Chapter 1 : Paper People
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Harry Potter is owned by JK Rowling. The idea of a ‘superhero’ is public rights and we can do what we want with them in our imaginations and writing as long as I don’t specify any superhero, so technically I’m not breaking any rules. ...I think.
Also, violence, sexism, and delicate issues are going to be reoccurring subjects in this story. Just a repetition of the warning already present, to make clear this is not a story for younger readers thinking they can handle a 17+ novel. Please, I’ve put the age restrictions up for a reason. I don’t want to severely upset anyone, but I’m not holding back because that’s not how realism works (as real as wizardry gets, anyway). A lot of these issues are very personal, perhaps particularly to me, so know that everything is going to be done with very real emotion.
And, if you’re still here, on with the show!
The first time I heard about my own existence, although I didn't know that's what we were talking about, was over a breakfast of cold tea and the Daily Prophet disguised as a muggle newspaper.
My roommate, Elizabeth, and I were in our unfairly small and cold London flat living room/dining room/kitchen with the television buzzing in the background. She was scrolling endlessly on her laptop on some website that she spent most of her free time on, curled up on the sofa, whilst I was pretending to be intellectually engaged with a report on a potions breakthrough, sat at the table. I was actually admiring my red painted nails that had survived the whole weekend without a scratch.
Leather gloves = good quality nail protection. Noted.
I knew I should really be taking it off- the Ministry disliked anything too bright or ‘provocative’ in the workplace (heaven forbid we have any personality)- but it made me feel powerful. So I wiggled my fingers a little and continued reading. I was sipping my tea as Elizabeth squealed suddenly, jolting me out of my reverie.
In my haste to back away from the table I slammed the cup down and split even more tea over my trousers. I frisked it off firmly. “What?” I sighed, trying not to wince- I’d snagged some of the stinging shallow cuts from the night before in my haste.
“You know that crime fighter that everyone’s been talking about? There’s been a news report on him!”
I frowned at her, and paused. You see, with her there are quite a few variables in those sentences. Did she mean ‘crime fighter’ or ‘guy who discovered something extraordinary in chemical biology that will aid the discovery of something that will help the police, crime fighter’? Did she mean ‘everyone’ or ‘a blogger that’s mentioned it once in passing’? And did she mean ‘news report’ or ‘a blogger that’s mentioned it once in passing’?
“You’ve talked about him once or twice...”
“Okay, so there’s this really awesome guy that loads of people have been-“
“Fine, bloggers- have been talking about, because he’s like a vigilante or something- he keeps stopping muggings and stuff and like, a few people on here have actually been saved by him, and he really kicks the asses of the criminals as well, and everyone has been really pissed off because this guy deserves some recognition, and anyway someone has finally done a real news report on him!” she told me breathlessly, straightening up from her slouch and pushing her glasses back into place. “There’s been loads of discussion about it, and we’re basically really happy that other people are taking notice. He’s really cool!”
I gave in to her enthusiasm. “Go on then- show me this magical article.”
She leapt up and handed me the laptop. It was a link to an online newspaper, which I clicked, and emblazoned across the screen was the headline ‘Masked Hero Saves Girl’.
Granted, the title was not the most inspiring or encouraging first impression that has ever been made, but my curiosity, but not my suspicion, had been piqued enough to keep me reading.
It became apparent that a girl had been attacked in the backstreets of South London, not too far from our flat, but a ‘huge’ man in a ski mask had intervened and saved the day, before disappearing without a word. The girl escaped with nothing more than a few bruises and the attacker had been hospitalised with a fractured arm. It was concluded enigmatically, claiming it wasn’t the first report of a vigilante in and around London, and that it was likely we’d hear from this ‘hero’ again.
Her attention flitted back to me once she’d reread the article, vibrating in her seat. “Isn’t it cool?”
“It’s great. Is everyone else this excited?”
“I’m practically calm compared to ‘itsdestiny_darling’, and ‘hestia’ has gone crazy- I’m pretty sure she’s blogging everything we’ve ever posted on him,” she told me, hauling the laptop out of my hands and slowly considering the screen.
I smiled, and draining my cup with a shudder, I dropped it into the sink. “Do you have any lectures today?”
“No, but I was thinking of going on an outing to that ‘Scientific Discoveries of the 21st Century’ exhibition with some of the engineering geeks at one.”
I rolled my eyes. “Don’t you have a dissertation to write, or something?”
She grinned. “Probably. Am I at university, or something?”
“Quite possibly. Perhaps even in your third year.”
“I wish I’d studied English- something easy like that...”
“Yeah. But the title ‘Forensic Science’ doesn’t indicate a simple course, so it’s your own fault.”
“...speaking of simple, don’t you have a god-awful job to be getting to?”
Unfortunately, she was right, so I dumped my newspaper in the bin and demanded she clean up the table (and the flat), to which she waved vaguely and promised to sort something out.
Wand stowed safely in pocket- check- completed paperwork that’s due tomorrow - check- lunch money- check.
Apparating directly into the Ministry was prohibited, but I could Apparate close enough to the visitor’s entrance to go in that way.
I stepped out of the slightly clunky and wearied elevator in to the Atrium. I frowned; it was abuzz with frantic and hushed activity. Many a cloak was billowing behind many a person as they strode to their destinations, while others were talking in low voices over stacks of files and paperwork as they, more slowly, approached the lifts. After a few seconds of taking in this large amount of people for so early in the morning, I fell a few steps behind a pair of junior assistants I knew were on my floor, and traced their steps into a, largely full, lift.
Few spoke, although the assistants were discussing something over cups of muggle coffee, sipping and gesturing in turn. All appeared to be trying to listen, with the exception of a tall man in a black muggle suit with a briefcase, who stepped out of the lift at the floor of the Minister of Magic.
With some regret I realised I couldn’t afford the time it would take to search out one of my more pleasant co-workers and discover the source of the fuss, so I seated myself promptly at my cubicle’s desk. I had arrived the customary ten minutes early I always gave myself, and I neatly topping off my Wendy broom-fiasco case with a few pages I done the night before.
I scanned around, wondering if Mr Ryland, the Head of the Improper Use of Magic office, was in yet. I had the case he set for me a full week earlier than he asked for, and handing it over in person felt far more appropriate. After all, he had set it specifically for me.
Even as I settled down to begin writing a report, the Atrium’s flurried work was distracting. Those who usually carefully finished their work before slacking a little were stood in clumps, gossiping, and only scattering when bosses marched past them and glared, whilst those who usually hurried through everything at the last minute were straight backed and working diligently.
We were the paper people. We had flimsy problems and flimsy thoughts and flimsy reputations.
I was scratching my head, wondering how laws could be broken so obviously without it being caught until now, when a shadow loomed over me and blocked the light. I looked up, about to snap, before I saw it was Mr Ryland himself.
“Mr- Mr Ryland! How can I help you?” I asked, standing up and arranging a perfectly compliant smile.
He gestured a hand to me. “May I have a word with you in my office, Miss Lewis?”
“Of course, sir,” I answered hurriedly, tucking in my chair and straightening my shirt.
“Oh, and please do bring the Wendy case- I see you’ve finished it.”
“-yes, of course.”
He allowed me to lead the way to the office. I noticed a few curious glances, but not many.
I sat in the seat opposite his desk, and he closed the door, took the case from me, and sat himself. I folded my legs and settled my hands on my lap, holding my head up attentively. He conjured up his sincere smile, revealing a pattern of fine lines, and I tried to return it.
He dropped the papers onto his desk, but didn’t care to straighten them. His pot plant was wilting.
“Usually, I’d read through these, but I’ve found it’s entirely wasted time when you’ve written it.”
I was surprised. “Thank you.”
“I’ve also found you’re wasted in that office.”
I sat straighter.
“I gave that same case to one of my other staff, and she told me that the deadline couldn’t be met to get this done,” he told me. “So you’ve exceeded her by two weeks.”
“Her job isn’t in danger, don’t worry,” he said, smiling. He rolled open a drawer and pulled out another piece of paper, passing it to me. “This was your application for your current job, isn’t it?”
I glanced over it, quickly nodding at my OWL and NEWT results, as well as my additional project grades and work experience.
“Tell me... why did you leave Healing after only three months?”
My rehearsed answer left my lips before it even registered as a lie. “It didn’t suit me, sir. I would have much rather prevented the injury in the first place than having to treat it, and found I simply wasn’t right for being a Healer,” I told him.
He nodded. “And you have nine NEWT subjects... all graded O, am I correct?”
“Prefect and Head Girl at Hogwarts, too?”
He meshed his hands together, considering me closely. “What’s your current title?”
“Assisting Supervisor of Inter-Department Relations,” I recited.
‘Assisting Spare Arm and Lackey of this Department’ would be more accurate, but I decided to keep my and Elizabeth’s childishly invented name quiet.
“Well, you can drop that ridiculous mouthful,” he muttered, then continued more loudly, “because I’d like you to become one of my assistants. Your current hours, more flexibility, a pay rise, and you’ll work in one of the offices outside my door.”
He indicated to them, but I couldn’t look. I just stared at him.
“Would you like to?” he asked, eyes tightening a fraction.
“I- of course, I’d love to!” I gasped. But I didn't understand how on earth-
“That’s settled then- effective immediately,” he said, relaxing again.
“Oh, erm- thank you. Thank you so much!” I said, leaping to my feet. He matched me, and I shook his hand vigorously.
“You’re welcome,” he answered, eyes and smile bright. “Can you bring all your personal belongings from your desk, and I’ll see you in here in ten minutes? Leave all of your paperwork, you won’t be needing it.”
“To be quite honest, I didn’t leave anything there except a few quills in the drawer.”
“Oh. Well then, let’s get started.”
“Did you notice the... activity in the Atrium?” he began, re-settling into his chair.
I nodded again. “I was planning on asking someone on my break what it was about.”
“There’s been something of an uproar in some of our departments- word has spread quickly, unfortunately,” he sighed. “Despite the combined efforts of our office and most of the Muggle Liaison office, in the last four months or so there have been several severe occurrences of the Statute of Secrecy being broken. Whilst we have tried our utmost to stifle any muggle recollection of them at all and catch the culprit, several muggles have slipped through our grasp and there has now been a report on the muggle interface.”
“...do you mean the internet, sir?”
“Oh, yes- of course. The internet, I do apologize. All hell has broken loose because we’re not entirely sure how to proceed, and the Minister is being harassed by the Daily Prophet already for a comment on the issue. Some journalist woman picked up on the article before we did.”
“If you don’t mind me asking- how is the law being broken? What are they doing?”
He sighed, and caught my gaze firmly. “And that’s another reason there is so much controversy within the departments to stop it at all- is it ethical to stop someone who’s saving muggles’ lives? This person is stopping muggle crimes in and around London, using their magic to do so.”
I was surprised at the coincidence. “My friend was talking about this article this morning.”
“Were they?” he asked, leaning closer to me in his chair, chin resting on his hand on the desk.
“Yes, she’s a muggle- she’s been following blogs on the man for months.”
“Yes- she won’t stop talking about him! The muggles love him. He’s a hero to them.”
I agreed; the man was doing the right thing. He was saving people.
He frowned, and sat back in his seat. “Are you sure?”
“Of course I am.”
“We have to remove these blogs at once- where are they?”
“They’re on the internet- but you don’t understand,” I said quickly as I re-seated myself. “Did you take Muggle Studies at NEWT level?”
“Well, I did. I was raised a muggle and I live with a muggle now: I know a thing or two about the internet, and what I’ve learnt most of all is you can’t stop it.”
“How do you mean?”
“Say someone puts a picture up. Within seconds of being uploaded it could be on twelve different websites and viewed by thousands of people, and then shared again to another twelve websites or forwarded to twelve different friends, and then they’ll share it with twelve others and suddenly that picture you uploaded can never be taken off the internet. Because it’s everywhere, and encrypted into a thousand different systems, and it’s impossible to take anything back once you’ve put it up in the first place; the internet becomes a weapon, sir. Wars have been started by it. There are wars on the internet, over the internet, through the internet... it’s one of the most powerful things muggles have ever created. It’s unstoppable. You’re not going to able to remove those blogs, and if you do they’ll make new ones. Maybe on a different website, maybe not. You’d be far better off stopping the photo being put up in the first place.”
He studied me for a moment.
“You’re going to deal with them from now on.”
“...I’m sorry, sir?”
“You’ll understand the Muggle Liaison office far better than I’ll ever be able to: anything they need from me comes through you. And I’d like you to check all my previous work and make sure mistakes regarding muggle culture hasn’t set back our investigation at all.”
“Your office is outside, to the left. It’s fully stocked with parchment, quills, ink, quills of the Quick Quotes variety, and if there’s anything else you need I will do my best to organise it for you,” he told me, leading me to the door and pointing to it. It was tucked behind his receptionist and next to his own office, who smiled at me before turning back to her work.
“Thank you, sir.”
“Now... do you want a challenge as your first task, or would you rather start slow and build up?” he asked me and I wandered in and to my desk, admiring its large stretch of mahogany wood that matched my majestic surroundings.
I turned on my heel to face him, and smirked wickedly.
“A challenge, sir. Always a challenge.”
He smiled appreciatively. “Good. Your first job is to collaborate all our reports, individual cases, muggle police reports and evidence into one report, written up chronologically. I’ll have Jess get everything for you,” he said indicating to the receptionist.
“When do you want it done by?”
“Next Wednesday, if you please.”
A week and a day? It felt like an awfully long time.
Jess hovered in a stack of paperwork, landing it in front of me. It was as high as my chin. “Challenge accepted,” I said, surveying it as though it was my prey.
“Good luck, Rebecca,” he said, saluting and leaving me to take the paperwork.
The first thing I did was spread check the work. It had, indeed, been given me in chronological order, but at the very beginning they hadn’t even considered that it would be a repeat offender, and the paperwork was sketchy and vague.
I opened a draw, and found the promised quills, ink and parchment. I began to write.
The first time I felt a twinge of the abnormal, of the unprecedented, was when I had reached the fifth report. It was the first where the writer saw it might have connection with the other four, and it was the first to have a correlating muggle police report, apparently courtesy of the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad.
‘...I came across the scene as the man in question held Miss Orsino against the wall by her throat, and had a knife held at her side quite forcibly. I attempted to reason with him and convince him to let her go, but he would not listen. He demanded that I leave. I told him I needed to be there to ensure her safety. He raised the knife to her throat and said he would kill her if I did not leave at that moment. Miss Orsino appeared to be under severe stress and I felt my presence was worsening the situation. I began to take steps backwards, and told him not to harm her, when there was a loud noise.’
“P-please, please don’t hurt me,” she whispered.
The knife was about the length of the attacker’s hand- eight inches, maybe? Quite easily big enough to kill in one motion, if he knew how to use it.
I was in over my head.
She was surprisingly still- shaking, powerless, but her knees weren’t buckling the way I found they usually did. They usually begged, yes, but they also could usually barely stand. She was a good first- she was strong.
I noticed the police officer approaching cautiously before the man did, and when he did he practically snarled. I held back- perhaps he would be able to reason with him, get the girl out...
A few minutes later, the police officer began to walk back down the dark alley (why? Why must they always be alleyways? Why were alleyways created at all, if not to create the perfect attack and ambush hideaways?) to the street, and I knew I had to intervene, right then, before he decided she wasn’t allowed to live.
‘A figure I hadn’t seen at all was directly behind Mr Wilson, and grabbed the hand with the knife in and yanked it away from Miss Orsino. I didn’t clearly see what happened in the next few moments, but the figure engaged in fighting Mr Wilson and appeared to throw him over their shoulder, where he landed and did not move. Miss Orsino ran to me and I asked her if she was harmed and was assured that she was not. I turned back to Mr Wilson, who was unconscious on the floor, and the figure had disappeared once again. It was...’
Blue handbag. Lots of shopping, baggy shirt, denim shorts, and flip-flops. She had curly brown hair and tanned skin, like she spent a lot of time in the sun despite the lack of it in British summers. A little over privileged and underprepared. It took me a long time to link the patterns and narrow my vision to the common factors- the perfume of a perfect candidate- but I could pick out targets myself in a busy street.
She was my first mugging. My first knife. My first police encounter. She was a lot of firsts, but none of my lasts.
Unsettling the neat pile of papers, I delved to the most recent reports, the most detailed, the most accurate.
That bank heist on Saturday afternoon? The men who did it were morons- then again, they couldn’t Apparate at will.
That psychopathic knifeman who tried to enter that bar on Saturday night? I floored him so hard his skull fractured and he needed surgery.
That idiot who thought following and grabbing a young girl coming out of said bar was good idea? The police still around after the knifeman incident practically had to scrape him off the pavement.
It was me.
...all of it. Me the Ministry were after. Me the article was written on. Me the person I was going to spend the next two days writing about. Me the person my roommate adored. Me.
I looked again. I could feel my whole face opening up with joy and fierce, fierce pride as I read.
Assumptions: never make them.
The Ministry believed I was a criminal- I wasn’t, I was helping people, even if the Statue of Secrecy was in danger. Quite frankly, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me, but it didn’t matter. I was careful to not let anyone close or see what I was doing with my magic, and they believed I was a man. They’d never find me, and even if they put everyone on the case I had the power to make sure they didn’t even think of me.
I thought back to Elizabeth- her shining eyes and grin every time she looked at that damn laptop.
I had impacted the world I lived in, and that I was irreversibly important for it. Nothing was going to be the same.
...I wasn’t a paper person any more.
A/N I love the word flimsy. It’s such a good word. Although I think I thought about that one sentence a little too much because it doesn’t sound real anymore.
More action n stuff next chapter! Hope someone enjoyed it :) Also, new story = party time!
This chapter is dedicated to Sammy C. ‘Every second counts.’
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