Chapter 1 : One
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They were perfect for each other, meant for each other, all along – and, in the back of their minds, they knew it from the very beginning. The first time they met, they reached into each other’s hearts and plucked at the strings.
And his music would resound through her, and hers through him, until they met again.
It was a hot afternoon in late August.
Linnet’s arms were growing numb under the weight of the many books that she had, as usual, waited until the last minute to buy. Frustrated, she wandered around Flourish and Blott’s, searching for the last book on her list. The staff was completely negligent – Linnet hadn’t even received a “good afternoon” when she’d walked into the shop. Finally, she managed to hunt down one of the workers, a tall, dark-haired boy who had been slouching around the shop, quietly observing the customers without actually helping anybody.
“Would you mind helping me?” Linnet asked him sharply, knowing fully that she must look ridiculous. The stack of books in her arms was practically twice her height.
“Sorry,” he said, fumbling awkwardly with the books as he took them from her. “You are ready to pay?”
His voice was awkward, too – coated with a thick, Russian accent, it stumbled over the English words.
“No,” Linnet said, irritated. “I’m looking for The Standard Book of Spells, Grade Seven. And I have to say, I’d appreciate it if you’d organize this place a bit. I’ve been searching around for hours.”
The Russian grinned. “It is in front of you.”
A few feet in front of her stood an entire shelf dedicated to The Standard Book of Spells, grades one through seven. Linnet blushed, snatching one of the books from the shelf.
“You are ready to pay?” repeated the Russian.
“Yes,” grumbled Linnet.
He talked to her as he waved his wand around, wrapping up the books by magic. His English might have been awkward, but his spellwork was beautiful; the parchment and ribbons seemed to dance around the books, to caress them.
“My mama sends me to London,” he told Linnet cheerfully. The way he spoke was both friendly and childish. His clumsy smile radiated a strange, boyish charm that Linnet had never encountered before. “I am good at magic, I will find good job, she says. London, it is big, not like Alatyr. And the Muggles, when you see them, they wear very strange things. In Alatyr, they wear very simple things.”
He looked up at Linnet, who smiled weakly.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“Linnet Abercrombie,” she told him.
“I am Alexei Leonidovich Stanislavski,” he said, handing her the parcel, which he had shrunk for her.
“Thanks,” said Linnet. “Thanks, Alexei.”
“Come again, Miss Abercrombie,” he replied cheerfully.
Linnet sighed as the elevator stopped for what must have been the fiftieth time and several more people stumbled inside the already-packed elevator.
Of course Linnet was stuck in the back.
She hated visits to the Ministry; it was so damn crowded. And the people were always so rude (the men were sexist egomaniacs and the women were psychotic bitches). It had been twenty minutes since she’d arrived, and she’d already had her foot stepped on, her robes sneered at, her hair criticized, and her ass ogled at.
In short, it was not a good day.
She tapped her foot anxiously.
She was supposed to be interviewing the new Head of the Department of Mysteries. Not only was he sure to be a man – which would, no doubt, mean more ogling and possible attempted sweet talk – he was rumored to be extremely young, handsome, and foreign. So he was bound to be even more confident and self-absorbed than the usual wankers. Even if he had been eighty – how were you supposed to interview an Unspeakable?!
Answer: you weren’t.
This was why Linnet hated working for the Prophet: her boss was always sticking her with the stupidest assignments possible on the pretense that she was “helping to expand Linnet’s horizons.” Linnet didn’t buy it – she knew Padma just liked to watch her struggle.
Finally, the elevator reached the Department of Mysteries. Linnet pushed through the crowd of people and stumbled out into an empty hallway, gasping for breath. She straightened her robes, pushed back her hair, and looked up just in time to see the elevator doors sliding shut again.
Good riddance, she thought angrily.
“Hello,” said a voice behind her.
Linnet turned around. A tall man with a handsome, angular face and neat, dark hair was smiling serenely down at her with his arm extended. Linnet frowned as she shook his hand – she was sure that she had seen him somewhere before.
“I’m surprised to see you here, Miss…”
“Abercrombie,” said Linnet. “Er… sorry, but how exactly do we know each other?”
“I worked at Flourish and Blott’s,” said the man. “Four years ago. You’re the girl who was having trouble finding what was right in front of her.”
Linnet’s lips parted into a small O. “You’re… But your English is so much better!”
The man’s grin widened. “No kidding.”
Alexei. The name came back to her suddenly, with a crinkle of parchment and a flash of yellow binding. He had changed since that day, though Linnet. Some of the awkwardness was gone. He seemed more confident, more mature.
“Well, my office is through here,” said Alexei, turning and starting off down the hallway toward a large, black door that swung open for him. The office was beautifully decorated – there was even a window with an artificial view of mountain scenery.
“Would you prefer a beach?” asked Alexei politely, waving his wand at the window. As Linnet watched, the terrain evened out, turning gritty. Before she knew it, she was looking out at a pristine beach with white sand, crisp blue waves, and a lovely pink sunset.
“You’re the new Head of the Department of Mysteries?” said Linnet.
Alexei shrugged, sinking into one of the large, white armchairs in the corner of the spacious office, and motioned for Linnet to sit down, too.
“I started at the Ministry just after we met,” he told her. “And they kept on promoting me – practically every other month I had a new job.”
Linnet whipped a roll of parchment and her Quick Quotes Quill out of her robes. Her quill was worn out from years of use – she’d had it since her Hogwarts days. Unlike normal Quick Quotes Quills, Linnet’s quill simply wrote what it heard, without embellishment.
“Are you happy with your position now, or do you think you’ll keep climbing?” asked Linnet.
Alexei frowned. “It’s hard to say. I’m satisfied for now. If something better comes along, I’ll take it.”
Linnet nodded as the quill zoomed across the parchment. “What about your background? What were you doing before you came to England?”
“I lived in Alatyr, a town in Russia,” said Alexei, smiling. “I was never very ambitious. I went to school at Durmstrang, and then I worked at a book shop until my mother sent me away.”
Linnet remembered the smile he had given her years back as he told her about his “mama.” His old Russian accent still shone through the English words, but it was less prominent, and he spoke more properly. Linnet supposed that his four years of Ministry work had been responsible for the change. She looked down at her notes – she was supposed to be asking him about his experiences working with Terry Boot, a prominent Unspeakable, but she wasn’t interested in that, anymore.
“What’s your town like?” she asked shyly.
“Alatyr? It is beautiful,” Alexei told her, leaning in. “Right on the river. There are trees everywhere, and old white buildings… It’s all very different in the city.”
“What are the people like?” asked Linnet, trying to picture the white and green town.
“They’re the best people in the world,” said Alexei. “There was a woman – Polina Maximovna – who would sit on a bench every day, feeding the birds. There were always flocks of children around her, asking to have some bread so they could feed the birds, too –” Alexei laughed “-but is this what we’re supposed to be talking about?”
“Er…no, as a matter of fact,” admitted Linnet, blushing. “Let’s see… Tell me about your experience working with Terry Boot in the Department of Mysteries. I understand there was quite a scandal when he left.”
Alexei launched into a response, and Linnet listened, enjoying the light accent and the animated expressions on his face. He hadn’t really changed after all, she decided – he’d just grown up a bit. She asked him several more work-related questions, and then declared herself satisfied.
“Thanks for your time, Mr. Stan-lava-skii,” she said, trying and failing to sound professional.
Alexei chuckled. “Alexei is fine.”
Linnet smiled bashfully and turned to go.
In the doorframe, Linnet swiveled around again. Alexei had followed her to the door. He was blushing faintly, and had his hands in his pockets.
“This isn’t strictly professional, but…” Alexei moved in closer to Linnet. His right hand suddenly escaped from his pocket and flew through the air, coming to a rest against the back of Linnet’s neck. With his left hand still in his pocket, he leaned down and kissed her.
A casual kiss.
But one that sent a hot surge of energy throughout Linnet’s body.
Alexei let go of Linnet, who felt a stupid grin spreading over her face. Her mind was buzzing happily, like a fuzzy yellow bumblebee. That, thought Linnet, was how a kiss was supposed to make you feel.
“Thank you for your time, Alexei,” she said, stumbling out of the office.
“Any time, Miss Abercrombie,” he called after her.
On the elevator ride back to the Atrium, Linnet felt like somebody had cast a Cheering Charm on her. She couldn’t stop humming.
Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed this chapter! I’m not sure how many more I’ll be writing, but the story should end up being around 4-5 chapters long!