Herbologist will arrive tomorrow morning. She has been briefed and you will be pleased to know that she remembers you.
Ginny arrived at the Ministry early the next morning, wanting to make a good impression and trying to have a good attitude but failing miserably. Bloody Remus, sending me to the bloody Ministry of Magic, where I’ll have to work for Draco bloody Malfoy, she thought. She frowned, checking her bag that was filled with her most useful books: An Encyclopaedia of Toadstools, Flesh-Eating Trees, and, even though she’d learned it by heart, the tattered copy that had made its way through Charlie, Percy and then her own Hogwarts career, One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi by Phyllidia Spore. She stood outside room twenty-eight, took a calming breath, turned the knob and walked into the office.
The first thing that she noticed was that it wasn’t a normal Ministry office. It was beautifully decorated and held several desks, but Ginny noticed that they were all much nicer than the standard issue one that her father had in his office for years. There were also several very tastefully done antique armchairs, one comfy looking sofa, and a large fireplace next to a tea station, complete with an appetising array of cakes and biscuits.
The second thing Ginny noticed was the personnel that were draped all over said furniture. A large, dark-haired man was sprawled on the sofa, one arm covering his eyes in a terrifically melodramatic gesture, while the other one was splayed out, trailing the floor. A small, blonde girl sat behind one of the desks, shuffling through some paperwork. A slim witch with a glossy, black, chin length cut and blood red lips sat cradled across the arms of one of the Queen Anne chairs repeatedly casting a pain relief spell on her head. The last wizard lounged against the other desk, calmly sipping a cup of tea, and was the only person who looked up when Ginny entered the room.
“Well, well. Look at what we have here,” he said.
The blonde girl looked up from her work and her face lit up into a brilliant smile. “Ginny! We hoped it would be you! Oh! I’m so glad you’re here!”
The dark-haired witch made a spitting sound. “Bell, if you don’t stop screeching, I’ll kill you, bury you, and dig you up all over again, just so I can kill you twice. Headache. Show some pity,” she implored, not moving or opening her eyes.
Katie Bell sniggered. She’s definitely grown up since Hogwarts, Ginny thought.
“Aren’t we thrilled to get Ginny, Blaise?” Katie asked.
“Hm? What? Oh. Yes, absolutely. We’re thrilled, aren’t we, Pansy?”
Pansy Parkinson opened one violet eye and gave Ginny a cursory glance before closing it again and casting another pain relief charm. “Ecstatic.”
Katie grinned again. “Don’t mind her. She just got pissed last night and is paying for it this morning. Blaise and Marcus did, too, but obviously Blaise handles it better.”
Blaise raised his teacup. Ginny raised her eyebrow.
“Marcus, however,” Katie continued, gesturing to the man on the sofa, does not handle liquor well and should not be allowed to drink with the big kids, ever.” She leaned down and yelled the last bit into his ear. The large man made a grab for the tiny blonde woman which she adroitly avoided, giggling.
“Katie,” Marcus began, sounding as if it pained him to speak, “stop being so bloody happy all the time, d’ya mind? It’s annoying as hell, and I’m big enough to crush you without much effort,” he growled.
“Behave, Marcus, or I’ll cast a cheering charm on you. You know how you hate that. You won’t be able to stop grinning until noon,” Katie replied in a sweet, sing-song voice.
Pansy put down her wand and looked at Katie, nonplussed. “Dear, sweet Merlin, no. I don’t want to have to look at those teeth all day.”
“Bite me, Pansy,” Marcus groaned.
“I don’t think I could keep anything down right now, thanks though, Marcus,” she replied softly, closing her eyes again.
Blaise smiled at Ginny lazily. “Don’t mind them. It’s another Firewhisky morning.”
“Evidently,” Ginny said.
Katie ruffled Marcus’ hair, ignoring his pained response. “Oh, they’ll be fine in an hour or so,” she chirruped.
Ginny looked at the petite blonde. “Did you not indulge with them?”
Katie giggled again. “Oh, sure, sure. I can drink them all under the table, and it makes them right cranky, you know.” She nudged Ginny and winked. “You can’t be friends with Fred and George as many years as I have and not come away with a few talents, eh?”
“I’ll bet that’s not the only talent you came away with,” Blaise murmured.
Ginny’s nostalgic grin quickly gave way to a slightly horrified gasp. Katie just gave the man an eerily Slytherin smirk. “Blaise. Behave, now. We have a guest.”
“She’s not a guest,” he countered. “Better to jump in to the deep end head first, right? She’s one of us, now.”
Ginny tried to smile. “Yes. She appreciates it, thanks so much.”
Pansy delicately repositioned herself on the chair. “Listen, I know it’s a lot to ask,” she said softly, “but would it be too much trouble for you all to shut the fuck up?”
“Hear, hear,” Marcus agreed.
Blaise tutted. “Manners, Pansy.”
“Sod off, Blaise,” she replied.
“You’re unbelievably sweet, you know, Parkinson.” Blaise said with a smile.
“I’m serious,” she stated, opening an eye. “I’ll kill you and make it look like an accident,” she continued placidly.
Blaise drained his teacup and set it down near the service. “Ah, it wouldn’t be a Tuesday morning without a couple of death threats from Pansy. Trust me,” he said, looking at Ginny, “in six months it will make you feel warm and fuzzy.”
Ginny opened her mouth to respond, but was interrupted by someone coming into the office.
“Blaise, you know it’s a violation of your contract to have anything to do with warm, fuzzy things,” said Draco Malfoy, striding purposefully across the room.
Blaise chuckled and nodded at Ginny. “Hey, boss, look what we found.”
Draco glanced at the redhead and sat down behind the largest desk. “Ah, yes. Our new Herbologist,” he said derisively.
Katie perched on the edge of his desk. “Come now, Draco. Be sweet.”
“Genetically impossible, you know,” Pansy whispered, not moving a muscle.
Draco looked at the pieces of parchment on his desk. “Stuff it, Parkinson,” he said calmly, “or I’ll run the rest of the meeting in Sonorous.”
“I’ll be good,” she said quickly. “Bloody bastard.”
Katie fairly beamed at Ginny, who was watching all the exchanges with growing distaste. “Slytherins,” the small blonde said conspiratorially. “They like to appear to be horrible, but they have an adorable side as well,” she said, lifting Marcus’ feet and sitting down, repositioning them on her lap.
“Nonsense, Katie,” said Blaise. “We’re every bit of arsehole covered arseholes with a terrible arsehole centre. Aren’t we, Parkinson?”
“Charming, Zabini,” said Pansy.
“If you’re all quite finished,” Draco growled, clearing his throat and glaring at his staff, “I need to brief Weasley and discuss the schedule for today.”
Blaise lifted an eyebrow. “I’d like to debrief Weasley.”
“Behave, Blaise,” trilled Katie.
Ginny watched as the staff slowly righted themselves. Pansy accepted a cup of coffee from Blaise, who winked at Ginny and Katie handed Marcus a potion that he murmured his thanks for.
Draco gestured to one of the chairs. “Have a seat, Weasley. I suppose you’ve met our team, then?”
Ginny looked at the man sitting before her. She had seen him briefly off and on when he worked for the Order. She knew he’d done some mercenary work, or so she thought. The thought that kept springing into her mind was that gigantic prick or not, Draco Malfoy was all grown up, and Mother Nature had definitely been kind to him. He was every bit as tall and broad as Ron but had hair that fell artfully into his grey eyes and a voice that made her stomach quiver a little. He had a way of looking at a person when he spoke to them that Ginny found mesmerizing. Dear Merlin, she mentally chided herself. She blinked her eyes to clear her mind a few times before she realized that he had begun introductions.
“Katie, of course, you’ll know from Gryffindor. Kate’s the best witch you’ve ever met with wards and charms; anything you might want to know about disabling a ward to get into a house, Kate’s your girl. She disarms them strand by strand. Really complex magic. It’s most impressive.”
Katie blushed at the compliment.
Draco gestured to the left of Ginny. “This fellow is Blaise Zabini. He recovers art for the Ministry. He grew up with Aurora Zabini for a mother, who has one of the most complete collections of magical art in the world.”
“And husbands,” Blaise interjected.
Draco ignored him. “He knows a fair amount about sculpture as well, and has done quite well for the Ministry, collecting enough art to be sold to fund the war for another couple of years, at least.”
Blaise leaned over to Ginny and whispered in a smooth, deep voice, “I have other talents as well, you know.”
“Blaise,” Draco said sharply.
“Sorry,” he supplied, looking completely unrepentant.
Draco took a deep breath and went on. “This lovely, albeit extremely hung-over, witch is Pansy Parkinson.” Pansy produced what would have been a grimace, if she’d only had the energy. “Pansy is in charge of antiquities. She’s salvaged furniture and other antiques for the Ministry to sell or redistribute to the surviving wizarding public whose homes have been destroyed in battle. And, ironically enough, despite her condition this morning, she’s also our team medi-witch. Ergo, if you’re ill or hurt, Pansy is who you’ll see.”
Ginny nodded her understanding, glad of the knowledge but vaguely uncomfortable at the fact that she’d been assigned to a job that required its own medical officer on staff.
“Last, but clearly in no way the least, is Marcus Flint,” Draco continued, gesturing at the enormous, hulking man sitting next to Katie on the sofa. “Marcus handles magical objects, both regular and dark. He, along with Katie, disables or destroys the dark objects and returns what can be useful to the Ministry.”
Marcus nodded. “Well, most of them, anyway. It’s hard to give up a flying carpet when it comes your way.” He waved at Ginny by way of a greeting.
“I am on the team,” Draco drawled on, “for defence and security and so these people can do their jobs. And I make the odd potion or two.” He rearranged some stacks of parchment on the desk in front of him. “And this, team, is our new Herbologist,” he stated flatly, the corner of his mouth twitching slightly.
He had spoken so highly, even warmly of the other people in the room, but his last salvo was imbued with such sarcasm that she couldn’t help but feel that he thought her position was unnecessary, superfluous. He may be fantastic looking, but he’s still a prick. That’s too bad, she thought. The pretty ones are always bastards.
“Yes, I’m a Master Herbologist,” Ginny voiced. “It is my understanding that the Death Eaters are using some violent breeds of herbs, and that I am here to help identify them and collect specimens to replenish the Ministry’s stores.”
Draco collected the papers and put them in a neat pile, tapping them on the desk, straightening the edges. “Hm. Yes. Team, this is Ginny Weasley. She’ll be protecting us from all the dangerous plants.” The corners of his eyes crinkled slightly and she wasn’t sure if he was being an arse or just teasing. Or both.
Ginny glared at Malfoy. He evidently hadn’t been warned of her explosive temper. She began to retort hotly, but he continued talking. “There were several Death Eater raids last night, and we have four homes to go through today. Stay sharp, do your jobs, be at the ready and everyone watch out for Weasley here.”
“I assure you, I can take care of myself, Malfoy,” she huffed.
“I’m sure you can, Weasley, but the unexpected sometimes occurs, however, and every now and then you have to be bailed out. There’s no shame in that. I expect you to watch out for them, as well. You wielded a mean wand at Hogwarts, if I remember correctly,” he stated, holding back a smile.
She tried not to flinch as she remembered the times she’d hit him with a hex. The memory brought an equal measure of embarrassment and pride. She stuck her chin out defiantly. “I’ve worked for the Order of the Phoenix for the last four years. I can handle myself just fine.”
“Fair enough,” he said pleasantly. “The rest of you lot pull yourselves together, check your gear and meet back up to leave in an hour. We have a lot of work to do today.”
He left the room, and Pansy and Marcus immediately resumed their recumbent positions.
Blaise leaned over to Pansy. “Can I get you anything, Parkinson? A fry up? A cigar?”
Pansy lifted her now drained teacup and growled, “I could kill you nine different ways with the handle of this cup right now.”
Blaise grinned, patted her head, and picked up a pack leaving the same way as Draco.
Draco got to his bunk in the attached sleeping quarters before he let his expression change. Of all the people he could have assigned to his team, it had to be her. She was a problem, the only witch he’d ever come across that somehow rendered his silver tongue null and void. Whenever he was around her, he said exactly the opposite of the right thing. He’d tried to get to know her a bit when he worked for the Order, but he’d always ended up stepping on her toes and being nasty rather than clever or suave. With any other witch he was dashing and debonair, but with Ginny Weasley, with whom he’d been intrigued since Hogwarts, he came out looking the fool every time.
He put his pack on the floor, sank down on to his bed, and put his face in his hands. He didn’t have anything to offer her now, anyway, as the Death Eaters had been using his ancestral home for the last seven years, and all of his funds were tied up in the Ministry’s war efforts. He was forced to work for the bastards, forced to share a room like he was still a student, and now he was being forced to work with someone who hated him. “Life just doesn’t get better than this,” he mumbled.
Blaise entered the room in a state of giddiness. “Love the new eye candy.”
Draco lifted his head and gazed at his friend. “You’ll need to stay away from her, Blaise.”
“Oh, come on, now, mate,” Blaise said, clapping him on the shoulder. “I remember how you feel about her. You become even more of an arsehole when she’s around. You get all tongue tied. I think it’s cute, really, I do.”
“Do not. Is not.”
“Yeah, you do. You always have where she’s concerned. It’s a dead giveaway. That and sounding like a petulant five year-old whose Quidditch figures got taken away.”
Blaise looked at his friend and was met with a steely glare.
“Alright, alright,” Blaise conceded. “But you might try beingnice to a Gryffindor if you’d like the favour of their attention. I’ve erm,” he coughed, “heard that works.”
Draco scoffed. “Yeah, I’ll bet you’ve heard.”
“Just try it,” Blaise suggested. “It might work.”
“Yeah, or I might get hexed,” Draco replied. “Those awful bat-things hurt.”
“Mmm,” Blaise agreed. “Fairly disgusting, as well.”
Draco stood up. “Okay. Kind.” His face twisted into a grimace. “I’ll give it a shot.”
He rose to go find Ginny. “I’m going to regret this, I’m sure,” he muttered under his breath on his way out the door.
Katie watched Draco and Blaise leave, then moved over to Ginny, steering her out of the office.
The blonde linked arms with the redhead. “Let’s go for a walk, yeah?”
Ginny nodded and Katie continued, moving down the hallway. “So. What do you think?”
“Honestly? I think Remus is going to have to answer for sending me into the snake pit. How do you do it?”
“Oh, Ginny, they’re alright, really. They had a hard day yesterday and blew off steam last night, so you’re not really getting them at their best, you know. Blaise, for instance, is terribly charming.”
“Yeah,” Ginny replied. “But there’s something about him I definitely don’t trust.”
“Oh, no. You shouldn’t. He’s plotting a way to get into your knickers right now, I’m sure. And if you’re not careful, he will,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone, nodding. “Be on guard. He’s a silver tongued serpent, that one,” she said, almost nostalgically.
I wonder what went on there, Ginny thought. “Oh, okay,” she replied.
Katie chattered on. “Marcus, of course, really is an angel. There’s a lot of bluster on top, but underneath it all he’s an absolute doll, and he really, really knows his stuff. He can spot a dark object at twenty paces; he’s made a ton for the Ministry.” Katie steered Ginny back toward the main office. “Pansy’s alright, too. She fixed me up after I got a nasty curse last week. I barely feel anything now and there’s hardly a scar. And Draco’s a great leader. He’s really easy to work for.”
Ginny was surprised her eyes stayed in her head. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“No, really. He’s a sweetheart, Ginny. Well,” she paused, “maybe not a sweetheart, but he’s a fair boss, he cares about us all, he’s saved me quite a few times, and he really isn’t the bastard that he was at school,” she finished.
“Stop it Katie,” Draco interrupted, entering the office. “I’m blushing.”
Katie giggled. “Sorry, boss. I didn’t know you were there.”
“Obviously,” he returned with a raised eyebrow and the ghost of a smile. “Kate, here is the revised schedule for today. Could you give it to the rest of the team, please?” She glanced at the parchment, then at Ginny, then Draco, and left the room without question.
“Weasley? A word?”
The first one that comes to mind is ‘arsehole’, she thought. “Yes?”
“Listen, Weasley, I’ve just revised the schedule and I wanted to make sure that you’re up for the job we’re going to do today. I think you need to--”
“You don’t need to worry about me or my competence, Malfoy,” she interrupted. “I assure you I can take care of myself and your little rag tag bunch of thieves. I don’t need to ‘do’ anything, I assure you. I’m capable of handling myself no matter what happens. My hexes are as sharp as ever,” she proclaimed haughtily.
His expression never wavered, but his posture straightened. “Alright, understood.” He turned and walked toward the door. Not turning back, he said, “We leave in forty-five minutes. Be ready.”
“I will be.”
What in the bloody hell have you done sending me here? They’re a lot of loonies who’re going to get themselves (and me, too, probably) killed because they’re too hung over to aim a wand. And Malfoy, the git, is every bit as condescending as he always was - his distaste for me is as evident as ever. I can’t work for him! I’ll just end up cursing him and no good can come of that, right? Please bring me home, Remus. I like Grimmauld Place. I enjoy the mouldy wallpaper and screaming portraits. I’ll gladly putter around in the back garden until the war is over.
Missing Mrs. Black,
A short while later, Draco came into the main office where the group had gathered to depart. Pansy had a medic kit and a bag with a strange collection of objects inside. Blaise carried a tube-shaped apparatus, Marcus and Katie were empty-handed, and Ginny had emptied her bag of books so that it could hold any cuttings she could scrounge from wherever they were going. She had also made room for a couple of sprays and some potions that she thought might come in handy.
Draco swept into the room and placed a Ministry of Magic paperweight on the desk they were gathered around. “Everyone accounted for? Good. Touch the paperweight, please. In thirty seconds the Portkey will take us to 145 Ivy Lane, the Longbottom’s cottage.”
Ginny’s heart felt as if it had suddenly dropped into her stomach. “L-Longbottom?” she asked, her voice wavering slightly.
“Yes,” Draco said sharply. “I was assured you could handle anything that came your way, Weasley. Was I misinformed?” he asked caustically. He saw Blaise shoot him an exasperated look out of the corner of his eye.
Ginny held the tears back that had gathered in her eyes by sheer will. “No sir,” she spat. “You were most certainly not misinformed. I can handle anything.”
With that, the Portkey activated and Ginny’s tears were masked by the swirling mass of bodies and cloaks.
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