Chapter 1 : Prologue
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Desk duty. They’ve put you on desk duty. Even though it wasn’t your fault, even though you still managed to complete your mission, even though you did nothing wrong, you followed every rule in the book to the best of your ability - they’ve put you on desk duty. It wouldn’t perhaps be so bad if it wasn’t for the sad, faintly pitying smile Uncle Harry had given you as he walked away, leaving you to your fate.
Your quill scratches along the parchment, copying the letters scrawled on the scrap of paper above it. C… A… L… The top of your ‘l’ loops delicately round, a smooth curve. You’ve always been told you had feminine handwriting.
Dominique had visited you earlier, slipping out of the Department of Mysteries, Adrian trailing closely behind as always. She’d brought you a mug of hot, strong coffee - espresso, double shot with a teaspoon of milk - and a box of jam donuts. Like your colleagues, like your parents, she’d asked you if you were angry, if you were upset or annoyed or irritated by your punishment.
Like you’d told each of the others, you replied that you weren’t. How could you be, you reasoned, when it was all your fault? How could you be angry with Uncle Harry and Uncle Ron for punishing you when you should never have got into this mess in the first place? How could you blame them when there isn’t anything to blame them for?
She’d left you, sitting at your desk with a half-empty cup of coffee and an unopened ice-pink patisserie box, giving you a brilliant, proud smile that couldn’t help but perk you up a little bit.
Proud. She was proud of you. Your sister was proud of you. Perhaps Victoire wasn’t - Victoire had been terrified, worried beyond belief, beyond reason - and would find it difficult to see past that for the coming months, but Dominique was. It was important to you that she was - just like it had been important when your dad and Uncle Harry had shared similar sentiments or when Uncle Charlie had written from Romania demanding to know exactly what had happened and informing you tartly to invite him along next time you decided to go off adventuring.
That knowledge ignited something in you, deep within, down in your stomach or the core of your body, in your soul perhaps, shooting up golden sparks. When people said things like that or gave you such smiles, it didn’t matter that you were stuck at a desk job for the next year, on probation for six months, your career teetering dangerously on the edge of a cliff, because it made it all worth it. From the beginning to the end - it was all worth it.
Resting your quill against your mouth, the tip of the feather tickling your nose, you stared out at the sunny scene the Magical Maintenance team had decided should grace your windows that morning and considered that.
Was it really all worth it?
Was it really worth your career nearly ending after less than a year? Was it really worth being stuck doing - in your opinion - the most boring job it was possible to find? Was it really worth causing endless amounts of trouble to your uncles, stress to your parents and sister and grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles? Was it, in the end, absolutely, definitively, conclusively worth it?
You did gain something from it, you suppose, turning the quill against your lips over and over, fingers walking round the cool metal of the nib. You met three people - three women - who you would never otherwise have met, who otherwise would never be here, never be around, never have had the opportunity to enter the real world and live again. They’re friends, now - all of them, even if they don’t all think of you that way - and that’s got to count for something.
Of course, at the same time, you had an adventure and a half. You saw creatures you’d only ever seen in books, romped through a kaleidoscope of colours and sounds and smells, experienced that heart-stopping moment when you know you’re going to die, the feeling of adrenalin pumping through your veins as your heart hammers in your chest, the undeniable, incomparable feeling of relief when it’s all over, when you can finally go home and rest and sleep without fear of giant spiders swallowing you whole.
You’ve learned things along the way, too - things you’d never expected to find out, things about yourself and about others. Some had been things that you’d never thought about, never even considered in daily life, others had been things that you’d suspected, that you hoped were true, or that you’d believed could never be possible.
Like that sharing something with someone else - no matter how small and seemingly insignificant or how big and dramatic that something is - is important and will leave an imprint on them forever. They’ll remember it, and you, for the rest of their life - months, years, decades.
Realising suddenly how deep and oddly insightful your thoughts have become, you shake yourself out of your stupor, glancing back down at the pile of parchment in front of you. It was worth it, in the end, but that doesn’t make the mind-numbing boredom of your punishment any easier to bear.
Still, you suppose, you should be glad you weren’t drowned, mauled, strangled, kicked or starved to death. Lucky, perhaps, that you survived at all. That you managed to get in - and, more importantly, out.
Luck. It all comes down to that, doesn’t it, really? Luck. It was lucky that you passed your NEWTs with good enough grades to get into the Auror program, lucky that you then graduated from that program without being put back a year, lucky that you had been allowed to keep your job.
Sometimes, you wish you weren’t quite so lucky. Life would certainly be safer - and you’d have less paperwork to do.
You sigh, before hurriedly dropping your quill and raising your other hand to your mouth. Feathers don’t taste good - particularly not with a coating of dust. Naturally, it’s at this particular moment, as you’re pulling bits of feather off your tongue and teeth and lips, that someone behind you clears their throat.
Freezing in embarrassment, you close your mouth, a piece of green feather still lingering on your fingers, covered in saliva, and turn around.
“Mr Weasley,” Damien Inglesby nods at you, running his eyes slowly over the scene, taking it in: the quill lying on your desk, the strands of wet feather on your fingers and the no doubt sheepish look on your face. “I just thought I’d drop by to see how you’re doing.”
“Fine, sir, I’m doing fine,” you reply hastily, shifting slightly in your chair, unsure if he can see how far you’ve got with the work you were assigned (not very far, if truth be told).
“I can see that,” he says, sounding amused - almost too amused, you think. “I’m going to be out of the office for the next couple of weeks, so you’ll be reporting directly to Mr Potter. Please remember to give him the files on time, Weasley - deadlines aren’t flexible.”
Your eyes hitting the ground briefly, you nod, glancing back up at him.
“Oh, a young woman wanted me to give this to you,” he adds, pulling a sealed envelope out of his pocket and holding it out to you.
You don’t reach for it, confused. A young woman? What young woman? You don’t remember associating with any young women recently - well, not any who would want to write to you, and definitely not at work. Even as a part of you whispered frantically that it can’t have been a mistake, that it is for you, you can’t help but wonder if it was meant for someone else.
“A young woman?” you blurt out. “For me? Are you sure?”
Inglesby’s mouth twitches involuntarily and he chuckles quietly.
“Yes, a young woman; yes, for you; and yes, I’m quite sure. She said you specifically.”
That’s even more confusing, as far as you’re concerned. Brow furrowing as you concentrate, racking your brain for any idea of who the author of the letter (because it is, undoubtedly, a letter - you don’t need to be Dominique to see that one coming) could be, you tap your fingers on your trousers, forgetting momentarily about the bits of feather on your fingertips.
“What did she look like?” you ask, looking straight past your boss, your eyes hitting a point four inches to the right of his shoulder.
“Long, curly brown hair, brown eyes, pretty,” he lists off with the ease of years of practise of studying people - studying how to memorise traits, appearances, mannerisms. “Shy, seemed very nervous, wearing a pink sundress. Ring any bells?”
It does. It really, honestly does. You recognise her instantly from the description - the long, curly hair, the timid and nervous behaviour. The dress, pink cotton with tiny straps, is one of Dominique’s.
What you still can’t work out is why she would be writing to you.
“Yes, sir,” you nod, reaching out a hand to take the letter. He hands it over easily, the ghost of a smile still on his face. You can guess what he’s thinking - she’s your girlfriend, perhaps one of your girlfriends in the plural, and you’ve been avoiding her, forgetting to owl her, floo her, see her.
It couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Thank you, sir,” you add politely, hoping that there’s nothing else and you can read the letter, find out what was so important, what she wants, why she’s written to you here and now.
On the cream paper in your hands, you can see your name printed neatly on the front, the handwriting round and large: Louis Weasley. It’s red ink, crimson in some places, scarlet in others - but red nonetheless.
As you stare at it, tracing the formation of the letters, the ploughs formed by the nib of her quill with your eyes, you find yourself remembering it all again - every moment, every minute, every second. How you met her, how you met the others. In your hands, you hold a physical representation, a physical reminder of why you’re here, inside, when all your companions are outside, tracking suspected Dark wizards, assisting their superiors on missions.
When finally you look up, Inglesby is gone, relaying a message to Tiberius Cotford two cubicles along. A faint smile gracing your lips, you put the letter to one side and turn back to your work. You’ll read it once you’re finished - for some reason, you can’t bring yourself to destroy it, to mar the flawless cream and red, to crack open the seal.
As you continue the dull process of copying out submitted reports into the official sheets, you steal glances at the letter, sitting in front of you, propped up against the back of your cubicle, the light slicing across the scarlet ink, and it reminds you why you’re here, gently prodding you back to work each time you stop and pause and wonder.
Yes, you muse idly, it was worth it.