Who: Blaise Zabini, Lavender Brown, and Nigel the Testee
Where: Ministry of Magic -- Apparation Testing Centre and the Thames
What: The Apparation testers have their first testee.
The typical weekday began at the bustling office on the sixth floor. Even though the office hadn't officially opened for the day's business yet, people waited in line, some taking the time to look at the pamphlets in their boredom, some still rubbing their eyes from the sleep.
As for Lavender, well, she sailed past the line, a scrunched up piece of parchment in the same hand she carried two mugs of steaming tea, her other hand holding onto a folder. She wore a bright, proud smile as she made her way towards Blaise's desk.
His first day at work, Blaise's desk was still as spartanly bare as his bedsit. Only a few moments ahead of Lavender, he stood behind it, head bowed thoughtfully. At the brisk patter of approaching footsteps, though, he looked up.
Lavender came to a halt a few steps away and greeted him with her sunniest smile, stretching out her arm to offer him one of the mugs. "That's Earl Grey in the cup. The maroon one's mine, but if you like maroon that much, you can use it," she prattled. Her eyes suddenly widened, recalling her manners as she steamrolled on. "I'm Lavender Brown. You remember me, right? Our teams jeered each other across the Quidditch pitch? That's my desk over there." With her arms full, she jerked her head in the general direction towards the entrance.
"I do," Blaise said, inclining his head in greeting. His voice was soft, an odd blend of Latin intonations with a Welsh lilt. "I'm Blaise Zabini. Blue is fine, thank you," he added, taking the proffered mug and cradling it in a gloved hand. "A pleasure to truly meet you, Miss Brown."
Lavender beamed, pulling her arm back. "It's great to finally have a new partner," she gushed in her Somerset accent as she made feeble attempts to pull a loose strand of hair from her face with her folder. "Is this your first day at the Ministry altogether, or have you been working in another department?"
"My first day," Blaise admitted. "You say 'finally,' you've worked here long?"
"Seems like forever," she chirped, only pausing in her ramblings to take a sip of tea. "Especially since they moved half the personnel to the Portkey Office during the World Cup. Portkey's apparently keeping them, so this place has been rather empty. Have you gotten the tour or should we start? Mind you, it's not much of a tour."
"Only just arrived." Blaise set down his mug long enough to draw off his gloves, tucking them through his belt. Taking the tea up again, he laced long fingers around the mug. "A tour would be appreciated, thank you."
Lavender nodded, taking a long gulp so that the tea wouldn't spill over the rim when she used the mug to gesture, the paper crinkling more as she moved. "That's the water fountain. It's only got decent water between eleven and two, which are the times we're out, but they don't really mind if we eat. The bathrooms are outside. The filing room is past that door over there. And Paul Daniels brings his dog in Tuesdays, so if you're allergic, I can get your stuff for you."
He turned to follow each motion, noting the indicated places and nodding. Finally, his gaze fell upon the queue. "And these are our ... applicants?"
For once, there was silence on Lavender's part as she placed the mug and crinkled paper down and sifted through her folder, pulling out a sheet. She studied the paper, then examined the line, then back at the parchment. Subtly gesturing at a demure-looking woman and a nervous young man, she announced, "I think those are Paul's." She nodded at another man looking through a pamphlet. "He's ours." Her voice hushed confidentially. "I heard he's failed four times already."
Blaise arched an eyebrow, for a moment looking every inch the Slytherin. He raked an assessing eye over the man. "Same mistakes all four times," he murmured to Lavender, "or does he come up with new ones?"
Lavender shrugged, tucking the paper back into her folder. "It's the same mistake," she whispered scandalously. "But he's getting better with each time. Or so Fiona told me."
His other eyebrow joined the first, the sardonic cast to his expression shifting toward intrigued. "Well, now. Shall we see if his determination has yet borne fruit?"
Lavender nodded thoughtfully, watching the applicant look around shiftily before tucking a pamphlet into the folds of his robes. "Maybe we should tell him those things are free." Then shrugging, she continued the conversation at hand. "If he doesn't, I have something prepared." She placed the folder down and smoothed out the wrinkled paper by her mug, presenting it to Blaise proudly.
Blaise took the paper, smoothing it again automatically, and examined the 'Fail' marking. After a mmhmming sound, he slid her a sidelong glance. "Don't expect much from him, I take it?"
"Well, I just thought we should use this colour from now on," Lavender replied, picking up her mug for another sip of tea. "It's much more soothing than red, don't you think? I showed it to Paul, and he just grunted. I'm pretty sure it's a 'yes'."
One corner of Blaise's lip turned up in a sardonic demi-smile. "A Gryffindor spurning red?"
Lavender scoffed from behind her mug. Keeping it up to her face, she mumbled, "Red's very..." She paused, unable to think of anything. "Blue's a soothing colour."
Blaise made that mhmm sound again. "And you think I intend to be soothing?" A dark amusement glinted in his eye.
Lavender huffed, "Well, you can do anything you'd like to them as long as I can use the stamp."
"I wouldn't think of standing in your way." Taking another sip of his tea, Blaise set the mug down on his desk. "Anything I like ... " He swept a gimlet eye over the twitchy young man.
For a moment, Lavender smiled proudly, only to have it falter. "Well, legal things that won't get us both thr-" She cut herself off and smiled again, this time forced. "You know, let's not make waves."
The glint dimmed a bit, and one of Blaise's hands fell to rest on his belt, thumb hooking into the wide leather band. "Mmm. Yes. Quite. So, shall we see if yonder young man will inaugurate your stamp?"
Lavender nodded while grabbing her folder. "I'd like to use it," she murmured, starting to make her way over, "but let's hope we don't have to. It's really difficult finding lost limbs."
A wand flick and a murmured 'Accio,' summoned Blaise's own folder to his hand, and he fell in next to Lavender advancing on the applicant.
Lavender placed her mug down atop several layers of papers scattered across a desk, allowing her to hold her folder with both hands. "Good morning," she said sunnily, when they hadn't even reached the applicant yet. "I'm Lavender Brown and this is my partner, Blaise Zambini."
In an aside pitched for only Lavender's ears, Blaise said, "One hopes your memory is better with the applicants' names." And, louder and directed at the young man, "Zabini, actually. And you are ... ?"
Lavender's smile wavered as the man supplied, "Nigel Cunningham, sir." His voice was squeaky, not yet completely changed. He shifted nervously, about to talk when Lavender prattled on, "Nice to meet you, Mr. Cunningham. You know the procedure by now, I'm sure. The portkey's over there." She gestured vaguely. "Mr. Zabini and I will take you to the location that you are to Apparate to, then take you to another location. From there we will take you to another location and you will Apparate back to the first mark, then to the second. Mr. Zabini will be at the second mark and I'll be at the first."
Blaise fixed one of his more disquieting stares upon poor Nigel. "If you have any questions, now is the time."
Nigel gulped audibly and shook his head, cowering under Blaise's stare.
Not noticing, Lavender simply beamed and strolled towards the portkey -- a branch -- in front of a sign marked, "10:15". "It'll activate in," she checked her watch, "two minutes." She wrapped her hand around one end.
Blaise moved forward, herding Nigel toward Lavender and the inoffensive looking branch.
The applicant held onto the branch somewhere near the middle, eyes darting between the examiners.
Lavender held onto her folder tightly, though she was tapping her foot idly. "So... Are you going to the ball?" Very subtle, that one.
Blaise wrapped long fingers around the remaining end of the branch. This close, a scattering of old, thin scars was visible on the back of his hand, long-healed nicks and cuts. "Well," he said, deflecting the question, "are you, Mr. Cunningham?"
Nigel was too busy looking stiff and frightened to answer the question.
And soon the issue became mute as the Portkey took effect; there was that jerking motion until their feet met the ground in shaded area. The testee was on the ground, while a windswept Lavender haphazardly shoved all the loosened papers back into her folder. "Point A," she recited, pointing to a faint marking on the ground.
Blaise lifted his head, sniffing the air as he looked around. They stood on the bank of a curve of the Thames. A copse of trees sheltered them and hid them from view, though no punts were in sight on the sunlit water beyond. "The Portkey and will remain here. Miss Brown will go on to Point B, and you will Apparate to her. Then you will Apparate back here, and the three of us will return to the office via the Portkey. Have you any questions?"
For the first time, Nigel looked remotely confident - even if it wasn't saying much. He got to his feet and managed to nod his head vigorously before frantically reciting the theory behind Apparating under his breath.
Predictably, Lavender beamed at the boy, enthusiastically clasping a hand on his shoulder and causing him to break off into an "oof" and take a hop forward. "You'll do fine," she chirped in what she thought to be encouraging tones. With that, she once again tightened her hold on her folder and disappeared from sight.
A good thing Lavender was encouraging enough for two, given her dour partner. Giving Cunningham a curt nod, Blaise moved back, taking his gloves from his belt and drawing them on. He'd just begun lacing his fingers to snug them smoothly down when the young testee took a deep breath and Disapparated.
When the young man appeared in front of her, Lavender's smile faltered a little as she thought of not being able to use her stamp. But there was a second part... She perked up and gave Nigel a winning smile, cheerily saying, "Good. Now, go back to the X. Take your time and-"
The young man had already squeezed his eyes shut and moved off, managing to not get himself splinched and leaving Lavender mildly disappointed. Unfortunately for him, he didn't appear anywhere near the X.
Blaise waited, thumbs hooked in his belt, idly scanning his surroundings. He was down near the water, well away from the X so as not to taint the trial, and so it was he was close enough to hear the splash upriver. Muttering imprecations under his breath, he drew his wand and waited for the current to bring the thrashing young man into view.
There he was, bobbing in sight and frantically clawing at the air while the heavy material of his robes pulled him down.
By the X, a crack sounded and an anxious-looking Lavender appeared. Clutching onto her folder, she called out, "Is he here?"
Blaise said, "Not exactly." Squinting against the sunlight, he aimed his wand at the floundering figure. "Wingardium Leviosa!" Still waving his arms about, the young man was lifted out of the water.
Nigel spluttered indignantly, hovering in mid-air.
Frowning, Lavender lifted a hand to shade her eyes as she strolled towards Blaise. Her brows knitted together as she shook her head sombrely, her fingers toying with the corner of her folder. "How far away was he? He could be right on the margin, even if he would have drowned."
The testee sputtered more at that comment.
Blaise shook his head. "Not even in sight. I only heard him hit the water." He crooked a beckoning finger at Nigel, who, realizing he had failed -- again -- began to droop as well as drip. A *crack* echoed across the water and he reappeared on the bank.
Unable to think of what to say, Lavender sighed, digging the toe of one of her shoes into the ground as she glanced around idly. Suddenly she brightened, supplying to Nigel, "At least you didn't get yourself splinched. You can come back in a week, and I'm sure you'll do better the next time." She received a doleful look for her misguided efforts.
Blaise slipped his wand back into his belt and studied Nigel, expression inscrutable. After several disquieting seconds of this he asked, apropos of apparently nothing, "You still live at home?" The testee blinked in bewilderment, then bit his lip and bobbed an abashed nod.
Oblivious, Lavender pulled out a form and placed it atop her folder. Her hand reached into her pocket and fumbled around for a moment before pulling out a quill. She began filling out the form, dotting her 'i's with smiley faces. Occasionally she looked up, her eyes flickering between Blaise and Nigel. "I don't think we should pass or fail him based off whether or not he lives with his mother," she mumbled, peering up at Blaise between strands of brown hair.
Blaise made a tsking sound. "So eager to use that stamp." And, to Nigel. "Close your eyes and tell me -- what is your earliest memory of that home?" Casting an uncertain look at Lavender, Cunningham closed his eyes as bade, brow furrowing.
Lavender gave a wounded sniff, returning to her form. "Merlin, you sound like you're about to injure him."
Blaise smiled a sardonic smile that wouldn't have eased Nigel's mind any to see. But the young man's eyes remain closed, his own lips curving upward a little. "Pumpkin pasties," he said. "The smell of them baking in the oven. It would drift all through the kitchen .... mmmmm." The Slytherin gave a curt nod, quietly slipping off one of his gloves. "Go there. Now." And he snapped his fingers right next to Nigel's ear.
Through Blaise's little speech, Lavender paused in her scribbling to eye him wearily. By the end of it she was fighting off a smile, covering it up by holding her folder closer to her face and muttering, "You're going to get him splinched."
"An educational experience in and of itself," Blaise said as -- *crack!* Nigel Disapparated. Despite his apparent bland confidence, the Slytherin cast a surreptitious glance around for body parts. Spotting none, he extracted his own folder from his robes and commenced tapping it against his still-gloved hand. Ten seconds passed. Twenty. Thirty.
Lavender placed her folder by her side as she also did a check for remains, although she was less subtle. After a satisfied wheel around the spot Nigel occupied, she lifted her wrist to check her watch. "Should we go look for him?" Without waiting for a reply, she began sifting through her folder, looking for a parchment with the testee's address.
*CRACK* It was an almost triumphant sound, matching the expression on the testee's face as he reappeared. Feet, legs, and head were all there, and arms all the way out to the hands -- one of them cradling a cookie crock of a lovely, restful shade of blue. Behind his own mask of a face, Blaise breathed again.
Lavender gaped at Nigel, her eyes looking for some part -- any part -- to be missing. However, she did have the decency to start drawing long blue lines throughout her form. Though she tossed the testee a large grin, she said a sunny "Congratulations" more to Blaise than Nigel.
Blaise assumed a smug, of-course expression worthy of a cat. Nigel positively danced in place, extending the jar to the two testers. "Cookie?"
Lavender managed to paste on a smile and shake her head at Nigel while struggling to keep herself from smacking Blaise over the head with her folder. "I'm fine, thanks."
Blaise didn't quite smile, but something like it glinted in his eyes. "No, thank you," he said, shifting his folder to the gloved hand and producing a quill with the other. Some quick notes, and he signed at the bottom in a graceful, flowing hand. "So, then," he said as he wrote. "I believe we have a Portkey to catch."
"Yeah," Lavender murmured in agreement, reassuming her cheerful disposition as she shoved her papers back into her folder. After casting another look at her watch, she ushered Nigel up towards the X, calling over her shoulder, "Five minutes." A beat. "Are you going to the ball?" So flaky, that one.
Blaise, following, grimaced. "Not in much of a celebratory mood, for some reason."
"Nonsense," Lavender said with a sniff. "For the first time in ages, a Slytherin has beaten a Gryffindor. Plenty for you to celebrate."
A flash of surprised anger segued to rueful amusement, and Blaise murmured, "Touché," inaudibly under his breath. Joining the two at the Portkey, he swallowed a sniping answer and said, "I have no one to accompany me."
If her head contained a few more brain cells, she might have had a snarky response. Instead, all she came up with was an overly helpful, "I'll take you" while looking for the branch they used to arrive.
"Leaning against that rock," Blaise pointed. "And whatever would your House-mates say?"
Lavender shrugged a shoulder, leaving Nigel by the X as she scooped up the branch. "That's why I have to go. See, if you don't go, people'll be talking about you."
Blaise made a twitching motion with his own shoulders. "Oh, I shouldn't think so. I'm nobody famous."
Still holding onto his cookie jar, Nigel cast the two of them odd glances; nonetheless he remained silent and grabbed onto the branch when Lavender stuck it out.
"I hear Harry will be giving a speech," Lavender said, trying to make it sound as enticing as possible.
"Now, that's worth staying home for," Blaise said, taking ahold of his end.
"Harry," muttered Lavender, sounding rather miffed, "makes great speeches."
Blaise tucked the folder back inside his robe with his free hand. "And who would ever dare deny it?" And Nigel finally clued in. "Harry? Harry POTTER?"
Tightening her grip on her own folder, Lavender sniffed once more, ignoring Nigel. "There's nothing to deny," she said vehemently. "Harry's a-" She was cut off when the Portkey activated, jerking them back to the Apparation Testing Center.
Blaise took a half-step to steady himself as they arrived, letting go of the Portkey as soon as he could. "Yes, yes, quite. I'm sure Mr. Cunningham would like to hear all about the inestimable Mr. Potter." Sure enough, Mr. Cunningham was already drawing breath and launching into a barrage of questions about The Boy Who Live, The Hero of The War, He Who Defeated You-Know-Who. With sardonic twinkle in his eye, Blaise made his escape.