Rita Skeeter, middle-aged newspaper hack. But even hacks stumble onto big stories every once in a while.
This story is a bit of an experiment for me- I haven't written a first-person story before. It's a definite change of pace from my other work. Let me know if you like it, and I'll try to continue it in my copious spare time.
I'm standing on a flat empty plain. No buildings, no people, no idea where I am.
I hear a rumbling in the distance. It's not a storm; the skies are blue and clear. What is it?
Ah. That tells me where I am- must be somewhere in the American Midwest. I can now see that those are re'em, giant golden oxen. Something is stampeding them toward me.
I'm not afraid of them, but I still think it's a good idea to get out of their way. But when I try to run, my legs refuse to cooperate. I can't move.
I hear them approaching, getting ever louder, and brace myself for their impact.
Rubmle, RUMBLE, RUMBLE...
And then I wake up.
I'm in my own bed, in my apartment. No sign of oxen anywhere. But I can still hear them rumbling for some reason, and my head hurts as if they did run me over.
Ah. That's why. That sixth daiquiri was probably not a good idea. Nor were the ones after that.
I reach for the bedside table, where Hettie's Hangover Helper awaits me. Evidently I planned ahead.
"Use our special spells to channel the discomfort of your early-morning blues into energy for your busy day!" God, what hack wrote their copy? But nothing else works as well against my headaches when I overindulge, and a few swallows quiet the rumbling to a dull roar.
I now feel well enough to look around. I see the calendar next to the window. Eleventh July.
Now I remember why I got drunk at the party.
I'm fucking FORTY today.
I can't be forty, I rage to myself. Old people are forty. My parents were forty. My professors were forty- and up, some of them way up. I'm still the dashing young reporter who the Prophet had to hire because of her war stories, whose byline is feared by both Light and Dark...
I still have a bright future with the Prophet...
Oh well, time to get dressed.
I finally make my way out of the apartment, after only three attempts at putting on a presentable face. Short walk into the City near Fleet Street, giving the password to the kiosk vendor who lets me through into the passageway when no one's looking, and I'm on my way down to the Prophet's offices.
I'm actually looking forward to work, for once. It gets my mind off that number and onto doing something produc-
OW! Who left that goddamn box blocking half the fucking door?!
Now that I've been stopped, I can see several other big boxes scattered around the newsroom, apparently at random. What the hell are all these boxes doing here?
I'm just about to inquire- loudly- when Paula Prish sidles up to me. She's a friend and fellow writer. Sometimes. Not today, apparently. "Glad you could finally grace us with an appearance," she smirks.
"Paula, I'm not in the mood," I grumble.
Before I can continue, she says, "The big Z told me that he wants to talk to you. I was just about to track you down. Great party last night wasn't it?"
"For a while, anyway," I murmur. "Did he tell you what it was about?"
"Oh, I'm sure you'll find out." I do not like that grin. Not at all. I do like two paychecks a month, though, so I cross the floor to the editor-in-chief's office.
Zenger Waldron. God, what a silly name. Someone told me he was named for some American newspaper writer way back when. He holds the door for me and shows me to the seat opposite his desk.
"Good morning, Ms. Skeeter. Congratulations on your birthday," he says in that expansive, too-chummy voice I know only too well.
"Thanks," I croak.
"Now, I realize that birthdays only come once a year, Rita, but when they do, you really should remember to have the parties when you don't need to work the next day."
'I don't control the fucking calendar, Zenger!' I want to yell, but instead I say, "I'm sorry, sir, but my friends insisted that I stay and celebrate with them." Paula included, the bitch.
"Have you got the story on Standards and Measures almost ready? This is something that our readers are looking forward to, you know?" he continues.
I really despise those words, "you know." He must have picked them up from some Yank, deciding to be "hip" and "trendy." You'd have thought his first name would be warning enough. "I've got all the interviews transcribed, sir, and I'll have the copy finished in a couple of hours."
Why, I can't imagine. Standards and Measures is the sub-department of the Ministry that manages the market for prepared potions and equipment. One of these quotes goes on and on about the thickness of cauldron bottoms, ferchrissake. The only person looking forward to this article is me, and that's because once it's written, I won't have to write it ever again.
"Mr. Waldron," I start.
"Zenger, please. I like to think we're all friends here," he smiles, showing all of his teeth. I know he wasn't born with most of them.
"Zenger, why are there all of these boxes around the newsroom?" I inquire.
"They're the beginning of our material for the anniversary," he replies, grinning even wider, if possible.
"Anniversary?" A few seconds too late, I realize that I've given him an opportunity to slip into his other preferred mode: pedantic.
"Yes, I'll be making the anouncement later this week. This October will be the tenth anniversary of the end of the War, and we at the Prophet will cover it like no one else," he grandly proclaims, as if there were thousands of people in the room, instead of just me.
'It's not like there IS anyone else,' I almost reply. The only other national newspaper in Wizarding Britain is the Quibbler, and Xeno Lovegood's about the only person further out to lunch than Zenger.
"We'll be showing relics, interviewing survivors, running 'Where Are They Now' features. We will make sure that Britons know how lucky they are that peace rules the land, you know?" he continues.
"For the whole month?" I ask, gritting my teeth.
"Yes! There are so many stories to tell, you know. The battles lost and won, the measures taken by the Ministry to ensure public safety-" half of which have never come off the books, I muse- "the heroism of the Aurors who protected our government at such great cost. And your network of contacts will be invaluable to this effort, I'm sure," he says, finishing up with another sharklike grin.
"Of course, Zenger. Is there anything else?" I ask.... but I think of something else that came to mind during his talk. "What about that Boy-Who-Lived... Harry Potter?" Whew. Just did remember his name.
For a second, I see Zenger go blank. "What about him?" he responds.
"Are we going to interview him at some point?" I inquire.
Zenger returns to his previous animated state. "Not bloody likely. He's ten, you know? His guardian, Professor Dumbledore, has been quite insistent that he be allowed to live a normal life away from the spotlight, and we've been happy to comply. It really isn't very decent of us to force a bunch of questions onto a little kid, you know?"
"I see," I reply. There's something about that explanation that strikes me as not quite right, but I don't know exactly what it is. "Is there anything else you want from me right now, Zenger?"
"No, that will be all. Go ahead and write your story. I'll let you know when the rest of the work needs to be done. And, Rita?" he asks.
"Yes?" I hesitantly reply.
"Happy birthday again. You don't turn forty every day, you know?"
Thank God for that, I think as I leave.
So all these boxes will be for the Ministry's greater glory, I muse sourly as I dictate different paragraphs into my quill. Shouldn't surprise me, but sometimes it does even after all this time.
When the Prophet hired me back in '79, it was part of an effort to bring all of the "Light" writers, insofar as they could be identified, under the Daily Prophet's umbrella. The theory was that if we all worked together, we'd be a lot easier to protect from Death Eaters than if we worked freelance.
Of course, the flip side was that it'd be a lot easier to control us, and that arrangement never ended just because the War did. The Prophet's shareholders wouldn't allow it. If you want to scare yourself, just look at the list of shareholders of the Prophet and donors to the Ministry sometime, as I've done. Look at all those names that repeat at the top of both lists. I'm not quite a Ministry employee, but I don't embarrass them unless I really have to.
After all, a girl's gotta eat. And drink.
Still, I'm going to try to talk to some of my vaunted 'contacts' this evening. See if there's anything to this reluctance to discuss Harry Potter. This way, maybe I can convince someone that I'm still a journalistic force to be reckoned with.
That'd make... oh, one.