Rita Skeeter walked into the offices of the Daily Prophet, a self-satisfying smirk playing at the corners of her lips. Her co-workers didn't even try to hide the shock on their faces at the sound of her stiletto heels clicking on the tiled floor once again.
She had planned this moment carefully. Wearing one of her best outfits, her bleach blonde hair was piled up on top of her head, the curls escaping in such a way that it appeared casual, but in fact took Rita more than an hour to perfect this morning.
Every step she took closer to the Editor-in-Chief's office – shoulders back, chest out - told the world that Rita Skeeter was back.
And this time, she was here to stay.
Barnabas Cuffe, the Editor-in-Chief, was sitting on the front edge of his desk when she walked confidently into his office. His arms opened wide and there was a wide grin on his face when he saw her.
"Rita," he hummed as she gave him a kiss on both cheeks.
"Barney, love," she said, her voice practically a purr, "it's wonderful to see you."
"Don't you ever go on personal leave that long again," he said, wagging one of his plump fingers at her as he sat down behind his heavy mahogany desk.
Rita let an innocent smile play on her lips as she sat down, crossing her legs so just a hint of the lace of her stockings showed. The buck-toothed Granger girl didn't know it, but all she had done by forcing Rita's 'exile' was cause her to be in more demand than ever upon her return.
"I told you, Barney, I needed a break," Rita said, looking thoughtful as she watched Barney hang on her every word. "After the Triwizard Tournament, I was absolutely exhausted."
"You had time for the Quibbler article," Barney said sternly.
"I let the voice of the Chosen One be heard," Rita said, raising an eyebrow, daring him to defend himself. "You and I both know you would have never printed that article back in March."
"I would have liked to have been given the option," Barney mumbled.
Bullshit, Rita thought, but instead she simply smiled. "Barney, I throw myself at your feet. Is there room for this humble reporter back at the center of the wizarding world?" She paused for dramatic effect. "Will you allow me to write for you once again?"
Barney rose to his feet and held out his hand. Rita pretended to blush for a moment then stood up as well, grasping his hand firmly. Nothing worse than a woman with a limp handshake.
She winked at him as they shook hands. "It'll be like I never left."
Tapping her foot impatiently, she wondered just where the hell Bozo was. Her esteemed photographer knew never to be late. Ever. Yet here he was, about to be a minute late for their first assignment together in over a year.
Her fists clenched but immediately Rita forced herself to take a calming breath. Stress led to wrinkles. And until she had the money for her special Anti-Wrinkle cream - ordered only from the best Apothecary in Egypt – once again, stress was not an option.
Just a moment later, she could hear the old boy running up behind her, breathing heavily. "You're late," she said, without turning around.
"I'm not! I'm not!" Bozo protested. "Its one fifty-nine and fifty seconds."
She turned and gave him a withering stare. After such a long layover, he had to be put in his place and quickly. Only Rita Skeeter called the shots for this team. "Then you were almost late." He looked down at the ground while he readjusted his camera bag. "Don't let it happen again."
Bozo broke out into a wide grin. "For my lady? Never."
"Flattery will get you everywhere, love," she said, running her fingers through his wisps of hair. Looking back, it really had been worth it to show him her tits in the broom cupboard during the office Christmas party so many years ago. Since that time – which she could only remember bits and pieces of, her drinking had been a bit out of control back then – Bozo had been her devoted slave, willing to do anything for her, simply hoping for another peek.
"Good boy," she said, giving him a wink. "Now let's get a story."
Rita walked into St. Mungo's, head held high, Bozo trailing just behind her, very aware of the impression that she was creating. At the front desk, the reception witch's jaw dropped. Healers and concerned patient family members all watched her, all wondering the same thing.
Who would be the victim of Rita Skeeter's savage quill this time?
She wanted to laugh. The Healers had nothing to worry about. No malpractice suits to deal with or odd cases no one could explain. Though there was plenty to write about if she wanted. But that wouldn't be the perfect comeback piece. From the moment her exile ended, Rita knew exactly what her first real story back would be. Only one person in this building had anything to be anxious about. Only one man…
After all these years, she would finally have her revenge on the bastard. Rita had dreamt of this day for years. She had hardly been able to stand his accent to fame, disgusted by every magazine she saw with his face on the cover.
And she gloried in his downfall. Oh did she revel in every detail. Using her Animagus form, Rita gobbled up every drop of information that she could. The Memory Charms, the deceit of a public who only wanted to love him.
She had tried to convince Barney that it all needed to go out in public right away. If Rita had had her way, the day after she found out that Lockhart was in St. Mungo's, there would have been a pull-out feature or even a special edition, chronicling his descent into madness.
But Barney said no. It was too soon, too raw, he claimed. And then there was the Tri-Wizard tournament followed by the bushy-haired bimbo's verdict. Only now, more than three years after the fact, would she finally be able to write her story and then put Lockhart out of her life for good. The public would finally learn what a bastard Lockhart really was. She would write her story and then never think of him again. Never.
"You alright?" Bozo asked quietly as they stood in the cramped elevator.
"I'm thinking," she said fiercely, giving Bozo a look he knew to interpret as 'shut-up-and-don't-ask-again.'
Stop this, Rita ordered herself. There was nothing romantic about what she was about to do. It was business. Simply business. But then why didn't it feel that way?
The elevator opened and Rita walked out, smoothing out her robes. She wanted to look perfect. More than perfect when she saw him.
The corridors were quiet, causing her every step to echo. So silent, Rita almost felt she was entering a tomb. A shiver went down her spine. Perhaps this was a sign?
There was a Healer waiting for her, arms crossed and a defiant look on her face, at the door. After years - decades really, though she was loathe to admit it - of chasing stories, Rita knew how to spot trouble. And this Healer was trouble.
"I think it's shameful what you're doing," the Healer hissed, an angry look on her face.
Rita put on her innocent mask. "I simply want to talk to Mister Lockhart," she said sweetly, hoping to thaw this woman using her natural charm. "That's all. I mean no harm."
The Healer narrowed her eyes and shifted her focus to Bozo. "No cameras allowed in the room."
"Fine," Rita said brightly, even though she was seething inside. She couldn't cross this Healer, not yet. Besides, there were plenty of other ways to get some photographs of Lockhart. "Bozo, love, why don't you go to the Leaky Cauldron and have a drink on the paper?"
Bozo looked at her in disbelief. Luckily, he knew not to say anything and undermine her authority this early in the game. "A fire whisky would hit the spot, it would."
"Good boy," she said with a wink, letting him know that Rita Skeeter was by no means defeated.
She watched Bozo struggle with his camera equipment as he walked back towards the elevator. Turning back to the Healer, Rita extended her hand. "We haven't been properly introduced. Rita Skeeter, the Daily Prophet."
Gingerly, the Healer placed her hand in Rita's. "Jean Turno," she said suspiciously. They shook hands, causing Rita to almost wince. There was nothing worse than a limp handshake.
"Shall I just go in then?" Rita asked with a smile. "I won't cause Lockhart any trouble, I promise."
"See that you don't," Jean told her. She gave Rita was last look and stalked down the hallway.
Rita paused as her hand touched the door handle. Lockhart must have charmed that one, for sure. Why else would Jean be so protective of him? Rita's natural curiosity took over. Did he need that protection? Why? And from how? The Lockhart she knew certainly didn't need anyone to watch his back.
Enough, Rita scolded herself. She had a job to do.
Rita smoothed out her school robes, hoping no one would notice her primping. It took all of her effort not to check her hair, to make sure that the curls were still there – oh how she envied the girls whose hair curled without any effort.
She had been waiting for the first meeting of the Dueling Club for what felt like forever. Everyone in school was excited about it. Though what Rita hoped for out of the meeting was most likely a bit different than everyone else.
Most students just wanted to have a good time. See some friends, flirt with people in other houses and just have fun. Fifth year Rita Skeeter had a different goal in mind. She wanted to observe. She liked to people watch, or more accurately, add things to her collection.
A misspoken word here, an inappropriate glance there, Rita collected as much as she could. All information going into her small leather journal, worth more than all the galleons in the world. The information in the book was power.
More importantly, it was peace. The hierarchy in Slytherin was tricky to navigate. By all accounts, Rita Skeeter, with her Muggle-born mother and a wizard father who left them when she was too young to remember, should be at the very bottom of that hierarchy. Not worth anyone's notice, unless it was to bully or tease.
But Rita was left alone, thanks to her journal. Bellatrix Black, found in an extremely awkward position with a Ravenclaw who was most certainly not her betrothed? Page eighty-one. Evan Rosier, staring a bit too long below the waist of Rabastan Lestrange? Page one hundred and thirty-seven.
She owned them, thanks to the information she had, the rumors she could start, and because of that power, they left her alone.
However, the more power Rita had, the more she wanted. Which is why meetings, such as the Dueling Club, where all four different houses mingled, were so important. Rita joined every club that she could. The choir, the Gobstone Club, anything that could wield her more information, more power.
Looking around, Rita started to take mental notes of the scene around her. Lizzie Bolden and Meghan Smith-Wilson seemed to have ended their two week fight over Adian McCullough. Lucius Malfoy, only a third year, though already with the swagger of a seventh year, spoke to Charles Avery and Thorfinn Rowle, both sixth years, his eyes darting around, obviously not wanting anyone to overhear.
These seemingly meaningless details would all go into her journal for later.
Just as Rita was trying to overhear if Serena Capper and Justin Carmichael had indeed broken up, she was pushed out of the way. Rita went flying to the ground, unable to hold her balance.
Rita was not prone to grace, and landed right on her backside. A few students started giggling, but after a quick glance - Morgana Turpin certainly wouldn't want anyone to know that she had written Dumbledore's name numerous times on her notebook – the laughter stopped.
She fumed. Who pushed her? Granted, she had been standing partially in the doorway, but who would have just pushed her out of the way like that?
Two feet stood in front of her. Rita looked up and saw Gilderoy Lockhart staring down at her, a plastic look of concern on his face, holding his hand out to help her up.
Lockhart and his bloody fan club. Of course. Lockhart was one person she never seemed to get any information on, because she could never get close enough. He was always surrounded by students of both sexes, all wanting to be a part of what she called the Patented Lockhart Glow.
Because of that lack of information, or more likely, in spite of that, Rita had always found him an interesting study. He was handsome, sure, but could also be cruel in such a way that made him seem kind, which was that much more hurtful because of that.
Every move he made seem calculated, as if he were playing a game and everyone around him just pieces of the puzzle. She was surprised that his adoring public didn't see what she saw. But then again, they probably never watched from a distance like she had.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, trying to charm her with a smile.
Rita would have none of that, none of his nonsense. She ignored his outstretched hand and gave him a haughty look as she stood up. "I'm fine, no thanks to you."
He took a step closer and said in a low voice. "I do apologize, Rita, some of the girls do get a bit excited when given the chance."
Not able to control the urge to roll her eyes, she did. For a Hufflepuff, Lockhart could be just as smarmy as a Slytherin. "Why don't you give them the chance to get excited somewhere else?" she asked, not able to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.
Lockhart's eyes narrowed slightly, which for some reason pleased Rita greatly. He wasn't underestimating her, very refreshing. "I'd like to be your friend," he said, all warmth and kindness in his voice.
"I'd stay most every girl's your friend, Lockhart," Rita challenged, her voice hushed. She was aware that most eyes in the Great Hall were now on the two of them.
He stepped in again, and their bodies were almost flush. Leaning down, he whispered in her ear, his tone velvet, "I know all about you, Skeeter, and what you do. If you want to remember what's in that pretty little head of yours, you'll be nice to me."
Then, as if nothing had ever happened, he turned and went back to his adoring fan club, leaving Rita breathless and slightly afraid for her information book, but desperately wanting to know Gilderoy Lockhart's secrets more than anything in the world.
Be a professional, Rita scolded herself as she opened the door to the ward.
Her eyes darted around the room quickly, searching for him. She ignored the worst cases, though an updated profile of Frank and Alice Longbottom might be an interesting story. Rita was always on the lookout for fresh ideas. She turned, and suddenly there he was. Beaming at her, showing off miles of perfect white teeth as if he didn't have a care in the world.
It took a moment for Rita to compose herself. He didn't remember anything about her, or more importantly, them. She had to keep that in mind. To Lockhart, they had never met before.
"You must be Rita Skeeter," he said pleasantly. "I've been told that you want to write about me. Goodness, what could I have ever done to deserve such an honour?"
The words were expected, but somehow, that made them stung even more. There was a tiny part of her, so tiny that she hadn't even admitted it to herself until this very moment, that hoped that he would remember her. That he remembered how she had given him her heart so many years ago and all he did was throw it to the ground and stomp all over it.
So he didn't remember. Of course he didn't. "Oh, you've done plenty to deserve this honour," Rita told him, her voice dripping in a mixture of sweetness and sarcasm that seemed entirely lost on him.
His smile widened, if that was at all possible, as he indicated two wooden chairs sitting in front of a window. A small table, set for tea, stood in between them. Lockhart always was thoughtful when he wanted to be.
As he fussed about, talking about tea and sugar and the like, Rita took the time to study him. Really study him.
There was a sort of blankness in his eyes that was always associated with those with a compromised memory. But aside from that, you wouldn't know that this wasn't Gilderoy bloody Lockhart. His hair was impeccable – Rita hated that he still had all of it after all of these years. It would have been poetic justice if he was bald.
Pushing the fantasy aside, Rita continued her inventory. His robes were perfect, a brilliant robin egg blue that set off his eyes…
Focus, Rita ordered herself. To help aide in that task, Rita turned her attention to the tea that Lockhart was fussing about. She thought of the Veritaserum in her purse and after a moment decided that it wasn't worth wasting any on him. It had been hard enough to get the small supply she had, no point using any where it wasn't really needed.
"Here you are, tea with a hint of honey, just how you like it," Lockhart said, obviously pleased with himself as he pushed a cup across the small table.
"I didn't say how I liked my tea," Rita said, her breath catching in her throat.
You must have," Lockhart told her. "How else would I have known that you like honey in your tea? You do like honey, don't you?"
She swallowed. "Only way I ever drink my tea."
"There you go," he smiled. "Crisis over."
Rita stood. This small, meaningless, insignificant detail was threatening to undo her. Her poise, her grace, her carefully constructed lie, that this story wasn't personal, that it was strictly business… This was why she never covered him after… after that night. She couldn't think straight when he was anywhere in the vicinity.
"I have to go," she announced.
To her surprise, Lockhart looked crestfallen. "But I thought we would have a cup of tea. Then you could ask your questions and I would answer them most brilliantly, I assure you."
"I'm sure you would," Rita said haltingly. "Something just came up. So sorry."
Lockhart stood as well. "You'll be back, of course."
Rita had no intention of that at all. She had seen him. That was enough. The story could be written tonight – the facts were known to her already - if she wanted.
"Of course I'll be back," she heard herself answering before she could comprehend what she was saying. "I have very important questions that need answering."
"Good." Lockhart took her arm and escorted her to the door. "Let Nurse Turno know, and she'll be happy to set up an appointment.
Cursing herself, Rita was determined to wrestle some semblance of control over the situation. "Or perhaps I'll simply show up when I have the time, Mister Lockhart," she said, forcing the silkiness back into her voice. She offered her hand. "So good to have met you."
Their hands clasped, and Lockhart's grip was surprisingly strong. He always did have a good handshake.
"Until next time."