A/N: Enjoy this tantalizing first bit, darlings. You'll get weekly episodes on Sundays. Don't miss a copy - subscribe now! As always, my fabulous editor Kelly Chambliss made this story so much better.
Oh, and the characters belong to JKR. Need I point out that the story belongs to Madam Rita Skeeter and that I'm merely the publisher of her memoirs?
Opening lines are hell.
"Just start at the beginning and go on till the end," is the advice one often gets. Usually from people who can't even write a decent shopping list.
Where, exactly, is the beginning of a story? Especially when it's not fiction, but a biography. Does one start with the subject? Or with their parents? The latter is, of course, a staple solution for biographies of those poor dears who've had five minutes of fame, but are not interesting enough to fill a book on their own. In, say, Young Potter's case going back all the way to Adam and Eve would make sense.
In this case, however, that won't be necessary. I'll even skip birth and early life – there's plenty of scintillating material. The one thing that needs explaining is why this book was written in the first place. And that particular story did start at a very precise moment.
It was the Monday morning from hell. I had overslept. The night before, I had taken that last Firewhisky that was just one glass too many. The result was a general sense of queasiness – not enough to call in sick (and besides, I had called in sick on Monday mornings with a frequency that had already made its way to Appraisal Forms), but enough to make me loathe Mondays with a passion.
When I arrived at the Daily Prophet, Fate improved upon the shining hour with a broken-down coffee urn. And, to round it off nicely, my esteemed colleague Peregrine Grumpole was in full cheerful-babble-mode. I sat behind my desk, nursing my headache, thinking things couldn't get worse.
Grumpole looked up. He was finishing his piece on a book launch and said, gleefully, that "that friend of yours, Lovely Lockhart, wasn't at the party. Not like him to miss a do, is it?"
"Perhaps he wasn't interested," I replied, but with a feeling of unease in my stomach that had nothing to do with Firewhisky. Of course Gilderoy hadn't been interested – the launch was for the memoirs of some third-rate Seeker. Self-published, of course, no editor would be mad enough to touch the drivel. There's a prejudice that professional sportsmen may be good on the field, but are otherwise dumb bricks who can't string two sentences together. And this Magnum Opus was called The Snitch and I. Need I say more?
But there were other reasons Gilderoy should have been present. Of course, Grumpole came up with the wrong one. "I was really surprised," he said. "We all know our Gilderoy; he'd go to the opening of a bottle of butterbeer." And he guffawed lustily at his own remark.
That settled it. I was not going to spend my Monday morning in the company of a man who trots out a cliché like that and who is then genuinely delighted by his own wit. I told him I was off to Fortescue's, for a real coffee.
"Jolly good," came Grumpole. "Could you get me one, too? A Skinny Latte?" And he looked smug, poor sod. Thought ordering a skinny latte showed that you were on the cutting edge of cosmopolitan living. He's the kind of man who drinks cappuccino after dinner and believes he's acting like a true Italian.
I grunted something ambiguous and Apparated away.
I had two reasons for going to Fortescue's. First one, during his stay in Sicily Florean learned more than just how to make the best ice cream in the world. A stunning barista, he is. Second reason, he knows everything that goes on in the Alley. And I needed the most recent gossip.
For it was odd that Gilderoy had missed that launch, and I had worried about it myself. I had been there. Not for the Biography of a Nobody, but for the truly famous Quidditch players who would show up. We'd gone off partying elsewhere, and I'd gleaned copy for at least two gossipy stories. One of which involved Gwenog Jones, a Harpies Groupie, and an empty room at the Leaky Cauldron for which no rent was paid, for, as Gwenog put it, "It's not as if we actually slept here, is it? And we didn't mess up the bed, either."
True. Hearth rugs are forgiving things. I had beetled along to get my story, and I had taken great care to keep both room and bathroom as spotless as those two had left it. Girls do want a quick wash on occasions, and an Investigative Journalist may urgently need to release built-up tension, but not at the cost of a hard-working publican.
Gilderoy, however, had failed to show up at the launch, and he loved a work-out between a Quidditch player's thighs as much as he loved a book-signing session. Yes, that is a valid comparison. When Gil takes a quick break in the middle of a signing, it's notfor a glass of water and a hairbrush, darlings.
So I went to Florean, ordered a ristretto, told him to make it a double one, and listened gratefully to the hiss of the espresso-maker and his anxious "Poor darling, it must be a hellish day, then. Any way at all in which I can help?" Florean can read between the lines and knows what a double ristretto at 9.30 AM means. A man who truly understands coffee is a man who understands life.
Well, to keep a long story short, Florean told me the rumours that were doing the rounds among the Hogwarts students. Rumours involving Potter (of course) and Gilderoy, who had been spotted in the Sick Ward, heavily sedated.
I set of for Hogsmeade at once. I ferreted round for a bit. I got the full facts. And I got the god-awful, scandalous spin-doctor job Dumbledore made of the whole thing. You'll remember the articles, of course. Great danger blah blah blah. Noble tradition of DADA teachers blah blah blah. Gilderoy Lockhart, courageous as always blah blah blah.
Outrageous. Of course, even Dumbledore didn't manage to keep the devastating truth a secret from the students. But he turned it into "a most unfortunate incident – we'll never know what happened in the dungeons, or how Gilderoy Lockhart got hit by such a dreadful Charm."
Well, I knew. I knew all right. I knew the Truth Beyond Albus's story. The fully-grown Basilisk. In a school, for crying out loud. The Petrifications. The student that went missing. The Memory Charm and who cast it. But I decided not to use it. I wrote the bland version Dumbledore wanted.
Yes, that comes as a surprise, doesn't it? But I had my reasons, Dear Reader. They had nothing to do with Dumbledore. Nor with Potter. I kept silent because telling the full story would have exposed Gilderoy in the most ghastly way.
And, here's another surprise, I just couldn't do that. There's not much I wouldn't do for a good story, including but not limited to selling my dear old Granny (would have to be one hell of a scoop, though – Gran is a barrelful of tales in her own right), but I simply couldn't grass on Gilderoy Lockhart.
But the story I uncovered that dreadful Monday is what made me sit down, more than two years later, to hand in my notice at the Prophet.
Not because I have writers block. Are you kidding? What with all the things going on at Hogwarts alone? There's Young Potter's claim that he has seen the Second Coming of You-Know-Who. And there's the whole mystery surrounding Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody. I happen to know for a fact that one teacher, at least, knew Moody very well. Knew him the biblical sense. Why did no-one recognise the impostor?
And I didn't resign because anyone made me, either. Of course not. Who would possibly in a position to do that, I ask you?
No-one can make me stop writing. I am, after all, Rita Skeeter, Investigative Journalist. It's how I define myself. I would go stark, staring mad if I couldn't write.
No, the reason I am taking a sabbatical, Dear Readers, a sabbatical right in the middle of a wonderful career, at the top of my profession, is that I want to, need to, must write this book. The tale is simply too good not to be told. It is as if Gilderoy is standing next to me, saying, "Darling, you know you're the only one who can do me justice. Do absent thee from felicity awhile, to tell my story."
And he is right. There is no-one else better suited to give you the full, true, frank, and delicious account of the years we spent together.