Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all his world belong to J.K.Rowling. I’m just grateful she lets me play with them.
‘And this is where you’ll work.’ Hermione indicated a large desk near the window. There were half a dozen other researchers working in the room where Christy would be based. Well, perhaps working wasn’t quite the right word. One wizard had his feet up on the desk, his hands behind his head and a folded newspaper over his face that hardly muffled his snores. Two witches were having an animated debate about the colour of their nail polish in between ducking the paper darts being tested by one of their colleagues. In the corner opposite Christy’s desk, a young man, straight out of high school, she guessed, was anxiously checking a pile of papers.
‘Got it!’ he announced in triumph. Everyone else in the room stopped to listen. ‘Shannon, you had Puddlemere. Won by 75.’ He made a note and carried on.
‘Quidditch league,’ Hermione muttered to Christy. ‘They run an office sweepstake.’
‘Robbo said the Cannons.’ There was a general stir of laughter and the taller girl with the pinker nails acknowledged her defeat. ‘Jimsie, you’re still in with a hope with the Kestrels. Sorry, Bimbo, the Bats were already out.’ Hermione shrugged. Christy couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Bimbo? Didn’t they all know how clever Hermione was? And why didn’t she reprimand him? But the boy was continuing cheerfully, ‘I’ve still got money on the Falcons. And President Percy’s leading the table with the Holyhead Harpies.’
Christy wasn’t really interested in Quidditch, even back home. ‘You said there was a meeting planned at eleven?’
‘Yes. Percy wants to welcome you officially, and we’re all eager to hear about your research. It won’t be a formal presentation, just a bit of a chat so we can work out the best way to make use of you, okay?’
‘President Percy?’ Christy’s head was spinning with all the new names and faces Hermione expected her to remember.
Hermione grinned at her. ‘The new Minister of Magic. Ron’s brother.’
Not so tall as Ron, nor so loud, but unmistakeably from the same stock. Percy Weasley wore his red hair in a dignified style that set off his high forehead. His freckles seemed tamer than his brother’s but his eyes were just as blue behind the glasses that he wore.
He stood up at his desk and held out his hand to Christy, shaking hers firmly. ‘On behalf of the Ministry of Magic, may I welcome you to England, Ms. Miller. We were so pleased when Hermione told us you had agreed to come. I hope you will find your time here interesting and enjoyable.’
‘I’m sure I will, sir. Your project sounds real neat.’
Percy blinked. ‘Neat? Hermione, have those elves been tidying up again?’
Hermione laughed. ‘No, they wouldn’t dare. Not after the talk you gave them last time.’
‘I wasn’t angry with them,’ he protested. ‘I explained most carefully that I knew it wasn’t their fault.’
‘I have no idea what you two are talking about,’ put in Christy, before Hermione could start up again.
The Minister frowned at her, pursing his lips. Still trying to be polite, he explained patiently. ‘I’m sorry, Ms. Miller. It was just that you said the office was neat and the last time that happened, we lost a whole month’s worth of trial samples because the elves thought they were mouldy.’
Christy shook her head. ‘I didn’t say the office was neat, Minister Weasley. I said your project sounds neat. You know, it sounds good. Interesting. Worthwhile. Neat.’
Percy nodded at her then turned to raise an eyebrow at his sister-in-law. ‘I see. There are going to be more communication issues than we thought, eh, Hermione?’
Hermione smiled reassuringly at Christy. ‘Nothing we can’t cope with, I’m sure.’
‘No, indeed. Now, do sit down.’ He indicated a dark green leather backed chair for Christy, and a similar one for Hermione. ‘And, please, Ms. Miller, do call me Percy.’
Christy had no idea how she was going to cope with these people. She just couldn’t concentrate in the office with the childish humour and the endless banter. Hermione had assured her that she was working with some of the brightest minds in England, but frankly she’d seen no evidence of anything other than a certain amount of skill in practical Charms work from the paper plane manufacturer and an aptitude for word play from the young wizard who was in charge of the sweepstake.
At home, they’d always worked in a quiet, calm atmosphere. People communicated by getting up and going over to the person they wanted to talk to. Not tossing a pen at them to get their attention and then shouting the whole conversation across the room. Christy was used to being able to work without constant interruption. But here, she was continually being stopped to answer questions about life in America, the status of the Quidditch league in the US, and her marital status.
She’d blushed fiery red when one of the witches in the room - whose name might have been Charlotte, or possibly Camilla or Claire - had asked her about this after some fiercely whispered conversation with one of the guys.
‘I’m not married,’ replied Christy, trying to make it clear that she didn’t want to talk about it but no, this lot didn’t seem to know how to take hints.
‘Must have a boyfriend, though?’ said the one who she thought was Jane or Jenny. ‘Come on, you can tell us.’
Christy managed a tight-lipped smile. ‘No. No boyfriend.’
She’d agreed with Percy and Hermione that she would make a formal presentation of her research on the following morning. She really needed to read through the files of notes she’d brought with her and organise them into some kind of order. She wanted to have time to think through some of the possible questions she might be asked. They weren’t going to be interested in the Voodoo magic itself, Hermione had explained. It was the ways they had found to develop a permanent resistance that were of interest.
The real danger of Voodoo lay in its unpredictability. The magic itself was easy enough to resist, but since it could be performed at a distance, the victim had no way of knowing when the attack would come. Christy’s team had worked to help volunteers build up a permanent layer of resistance. It was this that Hermione and her team were interested in. They were working on methods of defense against the Unforgivable Curses. Most people could only hold an effective Shield Charm for a couple of minutes and very few had the strength of mind to resist the curses directly at all. Hermione thought it was possible that a permanent layer of resistance, like that used so successfully against the Voodoo, might be easier to achieve.
Christy wasn’t certain about this. The magic used in the Unforgivable Curses was significantly stronger than anything she’d worked on in the Voodoo team. She sighed loudly and pointedly and reached for another pile of pages.
‘Do you have time for a break, Ms. Miller?’ The Minister cleared his throat and Christy looked up from her papers. ‘I thought perhaps you might care to go out for a coffee with me?’
She sighed instinctively: after four days in England, she’d kill for a decent cup of coffee. But shouldn’t the Minister be at some important meeting? At home, if you needed to see the Secretary, you had to make an appointment at least a month in advance, and get through at least three officious assistants who’d all want to know your business. Apparently it didn’t work quite like that here. Percy coughed again, reminding her that he was still waiting.
‘Sure, why not? And it's Christy, not Ms. Miller.’ She gave the President - no, Minister - her best willing smile. ‘It’s not like I can get any work done here,’ she added under her breath. Three days in and, although she’d seen some of their reports that clearly indicated it ought to be otherwise, she had yet to have an intelligent conversation with one of her colleagues. Their puerile antics seemed to go from bad to worse.
She followed him out of the building. It had been pouring with rain when she and Hermione had left for work that morning, but now the sun was peeping out and she could see patches of blue. She breathed in deeply, glad to be out of that office.
‘Here we go.’ The Minister held open a door and indicated that Christy should go in.
‘Oh!’ she exclaimed. ‘It’s just like home.’ The coffee shop had clearly been modelled on the popular Moonsickle’s shop in New York. There were large, comfy looking sofas and loveseats, arranged around low tables. Newspapers and books had been put out on shelves for customers to read. The counter displayed all of Christy’s favourite snacks and the chalkboard menu danced with the delights of real coffee.
‘Hermione said she thought you might like it here,’ said Percy, clearing his throat awkwardly. ‘Have whatever you would like. On the Ministry, of course.’
Christy didn’t need to think twice before ordering her favourite. ‘Double Latte Grande Non-fat Organic Pumpkin Blended Extra Hot. And a Caramel Wafer.’ Percy blinked but the serving elf smiled broadly and clicked his fingers. He obviously liked a customer who knew her mind.
‘So how are you settling in, Christy?’ asked Percy politely after he’d ushered Christy towards one of the smaller tables and made sure she had everything she needed. ‘Is it very different from your work at the Pentagram?’
Christy crumbled her wafer between her fingers, torn between her natural politeness and her pent-up frustration. Frustration won.
‘Very different,’ she told him. ‘I don’t want to be the one to blab but really, I think you should know that no one seems to do any work at all in that office.’
He pursed his lips but he nodded and indicated that she should continue.
‘They don’t have any respect for anyone. Do you know they call Hermione “Bimbo”? And… and…’
‘Go on,’ he encouraged her. ‘What do they call me?’
She knew she shouldn’t do it, but honestly. ‘President Percy,’ she said defiantly. ‘And not in a good way.’
A muscle tensed visibly in Percy’s neck and his knuckles seemed to tighten around his cup. Then she watched in amazement as he leaned back in his chair and chuckled. Christy stared at him. He thought it was funny? Well, there was no question about it, they were all crazy here.
‘They spend more time worrying about Quidditch scores and office gossip than they do writing reports,' she persisted. 'Honestly, it’s like they treat that place as a playground.’
He’d stopped laughing but his eyes still twinkled. ‘Paper darts? Stink pellets? Every-flavour beans with all the good ones taken out?’
Christy nodded. ‘Yes, but…’
‘Did you notice whether the darts followed you round the room?’
‘Well, there was one that I couldn’t seem to shake off, but sir…’
‘Ah!’ He interrupted her again. ‘That’s very good news. He’s testing a new tracker device. Sounds like they’re making some progress.’
‘Look.’ Percy stopped smiling and his face took on the earnest expression that she’d come to associate with him. ‘I know it must seem very strange to you and to be perfectly honest, I don’t fully understand it myself. They never keep up with their paperwork properly, and I really don’t see that keeping files in the filing cabinet is going to stop anyone having a creative thought. Well,’ he sighed and Christy saw him shrug his shoulders slightly, ‘anyway, those aren’t your problems. I assure you, Ms. Miller, you are working with the top magical minds in the country. I know they may seem a bit... juvenile.' She raised her eyebrows. 'Well, more than a bit,' he admitted. 'I don't understand it either, but Hermione insisted and she was quite right. Sometimes the most brilliant ideas can look like jokes.' He paused and Christy got the distinct impression there was something he wasn't telling her. 'Have you met my brother, George?'
Christy frowned, trying to sift through all the names of the people Hermione had introduced her to.
'No,' Percy smiled widely for the first time and she thought how well it suited him. 'You'd remember if you had. Well, it doesn't matter. Anyway, I assure you that your colleagues do get the work done - you’ve seen the reports, haven’t you?’
She nodded. She’d been very impressed when Hermione had shown her some of the experimental magic that her colleagues had apparently developed.
‘Hermione knows how to keep them in check and I’ve learned to let her run things the way she wants. They do respect her, I promise you.’ When he clasped his hands together like that and leaned forward looking earnestly into her eyes, Christy felt she’d believe anything this man said. ‘Do you know why they call her Bimbo? It’s their way of acknowledging how brilliant she is. Last Christmas they clubbed together to give her a Remembrall.’
Christy shook her head. ‘Why would they do that?’
‘It was ten times the size of the normal ones you can buy. They’d found a way of increasing the capacity exponentially. Very clever magic, actually.’ He sat back and pushed his spectacles back onto the bridge of his nose.
‘I still don’t…’
‘They said that there were so many things only she knew, and she was bound to start forgetting sooner or later, so she’d better have something to remind her, for the sake of the nation.’
‘Oh.’ At Christy’s workplace they operated a Secret Santa scheme. Last year she’d got a velvet scarf. It was okay, but she’d never wear that tomato red colour against her pale skin. Mike had given her a MagicDuster. He’d said that he knew how much she disliked housework and that this would be a real timesaver.
'Do you have brothers or sisters, Christy?'
She shook her head, wondering what that had to say to anything.
‘Well, never mind. I'm sure you'll get used to it.’ He wrinkled his brow and Christy wondered whether Percy had ever really got used to the office antics himself. ‘And you mustn’t worry about trying to impress anyone. We all think you’re brilliant already. Your presentation was excellent.’
She could feel herself blushing, but she was glad to hear him say so. After she’d given the presentation, Hermione had been the only one to come and tell her how well she’d done and Christy had worried that she’d only done so out of politeness.
‘Try talking to some of the others about your work,’ he suggested. ‘See what suggestions they have. Get to know them a bit. And,’ that smile was back, ‘when they give you a nickname, that’s when you’ll know you’ve really made it.’
Courteous to a fault, Percy walked Christy back to her desk. When the other girls in the office talked and giggled about him, she hadn’t quite seen the point. He didn’t have the immediate impact of his brother, but there was something that sort of grew on you. Perhaps it was the way he always held the door open for her, not making a big show out of it, but easily and naturally. Or perhaps it was his thoughtfulness in taking her to the coffee shop and then letting her talk about her worries.
She watched him asking that wizard about the tracking devices. Ricky - she really must make more of an effort with these names - was pulling apart his latest dart and showing the Minister. Percy’s eyes were narrowed in concentration and his hair had fallen out of place. Christy suppressed an unexpected urge to push it back.
Ricky cast a complex series of Charms and the spell work appeared in a clearly diagrammed form on the wall. Christy was looking at it curiously when Percy glanced over and caught her eye. She stood up, smoothing her skirt, and went to join them.
‘Here,’ she pointed out suddenly. The two men followed her pointing finger. ‘I think you need to tighten up the Locking Charm here, and then you won’t have the problem with the trail.’
Percy nodded with pleasure and Christy knew she was blushing again. ‘Well done,’ he murmured.
Ricky looked at the area she was pointing to, whipped out his wand and made the change immediately. ‘Cheers, love.’ He grinned cheekily. ‘Don’t suppose you want us to test it on you again?’
‘Oh, no,’ replied Christy innocently. ‘That’s far too easy. You’d be much better off trying it out on the Minister.’
United for an instant, Christy and Ricky turned identical challenging faces towards Percy, but he was looking only at Christy. His features seemed to have fallen quite naturally into a pompous glare and she waited for the inevitable lecture.
He opened his mouth, took a step backwards… then turned and ran. He was faster and more agile than she'd have thought.
‘Looks like it’ll have to be you after all, Christy-doll.’ Ricky was still grinning.
‘Doll?’ She raised an eyebrow, not sure if it was disapproving or merely questioning.
‘Sure. You work on Voodoo, right?’
‘Voodoo defense,’ she corrected.
‘Right. Voodoo dolls - Christy-doll. See?’
She wasn’t entirely sure that she did, but Percy had told her that getting a nickname was some kind of badge of acceptance. And it was a whole lot better than Bimbo.