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Zafirah Harrowbolt sauntered down the wide, open space of Diagon Alley. An early winter sun had just moments ago peeked above the higgledy-piggledy rooftops, pouring an orange light onto the street’s cobblestones, which shone wet with dew. Only a mere few other witches and wizards bustled past, going about the beginning of their ridiculously long day.

Zafirah was free, though she did not feel it. Her mind wandered to this time a year ago. It was a week after the Halloween ball and the 7th years were being drowned in homework, study and scary ultimatums with the NEWTs in quick approach. Regardless of the stress those last few months at Hogwarts had been the best time of her life so far. Parties, late nights, pranks, Zafirah and her friends made sure they took full advantage and made the very best of their waning time together, whether their studies suffered or not.

Now, a year later, it was all over. She’d moved out of home and now she had all the freedom in the world. And yet she had never felt more trapped, more bolted down. It was time to grow up.

She snapped back to her own numb reality as she reached a musty brown shop face, its windows clouded with a thick layer of dust. It stood out by way of dullness, and fleetingly, Zafirah wondered how anybody even noticed it was there.

A rusty tinkle resounded through the thick air inside as she pushed into the shop. A quick glance about the small room confirmed that the inside was just as dank and uninteresting as the outside. A few shelves lining one wall supported a variety of strange looking objects, some ticking, some swiveling, some gently whirring. Some boxes were stacked neatly below these, their labels boasting spare parts, repair tools and other such items. A small selection of cleaning supplies lay, ironically enough, beneath a blanked of dust on a shelf on the opposite side of the room. Along the back of the room, lay a plain wooden counter with nobody stationed behind it.

The room had absolutely no decoration to spruce it up, and the same brown of the shop face was nauseatingly dominant. One word repeated in Zafirah’s head: ‘boring’. What was worse was that she’d be stuck working her for Merlin knows how long.

Just as she was allowing herself a deep sigh, a door behind the counter burst open and a middle-aged woman stepped into the room. Zafirah regarded her warily, taking in the finer details of the woman’s appearance. She was quite pudgy with dark greying hair pulled tightly into a high bun. She wore prim, grey robes and modest heels, which clicked intimidatingly upon the hardwood floor. The woman emanated sternness, her face a picture of unreasonable disapproval. Immediately Zafirah adopted a disliking for this woman she assumed was her new boss.

“Zafirah Harrowbolt?” the woman demanded. Zafirah nodded quickly. “You’re two minutes late. Certainly unacceptable on your first day. Don’t ever let it happen again,” she barked.

 Zafirah groaned inwardly as her first impression of her boss proved painfully correct. She reminded her of a cleaner version of Filch. And Filch in a confined space like this, despite the absence of his stink, was bound to be very unpleasant.

Zafirah’s mouth opened in preparation for a hurried (and probably useless) excuse, but before she could shove her foot in it, a familiar tinkling sound chimed behind her. The woman looked straight over Zafirah’s shoulder, her gaze seeming to harden further, if that were possible, as it fixed upon the newcomer.

“Ah, Mr. Malfoy I presume”

Zafirah froze, mid-turn. Malfoy? Draco Malfoy? The boy who had done his darndest to make her miserable throughout all her seven years of Hogwarts? The slimy bastard who had constantly called her a Blood-traitor, among other nasty names? The scum who had openly strived to be a Death Eater? It couldn’t be. She’d hoped, more than guessed that he’d been flung into Azkaban along with his father after the fall of Voldemort. Yet here he was, as if he deserved to stand on the ground reserved for decent people’s shoes. Silently, she hoped that he was there simply to repair a broken lamp, or toilet seat or something.

“You are three minutes late, Mr. Malfoy. If I could find anyone else physically capable of doing this job, I assure you I would fire you on the spot. Count yourself very, very lucky” she spat, twice as angrily as she had spoken to Zafirah.

 She cursed silently with the confirmation that the most intolerable person she knew was to be her co-worker. Simultaneously, she thanked the stars it hadn’t been her that had arrived an extra minute late, then smiled at the little taste of revenge she received, witnessing Draco getting a downright scolding.

The smirk was wiped clean from her face however, as the woman’s piercing voice erupted again.

“I expect better from you two. Both late on your first day. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,” she lectured, her head held high, “As you may have guessed, I am Ms. Hamlett. I corresponded by owl with both of you. I trust you’ve read through the manual I sent you?” Zafirah and Draco nodded. “Good, follow me”

Once Ms. Hamlett’s back was turned Zafirah risked a glance at Draco. Noticing her sudden eye-contact he turned and nodded politely. “Zafirah,” he murmured. She blinked with surprise. She had expected a hushed insult, or a nasty look, not an acknowledgement. What shocked her even more was that there wasn’t even the merest shadow of his trademark smirk lingering upon his lips. She had to actually stop and think This is Draco Malfoy… right?. There was no doubt however that the tall, handsome blonde haired boy beside her was her snide arch-nemesis. And arch-nemesis who had just done something polite. She couldn’t get her head around the fact that the word polite was even in his vocabulary, let alone an active attribute of his personality.

“This is the store room,” Ms. Hamlett told them, interrupting Zafirah’s perplexed thoughts. She’d opened the door behind the counter and was ushering them inside. There were no windows in here, casting eerie shadows over a muddle of all-sized boxes. A ghostly stone fireplace blemished the far wall.  “Mr. Malfoy, you will be spending the majority of your time back here. Orders come in and go out so regularly that this room is rarely tidy. Your job is to sort the boxes as they arrive, and send orders as they come in via floo. And let me assure you that there is absolutely no room for silly errors,” she explained, briskly. “Incendio,” she cast, pointing her wand at the fireplace. A golden blaze erupted inside it, suddenly bringing the shadows of the room to life.

Ms. Hamlett turned on her heel and marched back out onto the shop floor. “Ms. Harrowbolt, you will be working behind the counter, dealing with the customers. You will make sure the shop is kept tidy, and presentable to the public. This is a much easier job,” she told Zafirah, her expression softening slightly for the first time before hardening again as she glanced pointedly at Draco.

“Any questions?” Neither spoke up. Ms. Hamlett doused them both in intense, icy stares, as if searching desperately for any signs of weakness. Both Zafirah and Draco stood tall, and confident, their expressions betraying nothing their boss could prey upon. In her head though, Zafirah was the complete opposite of her gathered composure.

Oh my god I’m gonna mess up, I’m gonna mess up, she’ll fire me, oh my god I’m so screwed! she thought helplessly.

“Well,” started ms. Hamlett slowly, “I’ll be back at noon to check up on you two. I expect to return to the place being perfectly orderly.” With that, she strode to the fireplace, grasped a handful of floo powder from a tin on the mantelpiece, threw it in the fire, and disappeared to a place Zafirah had never heard of. With the woman’s ominous presence finally gone Zafirah let herself relax into a comfortable slouch.

Thank Merlin she won’t be breathing down my neck the whole time she thought, a little surprised that such an strict woman would entrust her business with two eighteen year olds on their first day, but grateful nonetheless. She guessed the place was teeming with protective and spying spells so that Ms. Hamlett always knew exactly what was going on, and when somebody messed up. That was just a guess though.

With the release of tension that their boss had produced, Zafirah had almost forgotten about her co-worker. Draco was still standing beside her and had relaxed in relief just as she. She half turned to face him, about to say something, a greeting, a comment about the place, about Ms. Hamlett, but then with her lips slightly parted she realised that she had absolutely nothing to say. Quickly, she averted her eyes, ignoring the odd look Draco had given her and went about fumbling awkwardly with the few objects on the desk. A moment later she heard the back door close behind her, Draco having left her alone in the room.

A sigh of relief escaped her lips. That was embarrassing she thought.

Three hours had past. Over the course of those, only one customer had come in, hoping to repair his cat’s nose, which had somehow been transfigured into a lima bean. When Zafirah had told him that they could only fix inanimate objects, the man had become irate and kicked a whole display shelf over. Despite the time it took for her to reorganise the items on it, Zafirah was stuck behind the counter bored out of her brains the majority of the time. She’d even magically lifted all the dust from the floor, the stock, and the windows, creating a hefty pile of the stuff in the rubbish bin, yet that gave her only a mere few minutes of entertainment. And the place still looked morosely dull.

The spare time allowed her to think however. Most often she mused over Draco, little as she liked the fact. His complete lack of spite, or cruelty even in the subtlest of ways was so striking that she just could not get it off her mind. Something else she noticed was that he seemed less lively that he once had. Though he had always used all his liveliness to jump on opportunities to insult and ridicule others, now it seemed all this energy was drained. After a long time of thinking, she decided that a simple courteous gesture was not enough to make up for seven years worth of tormenting. Anyway, it was probably only a matter of time before he reverted to his usual insufferable self.

The whole time Zafirah slouched behind the counter she hadn’t heard much more than a few sliding noises from the back room. Just as she was wondering why he hadn’t screwed up yet there was a sudden heavy bang against the door, before it flew open and an enormous ruckus resounded behind her. Startled, she spun around in time to catch sight of a jumble of odd objects, and an aghast looking Draco, before her foot came in contact with something small and wheeled. Whatever it was shot out from underneath her with the sudden pressure of her weight, throwing her balance. She let out a cry as she became airborne, legs and arms flailing and fighting uselessly for support, before crashing heavily to the floor.

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