2: There Are Worse Kinds of Punishments, Or So I’ve Been Told
"Weasley!" roared a man's voice over the intercom. "In my office … pronto!"
"How I ever got into Muggle Relations is beyond me," muttered Ginny before pressing a button on the intercom to reply. "Yes, sir," she said in a falsely calm tone. "Be right there."
But Ginny knew exactly how she'd got into Muggle Relations. Approximately four years ago, her father approached her with a brightly colored pamphlet and a persuasive smile on his face. Newly chosen as Minister of Magic, Arthur Weasley was desperate to rebuild the wizarding society after the darkness that the final days of Voldemort had brought. One step in the restoration was to re-establish a peaceful association with the Muggle world.
"I need good people in this department," Arthur had told his daughter. "People I can trust."
"But I never even took Muggle Studies, Dad," Ginny had said, browsing over the pamphlet. "I barely know a thing about Muggles…"
"You can learn," Arthur had assured her. "You can be taught the ropes and then…"
"Dad, I can't," Ginny had pleaded. "I'm not the right person for this job!"
Ginny distinctly recalled the disappointed _expression on her father's face when she told him no. It's what convinced her to finally say yes to his plea for help on her 21st birthday. Nearly four years later, after hearing tales and horror stories of the inferior employees in the Muggles Relations Department, Ginny caved in at last and told her father she would sign on to an internship with Randall Howells, the wizard in charge of dealings with the non-magic community sector.
But as much as she dearly loved her father, so far she hated working in Muggle Relations. It wasn't that she hated Muggles, with the possible exception of Harry's relatives, the Dursleys, and Mr. Dewitt, that is … it was just that life as an M.R. Intern was not all the pretty pink-and-orange leaflet said it would be. Ginny always considered herself an enthusiastic person, with a good sense of fun (prerequisites of liaising with Muggles) but patience was not her strong suit. And lately, working in the M.R. Department of the Ministry of Magic was testing her endurance.
She strolled into Mr. Howells' office, trying to look nonchalant. "You wanted to see me, sir?" she said calmly.
"Yes, Miss Weasley," Howells growled. Apparently the fact that she was the daughter of the Minister of Magic himself did not faze him. "What in Merlin's name happened to Dewitt's deposition? It looks like you soaked half of it in Hippogriff dung!" Mr. Howells slapped the stack of papers gruffly onto his desk. Ginny noticed the half that Bill had brought back to the house was immaculate, but the half she had brought back was still soiled.
"I can explain that, sir," Ginny began. "I tripped getting out of the car and my bag spilled … if I could have used magic to clean up the mess…"
"Or if you weren't a clumsy oaf, perhaps," Howells shot back. "If you had used magic, it would have been only too easy, would it not have been?"
Ginny slowly nodded.
"Well of course it would have been easy … but being a liaison in Muggle Relations is not an easy job, Weasley! And you need to learn discipline! You need to learn restraint! You need to learn to get along on this planet without depending on your wand!"
Ginny felt like she had been transported into a military compound and Howells was her drill sergeant. She felt like his little speech had warranted a salute and a "Sir, yes, sir!" If it weren't for her father, she thought she might very well throw in the proverbial towel at that very moment. But the vision of her father's desperate face made her squelch the urge to call it quits.
"You're right, sir," Ginny answered, secretly thinking he couldn't have been more wrong. "I'll try to do better in the area of discipline. Maybe I'll watch an extra program on the television tonight as punishment."
"I don't need any lip from you, Weasley," Howells grumbled. He tucked the Dewitt deposition into a manila folder and with a flick of his own wand, sent it flying to a metal filing cabinet.
Hypocrite, Ginny thought bitterly.
"Having lunch this afternoon with Dewitt ought to be punishment enough," Howells continued. "I have a meeting with some of the other department heads at the Ministry this afternoon and he's expecting someone to bounce ideas off of regarding the new statutes on updating the Muggle Studies curriculum at Hogwarts. He's been chosen to write the new textbook series for that subject area, you know."
Of course she knew. It was all Wesley Dewitt ever mentioned anymore when he was around, which was much more often than Ginny could stand. He was a tall, thin Muggle man of about forty, with thinning hair the color of charcoal, and who had the terrible habit of calling Ginny "Little Lady" every time he saw her. Mr. Howells was right when he said having lunch with Dewitt was a punishment. She'd rather have cockroaches stuffed in her ears and nose and have her head charbroiled on a shish kebab than sit down for a meal with Wesley Dewitt.
"Meet him in the lobby at noon and be prompt … reservations for the restaurant are at 12:30, and they frown upon their customers being tardy."
Ginny wanted to ask him if the maître d' gave out detentions for tardiness, but she resisted the urge.
She backed out of the office and wended her way back to her own cubicle.
"This job is making me absolutely mental," she said, looking at her reflection in the monitor of her computer. She found the Muggle device utterly frustrating to use, therefore she usually left the thing untouched, unless Howells came by, saw it off and made her turn it on.
The internship Ginny had signed up for had been specific. She couldn't be put in the Ministry building to work until she had gone through a trial period first. Said trial period involved the dreadful task of living as a Muggle for three months. This meant living in a Muggle neighborhood, driving a Muggle automobile and going to work in a Muggle office, all the while doing these things without the use of magic. In fact, her wand had literally been locked away in a vault at Gringotts the day she signed her contract with Randall Howells, to be returned the day the internship ended. To make it all seem authentic, Randall Howells himself posed as a manager at a Muggle firm with Ginny as his personal assistant. Wesley Dewitt was their connection. He had worked for several years as a Muggle representative to the wizarding world and he provided access to his firm as a front for Ginny's trial period for the floundering M.R. Department. Many of the other interns who had signed on for similar trials had dropped out after the first few weeks, and the ones who did manage to make it through usually ended up burning out after a few weeks under Mr. Howells' strict supervision. He ran a tight ship, but if Ginny's father had faith in him…
But Ginny couldn't figure out if her own faith in Howells was running out or not. She looked at a photograph of her family on her desk, which had been charmed to be still like a regular Muggle photo. Their faces beaming back at her gave her a little hope. Christmas was right around the corner, and even Howells had enough heart to give her a break from her trials to visit them for a few days, even if she was still prohibited from using magic during her visit. That would surely give her enough steam to finish out her provisional period.
"He just needs to stop sticking me with crap like lunch with Dewitt," Ginny told the image of her dad. "I mean, there are worse kinds of punishments," she said glumly. "Or so I've been told."
She looked at the ugly, steel-grey office clock that hung above her desk. 11:53 A.M. She had exactly seven minutes to get to the lift and get down to meet Dewitt in the lobby.