Chapter 1 : Welcome to the Madhouse
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Inter-office memos were flying thick that morning, typical of a Monday in July. New employees, many of them freshly graduated from Hogwarts, were being shown about, the weekend brought in fresh issues and ideas, and everyone felt just a little more motivated at nine in the morning on a Monday than four in the afternoon on a Friday. The Department of Magical Creatures was certainly no exception. Head of the department, Harold Greengrass, was barking orders at his assistant, Marjorie Plinth; a woman who, in most of his subordinates’ opinion, was a saint. She was reminding him of his ten o’clock meeting with the Minister and that Jeffrey Tate was still insisting on a transfer. He waved her off, went into his office, and she set out to round up the new recruits.
Araminta Bennett was one of those, and she walked into her new job with stars in her eyes that morning. Eighteen, top of her class, and with loads of ambition. As a muggleborn, she’d always been fascinated by magical creatures so it was no surprise to anyone who knew her that she was to be working in the Department of Magical Creatures. As a seventh year she had envisioned herself spearheading soapbox campaigns for reformation and drafting wordy, idealistic legislation. Which the Minister, of course, would sign into effect with a flourish and she would be lauded for her work. Walking through the doors of the department served as a small idea as to what she was actually settling in for.
“Good morning, my name is Marjorie Plinth, and you must be Miss Bennett.” The tall, striking woman appeared to be in her early forties and she gave Araminta a warm smile.
“Yes, Araminta Bennett. Nice to meet you Ms. Plinth.” She smiled back, a bit nervous, but still feeling confident in herself.
“Well – you’re the first to show up so we’ll wait just a couple of minutes. Expecting two more. Don’t suppose you know Stella Moore or Lukas Mott?”
“Uh, yes. Well – just Mott. He was in my year at school.”
“That must be him then. Mr. Mott?” Araminta glanced over her shoulder and saw Lukas headed their way. A lanky, handsome young man with strawberry blonde hair and freckles. He offered a boyish smile when he caught Araminta’s eye. He’d been popular in school, a regular heart breaker, but he and Araminta had never really been friends. She a Hufflepuff and he a Ravenclaw, they had shared classes and little else.
“Hello Bennett.” He greeted nicely.
“And here is Mrs. Moore.” Marjorie stated. “Mr. Mott, Mrs. Moore, welcome. I am Marjorie Plinth, let’s get started, shall we?” Stella Moore was a friendly looking woman in her early thirties. She greeted the two young people politely as they set off to follow Marjorie.
“Mrs. Moore, your office is just this way. Mr. Greengrass will be by this afternoon to orientate you himself. We are so pleased to have such a qualified person filling this position. Miss Vincent here will assist you however you need.” Marjorie left Mrs. Moore in the capable hands of a middle aged witch who stood to greet her new boss.
“Now – Mr. Greengrass’ office is in the corner over there. If you ever need me, I am just through that door. Mr. Mott, you will be working with Stevens and Granger in the centaur division, just through here.” Marjorie opened a door that lead from the central hub of the department and into another set of offices and cubicles. Araminta busied herself looking around as Lukas was introduced to his new boss and partners.
“Good luck Bennett.” He said, as she turned to follow Marjorie out again. She gave him a small smile and a nod. As the door swung shut, she heard him laugh at something his new co-worker said.
“You, Miss Bennett, will be over here, in the dragons division. I must tell you, there aren’t many women working in this division so you’ll have to learn to hold your own. You’ll report directly to Thaddeus Brocklehurst, the division head, and if not him then Finn O’Brady, his assistant. If you have any questions I suggest you ask O’Brady or Marcia Rogers. And as I said earlier, you can always come and find me. As long as you get your work done well and on time, you won’t have any problems.”
“The dragons division?”
“Not your first choice I’m sure, but Thaddeus was very impressed with your application. Insisted he have you and not your school mate. He’s a good boss. Fair, but tough. You have to be tough to work in this division.”
“Have you ever met a dragon keeper?”
“You’ll find out. This way.” She opened a door and sound flooded out. Unlike the two other divisions she had seen or the main office behind her, this room seemed to be chaos. The cubicles didn’t appear to have any sort of arrangement. Only a handful of people seemed to actually be sitting at their desks working and the rest were all crowded around a wireless shouting. Araminta glanced back at the door and wondered when the silencing charm had first been applied. Marjorie ignored them all and strode straight through to the only office with a door. She opened it, motioning Araminta to precede her, and then shut it behind her. It was quiet in there as well, the shouts from without just a dull whisper. In the corner a gramophone was playing relaxing music that Araminta recognized. Something her muggle grandfather would listen to. A pleasant looking witch in professional, muggle, attire rose to greet them.
“Hello. You must be Miss Bennett. I’m Marcia Rogers.” She stuck out her hand for Araminta to shake.
“It’s Araminta. Nice to meet you.”
“Show her the ropes will you Marcia? I’ve got to get Mr. Greengrass off to his meeting. Good luck, Miss Bennett. We’re pleased to have you.” The pretty secretary left with a smile and Araminta wished for a moment to have her back.
“So, Ms. Plinth is Mr. Greengrass’ secretary?”
“Administrative assistant. Secretary doesn’t quite cover the wonders that woman does. She runs this place. Now, please, have a seat.” She gestured to a comfortable chair in front of her desk. Marcia picked up a set of robes draped across her own chair and hung them on a tree behind her. “Twenty years here and I still prefer the muggle dress. I’m muggleborn, you see, and when I first left Hogwarts I went to work in the muggle world with my father. It was only upon his retirement that I came here, and I never have gotten used to the robes. The boys do like to tease me about it.”
“My mother is muggleborn. I recognize the music you’re playing.”
“Do you now? Well then, one more thing we have in common. The other, of course, being that we’re women working in this division. Including you and me, there are three of us. Evie is out of the office today, but you’ll meet her tomorrow. We girls have to stick together.”
“May I ask why? That is – why so few women work in this division?”
“Dragons are something boys dream about, I suppose. And it draws quite the raucous crowd, as you no doubt noticed. But they’re good boys and you’ll get used to working with them. I promise they aren’t usually quite this rowdy but the Quidditch match from yesterday is apparently still going. Someone will win eventually, right? And then they’ll calm down.” Just then loud cheers, muffled, could be heard from beyond the door.
“There we have it. Now – I’ll show you to your desk here in just a few minutes. First, here is the employee handbook. Nothing too exciting, but it will answer your general questions about working for the ministry and this department in particular. As you know, Mr. Greengrass is the head of this department but I daresay you won’t have many dealings with him. He is usually off in important meetings and such. Mr. Brocklehurst is the head of our division. A kinder man you’ll have to search to find. He can be intimidating if he wants to but he’s a good man. Worked on a dragon reserve himself for many years when he was younger, but he’s softened up quite a bit since then.
“Division meetings are every Thursday at eleven. Hard to miss unless you’re out of the office for some reason, as they take place out on the floor. You won’t have to do much more than listen to reports and such, as you’re new. Now, for your job. Unfortunately, as you might expect, you’ll be doing a lot of the grunt work. Filing things, finding things, trying to keep order. Carl will appreciate the help. He’s the only one doing all of that himself right now, since Henry left. And these men will challenge you. Don’t be afraid to ask them to do a bit better – they get lazy and I find all sorts of things filed under ‘A’.”
Marcia stood, prompting Araminta to do the same. “Let’s meet, Mr. Brocklehurst, shall we?” She walked to the door across from the other and knocked once, perfunctorily, before opening it. Araminta followed her inside, and tried to smile for her new boss.
At first she saw only the top of his hoary head. A full head of hair the fell to his shoulders in waves. Then he looked up and she could see his grizzled face and he stood. And stood, and stood. He was well over six feet tall and though he appeared to be well over sixty also, his green eyes were sharp. Araminta felt well and truly sized up – as if he could see straight through her and read her thoughts.
“Thad,” said Marcia, “this is Araminta Bennett. Our new clerk.”
“Miss Bennet.” A broad, warm smile broke across his features and Araminta thought she would like her new boss. She put her relatively tiny hand in his great paw when he offered it and shook it. “Welcome to the madhouse.”
What had she signed up for?
By the end of week one, Araminta had settled into something of a routine. She’d met Evie, who was not even ten years her senior and they had hit it off quite well. As well as Finn O’Brady, who she pegged as the biggest flirt she’d ever met, and the rest of the division. Carl Ruffalo was her partner, she recognized him from Hufflepuff, two years her senior. He liked organization, but somehow managed not to go mad working in the dragon division. Marcia’s description of them on the first day had been understated – they weren’t just lazy they were sloppy. The men who worked there were brilliant at what they did but they were hopeless when it came to paperwork. Most of them would rather be in the field – inspecting reserves, studying the dragons – but instead they were stuck inside because it was the off season. During the summer, due to the heat, dragons got lazy and there wasn’t much to do. Inspections would start up again in October and unless some strange malady began to afflict a dragon, they were stuck.
Carl assured her that come October, until April, the office would stay largely empty but for the few that were permanently tied to their desks and things evened out. But now they were working on re-filing and organizing everything from the previous winter’s round of field work. And, of course, the new dragon keepers were coming through for processing and others for reviews. A steady stream of men in dragon hide and leather streamed through the office. Araminta learned to spot a keeper based on swagger first and kit after.
As September was nearly over, and a few men had escaped the office for the northern, cooler, reserves, Araminta noticed that the keepers coming through were mostly older and didn’t stay as long. When she asked Carl he answered readily.
“Senior keepers, lead keepers. The more experience the shorter their reviews. With the younger ones it’s all about what they need to learn and improve on. The senior keepers get tips on leadership and such. They know their craft so O’Brady doesn’t bother them with the details.”
“Who writes the reviews?”
“Comes mostly from lead keepers, head keepers and sometimes directors. It’s office work so they let us handle it. Plus it gives the keepers an excuse for leave to visit home. Summer is the perfect time for it. And it has to be filed here so it might as well be done here. Speaking of.”
O’Brady was poking his head through the door to his office and they assumed he had a new stack of reviews from the day before. “Bennett, will you come in here? Marcia’s out sick today, I could use the help.”
“Shouldn’t…” She trailed off, looking at Carl, who grinned.
“Won’t catch me in there. Had me take notes once, I hated it. He hated my work. Go on then. I’ll pull Dawson to help me.”
O’Brady stuck his head out again. “Coffee!”
“Yes sir.” Araminta muttered. She rolled her eyes at the grinning Carl and headed out of the division, into the department and making for the coffee station. It was right near the main entrance and the lift, so she was dodging people coming in and out as she went. One steaming mug, two sugars one cream later, she turned to go.
“Excuse me.” She looked over her shoulder and saw a handsome red headed man looking right at her. “I’m looking for the dragons division, can you point me?”
“Yes. Right this way, I’m headed there myself.” She juggled the coffee for O’Brady and the tea she’d gotten for herself and set off. The muscular man, not too tall but plenty taller than her, fell in step beside her.
“You work in the dragons division?” He questioned her.
“Yes. I’m a clerk, usually.” She glanced sideways at him. “You’re a keeper. Here for your review?”
“I am. You lot have moved since I was here last. Two floors. Why’s that?” Araminta shrugged.
“Don’t know. Just started here this summer.”
“Yes. Here we are. Do you mind?” He opened the door for her and she led him into the division. She kicked O’Brady’s door once, to knock, and then the keeper opened that one for her as well. O’Brady looked up and smiled.
“Perfect timing Ben.”
“Don’t call me that.” She said. She’d said it a thousand times, but O’Brady just grinned.
“Weasley, is it? Have a seat. Here Ara,” a nickname she approved, “you know the drill.”
“Charlie Weasley, Romanian reserve.” Araminta sat down and looked up. Charlie Weasley was looking straight at her she blushed. O’Brady missed it, fortunately and the keeper sat down as well. She ducked her head and started taking notes and filling out the form.
Charlie Weasley – she thought to herself – was too handsome for his own good.
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