"It's almost curfew," Gilderoy panted.
Rita paused, quite displeased to be interrupted from tasting the delicious skin near his collar bone. "Why do you care?" she breathed. "You're not a student anymore."
"But you are," Gilderoy said firmly, taking her hands in his, removing them from behind his back. "Need I remind how bad it would look if you were caught sneaking back into the castle?"
Rita rolled her eyes. "If you were here when you were supposed to be, we could have spent more time together," she said, giving his ear lobe some much needed attention.
"I told you, Rita, I was at an important dinner," he said, practically scolding. "Making contacts for my career. Our careers. We have a plan, love."
"Ah, yes," Rita said, somewhat grumpily, as his hand ran over her backside. "The plan."
After their initial run-in during the Dueling Club, Rita had spent as much time as she could gathering information about Gilderoy. She knew that he had sensed her watching him and she also knew that he enjoyed every minute of it. Six months later, after having danced around each other in every way possible, they had finally found themselves together in a broom cupboard.
Much to Gilderoy's surprise, Rita had wanted their relationship to be secret. Knowing that any girl that Gilderoy gave attention to caused a stir, he had assumed that she was camera shy, so to speak. What Gilderoy didn't know was that she longed to be known as 'Gilderoy's girl.' However, from her previous post as information seeker, Rita knew how quickly he tired of the constant fawning and adoration from various girls.
Better to make him work for it, a stolen kiss here and caress there. The plan went flawlessly for more than a year, until Gilderoy graduated from Hogwarts, leaving Rita to face her seventh and final year alone.
Though over the summer, they had devised a plan for the upcoming year and for the rest of their lives, really. Gilderoy, in his childhood, had decided that he wanted to be famous, and the dream still held, even as an adult. He wasn't sure what he could be a celebrity for, politics bored him and a career on the stage didn't appeal to him.
It was Rita who came up with the idea of books. Gilderoy had a gift with words that rivaled her own writing skill. He would go out and do amazing things, feats that witches and wizards would hardly dare believe and write about them.
The plan was perfect. Gilderoy was out making contacts, important people in the wizarding world, people who would gladly ride his tailcoats to the top. Talk had already started about the nice young man with the wonderful smile who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
And soon, Rita would be at his side, her position as the junior social reporter at the Daily Prophet already secured from the previous summer's internship. She would make sure that his face was everywhere, so that when the first book came out, the public would demand more.
And Gilderoy would be ready to give everything he could.
Of course, Rita knew she would still have to stay in the shadows as he climbed the ladder of popularity. It wouldn't be seemly for people to know about their relationship, might even look like a conflict of interest.
"And the plan is working, love," Gilderoy said, sitting up straight, and pulling her off of him. "Did you hear, Witch Weekly named me third runner up for the Most Charming Smile Award. Third runner up!"
Gilderoy looked so happy that Rita couldn't bring herself to roll her eyes, which was her first reaction. Who needed Witch Weekly when he was going to conquer the world with his feats of daring and bravery! A smile wasn't going to cause those deeds to happen by themselves.
"That's wonderful, Gilderoy," she said in a voice rather like speaking to a child. She was rewarded with deep kiss that if she had been standing, would have brought her to her knees. "Wonderful, but let's talk about the summer. I've two leads for you."
"Ah, the summer," he said with a smirk. "Where you're going to send me away and leave me all alone to defend myself from the legions of women wanting to do whatever knows what to my body."
Rita froze, knowing that he was making another jab about the fact that she hadn't slept with him yet. She wasn't quite sure why. Before, she had the excuse of saying that she wouldn't risk him being found with someone underage. But it had been months and months since her seventeenth birthday, and still she hadn't opened her body to him.
It wasn't that she didn't love him. She did love him. At least she thought she did. And he loved her, he told her often enough. Said he couldn't live without her, and that had to be love, hadn't it? Yet something still held her back.
"When I graduate, you'll have to defend yourself from me," she whispered in his ear, knowing full well that she was going to have to make good on that promise if she had any chance of keeping him by her side.
Leaning back, Gilderoy let the grin on his face turn slightly predatory. "Glad to hear it, love," he said, pulling her back on top of him, so that she was straddling his hips. "So, where do I go first this summer? Ireland for that Banshee we heard about or Transylvania for the Vampire?"
Bloody Barney, Rita fumed to herself.
There was no good reason why she should be back at St. Mungo's. No reason at all. She had absolutely no intention on honouring her promise for a return visit to Lockhart. After seeing him, and after half a bottle of very good wine, she had written her article, expecting to see her byline in a day or two. But Barney refused!
Not enough information from the man himself, he had told her. As if that had ever stopped them before! No, no, this was revenge. Barney was getting back at her in his own subtle way for writing that article for The Quibbler. She just knew it.
She would simply rise above the pettiness, the squabbling that was so common in journalism these days. Rita would become the proverbial duck, with water rolling off of her back. And all her colleagues would think better of her for it.
But that didn't quite solve her current dilemma. Here she was, standing in front of St. Mungo's, a place she never wanted to be again. At least not until her deathbed, when she would be surrounded by family and friends, not to mention the numerous amount of journalism awards she would have won by then just in sight.
Shoulders back, chest out, Rita reminded herself as she took that first step into St. Mungo's. Alone this time, no Bozo. That little tramp of a nurse most likely wouldn't let him in, and she'd be damned if she bought him another fire whisky.
Her eyes darted around the lobby as she waltzed through, wanting to see, needing to see the fear that she created so easily the last time. Besides one witch doing a double take, there was none to be had.
She would kill Barney next time she saw him. Absolutely kill him! So much of her work depended on that fear, that worry of who was next. And by not publishing her article, what did the good people of St. Mungo's have to worry about? Nothing. Why should they even care that she was even there! And as it always was, it was up to Rita to fix things.
The elevator took far too much time, in her opinion. She stood there, tapping her foot and examining her nails - which desperately needed a manicure – but Barney stood firm when she had asked for an advance. No money until her byline was in the paper.
An insincere smiled plastered itself on her lips. "Miss Turno-"
"Mrs. Turno," the Healer hissed at her.
"Mrs. Turno, of course," Rita replied, "Of course, it's iMrs./i Turno. I'm just here to ask Mister Lockhart a few more questions."
The Healer's thick arms crossed over her chest, causing her to look like an immovable object.
Rita quickly decided to change tactics. No sense wasting any charm on this one. She wasn't going to bite, Rita was sure of it. With a shrug, she simply walked past the woman, on the way to Lockhart's room. "I've got his permission. There's nothing you can do to stop me from seeing him."
No response from iMrs./i Turno. Rita briefly wondered about the defensiveness she heard in the woman's voice. Perhaps her husband had an illicit affair or perhaps she married late, when she had given up hope of ever having married at all –
"Thank you so much for the book."
Her surprise in hearing Lockhart's voice, caused Rita to stumble for one moment. He grabbed her elbow, steadying her. His hand lingered, even when there was no danger of her falling.
"Are you alright?" he asked, concern in his voice.
"Perfectly fine, thank you, Mister Lockhart," she said, wrenching her elbow away from his touch and settling into a chair. "Now, just why were you thanking me?"
"For the book, for Magical Me," Lockhart told her as he sat across from her. No tea had been prepared for his visit, she noticed. Perhaps he didn't think she was worth a pot of tea.
"I've no idea of what you're talking about," Rita said with an unconcerned air about her, even though she knew exactly to what he was referring.
"Come, come," Lockhart said with a knowing grin, "You're the only one who could have had it delivered. Did you know that I've been here for more than three years and no one thought to have me read books that I wrote by my own hand?"
There was a perfect opening, right there. She could nail him on the memory charms, on how most everything he accomplished in his life was based on a lie.
"The part about Ireland seemed to ring particularly true," he mused. "There are details not in the book that I seem to remember."
"Are you getting your memory back?" Rita asked, the words tumbling out before she could censure herself. The thought horrified her. Him, remembering her. And everything that had happened between them.
"The Healers don't believe I'll ever get my memory back," Lockhart said ruefully. "But then again, they never thought that I would remember that you like honey in your tea, so perhaps there's some hope for me yet."
Rita's throat went dry. "Indeed."
Rita let herself into her flat, prepared for another night stretching out before her. At least she brought home a good bottle of wine. That certainly would help pass the time.
The moment she stepped inside and closed the door behind her, Rita felt a chill of fear creep its way up her spine. The lights were on. She never left the lights on.
Her chest heaved. Rita always knew this was a possibility. She was a public figure now. Maybe not as public as she would like, but certainly some of her articles, well blurbs, really could have upset people. Perhaps someone had come to take their revenge… Though how she could have upset anyone as a junior social reporter was beyond her…
"Rita, don't you keep any food in here?"
At once she relaxed. "Gilderoy!" Practically flying in to the kitchen, Rita jumped into his arms and kissed him hard on the mouth. "I didn't expect you for another week!"
He put her down with trepidation causing Rita to fume silently. Yes, she had gained a quarter stone since he'd been gone, but she'd have that off in no time. No time at all.
His fingers ran through his thick hair and said, somewhat uncomfortably, "It's done, the Banshee's gone."
Her smile encompassed her entire face. "You did it!" she cried out happily. "Tell me everything." With a flick of her wand, Rita poured them two glasses of red wine. "I can barely believe it. Our life is really going to start. Once you write the book and it gets published…"
"No one will read it," Gilderoy said angrily, drinking his glass of wine in one swallow.
Another flick and she refilled his glass. Taking a breath, trying to keep the chill of her voice at bay, she asked, "What do you mean, no one will read it. What happened?"
"I didn't do anything on the trip!" Gilderoy jumped up and sat on the kitchen counter. His words were quick and seemed to just tumble out. "I found the town and spoke to one of the leaders who told me that a wizard had already planned a journey to defeat the Banshee. So I went to the man, looked older than Dumbledore, silent as a tomb, and asked if I could join him. I figured that would be a good angle, the old mentor giving way to the young apprentice-"
"That's an excellent idea," Rita interrupted, pleased with his initiative.
"And it would have been if it had worked," Gilderoy yelled.
Rita crossed her arms over her chest. Really, he was behaving like a child. "What happened?"
He looked at her glumly. "I froze."
"I froze," he said, sounding miserably. "The old man was going to let me do everything. But once we came face to face… I couldn't do it. My wand wouldn't leave my pocket. I was terrified."
"I don't believe this," Rita said, her voice cold. "We pooled all of our savings for your trip and it was worthless."
She started pacing, her mind going a million miles an hour.
"I'm sorry, love," Gilderoy told her. To her chagrin, he did sound genuinely sorry that he had failed in his mission.
"Don't be sorry, we're going to fix this." Rita stopped suddenly. "What happened when you got back to the village?"
"The old man went to his shanty, and the villagers celebrated," Gilderoy told her.
"Who did the villagers think destroyed the banshee?" Rita asked, her eyebrow arched slightly.
"The both of us, I think," Gilderoy said. "That's what made it so awful, you see. They gave me as much credit as they gave him."
"Gilderoy, that's perfect!" she cried, hugging him around the waist. "Don't you see, the villagers have no idea of the truth! What are the chances that this old man will ever read the book, let alone find the energy to contradict you? And if he does, all you have to say is that you remember it differently and who will the public believe? You, recent winner of Witch Weekly's Most Charming Smile Award? Or a crazy, old wizard who lives in a shack?"
A sly grin, the grin Rita was used to seeing, the grin that she loved more than anything, spread slowly across his face. "Then I write the book, keep the mentor angle, but say whatever he did to get rid of the banshee, I actually did."
"Exactly. Do you remember, the spells, enchantments, everything? The devil is in the details, Gilderoy," Rita said.
"What would I do without you, love? You are the most perfect partner on this journey," Gilderoy told her, hugging her tight. "I'm going to start writing right now."
"Not quite yet," Rita said, kissing him softly, feeling slightly light-headed at this declaration of love. "I need to welcome you home properly first."
"And how did the interview go?" Barney asked, throwing back a shot of fire whisky.
Rita crossed her legs, showing them off at their best advantage in the tall stool she was sitting on. They were meeting for an after work drink at The Leaky Cauldron. It was a weekly ritual they had started when Rita's byline was by far the most in demand at iThe Daily Prophet/i, but was quickly disregarded by Barney when her misfortune hit. Now that she was back, she insisted they start up again.
"Fine as interviews go, Barney," Rita purred. "Lockhart is such a lamb, he was willing to tell me anything I wanted." What Rita neglected to mention was that she was in so much shock at the thought of him getting his memory back that she didn't actually ask any questions. But Barney certainly didn't need to know that little detail.
"I think we're going at this from the wrong angle," Barney mused, sipping on the Butter Beer now in front of him, while Rita took a swallow of elf-made wine. "My contact from St. Mungo's tell me that there's a chance he'll get his memory back. Have you noticed at all?"
Rita waved her hand at the suggestion, even though that's what had her currently on edge. "A random thought here or there. Nothing to get too excited about."
"See that's the angle I think we should go on," Barney told her. "That business with the memory charms came out three years ago. No one remembers or cares anymore."
She became very still. "I care."
"Of course, you do," Barney said with a guffaw. "You were shagging him ages and ages ago. You probably gloried in his downfall."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Rita said, trying to keep an unaffected air around her.
"Rita, love," Barney said softly.
"You knew about that?" Rita asked in total surprised. "I thought I was being very discreet."
Barney put one of his meaty hands over hers. "The entire staff knew you were shagging him. Why else did you keep bringing up his name and trying to get the paper to cover him?"
Delicately, she removed his hand from her person. You had to give Barney credit for persistence. He'd been trying to sleep with her for years. "Perhaps I thought he was an interesting figure that the public needed to know more about."
"Or perhaps you were bloody sleeping with him," Barney scolded. "Not that I care. You probably got some very good stories from your dances in the sheets. Merlin knows I got my share of stories that way when I was young."
Not wanting to think about Barney dancing, not even a waltz, she changed the subject. "I can work on more than one article at a time, you know. There's been lots of Death Eater activity lately. Perhaps a series of articles-"
He cut her off. "Damned business this is, isn't it? I didn't think we'd have to report on You-Know-Who again. I was ready to close the book on him."
"I think we all were," Rita said softly, remembering some of the darker times of her life, times courtesy of the Dark Lord.
"Tell you what," Barney said, slapping the table, seemingly in a jolly mood again, their moment of sadness over. "Next attack, the story is yours."
"Well, that won't do, Barney," Rita said seriously. "I would prefer there not to be an attack. On Muggles or Wizards."
"But if there is?" Barney asked with a wicked grin.
She raised her glass of wine and clinked it gently against his. "Then you'll have the best damn article you've ever read in your life."