Eyes narrowed in concentration, her gloved hands steady, Hermione Granger cast a convoluted series of waves with her wand. The orb hovering before her crashed to the table, the glow vanishing from within, and she released a sigh of relief, a bead of sweat breaking from her temple.
"Very well done, Miss Granger," Lead Unspeakable Burke announced, and with a wave of his wand, his quill jotted a note on the pad of parchment floating alongside his shoulder. "You've deactivated the orb without significant bodily or mental injury."
"Yes, sir," Hermione said with a nod. "I'm very relieved, sir."
"I should say. Not all trainees are so successful," her superior clipped, a wry twist to his lips. Hermione felt a shudder creep down her spine at the thought. "That completes the last of your practical exams. Congratulations, Granger, I'm going to submit the final paperwork in order for you to become a fully certified Unspeakable."
"Thank you, sir." Hermione felt the flooding warmth of accomplishment. She had spent the better part of the last six months training for this position, and had faced some of the most gruelling magical challenges she had ever experienced.
It had been a physical, mental and emotional strain, and Burke had been a stern taskmaster, but she had pushed through – and she knew her mentor was proud of her progress.
Burke glanced over his shoulder as the quill crossed out two lines of copy, and scribbled something new. Satisfied, his lips curved up into a smile.
"We're thrilled to have you on board, Unspeakable-Trainee Granger." The quill carried on, racing across the page, and jerked back when Hermione peered closer. "Now, you know what this means."
"Right," Hermione said, unsure. "That I'll be able to work on my own experiments?"
"Yes," Burke said, waving a hand. "Small ones, at first, of course. But you'll no longer be shadowing a Senior Unspeakable. That doesn't mean, of course, that you can't ask for help. But your clearance level will be high enough that it won't be required."
"Fantastic," Hermione breathed. "Thank you again, sir."
"Thank you for your solid efforts." He caught the quill mid-air and tucked it away, along with his pad of parchment. "The Department of Mysteries has gained a valuable asset with you, Miss Granger."
Flushing from the compliment, Hermione stared as Burke walked towards the exit of the dimly lit examination room. "You can report to department administration for the assignment of your office and get yourself settled. Once this paperwork is submitted, you'll begin to see assignments coming in – beyond that, you are free to pursue your own work in any of the chambers, provided you submit a proposition first."
"Thank you, sir," Hermione repeated, beaming. She hadn't felt so relieved since she had passed her NEWTs with consistent O's, six months ago at the end of her eighth year at Hogwarts. But this felt even more significant.
"Aren't you glad we dragged you out of Magical Creatures now?" Unspeakable Burke turned back from the door, his lips tugged into a smirk.
"Yes," Hermione said with a chuckle. The work she had done during her first month at the Ministry had paled in comparison to the types of magic she had been working with in the Department of Mysteries.
"I told them your brain would be wasted in policy." With an amused huff and a small shrug of his shoulders, Burke left the training facilities, closing the door behind him.
Releasing a small, self-satisfied sort of giggle, Hermione pocketed her wand and peeled her protective dragonhide gloves from her hands, feeling the teeming warmth of the many spells with which they were imbued as she tucked them into an inner pocket of her robes.
With a cautious glance behind her to ensure the orb was still dull, she walked to the door, and with a non-verbal and wandless nox, the room fell dark.
Draco Malfoy yawned as he gazed around the Auror offices of the DMLE. He scowled, dropping his quill and shaking his hand out, part way through what felt like the hundredth report he had submitted since the completion of his training a month prior.
Biting back the usual sentiments on the tip of his tongue, Draco merely stared, unimpressed, at the Aurors lingering around the office, talking, drinking coffee and generally wasting time. If Draco so much as tried slacking off, he'd hear about it.
But many of these Aurors had been in Draco's same class – hell, he'd out-studied, out-worked and out-cast most of them. But yet, they were all afforded the opportunity to go out on real cases, and catch real dark wizards, while Draco sat idly by at his desk, pushing paper all day long.
He was sick of it – had been sick of it since the first week – but the last time he had brought it up to Robards, his department head had simply shrugged and said there weren't currently enough cases to go around.
Draco hadn't even been given a partner, so he knew they had no intentions of sending him out into the field.
"I'll tell you what," Robards had said, his voice gruff, even as he had stared across the office, "you've been doing great work. If you prove yourself, maybe you'll find yourself moving up the list."
Draco had silently fumed but nodded, realizing that it was the only way to advance.
And really, he had expected a certain level of unfairness and prejudice. He had seen it throughout the training, where the instructors were clearly suspicious of him. He didn't blame them – his father was in Azkaban for Death Eater participation, and Draco had barely escaped a sentence himself.
Many of the Aurors and instructors didn't seem to understand the threats Draco had been under during the war. But Draco had been acquitted, and had completed his Ministry-mandated eighth year at Hogwarts, his name clear.
The bridge of his nose wrinkled with the makings of a sneer as he heard Potter's raucous laughter from across the room. The only good thing about the situation had been the day when Weasley had dropped out of training, citing with significant and unnecessary fanfare that he would be going to work with one of his brothers at that blasted joke shop in Diagon.
So Draco only had to deal with Potter on a daily basis, and not both of them.
Luckily, Granger had not chosen to pursue an Aurorship. The last Draco had heard, shortly after he had enrolled in Auror training following the end of his eighth year, Granger was working in Magical Creatures. So provided he didn't have many cases involving the smuggling of Demiguises or poaching of dragons, Draco wouldn't have to deal with her either.
Not that it looked likely Draco would have any cases at all – certainly not anytime soon.
Pressing his lips together, his jaw tight, Draco picked his quill back up and carried on with his report.
"Auror Robards?" Draco asked, poking his head through his superior's open door. "Have you got a minute?"
"Auror Malfoy," Robards said, adjusting a set of spectacles on the bridge of his nose. "Of course, come in."
"Thank you," Draco murmured, sliding into the seat in front of Robards' desk. He hesitated for a moment, clasping his hands. "Sir, I was wondering, given there's been another new batch of Aurors –"
Robards held up a hand, pressing his lips together. "I understand. You hope to be partnered up and sent out of the office."
Draco couldn't stop the absent flicker of his brows. "Yessir."
"Look, Malfoy," Robards said, leaning forward across his desk. He removed his glasses and folded them. "I understand your concerns. Believe it or not, I'm on your side." The disbelief must have shown on Draco's face, because Robards quickly added, "Several of the instructors didn't even want to pass you through training. But you completed everything as required, and you went above and beyond in many cases. You deserve to be here as much as anyone else."
"Thank you," Draco grunted, taken aback. He bit his tongue to refrain from saying anything more.
"But I don't act alone, and this is what I can do to compromise. There are people who want to see your commitment to the department before sending you out."
"Before they'll decide to trust me," Draco drawled, releasing a sigh. "Fine."
"I want to help you, Malfoy," Robards said, a deep furrow to his brow. "I know you aren't your father, and I can see that you're dedicated to the cause here. I'm going to see what I can do to get you a case you can work on in the office. It's the best I can manage, right now."
"I would appreciate that, sir," Draco clipped, sitting a little straighter in his seat. "Thank you for your time."
"To Hermione!" Harry exclaimed, thrusting his fourth pint into the air. "The newest bloody Unspeakable who does unspeakable things that we'll never know about!"
"Hear hear!" Dean cried, clinking his glass with Harry's. They both sloshed ale all over the table and Hermione shook her head, even as she fought a smile.
She raised her own glass in a salute, giggling as she took a sip.
On her other side, Seamus slammed an empty shot glass down on the wooden table, alcohol seeping into its knots and fissures. Hermione found herself oddly fixated on the flow of liquid across the surface, and that was when she realized she'd had too much.
She looked up and realized Harry was watching her, a faint smile on his features.
"Your parents would be proud," he said, his voice quiet. She swallowed, forcing a thick smile.
"You think?" she breathed. "Maybe, if they could remember me."
Harry leaned in closer, pressing his shoulder against hers, and Hermione took brief solace in the contact. He knew, as well as anyone, the struggles she had faced around the decision she had made to remove herself from their memories during the war. He had been there with her, after the fact, when the healers declared there was no way to reverse the spell. He'd sat with her while she cried. He said, "They would be."
She released a tight breath, nodding.
"Now, here's the thing, Hermione," Seamus said, his Irish accent jarring and thick with inebriation as he broke the moment. She sunk back in her seat.
It was nearly closing time at the Leaky, and as Hermione blinked around, most of the patrons had already gone home.
Her gaze flickered back to Seamus, and she startled back into focus as she realized he was talking to her.
"– so then how does anyone know that anyone's actually doing anything down there?"
Hermione smiled absently, meeting Harry's glazed green eyes again. "I don't know, Seamus, how do we know you Aurors are actually doing anything up in the DMLE?"
Seamus waved a clumsy hand. "Of course we're doing work," he scoffed, "we've got… reports, and dark wizards and that."
"Well, the wizarding world hasn't exploded, imploded or vanished into a dark, gaseous cloud," Hermione snickered, "so we've got that."
Dean's jaw dropped, Seamus blinked, and Harry snorted.
"Okay," Neville broke in, having grown increasingly silent with each additional pint. "Hermione, can you do me a favour?"
"What is it, Neville?" Hermione asked, giggling as she finished the last of her mug.
"If you ever see any dangerous plants –"
A round of raucous laughter cut off Neville's request, and he flushed pink as he sucked on his teeth. "Just because, you know, I collect venoms, so –"
"If I could, Neville, I would," Hermione assured him with a grin. "But I would lose my job, and go to Azkaban for revealing Unspeakable secrets."
"It was worth a shot," Neville grumbled. He rose from his seat, wobbly on his feet. "I ought to go. Carrying on with my apprenticeship with Professor Sprout tomorrow."
"Good luck," Dean said with a snicker.
Neville flicked his brows and Disapparated; Hermione cringed and watched to be sure he hadn't left any body parts behind.
"I have a date tomorrow," Harry announced, deflating in his seat, dropping his pint to the table.
"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, her eyes wide. "You didn't tell me! Who is it?"
She hadn't seen Harry date anyone since Ginny had left London to play for the Holyhead Harpies after Hogwarts, and that had been nearly six months ago.
"You'll laugh," Harry said, dropping his head into his arms on the table.
"We won't laugh," Hermione assured him. Dean and Seamus nodded simultaneously.
"It's Daphne Greengrass," Harry muttered into his arms, his voice coming out muffled. He glanced up at the three of them. "She isn't, you know… like most Slytherins."
"I never knew her well enough to say," Hermione said, tilting her head. "Where did you get to know her?"
"At the Ministry," Harry muttered, sitting back up in his seat. "She works in the Department of International Magical Cooperation." He huffed, sliding his fingers through his disheveled hair. "I'm nervous."
Hermione was impressed he'd managed the whole title, despite that he had slurred his way through. She scoffed, "Harry Potter is nervous for a date. You'll be just fine."
"What about you?" Harry asked, fixing his gaze on her. He flickered his brows. "Anyone in your life these days?"
"You know very well there isn't," Hermione said, her lips curving with a smile.
And there hadn't been – not since she and Ron had broke things off in a terrible and spectacular fashion a few months into their eighth year.
Harry waved an absent hand. "If you're happy on your own."
"Thanks, Harry," she said, collecting her bag and leaving a stack of coins on the table to pay for her drinks. "I'd better go. I'm starting to work on my own tomorrow! And… I need to be functional."
She chuckled in a sheepish way.
Seamus tapped his temple sagely, saying, "Hangover draught, Hermione."
"Yes, yes," she muttered, rising from her seat. "Good night everyone. Harry, owl me about your date!"
"Will do," Harry said with a low chuckle. "Night, Hermione."
With a wave to Tom the barkeep, Hermione made her way to the Floo. An absent smile lingered on her face as she tossed a handful of powder into the grate, vanishing into her empty flat.
Draco's brow furrowed as he gazed at a plastic bag on his desk, its contents magically sealed within. He picked up the bag, waving it around in front of him, as his lip curled with the makings of a sneer.
"Malfoy!" Draco dropped the bag, fixing his face with a stoic expression. It was Robards. "I know, it's sort of ridiculous, but this is all I could get you on short notice."
"Understandable, sir," Draco murmured. "I haven't had a chance to look through the case file yet. Presumably this object is cursed?"
"Supposedly," Robards said with a grimace. "Or so says Madame Moreau. Which doesn't say a whole lot, given she's barmier than a doorknob, but you know protocol."
"Right." Draco eyed the bag again. Secure the item; investigate and determine the type and severity of the magic; neutralize the threat; file the report. "I appreciate you vouching for me, sir."
"Of course," Robards said, his voice gruff, as he clapped Draco on the shoulder. "Just keep your head down and do your best. You'll get there eventually, and better for it, having gone through these trials."
He nodded, swallowing at the sentiment. "Just one thing," Draco muttered, holding the bagged item up. "So we're clear, this is… a unicorn?"
He squinted closely at the small statuette. It was rather crudely sculpted and bulky, like a sort of overweight, graceless unicorn – but the off-centre horn on its head was rather conclusive, although it did had a strange curve to it...
Robards shrugged with a grimace. "Sort of what it looks like, doesn't it?"
Draco frowned, his brows high. "Suppose so."
"Let me know when you're done," Robards said, with a brisk smile. "You'll do great."
Draco nodded, still eyeing the figure with rising bitterness. Someone was chuckling over this, he was certain. Give the former Death Eater-turned-Auror who grew up in a cursed mansion a cursed bloody unicorn doll. Draco scowled and nearly tossed the bag into the rubbish bin beside his desk.
Instead he clenched his jaw, grit his teeth, and set to work.
Draco clicked his tongue, glaring at the figurine he should have tossed in the bin three days ago. The standard battery of cursed object tests had come back inconclusive – the most advanced testing had also provided no results.
According to the file that Draco had been given with the figure, Madame Moreau claimed the statue was an old family heirloom, but that it had been causing disturbances and strange occurrences in her home, and so she had sent for an Auror to take it to the DMLE to be assessed.
The only factor of any interest was a small engraving on the underside of it, and that could very well have simply been a scratch in the sculpting material, because it certainly wasn't any language Draco recognized.
For all Draco could tell, the bloody thing wasn't cursed at all, and this Madame Moreau was off her rocker. She was probably elderly and paranoid, and had found an old figurine on the day she had received bad news or left a bloody window open –
Draco scowled, rising from his desk, clenching his hands into fists. It was a rubbish assignment and whoever had selected it for him knew that.
He simply needed to walk away from the object for a while, return with fresh eyes and –
"Auror Malfoy," Robards greeted him as Draco approached the refreshments cart with a handful of coins. "How's the investigation going?"
Draco pressed his lips together, torn between admitting the truth – that he couldn't identify the spell on a stupid fucking unicorn doll – or lying.
Robards raised a brow, the curve of his lips suggesting he was amused, and Draco released a long sigh.
"I can't find any signs of a curse on the damn thing," Draco said, running a hand through his hair. "I've performed the standard and advanced tests three times each, just to be sure. Are you positive the bloody thing is even cursed?"
"I'm not," Robards said with a shrug. "But we have to check it anyway. If you're certain it isn't cursed, file the report and be done with it. But if you're doubtful at all, keep at it. If you're really stumped, you could try submitting a request with the Unspeakables. They deal with all sorts of ridiculous things down there in the dark. Maybe one of them can help."
Draco frowned. The Unspeakables would laugh in his face if he brought a trinket down to level nine. He couldn't imagine even showing it to them. And he knew word would trickle back up to the DMLE.
He was growing more and more certain this had all been a trick designed by someone intent on getting him out of the Auror's office.
"I'll take care of it, sir," Draco muttered, handing his coins to the witch at the cart.
Robards grinned. "I thought you might."
Draco stared at the figure later, his eyes squinted and blurry, and he prodded at the plastic bag with a finger, shifting the protective covering.
His finger grazed a rough spot beside its horn and Draco peered closer, casting a magnification spell. Draco frowned – it looked as if it wasn't a unicorn after all. It must have had a second horn once upon a time, but only one remained.
He sneered at it. Regardless, it was stupid and it wasn't cursed. If it was cursed, it likely wouldn't have been able to break at all. The very fact that it was broken suggested dark magic had never touched it. At least, not the sort of dark magic Draco was used to dealing with. Most cursed objects remained immaculate, despite wear and circumstances which would have otherwise caused damage.
But still… something felt off. It didn't have an aura of dark magic, and the spells had all come back negative… but Draco didn't feel right filing the report. His gaze flickered across the office to where Potter and Finnegan were cackling over some joke or other – again – and Draco's lip curled.
Cursing himself and the figurine he was tired of looking at, Draco drew a Ministry memo and a quill before him. Rolling his eyes, he jotted a message.
Hermione glanced up at a knock on her door. "Come in," she called, and the door swung open. Unspeakable Burke walked through, chuckling to himself over something.
"I've got a task for you," her superior said, smiling absently. "I've just met with a daft junior Auror who seems to have found a cursed unicorn figure that he can't solve."
Hermione snickered. "A unicorn?"
"He claims it used to have two horns, but that one broke off." Burke shook his head. "I'm not sure what sort of people Robards is letting into the DMLE these days."
"If it's broken it isn't likely cursed," Hermione pointed out with a wave of one hand.
"That's what I said," Burke said with a shrug. "He was insistent. And since I don't have time to deal with some ridiculous nonsense about a not cursed carving, congratulations. It's your first official case."
"Great," Hermione said, snickering to herself. "It should be good for a laugh, at least."
"I told him to come back with his notes tomorrow," Burke said. "Have fun, and remember department protocol."
"Of course," Hermione clipped. "None besides Unspeakables into the chambers."
The offices and administrative services of the department were outside of the Department of Mysteries proper – the chambers which were only accessible via the black corridor.
Hermione chuckled as Burke left her office, gathering a stack of notes that some low-ranking junior Auror definitely wouldn't have the clearance to see, and tucked them into one of the secure drawers of her desk.
This should be interesting.