“Charles will see you safely to the gate.” Your mother, tall, aristocratic, well kept and almost regal, stood like a statue in the foyer. Your father couldn’t be bothered to leave the study.
“Thank you.” You responded automatically and without feeling, oblivious to Soren’s comforting hand at the base of your spine.
The maid smiled sweetly as she shut the door and, in a tone so quiet even your mother’s freakishly talented ears would never have picked it up, bid you a good evening and welcomed you back to the manor. Your mother didn’t flinch as the carriage maid – Charles, apparently – helped you into the ostentatious transport. Soren stepped in, taking his seat beside you, and closed the door.
“Unbelievable!” You’d started shouting the moment you were back within the confines of Soren’s wing. “A carriage ride from the gates? Maids instead of elves? What the hell?” You were storming about the room, carelessly lifting precious objects and heirlooms, tossing them from hand to hand, and then slamming them violently on the nearest surface. “And Dad! He just sat there! He didn’t even comment when you took that jab at the Ministry. Well put, by the way. Nose in the papers and that cursed cigar. The maid says he goes through an entire decanter of brandy everyday. An entire thing! Though, I’d drink more than that stuck in a house with her all day. And her hair! It doesn’t move! That’s just creepy! ’Susan!’” You took on a slightly buggish tone. “’Susan, bring the cheese platter! Susan, my daughter will need another napkin! Susan, freshen the ice, the cubes are too small.’ – The cubes are too small? Who says that?! And the girls name is Evelyn! She didn’t speak to me all through dinner! Usually seeing you makes them happy!” In your best impression, you held an imaginary teacup in your and – pinkie extended – pursed your lips, set your jaw and set off, pacing the room again, “I do hope you don’t expect to stay in your room. I’m afraid we’ve gone and turned it into servant’s quarters.”
Completely consumed by your ranting, raving, and full on impersonations, you hadn’t noticed Soren crossing to you. Abruptly, and half-way through a word, he shoved you back into an armchair, clamped a hand over your mouth and snapped his fingers.
"Cut it out, can you? You're going to completely destroy the surprise."
When, in your childhood, you witnessed something traumatic that caused you to let him do this - to take a girlish and highly sexual pleasure in the blind obedience - you didn't know but as soon as it was over, you would have yourself checked into St. Mungo’s. Just as soon as it was over.
For now, you were waiting silently in the armchair, hesitant to speak or move until he returned and contemplating why you were sitting there in the first place. Anyone else and you'd have hit him - you'd have hexed him into oblivion. Anyone else would have spent their life like Mad-Eye Moody; cowering at dustbins, if they'd done that to you but not Soren. No, Soren seemed to be rifling through a drawer in his study while you sat, quiet as a mouse, intermittent jolts racing up and down your spinal cord.
"You got this today," he said, sneaking up on you and causing your heart to jump into your throat. Distracted by what, exactly? You hated it when the voice in your head spoke with that mischievous wink....but, resisting the urge to roll your eyes, you seized the envelope and began slitting the wax Ministry seal.
Nauseous couldn’t have begun to describe you when you’d awoken that morning, but now that you were waiting the next round, you were fairly certain you had no idea what you were talking about.
“Who do I have to kill to get a round over here? We’ve got a newly registered Auror sobering up!” Soren was shouting across the Leaky Cauldron, the party around you smiled drunkenly when the waitress finally appeared – tray in hand. Tonks seized several of the shot glasses and began passing them around the table with an amazing amount of muscle control.
“Vogel! We never thought we’d see you back! And, hey, how’d you convince Scrimgeour to let you off with just the exams?”
You grinned, or possibly suffered a temporary seizure from alcohol poisoning, but what the hell. “I have no idea, but,” you nodded at Soren, “I suspect this one had something to do with it.”
”I did no such thing!” he said indignantly, the inebriated grin splitting even wider on his face. “And even if I did, the opportunity would have been completely deserved.”
“Uh-huh,” you hiccupped in response.
Now you remembered why you’d stop drinking like that. Sitting up hurt. Laying down hurt. Listening hurt and for the love of Merlin would someone stop that forsaken squeaking…
“Remind me why we always celebrate by getting piss drunk,” Soren asked. You hadn’t even realized he was in the room.
“Because it always seems like a good idea at the time,” he snarked, the aftermath of the previous night still evident in his voice. “Remind me of this moment next time,” he added, gripping tight to the potion he’d been sipping.
“We always say that and we always forget.”
“We should work on that.”
“I think we should,” you were having trouble speaking above a whisper, which was probably best because the full sound of your voice might have impacted your ears just a bit too violently. “How would you suggest we recover from this time?” you asked, still not moving from the pillow.
“Perfect.” Rolling out of the massive heap of linens, pillows and blankets proved to be more difficult than you’d anticipated and probably would have been funny were it not for the unpleasant bump you’d sustained in falling on the floor.
Sober. Full to the brim with painkillers and Mexican food, you were grudgingly approaching Kingsley’s office in full Ministry garb for your first day. The morning light always had a way of throwing your stupidest decisions into astonishing relief.
Oh, please for the love of god! you thought, the ill concealed sentiment on your face.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. How’s the gig going? Secretary is it?” she retorted. You might have felt vindicated by the look on his face were it not for the unbelievable volume.
“Fair enough. I’ve actually got an assignment for the two of you…” All three of him seemed to look in your direction as he said it. You grumbled. “If you’re up to it – not that you have a choice.”
“You do enjoy holding that over my head, don’t you?”
Banter always had seemed to flow freely for you and Kingsley, which was convenient, because he probably would have hexed you into last week if it didn’t.
The office wasn’t nearly what you’d expected. Completely barren, the walls were an almost disgusting shade of puce. There were tack holes n (in) nearly every blank piece of wall and, where the holes were absent, scraps of paper remained.
“Sorry,” he said, unconvincingly. “The place hasn’t quite recovered since the search for Sirius Black and I haven’t been around much. On business. Scrimgeour has asked for increased – all right, insane – levels of security at the school this year…after that horrible incident at the end of term… You wouldn’t mind spending a little time in Hogsmead? Well, more appropriately, a lot of time in Hogsmead and an even larger amount of time in the Hogwarts castle.”
This was most definitely not what you’d had in mind but the look on Kingsley’s face seemed to say that you didn’t have a choice.
“Since this will be long term, the Ministry will provide a flat in the village and any moving expenses you might have,” he carried on. “Can we count on you then?” He waited for what you realized must have been a long silence. Reluctantly, you nodded. “Good. Now get out of my office. I have to be at the Muggle Minister’s office in less than an hour. From here on out,” he smirked slightly giving his face a quality that made you want to rescind your previous agreement. “you report to Dawlish.”
And there it is! You grimaced. As you were leaving the office, cursing your existence and poor judgment, he called you back momentarily. “Vogel, it really is good to have you back.”
Soren had never been a great fan of bad news. In fact, he wad downright notorious for always taking setbacks with the absolute worst possible combination of anger, temper, frustration, and a good dose of violence. This evening was shaping up to be great fun.
“Soren?” you were creeping quietly into his study; the mountain of back issues of the Prophet surrounding him. He smiled indulgently but didn’t look up at you. Always a great sign, Alexis. “I…” you were stammering “went to see Kingsley today. His office is a disaster, you wouldn’t believe it…” and now you were babbling.
“He gave me my first assignment.”
At least you’re getting his attention now. You thought as he set down his quill and flicked off the desk lamp, setting somewhat adoring eyes on you. Oh…that’s lovely. Make it worse. “Lexi, you know you don’t have to do this; there isn’t a reason in the world you should have to stay with the Ministry. You could help out with the Prophet or go back to do something else. What about that boutique you always wanted to…”
“I seem to recall you being thrilled when I joined the academy,” you replied, cutting him off before he could toe on the line any further.
“And so was your mother. It was a long time ago. We thought you would choose something else before the month was out.” He was crossing the room toward you, a concerned and soft expression on his face. “Lexi this is dangerous. When you started this we weren’t fighting a war. The worst we were after was Sirius Black and I knew perfectly well they didn’t have any idea where he was. Not a day goes by that we aren’t reporting the death of an Auror or a family member. It’s not safe.”
It seemed like an hour before you were even ready to respond, before you had even registered what he was saying. “Give me some indication as to whether you’re kidding or not. You are kidding.”
”No, I mean, you must be kidding me because you know me – you know me, Soren – you know that that pathetic excuse for a rational thought would dissuade me from a goal…” You were seething, you were boiling you were…You had no idea what you were but you were not that and this was not funny. “What the hell, Soren?”
“Lexi, just think about it. That’s all I’m asking.” He was drawing nearer still, talking soothingly and taking your hand in his but you withdrew. “Lexi.”
“No. Look, I’m not going to stand here and argue about this. I have to be at the Ministry in the morning for briefing and I’m due in Hogsmead next week. Kingsley assigned me to staff at Hogwarts. I’m just not ready to argue with anyone, least of all you.”
He seemed to go quiet for a long time before closing his eyes and returning to his desk without another word.
In this moment, you hated him. He knew, sitting in his study, pouring over his papers, that you were hating him and loving him. He knew that the only thing keeping you from taking it back; doing what he’d asked, whatever he’d asked, was the time it took you to get out of the tub and wrap a robe around your shoulders. You’d done it, actually. Three times, to be exact. But before you’d left the room, you’d reconsidered
Fighting with Soren was unlike any other experience you’d encountered in your years. Unlike every other person that hated you, Soren seemed to know that the worst he could do to you was silence and silent he was; ear-splittingly silent for the remainder of the evening and all of the next day. For only the second time since you’d appeared on his balcony to prove there had been a point to all of those ballet lessons, you woke up alone and there was no sign of Soren in the entire flat.
“Vogel, you’re late!”
It was something to be told of by Dawlish and something more to stifle the laughter as all three of his chins shook disapprovingly. Maybe it was a bad habit but that had always been the way you dealt with stress; mockery.
“Sorry. I had to powder my nose.” Your voice was completely devoid of any actual apology but it appeared to be more a symbol of penance than he’d expected, because he carried on with the duty roster without belaboring the point; Tonks leaning into your shoulder and whispering something about putting at least a modicum of effort into your excuses.
“Vogel, Tonks, Jameson. You’re all on the Hogwarts detail this term and you know how bad things have gotten there.” Your stomach dropped. In the chaos of last night, you’d forgotten entirely why you were fighting. “Clean up starts on Monday. You’ll all report to me in the morning at seven hundred hours. In the mean time, lets get cleaned up from the Black inquiry.”
Dear god this man could drawl on and on and on and on – Tonks seemed to be putting on a bit of a show in the corner to entertain the troops, and it suddenly made sense why none of the others seemed glazed over. Her hair was racing through the rainbow faster than you’d seen it do yet. Her button nose molding into a pig snout. This was probably not the time to burst into raucous laughter.
Dawlish managed to go on for a full 45 minutes before he slammed his parchment stack on the cubicle beside him, nearly setting it over and setting is jowls aflutter again.
This is the part where the nerves set in.
Apprehensively, you made you way down the hall to your assigned work space. It was, if at all possible, even more bleak than the flat you’d lived in when you first ran away. Funny how things had such an awful habit of coming full circle for you. Still, maybe it just needed a little spruce and some personal touches…hell, it wasn’t as though you’d be spending much time there anyway.
Taking a deep breath, you began to tackle what used to be one pile of papers that must have towered taller than you but was now spread like icing over the entire office.
Crap. Crap. News clipping. Crap. Receipt. Paperwork.
Wrapper. Newspaper clipping. Crap. Scrap of parchment so ambiguous it’s not even worth the title of crap.
Two hours spent like this and you seemed to have achieved nothing. Well, you’d found the chair, but as you were now sitting in it, it didn’t seem like much.
“Having fun?” It was Jameson, leaning against your door, a most unwelcome smirk on his face. You remembered him from the Academy.
Trying to tally everything you knew about him was a bit like counting the broken limbs you’d sustained as a child. Each one seemed to stick out painfully in your mind but none of them seemed of enough value to really record on a medical history.
Auror. Obviously, Alexis. Irritating. As if that should come as a shock. Hated Soren. Revelations in hand, your brain started snapping the pieces together, resolving them into a mosaic of a painful evening in London. You’d been conned, coerced, and dragged out for an evening with a few of the soon-to-be-graduates that landed you in a small, Muggle pub – Jameson was among them. There had been…something. Like you downing a bottle and a half of gin, Alexis? He’d offered to take you home…
Oh yeah, now you remembered. Summoning your best sneer of irritation, you half-rolled your eyes and answered him. “To what do I owe the interruption?”
“Nothing important,” he said, completely ignoring your obvious disdain for him, his presence, and, all in all, the carbon that made him exist before you. “I just thought I should come and say a proper hello.”
Oh, this was nauseating. “Whose office was this?” you pressed, resolving to make something of the conversation. At the very least, you’d know who to get drunk and convince to perform a song and dance number for the cameras.
“Huh?” How cute, he thinks I’m interested in him. “Oh, no one’s really. This is just some of the files we’ve had in storage on Sirius Black. They have to be sorted into like files and then boxed up, now that he’s been cleared. They’re all for you, darling.” Oh, dear, you’d let him get into his stride. “Some are notes, some are proper files, and others are newspaper clippings. They’re all for you, but I’d be more than happy to give you a hand after hours this evening to help get that desk cleared off.”
You groaned. Actually, audibly groaned. From the cubicle across from yours, you caught what was unmistakably Tonks’ snicker. Some might have thought this ironic. Others at least might have thought it was mildly amusing. You found it nothing if not completely infuriating. Not only were you fighting with Soren, you were being flirted with in the most pathetic of fashions by none other than that idiot you were doing it all for a filing job.
The remainder of your week was spent that way. Sorting. Stacking. Shooing. Labeling. Then you got to go home and meet Soren’s icy expressions and arguments. This was something you did everything in your power to forget as you packed your Ministry issues into an old footlocker, carefully wrapping a few personal effects in paper before nestling them between socks. He’d greeted you with yet another unfortunate plea this morning and hadn’t been here when you’d returned home. The part of you that desperately wanted to see him – to tell him how much you were going to miss his company – cried out desperately against the logic centers of your brain that kept you packing. It’s just quieter this way, you promised yourself as you locked the trunk and began tossing the last of your gear into a rucksack haphazardly and with just a little more emotion that you liked to admit.
“Hey, you’re not done packing yet.”
The voice from the door caught your ears but, before you had a chance to steel yourself for another argument, his rough fingers were grazing around your neck – oh yeah, the sex…definitely going to miss the sex – he was drawing cool metal across the pronounced bones and sensitive skin, precious stone leaving tiny abrasions. “It’s not a bribe; I just want you to have it before you go. Call it a reason to come home.”
Neither romantic nor eloquent, he still carried a simple, honest sweetness about him when he did things like this. It was the only time he ever seemed really human, through and through and, for a fleeting instant, you thought you might finally be feeling the true gravity of what your disappearance had done to him.
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