Who: Wayne Hopkins, Eloise Midgen
Where: Wayne’s flat
When: 8 April 2001, evening
Wayne cast an anxious look at his flatmate’s door as he put away the last of the dishes. He was pretty sure Crispin was either asleep or out, and he hoped so, because he’d already caused himself enough trouble, letting people overhear things they shouldn’t. Eloise, though, he could talk to. Even if she probably wouldn’t know what to do, either, sometimes it helped to at least talk through things. But every time he imagined her urging him in one direction or the other, he felt his stomach flip. All of his options were equally crap and he didn’t know how he’d go through with any of them.
He heard Eloise’s knock and nervously chewed a hangnail as he went to open the door. “Hey, thanks for coming over,” he said, not too loud. He gestured toward Crispin’s room to explain his low volume. “I think he might be asleep. Want some tea?”
Eloise studied Wayne’s face carefully when he opened the door. Asking for advice didn’t have to mean it was about something bad, but with Wayne, it probably did. Especially since he didn’t want to write about it. But maybe she was wrong. Maybe he just wanted advice about some cute girl from work or something.
Wayne looked nervous, but that wasn’t really a clue either way. Whatever the problem was, it would be better with tea, so Eloise nodded and gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile. “Tea is good.”
Wayne indicated that Eloise should follow him into the kitchen, and — quietly — put the kettle on and started going through the cabinets for the mugs, tea bags, and sugar. “How’s work?” he asked, not wanting to launch into his story until they were more settled. “Mint or Darjeeling?”
“Work is fine,” Eloise responded, reluctant to have the focus of the conversation on herself when that wasn’t the point of her visit. “Nothing too exciting. Just the usual dogs and cats and rats…” It always felt a bit strange that this conversation had to be one-sided, that she couldn’t turn the question back on Wayne and ask him how his work was. Well, she could, but any time she did he had to respond with vagueness and generality, and Eloise had taken to simply not asking him at all.
“I’ll have mint,” she added as she reached into the silverware drawer to extract two spoons. She spooned a bit of sugar into her mug, stirring it around to give her hands something to do. She was glad when the tea was ready and the time for small talk was over. “So what did you want to ask me about?”
Admittedly, Wayne only half-listened to Eloise’s response as he selected the mint tea as well. His mind was on his own dilemma, and wondering if he was making too big of a deal of it by bringing it up to Eloise. Maybe it would just blow over… But his exchange with Orpington earlier that day made that seem less than likely. He wouldn’t be able to avoid the man forever, unless he wanted to shut himself up like a recluse.
Taking a seat at the small kitchen table, Wayne cupped his hands around his teacup and waited for it to cool enough to drink. “Well, it’s kind of a long story…” he began.
“You know how I’m not supposed to talk about work stuff outside of work? Well, I did, by accident, the other day—” he wasn’t about to elaborate on the embarrassing context — “And this guy overheard, and since then he’s really been going after me for more information. He thinks he can make money off it or something. And at first he made it sound like he’d pay me for it, but when I said no, he’s started saying stuff more like… like he’ll tell the Ministry if I don’t…” Wayne swallowed, remembering how coolly frightening Orpington had been in person. “And today I told him that I just needed some more time, that the Arithmancy isn’t really final yet — and it’s true, it does need more work. But I know he’ll ask me about it again soon.” Wayne contemplated the steam swirling off his tea and sighed heavily, then looked up at Eloise.
“I don’t know, what would you do?”
She’d thought it was going to be about something bad, but she hadn’t thought it was going to be this bad. Eloise frowned slightly while Wayne was talking, and even after he finished, she was quiet. She didn’t know what she was supposed to say.
“Well, he can’t just go and make money off Ministry research like that,” she finally remarked. “That can’t be allowed. So, maybe, maybe if you told the Ministry about him…” Eloise trailed off as it occurred to her that telling the Ministry would entail telling them about Wayne’s indiscretion.
Eloise had to admit, a small part of her was intensely curious about that part of the story. Wayne had always been good at keeping quiet about work, had never told Eloise any details about his job… and then he went and told this shady guy? She wanted to ask about it, but she couldn’t quite figure out how.
Wayne understood why she trailed off, and answered her unspoken thought. “Yeah, I just wish I knew how much trouble it’d get me in. If it’s just a slap on the wrist I don’t care, but I really, really don’t want to lose this job.” He blew on his tea and then took a sip, wincing when it was still too hot. “And it’s not like I can ask hey, hypothetically, if someone were to blab Ministry secrets all over town…” He shook his head. “I just wish I knew some way to get Orpington off my back. I tried telling him it was probably worthless anyway but he won’t let it go.”
Wayne felt a bit calmer now, talking it through. Sort of like he was telling a story about something that had happened to someone else. He sipped his tea as he tried to think of any other option than a) avoiding Orpington forever and b) coming clean and putting his job on the line.
Eloise shifted uncomfortably in her seat, wishing she had an easy answer for Wayne’s problem. He was right that he couldn’t ask what the consequences would be — that sort of question would be okay when he first started working at the Department of Mysteries, but now it would just sound suspicious. “Well, you can’t be the first one to talk about something you shouldn’t, right?” she reasoned. “Have you ever heard any stories about something like this?”
Maybe that was a bad thing to say. Surely if they told these sort of stories during Unspeakable training or whatever, they wouldn’t tell the stories where it wasn’t a big deal and the guy didn’t really get in trouble. They’d tell the stories where the guy got fired, so you’d be afraid to talk about work, ever, to anybody.
Eloise sighed and took a sip of her tea, which was just barely cool enough to drink.
Wayne searched his memory. “People kind of joke about it sometimes, but in that way where you can’t tell how serious they’re being. Like in my division they’re always saying ‘Careful, you don’t want to end up like Billy Blathers’ and I asked someone once what happened to Blathers and he looked me right in the eye and said they tore him up into little pieces and fed him to a hippogriff. So, that’s not true…” Wayne said, his voice faltering a little, as he suddenly started picturing that grisly scenario as a possibility, after all.
But then something else occurred to him and he groaned. “And now that I hear myself say it, I’m pretty sure they made ‘Billy Blathers’ up. So now I really don’t know what to think. Except that I don’t want to be the new ‘Billy Blathers.’” He twirled his spoon as he thought back through his options. “I could… Try to give him fake information? When he starts after me again for the ‘new developments’ I promised…”
“I don’t think hippogriffs eat people, even if they’re torn into little pieces.” Eloise had to point out the creature aspect of the story before she could really consider the rest of what Wayne was saying. “And yeah, Blathers is certainly a convenient name for someone with a loose tongue.”
Eloise scrunched her nose as she thought about Wayne’s next suggestion. “Yeah, if the stuff you tell him is useless he might give up. That might work.” Emphasis on the ‘might.’
Wayne remained convinced that a hippogriff probably would eat a person, if they were cut up into the right size chunks, but he decided not to argue the point. He preferred what she was saying about the Orpington stuff.
“It might,” he echoed, sounding much more convinced than before. A minute ago he was thinking this would only buy him time, but now he was starting to think it just might work. “I mean, most people lose interest in Arithmancy pretty fast. And I know he’s got better things to do than talk to me. I’d just have to come up with something that looked believable but not quite right.” Wayne was enough of a nerd that the last part actually sounded like a fun project, and he almost smiled, but caught himself.
“I mean, it’s something, at least,” he finished, a little more subdued, but still hopeful. Something that beat turning himself in to the Ministry.