitting in an invisible basement stifled her creativity and her friendliness. “I’m a hard worker, and I love people,” she’d said. “But I never feel as though I get to prove it.” She didn’t feel like anyone else would hire her, as she’d finished school later than her classmates and with a very small number of N.E.W.T.S.
Romilda countered this tale with her own, about how she’d had to settle for working for the Quibbler after no one else would take her on. “They said I wasn’t very sensitive to people’s feelings, but isn’t that what hard-hitting journalism is supposed to be all about? All anyone could think about was poor Harry Potter and how badly the press had treated him. I was stuck writing articles about ridiculous conspiracy theories before Rita started the Flaming Star.” She’d felt a twist in her stomach at the mention of Rita, but thankfully Hannah hadn’t said anything about Romilda’s senior editor.
Now, Hannah tentatively placed a hand on Romilda’s knee, squeezing gently. “It’s been a long time since I’ve met someone like you,” she said, keeping her eyes downcast. “You’re so bold and opinionated. I like that.”
Romilda held her drink aloft. “A toast, then,” she said happily. “To boldness, and meeting people, and being liked.”
“And to beginnings,” Hannah added. They clinked glasses and took a drink.
Romilda released her glass, allowing it to float in the air beside her so that she would have both hands free. She took Hannah’s hand with one of her own, and placed the other on Hannah’s head, gently running her fingers down one soft, glimmering tail of blonde. “You’re beautiful, you know,” she said softly. Her fingers intertwined with Hannah’s, and she squeezed tightly.
“Not like you,” Hannah replied. Her entire face was a dark shade of pink. “You’re so exotic; I’m pale and boring.”
“You’re not boring; don’t be silly,” Romilda chided. “You’ve got to stop saying that about yourself; it’s beginning to grow irritating.”
Hannah smiled slowly as her eyes met Romilda’s. “I suppose I’m cute in a young girly sort of way.”
Romilda smirked. “Well, I suppose that’s a start.” She leaned forward and kissed Hannah gently, reveling in the soft sweetness of her lips. Hannah slid her arms around Romilda’s neck and drew her in deeper. Their glasses of wine floated in the air beside them, forgotten completely as the women explored each other’s mouths with their tongues.
Hannah broke away, without loosening her grip on Romilda. “You’re a very good kisser,” she said breathlessly. “I think I could kiss you forever.”
“Let’s test the theory,” Romilda suggested, diving in again and pressing her mouth fiercely to Hannah’s. Hannah gripped Romilda’s head tightly, her fingers clutching at strands of Romilda’s long, dark hair. Romilda pushed Hannah down onto her back, climbing on top of the blonde and pushing her into the sofa. As she licked the edge of Hannah’s tongue, Romilda lost all rational thought and gave herself away to the freedom of lust.
“Rita, I’m resigning,” Romilda Vane said firmly, slapping a stack of papers onto her editor’s desk. “These are the assignments I’ve been working on; you’ll have to give them to somebody else.”
Rita laughed haughtily. “My dear Romilda, you cannot be serious. Where will you go? Nobody out there treats you as I have.”
“I don’t care,” Romilda said fiercely, standing her ground. “I’ll make my own way.”
“You don’t stand a chance,” Rita sneered, standing up behind her desk. “You’ll come crawling back into my luxurious lap. I can show you things, Romilda Vane, or have you forgotten? We’ve barely begun to truly connect with one another.”
“I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I met you in my second year of Hogwarts,” Romilda said, holding her prominent chin up high. “And when I met you again, here, I was taken in by your power and your charms. But it’s not that that I’ve forgotten now; it’s myself. I’ve lived my entire life knowing that I’m capable of getting whatever I want, all on my own. I let you trick me into losing that knowledge, into thinking that I needed you. But I don’t need you, Rita Skeeter. You need me. Now you’ll have to learn to get along without me.”
“You’re a foolish little girl!” Rita snarled as Romilda turned and stormed out of her office. “I don’t need you; I’m the greatest reporter that ever lived! You’re nothing without me!”
Romilda smirked to herself as she walked quickly past her astonished employees and through the glass doors of the Flaming Star’s headquarters. As she headed for the secluded apparition area, she found herself looking forward to seeing Hannah later that afternoon; the two of them would be exploring the area for new jobs. That was, if they didn’t take up too much time exploring each other’s bodies, first.