Characters: shades of Blaise/Luna, Neville/Hannah
Prompt number: 121
Word Count: 2,600
Summary: Wherein Blaise purchases the Quibbler and implements changes that Luna doesn't like, and Neville just wants to ask Hannah out.
Disclaimer: Characters belong to JKR. Not even the plot is mine! Thanks for the great prompt, pagan_toon76!
Author’s Notes: Thanks to C for the beta! Hope you enjoy reading. :)
Neville is attempting to ask Hannah Abbott out for a cup of coffee when Luna Lovegood unwittingly ruins his best-laid plans.
"Firewhiskey, please!" Luna tells Hannah, stomping in from outside and cutting Neville off between ums. Startled, Hannah jerks away and bustles accordingly behind The Leaky bar--her uncle Tom has been letting her keep in his absence--and Luna has a glass of Firewhiskey almost as soon as she sits down. "Thanks. This is the strongest you have, isn't it?"
"No, that'll be--"
"I'll have that instead, then," Luna says. Her breaths come in harsh little puffs for air, and her lower lip trembles in a restrained sort of way that Neville has never really seen her do before.
"All right, Luna?"
"People generally drink when they're angry, don't they?" she asks instead.
Neville scratches his temple. "Er, no, I think drinking is for when you're sad or happy."
"That's strange. What do people normally do when they're angry?"
"They scream and throw things," Hannah offers. "Or at least, that's what--"
"AHHHHHHHHHH!" Luna screams. She grabs the glass full of Firewhiskey and heaves it at the nearest wall, where it makes a little clink, breaking into a few pieces and spilling good alcohol on the wooden floor.
"Sorry, Hannah, I'll clean that right up," she says, casting a quick spell to put the glass back together and another to remove the stain on the floor.
"What's gotten into you today?" Neville asks her.
"I've never gotten so angry before!" Luna marvels. "Does your blood always flow this fast?"
"Pretty much, yeah," Hannah says, sparing Neville an amused look. Perhaps Luna hasn't ruined all his plans just yet. "What are you angry about?"
"Oh, it's just--" Luna wrinkles her nose. "I can't even say it without starting all over again! Have you more things I can throw?"
"You're going to have to start paying for them if you're going to want to keep throwing them, Luna."
"Never mind, then, as it--" Luna's lip purses, and Neville can see the furrow of concentration on her brow as she forces herself to calm down. "Father's sold the Quibbler."
About time, Neville thought, but from his mouth came the words "He what?" with an appropriate look of indignation. "He can't do that!"
"Well of course he can; he owns it," Luna says, giving him a queer look. "Or at least, he did. Ownership entitles him to do whatever he wants with the Quibbler, including selling it."
"Yes, I mean--"
"But what's going to happen to it now?" Hannah asks.
"He says I can still write my articles for it, like he's doing, but there was a meeting with the new owner today, and oh, I just want--" Luna snatches Neville's drink from his fingers and flings it hard against the wall. "Sorry, Hannah. I'll pay for that."
"It can't be that bad," Neville says, trying to appease her before she destroys the entire Leaky.
"No; it's worse," Luna sighs. "Have you two ever heard of Blaise Zabini?"
Luna should never have gone away.
She should never have left her father to his own devices. It is all so clear now, in hindsight, when these things most often are, but Luna thinks: she should have known.
Her father, of course, does not notice at all that anything is amiss. When Blaise Zabini suggests straightening the tables, so that the desks are lined up in neat little rows--cubicles, why can't her father see?--he only nods with enthusiasm, humming along as the rest of the staff rearrange their desks.
He shakes his head, asks why he'd never thought of it before, when Blaise declares the office needs a bit of cleaning. (Worse, Blaise only looks at her with a queer expression when she brings up the possibility that the red-bellied monk rats might not like having their nests bothered, while her father sweeps their linty home away.)
And when Blaise calls for a staff meeting--what is The Quibbler, some sort of corporation now?--her father is more than happy to agree, even though Blaise says some rather preposterous things.
Luna is beginning to suspect the use of an Unforgiveable on her dear old father.
"What do you think?" someone asks, and Luna blinks. There it is again, that look on Blaise's face. She realizes he is asking her a question, and everyone else is waiting for her response.
"I don't see why we need to adjust our coverage to include what's popular," she says. "Besides, everyone knows inferi infestations are unfounded fears--they'll never be anywhere there's light, and a simple Incendio will chase them away."
Blaise quirks his lips, as though he is trying to suppress a smile. "I understand your concern, Luna," he says, "But we do need to attract newer readers to The Quibbler." He hands out rolls of parchment, pausing when he passed by Luna and giving her a smile as he continues speaking. "Before I decided to purchase The Quibbler, I did a quick survey to gauge reader interest in Quibbler content, and there is a large opportunity for writing about the inherent dangers in our world that most publications choose to ignore."
"Are you talking about sensationalism?" Luna asks serenely. "Because we aren't The Daily Prophet."
"No, not sensationalism at all," Blaise answers her a little too quickly, a little too smoothly. "But it is difficult to appeal to the audience if they have trouble grasping the simple concepts usually discussed in The Quibbler."
"Just because they don't know what crumple-horned snorkacks can do--"
Blaise cuts her off. "I'm not saying we should stop talking about the snorkacks, or the nargles, or any of that--" he waves his hand in the air.
"You don't believe they exist."
"No, I don't, but that doesn't mean there aren't many who might," Blaise admitted. "And wouldn't you like more people to read about the snorkacks?"
"I would like the people who enjoy reading about the snorkacks to read about the snorkacks," Luna tells him.
"Honestly, Luna, there aren't enough of them to sustain running The Quibbler," is Blaise's response.
Luna doesn't understand why Blaise has to make sense now.
Hannah is trying to get Neville to ask her out when Blaise interrupts, walking into The Leaky deep in discussion with Luna.
"It's not a difficult concept--" he is saying. He pauses in the middle of his sentence, eyes on Hannah and Neville. "You're Luna's friends, aren't you?"
Neville shares a look with Hannah before he answers. "Yes?"
Blaise has already pulled himself up to sit at the bar. He flashes Hannah a charming smile and signals for drinks for him and Luna. "Why don't you settle something for us?" he suggests, and from the murder in Luna's eyes Hannah grows wary.
"Yeah?" she asks.
"Luna is leading a team of three to the Peruvian forests next spring," he begins. "They're going to hunt--"
"It's an expedition, not a hunt."
"Same difference," Blaise says with a casual wave of his hand. He winks at Hannah like they're sharing a secret, and despite herself she feels her cheeks flush. "They're looking for double-breasted Incan palayans for The Quibbler."
Hannah has no idea what palayans are, but she nods along.
"We're going to document our trip and what we can find of the palayans."
"She wants to do this on The Quibbler's dime."
"The findings will be written up in The Quibbler," Luna explains before turning to Blaise. "That's what we've always done. It benefits The Quibbler, and I don't see why you think--"
"Let's look at the numbers, shall we?" Blaise has grabbed a piece of napkin from the nearest dispenser and taken out a self-inking quill from his pocket. He starts writing figures down. "It takes approximately a thousand galleons to send you there, and twice that considering all the arrangements we'll have to make for the equipment you'd like to bring along--"
"It's a palayan spotter!"
"Twice the amount considering the equipment you're bringing along. As it stands, circulation for The Quibbler has been dipping consistently in the last year or so, and not since that interview with Harry Potter has it peaked in subscription."
Hannah peers over the numbers Blaise has been furiously marking down. "It doesn't look good, Luna," she says as sympathetically as she can.
"So what would you like us to settle for you?" Neville wants to know.
"I'm not saying we can't send Luna's expedition to Peru next spring," Blaise says. "But we do need to raise the money somewhat to make it happen, don't you think?"
There is something else that he isn't saying, Hannah thinks. Luna’s the most reasonable witch Hannah knows and she's usually so agreeable. But she glances at Luna now and notices the way her lips are a tight line, the way she bristles at Blaise's words, and wonders what it is about Blaise Zabini that can get under Luna Lovegood's skin.
"I suppose," she says with hesitation, because she's still Luna's friend after all. She can't abandon her in the face of Blaise's carefully crafted words.
"All I'm suggesting," Blaise says, "is for her to write up a piece or two about Harry Potter. Check up on him on his life after the war, and all of that."
That isn't so bad, Hannah thinks, but Luna's face knits in a frown.
"He should be left alone," is all she says. Blaise only shrugs and, no less deterred, spends the next half hour making his case while Hannah alternates between refilling his drinks and conversing with Neville, who has slunk back to her corner of the bar.
Blaise finally glances at his watch and makes an excuse to leave, but not before tapping Neville on the shoulder. "Longbottom."
"If you don't ask this nice young lady out soon, I may have to do it for you."
Someone squeaks a protest--Hannah isn't sure if it was her or Neville--but Blaise only winks before he leaves.
His robes, Hannah swears, billow in his wake.
Here's the deal: The Quibbler is fast losing money, and his mother thinks it's a lost cause. Blaise loves a good challenge, but he doesn't count on Luna Lovegood putting up much of a fight until she does.
He's learned to count his blessings where he can and, for the sake of moving forward, concede where possible. The desks are zigging and zagging all over the offices once more, the red-bellied monk rats' nests returned to their proper places, and though the chaos makes Blaise twitch, he will readily admit it is worth it to have Harry Potter's awkward face gracing that month's issue of The Quibbler.
"We've experienced a twenty percent increase in pass-along readership, five percent in new subscriptions, almost ninety-seven in renewals this month, and--" he pauses for effect, "Harry Potter is this close to coming on as a monthly contributor."
Isabella Zabini only sounded bemused. "One year," she told him over croissants and morning tea. "One year until you turn this around, and then we'll see."
At least The Quibbler staff are more receptive. Xenophilius smiles like he's won some sort of lottery and the others at least have the grace to applaud when he presents the numbers. Only one sullen face catches his attention, and after everyone else returns to work, he follows her out of the building.
"Off to lunch?"
"I don't recall inviting you."
"The Leaky again?"
"Yes, where--why are you smiling?"
"I don't think you'd want to go to The Leaky today," he only says, but at the look she gives him he is forced to explain. "I told Longbottom we'd leave him alone at lunch today so he can finally ask Abbott out." When her mouth drops and her eyes widen, he nods and says: "Exactly. Shall we go to Madam Yvonne's instead?"
He steers her toward the bistro before she can mouth a protest and offers her a chair before she can find an excuse.
"What do you want?" is what she comes up with after a moment.
"How about a truce?"
Blaise nods. "I don't really want to argue," he says. "I know you're reasonable, and I do have The Quibbler's best interests in mind."
The server stops by then, taking their order and leaving a small bowl of chips as an appetizer.
"Why do you?" Luna asks, and Blaise toys with his options. She's got big blue eyes that look vague and misty, but she's been sharp with her observations and astute in her rebuttals. Lies won't fool her.
"My mother seems to think it a joke to buy me a failing business as a birthday present," he starts, expecting her to scowl in response, but she only shrugs.
"We've never worried about money."
"Unless it's time for you to, and it's long past that," he points out. "Truth is, she's set me up to fall flat on my face just because I won't work at her new husband's company, but I took a look at all of the past Quibbler issues and you know what I saw?"
Luna frowns, and Blaise takes the opportunity to press on.
"The last great magizoological discovery was in 1915. That's nearly a century ago! Your father likes writing, and he's very good at that, but you're missing an entire division of your company. That's what's wrong. You go on one trip every two years--you should be going on one every two months! The Quibbler is writing at twelve times the speed of your expeditions." He cocks his head at Luna. "Does that make sense to you?"
"You should be out there discovering these new beasts that your father loves writing about, or at least, finding and studying the actual creatures that inspired their myth," Blaise says, leaning forward when he sees the spark in Luna's eyes. "We don't have the ability to do that right now, but it is within reach."
"Harry Potter is only writing for us because I'm his friend," Luna says. "He isn't interested in any of this."
"But he is willing, and all our readers are interested in him." Blaise grins. "If he finds out how this helps you even more, he's going to jump in head-first."
"Do you think that will change if he finds out how it will also help you?"
"What do you mean?"
"But you're not interested in furthering magizoological research for discovery's sake, are you?"
"No," he admits. "It could be a very profitable endeavor, should it be successful." Luna's expression doesn't change, so he asks: "Can you blame me for seizing an opportunity?"
"No." She takes a sip of her drink and toys with the straw for a few moments. "But you're not going to be dead weight in Peru."
He frowns. "I beg your pardon?"
"The Daily Prophet won't interview the man behind the expedition that discovers the double-breasted Incan palayans if he stayed behind in England while his team went ahead," she says. "If you want your name included, you'll have to be there too, don't you think?"
It sounds reasonable enough, so Blaise shrugs. "Why not," he says, glad only to have gotten Luna on his side at last.
She smiles, and he thinks he sees something mischievous in the grin (the smirk?).
He wonders if there's something she's not telling him, but it isn't until later--when he's in battling the blood-sucking insects of the Peruvian forests, knee-deep in mud, bruised and scratched from the prickly branches, drenched in sweat and swearing a stream of expletives with Luna glibly, gleefully skipping ahead of him, humming an odd sort of cheerful melody--that he discovers why.