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Chapter 7 : Automatic
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As the week neared a close, there was progress on all sides.
Alicia finally did finish the article on housecleaning and then managed to fabricated some quotes from Angelina Johnson on the state of the Holyhead Harpies.
Cho found, to her enormous surprise that working with Hermione Granger was neither as mind numbingly horrifying nor as socially unacceptable as she’d expected. Granger ended up being rather bossy and perpetually worried about something or the other, but she was a decent enough leader and more organized and far less reeking of cat smells than her predecessor had been.
Afternoons that had once meant filing alongside Tom in amicable silence or gossiping with Genevieve on whether or not Daniel Jensen from Law Enforcement really was seeing Selene de Lapin from the Beasts division became afternoons with Hermione, leafing through ancient tomes. It now meant taking copious notes, talking occasionally in murmured voices and coughing through the dust of books that had barely been opened before.
And Hermione. Hermione mumbled to herself and worked with the crazed speed of a maniac.
But all the same, Cho was helping in some way.
They were working for something to change.
Hannah found that Uncle Tom had quickly approved of Susan Bones’s plan to forever change the Leaky Cauldron and its uninhabitable ways. New plans were drawn up ranging from everything to changing the windows to buying new Firewhiskey. With the loss of Neville beside her and the impending loss of the environment she’d known for the last few months, the world was becoming a very confusing place.
Padma was lost.
Theodore Nott was polite. Distant, but polite. She’d managed to avoid him for two days after The Stomping Incident of the elevator. But Wednesday saw a very embarrassing, highly tell-tale incident of having to work together with him to send a letter to South Africa.
It was maddening.
Why was he so cordial?!
Why didn’t he loathe her?!
As the week drew to a thankful close, Thursday came with promises of lunchtime together. It was an oasis of the day.
Which meant three familiar faces, one run down excuse of an eating establishment and the newest vat of office gossip.
Alicia was looking out of a grimed window with particular rue. She, of the four of them, hated the Leaky Cauldron with a burning, intense hatred.
She looked at the rest of them and a dark look came over her. “I think I should give up.”
“Don’t say that,” Cho said. The chronicles of her day were at mind and she had bested one of her own obstacles.
“It isn’t that bad, trust me,” Padma said. Alicia threw her a glare.
“You wouldn’t understand, Padma. They’re driving me absolutely insane.” She was, Cho knew, referring to the destructive duo of Romilda Vane and Lavender Brown.
“What did they do today?” Hannah asked.
“Lavender began with the whole printing issue again. She doesn’t understand why we need to order more parchment for the newspaper. What a complete - “
Padma interrupted before Alicia fell into another long-winded and excruciatingly detailed diatribe about the doings of Witch Weekly. “Is Lavender really shagging Draco Malfoy?”
Cho’s mouth fell open. “Lavender Brown and Draco Malfoy?! Together?!”
“I’ve heard it going around,” Alicia said. “But I can’t imagine it.”
“Yes, he was dating that other girl – I forgot who – what was her name?” Padma paused.
All at the same time, Cho, Hannah and Alicia blurted out names.
There was a very pregnant pause. Everyone stopped eating. The question needed to be asked and answered: who was Draco Malfoy shagging?
Padma leaned in. “Oh, I remember now! Apparently, he dated Parkinson late last year but left her for Vaisey.”
“Why?” Cho asked.
“Something about family matters, I think. The Parkinsons haven’t been getting on too well since the end of the war.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Hannah said. “I thought Pansy’s older sister married Avery last year? Then they couldn’t possibly be poor.”
“That’s true,” Padma said thoughtfully.
“It’s obvious that he got bored with Parkinson, tossed her and started snogging Vaisey,” Alicia said. “Then Parkinson contrived this whole rumor up to keep some dignity.”
“I don’t understand why he’d snog Vaisey of all people. She’s hideous,” Cho said.
“If he managed to snog Parkinson, he can snog Vaisey,” Alicia said. She shook her head as if in disbelief of the snogging habits and preferences of the much maligned Malfoy.
“Cho! Alicia!” Hannah was always indignant whenever anyone was exceedingly blunt. Cho rolled her eyes. It really was about time that Hannah got used to their’s day-to-day mannerisms. Cho whined constantly, Padma was as tactful as a loaf of bread, and Alicia carried more gossip than midnight, ten women, and a box of chocolate.
“Then where does Lavender come in?” Padma asked, leaning forward.
“Lavender has been coming late to work lately,” Alicia said, twirling a lock of black hair around her finger. “And her clothes have been…”
She let it die out to a dramatic pause.
“How d’you suppose they met?” asked Hannah. Cho grinned. Try as she might, Hannah Abbott was their friend and for better or worse, fell to the temptations of day gossip. She caught Cho’s grin and looked away.
“I’ll bet it was some kind of accident,” Alicia said. “Lavender couldn’t possibly have met him at one of those high society parties – she’s muggleborn, isn’t she?”
“Half-blood, I think,” said Cho.
“Well, either way. They probably met some place random. The Three Broomsticks, I imagine.”
“The Three Broomsticks?” Cho’s eyebrows rose.
“Right. He was probably carrying butterbeer and she knocked right into him. He was going to apologize, but they looked into each others’ eyes – “
“That sounds so romantic,” Hannah fluttered, clasping her hands together.
“ – and realized how desperate they really were. And she leaped on him right then and began it all.”
“Broom closets and everything,” Padma said in a whisper, nodding with Alicia, having evidently forgotten that they were no longer in Hogwarts and therefore had no access to broom closets.
“A forbidden love affair.” Alicia said. The words subsided to nothingness.
Cho wished she had something exciting like that in her life to look forward to. A forbidden love affair. A tryst. All she had to be happy about was the sofa, some chocolate, and a warm shower…
“That sounds like so much work,” Hannah said, ever the pragmatist. “I mean, sneaking around, hiding things? You’d have to keep cleaning up after yourself. I don’t think it’d be at all worth the effort.”
As Alicia and Padma both broke into a peal of protests (“Why don’t you ever let us dream, Hannah?”) and the sun burst behind the clouds into a full spring bloom, Cho felt her smile growing wider. The day and its work had taken a toll on her. Her back was aching in more ways than countable and her hands were reddened, but it was just another office day. It was Padma and Alicia and Hannah. It was life, sometimes monotonous but unbroken in its ways. It was no ideal state, but it was the very oxygen of her days.
And finally, the great Malfoy Mystery of just-another-day drew to a close.
It was Lavender Brown in the Three Broomsticks with the butterbeer.
Hermione sighed. “Cho? What do you think we’re going to have to do now?”
Cho bit down her lip, brushing away dust from a page to squint down. The text was serpentine and barely legible. “I’m – um, I’m not sure. I thought you wanted to take this down to the Wizengamot? Or maybe speak to the Minister?”
“Well, yes, I suppose so…”
“You have connections with the Auror Department, right? Just get an Auror to bring it up in one of those joint meetings with Magical Law Enforcement and they can push it on to the Minister from there. I hope this is enough, though. It’s really just a long list of grievances.”
“We’ll have to begin somewhere,” said Hermione crisply. “And it’s rather more than anybody’s bothered to do before us in this Department, so I’m quite happy with our progress.”
She shut the book, rifled together the parchment and set it on a neat pile beside her desk. When Honoria Burbage had been overseeing the secretaries of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad, things had gone rather differently. There were papers drifting freely nearly everywhere and pictures of her smiling grandchildren lined the walls. The occasional scent of petunias and pastries lingered around the office, making it that much more difficult to concentrate.
But this was Hermione Granger.
The girl of their generation.
“So are you going to talk to the Auror Department about this?”
“I could ask Harry,” said Hermione slowly, sounding as though she were talking more to herself than anything, “though I’d really rather not. I doubt he’d be much in the mood for it after Ginny and – ”
She broke off abruptly, reddening.
“I – I shouldn’t’ve said that.”
“It’s not a big deal,” said Cho airily. “Most of the newspapers’ve probably guessed by now.”
Hermione nodded mutely. “But- but all the same, I’d rather you not – Harry doesn’t like it if I discuss these kinds of things with other people.”
“Oh no, I understand. He was like that too, even back in my sixth year. Rita Skeeter and all that.”
“You met Rita?” asked Hermione, sounding surprised. “Well, he might’ve mentioned it…vaguely…”
“It’s been a long time. A very long time. It doesn’t really matter anymore. We barely lasted through it as it was. It really doesn’t matter anymore.”
Hermione shot her a surprised look, which soon led way to a pacified smile. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. Well, either way, we’ve got loads to do and unless either of us fancies sitting through the night, we should plan on finishing.”
“I think you’re allergic to Theodore Nott.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Franny.”
“I’m not joking, Padma. You’ve been in hiding for like the last three days.”
“Go be annoying somewhere else, please. I’ve got enough work to tranquilize a Hippogriff, alright?”
Franny cleared her throat. “Why, what happened?”
“I asked Orla Quirke to send a materials list to Kuwait like the Minister requested and it ended up somewhere in Kenya instead! This’s a huge mess! I’ve got to resend everything and hope that Mrs. Marchbanks doesn’t bite my head off!”
“Fat chance of that happening. The old bat’s been gone for weeks. Sick with something, apparently.” Franny sniffed around hopefully. “Reckon she died?”
“What?! It’s being kind to her and to us! Nobody wants to end up that wrinkly and old! I’m wishing her the best, you see?”
Padma rolled her eyes. “Get back to work, please.”
Franny Folwell gave her a quelling look for one long minute. Then, to Padma’s enormous relief, she arose and began weaving her way past rubbish bins and parchment mountains back to her own desk. “Fine, I’m going.”
“But before I do,” said Franny, grinning, “Let me just do you a favor.”
“What - ?”
“Nott! Nott!” Franny was waving her hands into the air.
“What – what are you doing?!” Padma hissed as she slid under her desk.
“For Merlin’s sake, please stop!”
Finally, to Franny’s great success, Theodore Nott, seven desks down and two to the right, looked up curiously. Franny waved him over. “Miss Patil here’s had her Kuwait report botched up, as I’m sure you’ve heard. Would you mind helping her? It’s a big mess and the poor dear’s in over her head.”
He gave the duo a lost look. “Er – sure…but why me – ?”
Franny gave a radiant beam. “Thank you, you’re just lovely, you know that?” And with that, she left, ugly faux fur robes and all. As she turned the corner, she saw Padma’s horrible scowl and grinned happily.
There was a very pregnant pause.
“What am I supposed to be doing again?”
“You can go if you want,” said Padma dismissively. “It’s not a big problem or anything.”
“No, I can help.”
To Padma’s utter horror, the enigmatic, the highly irritating, the very suspect and annoyingly cordial Theodore Nott took a seat beside her.
She openly stared, slowly blinking to solidify the vision in front of her.
“So…what should I do?”
Padma blinked herself back down to earth, to the reality where the man sitting across was no longer a cross, sullen sixth year who had thrown a fit beside her in a Potions dungeon and blemished an otherwise detention-free, bedpan-free adolescence.
She coughed, then transferred a large pile of envelopes from her desk onto his open hands.
“Readdress these. You can start using new envelopes if you want or just siphon off the stamps. Be careful. The parchment tears really easily.”
A few minutes passed like that, in mind-numbing awkwardness. It was enough to warrant wanting to run out, screaming and cursing.
“Any particular reason why Folwell had me do this?”
Padma abruptly dropped the letter she had been folding. “Not really.”
There was another pause.
Awkward. Awkward. Awkward.
Padma could see Anthony and Franny laughing out of the corner of her eyes. Everywhere else, people were working diligently or talking animatedly to people who didn’t make them feel close to physically manifesting their embarrassment.
“So…” began Padma off-handedly, “um…sorry for the other day. Elevator.”
He waved the apology aside. “It’s fine.”
“Anthony’s an arse. I didn’t mean to nearly paralyze you, though.”
He grinned, though without looking up at her. “No problem.”
He was still surly, in an odd sort of way, though not nearly as much as he had been in Hogwarts. The usual deep set scowl and fiercely black robes and angry tone had been replaced by a casual disinterest in everything. Cordial. Always distant and cordial. It was a relief and thankfully bedpan-free.
It was strange how much things had changed. Unless of course -
“I’ve been wondering this for a bit,” she began again cautiously, “but do you remember me at all? From Hogwarts?”
“Bedpan girl? Of course I do,” he said, still not looking up. Padma reddened at the nickname of years past. What a miserable nickname. Named after bedpans. “I’m never going to forget those bedpans. How many d’you reckon we cleaned?”
“Like two hundred.”
“I thought so.”
“God, they were foul.”
“Weren’t they, though? I thought I was never going to get that smell out of my robes.”
“You would worry about your robes.”
He smiled weakly. “Well, that much hasn’t changed, I reckon. I’m surprised, though. You didn’t let on that you knew me at all. I thought maybe you’d forgotten, so I didn’t bring it up.”
Padma ripped off a stamp with ire and tossed it aside. “No, of course I didn’t forget. How does anyone forget something like that?”
“I couldn’t really think of a way to bring it up properly. How do I start? Well, do you remember me? I only gave you two weeks’ worth of detentions.”
There was a burst of laughter in the distance. They continued the weak, but mutual smiles.
“Have I changed much, Bedpan Girl?”
“Mr. Arsehole? Change? Never.”
“Now that’s unfair.”
“It’s completely fair.”
“I reckon I’ve changed.”
“For one, we haven’t yelled at each other. Or thrown anything. Even when you tried killing me on the elevator.”
“I wasn’t – I told you! – ” Padma broke off, flushed. “So lack of frog hearts flung equates what, precisely?”
“Hardly. As far as I remember, Mr. Arsehole of sixth year, I had the following checklist for you: rich – ”
“Nothing can be done about that,” said Theodore, huffing self-righteously. “Being rich isn’t a crime.”
“ – perpetually angry, perpetually sour, suffers tragic hole in sense of humor, has absolutely no wit, never does any of his share of our Potions projects, bickers, sore loser – ”
“Wow, you’re more bitter than I’d anticipated.”
“Go to hell! I cleaned bedpans because of you!”
“As I recall, you chucking three Bezoars and half of a Swelling Solution at my head was what did us in. Particularly as most of it ended up on that poor bloke beside me.”
“Of course you would blame my aim.”
The conversation had become entirely too familiar too fast. For a few moments, Padma returned happily to sixth year, to bubbly conversations in Potions dungeons in front of a vast, blooming, unknown future under coveted spring sunshine.
Nott cleared his throat and went back to working.
After a few minutes of silence, Padma said quietly, “I suppose you have changed. What happened?”
He shrugged. “Nothing special. Grew up. You?”
“I – I guess I did too. Somewhere along the way. What a tragedy.”
“I don’t see it that way. Bedpans and all.”
Padma smiled. “Thanks, Nott.”
“Just be grateful I’m not still calling you Mr. Arsehole,” she muttered.
Cho left Hermione’s office, groaning under the weight of what seemed like a thousand hour day. The travails of a workday were seemingly endless and most definitely worth at least a few moments of mental immaturity.
As soon as she exited the office into the general office, however, she realized she was not alone. Tom and Genevieve had left a little while ago, leaving her alone with –
“Er – is Hermione out yet?”
Cho resisted the maddening urge to flatten herself under her desk. She stared at her feet, attempting to will the disgusting blush spreading on her face to nothingness. “Um. No, no she isn’t.”
She looked up briefly, met the very green eyes of Harry Potter (she’d forgotten how green they had been – bright, bright green, as bright as a cold star).
“Do you know when she’ll be done?”
“Probably soon. She’s finishing up a few last minute things.”
“Can I go in?”
“If you want to. I think she’d prefer it if you didn’t. It’s a bit of a mess in there.”
He sighed and Cho hovered nervously over her desk, unsure of whether to sit in his presence or continue standing.
Well. This was going well.
But to her relief, he took a seat in Tom’s empty chair and stared off past her, into the white wall. Harry Potter. The Boy Who Lived. She hadn’t properly seen him since the War and even that – that had been at a safe distance. He looked tired these days, haggard and older than she had ever remembered him being. His face was newly wan and he gave Cho and imperceptible, tired stare, before deadpanning back to the wall.
It was odd to remember that she was older than him.
“Er…you look well…” he began off-handedly.
Cho blushed, then managed a weak smile. “Thank you. So do you.”
The last part sounded so insincere that even he managed to brush it off with a sour sort of grin. “Yeah, thanks. Having the time of my life here.”
What could one say to an ex-boyfriend of nearly three years?
“How’ve you been?”
“Fine,” he said, still not caring enough to properly face her.
“Oh,” she murmured. “That’s good.”
“How’s working with Hermione?”
“She’s – um, she’s very – smart.”
“And she has big plans for the Department, so it’s been very exciting, I suppose.”
“Good, good.” Still not meeting her, still saying it as uncaringly as possible. The distance between two people sitting beside each other was horrifyingly wide and awkward, wrenched open further by the echoes of time and faded memories.
He looked miserable.
Truly, properly miserable.
Odd. He’d gotten everything she supposed a person could want coming out of a war. Happiness, friends, safety, wealth, fame…
And yet, here they were.
A short distance away, Cho could hear Hermione hurriedly stuffing papers inside her desk.
“I should go,” she muttered as way of exit. “Sorry…”
Cho arose, weaved past the small clutter of books and parchment around Harry’s desk. She looked wordlessly out of the door, before sparing him a final backwards glance. He was rubbing his face with his hands. Without his glasses, he looked so much younger.
She quietly put a hand on his shoulder.
“Good luck, Harry. I’ll see you around.”
And to the confused expression on his face, she offered a familiar, soft smile, before running out the office doors and past them into the night.
Alicia closed the door to her flat and looked out at the cramped inside of her flat.
It wasn’t as nice as the flat the other three shared. It was smaller – only one bedroom, a pitiful excuse of a kitchen and the room that masqueraded itself as a loo.
Really, she was lucky that she’d even found Hannah, Cho and Padma as neighbors. If it weren’t for the Saturday mornings bickering over breakfast or the Tuesday evenings lost in Firewhiskey, this place would be rather dismal.
It was a typical muggle flat complex – doors, flats, winding stairs that led to a concrete courtyard. Past the small courtyard was a field that led straight to the skyline and the dots of a city in the distance.
April was fading away to the early newness of May, which meant fireflies orbiting the grass like tiny planets. Nebulas of swirling green tendrils. Galaxies of tumbling weeds and mushrooms and hopping frogs and wispy butterflies. A cosmos of an existence.
Alicia wasn’t the poetic type; things like that were better left with Cho or Padma, she thought ruefully as she scanned the inside of an empty refrigerator.
She flopped down onto a lopsided sofa, took a large bite out of some stale bread, still not bothering to remove her high heels inside her house. She turned on the muggle radio her mum’d gifted her and listened for a few idle moments to the mechanized crooning of a woman she would never see.
It was boring being muggle-born.
Alicia squinted ruefully across the sofa at a slightly crumpled photo she kept of her family. One mum, one dad, two younger sisters, herself, and her baby brother all crinkled into a small frame. It was an ordinary muggle photo, taken on some forgettable day at the seaside. Her mum worked in a fabric store and was wearing one of her ridiculous, flowery hats again. Her dad was a greengrocer and was standing beside her, his arms around Alicia and her sister. Her two sisters had been bickering that day about something long forgotten. Her brother was still in their mum’s hands.
But this was the past.
The present was an empty flat and an equally empty wallet and stomach.
She didn’t want either of this to be her future.
The future was meant to be more. It was meant to be more than the comfort of her past. She’d been the first in the family to be a witch and she’d someday be the first to pin all her dreams among the stars. There was coddling and familiarity and comfort.
And then, there was adventure. There was purpose. There was gratification and ideals and accomplishment. And most of all, there were dreams.
How many times had she given herself this talk?
Alicia nodded at herself in exasperation and set her eyes on her clock. Some lyrics were pouring forth from the radio and Alicia let them fill the sounds of her evening as she watched another evening pass onto the distant promise of a gleaming future.
Author's Note: And Harry/Cho hits the road...kind of?
I hope you guys liked this chapter! I haven't gotten much feedback lately, which is a bit saddening, but I hope that you've enjoyed this story so far. It's got about 5 chapters left in it, so we're nearing a climax of sorts.
With that in mind, I hope you'll review this chapter letting me know what you thought of it so far! Thanks for reading!
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