Disclaimer: I don't own HP or any of these characters. That belongs to JKR, Scholastic Books, Warner Brothers, etc.
In normal times, a degree from Hogwarts would practically guarantee its holder a decent job.
Unfortunately for recent graduates, that was no longer so. After Harry Potter's final defeat of Voldemort, the Ministry of Magic had decided to cut back on jobs. This was not a complete surprise. Most people had predicted that less Aurors would be hired. However, it came as a shock when other departments started cutting back on their positions. Apparently, Cornelius Fudge had been very lenient when overseeing departmental spending, especially in the last couple of years when it was clear to everyone with sense that Voldemort had risen again. When that crisis ended, reporters for the Daily Prophet had to search for news stories elsewhere. One of its top reporters had uncovered the fact there had been no checks placed on spending with the Ministry of Magic and as a result, it had consistently gone over budget for the better of the last ten years, at least.1 This had led to a controversy throughout the Wizarding World, fueled by those good wizards and witches at the Prophet, which had ended with the cuts in new hires being made to appease the people.
Which was the reason why Ron Weasley hated the Daily Prophet more than ever.2
Of course, the cuts in the jobs offered by the Ministry of Magic meant that there was more competition out there for jobs from other sources. To make a long story finally end, the end result was that most people needed the very best of grades in order to get a decent job now.
While Ron Weasley was certainly not stupid, he did not have the needed grades as he always had better things to do.
Which was the reason why Ron was now standing in front of the hated Daily Prophet's headquarters.3
If you did not have good enough grades, then you would have to use your connections in order to get a job. For Ron, using his connections meant taking a job at his brothers' joke shop. His father was unable to help him because of an incident involving a flying car in his second year. It wouldn't look right, Arthur Weasley had said, if they hired Ron to prevent the misuse of Muggle artifacts as he was best known for his misuse of such artifacts. Being thus disappointed, Ron had decided to try and work for his brothers. After one day on the job, during which he had been used as a guinea pig for an even dozen of new gags, he had unceremoniously quit.
The downside of quitting was that Ron now needed to find a new profession. On the positive side, he was no longer a sitting duck.4
Ron had searched endlessly after that for a new job. The end had finally come when he was offered a position as an assistant to one of the Daily Prophet's star reporters. Not having any other options and getting rather tired of his mum's complaints about his jobless state, he took the position.
He just knew he was going to regret that decision.
He squared his shoulders and walked in to his doom.
There are lies, damned lies and newsprint.
Everyone lies. It's a sad fact of human nature that no one seems able to tell the complete truth all of the time. There are some individuals who are able to get by on telling less than the complete truth for most of their lives. However, they will ultimately succumb to telling a lie, even if it's as inconsequential as a husband saying that he forget to get milk on the way home. The truth is he didn't forget—he just didn't have any money left after spending it all paying off bad bets about the Cannons finally winning a game and so could not buy the milk. However, he would get off easier if he just said he forgot.
Then there are damned lies. These are the horrid lies that one tells in hopes of keeping one's life together. This is when the husband claims to have forgotten the anniversary when in reality, he was decided to find a date for the night, rather than to come home and celebrate the occasion with his wife. These are lies that ultimately tear people apart and ruin their lives. It's another sad fact that some people never learn and so these lies persist.
Finally, there is newsprint. Newsprint, as any genius Muggle-born witch could tell you, has the capacity to be the worst of all. Most news stories have some basis in fact and so contribute to the integrity of the media. Unfortunately, some stories are completely fabricated to the detriment of other peoples' lives.
At least damned lies tend to hurt the liar as well as other people. All too often with newsprint, the liar escapes any retribution.
Rita Skeeter is a prime example of such a liar.
Ron was clueless as to how Rita Skeeter managed to keep her job. He had thought, once, that Hermione was able to put Rita out of her business of ruining the lives of others.
It came as a great surprise to him not only to find Skeeter to still be working, but to still be working at the same job. When he had questioned Hermione about this, she had mumbled a few phrases including damned bug, could survive anything, large bribes, and stupid Fudge. Being overly concerned with the preservation of his skin, Ron saw fit not to question Hermione further about this touchy subject.
Besides, he had heard enough to figure out that Skeeter had ferreted her way out of a bad situation.5
And hence, Ron now found himself in Skeeter's office as her new assistant.
Skeeter's office could not be termed neat by any stretch of the imagination. It could be considered amazing that she was ever able to turn out any articles because her office well hid any available facts. Yet as she was not too worried about sticking to the facts in her column, she saw no reason to clean up.
That was a job for her assistant to do. Well, one of the jobs. It was rather far down the list. There were bigger fish to fry at the moment.
Rita examined her new assistant, who was standing before her and looking at his feet. For some reason, he looked familiar but she couldn't place his face.
Or remember his name. Which wouldn't be a problem except for the fact that she had run through too many assistants before. Her boss had thrown quite a fit when her last assistant had quit. He insisted that she treat her next assistant better or do without.
And doing without one just would not do. Who would make her tea in the mornings?
So she had decided to take the extra time and memorize her new assistant's name. Only she had forgotten that name now. Rita seemed to remember it being short. First name being three letters long and last name ending in –ley.
Oh well, she might as well give it a shot.
"Bum Beasley?" she hazarded.
Ron sighed. This was not going to be a good first day on the job. "It's Ron Weasley," he corrected her.
Rita paused. For some reason, that name sounded familiar. After a second or two of attempted thought, she gave up. If it was important, she would find out about it later.
"So Rum, ever heard of Harry Potter and Hermione Granger?"
"Yes." Of course Ron had heard about his best friends. "And it's Ron, not Rum."
"That's what I said, didn't I? And have you heard of the two's relationship and impending marriage?"
"No, can't say that I have."
That was a lie.
Even a blind man could see that Harry and Hermione felt more than just mere platonic affection for one another. Ron had many faults, but being worse than blind was not one of them. He knew they were in love with each other before they did.
Or rather, to be completely truthful, he knew before Harry did. Hermione was always a clever witch and was able to figure out the truth very quickly. Ron suspected that she knew since the end of their fourth year. When Harry did put all the pieces together, it didn't take very long at all for them to start dating.
Human nature, once again, caused problems.6
Even though what happened on Harry and Hermione's first date should have been their business alone, everyone seemed to want to know about the dirty details.7 Hermione had been constantly harassed by her roommates to tell them about everything. While most teenage girls attending a boarding school would go through similar experiences, most of them did not have to deal with persistent reporters constantly haranguing them for details.
Harry and Hermione were both individuals who valued their privacy and thus their response to such reporters was always a firm no. Occasionally, the 'no' was much stronger than firm, as Harry did not like at all those reporters who wrote derogatory articles about Hermione and Hermione sometimes got very annoyed at people not being able to find anything better to fill their time with. Eventually all but the most stupid gave up.
And when it came to being stupid, Rita Skeeter had always been at the top of the list.
Ron shook the magic 8-ball. He could not believe that this was his first assignment. Skeeter had been babbling something about statistical analysis while managing to find new ways to mangle his name.
As soon as she had said statistical analysis, his stomach had turned. He just knew Divination was going to make an appearance. And it did—in the form of a rather dinky Muggle artifact.
If Arthur Weasley could not get Ron a job at his department before, there was no way that he could ever help Ron now. If this wasn't the misuse of a Muggle artifact, Ron did not know what was.
His task was awfully tedious. He was to ask a question about Harry and Hermione, shake the ball, and record whether the answer was positive, negative or neutral. So far all responses had been negative.
"Will Harry and Hermione ever get married?"
No such luck.
"Will Harry and Hermione have a date this weekend?"
I doubt it.
"Will Harry and Hermione kiss tonight?"
Don't count on it.
Ron sighed. This Muggle invention clearly did not work. While he did not think a date had been set for a wedding, he would bet that his friends would eventually tie the know. Furthermore, he knew for a fact that they had plans to go out this weekend. Finally, if he could find any of his friends who really thought that the love birds would not kiss tonight—well, Ron had a few bridges to sell them. He could use the money to quit this dead-end job.
Just then, Rita entered the room and sat down. "So Don, how are the responses?" she asked.
"They're all negative. And it's Ron."
"It is? Not Don, short for Donald, after the duck? And what did you say the responses were like again?"
"All negative." Ron tried to no avail not to recall his time as a duck.
"All negative?" Rita jumped up. "This is great!" she exclaimed. "This is the perfect scoop!"
Now Ron was really confused. "Huh?" he said. "How could a bunch of no's count as the perfect scoop?"
"You're so naïve, Quack. The little fortune-telling device evidently is trying to hide something so it's always giving negative answers to throw you off track. Fortunately, it takes more than a silly Muggle invention to confuse me. I just know that there's something those two are planning and I'm going to be the one to find out!" Rita began to dig amongst the rubble of her office, looking for pens and parchment.
"So what you're saying is that it would have been a scoop no matter what the thing had said? That this whole thing was rigged?" Ron was not even going to correct her about his name anymore. She just kept getting worse and worse. Now he really couldn't stop thinking about his time as a duck.
"Of course it was rigged. But those two couldn't fool me! Come on and get ready to go. Those two aren't going to be able to weasel out of telling the truth this time!" With that, Rita Skeeter marched out the door.
Ron groaned. He really hated that phrase. Not to mention, his boss's logic was truly twisted. No matter what had happened, she had already decided to pester his friends. It made him wonder why she even bothered with the magic 8-ball nonsense.
Ron headed out the door. No matter what happened or how stupid he thought this job was, he could not afford to lose it.
He sighed. He just knew Harry and Hermione were going to kill him.
He shook the ball.
If you already knew it, then why did you bother to ask?
1 Unfortunately, due to a lack of well-kept records, no reporter was able to verify that this problem had actually been going on for longer than ten years. Because of the lack of available facts, they could not very well print anything substantial about this. The problem was efficiently handed over to the gossip department, which normally would have printed any and all relevant rumors. However, as the main writer for the gossip department had other fish to fry, so to speak, and so fortunately for MoM and all the beleaguered job seekers, nothing more was said on the subject.
2 Ron was not alone in his newfound contempt for the Daily Prophet. Many of his fellow classmates now also had a deep-rooted dislike for the publication and its employees. Two of them in particular, Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan, now spent much of their spare time composing rather off-color ballads and inventing new drinking games to mock especially detested Prophet reporters at the Three Broomsticks. As both were jobless, all of their time was spare time and so they were able to create a remarkable amount of songs and games.
3 He was certain that his old classmates would look poorly upon his new job. I hate to tell you this, dear readers, but Ron was right. Even as he stood there outside, Dean and Seamus were creating a new drinking game involving an old Muggle song Seamus had once heard—Pop Goes the Weasel. It would go on to be very popular at the Three Broomsticks, much to Ron's dismay.
4 The fourth of Gred and Forge's pranks.
5 Most people would use the phrase, weasel her way out. However, Ron, being a Weasley, took umbrage at such a phrase. While he would prefer to say malfoy her way out, it didn't sound right and besides, it was generally not polite to make fun of your younger sister's last boyfriend in public. Of course, Ron did not really care about being polite when it came to Malfoys, but he did care about remaining in one piece. Therefore, he generally decided to take a subtle approach and use the term ferret instead.
6 In fact, much of the world's problems can be traced back to human nature. One scientific experiment attributed 95% of all problems to human nature. The other five percent of problems were caused by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
7 Not that there were any dirty details to
tell. It was, overall, an average first date with both parties not
being too sure of themselves. More specific details are known by
Harry and Hermione alone.
Author's note: I hope the endnotes are not too confusing to read--at least I can say that the prologue has more than the average chapter will have. In any case, I would love to know what you think about this story. Please review.