Title: Margarita: Un Cuento
Beta: the lovely Velvet Mouse, all remaining mistakes are mine
Rating/Warnings: PG13 for mild swearing and insinuation, also includes sexism
Length: 3,684 words
Summary: Margarita has always loved writing stories, but as she grows up what stories mean to her and what her name means to her changes.
Disclaimer/Author Note: the Harry Potter franchise belongs to JK Rowling, Rita Hayworth belongs to herself and the title means 'Margarita: A Story', which is lifted from various translations of the Spanish poem 'A Margarita Debayle' by Rubén Darío.
Margarita: Un Cuento
Her name was Margarita, which was apparently a posh version of 'Margaret', but she thought it sounded like a smelly, foreign food.
She wasn't supposed to know about Muggle food, but pizza was an Italian dish and surely Italian wizards ate it? To be on the safe side she kept her thoughts on her name to herself, which was quite easy to do when she spent most of the time in her own company.
When she was little she had sat at the large table in the kitchen, with two or three cushions under her bottom to make her high enough to sit at it properly, so that the cook could watch her whilst she worked. But young ladies weren't supposed to spend time with the hired help and, at nearly eleven, Margarita didn't need constant supervision anymore and only one cushion, so now she did her work in the dining room on her own.
Margarita was quite happy with this arrangement. The dining room was colder, because it didn't have a fireplace and the warming charms were beginning to wear off, but it was quieter too, which made it far easier to think, and she only noticed how cold it was when she ventured into the drawing room at the end of the afternoon. That was the warmest room in the whole house, but Margarita thought it was also the most intimidating.
She hovered in the doorway, pushing the bridge of her glasses up her nose, feeling smaller than ever compared to that large space. She was unable to keep her eyes from flickering over all the photographs, paintings, mementos, ornaments, knick-knacks and clocks that adorned the walls, especially when all the things that had eyes used them to stare at her.
"Have we been productive today, then, sweetheart?"
The woman sitting in the armchair with the faded, flowery upholstery had her feet propped up on a matching footstool and was working her way through the pile of newspapers and magazines in her lap, if skim-reading for gossip could be called 'work'. A small cloud of smoke appeared over her head with every breath and the glass ashtray balanced on one arm of the chair narrowly avoided being knocked to the floor with every page turn, both of which made an inelegant scene, but Phyllis Skeeter liked the feel of the ivory cigarette holder, slim and cool between her fingers, and the stylish decadence that was the art of smoking.
Margarita hurried forward, then slowed down as she remembered to 'walk gracefully' with her 'head held high' and 'shoulders back' without 'slouching awfully, sweetheart', and placed her own pieces of parchment on top of the papers already on her mother's knee.
"An essay on the need for authors to consult dictionaries, since Newt Scamander obviously doesn't know the meaning of 'short' if his 'short' introduction is anything to go by…" She stopped talking long enough to finish reading it, blowing a stream of smoke out of her mouth, before saying, "That wasn't the essay on magical ecosystems that I asked for and you've spelt 'ignorant' wrong, darling."
She rifled through the rest of the ink-splattered sheets whilst in front of her Margarita stood with her hands clasped behind her back and tried not to squirm.
It wasn't that Margarita didn't like learning and she always completed her lessons. It was just that an essay on Grindelwald would turn into a story on what it might have been like to live in Eastern Europe during the Great War and her sums would trail off into a description of the shape of the number 5 – a snake with a crick in his neck, and how might it have gotten that way?
Phyllis didn't care. In her opinion, as long as a young witch knew the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic then she was fit to go to Hogwarts, where there were plenty of young wizards to find a husband from. That wasn't to say that she was against women being intelligent, but it was a man's world and the best thing a woman could do was to find good place in it by finding a man who had a good place in it.
"Do you remember the story I wrote about the small boy who lives on a Dragon Reserve and finds out that one of the baby dragons is intelligent and they can speak to each other?" Margarita asked whilst her mother was occupied with why exactly the number 13 looked like the letter B and the implications of someone mistaking one for the other.
"Well, there was an advertisement in the Diagon Alley's Diagonal News the other day about a short story competition and that the winner would get a fancy Never Out Quill and be published in their paper."
Margarita crossed her fingers whilst her hands were still behind her back, a Muggle gesture for bringing good luck, which made the cow in the 'ye olde Englande' landscape painting glare at her, maybe for her audacity at trying her luck against Phyllis but, more likely, for acting less than a Pureblood. "I was thinking of maybe sending it in. My story."
Phyllis delicately tapped the point where her current cigarette was embedded in her holder against the rim of the ashtray with a clink.
"If you must write about silly superstitions surrounding numbers do try and avoid Muggle ideas, because they're generally ignorant on such matters – that's 'ignorant' spelt with one 'a', not two – and if you must borrow things from my reading table then take the Daily Prophet's society pages. I've told you before; those are much more useful for you."
"There was an article in the Diagonal about the children of the London-based families that would be going to Hogwarts this September," said Margarita, although she hadn’t read it.
"Probably a Black or two, I imagine." Phyllis handed her daughter's essays back with one hand, the other still occupied with her cigarette holder, and blew a small smoke ring at the agitated cow in the painting, ignoring the mute warning that it was trying to give her about her daughter's behaviour. "I think the Silencing Charm is a wonderful thing," she commented, "because otherwise this room would be unbearable with all the inanimate objects that would be trying to force their opinion on me in a vocal fashion. Your father asked why I wouldn't allow any of the portraits to be hung in here and I told him that it was because of that charm's limitation in this respect. Which is?"
"Inanimate objects that have been imbued with the remnants of a person's personality and memories do not obey Quirke's Law," Margarita recited with only a little hesitation. Her home schooling may have been haphazard, but some things had stuck.
Phyllis raised her eyebrows slightly. "And why do photographs behave differently than portraits?"
"Photographs retain only a hint of a person's personality at the time the picture is captured rather than any actual personality traits or memories."
"Very good." She blew another smoke ring at the cow. "You may not send any of your stories, written or otherwise, anywhere. Storytelling is allowable when you are entertaining young children, but writing is an eccentric hobby for a young woman and you will do best to keep it to yourself until after you have been married and settled."
Margarita pinched the webbing between the finger and thumb of one hand with the finger and thumb of the other and promised herself that she wouldn't cry.
Her name was Margarita, as in the tequila-based cocktail and the Isla de Margarita located in the
Ravenclaws knew all sorts of interesting things, not just things that came out of books like the rest of the school thought. Ravenclaws knew that knowing things was important.
What Margarita really liked knowing about was people. She'd never been interested in reading the society pages or gossip columns at home, but here knowing about people became important because she was actually living with those people. Some days walking through the corridors at Hogwarts was like walking through a scene out of a story as she brushed past the living embodiment of lives in print. For instance, from her place at the Ravenclaw table she could see the heads of the three Black sisters seated with their fellow Slytherins.
"Rumour has it that Malfoy was caught behind Greenhouse Two with Bellatrix yesterday," said Heather as she poured pumpkin juice into Margarita's glass as well as her own. She poured precisely with each glass being filled to the same level. Everything about Heather was precise, from the order of the books in her school satchel to the knot in her blue and bronze striped tie.
"Sprouting Relations," Margarita replied quietly. "Eldest members of supposedly eldest Pureblood families conspire to keep all that wealth amongst themselves, because those good looks just shouldn't be shared. Oh, and the money too."
Heather giggled. "What do you think Slughorn told Bellatrix in her careers meeting?"
"Don’t let him in your knickers until after you have his cash?"
Heather elbowed her in the side of her stomach to shut her up, because Gilderoy was sitting down across from them on the other side of the table and that boy was better at spreading tales of who'd said what about whom than anyone else in the school and Margarita could live without getting on Bellatrix's bad side (again).
"Well now I'm not hungry," said Margarita. She pushed her plate away and rubbed at her injured side exaggeratedly, which didn't really hurt at all, but she'd rather blame her lack of appetite on that than on the nerves wriggling inside her middle.
Margarita's careers meeting had been the day before and her mother was waiting to hear how it had gone, but she hadn't managed to summon the courage to send an owl yet.
Professor Flitwick had been kind as always, diplomatically letting her know that her essay writing style was still somewhat unorthodox and, whilst some of her Professors had praised her 'unique perspective', she should really pay more attention to the prescribed questions. On a more personal note, their new Head of House had been happy with her practical work in Charms, and so he should with all of the practise that her and Heather had been doing in their dormitory at the weekends.
Heather was muggleborn and obsessed with an American actress, a sex symbol and a beautiful woman who wore heavy ringlets and painted lips that they had been trying to imitate with all the 'swish and flick' they could muster, although they couldn't do anything with Margarita's glasses other than change the style of the frames. The fashions in the unmoving photographs that Heather had stuck to the wall between their four-poster beds dated back to the 1940s, but the rest of their dorm mates had been brought up in wizarding homes and couldn't tell the difference between Muggle fashion eras anyway. Margarita loved the fact that, thanks to her friend, she herself, Pureblood going back five generations now, could.
Professor Flitwick thought the Pureblood obsession with family history and history in general, which had been on the increase lately, was behind the fact that she was en route to gaining the highest marks in History of Magic for sixty years. She'd shifted uncomfortably under his praise when really she had paid as little attention to Binns as every other professor; she just happened to have enjoyed researching the facts behind the historical stories for her homework essays and telling them back to their Professor far more vividly than he had told them in the hope that he'd take the hint and make the class more lively.
In her head the Goblin Wars had been exceedingly bloody and exciting, and now she had to write to her mother and tell her that she was going to be the only person taking History of Magic at NEWT level.
"It won’t be that bad," Heather told her, either reading her mind or just offering a general reassurance, before reaching for the toast.
Margarita pulled a face. "You haven’t met my mother. She says the important thing for witches to do whilst they’re at Hogwarts is to find good husbands. I'll just get told there's no point in taking a subject where they won't be any boys in the class."
"Will she really get that worked up about it?" Heather's mother had been a librarian before Heather's older brother had been born, still worked part time and saw nothing wrong with her daughter concentrating on her studies until the right man came along some time in the future. Sometimes Margarita wished she'd been born to a Muggle family where mothers were like that, but then she might not have had magic and that would have been absolutely awful.
"No. She just won't let me do it." Margarita rested her elbows on the table, slumped forwards until her head was propped up with hands and let out a small sigh.
Heather spread butter carefully over her toast, covering every inch of one side, before doing the same with the raspberry jam. "Well, Binns is boring anyway, right? You don't really want to do History of Magic at NEWT, do you?"
"It’s the closest thing to storytelling we can take as a subject." She smiled. "You know, unless you count Divination."
"Are you planning on writing stories as a career then?" asked Heather. "Doesn't that take a long time before you earn any money, because you have to write them first and then wait for someone to want to publish them?"
"I'll have to have a job as well, won't I," said Margarita, in a tone of voice that said that this was perfectly obvious.
Heather nibbled on her toast, careful to hold it over her plate so any crumbs would land on it.
"I was thinking about maybe being a journalist," Margarita continued as she stared through her glass at the pumpkin juice dreamily. "I sent an article to The Trotter last week – you know, that weekly Hogsmeade newsletter – and they published it." She hadn't told her mother about that either, but then The Trotter, unlike the school, wouldn't be sending a letter to her parents about it and it was one of the few papers that her mother didn't bother to read.
"Journalism is more about news than stories though, really," said Heather.
"But people don’t want to hear the news," Margarita said excitedly and sat up straight, her hands becoming animated. "They want to hear the stories and the rumours and all the things that make the news interesting. News is stories - the facts from a different perspective."
Heather grinned. "From a 'unique perspective' maybe?"
"People don't want to hear that Malfoy and Bellatrix were behind Greenhouse Two, they want to hear that a Malfoy and a Black were secreting themselves behind Greenhouse Two to discuss more incestuous marriages between their old money families and Malfoy was going up her skirt to try and sweeten the deal!"
Across the table Gilderoy Lockhart dropped a slice of bacon in his tea and squeaked.
Under the table Heather kicked Margarita with a precisely-laced shoe (hard).
Her name was Margarita, which meant 'pearl' in Spanish; a sought-after hidden gem.
By the end of her seventh year at Hogwarts she'd had her own regular column in The Trotter and several articles published in the dailies, including the Diagon Gazette, so she knew she was worth something, but the Sub-Editor of the Daily Prophet just didn't seem to see it.
It had been a boiling hot June. Her last ride on the Hogwart's Express had been spent creating a self-waving fan and pooling her Sickles and Knuts with everyone else in the carriage to buy a huge jug of cool pumpkin juice from the trolley lady.
As hot as it was, she'd still spent the fifteen minutes before this interview leaning against the wall of the newspaper's offices with a cheap cigarette holder and a packet of fags bought in Knockturn Alley trying to blow a smoke ring, but she didn't have her mother's talent and her mother's cure for stress didn't cure hers. It made her stand out though, her smoking and her hair charmed into blond ringlets, which kept brushing against the back of her sweaty neck.
She'd been able to leave the house with her hair that way because Phyllis was dead and couldn't say anything about it. Fourth generation Purebloods might be pure-blooded, but they still didn't live as long as people from the bloodlines of the real Pureblood families. Margarita found that she didn't care, much as her father didn't seem to care about her. He wasn't cruel, but he planned to marry her off as quickly as possible to get her out of the house and set up for life, his paternal duty discharged.
Margarita didn’t want to be 'set up', she wanted to write down.
She imagined that all the eyes in Diagon Alley watched her as she rubbed her cigarette butt into the ground with the heel of a shoe tied so neatly Heather herself would be proud of them and pushed her glasses up her nose before walking through the door with chipped green paint and up three flights of narrow stairs into the future she wanted.
The Sub-Editor, Barney Cuffe, was a large man crammed behind what she'd always thought a journalist's desk would look like – old, wooden and littered with scraps, sheets and rolls of parchment. His robe was abandoned on an old coat rack in the corner, which kept shuffling its feet in an odd little waltz, his shirt sleeves were rolled up and the window behind his desk was open as far as it would go. Vanishing the glass would have let in more of a breeze though.
"Miss Skeeter is it?" he asked as she entered his small, private office and closed the door behind her. He didn't bother to look at her for longer than a glance and didn’t bother to offer his hand, so she didn't bother to ask him if she could take a seat, just sat down in the one closest to his desk.
"I read the cuttings you sent with your application," Cuffe said, speaking quickly but clearly, "and you're not hard-hitting enough for us."
He was reading through a wad of parchment that looked like someone had spewed purple ink all over it and every so often he'd reach for the grotty quill tucked behind one ear, shove it in his inkwell, scribble black ink over the purple, then slide it back behind his ear.
"All of our reporters have breaking news under their belts, from frontline war in the Grindelwald era, to political controversy, to the facets of human experience. What are you offering me? Idol stories?" He snorted. "What are they? Stories that stand around a lot and don't get sold."
Margarita opened her mouth to explain that celebrity stories were large sellers in the Muggle press, but what came out was, "All your reporters?" Of the few that she'd passed on the stairs and in the corridor five of them had looked like they hadn't yet begun to shave and one of them had a lopsided nametag saying 'apprentice'.
"Too young," Cuffe said, reaching for his quill again. "Good day."
She leaned forward in her chair, which made her glasses slip down, and took a deep breath. "Celebrity stories are a niche market that is yet to be fully realised. The amount of witches that use the WWN to listen to –"
"No," he told her flatly. "I said you're too young. Not what we're looking for. No good."
"What you mean is 'not male'," said Margarita and her cheeks, already pink (and perspiring along with the rest of her) in the heat, managed to grew a little darker.
All of the staff she'd passed had been male. Writing, as her mother had often said, was an unconventional interest for a woman. They could write in to newspapers and magazines, but they didn't write in them and they certainly didn't work for them. She thought the Prophet probably even had a male cleaner.
"Well, since you brought it up." Cuffe finally looked up at her. "Too young, not good enough and not male. Correct. Now grow some balls or get out."
There didn't seem to be anything to do at that point other than leave, or at least nothing legal. She thought about hexing his bollocks off, but there was probably a rule about that somewhere. Besides, if she hexed him he wouldn't hire her when she came back, because she was coming back.
Margarita decided then and there that she was going to be the best reporter the press machine had ever printed, that Cuffe would be begging her to come and work for the Prophet and she would just smile and tell him she was staying freelance, that he could fight every other paper for the right to print every article she was going to write.
She'll tell him with a feminine smile on painted lips, Margarita thought, because she's a woman and she won't change who she is for ignorant dickheads. She'll tell them that she's freelance with a smile on painted lips and they can watch her curves as she saunters out. The first time she's paid she'll buy short skirts and slinky, silky fabrics that cling to those curves, that show off her hips and bum, and heels that will allow her to walk tall, with make up and bright colours because she's fashionable and female and they'll be begging her because she'll be the best.
Her name is Rita, the same as Rita Hayworth, a famous, sexy, Muggle actress, and a name that she gives to herself.
Rita Skeeter saunters out of the offices of the Daily Prophet in search of a story.