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Chapter 2 : Job Interviews
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Disclaimer: The story title is a song originally recorded (under that title) by Bob Dylan. The world, characters and canon events belong to J. K. Rowling. Everything else belongs to me. It is illegal to publish and distribute fanfiction without J.K. Rowling's permission. You may not copy, post elsewhere, change or edit any part of this story. You may not claim it as your own.
Panic settled quickly over Britain, a never before seen phenomenon occurring before the citizens’ very eyes. Darkness had suddenly taken over the country, a heavy fog creeping through abandoned streets and the skies turning nearly black. Muggle street lights glowed dismally in the gloom. The few who ventured outdoors could hear demonic whispering all around them; it filled the air with a frightening horror; it filled the country with despair.
Owls swooped through the sky in abundance, carrying messages of concern and curiosity to and from loved ones. They seemed to be swallowed by the thick darkness, and sometimes they never even made it to their destination. Now and then, bloodcurdling screams could be heard in the distance, the frightened cries being the last sounds the unfortunate victims made. When found, they would remain forever unresponsive and barely alive.
The Muggles were in awe; they simply figured it was some sort of eclipse or terrible storm. They stayed indoors and didn’t ask questions; their theories seemed confirmed by the sporadic lightning and ground-shaking thunder. They couldn’t see the hellish creatures swooping freely through the skies, couldn’t see the slimy, scaly hands reaching towards them. They didn’t hear the screams of victims from the safety of their homes.
The magical population could see the monsters - witches and wizards all around the country spoke in hushed tones, not even having the heart to admit what they knew to be true. The battle had just begun, and already it seemed as if Voldemort would win.
Level two of the Ministry of Magic held the Auror offices.
Bartemius Crouch, Sr sat in his office and pondered things. He stared out his window, which displayed a sunny, cheerful day (even though it hadn’t been sunny and cheerful in a week). The head of a department was usually given whatever type of view he or she preferred, and Crouch preferred one that could allow him to forget the current situation.
He watched a hot air balloon meander through the sky and forced himself to accept the horrible truth:
There was no forgetting Voldemort. It was impossible - reports came in every day from his Aurors. Attacks, deaths, failures. Aurors were quitting their jobs in fear, having never expected to face anything like this when they signed up. Some had been killed. Nobody new was coming in to join the force.
Nobody except for two people. He was expecting a couple of new Hogwarts graduates today - they had set up an interview days before. He liked Hogwarts. His own son had just completed his fifth year within the school, and was expecting to receive at least ten O.W.L.'s.
Crouch thought of his two future applicants and could see a glimmer of hope. One of them was James Potter, son of one of the best Aurors the Ministry had ever seen (now in retirement). He knew there was talent there, and hopefully a level head.
The other... well, Bartemius tried not to think of the other boy. He’d rushed home and asked his son about Sirius Black when his secretary reported the appointments to him.
Barty Jr had assured him that Black was as different from his family as night from day. He’d been adopted by the Potters, after all. He wasn’t bad. He was a Gryffindor, of all things.
Bartemius found this sentiment hard to believe. He himself had a bit of Black blood in him. He knew how they were. But Barty was telling the truth. Sirius Black had been taken in by the Potters. Black was, in fact, a Gryffindor. He thought he could accept that.
Besides - Bartemius Crouch was desperate.
Outside, the rain thundered and rolled through London. It was dark and dreary, just as it should have been considering what loomed in the skies above them, unseen by Muggles. Lightning illuminated the dark purplish-black sky every few seconds, and sometimes in that brief moment a dark cloaked thing could be seen fluttering about amongst the clouds.
The Dementors weren't openly attacking people yet (aside from a rare few who were unable to control themselves), but they were watching. And nobody ventured outdoors unless it was absolutely necessary.
It was, unfortunately, necessary for James and Sirius. They had an appointment today, and as a security measure, the Ministry had removed itself from incoming calls from the Floo Network. The only available ways inside were the Muggle employee entrance, or the visitor entrance, both of which were outdoors.
James appeared with a pop in front of the Muggle entrance. He immediately lifted the newspaper in his hands to shield his head from rain. Sirius appeared a split second later, but he enjoyed dark, gloomy weather. He had come unarmed. Fog swirled around their ankles and seemed to absorb the rain before it hit the ground. In fact, it seemed to fade everything in the area, so that the only thing they could see was each other.
“This is rather terribly surreal, isn't it?” Sirius observed, amused. These dark days were like nothing he'd ever seen before. He glanced around at the cloudy surroundings curiously, and then without warning he shook his shaggy hair back. Water droplets sprayed James’s face and trickled down his glasses, and he’d been extra careful about trying to stay dry.
He pursed his lips patiently. Sirius was the only person he knew who actually enjoyed the rain.
“You’re a right old lout,” he observed after a moment, when he was forced to lower the newspaper long enough to wipe the water from his glasses. His hair was getting wet. He half-heartedly rumpled it.
Sirius grinned easily. “Maybe.” He squinted through the fog and clouds, which literally covered everything. “This must be a little like what Heaven looks like, eh?”
“Not really,” grunted James, who was feeling indisputably wet and soggy.
Sirius surveyed the dark clouds and frightening sky. “No,” he sighed. “I suppose not. Is that the entrance, then?” He was indicating a short flight of stairs leading down to a public restroom.
James sighed. “Yes.”
An amused look passed over Sirius’s face; James rolled his eyes, knowing what was coming.
“Hundreds of Ministry employees line up here to go in to work every morning?” Sirius clarified with James. He had never used the Muggle entrance when he’d been here as a child. The Black family was above such things.
He hadn’t been to the Ministry but a couple times, anyway. He could remember throwing dozens of galleons into the fountain with Regulus once when they were young, while his father chatted with people nearby and his mother looked on haughtily. It was a treat back then, a rare moment of fun, but now that he was older, he could see that it was all a show - the Black family, even their very young sons contributing gold to the Ministry. Throwing money away as if it were nothing. Sirius’s eyes narrowed inadvertently.
“Mmhmm...” lamented James glumly. And then, before Sirius had a chance to ask (James knew he would), he added, “They have to flush themselves down the toilets.”
Sirius immediately forgot about whatever memory he was thinking of involving his family.
His gleeful laugh was like a bark, and it made James grin in spite of himself. “Do the Muggles know we do this to their loos, then?” he asked cheerfully. “Hi, how's it going?” he added with a friendly wave as he spotted a passer-by carrying an umbrella and eying him curiously through the fog. It was ominous looking, random people appearing from seemingly nowhere, and after walking past, being sucked right into the fog again.
James rolled his eyes once more and readjusted his soggy newspaper.
“I think it’s a load of shit,” Sirius continued brightly, turning back to James as if he hadn’t interrupted himself. Miraculously, he managed to keep a straight face as he spoke. “That’s what I think.”
James, desperately fighting a laugh, grabbed his arm and quickly dragged him into an alley. “You’re scaring people,” he said stiffly. He couldn’t even look Sirius in the eye, or he knew he’d lose it. “We’re here for business, remember,” he schooled his friend.
“Right,” mourned Sirius helpfully, his face turning morbid. They were silent for a few minutes as they walked past old rubbish bins and emergency staircases.
James was quite uncomfortable in his black business robes, and he pulled on his tie in annoyance. It wasn’t him. He was athletic and playful, and preferred jeans and a shirt, or else just his plain school robes. He glanced sideways at Sirius. At least he seemed at ease. Sirius was used to dressing nice. He liked to wear black.
James cleared his throat. “We’re taking the visitor entrance, anyway,” he told Sirius, as they continued further down the alley. “The only way to get in the Muggle entrance is with a Ministry approved token. For security, you know. Only employees get them.”
“Ah,” said Sirius, trying not to laugh. Secretly, he was desperately glad that they wouldn’t be taking that route.
At the end of the alley, they crammed themselves into a telephone box. Sirius was glad that James seemed to know what was going on, at least, because he was absolutely clueless. However, in an effort to appear confident, he took out his wand and busied himself with siphoning the rain water off of their robes. James picked up the telephone and hit a bunch of random numbers that Sirius didn’t quite catch.
Ten minutes later, they were sitting in two very uncomfortable chairs in a reception area for the Auror department. A secretary chomped loudly on a stick of Drooble’s gum. Sirius was slouching in his chair, leaning his head lazily against the wall behind him. His eyes were closed. Beside him, James eyed the secretary in disgust and pondered what Lily was doing at her new internship.
After what seemed like an eternity, footsteps could be heard approaching them from beyond a door behind the secretary's desk. A commanding voice issued orders to various people as he passed them. James sat up a little straighter and pounded his fist against Sirius’s shoulder. Sirius opened his eyes and sat up straighter as well.
The door to the offices finally opened. A well groomed man with a very straight moustache stood holding it open expectantly. Sirius and James immediately got to their feet.
“Mr Potter,” said the man, holding his hand out for a handshake. “You look just like your father,” he mused pleasantly. “And Mr Black,” he added, holding his hand towards Sirius. He wouldn’t look Sirius in the eye, and seemed on edge slightly (especially when Sirius purposely squeezed his hand especially hard, just as James's father had taught him to do in order to show confidence).
The man scowled and cleared his throat. James turned to his friend.
“Really, Pads,” he murmured under his breath.
“Sorry,” said Sirius. He let go. The man nervously wiped his sweaty palm against his robes.
Sirius shrugged innocently at James. It wasn’t his fault people reacted badly to his last name. All he could do was enjoy their reactions or let it eat away at him. Usually it was a bit of both.
(Although, at the moment, he was in a mild panic over what Peter had said last week. Perhaps he would be declined work after all, if the department head was afraid of him.
He thought it would be pants if James was hired, and he wasn't, and he wondered how he would fill his days until James got home. Even worse, he realized that, once home, James would probably want to see Lily as well.)
“Okay, then,” said the man testily, relieved to be freed of the grasp. “Please follow me to my office.” He turned and lead them out of the reception area and through a maze of cubicles. James and Sirius followed wordlessly, ducking a couple of owls carrying memos to other departments.
At last they reached a large, comfortable looking office. Moving photographs of the moustached man and his family sat on a desk and on the bookshelves behind. Despite the storming weather outside, the office window boasted sunshine and a few pleasant, fluffy clouds. James and Sirius took seats in the chairs facing the desk; the man sat in the fancy leather armchair behind it. All three stared at each other expectantly before the man finally spoke.
“My name is Bartemius Crouch,” he introduced himself, picking up a quill. He looked them each over as if they were prey before continuing. “I have to admit, I’m very pleased with your interest to become Aurors. We’ve been experiencing a shortage, considering all that has been happening with... er... with You-Know-Who. Your father’s retirement five years ago, James, was an exceptionally hard pill to swallow. It’s almost to the point where I fear we may have to start drafting...”
James nodded once, immediately relaxing at the news that the Ministry was getting desperate. They would probably be guaranteed work. He sat up straighter, confidently, as he addressed Crouch.
“That’s why we’re here, sir. We’d like to help out and fight back and take Voldemort down! My father told us, ‘you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.’”
Bartemius Crouch gave a choking gasp at the name and his eyes bulged slightly, but he covered it with a chuckle and a blink; he gave a small nod. “Your father was a very wise man. Let’s see if we can get a hold of your test scores.” His eyes flickered between the two handsome young men and he gave a simpering smile before lifting the lid from a delicate looking jar on the desk. Clearly, he didn’t think they appeared capable of the positions no matter how desperate the Ministry was. He took a handful of Floo powder, turned in his chair and tossed it into his personal fireplace.
“Glenda?” he called as green flames roared to life.
After a brief second, the secretary’s head appeared in the flames. “Yes, Mr Crouch?”
“Be a dear and fetch the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. records of these boys,” Bartemius demanded importantly. He straightened his robes and tightened his tie as he waited for her to grab a piece of parchment and a quill to take their names.
“Go on,” she informed him after a moment, smiling sweetly.
“James Potter, and Sirius Black. Sirius, like the star, that.”
“I’ll have those in just a moment, Mr Crouch,” cooed the secretary in a sickeningly sugary voice.
While they waited, James cast around for some way to break the nervous silence. “Mr Crouch,” he began after a moment, leaning forward in his chair. “I thought the Ministry had been removed from the Floo Network?”
Mr Crouch jumped slightly at the sudden question, taken by surprise. “Oh, only partially, James,” he said pleasantly. “Nobody can Floo here, though we do allow our employees to Floo home again. We still use the Floo to exchange information within the Ministry, however.” He smiled at James. “Excellent question, James, I like a man that pays attention.” And then the smile immediately slipped from his face, making it evident he was only being polite.
James frowned to stop himself from smiling, and when the secretary reappeared in the fireplace a moment later distracting Crouch, he shrugged at Sirius, who smirked back at him.
Suck-up, Sirius mouthed wryly.
James raised an eyebrow in amusement. Bastard, he mouthed indignantly in return.
“All right, then,” said Bartemius Crouch, turning back to his desk. He now held two manila folders in his hands and he opened them one beside the other, peering over the papers within. “Very impressive, boys, I must say,” he noted, sounding surprised. A smile crept over his face as he looked up at the two new prospective employees.
Both James and Sirius looked pleased with themselves at this. N.E.W.T. scores hadn't been mailed out to the former students yet, but apparently they'd both done well. Things were definitely looking good; they were positive they’d be fighting Voldemort and his Death Eaters by Christmas, once all the training was done.
Crouch closed the folders and stacked them neatly on top of each other. Then he folded his hands together and, still smiling, looked from James to Sirius. “I hereby accept your applications into the Auror department of the Ministry of Magic. Congratulations, boys. From here you will proceed to our conference rooms for your written psychological exam, and, assuming all goes smoothly with that, you’ll be sent to St. Mungo’s for physicals. Ministry-paid, of course.”
All three of the wizards stood up, James and Sirius barely listening as he reeled off their next steps in becoming Aurors. They were simply pleased to be accepted and have work - work that would help in the war, no less. This job had been James's dream for as long as he could remember, and he felt like he was walking on air as Crouch droned on. The latter man was just in the process of reaching across his desk to shake hands with his newest recruits when one of his Aurors walked into the office.
“Oh,” said the thin young man instantly, blushing as he glanced at James and Sirius. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you had company,” he muttered, backing out of the office again and pulling the door closed behind him. Sirius thought he looked like a git, and in his own mind, James quite agreed.
“No, no, it’s all right, Judas,” replied Mr Crouch smoothly. “We were just finishing up. This is Sirius Black and James Potter; they’ve just been accepted into our Auror program.”
The man entered the room again at Crouch’s reassurance, offering a small, reluctant smile to Sirius and James. “Welcome to the program,” he said, looking wary.
“Judas Christopherus is one of our hit wizards,” Mr Crouch informed the boys, who nodded politely despite their thoughts. “What is it, Judas?”
“Sir, we’ve got a problem. One of your other new recruits,” he paused and glanced at Sirius and James accusingly as he said this, “took your permission to use Unforgivables for apprehension purposes a bit too far. He has just performed the Killing Curse on an uncooperative suspect. It’s causing an uproar; I fear the victim may have been innocent...” He trailed off, glancing at James and Sirius once more. James looked on, his eyes slowly beginning to narrow.
Mr Crouch collapsed into his chair, rubbing his forehead tiredly. “More work...” he muttered, shoving Sirius and James’s records off to the side and searching through a different pile of paperwork.
“Hang on,” said James flatly, interrupting. The hit wizard looked nervously at James; Mr Crouch glanced up, looking suddenly stressed. James looked between the two of them for a moment before he demanded, “You’re allowing your employees to use the Unforgivables?”
Bartemius Crouch laughed nervously. “Well, not normally, Mr Potter, but given the current circumstances...” He held his hand out helplessly, indicating all the work, thus, the troubled times. He looked up at James as if he were insane for even asking. “Is that a problem?”
James fumed silently for a moment. Then, in a low voice, he said, “I’m sorry, but we’re no longer interested in these positions. Thank you for your time.” He glanced at Sirius and motioned for him to follow, and Sirius obediently did. The two men in the office seemed momentarily gob smacked, but Mr Crouch recovered just as they were closing his office door behind them.
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” he grumbled, going back to his paperwork and muttering about a ‘waste of time.'
“It’s an outrage,” James stormed as they stalked through the cavernous Atrium; it was nearly empty now, as everyone was in their offices, and their steps made loud echoes against the wood floor. He glared angrily at the decorative Fountain of Magical Brethren as he passed. “If they’re using Unforgivables on people they suspect, then how are they any better than the Dark ones? Hell, they’re probably responsible for half of Voldemort’s followers at this point! Once you start using Dark magic, Sirius, it’s hard to go back...”
“Relax,” commanded Sirius calmly, reaching for an open jar of Floo Powder atop one of the fireplace mantles. He was thankful Crouch had told them they could Floo home, at least - he wasn’t keen on Apparition. He offered the jar to James.
James’s jaw muscles twitched as he clenched his teeth together angrily. “Fuck it,” he announced, grabbing a handful of powder. “Remember that summer you ran away from home?” Sirius’s eyes immediately darkened and James took that to be a definite yes. “Remember when Dumbledore showed up to ask my dad for help with his ‘secret Order’ to fight Voldemort?”
“Vaguely...” murmured Sirius warily, remembering the evening well. He and James had spent a splendid, thrilling night hovering around the doorway underneath the invisibility cloak, curious and anxious to hear anything possible about Voldemort and how he would be taken down. He glanced sideways at James, waiting for whatever horrid idea was sure to come.
“I’m not going to fall so low as to use Unforgivables, and I’m not going to work for a Ministry that does it either,” James snarled energetically, pointing a finger in Sirius’s chest and causing a small flurry of Floo powder to fall to the ground. “I’m going to Dumbledore. I’m going to see about getting into the Order instead.”
Sirius blew his breath out slowly, eyeing his worked up friend. “Whatever you say, Prongs, I’ll do it too.” It wasn't as if he had anything better to do, or even anything to lose, except for James himself.
James smiled dismally at him and clapped him on the shoulder, calming down at Sirius’s reassurance. “What are you doing tonight? Anything? You should come over for dinner, Pads, my parents would love to have you. They’ve missed you since you moved out last summer.”
Sirius grinned warmly at him. “I’d like that very much,” he said sincerely; he desperately missed the family life that he'd experienced during the year he lived with the Potters. The two threw the Floo powder into the cold fireplace and announced, Godric’s Hollow!
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