Three years out of Hogwarts Lily Evans is a journalist for the Daily Prophet and doing brilliantly. That is until her boss decides she's developed an unhealthy fixation with Aurors, which is getting him into more much trouble (and debt) than it's worth. To make life easier he sets her the simple task of covering Gilderoy Lockhart's latest book release where she meets the mysterious and captivating John Smith. The only problem is that somewhere along the track Lily has picked up the nasty Auror habit of smelling a rat anywhere she goes...
I worked very hard on this fic and it's my favourite piece to date. Please read and review.
Dirty, smelly, wet mud.
Mud all over her robes.
Mud all over her face.
Mud all in her hair.
Mud all over her expensive new shoes.
Blasted mud all over the cheap Muggle one use camera that would probably never develop after all this trouble because of the blasted mud!
Damn that fat bastard who couldn't get his fat arse over the fence. She wasn't supposed to doing this - it wasn't in the job description.
Her ankles were scratched from brambles she had been forced to trod through and her hands and left cheek stung mercilessly from the patch of nettles she had landed in when she dropped over the other side of the fence. It wasn't for lack of stealth that she had ended up this way - she had been unprepared. Not twenty minutes ago she had been interviwing the Minister for Magic when she received an urgent owl from her boss telling her to get her skinny butt down to Bath for top priority information on her current story. Covert operation such as this should generally not be undertaken in designer robes and heels…Damn that fat bastard. She was sending him a bill for her shoes.
The area closer to the house seemed to be made up of some trendy looking mixed gravel. She was tempted to nick a sample for her own garden renovation plans but as it was this robe did not have pockets and the thought of stuffing sharp pebbles down her bra was not very appealing at this moment. The problem at hand however was how to get across the gravel without making a noise? The heels had to go. She removed them quickly, tossing them back in the direction she had came, re-coating her hands in mud in the process. With a grimace with wiped them on her robes. Damn that fat bastard. She was sending him a bill for the robes as well.
Still it crunched under her feet and a dog barked loudly from somewhere ahead. Coincidence? She couldn't be sure but she wouldn't chance it. Reaching under her robes for her wand (well, it didn't have pockets after all) she levitated the pebbled surface slowly, settling it on the grass. She'd always thought the simplest of spells worked best. Hmm…Putting it back would be a problem but she didn't have to worry about that. As soon as she got that photograph she was out of there.
Rounding the conservatory her target came into view; a balding man with a large moustache sprawled out on a sun bed in a pair of horrid green bathing trunks and position between two young blonde women; one of whom she thought she recognised from an underwear catalogue she had received in the post just that morning. She shook her head; it was far too cool to be sunbathing. They must be using a heating charm she thought absently, wincing with the crunch-crunch of the film being wound forward with her thumb as she crept closer to the threesome.
Lily Evans snorted derisively as she watched her boss, Ray Berkley, chief editor of the Daily Prophet, walk around the desk before slumping into his leather chair. She folded her arms across her chest, shifting her weight onto one leg irritably. "No I'm not."
The older man waved his wand to pour himself a large brandy and took a deep gulp before looking at her with a weary gaze. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't."
Again she snorted. "Let me think," she said with mock contemplation. "Maybe because I just got you the story of the century." She threw down the copy of the newspaper she had been holding onto the desk, the front page of which displayed a large photograph of the balding, green trunks wearing man rubbing lotion onto a blonde woman's back. "Do you have any idea what I had to go through to get those?"
"Let me think," the man replied, copying her previous tone. "You broke into an Aurors house-"
"I didn't go in the house!"
"-Demolished his landscape garden-"
"It was a couple of pebbles!"
"-Traumatised his bloodhound-"
"It barked once!"
"-Broke down his security field-"
Lily opened her mouth as thought to retaliate but closed it again a moment later. "How else was I supposed to get in?" he muttered under her breath.
Her boss released a loud sigh.
"Look," Lily frowned, one hand on her hip as she returned to her previous level of aggression. "You gave me the story, I did it, you printed it. This is not my fault! This sort of story always raises eyebrows; what makes it so different this time? Why did you print it?"
"I printed it," he replied irritably. "Because I didn't know what you'd done to get it!"
"Oh ho!" Lily chimed triumphantly. "I get it! You're pissy with me because he sent you a bill!"
He grumbled something incoherent under his breath.
Lily shook her head. "I'm not fired," she said after a moment, reaching for the chair opposite her and taking a seat. "And it can't have been that much anyway; all that could have been fixed by magic."
This time he snorted, reaching into his desk draw and pulling out a sheet of parchment, which he pushed across the desk toward Lily. With a raised eyebrow she pulled it into reading distance and scanned the print.
"Bloody thief! Pet therapist? What a load of… I didn't touch the bloomin' dog!"
"Well that's not what he's saying. I'll be docking your pay."
"What?" she cried indignantly. "You're kidding – tell me you're kidding."
The man gave he a steely glare, snatching back the parchment and stowing it safely in his desk again.
"But I'm renovating," she argued hopelessly. He gave her an amused smirk. "You do realise that had I not been there Bernard would have never got his fat arse over that fence and you wouldn't actually have a headline," she added irritably and the man refilled his glass. "I'm doing twice the workload and you want to cut my pay? I'm not a photographer!"
"Obviously," he scoffed indicating the paper on his desk. "Doesn't bloody move."
She scowled, snatching up the paper and eyeing her handy work. "It was a disposable; I had them printed at my local chemist."
She gave him a withering look at his ignorance and dropped the paper back onto the desk. "Never mind. So I suppose you're not going to put me in charge of a follow up?"
"Not if you paid me," he actually laughed, snorting into his brandy. "You have an unhealthy fixation with Aurors-"
"I do not!"
"-And it's costing me a fortune."
She grunted indignantly, folding her arms across her chest. "I do not have a fixation with Aurors. It's not my fault they're all bastards," she added, eyeing the newspaper. "We're in the middle of a war and this is how the deputy chief spends his time. What happened to that speech he made last week about putting more Aurors on duty? The people deserve to know who it really is they have protecting them!"
"Yes, yes," he groaned. "I've read the article."
She nodded curtly. "And I don't have a fixation with Aurors."
"Of course you don't," he smirked, reaching into his desk draw once more. "I want you there tonight," he added tossing her two glittering silver tickets. "Book launch."
She actually laughed. "Funny."
He did not appear amused.
"Oh come on, Ray!" she cried. "A book launch? I write headlines," she added snatching up the newspaper again only to throw it at him rather forcefully. "I don't do book reviews!"
"Well you do now," he grunted pushing the tickets further across the desk. "It's a Muggle event and you're the only one around here with a clue about bleeding Muggles. Quite simply, you don't have a choice."
"Since when do we cover Muggle events?"
"Since Gilderoy Lockhart decided to break into their market as a fiction novelist. Have you read his books? They're quite good, well, so my wife tells me."
She wasn't exactly a fan but her housemate was. Sulkily (she didn't want to give him the impression she was pleased about covering the horrid event) Lily snatched up the tickets giving them a quick once over. It appeared to be a cocktail party; Lockhart was clearly trying to impress. "Fine, Ill do it," she grumbled.
"Wear one of your wigs," he nodded. "I don't want Lockhart recognising you after this," he added, eyeing the newspaper disdainfully. "You'll never get an interview."
"I don't wear wigs," she muttered, stowing the tickets in her robes as she rose from the desk. "I transfigure. When do you want it?"
"Tomorrow... Oi Evans," he added as she made toward the door to his office.
"Who was he?"
She turned back to face him with an expression of honest confusion. "Who?"
He grinned mischievously. "The bloke who turned you against the Aurors."
She knew exactly what he meant but played it cool all the same. "I have absolutely no idea what you mean."
"An old boyfriend perhaps? A lover? What did he do? Dump you?"
"What makes you think I ever had a relationship with an Auror?"
"Someone taught you all those spells," he replied simply, leaning back in his chair. "Why do you think I sent you with Bernard anyway? Not many people in this building could break down the deputy chief Aurors defence system."
She tried her best to remain indifferent despite the sudden burst of pride with his compliment. "Ray, Ray, Ray," she sighed. "You're not even close."
"Ignis, you home?"
Lily apparated into her living room that afternoon, tossing her handbag and various shopping bags onto the cardboard box that was currently acting as a coffee table. The rest of the room remained in much the same array with plastic sheets covering the wooden fireplace and two beanbags – the only other furniture in the room – thrown haphazardly across the bare wooden floor. A tin of paint and a couple of foam rollers sat in the corner.
A noise called her into the kitchen, which appeared vastly different from the living room with modern fixtures and a stylish colour scheme. If anyone paid enough attention they may come to notice that the kitchen in Lily's house bore a striking resemblance to page 33 of this years spring/summer IKEA catalogue. The door to the walk-in pantry stood ajar, blocking its occupant from view but Lily could hear her housemate moving tins inside. "I am officially you're new best friend," Lily grinned, reaching for the kettle and filling it under the tap. "Guess where we're going tonight."
The shuffling in the pantry stopped but there was no reply, and Lily turned, kettle in hand toward the door.
The kettle hit the floor with a loud clatter, spilling water across the linoleum floor as Lily stared wide eyed at the pantry occupant who certainly wasn't her room mate Ignis, but a very naked young man with a loaf of bread and a tin of baked beans in his hands.
"What's going on?" a feminine voice called from down the hall.
"Ignis, stay back," Lily cried, branding her wand at the naked intruder.
Completely ignoring her command, a tall blonde woman dressed in a half-length bath robe which displayed the longest legs Lily had ever seen came rushing into the kitchen with a slight squeal. "Oh God don't hurt him!" she cried, throwing her arms out at Lily in an attempt to offset her aim. "It's the plumber!"
Lily averted her eyes as the embarrassment suddenly hit and quickly hid her wand. "Sorry," she mumbled. "I didn't recognise you without your – um-" She made a motion to signal overalls.
"Quit all right," the young plumber replied, lowering the loaf to a more suitable height. He glanced between the two women nervously before quickly splashing his way out of the kitchen.
Lily turned to the blonde with an appalled sort of scowl. "The plumber, Ignis?"
Ignis in return attempted an assuring smile. "Well, he didn't charge us for the work in the bathroom."
Lily ran a hand across her brow unable to find the words to express her astonishment.
"He's cute though, isn't he?" Ignis continued with a more confident smile, bending to pick up the kettle. "We're going to lunch tomorrow."
"You know," Lily smirked as she dried the soaking floor with her wand. "In my day we used to sleep together after the date."
Lily had met Ignis under rather unusual circumstances a few years ago in a pub. Lily had been on a date with then-boyfriend James Potter, and while James had popped off to the loo a rather handsome fellow from further down the bar had sent her a drink. Of course she declined it with a polite smile to the good-looking bloke and that had been it. Or so she had thought. Not two minutes later Ignis, the life-size Barbie doll herself had sauntered over and accused Lily of cracking onto her man.
Lily thought the whole thing was ridiculous; why would someone like Ignis have any reason to be jealous of her? Lily was far from ugly but Ignis was virtually a goddess, or at least, a woman. Lily was, well, just a girl. Naturally she had tried to set the matter straight but it appeared Ignis was rather stubborn and a little intoxicated. James had returned from the loo just in time to drag Lily out of the pub before she got arrested for breaking Ignis's legs (or visa versa).
Again Lily thought the matter was something of the past until three days later when she, by chance, bumped into Ignis in Diagon Alley. Thankful to discover the woman was indeed a witch, and preparing for another brawl, Lily had reached for her wand, but before she could even withdraw it Ignis had broken down into tearful hysterics, throwing her arms around Lily in the middle of the crowded street. She began sobbing about how her good looking boyfriend from the bar had left her for some floozy he knew from work.
Embarrassed by the terrible scene Ignis was making Lily had pulled her into a nearby café where she felt obliged to settle the hysterical woman and bought them both a cup of tea. Somehow, three hours later, Lily found herself tucking Ignis into the spare bed of James's flat and the two women had been best of friends ever since.
"Get your best Muggle frock on, Ignis, I'm taking you out. It's a surprise."
"What about the-"
"I'll get rid of him."
Lily smiled graciously as the doorman took her tickets and coat as she and Ignis entered the trendy looking bar. Giant banners displaying the youthful, handsome face of Gilderoy Lockhart himself hung from the ceiling; Lily thought it odd to see the familiar face in freeze-frame. He was of course devoid of his usual winking smiles due to this being a Muggle event.
"Oh, this is pathetic. This is why Muggle Studies should be made compulsory."
"Nothing like a game of spot the wizard, Lily."
Lily of course had taught Ignis the in's and out's of 'playing Muggle' and the only reason anyone looked twice at them as they entered the Muggle venue was to appreciate the view of, quite possibly, the two most attractive women in the room. Naturally the place was packed full of other wizarding reporters besides the Muggle press and the two women always had a fun time picking out the magical folk who still had very much to learn about Muggle attire.
"Man in the golf pants."
"On your right; ball gown."
"Oh, the woman behind her – shirt and tie!"
"Could they be any more conspicuous? Honestly…"
"Oh there he is!"
Lily turned abruptly as Ignis squealed in the direction of a young blonde man surrounded by a flock of well-to-do gentlemen. "There seems to be an awful lot of high-society folk around, don't you think?" Lily asked vaguely, glancing around and spotting a various number of important witches and wizards she recognised from her work with the Prophet. "Quidditch players, Ministry officials… Lockhart's gone all out."
"And where the rich and famous flock…" Ignis muttered with a sudden bitter edge. "Quick, let's get a drink." She took Lily by the arm and hurried them over to the bar.
"Champagne please…don't turn around… Crap, too late."
"It never is… it is! Ignis Bancroft!"
Lily would recognise that voice anywhere. The women turned with matching toothy smiles plastered over their faces.
"Professor Slughorn! What are you doing here?"
Lily was thankful for her evening disguise as the round man crushed Ignis's thin frame to his, kissing her on each cheek as they parted. He barely glanced at Lily.
"Oh you know," the man chortled, waving his hand absently at the crowd. "I like to keep track of my ex-pupils. Gilderoy invited me himself, you know. Good lad. And what of you, Ignis? A Gilderoy Lockhart fan yourself?"
"My friend here is writing an article," Ignis smiled sweetly, passing the Professor over to Lily, who tried her best not to scowl. "I was lucky enough to accompany her this evening."
"A journalist?" Slughorn enquired, finally looking over Lily. She was amazed how she could throw him off with a black bob and blue eyes. He turned back to Ignis and raised his ale to cover his mouth. "Is she a you-know-what?"
Lily had to refrain from rolling her eyes at his obviousness.
"Abigail Winchester," Lily politely introduced herself with an extended hand. "From the Sunday Times. You taught Gilderoy at Cambridge, did you? Fascinating; I'll have to get a quote." A slightly raised eyebrow from Ignis told her she was impressed with Lily's story for the evening.
"Err, Cambridge, yes," he replied vaguely. Again Lily was forced to play ignorant to his blatant behaviour and smiled sweetly. "Lovely to meet you Miss Winchester," he added a moment later, kissing her hand.
"The feeling's mutual, I'm sure..."
To Lily's great displeasure, they were forced to spend the following twenty minutes listening to Slughorn discuss the wellbeing and various successes of his previous students. Lily was amused to hear her own name come up but pretended not to notice. A waiter passed and she ordered a drink, hoping to make the time pass faster.
The blonde waiter stopped abruptly and Lily thought she might have seen him do the smallest of double takes but the next moment he was waiting expectantly for her order and she shrugged it off. Thank God. She didn't need to be recognised after having escaped Slughorn for this long.
"Can I get one of those?" she asked discretely, indicating a woman standing by the bar, who was currently swirling a paper umbrella in her blue-coloured cocktail. "Do they come in other colours?"
The waiter smiled at her inexperienced request, drawing her immediate attention to his eyes; a startling aquamarine – almost as blue as the drink. She herself had only ever managed a deep sapphire with transfiguration. She was tempted to ask if he wore coloured contacts (and where could she get some?) but he spoke first.
"The tab is restricted to beer and wine, but you're welcome to purchase a drink if you accompany me to the bar."
"Oh," Lily muttered, having not brought any Muggle cash with her. She sent a discrete scowl at Lockhart. Stingy bastard. "Red then, something expensive."
He nodded with a smirk, and departed soon after.
On occasion one gets the distinct impression that one is being watched, and it was this feeling that finally tore Lily's eyes from the waiter as he departed (well, it was a rather nice view) and brought them to rest on another rather striking fellow sat alone on a couch at the far side of the room.
His dress was impeccable (obviously a Muggle) and Lily could not deny the handsomeness of the man himself. He was older than her, clearly, but not by much – perhaps Ignis's age – around thirty, with mysterious dark eyes. He had dark curly hair and a beard, which was not typically to Lily's taste, but it suited him perfectly. He continued to stare at her a while longer, even though she had made it obvious she knew he was looking. A moment later his tipped his glass to her and she smiled slightly before turning away.
"Excuse me," she interrupted (Ignis looked rather grateful for it). "That man over there, who is he?" If he was worth knowing, Slughorn would surely have the information.
The group turned in unison to peer at the dark haired stranger who had since looked away as he ordered a drink from the blonde waiter. "I asked a gentleman earlier," Slughorn informed them. "He's a businessman; very successful."
"And what is his business?" Lily enquired further.
"Antiques I believe. Made a lot of money off of it too. I say, shall we introduce ourselves?"
Lily could just imagine that horrendous scene and was about to object, when Ignis anticipated her. "Oh Sluggy, let's not bother the man. I say, if people isolate themselves from a party like that they're either antisocial or plain dull."
At that moment however, the blonde waiter appeared before them with a blue cocktail on his outstretched tray. Lily felt terribly guilty; the man had mixed up her order and she wouldn't be able to pay. "Oh no, you see, I ordered the wine."
He smiled that smile again; the one that said he knew so much more than she did. "My apologies Madam, I took the liberty of cancelling your order when the gentleman across the room asked me to bring you this." The group turned once more to look at the Muggle businessman whom was now staring rather intently at Lily.
Oh. Well then.
She knew that if she accepted the drink she would be obliged to join him. She had no objections. "Thankyou," she spoke to the waiter, while smiling at the man.. "Excuse me," she added to her party as she took the glass from the tray. Ignis sent her a quick wink.
The man rose from his couch as she approached, extending his hand ready for an introduction. "A pleasure to meet the most beautiful woman in the room," he said as he took her own and kissed it in the same formal fashion as Slughorn had done. His voice was deep with a robust accent that instantly doubled her interest. Lily could not place it though – Eastern European for sure. Albanian perhaps? No. Ukrainian? Bulgarian? Something like that. It might help if she'd ever actually left Britain…
"Abigail Winchester," Lily introduced herself as the man led her around the small table before him and to the couch where she took a seat. "Thank you for the drink, Mr…?"
"Smith," he replied, joining her on the plush cushions. "John Smith."
"John Smith?" Lily could not help the smile that formed on her lips. Was he kidding her? Come on, could he not hear his own accent? "And are you by chance a relation to Joe Bloggs, Mr Smith?"
She continued to smile at her joke but he returned it with a slightly bemused expression. "You must be thinking of another Smith," he replied in all seriousness.
Should she tell him it was a joke? Perhaps not. "My mistake." Good lord, his name really was John Smith! How odd.
"Do not trouble yourself. And please, call me John."
"Call me Abigail," she replied sweetly, taking a sip of her cocktail. Banana. Urgh.
"You don't like it?"
Lily glanced at him in surprise, her eyes wide. She had not meant to be so obvious. "Oh, no, it's lovely," she tried to lie. How awkward to dislike it when he had paid.
"You made a little face," he laughed lightly, taking the glass from her hand. "May I?" She nodded, awaiting his reaction to the sickly concoction. He sipped it tentatively before making a little face of his own. "Disgusting."
She laughed heartily as he set it on the table before them, still making little clucking noises with his tongue. "I'm usually a wine drinker," she admitted. "Thought I'd be adventurous."
"You just liked the umbrella didn't you?" he asked slyly.
"Was I that obvious?"
"I'm afraid so," he said gravely, downing the last of his ale and setting it on the table beside her discarded cocktail. "Let us both be adventurous," he added decidedly, clapping his hands together. "We shall find one you like."
Lily did not catch his meaning at first until he called the blonde waiter to him. "Oh no, please John, you don't have to do that, it's too much-"
"Nonsense," he told her as the waiter approached. "One of everything on your cocktail list," he said boldly. There was something about him that reminded Lily of some great leader ordering his servants to fetch him his every desire while he sat in a grand room decorated with expensive things and a ring on every finger. Perhaps it was the beard. "For the lady," he added. "She is feeling adventurous tonight."
The waiter cocked one eyebrow at her and Lily was sure she felt herself blush. "Thank you," she spoke a moment later, as the waiter departed. "Though I assure you, it isn't necessary, I'd be quite happy with the wine."
But he merely waved a hand at her in response, silencing her polite objections. Yes, I fierce king of ancient times; powerful and passionate and domineering. It was exciting and attractive, but she did not dare protest again.
"What do you do?" he asked a moment later, settling himself back into the couch and angling his body toward hers. "Are you press, Miss Abigail?"
"My friend is," she nodded, indicating Ignis across the room, who was unfortunately still being tortured by Slughorn. She did not dare use the Sunday Times story with a real Muggle and did a quick role-reversal. "I was fortunate enough to be invited this evening as her guest. I'm a big fan of Gilderoy Lockhart; I'm hoping to publish a book of my own some day."
"An author? How splendid," John Smith congratulated her. "I'm sure you should be brilliant. I shall look for you name on the shelves. Tell me, what is your forte?"
"Romance," Lily replied immediately, knowing that there was no way in hell that a man like John Smith would ever willingly pick up a sappy love story. "My acquaintance mentioned you work in antiques, is that correct? How interesting."
He nodded as the waiter approached, balancing a rather crowded tray on one arm, which he steadily began to unload onto the table before them. "That is true. I wish I could say I was an avid Gilderoy Lockhart fan like yourself Miss Abigail, but alas, I am here on business."
Lily wondered vaguely what a book launch had to do with antiques when John Smith called her attention to the waiter who was still standing over them despite having unloaded the tray a few moments ago. "You may leave us now," John Smith told him with a wave of his hand. "I do not believe we will be requiring any more alcohol this evening, do you Abigail?" he added with a slight chortle.
The waiter did not appear to find it funny however and left with a slight glare at Lily. Perhaps he was expecting a tip. "My goodness, I have never seen so many disgusting looking concoctions in my life," John said, eyeing the multi-coloured beverages.
Lily laughed at his serious expression. "You must try them with me," she told him reaching for the first, which she presumed to contain chocolate. "Be brave!" He shook his head but accepted the glass as she handed it to him anyway. The Lockhart interview could wait. Nothing came close to being treated like a queen, and especially when the king was so delightfully intriguing…