AN: The author would like to express her sincere appreciation to the following people:
- JKR for being so generous with her magical world
- Elanor Gamgee for the friendly encouragement she always includes with her marvelous beta comments
- Dylan Thomas for writing the poem, 'Do Not Go Gentle Into that Good Night,' which inspired this story's title
- and anyone who reads this story even after finding out it's about Gilderoy Lockhart!
Gentle Into that Good Night
Chapter One: Memorably Attentive
"Strongest minds are often those of whom the noisy world hears least." - William Wordsworth
January 11, 1991
Olivia Townsend pulled her cloak tight around her shoulders and bent her head against the biting wind and snow, quietly cursing herself for oversleeping. Diagon Alley was relatively deserted, although the shops lining the street glowed in the early morning darkness. If she hadn't been in such a foul humor, she might have found the scene quite lovely. The clock above the Leaky Cauldron entrance chimed the quarter hour and Olivia glared at it. She was late again.
She quickened her pace and pushed through the drifting snow to the doors of Flourish and Blotts, which swung creakily open as she leaned against them.
"Townsend!" She heard the shrill voice of her manager before she had even finished closing the door behind her. "You were supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago!"
Jeremiah Rankling had been the manager at Flourish and Blotts for eleven years and was known throughout Diagon Alley for his strict adherence to policy, zealous worship of punctuality and regrettable taste in clothing. Most of the hair from his head had seemingly migrated to his eyebrows, which were frequently knitted together over his pinched face, lending him a perpetual look of displeasure.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Rankling." She stamped the snow from her boots and shrugged out of her cloak. "My alarm clock has been having problems." She attempted an apologetic smile, but the red-faced man now standing opposite her did not look softened in the least. "I really am sorry, sir. It won't happen again."
"It had better not, Miss Townsend. I was counting on you to get the window display done this morning and you've already wasted the first twenty minutes of the day. Best jump right to it." He pointed to the storefront window and took her cloak from her. "I'll take care of this." He spun around and hurried toward the back of the shop.
Olivia sighed and walked over to the window display area, where three stacks of books were waiting. She picked one up and looked at it. She recognized it at once, having given her mother a copy of it the previous Christmas. The face on the cover smiled sweetly up at her and she grinned in return, fighting back the urge to run her finger along the line of his cheek.
She didn't notice the young man standing beside her until he spoke. "He'll be disappointed if you waste all your serious ogling before he gets here."
Olivia jumped and immediately set the book back on the stack. "Goodness, Noah...you startled me!"
"I thought after a run-in with Rankling, you'd be prepared for anything. Watch your back today - he's out of his canister about having everything perfect before he gets here."
"Before who gets here?"
Noah rolled his eyes. "Are you joking? Lockhart! You were practically drooling on his book jacket a moment ago. Remember?"
Olivia's eyes widened. "That's today? I thought it was next week!" She took up a stack of books and started arranging them in the window.
"I could help you with that."
"Thanks...but I really should do it myself. Mr. Rankling is very particular about the displays and I've been here long enough to know exactly what he's looking for." She busied herself with the stack of books and when she turned to look, he had walked off toward the back of the shop.
"Next week, indeed." An airy female voice spoke quietly above her head and Olivia looked around, making sure no one else was near. Then, grinning, she turned her attention to the portrait on the right side of the front display window.
"Good morning, Madam Flourish!"
"Olivia, dear...you knew perfectly well that today was the day for Mr. Lockhart to sign autographs. We discussed it yesterday when you were blocking the textbooks. What are you playing at?" The woman in the portrait crossed her arms and gave Olivia a curious smile, her pale face shining from the dark library setting of the portrait.
"Shh! If I'm right, I'm finally playing at something that stands a good chance of working out exactly as I want." She winked at the painting and returned to the display, encouraged by the sound of Madam Flourish's delicate laughter.
Olivia enjoyed setting up window displays. There was something neat and simple about choosing how many books to stack and knowing how many stacks were needed to balance out the open books stood on end. Olivia hummed nonchalantly as she propped an open book against a stack of ten other volumes.
"Townsend! Watch what you're doing! Mind how many books you're stacking there, that vampire stack looks keen to topple over." Mr. Rankling's fists relaxed from their customary position on his hips. "I believe you're the only witch in the whole of Diagon Alley who hasn't got her robes in a twist over that Lockhart bloke."
"I don't much go in for these adventure books, sir." Olivia separated the stack of Voyages with Vampires into two stacks.
"Well, you're better off, you know. Rubbish, the lot of them." He peered around Olivia's shoulder at the snowy scene of the street outside. "But the women will be out there lining the street by noon. Mark my words. We'll need two assistants this year...one for crowd control and one strictly for His Nibs."
Olivia casually changed the position of a copy of Gadding with Ghouls and spoke with all the disinterest she could muster. "Well, I'm on register today. And I'll be glad to be far away from all the commotion."
She was certain she heard Madam Flourish take a quick breath and hold it, which calmed her shaking nerves a bit. It was nice to have a friend rooting for her, even if that friend had died more than a hundred years ago. She took a peek at Mr. Rankling and was relieved to see him looking back and forth between the register area and the reading alcove where the book signings usually took place.
"I've just had a marvelous idea." He turned his gaze back to her, a devious smile widening his cheeks. "I believe Mr. Wonder Wizard needs an assistant who won't go swooning every time he asks for a new quill or needs a lavatory break. Townsend, I'm taking you off register and putting you on duty with Lockhart as soon as he comes in." He nodded in affirmation of his own brilliance and, without waiting for a response, marched off in the direction of the storeroom.
Olivia released all of her pent-up breath in a rush, hardly realizing she had been holding it in. She looked up at the portrait, already returning the smile she knew would be waiting there.
Madam Flourish applauded softly and looked around, speaking in a conspiratorial whisper. "Lovely work, Olivia. Now what comes next?"
Olivia's confident smile drooped a bit. "Well, if I'm his assistant for the day, I'll get to speak to him."
"And? What will you say?"
There was a long beat of silence. "I don't know...all I wanted to do was meet him. I hadn't thought of what I'd say if I did." She paused, looking at the floor for a moment. "I suppose I'll just try to make a good impression. I'll definitely be very polite."
Madam Flourish tutted and shook her head. "There's no such thing as memorably polite, dear. It's not a trait that men like Lockhart value, I'd think. From what I've seen of the man, perhaps you should aim more for memorably attentive."
"Attentive...I can be very good at being attentive. Thanks for your advice, Madam." Olivia whirled around and promptly collided with Noah, knocking the box he was carrying to the floor. "Oh, I'm sorry. I must not have been..."
"Attentive?" Noah grinned slyly at Madam Flourish as he bent down to collect his box. "No worries, nothing broken. Anyway, I'm here on an errand...Rankling says I'm to finish up the display for you. He wants you to help him set up Lockhart's throne room."
She found herself bristling at the contempt in his voice. It was just so typical. Men never liked Gilderoy Lockhart, and she knew why - jealousy. Knowing they couldn't compete with his undeniable charm, his matchless wit or his formidable courage would be enough to discourage even the best of ordinary men. Olivia sometimes couldn't help feeling a little sorry for them, especially Noah, who had always been particularly kind and helpful to her.
"Make sure you set up the most recent book closest to the door. It calls the customer's attention on the way in." She noted his slightly confused expression. "You do know which book is the most recent, don't you?"
"Of course. Snogging with Snidgets, isn't it?"
Olivia heard a loud burst of laughter behind her and she turned in astonishment to the portrait, where Madam Flourish was attempting to hide her face behind a large book from her desk. When she turned back to face Noah, his hands were raised in apology.
"Just having a bit of fun, Olivia. Lockhart's not a bad bloke. Bit taken with the sound of his own voice, sometimes, but mostly alright." He held up a copy of Gadding with Ghouls. "This is the most recent magnificent adventure, right?"
Olivia nodded. "But we're a bit overstocked on Voyages with Vampires, too, so we want to feature that as well." She picked up a few books and placed one on the stack in the display window. "You'll probably want to set a stack of these on the other side, too, so they'll catch the window shoppers."
"I've done displays before, you know. I think I can handle this one." He took the books out of her hands. "Go on, before Rankling has an attack."
She glanced up at the portrait, but Madam Flourish had wandered off. Olivia pushed a wayward lock of hair back into place over her right ear and walked quickly away, mentally rehearsing her introduction to Gilderoy Lockhart.