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Chapter 3 : The Ministry
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The path was familiar under my feet. I had come this way many times before, but this time, it was different. I was not walking through on the cobblestones as a visitor, but as an employee.
It hadn’t taken long for me to agree to the proposal sent by the French Ministry of Magic. They offered me a place in their offices, to be a part of their team of Hit Wizards. Not only that, but I was also offered a position high in their ranks. I would not start on the bottom, but close to the top. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised. I had come to this Ministry more than any other, met with nearly all of their top officers, and in time, I had come to teach them tricks of my own. Those I had learned while abroad. Nobody could say that I didn’t have the proper training required to join these elite forces.
And it only got better. The Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement here personally offered me Henri as my secretary. I’d work in close contact with him. And I think it was this that finally persuaded me to stay.
I walked towards the Cathedral, side stepping tourists that awaited its opening. I wasn’t actually going to the Notre Dame, though. Instead, I turned a corner and crossed another bridge to the next island. It wasn’t far now. Just around the next bend lay a small ice cream shop. Muggles near and far wondered why their ice cream tasted so much better than any other. There was always a line snaking around the shop, but I had no need for that. Instead, I walked straight to the back of the shop where a dirty, decrepit staircase led down to what appeared to be a storeroom.
I knew better. I began to descend the stairs, pulling out my wand as I did so and counting carefully. One…two…three… At thirteen, I stopped and turned, facing the wall. A small engraving of a circle with an “F” in it sat at eye level. I tapped it, then took a step back, waiting patiently. The circle flashed red for a brief second, before a door appeared. I pulled it open and took a step inside, feeling a new sense of belonging.
I no longer had to wear a visitor’s badge or have my wand checked. Finally, after eight years, I had a job.
I felt like this should be some huge occasion. I should feel different. It was my first ever job, after all, and not many people can say their first job was a high position in a team of Hit Wizards. And in a way, I did feel different. But in so many other ways, I felt exactly the same. I shook that thought out of my mind. It wasn’t important.
Slowly, I made my way up three flights of stairs. They did have elevators at the Ministry, but the things went three times faster than the ones at the English ministry. They were bloody dangerous. I had no wish to fall to my death, so I stuck to the stairs every time I was here. I was amazed to see how little effect the stairs had on me, too. When I first came here, I would have to stop for at least five minutes when I was done climbing to catch my breath. Now, I could sprint all three flights and barely break a sweat. It was all the training I had been through. I was in top-knotch physical condition, like any other Hit Wizard.
“Will!” Henri’s voice greeted me as I stepped climbed the last few stairs and into the offices. “I’m so glad you accepted! Wait till you see your office; it’s ‘uge! And all done up for you! It even ‘as a window looking out onto the Seine. Oh, and I ‘ave a present for you.”
My face broke into a grin. This was really going to be the best part. Not many people can say they work with their friends, and knowing Henri and I, we’d probably end up playing cards half the time. And we’d be without his wife too. I knew that I should be happy for him, but I couldn’t help but feel strange around her. It was no fault of hers, really, but I felt as though she intruded upon the bond me and Henri had formed.
“A present, you say? Well, I want to see that! But if it’s anything like your honking daffodils, get them away from me.”
Henri simply tossed a package at me, and I caught it easily. It was heavier than I thought, but quite small. I ripped the brown paper off to find a red and blue book.
“A dictionary?” I said incredulously. “Why the hell did you get me a dictionary, out of all things?”
“It isn’t just any dictionary,” Henri said calmly. “It’s a French-English dictionary. I figured zat if you’re going to be working ‘ere, you better at least know some French.”
“Henri? Are you feeling okay? You actually had… a good idea.”
He blushed. “So you like it?”
“Well, I can’t say I’m going to enjoy it much, but it’s most definitely necessary.”
“They’re going to get a proper translator in ‘ere too, and a lot of the employees speak English, but I figured it’d be good to ‘ave.”
“It is. So where’s this huge office you mentioned?”
Life at the Ministry was both different and alike what I had expected. In some ways, it didn’t even feel like a job. I hadn’t been sent out on any real missions yet, and was instead doing some detective work in the office, but everyone was laughing and joking like old friends. I couldn’t understand half the humor, especially as Henri’s dictionary had unfortunately not included French swear words, but the laughter was infectious. I could never have anticipated this part. I had envisioned sitting around a large table, looking at maps and interrogating prisoners. And though we did have a small bit of that, the feel was much different.
Though I hadn’t gone through the official training procedures, all of the hit wizards did have to attend training sessions each month, to keep on top of things. We usually had fake duels, which turned out to actually be entertaining. I was reminded of the disastrous dueling club back in my second year, when the prat, Lockhart, had been teaching. But the wizards here were masters, and it became an effort to block the spells and come out on top.
For the first few weeks, I lost often. I hated that. I wanted to be the best. But by the fourth training session, I managed to disarm my opponent. After that, a loss for me was rare.
Still, I was itching to get and do a real mission. Find some criminal and bring him in. That was what the job was all about, after all. And there was only so much time I could stand sitting behind a desk. I had moved around so much, that it seemed strange to be sitting behind a desk for the majority of my day.
And after three months had passed, I found myself getting irritable. I needed to get out, go somewhere else, meet someone new. My temper became short, my tone sharp.
But it was Henri that finally convinced me to do something about it.
“Do you have to close the door so loudly when you come in?” I said, annoyed, one day in early March. I didn’t even glance up from the papers I was reading through. Only Henri ever came in without knocking.
He didn’t even flinch, too used to my new moodiness to care any longer.
“I mean,” I continued, “Can’t you see I’m concentrating on something. And when you slam the door like that, I lose everything I was trying to remember. But-”
At this, Henri finally broke. “Will, you ‘ave been acting like zis for a few days now. What’s going on?”
I gritted my teeth. “I’m fine. Can’t you see that?”
“No, you’re not fine.” He said simply, placing the stack of papers he had been carrying on my desk. “Somezing is bozzering you. Do you not like your job?”
“My job is fine. Stuck behind a desk all day. Who wouldn’t like it?”
“So that’s what it is. You’re not used to being in one place zis long. Well, ‘ave you ever thought about asking for a mission?”
I looked up for the first time, slightly surprised. “You can ask?”
“Sure. People volunteer to go on jobs all ze time.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“I assumed zat you did.”
I stood up, a weight seeming to be lifted off my chest. I could finally get out of this damn Ministry building.
Straightening my tie, I gave Henri a grudging smile and walked briskly from my office, intending to go straight to the Head of Department. He, too, spoke English, unlike a lot of my superiors, so I found it easiest to go straight to him a lot of the time. I very nearly barged right into his office in my haste, but common sense caught up with me, and I raised my hand to knock at the last moment.
“Venez,” came a voice from inside. I turned the doorknob, recognizing the word. I had managed to learn a few common ones in my time at the Ministry, and I had heard “venez” enough to know it meant “come”.
Pierre Laurence, Head of the Department, looked up from a file he was reading when I entered. He seemed only mildly surprised to see me.
“Ah, Monsieur Smith. What brings you ‘ere today?”
I took a deep breath, deciding to go straight to the point. “I would like to go on a mission, Sir.”
His expression did not change. “Is zat so? And what makes you zink you are qualified for ze job?”
I tried to hide my look of surprise, as I struggled to find a quick answer. “I was hired in a high position, Sir, and I have been working here for three months now. During which time, my skills with a wand have more than doubled, and I have brought many new strategies to your team. I believe I am fully ready to go out into the field.”
“And are you aware zat most officials work for six months to a year before zey are able to be a field agent?”
My eyes widened slightly. I couldn’t wait another three months. I’d go mad behind that desk. My brain whirred as I formulated my next answer. I had to convince him to let me go out. “No, Sir, I was not aware of that. However, most officials are not hired in a position such as the one I am currently in.”
At this, Laurence threw his head back and laughed. “You are an eloquent speaker, Smith, I will give you zat. And it just so ‘appens zat I was planning to send for you later today, in any case. I have a mission zat I zink you will enjoy.”
I breathed a sigh of relief, though I was slightly annoyed at the man for worrying me that much. I relaxed considerably as he ushered me to sit down in front of him. He pushed the file he had been looking at across the table, though he closed it so I could not see the contents.
“As you may know, ze English and French ministries are very close to one another. We often provide support for zem, as much a zey often provide support for us. And right now, ze English ministry would like our ‘elp. Since you are English, Smith, I zink you are ze perfect man for ze job.”
I could feel the color drain from my face. My arms went rigid, my fingers squeezing the sides of the chair so tightly that they turned blood red. I wouldn’t, no, I couldn’t go back to England. The very thought of it nearly brought me to screams.
“No,” I said, not even bothering to keep a polite tone. “I will not, I cannot. Please. Send me anywhere but there.”
Laurence’s eyes flashed. I could sense his eyes roaming over my face, but my own were fixed onto his. I could feel my flesh burn when he finally met my eyes. The eyes that weren’t even the steely grey that marked me. They weren’t even my own. I had forgotten about my old life. I had no desire to go back to it. And even if I did, the pain of my identity would destroy me. I could feel it.
“And why is zat?” He finally said quietly.
“I left England for a reason,” I said brusquely. A small part of my brain told me to calm down, to speak politely to the man who held my fate in his hands. But it was a pebble amongst the vast ocean of my thoughts, and was quickly swept up and carried away. “I’m not going back.”
Laurence studied me again. I took several deep breaths, trying to calm myself. My fingers relaxed slightly, but my muscles stayed taught.
“Very well. I will not force you to go. But keep this in mind. I ‘ave many more, ‘igher ranked members I can send on zis mission. I was doing you a favor by asking you. If you choose not to take it, I can personally guarantee that zis will be your last opportunity for several months.”
I felt lost. Either way, I was sure to lose my head. I stood up, my legs moving seemingly of their own accord.
“Thank you. I just… I just need to think about it. Can I tell you by the end of the day?”
Laurence dipped his head slowly. “Choose wisely.”
Back in my own office, I locked the door and leaned against the heavy wood, panting. Slowly, I slid down until I was sitting on the floor, my face in my hands.
I couldn’t do this. I’d have to quit. It was the only option. I’d have to go back to my old life, constantly moving around. Though it wouldn’t be the same. My reputation would be tarnished. William Smith, the man who left the French Ministry with no reason at all. I’d have to face the question “why” wherever I went. And I had no real answer, none I could give, anyway. Three distinct paths to follow formed in my mind, each worse than the last. I could stay here, enclosed in this room, slowly going mad. I could leave, but face the questioning looks and the loss of respect. Or I could go to England, where the weight of my identity would destroy me.
I groaned loudly, knowing I had just acted like an idiot in front of Laurence on top of everything else. For a brief moment, my façade had slipped, revealing the not-entirely-healed man underneath. It showed me just how fragile my persona was. One comment out of place, and my entire world would fall apart. I had managed to keep myself in control for so long. Going back to England would ruin it.
Would it really?
A small voice echoed in the back of my mind.
You’re the man who survived a Wizarding War. You’ve been through more in one year than most of these people have in a lifetime. And yet you can’t go back to England. You can’t face people you’ve known for years with a new face. No one will know it’s you, just like the past eight years. Nothing will be different. Simply the location will change. What do you mean you can’t do it? There’s nothing about it that’s impossible to do.
I toyed with the idea. I was strong. I had kept this face on for eight years. I wasn’t going to show fear at the idea of this. I would meet it head on, and I would show myself that I could do anything. England would be the final test.
Before I could change my mind, I rose from the floor and strode back to Laurence’s office. Each step seemed to inject me with more confidence, until I nearly bounced, my head held high. I raised a hand to knock, but the door swung open before I had a chance.
Laurence looked at me expectantly.
“Yes,” I breathed. “I accept the mission. I will go to England.”
A/N: It’s anecdote time! So the ice cream shop I mentioned here is actually a place I’ve been to… sort of. There is an ice cream shop with the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted located on one of the islands in France. I stumbled across it when I was visiting a few years ago. (Though I can’t for the life of me remember the name) But what really stood out to me was the flavors. They had some pretty strange ones, with even stranger names. It reminded me of Florean Flortescue’s. So when I needed a place to enter the French Ministry, this came to mind. If you ever got a chance to go, check it out and see if I’m right :P
But I hoped you enjoyed the chapter! It was my favorite to write so far, and even though nothing much has happened yet, I promise we have some action coming soon. There’s still a huge plot to be discovered, and the next chapter is a big turning point. I have to tell you all, I am AMAZED at the reaction I’ve gotten from this! Thank you so much to everyone who’s read and reviewed, and I hope you’ll continue to do so. And because I love you all so much, here’s a preview of the next chapter.
“It’s about a former Death Eater. You might be familiar with him? His name is Lucius Malfoy.”
Thoughts? Predictions? Stay tuned…
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