The strangest thing about Voldemort’s new world, Hermione thought, looking at the forms marked “APPLICATION FOR EMPLOYMENT - MINISTRY OF MAGIC” spread on the table before her, was how fucking banal it was. And, though she hated to admit it, how organized it was. Rational, even.
Tom Riddle had spent his early childhood in the Muggle world, after all. How ironic it was that his shining Pureblood city on a hill bore everywhere the traces of Muggle influence in its imposed order. Brutal, yes, but undeniably efficient. In many ways the opposite of magic itself, which was essentially chaotic, unpredictable, frustrating.
She remembered returning from her first, deeply unsettling trip to Diagon Alley, the summer she got her Hogwarts letter in the post. Trying to explain to her parents over dinner exactly why she needed to buy quills and ink when ballpoint pens, as her mother pointed out reasonably, would do just as well. Or why there were 29 Knuts to a Sickle (she still didn’t know why — no book on the history of Wizarding currency had provided a satisfactorily-researched answer).
Unlike her, Harry had never been bothered by this aspect of Wizarding society. Had leapt into it headfirst, in fact, eager to trade his Muggle habits and tastes for magical ones, pumpkin juice for Coca-cola, the Cannons for Arsenal.
Perhaps it was because his upbringing had been so fairy-tale-like in its abuse and neglect—the poor little magical boy kept in the cupboard by his Evil Relatives—that he never experienced the satisfying predictability of what Hermione, secretly and only ever to herself, still called the normal world. That feeling of being able to look at a bus timetable and know where it was headed, and when and where it would stop. Or taking medication that she knew had been subjected to rigorous scientific testing and governmental review when she was ill, rather than being handed an unlabeled, glowing potion and being told to “Drink up dear, nevermind what’s in the bottle,” by a well-meaning Madame Pomfrey when she asked questions.
The past six months had given her ample time, too much time, to think such thoughts. Her last safe house had been the worst, four weeks in Dedalus Diggle’s garden shed. Separated from the rest of the Order, ostensibly for her own safety, but really, as Hermione knew, and understood, for theirs.
The Ministry’s Peace Keepers, the DMLE’s new arm that functioned essentially as Voldemort’s own little secret police force, had upgraded her to Undesirable Number Two. They thought Harry was in love with her, that he’d come out of hiding if they caught her. Hermione didn’t mind the fiction as long as it kept Ginny safe, out of the top ten Undesirables. In fact, she wouldn’t be surprised if the Order had planted the rumors with that goal in mind.
They’d joked about the “promotion,” her and Ron (Undesirable Number Six, everyone always underestimated Ron), before she’d been whisked away to the first in a chain of safe houses.
“You just always have to beat me, don’t you ‘Mione,” he’d said, a little tenderly. He didn’t even hug her, just looked at her with his lopsided smile that made her heart flip over. It was evening and the fireflies were out. They stood together in the garden, only an arm’s length apart, but it felt like some unspeakable distance. Kingsley, who was supposed to escort her, had turned away and pretended to be fascinated by an old watering can.
It was one of those moments, she reflected later in Diggle’s shed, lying on her bed and repeatedly casting Scourgify on a stubborn patch of Bundimun on the ceiling, that was a Moment. If she was in a film, she’d have leaned up on tiptoes, would’ve said something cute and dumb, like, “Well you just always make it too easy, Ron,” before kissing him. But she hadn’t. Why hadn’t she? Why hadn’t she?
When she wasn’t thinking about her love life or battling the Bundimum infestation or watching the light from the single narrow window move across the shed wall, she’d daydreamed about how her life would have gone if she hadn’t gone to Hogwarts. If she’d been sensible and listened to her mother’s advice and written back, Dear Professor Dumbledore, Thank you for your letter, but I must decline your offer of admission or some other such polite dismissal, and gone back to normal life. She wondered where she would have gone to college. If she would have gone into research and become a scientist, or a doctor. She’d have friends who’d force her to get pedicures together, or go clubbing. She’d share a cramped flat with roommates in London. They’d drink too much wine and watch crap telly. There’d be a boyfriend, or a guy she liked who she could kiss without worrying about whether either of them would survive the year, or worse, be used as bait to lure the Chosen One into launching a suicidal rescue mission.
She certainly wouldn’t be here, sitting in yet another unknown basement (“Better that you don’t know,” Fred had said apologetically, before blindfolding her and Apparating them both there, then promptly Disapparating), staring down a stack of paperwork that represented possibly the most insane idea she’d heard yet.
“I’ll do it,” she said.
Lupin just looked at her. “I’ll ask you one more time, Miss Granger. And I want you to really think about what it means when you agree. This is a long term, solo assignment.” He leaned forward in his chair. “You will need to use Unforgivables. You will need to lie, every moment of every day. You will need to pretend to love those whom you despise, and despise those whom you love. You will need to watch innocent people suffer. And you will need to hurt them.”
Hermione thought she had never seen Lupin look more tired.
“I’ll do it,” she said again. Still, Lupin hesitated. “I need to do this,” she said, voice rising. “I need to make myself useful. Please, Professor, I’m useless hiding in safe houses wondering how it's going to end. I can’t hear about anyone else dying without being able to do something about it.”
She thought he’d remind her, for the umpteenth time, “You can call me Remus, you know.” It was their little joke when conversations took a dark turn, as they did more and more often these days. But Lupin just looked down at some papers he held in his hand and cleared his throat.
“Miss Granger, how many people have you killed?”
Hermione’s mouth suddenly felt dry. “One.” He looked at her, eyes kind.
“How many times have you successfully used the Imperius curse?”
“I’ve never used the Imperius curse.”
“Miss Granger, I would like you to attempt to use the Imperius curse on me now.” Hermione almost let out a choked laugh. It was like a demented alternate universe version of Defense Against the Dark Arts. Except instead of teaching her how to vanquish Boggarts, he was literally instructing her in dark magic. She felt oddly calm as she raised her wand and pointed it at him. Her hand wasn’t shaking. Not at all. Lupin looked at her steadily, eyebrows tilted slightly upwards. She took a deep breath and centered her mind.
“Imperio.” Hermione felt a slight surge of static, and she knew, as easy as that, the curse had taken. It was a strange feeling—she had never asked Harry to tell her about what it felt like, but if she had to describe it, she might say it was like suddenly discovering a new limb. Except her new limb was Lupin’s mind. It would be effortless to make him do anything, she realized, as effortless as taking a step backwards, or imagining the color blue. She shivered. Tell me what Ron is doing, she thought.
Lupin spoke without hesitation, eyes glazed over. “Ron is currently directing an operation to cut off Voldemort’s sources of funding, from international sources as well as domestic. He is based in—“
“Finite Incantatum,” Hermione said hastily. She shouldn’t have asked—Order members were kept as ignorant as possible about one another’s activities in case of capture or betrayal, but she had wanted so badly to hear about him for months.
And, she admitted, some dark part of her had been angry Lupin had doubted her ability to cast an Unforgiveable. Angry that he doubted her. As if she were too weak to do what needed to be done. It wasn’t just Lupin, it was all of them—Harry and Ron especially, but also Kingsley, Molly, Aberforth...They all thought she wasn’t cut out for real war, that she was too self-righteous, too emotional, still the same girl afraid of dying, or worse, being expelled. And they’re right, aren’t they, the nasty little voice said in her head. You are too weak. Too weak to save Parvarti, weren’t you. The voice sounded remarkably like Snape’s.
“That was...very good,” Lupin said, his voice cutting through her thoughts. His eyes studied her face for a moment, assessing. At first she felt a hot flush of shame and guilt—she was back at Hogwarts again, caught by a professor helping Harry and Ron break the rules—but then she reminded herself that Hogwarts had fallen. They had lost. The dead had littered the field like autumn leaves. Again she saw Parvarti, the gold bracelet that she never took off, winking cruelly on her wrist.
Hermione returned Lupin’s gaze, tilting her chin up. “I told you. I’m ready, Remus.”
Tamora Peep had just finished up her evening jog and was about to let herself back into her flat when she noticed that the door to number thirteen was slightly ajar. Several loud thumps emanated from the room beyond, and then a woman’s voice, hissing, “Bollocks! Oh, behave, damn you!” Curious. She scooped up the latest copy of Witch Weekly she’d forgotten to grab in the morning and was about to head inside for a nice cuppa when the voice yelled again. “Stop, stop! Ow!” Tamora frowned and crossed the hall, knocking on the door before tentatively pulling it open.
“Everything all right in there, love?” She poked her head in and was greeted by the sight of a blonde witch being chased and repeatedly smacked with a broom.
“Yes, er, everything’s under...control!”
Tamora rolled her eyes. “Oh yes, I can see that. Finite Incantatum.” With a flick of her wand she sent the broom clattering to the floor. The blonde witch leaned over with her hands on her knees, gasping for breath. Tamora walked over and led her to an oversized, squashy floral armchair, the only piece of furniture in the flat. “There, there, take your time, dear. Catch your breath.”
The blonde witch let out a long sigh and looked up. “Thanks so much for your help. I’ve never been one for Charms, I’m afraid. Barely avoided getting a Troll in my O.W.L.” She laughed as if she had made some particularly funny joke.
“Don’t worry about it, darling. Are you just moving in?” Tamora scanned the room eagerly. Aside from the couch, there was only the broom, a single cardboard box on the floor, and several large dust bunnies. There were no personal effects in sight.
“Yes I—oh, silly, I haven’t introduced myself, have I? I’m—“ The witch paused, and then coughed, “Sorry, got a little frog in my throat. I’m Amanda, but you can call me Mandy. I suppose we’re neighbors?”
“Yes, sweetheart. I’m Tamora Peep. Ever so pleased to meet you.” And this was why she always took her business cards with her, even when jogging. She dug into a pouch around her waist and pulled out a stack of cards, handing the lot to Mandy.
“Oh, er...” A cloud of rose-colored bubbles floated up as Mandy attempted to read the text swirling across the paper. “Tamora Peep...Divinator of All Things Amatory...and...Erotic?”
Tamora giggled. “Your first reading is on the house! And,” she winked at Mandy, who seemed to be blushing, “if you refer a friend you get a discount as well. That’s what the extra cards are for.”
“Well, that’s very kind, because I love divination.” Indeed, Mandy’s smile was stretched so wide it almost looked like a grimace. “I’m absolutely fascinated with it.”
“Is that true! Well I’d love to have you over for a cuppa when things settle down here a bit. We shall commune with the spirits together!” Tamora did her best to sail out of the room dramatically, rather difficult in her Muggle athletic wear. “Ciao, my dear!”
Awkward girl, Tamora thought to herself as she charmed the kettle to boil back in her flat. Ideal customer, though. Definitely needs some help in the amatory department.
When she was sure Tamora had left, Mandy shut the door and bolted it, then cast Silencio over the room. Moving to the box, she tapped it with her wand, and what looked like the contents of a doll house floated out. With another flick of her wand she sent the items sailing. They grew as they zoomed into place, and in a matter of moments, an entire apartment’s worth of furniture had appeared. The flat was silent. Slowly, Mandy walked toward the new mirror over the mantelpiece. She touched her face in the glass.
“Hello,” she whispered. “My name is Amanda Brocklehurst. You can call me Mandy. I just moved here from the States. I grew up in Wimbourne. My father is a herbologist. My mother was a Potioneer. She recently died from a Potions accident, and I moved back to Britain to be closer to my father. I am a half-blood. I was a Ravenclaw at Hogwarts. I was terrible at Charms and Transfiguration. I excelled in Herbology, Potions, Ancient Runes, and Arithmancy. I’m about to start a new position in the ministry. I’m very excited. Nothing much more than filing and paperwork, I’m afraid, but it’s an honor to be serving the Dark Lord, of course. My hobbies include dabbling in divination and gardening. Most of my close friends are in the States, so I’m looking to meet people now that I’m back. I was rather shy at Hogwarts, you see. Came out of my shell when I moved to New York. My parents thought it would be best, so I could get away from the war.”
Mandy was pretty, she decided. Not beautiful, the way Ginny was with her flaming hair and blue eyes, but cute, with her wavy, chin-length golden hair that framed a cherubic face, her dark brows winging over narrow hazel eyes, her small, pouty mouth with the corners that drooped down. She pulled a wide smile, then a frown, then faked a gasp of shock. Terrible. Why had she ever thought she could do this. For a moment a different face superimposed itself over her reflection. A frizzy cloud of hair, dark eyes, a wide, thin lipped, expressive mouth. She shook her head to clear it.
“I hate sending you out there without teaching you Occlumency,” Lupin had said, “but with Severus and Albus gone...”
So she had done what she did best—studied. She read every book on Occlumency the Order could get their hands on, and the sources seemed to agree that the best way to avoid being caught in such a situation was to believe her own lie as much as possible. It was kind of, she supposed, like Muggle method acting. She was Mandy Brocklehurst. She even had Mandy’s memories.
That day, the day she Imperio’d Lupin, he had led her to a room, scarcely larger than a broom closet. A single mattress took up most of the space, and next to it, a Pensieve pulsed softly with blue light.
Mandy had been sick, Lupin told her. She had been sick for a long time, and her parents had sent her to the States to work with a Specialist healer there but nothing took, and she knew she was dying. And it was a lie, what she had said about not having close friends at Hogwarts. She had had one friend. A single friend. Mandy told Luna what she wanted to do, and then her father. They both agreed, and so one cold February day Luna arrived at Twelve Grimmauld Place with Mandy's body draped in a white cloth, and a cauldron roiling with memories.
Every day for a month Hermione had walked through carefully selected moments from Mandy’s life. Sitting in the fresh wet earth with her father, carefully potting seedlings. Her eighth birthday party, where she accidentally did magic for the first time (relighting her blown out birthday candles). The old cat who liked to sleep in the greenhouse and used to chase her about till she cried. Getting her Hogwarts letter. Feeling lonely, a rustic country bumpkin, in the Ravenclaw common room. Her devastating crush on Draco Malfoy, of all people. Working as a filing clerk at the Carnegie Runic Library in New York. Her first kiss, with an gangly assistant Auror at MACUSA.
Hermione relived the memories so often, attended to them so closely, that they became like structures in her mind, facades she could put up over her real memories. They were fragile and paperlike, and could stand up to only the most basic form of Legilimency, but, as Lupin assured her, few in the Ministry were capable of real, sustained Legilimency anyway, and she would have no need to be around them, or be suspected by them, if she did her job right.
If she did her job right.
“I know I don’t need to remind you, Hermione, of how dangerous this assignment is.” Lupin’s voice floated back to her. He had started calling her Hermione instead of Miss Granger when she had stopped calling him Professor. She wasn’t entirely sure she liked it.
Halfway through her month of preparation, Lupin had summoned her for another meeting. With gloved hands, he’d slid an old cigar box across the table. Inside lay a small ring, shining a dull, burnished gold.
“Go on,” he’d said.
Hermione had lifted it up and held it to the lamplight. A tiny gold wasp with rubies for eyes perched on its top, and as she slid the ring on her finger, it buzzed for a moment before settling back down.
“Bill found that one a couple months ago,” he nodded at her finger. “Thought it might come in handy. It’s goblin-wrought. Priceless, really.”
“Oh, Remus, you shouldn’t have,” Hermione joked. Lupin smiled, but his eyes were serious.
“That, Hermione, is living Novacula wasp, transfigured into gold. It obeys its bearer—the incantation is Angor Inwit, and then you merely have to envision its target. Its flight radius is limited to one meter, but its movement is almost instantaneous. Its sting is painless, and the victim will immediately slip into a death-like coma. If the antivenom is not administered within six hours, the coma state will become permanent. I,” he said, patting the pocket of his tweed jacket, “will be the only one with the antivenom.”
Hermione stared down at the ring. “It’s beautiful,” she said quietly. And then louder, “It’s meant for me, isn’t it.”
Lupin sighed. “Yes. It’s our failsafe. It only has one use, and there are more efficient, less suspicious ways to handle enemies. I don’t envision you needing to use it, of course. Your position is meant to be strictly passive until we need to activate you. It’s more important to become dependable, unimportant—”
“I know, Remus. Dependable. Unimportant. Unnoticed.” The three words that she’d been repeating to herself again and again the past two weeks, until she heard them in her dreams.
She said the words again now, looking back at Mandy’s reflection. Her reflection. She was Mandy.
“Hi, I’m Amanda Brocklehurst,” she whispered again. “You can call me Mandy. I’m dependable. Unimportant. Unnoticed.”
She’d almost slipped today. Almost said to Tamora Peep, “Hi, I’m Hermione Granger.” Idiot, she heard not-Snape sneer in her head. Hi, I’m Hermione fucking Granger. You might have heard of me? Undesirable Number Two? Why don’t you go on and report me to the Peacekeepers, collect that ten thousand Galleon bounty the Dark Lord’s got on my head.
She walked over to that awful floral armchair she’d had to bring (Mandy’s favorite), and sank into it. Only then did she notice that Tamora must have dropped her copy of Witch Weekly when she came in to help Hermione with her (staged) Charms fiasco. She picked it up, intending to toss it in the bin, when a flash of several familiar faces caught her eye. Stomach sinking, she looked down at the cover.
Draco Malfoy smirked at her. He was oh-so-casually leaning back against some white modernist cube masquerading as a table, crossing one long black-trousered leg over the other, hair artfully ruffling in the wind. She could just imagine the exhausted intern casting Ventus at him behind the camera. He was dressed in a variation of the uniform he had adopted sometime around fifth year, a combination of Muggle clothing and wizarding robes, a charcoal grey turtleneck and grey jacket with black robes casually draped over his shoulders. A strategic hint of stubble on his jaw. At his left and right she recognized Theodore Nott and Blaise Zabini in similarly affected poses. Pansy Parkinson smoldered in a smoky gown, leaning against Malfoy’s knees, and Daphne Greengrass perched on the edge of the table, hand resting on Zacharias Smith’s shoulder, who was doing his best to copy the Slytherin smirk and failing at it terribly. And at the far right, standing on her own, in a heartbreakingly beautiful black pantsuit, stood Padma Patil. She didn’t smirk or smile like the others. Her kohl-rimmed eyes stared balefully, accusingly, at Hermione. She gasped and dropping the magazine, then forced herself to pick it up again to read the headline.
THE SACRED SEVEN: MEET THE YOUNG GUNS REVOLUTIONIZING THE MINISTRY FOR THE FUTURE
Exclusive story and interview brought to you by Rita Skeeter.
She skimmed the article, phrases floating up to her:
“...Parkinson, appointed by Minister Yaxley straight out of Hogwarts as the new Social Secretary, gushes about the glamorous roster of events she has planned for the season...”
“Draco Malfoy’s eyes smolder like molten silver as he recounts his heroic actions at the Battle of Hogwarts. ‘The rebels were ruthless,’ he says, staring into the distance, clearly traumatized, ‘They were fanatical, they simply could not be reasoned with...We lost so many that day.’”
“‘There’s been too much death these past few years,’ Gryffindor Golden Girl Padma Patil tells me, eyes shining. ‘I want to do what I can to contribute to Minister Yaxley’s Five Year Plan. Only when wizards and witches unite can we be at peace...”
Hermione violently crumpled the magazine into a ball and threw it in the bin. She’d finish organizing her things and turn in early, she decided. Her first day of work was tomorrow, after all.