There are two types of people in the world: those who think the lifts in the Ministry of Magic bring the worst possible combinations of people together, and those who believe they create the best combinations. Griselda Marchbanks is in the small group who hold the latter view. During the century she's been working here Griselda has seen meetings of enemies and ex-lovers in those lifts, and just last week she stepped in to find Arthur Weasley glaring at his estranged son.
In Griselda's considered opinion whoever charmed those lifts knew what they were doing. There's nothing healthy about a bureaucracy where departments won't communicate with one another, or a government where Ministers can avoid everyone with whom they disagree. Usually, the person you're desperate to avoid is the very one you need to speak with, and the Ministry lifts ensure it happens - if you want to travel from the first floor to the second and the lift takes you to the sixth then it has a damned good reason.
So when Griselda pushes the button for Level Four, and the lift goes in the opposite direction she takes a deep breath and steels herself for the confrontation to come. Perhaps it will be that awful Umbridge woman who has been trying to strip all the useful content out of the Defence Against the Dark Arts syllabus? Or that girl she failed in a Charms NEWT last summer, who was recently hired in the Department of Mysteries? Well, Griselda has never passed an undeserving student and she doesn't intend to start now.
The doors slide open, revealing Amelia Bones, and Griselda utters a silent curse.
The last time she saw Amelia was at a Wizengamot meeting. The last time they spoke directly was five months before that, hurling insults across Griselda's living room before Amelia flung herself into the Floo with such force that she scattered sparks across the carpet. Griselda still hasn't mended the burn marks.
Amelia's shoulders square and her chin lifts - ever the Auror, facing up to her adversaries - and then she steps into the lift, and the door closes smoothly behind her.
Amelia leans over to press the lift button, and Griselda catches a familiar whiff of lemongrass. The memories spring to her mind unbidden: Amelia stretched out on her bed, hands fisting the sheets; kissing in the morning light; inhaling that scent on her pillows for days afterwards. It would be all too easy to get sentimental.
The lift shudders, groans, and comes to an ungainly stop between the eighth and ninth floors. All the buttons light up, then start blinking on and off at random. Pretending to break down is a trick the Ministry lifts reserve for the most intractable disputes, and Griselda's never been subject to it before.
Bloody thing, Griselda thinks, stifling the impulse to kick the wall of the lift. What would a bunch of bolts and counterweights know about my private life?
"Griselda," Amelia says quietly, and Griselda's head snaps round.
"What?" she says, perhaps more sharply than necessary.
"Fudge is calling the Wizengamot for tomorrow morning. They've set up Potter."
"Surely he hasn't done anything to warrant a hearing?"
"Of course he hasn't, but Umbridge-" Amelia pronounces the name as if it's a curse, "- set the Dementors on him."
"We can't let them do this!" Griselda says in outrage, and Amelia's hand lands on her arm.
"No," Amelia says. "We can't."
Amelia could play poker for a living, because her grey eyes communicate nothing she doesn't intend. Now Amelia's gaze is sharp, and her nails dig into Griselda's arm for a moment before she pulls her hand away. There's no mistaking the message: we need to talk about this, and not in the Ministry.
Griselda hesitates for a heartbeat, weighing the importance of protecting Potter against her reluctance to go another round with Amelia, but there's no contest.
"I'll need a drink tonight," she says brusquely. "I'll think it over then."
"Make it a Bowmore," Amelia replies, and Griselda's pulse quickens at the familiar code: Bowmore means meeting at Amelia's home; Macallan indicates her own.
The lift lurches, and judders back into movement.
"Fine," Griselda says, unable to tear her eyes away from Amelia's. "I'll bring the ice."
Amelia's eyes soften, and for an instant there's a hint of a smile. Then the lift stops suddenly, the doors slide open, and Amelia's face is impassive again. She gives Griselda a crisp nod, and strides away towards the Aurors' office.
Griselda pushes the button for Level Four again, draws in a deep breath of air that still smells faintly of lemongrass, and tries to focus her mind on Umbridge and Potter instead of the evening ahead.