Chapter 2 : Something Different
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On the day of my transfer to my new office, I arrived at work early to gather my things and turn in my old robes – I would now be wearing the crimson robes issued by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, rather than the ghastly orange robes of the Transportation Department. After a final thank you and farewell to Moira, and a quick goodbye to a grumpy and underfed Mr. Cornwell, I hastened to the lifts, hoping to ensure that I would arrive at my new office before the day fully began.
No sooner had I stepped off the lift than I realized I had no clue where the Office of Magical Equipment Control was. I had never been to Level Two before, and Magical Law Enforcement was quite expansive. To my left were a set of doors marked “Auror Offices”; obviously my new office wasn’t anywhere in there, so I took off down the corridor in the other direction.
On the left, I passed a door that had been propped wide open, so that I wasn’t able to find the name of the office anywhere, and I decided I would double back to it if I didn’t find the correct office further down the hall. On the right, I passed the Magical Law Enforcement Administrative Offices, and finally, after passing another open door on the left and a break room on the right, I came to…
Another corridor. Full of doors as far as the eye could see, with even more hallways branching off to each side.
I had never been able to figure out whether the Ministry had been intentionally built in such a confusing way, or whether it was the careless result of hodgepodge expansion and addition of new offices through the years.
One almost expected to discover a Minotaur while navigating the complicated labyrinth of corridors.
Resolving that I would certainly not be running into any skulking Minotaurs, I turned and stared in the direction I had come from. I would simply pop into the nearest office and ask for help.
A harassed voice carried through the open doorway as I approached.
“ – no, because Blevins can’t seem to do anything right, and now I’m the one who has to go sort it all out with the legal staff – ”
It didn’t sound like a conversation I ought to interrupt.
But as I attempted to slide discreetly past the office, the owner of the voice burst through the doorway a mere two steps in front of me, cutting short his tirade about Blevins in mid-sentence.
“Oh!” I jumped back in surprise, my heart faltering.
One really shouldn’t go charging through doorways at such a pace; it’s an accident waiting to happen.
“I – I’m so sorry,” I managed, resisting the urge to shrink away from his irritated expression. He was very tall, so that he was quite literally looking down his nose at me. His nose, like the rest of his face, was long and thin, and upon it were perched a pair of thick glasses. He looked to be all business and seriousness, and the only thing remotely cheerful-looking about him was his hair, which was such a lively shade of red it could almost be described as orange.
“No, pardon me,” he said stiffly.
“I’m sorry to delay you,” I began as he moved past me, “but could you tell me where Magical Equipment Control is?”
He really did look as though this was a huge imposition, but he turned towards me once again and said, “New, are you?”
Was it necessary to say it with such a condescending attitude? It was Sheldon Cornwell all over again.
“Well, yes, I’ve been transferred…”
He pointed down the corridor. “Next door on the right, just before the lifts.”
I thanked him, received a quick nod in return, and watched him disappear into the adjacent Administrative Offices in a purposeful fashion.
My heart thumped wildly with embarrassment, and I drew a steadying breath to calm myself. I was off to an excellent start.
As it turned out, the incident in the hallway was no indication of what life would be like in my new office. Magical Equipment Control was a cheery little place, comprised of one large room, a private office for the manager, and a staff of five people – now six, including me.
Whereas Magical Transportation had been a dull, drab place, enlivened only by the horrid orange robes we were required to wear and the bright flowers on Moira’s desk, the Office of Magical Equipment Control was adorned with photographs, personal trinkets, and colorful posters bearing such slogans as “Cauldron Care Averts Accidents!” and “Finicky Fireworks Foster Fiascos!”
My new boss, Demetrius Dibble, was the anti-Sheldon.
“Oh, God, none of that!” he protested when I addressed him as Mr. Dibble. “Urgh! Makes me feel old. It’s Demetrius – or Dibble, if you must.” I nodded, knowing I was certain to break that rule a hundred times over, out of sheer habit.
He was, I noticed, quite young – perhaps in his mid-thirties. He had a cheerful face and excessively curly brown hair.
“We’re very glad to have you aboard – Violet’s heard wonderful things about you from Moira Davies.” Violet, I soon learned, was Mr. Dibble’s secretary, and one of Moira’s co-conspirators.
“So take the morning to get situated,” he continued, “and I’ll have Lionel show you the ropes, make sure you’re absolutely comfortable here.” He gave me a friendly smile.
Lionel Grigsby was Mr. Dibble’s second-in-command, equally welcoming, cheerful, and overwhelmingly energetic. He reminded me of Vivian’s boyfriend – similar height and build, jovial nature, and confident, carrying voice. The main difference was that Michael was a bit mellower, whereas Lionel was positively bouncing off the walls.
“So good to meet you! Here, here’s your desk, right next to Noah’s, you can just chuck your things there, and I’ll introduce you…” With that, he placed his hands on my shoulders and steered me across the room, where he introduced me to Noah Marcum and Madeleine Ward.
Judging by looks, Noah and Madeleine were about my age, although I learned that they had been working for Magical Equipment Control for over a year. Noah was short and stocky, with an angular jaw and an easygoing manner. Madeleine had a dainty face and immaculately kept, straight, black hair. After shaking my hand, she leaned back in her chair and regarded me with pursed lips and a dubious expression.
“So does this mean I finally get to share some of this ridiculous amount of work that’s been sitting on my desk for the past three weeks?” she inquired of Lionel. Her voice was low and flat, with a bit of an edge to it.
“Thank God you’re not being friendly, Mads,” laughed Lionel. “It breaks my heart when you are.” Noah chuckled, and Madeleine rolled her eyes.
I jumped in tentatively. “I can get started right away, on anything, really, just tell me what needs doing...”
My voice trailed off, drowned out by Lionel’s enthusiastic reply as he waved away my offer. “We’re not going to load you down with work your very first day here! Thought maybe we’d just get to know you a bit, maybe take an early lunch – Dibble doesn’t want us scaring you away before you’ve even had a chance to sit down!”
I wasn’t sure how to tell him that the prospect of doing research and writing reports was much less frightening than the idea of trying to impress a roomful of new people.
As promised, the next hour consisted of questions about my previous position with the Transportation Department, where I lived, what my family was like, what my interests were – all of which I answered, albeit self-consciously, until I had shared almost the entire story of my life, which really wasn’t that interesting to begin with.
Lionel and Noah were fascinated by the fact that I had been homeschooled, especially since I’d studied both magical subjects and Muggle subjects – Mum had been quite adamant that Vivian and I receive a well-rounded education. I spent a great deal of time answering their questions about what that experience was like: yes, we were busy; no, Muggle subjects weren’t boring; yes, we still met other children…
I rather felt as though I were under an exceedingly friendly interrogation.
I learned a few things about my coworkers as well. Noah wanted to teach at Hogwarts someday, although he hadn’t exactly been a model student and hadn’t received many NEWTs. He was still hopeful, however, and said he would gladly accept a position teaching Muggle Studies, a subject that came naturally to him since he was Muggle-born. Lionel had wanted to be an Auror, but that didn’t work out for him; he said he was now perfectly happy in his current position and didn’t want to do much else besides manage an office in Law Enforcement.
Madeleine didn’t say much to me – indeed, she didn’t say much at all, choosing instead to punctuate other people’s sentences with irritable scoffs and sighs. Noah assured me that this behavior was normal and had nothing to do with me, which still didn’t make me feel any less intimidated. I did learn, however, that she was quite a talented witch who aspired to work in the Department of Mysteries.
I couldn’t help feeling a trifle jealous of my coworkers, all of whom seemed to know exactly where they wanted to be and what they wanted to do. Even Noah and Madeleine, who hadn’t yet achieved their goals, were only using this office as a stepping stone. I, on the other hand, wasn’t sure where this job would take me – if anywhere.
Moira’s words from the previous week stuck stubbornly in my head. Was I wasting my talents? Was this yet another dead-end? Would my identity be lost in the winding halls of the Ministry, buried under stacks of papers, and shuffled along with the hundreds of people who crossed the marble floors of the Atrium?
My thoughts were interrupted when Lionel inquired as to my interest in Quidditch - it seemed there was a good deal of friendly rivalry in this office - and I had to admit to the others that I didn’t know much about Quidditch at all. My knowledge of the sport was limited to the fact that my dad supported the Appleby Arrows, and that my sister and I were forbidden to marry anyone who supported the Wimbourne Wasps.
The result of my confession was that a large part of our lunch hour was spent talking about Quidditch, as Lionel and Noah tried to describe the sport’s finer points in a way that I could understand. Unfortunately, I only felt more confused, although I tried to appear as though I was following along.
By the time we returned from lunch, I felt perfectly exhausted, and I hadn’t done one bit of work yet. I was beyond relieved when Mr. Dibble finally approached me with a task.
“I’m so sorry to give you work on your very first day, Audrey,” he said, “but would you mind taking on a small assignment?”
I looked at him in astonishment. He was apologizing for asking me to do my job. I felt very out of place here.
“That’s what I’m here for, of course,” I replied.
“Well,” he continued, “we often have a bit of overlap between our office and the Improper Use of Magic Office, and sometimes files get set off to the wrong place. So about once a week, we need to hand over some files to them and vice versa – Lionel has this week’s files for I.U.M., and I’d appreciate it ever so much if you could run them over there.” He returned to his office, but not before reminding me that the door was always open and that I should never hesitate to ask him any questions.
“So, where is the Improper Use of Magic Office?” I asked Lionel after accepting a large stack of bulging files.
“Just down the corridor, next door on the left. You, um…” He gave me an abashed, almost apologetic look, although I wasn’t sure why. “There’s a bloke there called Percy Weasley, that’s who takes them, and he may have something to send back to us. Tall redhead with glasses – can’t miss him.”
A tall redhead with glasses.
A flush crept up my face as I recalled the lukewarm reception I’d received earlier in the corridor.
“You alright?” Lionel gave me a look of concern.
I nodded vigorously and cleared my throat. “Oh, yes, just thinking. I’ll be right back, I won’t be a moment!”
Maybe the Department of Transportation wasn’t so bad, I thought glumly as I hurried down the corridor. I shifted the stack of files in my arms. They weren’t particularly heavy, just bulky and somewhat awkward.
Stopping just outside the open door of the Improper Use of Magic Office, I took a moment to collect myself, drew a deep breath, and stepped into the doorway.
Straight ahead, sitting at his desk, looking very busy and important, was Mr. Tall-Redheaded-and-Bespectacled himself.
He didn’t look remotely happy to see me. My stomach gave an unpleasant twinge as he raised one eyebrow above the thick rim of his glasses and stared at me expectantly.
“Hello,” I said, flashing a nervous smile as I approached. “My name’s Audrey…Audrey Greene. I’m – well, I’m sure you remember, I’m new in Magical Equipment Control…”
“I remember,” he said dryly.
Under somewhat calmer circumstances than our first meeting, I noticed his appearance in better detail. I realized that his businesslike air and the weary lines across his brow made him look older than he probably was. In actuality, he seemed quite young – not more than two or three years older than I was.
His mouth was narrow, just barely wider than his thin, perfectly straight nose. And his eyes, which were a pleasant, earthy brown, were sharp and alert behind the thick lenses he wore. All of his features had the combined effect of making him appear highly focused at all times.
Before I could say another word, I found myself accepting two thick files from Percy and balancing them atop the stack I already held.
“Those go to your office,” he said. “And would you please tell Dibble that he really must talk to Harmon Finch and tell him, for the last time, that wands do not fall under the purview of this office? They’re clearly defined as magical equipment, and Finch won’t seem to listen to me, no matter how many times I remind him, so tell Dibble it’s out of my hands.” He rattled all of this off at lightning speed and spoke with the tone of someone who had been over this a thousand times before.
I nodded, trying to remember each piece of information while at the same time extracting files from the bottom of the stack I was holding. Honestly, he could have waited until my hands were free before giving me more things to hold. The pile tipped precariously, and then –
Sheets of parchment… All. Over. The floor.
“Oh no,” I whispered, bringing my hands to my mouth. My face grew warm as blood rushed to the surface in the apples of my cheeks. Gathering my wits, I reached for the files now strewn about the floor next to Percy’s desk. “I’m so sorry, I’ll get – ”
I heard an exasperated sigh and a terse, “Just – it’s fine, I’ve got it. Accio 3-8-5-8-2 and 3-8-7-4-0.”
Two files righted themselves and flew into his outstretched hand. He held them out to me and gave me a steady look that I interpreted as, For the love of the prophets, please do not drop these again.
“These are for your office,” he repeated. I glanced at them as I accepted them from him. Numbers 38582 and 38740.
He memorized file numbers that didn’t even belong to his office.
Percy then scanned at the remaining file covers and flicked his wand at the mess of parchment on the floor, so that the loose leaves began sorting themselves into several piles.
He sighed again, and his eyes met mine. “Is that all?” he asked, rather rudely, I thought.
My stomach flipped over. “Yes,” I squeaked.
“Alright. Thanks.” He pushed his glasses up on the bridge of his nose, picked up his quill, and said nothing further to me.
I must have looked odd when I returned to my office, because Lionel raised his eyebrows and inquired after my wellbeing.
“I’m fine,” I replied, placing the new files on his desk. “I, um…I think I rather irritated him, though...”
And this entire day has been rubbish, I added to myself, and I can’t seem to do anything right, and –
To my bewilderment, Lionel burst out laughing.
“There would be something wrong with you if you didn’t irritate Percy Weasley. It’s not a difficult thing to do.” He laughed some more. “I have to admit, though, I thought maybe he’d take to you a little more kindly – you’re so nice, you see. He doesn’t get on well at all with Noah or me – does he, Noah?”
Noah grinned. “Nope. And Mads flat-out refuses to deal with him.”
“Stupid git,” was Madeleine’s contribution to this conversation. “He’s only an assistant and thinks he runs the whole bleeding Department.”
“He sort of does for I.U.M. what Lionel does over here,” Noah explained to me, “only with a much better attitude.” He didn’t manage to get the last bit out with a straight face, and burst into a fit of giggles at his little joke.
Lionel coughed in a vain attempt to cover up his own laughter. “Well,” he said, turning to me, “guess you’ve been initiated now. Really, you’ll get on just fine here – might just have to be a bit more forceful whenever you’ve got to deal with Percy.”
Me, forceful. That was a laugh. I would have had a better chance at sprouting a pair of wings and flying to outer space.
I busied myself with some general office work for the remainder of the day, thinking that at the very least I was sure to amass a large collection of entertaining stories about my new job to share with Moira.
At quarter to four, an Interdepartmental Memo flew into our office and landed neatly on my desk. I truly smiled for the first time all day as I read it:
Audrey, my dear,
I’m slipping out a bit early today. I like to keep these people on their toes. I know there’s no chance of talking you into sneaking out, so do promise me we’ll have lunch this week so I can hear about your new spot in M.E.C.
I don’t know how many times I had told Darcy she really ought not write such things in memos that anyone could open and read – sneaking out early, indeed. And on a Monday!
I rubbed my eyes as the realization hit me: it was only Monday.
At least I had lunch with Darcy that week to look forward to…
As long as I wasn’t eaten alive first.
A/N: This chapter is dedicated to my sister Madelyn, after whom Madeleine Ward is named (but who also has a better attitude than Madeleine!)
A few edits have been made to Chapter 1, at the suggestion of my wonderful beta, Ilia.
Please leave me a review and let me know what you think!
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