“The purple flats! I have the left one, but the right one – ”
“Cho, how many times do I have to tell you – ”
“I know, Hannah, I know, okay? Don’t nag me right now – ”
Hannah shot her an offended look as Padma entered the cramped kitchen, hair unbrushed and arms positively flooded with files.
“Oh my god, I’ve got so much stuff to carry and I’m going to be late – I’m going to be so late and Mrs. Marchbanks is going to be angry again and I’ve got to put up with Nott - ”
“Why don’t you two just wake up earlier?” Hannah threw up her hands in exasperation. “It’s only a few minutes earlier! Or you could just go to sleep earlier instead of spending half the night watching random muggle shows – ”
Cho and Padma shared the same deeply hurt look.
“Are you kidding?” asked Padma. “We can sleep any time! Yesterday, Alan was proposing to Iona! D’you know how many seasons he’s been putting that off?” She snaked one arm over the kitchen counter, grunting under the weight of the files and yanked up a piece of toast that Hannah had set aside, before jamming it directly in her mouth.
Hannah muttered something in disapproval.
Cho took a look at the clock, something she regretted within the second. “It’s nearly eight! Padma, we ought to be ready – ”
“- about ten minutes, ago, I know. I loathe the morning crowd at the Ministry! Come on, I’m nearly ready. Let’s go!”
“You’ve barely eaten,” said Hannah, “that can’t be healthy.”
Padma snorted and pointed to the slice of bread in her arms before shuffling out of the kitchen towards the door.
“Wait for me!” called Cho after her, “my shoe! My other shoe!”
“Just wear some other pair!”
“But it won’t match!”
“Are you kidding me?!” shrieked Padma, “Just take something and come on or I’m leaving you behind!”
Cho sighed in exasperation and picked up a boringly grey pair of shoes from the ground. She waved a quick good-bye to Hannah as she ran after Padma, into the early morning washes of the day.
Every day was such a challenge.
“You uncultured arse!”
“Oh, that one’s new,” came back the snarky remark. It was received with much angry glaring.
Cho resisted the urge to pull out her wand and stab out their eyes and end their ridiculous bickering for good. She didn’t know what it was about this time – some paperwork or the like had gone awry and both of them had pounced on each other.
“Cho?” Hermione’s voice floated out from her open office door. “Can you come in?”
Genevieve paused, in mid-retort. “Why does Granger call you over to her office so much?”
Cho merely shrugged; Genevieve couldn’t be trusted to keep a secret. She walked up and entered Hermione’s office, mind already groaning at the thought of what other law she had to look up.
“Come inside. Here, look at this,” Granger was holding a leather tome whose pages looked like they had had age itself breathe on them. There was an endless parade of cursive writing on the page that dripped and snaked into each other. The title was written in a serpentine, golden text – Laws Passed by the Ministry for Magic: A catalogue.
1b. Any muggle-born witch or wizard must submit to a search of all items in hand at the time; any –
“Wow,” Cho said, her words coming out in a gasp.
Hermione wrenched the book away. “I know! What kind of a law is this – see, it’s right here, under the fourth subsection – and we’re trying to say that everything’s all right after we did away with the Death Eater rubbish.”
Cho frowned and read on.
A person of clean, identifiable heritage can be exempted from minor crimes, such as (but not limited to) -
“This is – this is – “
“I know!” Hermione threw her hands up.
“No, that’s not only it.” She stared at the date inscribed next to the text. It didn’t make any sense – it couldn’t have possibly been that recent. “This one’s dated from two and a half years ago. It’s probably from Pius Thicknesse’s administration, which means – “
Hermione’s eyes widened. “Someone went ahead and revised the laws without any public disclosure. The Wizengamot must’ve approved of some of this rubbish quietly – I can’t imagine it must’ve been hard.”
“They were probably Imperiused or tortured into it. Or threatened,” said Cho, nodding. Hermione’s hands clenched. Cho gave a sideways glance at Hermione, whose eyes were flashing dangerously.
Hermione Granger really was brilliant. She had caught on so quickly…
Hermione looked up and smiled grimly. “We’ve got our work set out for us, then.”
“Looks like it.”
“I can’t believe this department is so small. There’s at least a dozen or so people in every other department.” Hermione sighed. “I was expecting there’d be loads more people to help…”
Cho shrugged. “There’s different offices. Almost everyone who works in this Department works under the Magical Law Enforcement Squad – that’d be the Department Head and ten other people.”
“Well, they’re the more practical edge of this department, I suppose. The Head’s Emma Bagnold now and she’s got about ten higher level Enforcers and a few lower level. There should be well over a dozen or so there. And then there’s the Assistant to the Department Head and all that.”
“And what do you do?”
Cho blushed at this. “Gen, Tom and I are part of the Department, but not the Squad. We take care of the practical matters of it, but without actually getting in the middle of things.”
“ – boring,” said Cho. “It’s mostly loads of paperwork about who broke what law. We get stuff mixed up with the Auror and Improper Use of Magic Offices all the time. We mostly sit back and do the paperwork. But this job pays for food and the flat, so…”
Hermione smiled. An afternoon breeze blew through, sending papers ruffling and glass tinkling.
Cho Chang and Hermione Granger were (possibly) having a pleasant, decent conversation.
“I think we should get started on this,” Hermione held up the book. “We’ll look through to see what shouldn’t be in there.”
“And then what?”
“And then we’ll compile a list, put it together and take it to the Wizengamot, I suppose.”
“It sounds like a lot of work,” Cho said, but at the scandalized expression on Hermione’s face, quickly added, “but let’s get started.”
“Why do you dislike him so much?”
“Because,” said Padma, still not willing herself to look up, “I do, alright? Let’s not push this.”
“What I don’t understand is how you can in the first place! He’s quite nice.”
“Shut up, Fanny.”
Fanny Folwell took a dignified sniff. She was one of the few members of the Department of International Relations that Padma had known since she had first joined. With her loud laugh, odd affinity for all things animal print and constant need to dress in pastels, she was an odd little thing that Padma had taken to from the very beginning.
She was better than most of the other crowd, at least.
Anthony Goldstein Padma had known since the beginning of Hogwarts and he had been impossible even then. Always teasing her about something or the other. He hadn’t let her live down her disastrous date at the Yule Ball with Ron Weasley (who was henceforth termed ‘The Carrot’ to Padma).
Ella Chambers was two desks away from Padma and quite possibly the most boring creature to have ever existed. Her tone of voice was boring, her style of dress was boring. Even the oxygen around her was boring. Padma avoided it as often as possible.
Still, nobody in the office quite matched Orla Quirke. Twittering, impossible, airheaded Orla who followed around Padma faithfully. She had been delegated as an assistant to Padma, making her the assistant of the assistant of the Department Head, the most venerable position since resident “Bloke-who-slept-in-the-back”.
There were about twenty or thirty members in the Department, but Padma constrained herself to the few in her radius. Merlin knew that familiarizing herself with any more people only meant one more thing: more work to do.
“I reckon you fancy him, Padma. You must.”
“Will you shut up?” hissed Padma. “Look, I’m not in third year! I don’t fancy anyone, and especially not someone like him!”
Fanny leaned on her elbow. “Okay then, tell me why you’ve been hiding all day.”
“I have not.”
“Tell me. Or I’ll call him over to ask for help with the Sierra Leone reports.”
“I hate you.”
Padma sighed and blew the hair out of her face. “If you must know, you nosy cow, it’s that I used to know him at Hogwarts.”
“I knew it!” Fanny said excitedly. “This is a romance after all! With backstory!”
“Why don’t you go work on the Sierra Leone stuff? And I’ve heard there’s stuff that’s been coming in from Jamaica or something – we’ve got to send condolences to their Minister’s family, you know – ”
“So tell me.”
“There’s not much to tell. We used to know each other and we – well, we kind of hated each other. That’s pretty much it. And we squabbled a lot and now, every time I see him, it’s bloody awkward. Happy?”
Fanny pouted. “What a disappointing story.”
“Expecting Isolde and Tristan, were we?”
“Well, I was expecting at least Elizabeth and Darcy.”
“We were more like Bibbity-Babbity and her cackling stump, alright? Get back to work, Folwell.”
Fanny grimaced. “Whatever, Padma. And just so you know, I’m sending him over to talk to you later.”
Padma threw a quill at her retreating back. “You better not!”
The office day was reaching a wearisome climax.
Genevieve was still muttering darkly. Above her, a portrait of a large nosed wizard (who Hermione had brightly explained to absolutely no one’s interest was Justus Pilliwickle, the original founder of the department, several hours ago) who was snoring. Genevieve had taken to prodding him whenever he snored too loudly until Hermione had finally stopped her. (“Oh leave him alone, Genevieve.”)
“Since when did I let her call me Genevieve?”
“It is your name,” Tom said reasonably. She threw him an angry glare, which he promptly ignored.
“I’m going to hex you into a – “
“Oh here come the threats.” He feigned a yawn.
“I’m serious this time, you – “
“ – yes, and maybe I’m Dumbledore – “
“ – that’d explain why no girl fancies you.”
He flushed. “Shut up!”
“I will not!”
“Alright, alright, enough,” said Cho, who had been watching the proceedings feeling vaguely amused. In her earlier days, she had tried to make some amends between them, but she had given up.
There was a chilly silence, which, as Cho knew it would, soon dissolved into hastily murmured apologies. She snorted. They were both such idiots some times. But she knew they could get along – Merlin, maybe they even liked each other – most of the day.
They trudged back to the monotony of work. Cho wrote reports. Tom filed them. Genevieve pretended to work, sometimes worked, and spent her time prodding the painting awake and amusing herself when he emptied himself of some select words to describe her.
The day finally cracked. Time wore on and ripped and from its seams sprang the iridescent colors of the day.
Hermione emerged from her office looking distinctly ruffled. She was carrying two large stacks of parchment in each arm and she wobbled slightly. Tom rose and relieved her of one of them. She gave him a strained smile.
“What’s all this?” he asked.
“Oh – nothing – just paperwork.” Hermione gave Cho a pointed look. For a wild second, Cho thought she was angry.
Oh. Tom didn’t know yet. And apparently, neither did Genevieve.
He didn’t look convinced. “Are you taking it home with you? We’re not allowed to take anything out of the office…”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s nothing particularly important – just light reading.”
Genevieve leaned over and frowned. “Laws Passed by the Ministry: Years 700 to 1970 – this is light reading?”
“Er,” She said offhandedly, “well, I must be going. I’ve got a lot to catch up on and I’ve got to meet somebody for lunch – “
She never finished her sentence. She made an awkward dash for the door with Tom still waving the parchment behind her.
The door to the department swung open.
Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley both entered. Cho turned a hideously conspicuous shade of scarlet and ducked below her desk. Only Genevieve noticed her sudden disappearance and Cho could make out the faint lines of a smug grin on the blonde’s face.
“Bewitched a toilet –” She could hear Harry saying.
“Hermione! Where were you?” Ron demanded. “We waited for you.”
“I know, I know,” Hermione said. “I’ve been busy, Ron…”
Genevieve bent down. “What’re you doing?”
“Looking for something?”
“Looking for something? Really?”
“How was your day?” Harry ruffled his hair. “Ready to go eat?”
“I am,” interjected Ron, “been starving all day. Rubbish food they’ve got at the Department. Tastes like troll bogies, I swear.”
“Fine. There’s a lot of work to do – it’s a complete nightmare. Such a mess everywhere. It reminds me of Ron’s room in here, to be honest.”
Harry laughed and Ron gave her an indignant nudge.
Hermione suddenly seemed to realize that they were not alone. “Oh, and these are my assistants. This is Tom Derwent – ” Tom gave an amicable smile. “ – and Genevieve was here just a moment ago. Where did – “
Genevieve popped up from behind the desk. “I’m here.”
“This is Genevieve Bell – “
“And I know who you two are, obviously.” Ron and Harry both nodded at this. Ron looked particularly pleased by her announcement.
“And where’s – “
“Oh, she’s under here, let me just – “
Genevieve gave Cho a fierce push. Cho toppled forward and onto the ground. She could feel her face heating. She pulled herself off the ground and tugged her robes into a manageable mess.
Both Ron and Hermione’s eyes turned to Harry who also looked like he had reddened.
“What’re you – “
“I work here.”
“Do you?” He asked coolly, despite the tint of blush in his cheeks. It put Cho off immediately.
It was true that neither of them could look at the other without an urge to end all eye contact. Hannah said it was because their relationship had taken place during a more unpleasant period in their lives – adolescence. Alicia pondered if it was because they still fancied each other a little. Padma surmised that Cho must be allergic to him.
She did not fancy him anymore. That much she knew. Mostly.
But every time she looked at him, too much spilled forward. That was how she remembered sixth year. Cedric was her fifth year and Harry was her sixth. She could see him – the lanky form still and the same timeworn glasses and remember them. Harry and Cho. Like waves and breeze, quick and quiet.
There were pleasant memories – the surreptitious glances he had kept throwing at her, the small butterflies that bloomed, the Room of Requirement. And all the other ones. The first date, her first mistake. She could still vaguely remember it. She had yelled something about Cedric and run off. Granger had been folded somewhere in it as well. Had she accused him of dating Granger?
Or was it Weasley? She couldn’t remember.
They had broken apart after that, slowly, like stones beside a waterfall. She told herself that she didn’t miss him.
But she knew a bigger part of it lay with her. He began it and she ended it. What would’ve happened if she hadn’t? It was the relationship that she regretted most having. It had ended on a note painful to all.
But he had Weasley now. The perfect heroine of the Wizarding World. Ginny “never-without-a-date” Weasley. She was at least a little jealous, she knew. Their relationship had mattered so much to her at the time, but he had entirely dismissed it.
“Yeah, actually, I do.” Cho gave him a smile. She would show him dismissal. He looked thrown slightly. “Hermione and I are working together on something.”
Harry looked at Hermione with raised eyebrows.
“Yes, we are.” Hermione smiled back. “Well, now that you’ve met everyone, we should be on our way. Goodbye then, Tom, Genevieve, Cho.”
“Bye,” they all echoed.
Hermione left with Ron at her heels. He quickly separated her from the load she was carrying and snaked an arm around her waist. She looked immediately uncomfortable and maneuvered herself so that it fell away.
Harry followed suit, but not before he threw Cho a curious look and slammed the door behind him. Cho picked up the remnants of her work on her desk and with a quick goodbye, left as well.
Padma left for lunch early, making a mad dash through the desks and earning the ire of anyone passing through the hallways.
No more awkwardness. I’m leaving earlier to avoid him and that way –
An elevator door opened up.
It was still empty! Sweet success!
She crowded herself in with a shuffling pack of two wizards and a harried looking witch. As soon as the ornate gold doors closed and Padma found herself squeezed in the familiarity of the elevator, she sighed, looking at the marble floor with relief.
Life was fair, after all.
Beside her, she could see Anthony cocking an eyebrow. “Wow, you left early for once.”
“I’m really hungry,” mumbled Padma. “I could eat a hippogriff.”
A familiar voice laughed. “Same with Anthony. He positively threw us out so we could go eat.”
It sent an uncomfortable, flushed feeling up her spine. She wheeled around to find her hair whipping into the shoulder of one Theodore Nott, who was smiling down at her placidly.
What was wrong with him?
People who threw frog hearts at other people didn’t just turn up years later as decent, polite people. It wasn’t the way the world worked. He ought to be on the streets – or plotting revenge – yes, perhaps that was it. He was finally taking his revenge on her for all the Potions lessons.
“Oh, um…” Padma let it hang jarringly. “That’s nice…”
“What’s wrong with you?” asked Anthony, “You’re acting a bit odd.”
“I’m fine…” She was staring at her feet. “Just um…hungry. Really, really hungry. Maddeningly hungry. So hungry.”
“Yes, you told us,” said Anthony, dripping sarcasm. “Amazing you’re not the size of Mars already.”
Padma resisted the mad, sudden, but gratifying urge to strangle him. Prat. Prat. Prat.
“Go to hell.”
“I’m next to you, aren’t I? I’m already there.”
Their usual neverending brother-sister bickering was earning the sniggers of the cramped onlookers.
“You’re so mature, Anthony. It’s no wonder that so many girls fancy you. More girls fancy me than they fancy you.”
“That’s because they mistake you for a man.”
“How dare – how dare you! I’m a lady! You have to be polite!”
With that, Padma stomped as hard as she could on what she thought was his foot.
Go to hell, go to hell, you irritating –
Theodore noticeably winced. Anthony burst out laughing.
“Padma, you genius, your aim is as wonderful as usual!” He was reduced to spasms of laughter as Padma stood petrified beside him, horrorstruck.
The elevator opened and its passengers filed out, save Padma, Theodore, and Anthony.
As Anthony helped a now-limping Theodore out of the elevator, Padma followed them, still hooting feebly, “I’m so sorry, I really am, I didn’t mean to – I was aiming for that idiot – does it hurt much?”
“No, not really,” said Theodore as kindly as he could muster.
The kindness was odd.
The Theodore she would have once known would have hit her back. It didn’t help that he was much taller now and had grown less pale and thin. But his black hair and blue eyes had remained the same.
This was…unpleasant. Really, really unpleasant in all the ways only she could manage.
“Of course it hurts, you put all your weight on it, didn’t you?” chided Anthony, still grinning like a gargoyle, “It’s a miracle he isn’t paralyzed.”
“Alright, that’s enough,” said Theodore, “really, it’s not so bad.”
He attempted to stand up, wobbled, and leaned against Padma. Mortified and horribly red, she gently pushed him off.
“Sorry,” he mumbled, before straightening his robes and walking ahead.
This was a terribly, terribly confusing day.
“What a long day,” mumbled Alicia to Mandy as they made their way down the winding steps that led to the front of the Witch Weekly office. “Ugh.”
“I know,” said Mandy darkly. She was wearing a pair of snakeskin boots that Alicia had been eyeing the whole day and an equally irked expression. “Romilda and Lavender are so incredibly obnoxious! First Lavender has to bring up the printing issue for like the hundredth time about improving our circulation – ”
“There’s nothing we can do to improve our circulation with males,” chimed in Alicia. “I don’t know about you, but I reckon most blokes would shy away from a magazine called WitchWeekly, you know. Unless they swing the other way, but – ”
“Not many men want to read about cleaning tips and whether or not Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley have really broken up this time. Barely any women want to read it as it is.”
“Have they?” asked Alicia, “Good lord, I’m behind on the gossip. I thought we reported they were just bound to get married.”
“They broke up a few days ago, apparently. Ginny Weasley moved in with Hermione Granger, so everyone’s seeing it as a sign they’re done permanently this time. Not that it’s particularly life-changing to anybody.”
“I knew both of them. Played Quidditch with them.”
“Wow! Maybe you can get us in touch for an interview about whether or not – ” Mandy broke off abruptly. “God, I’ve been working too much. Whatever. Just forget it.”
“I hate this,” said Alicia in a small voice. “I really, really hate this job.”
Mandy paused on her warpath straight to the door. “Why?”
“You always complain about this job. D’you hate it that much?”
Alicia sighed and stopped as well, her large necklace and bright gold robes flapping in the wind. “Well, I don’t completely hate it. For one, I adore a lot of people there. You, when you remember to bring me chocolate. I like the office. I even like Penny when she isn’t busy driving everyone absolutely insane. And I happen to think it’s positively hilarious that Wanda Wilkinson, despite being a dinosaur, has a boyfriend who’s like twenty.”
“I like writing, for one thing. That’s why I joined, you know. To write. And the pay’s alright. My parents are both muggles and I have two other siblings – also muggles – and they all live quite far away, so I have to support myself and this job helps with that.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“You don’t feel this way at all?” asked Alicia curiously.
“Well, seeing as I’ve wanted to work here since I was seven – no, not really.”
“Because it’s stupid, Mandy.”
Mandy’s mouth dropped open in outrage, but Alicia waved her away dismissively.
“This isn’t the job that it should be. Think about it. A war’s just finished. It’s only been a year since it passed and there’re so many problems with this community. So many people’ve fallen straight through cracks. I mean, it’s lovely that the Ministry’s working well again, but there’re still plenty of problems. People have died, lost everything, given up family members – all for this. We should be focusing on healing more, fixing more. Telling these kinds of stories. That’s what I want to do with my writing.” She stared at her feet, flummoxed. “Not more stories on what cleans rugs the best, you know? Not on finding a good bachelor or fifteen ways to charm the perfect husband. It just isn’t what we need right now.”
With that, she sighed, and walked ahead, past the door and into the cloud stained sunshine.
Author's Note: Hello, everyone! We're nearly halfway through this story, and I'm going to update every 3-4 days until it's all posted. Cho's finally met Harry again, so what do you think of it? And of course, any thoughts about Padma and Theodore?
Thanks so much for the continued support and I hope to update soon!