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Portmanteau by Arithmancy_Wiz
Chapter 5 : Chapter Four: Books
 
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Chapter Four: Books


It had been several years since Kate had given any serious thought to her living arrangements.  As accustomed as she had become to her nomadic lifestyle and remote surroundings, the thought of spending time in a place with actual walls and no dirt on the floors had helped to take the sting out of leaving.  Not to mention the fact that the majority of the preparations had been done for her.  Henry had called in a few favors – something he absolutely detested and only proved to Kate how seriously he took her visit – and now here she was, lying in bed in her very own London flat. 

She had woken only moments before, her internal clock still ticking several hours ahead.  She hadn’t slept particularly well in the unfamiliar room, her body sinking uncomfortably into the soft mattress.  The old box spring had creaked and groaned with each toss and turn and by four o’clock she’d given up all hope of drifting back off to sleep.  For the moment she was content just lay there, staring up at the ceiling, watching the room grow brighter and brighter with the approaching dawn.

Though it didn’t exactly feel like home yet, the living arrangements were already growing on her.  The space wasn’t that much larger than what she was used to back at camp, but the rooms here had a sense of purpose and sustainability, something her tent had very much lacked.  Each room was decorated with carefully selected pieces, some of which had to be at least a hundred years old, defining each area and proving to whomever the current resident might be that someone had lived here before and someone was sure to live there after.

Finally dragging herself from bed, Kate moved from room to room, throwing open the small windows, trying to remove the musk of disuse that had settled in the house.  Henry had warned her the place wasn’t very well tended of late.  The air outside was warm and heavy with moisture, a faint breeze stirring up the smell of wet earth and grass.  It had been awhile since she had lived under the constant threat of rain.  That was going to take some getting used to again.

It was probably far too early to head to the Ministry, but with nothing better to distract her here, Kate figured she might as well try.  She’d been attempting to formulate a plan of action for the past several days but still wasn’t at all clear on what she was going to do while in London.  She didn’t want to draw a lot unnecessary attention to herself by asking too many questions.  While she wasn’t doing anything wrong exactly, she didn’t think it wise to advertise what she was up to. 

Unsure she would find any available floos at this hour of the morning, Kate decided to try her luck at the Visitor’s Entrance.  She had used it once before – nearly three years ago during her first and only visit to the Ministry.  Henry had assured her the flat was well located, but not really knowing the area, Kate thought it best not to try and apparate directly.  She’d have to make the journey on foot. 

As soon as she stepped outside, it began to rain.

Entering the Ministry of Magic was like stepping into a grand train station, the kind with cathedral ceilings, polished wood and marble floors, and that ever-present hustle of important business.  No one seemed particularly happy to be there but everyone understood its necessity; one important step toward reaching some penultimate goal.  Kate hated everything about the place, and not just because her last visit had been such a horrendous one.  The whole atmosphere felt phony and contrived, designed to lure the masses into a false sense of trust in an institution that had failed them time and time again.  Even the building itself was a lie.  They were all standing several stories underground, yet everywhere Kate looked she saw windows framing a gloomy morning sky.

It was nearly seven o’clock now and a steady stream of workers were filing in through the surrounding grates, each arrival marked by a sudden flash of bright green, the hallmark of burning floo powder.  Kate made her way across the atrium to the visitor’s center, the line up to the desk already several people deep.  She took her place behind two older gentlemen wizards in deep burgundy robes and holding a rather heated debate.

“…your own fault, Bernard” said one of the men, his long white wishers dancing in agitation as he shook his finger in the other man’s face.  “What did I tell you about her?  Trouble.  Nothing but trouble.  And now you’ve gone and dragged me into this mess.”

“Now come on, Arty,” the other man pleaded.  Unlike his friend, this man’s face was cleanly shaven, which only served to highlight his protruding jowls and lazy blue eyes.  “I said I was sorry, didn’t I?  And what was I supposed to do, eh? She seemed in need at the time.  I couldn’t just turn her away, now could I?”

“Of course you could, you old bat,” the man called Arty shouted.  “She sweet-talked you, you fool.  And now we’ve got to go and explain why there are eighteen stolen crates of lacewing flies in your attic.”

“Aww, Arty,” the other man drawled.  “She said she just needed a place to keep them for awhile.  I was just being a good neighbor is all.”

“Hah,” Arty scoffed.  “And I suppose if she hadn’t been half your age and wearing robes that barely covered her knees you still would have helped her, eh?  A good neighbor indeed…” he grumbled under his breath.  “More like a dirty old –”

“Next!” shouted the young woman behind the security desk shouted. 

The two men fell silent and the line inched forward.

It was another thirty minutes before Kate was officially checked in.  Her wand registered, a visitor’s badge pinned to her shirt, she headed off toward the lifts.  The lady at the counter had directed Kate to the Ministry Archives.  Kate hadn’t know there was such a place, but the woman assured her that there she would find detailed information on all Ministry Departments, past and present, as well as copies of declassified transcripts from a variety of Ministry trials and hearings.  It seemed to Kate as good a place as any to start.

After a short pause, the lift stopped and a cool female voice announced they had arrived at Level One.  Kate and another man stepped out and into a long hallway lined with heavy paneled doors and gleaming oaks floors.  Portraits of various Ministry Officials hung in long rows along the wall, watching Kate as she made her way forward, stopping occasionally to read the signs tacked to the doors.  Halfway down the corridor, she found a small door labeled Archives.  Not sure whether to knock or just go in, Kate tapped lightly on the door and slowly inched it open.

Kate had expected to find a cramped, dusty room or something reminiscent of the library back at Hogwarts.  Instead she found herself entering nothing short of a museum.  The ceilings, domed and painted with an elaborate design in pale blue and tan, seemed three stories high.  The floors – nearly the same colors as the ceiling – were so shiny they appeared to be made of glass.  There were dozens of beautiful white columns perched atop thick marbled slabs and elegant reading tables with gilded legs and high-backed chairs.  And, of course, there were books.  Thousands, perhaps even millions, of books, all lined up in neat rows, set deep into the bookshelves, which were curved to match the shape of the room.  In the center of it all was a crescent-moon desk.  It was empty save for a single, leather bound ledger, which was being carefully guarded by an elderly woman with a kind face and watchful eyes.

Kate took several cautious steps toward the woman.

“May I help you?” the woman asked, her voice so low it was almost a whisper.  The nameplate above her breast read:

Matilda Bagswell
Assistant Director
Archives and Records


“I hope so,” Kate said quietly, trying to match the woman’s tone.  “I’m to attend a hearing with the Budgetary Review Board.  I was hoping to find some information to help me…prepare?”

“And just what type of information might you be you looking for?”

“Err,” Kate stuttered.  “That’s just it.  I’m not exactly sure.  I don’t really know what I’m going to need.”

The woman gave her a patient smile but Kate got the distinct impression she wasn’t at all pleased by the vagueness of the request.

“Well,” she said breathily.  “Let’s see what we can find to get you started.”

The woman opened the large leather bound book on the desk, riffling through to a page near the middle.  Kate was intrigued to find that all the pages appeared to be blank.  The woman then removed a large purple quill from inside one of the desk drawers and began scribbling something in large looping letters.  Kate was trying to decipher it upside-down but before she could make any headway, the script vanished, seeming to melt right into the page.  The woman promptly closed the book.

“This way,” she said, coming around the large desk and gesturing Kate to follow.  As she walked, her thin heels clicked rhythmically along the polished floors, making Kate feel suddenly underdressed in denim and trainers. 

The woman led her on a winding path through the bookshelves and back towards a set of stairs that led to the second floor.  It really wasn’t a floor at all, more like a floating ring of bookcases that encircled the main level.  There was a narrow walkway and low wooden railing but little else to keep a person from tumbling down onto the very unforgiving ground below.  When they were about halfway around the ring, the woman stopped and turned to Kate.

“Here we are,” she said, looking at the rows of books and stacks of papers on her left. 

“This is where we keep the court transcripts.  They start here and end just past that wooden post.”  She pointed several meters ahead where a tall banister marked the stairs to the third level.  It looked to Kate as if there must be a million pages between that post and where she stood.  “They’re in chronological order.  The newest at the end.  Geoffrey is in charge of the subject index but I’m afraid he hasn’t made it past the ninth century yet.

“The Budgetary Review Board,” she continued, “is a rather new committee.  I don’t think they’ll be too many records from them yet.  But they’re not the first of their kind.  I’d try looking into the Council on Monetary Affairs, The Bureau of the Bursar, The Office of the Treasury – Well, you get the idea.  These committees do come and go so often these days.”

She smiled to herself, as if it were some inside joke.  Kate just nodded, feeling thoroughly overwhelmed.

“Just remember,” the woman said, her smile gone.  “No records may leave this room.  And no magic whatsoever may be performed on any of the books.  There are reading tables on the main floor and private rooms in the back which you can use for as long as you like.”

Kate nodded again and managed a weak, “Thank you.”

The woman gave her a small nod in return.  “Good luck,” she said before turning and heading back towards the stairs.

When she was gone, Kate let out a huge sigh, grabbed the nearest book, and began to read.



***

 
Several hours later, Kate was still reading.  She had moved back down to the main floor, selecting one of the open tables near the stairs.  Spread out all around her were books, most lying open, marking a page that had caught her attention.  She had spent the day taking copious notes, thankful that she had thought to grab some parchment before she left the flat that morning.

She had lost all track of time, pausing only when her stomach gave a loud, hungry rumble.  Kate looked up.  The large clock on the wall said it was nearly one o’clock.  She had been at this for more than five hours already.  She wondered if there was a limit to how much information a brain could process in one morning.  If such a limit existed, Kate was sure she was nearing the peak.

Afraid her growling stomach would start attracting the attention of the other people seated near by, Kate decided to break for lunch.  She jotted down a few quick notes on the books she would want to review again later, grabbed up her paper and pen and headed back toward the atrium.

She was contemplating whether to return to her flat or try and find a restaurant near by when she thought she heard someone call her name.  Kate turned around, but the atrium was too crowded to tell if anyone was looking at her.  She continued forward when she heard it again, this time louder and in an oddly familiar voice.

“Kate!”

She spun around.  This time she saw him.  Several meters away and jogging towards her was a face Kate had never expected to see again.  It was the face of Charlie Weasley.



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