It was boring. So, so boring. The conversation around me was like a dense fog hovering above the table; it wasn’t solid enough to grip onto properly but it was still a noticeable weight on my shoulders. I was seated beside Vivienne Zander, Editor of Witch Weekly, and Rita Skeeter, journalist for the Daily Prophet. Obviously, this was not the respectable end of the table. Harry Potter was on the right-hand side of the Minister, Mr. McCabe on his left. Their conversation looked a lot more stimulating than the trash my side were talking about.
“I heard she wore the same cloak for three events. I mean, two is a bit embarrassing but three is absolutely shameful!”
“Honey, I heard she can’t even afford a new cloak” The two women were positively gleaming. They were right at home in their world of mindless gossip. I sipped my drink quietly.
“Didn’t she refuse an interview with you, Rita? Cheeky cow”
Rita took on a haughty expression.
“Too good for the trash we write, she said. Hah! At least something far worse than any spell hit her”
“What’s that, Rita?”
They cackled. I decided that if I was to ever introduce one of our kind to a muggle hoping to meet a stereotypical witch, I would show them Rita Skeeter. She was ugly inside and out.
“Ms. Greengrass, you’re part of the WWC. How are you finding it?”
The Minister’s abrupt question brought the table to a silence and the attention to me. I was perfectly happy to keep inside my head where I could judge everyone silently.
“Oh, I think it’s a very good initiative” I said. I cringed internally. What a Daphne answer.
The Minister seemed pleased but McCabe did not. And then it clicked.
“Well, my son says you give them quite a bit of trouble, with all due respect, Ms. Greengrass”
Of course this man was Callister McCabe’s father. Of course he was.
“How so, Mr. McCabe?”
“It seems you’re not exactly a model student in the programme” He leaned back in his chair. “That was why I found your presence here a bit perplexing”
The Minister’s smile had faded. This was not how he wanted his intellectually riveting conversation to go. Some people were smirking, some were looking at their plates uncomfortably. I stared at him.
“But I understand now, Ms. Greengrass” He smirked. Even Rita Skeeter had stopped gossiping for a moment, watching us intently like she already had the news headline imagined in her head.
“That’s quite enough, Mr. McCabe” the Minister said, his voice quiet.
“You understand what?” I asked, eyes narrowed.
“Use your head, girl” He chuckled. “The Minister can’t be seen to have a dinner full of educated, intellectually minded people without a few token guests. You provide diversity. You’re the outlier, the one that brings the average down. You make this meeting ‘common’. I imagine your sister would fit better at this table, no? High-paying ministry job like that. But then we wouldn’t be able to say this government is of the people, for the people, by the people, would we?”
He sat back and smiled smugly, satisfied with the impression his speech had made. The table was dumbfounded.
“Right, time for pumpkin crumpets and nettle soup, methinks!”
The Minister called to the staff waiting on us to bring the food. I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. The guests all looked at each other, unsure of how to react.
“Well, that was a bit awkward” I said, downing my butterbeer. Rita Skeeter’s eyes were practically dancing with excitement.
“So, you and Mr. McCabe must have quite a bad history to provoke than kind out outburst, am I right?”
She raised her eyebrows as if to say, ‘I’m on your side’. I waved to the waiter to bring another drink. This was going to be a very long night.
“He’s as daft as a tickled dragon, that one” Vivienne Zander wrinkled her nose. “Who does he think he is with his profound lecture, Dumbledore?”
Rita shook her head.
“He’s only acting all high and mighty because his own son didn’t get invited and he’s butt hurt”
“Or maybe because they snubbed his wife as well? Usually Winona McCabe attends these kind of things. His perfect socialite family is deteriorating before his very eyes”
“Or maybe…” I said, feeling the drink kicking in. “He’s sore about the fact that I dumped his son’s pathetic behind and don’t spend my time kissing it like all the other WWC girls”
“You had a relationship with Callister McCabe?!”
“If you can call a rejection followed by a saddening display of hurt pride a ‘relationship’, then it was the best one I ever had”
Rita hooted with laughter.
“That’s it! That’s why he’s so bitter! And is that not awkward, him being one of the leaders in the WWC?”
“How can it not be when he brings it up any time his pathetic insecurities start playing up?” I was talking to myself more than anything by this stage. “Just because I don’t act like an adoring groupie. Friggin’ Avia Wintours, ‘Yes, Mr. McCabe’, ‘No, Mr. McCabe’, ‘Oh you’re so funny, Mr. McCabe, tell me more about yourself so I can use it to further my own career’”
I took another swig of my butterbeer. I felt a bit fuzzy in the head and I knew I was losing some of my sensibility, the small amount I began with. Words were tumbling out, I wasn’t even sure what was being said and what wasn’t or if the sentences even made any grammatical sense.
“Avia Wintours, daughter of Henry and Frida Wintours?” Rita looked puzzled. “She always came across as quite a respectable girl. Dedicated, no?”
“Oh, she’s very dedicated to McCabe, I’m sure”
I felt a bit light-headed. The sounds around me began to become a dull buzz in the background, the conversation becoming a collection of indistinguishable noises. The dim lights became blinding.
“I’m just going to go to the bathroom” I said, getting up from the table. I staggered a little but was able to steady myself.
I looked in the bathroom mirror. I shuddered. My eyeliner was smudged, my cheeks flushed, my eyes a little too bright. What I needed was a good sleep. I splashed some water on my face. It was time to leave. I turned abruptly and disapparated from the room.
I had managed to apparate right in my bedroom, an effort made to avoid Daphne. Unfortunately, I stumbled into my dressing table. The noise wasn’t too loud but I correctly assumed that Daphne was awake, waiting anxiously for my return.
I quickly changed into my pyjamas and hopped into bed. After a quick switch of the light and an attempt to make my breathing slow and heavy, I closed my eyes. I heard my door open and the dark room lit with artificial light.
“Tegan? Tegan, are you awake?”
I remained silent. I really wasn’t in the right mood or state to handle Daphne’s probing questions. I decided she could wait until the morning.
Anyway, I needed time to come up with a convincing story about how the night went.
I looked at my ringing phone. The time on it read 8:30 but I wasn’t convinced. My pounding head and my fatigue were telling me otherwise. I clicked answer.
“Hello” My voice was croaky, like I had been screaming at a rock concert all night or I had spent the night in bed with the flu.
“Astoria? It’s Callister McCabe”
I didn’t have the energy to mask my groan. Why was it that the people who I didn’t want to talk to kept cropping up in my life?
“Astoria, I rang you last night but you didn’t answer. It’s alright, even the best of us get muddled with these muggle utensils, the answer button is the little green thing”
I buried my face in the pillow. It would be more useful to know where the ‘end call’ button was.
“What do you want, Callister?”
“You got the job in the advertising agency. I assume they’re quite desperate”
I had completely forgotten about the stupid job. The thought of facing into a work environment where I was supposed to perform to a certain degree made me feel sick. Callister was still nattering away on the phone.
“Ok, Callister…” I said, defeated. “When do I start?”
“Nine o clock, the lady said”
I shrieked into the pillow. The idiot only left it this last minute to annoy me, I knew it. He probably asked them if I could start straight away.
“And remember Astoria, you’re representing-“
I hung up.
I threw on a crisp white short a size too big for me and one of Daphne’s pencil skirts. I threw my hair-that-needed-a-wash up in an unsuccessful bun and looked at myself in the mirror. I hadn’t taken off my make-up from last night, and we all know how Victoria’s Secret Model you feel the next morning when that happens. I tried to fix it up, a bit of foundation here, a lash of mascara there.
After about a minute, I decided that at least my outside reflected how crap I was feeling on the inside. I shoved a notepad and my phone in my Michael Korspell and grabbed an apple. At least transportation would be fast.
I apparated in a side-alley outside the building. I really felt like I was going to throw up then. I turned to the front entrance.
Well, here we go.