The rolled up newspaper landed on James’ desk with a heavy thud, sending little coffee droplets flying out of his mug and interrupting his conversation with the ever-beautiful Sophia Hynes. Glaring, James looked up, fully prepared to launch into one of the extensive verbal attacks that had become his forte, but instead found himself looking into Tom Johnson’s grinning face.
“Well, if it isn’t the prodigal Tom,” he laughed and all traces of anger vanished. He jumped out of his seat and the two men hugged in as macho a way as was possible, ignoring their companion. After a good deal of back-slapping and grinning, Tom sent a meaningful look in Sophia’s direction and, with a sniff and a last flutter of her eyelashes, she left her perch on the edge of James’ desk and exited the glass cubicle.
“Did you show the Aurors a thing or two? Wish I’d seen Dad’s face when you pitched up as the hired help,” James continued and Tom sat down in a chair and leaned back, hands clasped behind his head and looking the picture of contentment. He looked around casually; in the six months since he’d left the cubicle, nothing much had changed. His desk was in the same place, a mountain of paperwork on top of it, and even the Table Quidditch game that he and James had been playing since Third Year was still in the corner, gathering dust from lack of use.
“Don’t call me ‘hired help’- makes me feel like a girl of questionable intentions down in Soho-“
“-which you’d know all about.”
“Aurors live in such a different world. You forget how dependent you come to be on the little things- like coffee percolators. Coffee from a wand just doesn’t taste the same,” Tom said slowly, smiling at the interruption. “Your dad wasn’t there much now that Ted’s taken over but he dropped in from time to time. I was the last person on earth they expected to see- could’ve knocked Ted down with a feather.”
“Ah well, he still thinks of you as the chubby kid with a gap-tooth smile.”
“That was puppy fat, it went after a year.”
“Of strenuous dieting. And anyway, First Year is what everyone remembers you for.”
“Which would explain why everyone thinks you’re a tosser. Oh wait, that’s because you didn’t do anything to contradict that view,” Tom retorted and James clasped a hand over his heart as though he’d been physically wounded.
“You do know how to hurt a man, don’t you, Johnson? And didn’t I get Quidditch Captain and Head Boy?”
“Only because Al was ineligible,” Tom said quickly and although James glared at him, he grinned cheekily. He’d missed his best friend; six months without banter and in the company of Ricki McLaggen was enough to make a man loopy. He didn’t voice the thought because it was sentimental and, as a rule, James and Tom didn’t do sentiments. “Anyway, I didn’t just bring the paper to get rid of Hynes, who, you should know, already has two boyfriends and is playing one off against the other.”
“Charming,” James muttered and he ran a hand through his hair. He needed a haircut and a girlfriend who would still be interested in him if he was James Brown and not James Potter.
“Read the message and then get a move on because you’ve got competition. Meanwhile, I’ve got to go and get ten Galleons off Patrick. He said I wouldn’t make two weeks in the esteemed Auror department and I made the whole six months. If you’re still sane at the end of the day, we’ll go and get hammered and you can tell me what I’ve missed,” Tom promised and he left the cubicle whistling the tune of some obscure Muggle song.
Rolling his eyes, James reached for the paper and as lifted his feet up onto the desk surface. A night out with Tom was infinitely better than a night out with Al and Louis- for one thing, there were fewer awkward questions at the monthly family lunch. Besides, the latest results of the office ‘Who’s Hotter’ poll showed that James was the slightly better looking of the pair; his pulling power was all the greater when he wasn’t competing for attention with a First League Quidditch player and a male Veela. Whistling himself now, James unrolled the paper and cast his eye down the front page. There was nothing of particular interest there, a story about the latest political mishap that James had known about for the last week; and a typically vapid article about the state of Britain these days by none other than Felicity Skeeter, who, for some inexplicable reason, had chosen her mother’s maiden name as her work name.
What did catch James’ attention, though, was a small sheet of white paper that fluttered onto his lap when he opened the paper up. It was no bigger than his palm and yet its message made James still bolt upright, knocking his mug of coffee over in the process. He re-read it once again, made a copy and set fire to the original in the fireplace, as protocol dictated. Without a backwards glance, he raced out of the glass cubicle and across the floor towards the great oak doors at the end, ignoring Sophia’s flirtatious questions and the confused looks sent his way. This one would be his.
He paused at the double doors to knock hurriedly; he had no idea where Tom was but thanks could wait. A short reply came from within and James opened the doors and slipped in. Back in his office, only a few words could be made out on the smouldering piece of paper in the grate.
GRINGOTTS… THEFT… PLATES…
… AMERICAN FEDERAL RESERVES… MILLIONS…
SUSPECTED INVOLVEMENT OF HOLDEN…
The headquarters of the Central Agency of Magical Intelligence, or CAMI for short and the stuff of eternal amusement for its employees, was in fact located on Floor Two of the office building but a higher floor meant greater seniority and so it came to be that the real nucleus of the Agency was Floor Eight. Eighters, as the lucky few were known, had a distinct look about them; you wouldn’t confuse an Eighter with a Seven, even though there was only one floor’s difference between the two. Sevens wore suits because it was expected of them; Eighters wore whatever the hell they wanted to, but suits were popular because they were well aware of how they looked in them and because there was never an occasion when a well-cut, five-hundred Galleon suit was inappropriate. Entrance to CAMI was strictly by invitation only; no amount of bribery or name-dropping would buy an invite. You had to be exceptional to get beyond the reception at Floor Two; exceptional was average on Floor Eight. You had to be magnificent. Assuming you joined CAMI at 18, promotion from Two to Seven took an average of 8 years. Promotion from Seven to Eight could take another 5; the remarkable few could go from Two to Eight in 7 years. Sophia had done it in 6; James and Tom had done it in 4.
And so, James was certain that the job would be his. He was special and everyone knew it. Moore would be a fool not to assign him. As he stepped beyond the threshold, into a spacious room with dark oak panelling and duck-egg blue walls, James felt his confidence falter. Over-confidence, he had always been told, would be the death of him and suddenly he was afraid that today would be that day of judgement.
General Moore sat imperiously behind his oak desk, a eighty year old man of remarkable fitness and intellectual prowess. His three-piece suit was ironed crisply; the corner of his folded pocket handkerchief so sharp it could cut glass. His moral stance was fixed; ‘at all costs’ seemed to be his personal motto and, although questionable, the Agency had gone from strength to strength under his leadership. The circumstances of his departure from MI6 weren’t clear, even by the standards of the British not-so-Secret Service, but whatever had led to it, his time there had clearly left quite an impression on him: he despised foreigners, insisted on all Agency employees carrying wands as well as handguns and had relocated the entire Agency from a building whose exterior was made primarily of glass to one made of grey stone.
Moore was gruff, difficult to please and notoriously sarcastic; for whatever reason, he was fond of James but he had taken an instant dislike to Albus when he had come to the Agency for his primary tests, a feeling that had been mutual. He had invited James into the room in his usual curt way and was now appraising him from across the desk.
“Colonel Potter,” he started and James’ stomach did little somersaults. It was customary for Agency employees to address each other in this manner but the people James most spoke to just used his first name; he couldn’t help but feel nervous as Moore looked at him with cool grey eyes. “You think you can just waltz in here and get an assignation?”
“That’s what I’d go to Soho for, sir,” James quipped and the words left his mouth before he could stop them. Colouring slightly, he ran a hand through his hair and balled his hands into fists so tightly that his knuckles turned white. “No, sir. I came to you because it’s procedure. I can’t just go off on my own.”
At this, Moore snorted. “Hasn’t stopped you in the past, has it, boy?”
“No, sir, and I daresay I’ll do it again someday. But I like to think I’ve matured a little since then,” James ventured and Moore actually smiled.
“James Potter, mature? I doubt it. You’ve got spunk, boy, and that marks you out from the rest. Everyone in this building is exceptional; very few of them have the attitude to match. You do and it’s as much a curse as it is a blessing. Why do you want this case in particular?”
Something was going on outside the door and James couldn’t tell if the cries were happy or something more serious. “I suppose if I start looking into it, the goblins might not be so inclined to think that a Potter’s broken into Gringotts again? Wouldn’t be the first time. In truth, sir, this one is big and I want in. Tom- Colonel Johnson- got sent off on a big one and I reckon now’s my time,” James finished confidently.
There was a long silence once James had finished speaking. Moore largely ignored him and the scratching of his ink pen against the sheets of paper spread out on his desk was all that broke up the noiseless void. Finally, he sighed heavily and pressed a little button by the inkwell. The oak door swung open behind James.
“I was going to assign you before you came rushing in here, Colonel. But you’re not going alone. Colonel Dunlop will be going with you,” Moore said and James was filled with a mixture of dread and excitement. Merryn Dunlop. Various words, some he wouldn’t dare speak in front of Moore, were swirling round inside his head. He swivelled round in his chair and there she was, silhouetted against the light from the main room. She walked in, sat down in the empty chair besides him and James heard himself suck in breath.
“Beautiful as ever, Merryn,” he said with a grin but Merryn narrowed her eyes at him. She was, though; she was utterly beautiful in a powder blue short suit, crisp white shirt and tan moccasins. She was beautiful with only a slick of red lipstick on, even if those same lips were shaped into a scowl.
“Watch yourself, Potter, and I might be convinced not to kill you,” she said shortly and James chuckled.
“How many times have I heard that,” he said quietly. “If I had a knut for each time, I might be able to buy another copy of the signed limited edition Grindylows album you walked off with all those years ago.”
“Would you feel any better if I told you I smashed it into tiny pieces that night? Didn’t think so,” Merryn smiled sweetly at James’s shell-shocked face but before he could reply, Moore cleared his throat loudly.
“Well, if you two are done catching up,” he said gruffly and both Merryn and James sat up a little straighter in their chairs. “You know what you have to do. Get down to Floor One for equipment and get out. Oh, and Colonel Dunlop- see that you find yourself some suitable office attire. You aren't on the Upper East Side anymore.” With that, his attention was diverted back to the documents on his desk and James and Merryn left quickly and quietly.
Tom met them outside Moore’s office; every pair of eyes on the Floor was focused on the three of them as they walked to the lifts. Merryn strode purposefully ahead, leaving James and Tom to exchanged grins and hand gestures behind her.
“Looks like the A team is back together for the moment,” Tom said gleefully as they waited for the lift. James and Merryn turned to stare at him. “Well, it’s more like the IQ team nowadays.”
The lift doors opened and Merryn walked in first, not bothering to hold the door open for the others. “IQ team, please. Potter’s IQ is so low he has to dig for it,” she snapped as the door closed and they descended floor by floor.
“Keep talking, Dunlop, and you might say something intelligent one day.”
Author's Note: ahh, I really don't need another WIP right now but I watched 'The A Team' the other day and was shamelessly inspired to write this. In all honesty, updates won't be particularly frequent but stick along for the ride!