Recent censuses consistently place the size of the British wizarding population somewhere around 3,000 people. Of those of us who are adults, nearly twenty percent work in government. For hundreds of us, our day-to-day lives as witches and wizards have nothing to do with potions or hexes or flying.
Instead, we send letters and write reports.
It’s reliable, predictable work, and I suppose that’s why I never minded. So steady was my routine that I hardly needed my alarm clock anymore; my body was programmed to come to life everyday at precisely eight o’clock.
I admit that when I woke that day, clinging to the edges of a comforting dream I could barely recall now that I was conscious, I considered staying there under my quilt, face buried in my pillow. But the day was going to start, with or without me, and so I dutifully pulled my mind out of that hazy stage between asleep and awake, and put my feet on the floor.
Yawning and squinting against the light peeking through the curtains, I shuffled to the door, barely registering my own movements.
Then, staggering out of my bedroom, I ran headfirst into the broad, bare chest of my sister’s boyfriend, who had just emerged from the bathroom with nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist.
This had been a fairly new addition to the daily routine.
The morning grogginess was gone, at least. If that won’t wake you up, nothing will.
“Vivian!” I groaned, my hand still covering my eyes. “Tell your fella to stop walking around without his clothes on!”
“Why?” My sister’s bubbly laugh drifted through her open bedroom door. “Is he starkers?”
“Good! Someone as fit as him should walk around naked! You go right ahead, Michael!”
“Morning, Audrey,” Michael finally said in his low, easy voice. He was still chuckling as he stepped back to allow me access to the bathroom.
“Morning, Michael. Don’t you have practice?”
“They’ve changed it to a later time, thank heavens.”
“Oh, good,” I mumbled.
Michael was a second-string Beater for the Kenmare Kestrels. He’d met Vivian when he suffered an injury during a particularly brutal match and was taken to St. Mungo’s for treatment. Vivian, who was a Healer, had been on duty when Michael was brought in and, after getting a good look at him, had run off to ask one of the other Healers to treat him so that she could ask him out later without having to worry about any impropriety in dating a former patient.
My sister had a lot of nerve and very little shame.
Michael disappeared into Vivian’s bedroom as I closed the bathroom door behind me. I turned on the tap and splashed cold water on my face, feeling my skin perking up to face a new day.
Monday. I didn’t detest Monday like a lot of people did. I didn’t love it, either. No, Monday and I had a calm, mutual understanding that bordered on indifference. Monday understood that I had to have a respectable job, and I understood that Monday was necessary in order to do it.
Just as I finished brushing my teeth and washing my face, I heard a tap at the door.
“Morning, dearest,” said Vivian as I pulled the door open. I noticed she was still in her pajamas and assumed she didn’t have to work that day.
“I wanted to let you know they’ve got me on the night shift this week – well, for the next few nights, at least.” She gave me an apologetic look. “Sorry. I know how you hate to be here alone at night.”
“Don’t worry about it – I’ll be fine. What happened, though? I thought you said you were set with the morning shifts.”
“Oh, somebody’s botched up the scheduling, no doubt.” She rolled her eyes. “But at least you won’t have to worry about Michael being around for awhile. He’ll be staying at his place.”
I waved my hand dismissively. “Don’t worry about that. You know I don’t mind him being around. Really, I don’t.” Apart from the occasional, partially-nude ambushes, Michael was alright.
She gave me a look. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“Of course, if you did have a problem with it, you wouldn’t tell me anyway, would you?” Her voice carried a note of gentle reproach, but she laughed as she said it.
I smiled back. “No, probably not. Guess you’ll just have to trust me.”
“That I can do, I suppose. Sorry again about the night shift.”
Vivian, ever the big sister, always looking out for the baby of the family. It had never once surprised me that she’d chosen Healing as a profession. Like our mother, my sister was an innate nurturer.
I pushed her away from the door with a groan. “I’ll be fine, Vivi! I am an adult, you know.”
“Well, good – one of us has to be. Anyway, I don’t suppose you have time for a proper breakfast?”
Knowing it to be a quarter past eight already, I wrinkled my nose. “Sorry, I don’t think so…I’m going to try to Floo to work by eight-thirty. I’ve got a stack of papers sitting on my desk calling my name. I wouldn’t argue with a bit of toast, though.”
“Oh, fine. I understand – heed the Ministry’s siren call.”
Fifteen minutes later, I stood in front of the fireplace finishing a piece of toast smothered in the homemade orange-ginger marmalade that Vivian and I had perfected after months of experimentation. Wishing for a moment that I could have stayed to cook breakfast with my sister instead of heading off to the Ministry to approve Portkey permits or whatever happened to be waiting for me that day, I swallowed the last bite of toast and grabbed a handful of Floo powder from above the fireplace.
At work I took the lift up to the Department of Magical Transportation on Level Six. I said hello to Moira Davies, a kind, motherly woman who had been the assistant to the Head of Department for nearly as long as I had been alive. Then I sat down to complete a comprehensive report on a new broomstick model that was set to hit the market that summer, assuming it passed inspection by our Department. I worked without interruption until late morning, when the sound of someone barking my name roused me from my concentration.
I looked up to see Sheldon Cornwell, the Head of my Department, peering out of his office.
“Join me in my office. I’d like a word with you.” He frowned as his beady eyes lingered on me for just a second before retreating into his office and slamming the door. Mr. Cornwell rarely ventured out of his office, and regardless of whether he was in or out, he never left the door open longer than absolutely necessary.
I sighed. I had no idea why Mr. Cornwell wanted to talk to me. As far as I knew, I hadn’t made any errors in my work, and I hadn’t been tardy with any projects. In fact, the work in this Department was so simple, it was nearly impossible to make any errors as long as you were moderately conscientious.
I was convinced, however, that Mr. Cornwell didn’t like me. And it had nothing to do with the quality of my work; I completed whatever projects were handed to me, I was always on time, and I didn’t distract my coworkers. Despite all of that, Mr. Cornwell thought I was an idiot.
I think I was a little too quiet for his taste. Mr. Cornwell, like so many other people, assumed that someone without a forceful personality must have a level of intelligence equal to that of a developmentally delayed flobberworm. Someone who had a tendency to keep to herself was not likely to find herself in Mr. Cornwell’s esteem.
After straightening the papers on my desk and receiving a bracing smile from Moira, I approached Mr. Cornwell’s office and hesitated a few seconds before knocking. Even though he had just asked me in, it didn’t feel right to simply barge in after he had closed the door. He was, no doubt, aware of this fact – else he would not have taken such great care to make sure it was closed every minute of every day – but I still knew exactly what his response would be once I had knocked.
“Well, come in, already! I just asked you in, didn’t I?”
Without speaking, I opened the door. Had I not knocked, I would have been berated for that, so I always chose to err on the side of respecting his privacy. My friend Darcy, who used to work in the same Department, had always erred on the side of invading his privacy – just for the sake of irritating him. Darcy was one of those people whose personality Mr. Cornwell respected, even while he chastised her for putting off her projects until the last minute.
“And don’t forget to shut the door, for heaven’s sake.”
I had never once forgotten to close the door. Taking care not to slam it, I shut it behind me as I stepped into the room.
“Sit down, Greene, I haven’t got all day.”
I took a seat across from him. “Yes, Mr. Cornwell?”
For someone who didn’t have all day, Mr. Cornwell took quite a long pause before speaking to me. He regarded me with a look that, for him, could have indicated contemplation, frustration, or irritation – or any mixture of the three. He pursed his lips while wrinkling his nose at the same time, giving him an expression that embodied his general distaste for everything in life.
“I’ve spoken recently with Demetrius Dibble, over in Magical Equipment Control. He seems to think they have a position there that you would be a good fit for.” Mr. Cornwell eyed me dubiously, and I could tell he was wondering why anyone in their right mind would want me in their office. “Are you interested?”
I was stunned. Magical Equipment Control was under the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Ever since I started at the Ministry, I had wanted to work in magical law or international cooperation; I had just never been able to find a route out of my current office. Advancement opportunities at the Ministry were thin for anyone who didn’t take a grab the dragon by the horns approach to life.
After about three-quarters of a second of silence on my part, Mr. Cornwell sighed. “It’s not a hard question, Greene. Do you want to transfer?”
No interview? No application? Nothing?
“Yes,” I managed. “I – I would like that.”
“Fine. Guess we’ll have to get a new hire now. And train them.” He glared at me as if this were my fault entirely. “Alright, you’re excused. If I don’t tell you otherwise, plan on starting with Magical Equipment Control next Monday.”
“Sir,” I interjected tentatively, “do you know what the specific position is? Or what kind of work they’ll be wanting me to do?”
“How am I supposed to know that? I’m just a messenger, Greene. You’re excused. And don’t forget to shut the door.”
Moira smiled up at me from her desk when I emerged from Mr. Cornwell’s office. “Well? What was that about?”
“I – I’m being transferred to Magical Equipment Control.”
“Oh, that’ll be a lovely change of scenery for you, dear. Are you happy about it?”
“Yes, I am…but I don’t understand why they want me. I don’t know anybody in that Department!”
Moira shrugged mysteriously and tapped her nose with her finger.
I stared at her for a minute. “Moira! What did you do?”
She gave me an innocent look, but her eyes gleamed in her delicately wrinkled face. “Nothing at all! I didn’t do anything. Except maybe talk about you a few times to the other secretaries. You know, we do talk about things besides the weather and our favorite recipes.” She laughed at my shocked expression.
“Now, look here,” she added, shaking a stern finger at me. “You’re too smart to be stuck here helping us regulate the Floo Network. You’re a talented young lady, and I refuse to let your brains waste away under the neglect of Sheldon.” Moira was the only person who could get away with calling our boss Sheldon, and that was because she was almost old enough to be his mother.
I felt more than slightly stupid. Could I not do anything for myself? Darcy had managed to get out of this office by talking up the right people – why wasn’t it that easy for me? If it hadn’t been for Moira, I might have been stuck in this Department for several decades, and probably in no position higher than the one I already occupied.
“Thank you,” I breathed. “Really, Moira, thank you.”
She held up a hand to stop me. “No, no, none of that. I only have one condition: that you come visit me now and again and tell me about the brilliant work you’re doing and tell me stories about the boys you’re seeing.”
“I don’t know about that. When was the last time you knew me to be dating anybody?”
“Too long ago, whenever it was, for a pretty girl like you. You don’t give yourself enough of a chance, Audrey – ”
“What’s going on out here?” Mr. Cornwell’s bald head was poking through a tiny space between his door and the doorframe.
“Nothing, Sheldon.” Moira flashed him a tolerant smile. “Anything I can do for you?”
“Actually, yes, I was wondering whether you can send away for some early lunch. I’m starving.” With that, pulled his head back into his office and slammed the door.
Moira rolled her eyes. “That’s why he’s in such a horrid mood all the time – he doesn’t eat properly. I try to get him to eat before ten each morning, but he never listens.” She tutted softly. “I thought I was finished raising children when my own boys grew up.”
I resumed my work with a smile on my face. Mr. Cornwell’s poor eating habits notwithstanding, he could do nothing to ruin this day for me – no matter how hard he tried.
I took a detour on the way home, Apparating to my parents’ house in Derbyshire instead of Flooing back to my flat. My parents still lived in the same house in which Vivian and I had grown up – a lovely stone-built farmhouse near the small Muggle town of Whaley Bridge.
I wanted to tell my parents about my transfer to Magical Equipment Control, but really, I never needed much of an excuse to visit my childhood home. I loved spending time there, and each time I looked out over the fields and hills surrounding our house, I had to wonder exactly what I was doing living in a tiny flat in a dodgy part of London.
The best answer was that Vivian and I had to move out on our own at some point, and it made sense for us to live together, and it made sense for us to live in London, since we both worked there. It all made perfect, rational sense. But that didn’t mean I had to like it, and it didn’t mean I never felt homesick, even though we tried to make it home for Sunday dinner as often as possible.
After nearly three years, I still didn’t understand the appeal of London. It was crowded and hectic and never felt quite right to me. As far as I was concerned, that city didn’t hold a candle to the wide, open spaces of Derbyshire, where everything was welcoming and you could always take a moment to close your eyes and breathe easily. Vivian loved London, though. It matched her energy and made her happy; and when Vivian was happy, I was, too.
The sun was hanging low in the sky when I arrived at my parents’ house, and after Apparating onto the front step I paused to take in the surroundings. It was April, and a thick covering of wood anemones had erupted all around the perimeter of the house. I had a feeling Dad would be working with his plants, so instead of knocking at the door I walked around to the greenhouse in the backyard.
“Dad?” I stood on my toes, searching over the seemingly infinite rows of plants. The greenhouse wasn’t very large on the outside, but Dad had cast an Undetectable Extension Charm on it, to allow enough room for all of his projects.
He looked up from a row of shrubs and broke into a smile.
“Sweet pea!” He doused his dirty hands with water from his wand and wiped them on his trousers before wrapping me in a hug.
“What are you experimenting with today?” I asked with a suspicious glance over his shoulder.
Dad liked Herbology, Muggle gardening, and everything in between – which meant he liked to experiment with cross-breeding magical and mundane species. In fact, the wood anemones that surrounded the house had been cross-bred with the Flutterby bush, so that they swayed and rippled even in the absence of a breeze.
His fascination with Muggle gardening had begun several years earlier, when he had developed some heart problems and a Healer recommended he quit his strenuous job on the Magical Law Enforcement Squad. Dad had been a Hit Wizard for a while before moving to a desk job, and the Healer suggested that he quit law enforcement altogether in favor of something with an easier pace, like Herbology.
Dad decided it would be humorous to take it a step further and work in Muggle horticulture…and as ironic as he meant it to be, he found that he actually enjoyed it. He ran a nursery in Bakewell, where he sold Muggle plants that were so vibrant and lasted for such a long time, his customers swore they seemed to have been grown by magic. At home, he had a flourishing garden full of magical and Muggle plants. There was nothing he couldn’t grow…and very few things he wouldn’t attempt.
He chuckled at my question. “I’m glad you asked. I’ve done a very nice combination between a Venus Fly Trap and a Venomous Tentacula.”
I gasped. “Oh, Dad, you didn’t!”
“No, you’re right, I didn’t. Your mother would kill me.” He had a glint in his eye. “So that means that, when I finally do accomplish it, you have to promise not to tell her. But, in all seriousness, I do have something to show you.” He reached behind a row of flowers and pulled out a miniature rosebush in a clay pot. It was studded here and there with tiny, pink tea roses.
“It’s…nice, Dad.” I gave him a questioning look. It was beautiful, but knowing my dad, I had expected it to be something a little more out of the ordinary.
He rolled his eyes. “I know what the problem is. It’s being shy. Here, let’s talk about something else so it doesn’t feel self-conscious.” He angled his body away from the rosebush as I tried to make sense of what he had just said. “You haven’t told me yet – to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?”
“Oh.” I tore my gaze away from the pink tea roses. “I wanted to tell you – wait, is Mum here? She’ll want to hear this, too.”
“I afraid she’s not here – off doing some function at school.” My mother, a Muggle, was a teacher at a primary school in a neighboring town.
“Oh…well, I wanted to tell you that I’m being transferred to the Office of Magical Equipment Control.”
Dad gave me a steady look. “And…is that a good thing, then? Are you happy about it?”
“Yes, of course – I can’t believe I was finally able to get out of Transportation! I thought I’d be stuck there forever. And being in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement…well, hopefully now I can start doing work that’s a little more meaningful.”
“I’m sure you will. You’re a smart girl, always have been.”
I was silent for a minute. “Sometimes I’m not sure that’s enough, though. I’ve always felt like my personality doesn’t work at the Ministry.”
“No, you’re not the political sort, I’ll give you that. The unfortunate fact is that a lot of people don’t appreciate the kind of temperament you have, even though they should. But I wouldn’t have you any other way, sweet pea. Things will work out, you’ll see. You’ll find your way. I think you just haven’t found your passion, and I don’t blame you – it’s a hard thing to find at a place like the Ministry.”
I knew I hadn’t found my passion. I worked at the Ministry because it was good work, and it seemed like the reasonable thing to do. My parents, particularly Mum, had always put a lot of store in academics, hard work, and achievement; consequently, I was a bit of a stickler for doing things properly, and I felt I should have a job that wouldn’t disappoint them. I never felt that they demanded too much, but for their sake as well as my own, I wanted a job that anyone could be proud of. I didn’t know whether I was fulfilled at the Ministry, but I was satisfied, at least…and in the beginning that had seemed like enough.
As I pondered my father’s words, I glanced at the miniature rosebush and let out a surprised gasp. Half of the tiny roses had turned yellow.
Dad grinned. “Ah, see, it’s starting to warm up to you. I wish you could see it change though…here – ” He leaned over and whispered close to my ear, “Keep an eye on it, but pretend you’re not looking, so it doesn’t know you’re watching.”
I raised my eyebrows. “Mum’s right. You really have gone mad.”
“Shh.” He gestured to the rosebush with his eyes.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched as one yellow rose slowly closed into a tight bud and then unfurled itself to reveal a new color – this time a soft peach.
“See?” he asked. “It’s getting a little more comfortable. It’ll do that on and off, though there’s no rhyme or reason to it – sometimes it changes more often, and sometimes it likes to stay the same. It’s a sight when it really comes alive and they all start going, one right after the other.”
“It’s really lovely,” I said, smiling at the rosebush.
“I’m rather fond of it,” he admitted. “It makes me think of you.”
My cheeks grew warm and I smiled more broadly. “Thanks, Dad. So, when’s Mum supposed to be back?”
“Not sure…later in the evening, that’s all I know.”
“And she’s left you to fend for yourself for dinner?” I teased.
“You might be surprised to know that I do very well for myself. I may have been spoiled by having three excellent cooks around, but I’m not completely hopeless.”
I raised an eyebrow at him. “Well, fine, then, if you’d like to do it all yourself…”
“Hey, if you’re not too cool to spend dinner with your old dad, I say let’s go get started, because I’m starving.”
He headed for the door of the greenhouse with me but then doubled back and picked up the potted rosebush.
“We’d better take this in with us,” he said. “It’s yours, and I want you to have it. I think it likes you.”
As if in response, the little plant unfurled a new rose, this one as deeply red as a wild cherry.
A/N 11/13/19: I'm back and updating! There's a new chapter up, and I've just revised this chapter a bit. I may have some tweaks and revisions to make to Ch 2-9 as well, soon, so please excuse my dust while I do that. Nothing that will change important aspects of the story, however. Thanks for reading!
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