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Chapter 1: The Woman
Stunning Banner by laelia@TDA!
‘Marcus, I want the results on the WWN demographics on my desk in less than five minutes—I need to begin damage control before it’s already made.’
‘Andrew make a thousand—actually make it ten thousand, better safe than sorry, eh?—letters of apology written and signed by the Minister and I—you know the spell—the moment this goes live. You know how these things always end up…’
‘Of course, sir.’
‘Steven, contact the Minister and let him know… Let him know that I am handling the situation and he is not to worry about a thing. I have this all under control.’
‘Just… get me a cup of coffee, if you would?’
The thirty-one-year-old Percy Weasley, Deputy to the Minister of Magic, smiled at the young girl, and he remained smiling until he had walked backwards into the safety of his office and shut the door. Then he exhaled, dropped his head in his hands, and slowly sank to the floor.
This wasn’t how it was supposed to turn out. Leonard was supposed to have the interview, talk about how proud he was of his father in his usual charming, witty way, the public would love him, and the Minister would gain the support that had been dipping recently and peace and faith in the government would be restored once more in the Ministry of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt standing proudly at its head. And, of course, Percy Wealsey at his side.
Since the war had finished, businesses needed rebuilding, compensation to families needed to be given, and insurance on destroyed or stolen property had to be paid out, but the public seemed to forget that they weren’t the only ones that had suffered. The Ministry had, too. In fact, the worst of all considering how easily it was overturned, and how easily the filth worked its way in, slithering up to the top and standing at its head.
Voldemort—yes, he would say his name, and no, the monster was no lord—had drained the Ministry’s Treasury dry of every single knut it owned, so much so that a civilian owned more than its own government by the end of it all. He had bought wands in bulk, no matter if they worked properly, clothing and food and a wage for his followers, and spent millions upon millions lavishing himself upon a mountainous pile of dead bodies, most likely literally.
Now, Percy Weasley had always been proud of being a pureblood—never mind his financial status, that didn’t matter—but the moment the Ministry was infiltrated and its enemies were no longer mad wizards and witches, those who wanted to expose the wizarding community, or those that didn’t pay their taxes, but then became a ‘Purity Promoting’ government, Percy found himself feeling rather less inclined to become its Minister after all.
Kingsley, however, was the perfect Minister: eloquent, handsome, amusing, a people-person, and honest. After being under the rule of a lying and cheating and mendacious government, the public needed someone new, someone who had fought and been a hero, but also suffered with the loss of his wife and his friends and was able to easily restore the faith that had been mislaid. He was the perfect person for the job, intellectually, visually, and heroically. Propaganda at its best.
Of course, Percy Wealsey had the upmost respect for the Minister, but he did rather appreciate how Kingsley was cleaning up the rubble-covered roads and paving the way for a smooth run when the time for a new Minister approached, and that man he most certainly hoped would be himself.
Kingsley’s son Leonard, however, had no interest whatsoever in becoming Minister—or any sort of politician, for that matter—he simply wanted to enjoy being twenty-one and having stacks of slowly dwindling cash at his bidding and going out drinking until all hours of the morning and being his normal, handsome, charming self. Or, as Percy Weasley liked to think, and the Minister himself had once called him during his rare, less-than-calm moments, a bit of a git.
The plan was that Leonard would have an interview with the Wizarding Wireless Network and praise his father’s efforts to help the country and the community stay running and in high spirits, answering the interviewer’s questions, inserting the odd witty, amusing comment that sounded ambiguous enough to both make the public not entirely sure if they were still suffering with a recession or not, and also make it sound as if he wasn’t flirting with the interviewer.
In short, the public needed money, and he would persuade them that they didn’t need it quite as much as they had once thought, especially when his poor father was trying so hard for the country to help the people and a few hate-mail questions were read aloud, again gaining sympathy and calming the wizarding nation.
Now, all of that should have happened, but instead it went a little like this:
WWN: Leonard! A pleasure to… meet you. How are you?
LS: Pretty epic, thanks, Sarah. And yourself? Get home alright after last night?
Sarah coughs politely.
WWN: So, Leo, tell me, how are you faring in this whole money crisis? Are you supporting your dad in the recession?
LS: Well, it all sounds like shit to me, to be honest, Sarah. I mean, if he’s panicking about not being able to fund the country, then he shouldn’t have taken the job, should he?
WWN: Oh, I don’t… Is that… is that your opinion, then? That someone else could have done the job better as our Minister?
LS: Well, for starters hopping over to Kenya and spending the weekend shagging one of the President’s wives isn’t really a smashing job of running our country, is it? Oh, and if you’re listening, Dad, you could have done much better than that.
WWN: Leonard, I’m not sure we can run this…
LS: Do you want me to make a pretty speech then? Alright, I’ll do just that.
Witches and wizards of Britain. How’s it going? Well, at the moment, not too well, from what I’ve heard. We’re really in a bit of a pickle and I know our Minister, dear old dad, is really trying hard to work this all out and he’s signing alliances with other countries and doing lots of other sh—stuff to help you all out but the leader’s only as good as the country, don’t they say?
I mean, Katie Stewart from Hull, you say that you lost your dog. Who gives a fu—cares? Some people lost their homes and their families and their whole life from the war, and five years on it’s still not looking too good is it? I’d ask you all to give him a break, but I’m not going to, because he’s just the same as the rest of you. You’re all a bunch of—
And on it went. And it was amusing, of course, terribly amusing, that the Minister’s son turns up drunk and apparently high to an interview that was planning to air automatically within the next ten minutes. Terribly amusing. The staff could even hear Percy's tinkling laughter from down in the Ministry's atrium.
Now, what the Minister was actually doing was trying to secure an alliance with the President of Kenya, the ruler of one of the only countries not affected by the war because of its already poor status, and hence soon becoming one of the wealthiest. But once the photos of Kingsley and President Akili’s wife, sitting by the pool and drinking Bloody Marys were leaked to the press, Percy suspected that the public might not have as much faith in their adulterous Minister as was once thought.
Despite how… compromising the images looked, the Minister was in fact no longer married to his late French wife (a fact said to have influenced Leonard to take part in his rather infamous activities) and President Akili already had many wives—fourteen, in fact—and it was unlikely that he would suddenly be in need of that certain one.
Percy had also heard, rather disturbingly, that he offered his guests the ‘entertainment’ of his wives. Well, he supposed the men in Britain had the quality of their broomsticks and over there they had the quantity of wives draped over them, but at the end of the day, the size of someone’s gut or their land or the number of slaves they had equated to one thing.
‘Money,’ he muttered bitterly to himself. ‘It’s always about bloody money…’
‘Talking to yourself, Mr Weasley? I’ve never perceived that to be a very good sign, but then you know what they always say: The mad are always the ones with the greatest ideas.’
Percy slowly pushed himself off the oak wood floor and dusted his trousers down, straightened his tie, and clasped his hands in front of him. No one could ever call him unprofessional.
‘And you are?’ he enquired of the woman, trying to pretend he hadn’t just been caught sat on the floor of his office and talking to himself.
‘I, Mr Weasley, am Audrey Adler.’
Percy raised an eyebrow but he said nothing, just walked over to his desk where the woman was perched, and held his hand out. She tilted her head down, stared at the hand, and smiled faintly, those red-painted lips quirking almost imperceptibly.
She took her sunglasses off, the ones that seemed to mask her whole face, and Percy found himself, for once, quite speechless. He had heard rumours of Miss Adler’s beauty, as had almost every man in the wizarding world, but nothing could have prepared him for what lay beneath.
Her face was long and thin, as was her nose, and her cheekbones high and pronounced, born from superb aristocratic breeding. Finely shaped eyebrows led down to a small mouth with plump red lips. Her eyes glittered like black diamonds beneath heavenly lashes, framed with dark kohl liner and a shimmering brown shadow, the exact colour of her hair that fell over her shoulders in soft waves.
Audrey Adler wasn’t someone you would give a second glance to. You would have to stop and openly stare if she passed you, drinking in the sight of her fine, womanly beauty and her willowy figure that made it impossible for her to look anything but exquisite.
The rumours and the photographs didn’t do her justice, and after a few unblinking moments, Percy found himself mesmerised.
‘Mr Weasley?’ she said. ‘Are you listening to me?’
His eyes shifted from her mouth to her eyes. ‘I’m sorry, forgive me, Miss Adler, what were you saying?’
Her lips quirked again. ‘I have been notified of your… problem, and I am willing to offer you help.’
‘Problem?’ he said, trying to walk around his desk to the chair in a way that allowed him to still look at her. He realised too late that he probably looked somewhat like a penguin with a limp and straightened just as he sat.
She sank into the chair opposite, like a lioness eyeing a gazelle as it stood frozen, wishing it could move and wondering why its legs wouldn’t work. Percy already knew the answer—he wouldn’t be able to run fast enough.
‘Our dear Minister’s son,’ she said in way of an explanation.
Before Percy could comment the door opened and Jane walked in carrying a silver tray, balancing a pot of coffee, jug of milk, and sugar. The blonde gave him a sunny smile, and he watched as it was wiped off her face when she looked to Miss Adler.
‘Would—would Miss Adler like a coffee as well, Mr Weasley?’ she asked, her head nervously moving back and forth between he and the woman.
‘That would be lovely, thank you, Jane,’ the woman said for him, and Jane gave her a hesitant nod before conjuring a mug and half-walked-half-ran out of the office.
Percy gave the woman an odd, slightly amused look as the door closed. ‘You know the name of my secretary?’
‘I know the name of all your employees,’ she said, nodding to him as he poured the black liquid into her mug.
‘And is there any specific reason that would be?’ he asked, stirring his own, tapping the spoon on the side, and took a sip, wincing as the hot liquid burned his tongue. He swallowed it anyway; it wouldn’t do for the woman to laugh at him.
‘Mr Weasley, it is my business to know yours,’ she said.
‘And… your business is what, exactly?’
She smiled. Percy wasn’t quite sure if she meant it to be that sultry. ‘Not yours.’
‘Hm,’ was all he said, taking another sip. He meant it to be an action expressing polite interest, or a hint of secrecy at a push, but he hadn’t learned; it still burned his tongue.
‘You know, they always said you came across as a bit pretentious… I think you look rather dignified, if I were to be honest, Mr Weasley.’
‘I…’ He swallowed. That was a backhanded compliment if ever he heard one. It was best to just say, ‘Thank you,’ he had learned.
She smiled again, but it was tight and forced and there was no warmth in her dark eyes. He hadn’t seen any of it all morning and he wondered if it existed within her at all.
‘Miss Adler, if you’ll forgive me I have some pretty pressing matters to be dealing with. If you would be so kind as to state your business with me, I would then have to ask you to leave and make an appointment with Jane in which we could discuss matters further.’
The woman only continued smiling. Percy realised it was her way of showing expression; her eyes looked so seemingly cold that he realised brown eyes weren’t as warm as they were supposed to have been, and he wondered if that smile had ever shown any cordiality.
‘Mr Weasley,’ she said, leaning forwards a little. He praised himself for being able to keep his eyes on her face and not on the opening of her crisp white shirt. ‘I am quite aware of the situation you are in, and if you will accept my help then I’m sure that can be resolved.’
‘You have said so already, Miss Adler, but what is it that you are proposing?’ Percy wore a slight frown on his face and he wasn’t quite sure if he’d seen the falter in her smile or not. He expected she wasn’t very used to having someone not so entranced by her sexual appeal and sultry voice, but he was an opportunist first and foremost, and if she were offering help he really would appreciate her ‘cutting to the chase’.
‘I have already conducted an interview with Leonard.’
He settled the cup down, the china clinking loudly in the sudden silence. ‘I see.’
The woman lifted an elegant hand, the nails painted a dark crimson and impeccably conditioned. She inspected them as he spoke, an almost bored tone to her voice. ‘He spoke rather admirably about his father, in fact, so it was a terrible shame he couldn’t have done the same today.’
‘A terrible shame,’ Percy muttered. ‘Look, Miss Adler, I don’t have the time to sort out—’ He was cut off by a knock at the door.
‘Er, sorry to interrupt, sir.’
Percy waited impatiently as Marcus bustled in, a sheet of paper in his hand and he handed it to Percy with a grim expression.
He looked over the numbers with a swift glance, swallowed a scream, and handed it back to the young man with a tight smile.
‘Thank you, Marcus.’
‘Sir,’ Marcus replied, giving a curt nod of his head and walking back out the door swiftly, stumbling a little before he shut it.
Percy exhaled slowly and ran a hand through his hair. When he lifted his eyes, the woman was staring at him with an odd mixture of puzzlement and curiosity before she quickly blinked and that good ‘ole smile was back.
‘Miss Adler,’ he said slowly. He wanted to make sure he was prepared for this—that he was willing to withhold his pride for the sake of his job. ‘Would you be so kind as to… send over your recording to WWN?’
‘It’s already done, Mr Weasley.’
He blinked. ‘Beg your pardon?’
She shrugged a little. ‘I had the feeling you’d ask me to do so already, so I took the initiative.’
‘And they accepted the recording without my permission?’ Percy demanded. He could already feel his face reddening. ‘Despite the fact that I was the one who sanctioned the interview in the first place?’
‘Mr Weasley they are as panicked about this whole thing as your staff are outside your door,’ she said calmly, and he resisted the urge to get up and have a look. ‘They automatically air these kinds of things, and they don’t expect them to go as… down hill as that one seemed to. They have no backup, Percy. Nothing except what else I gave them—a conversation that is rather more clean than the recording they currently have.’
It took him a moment to focus after she uttered his name, but he was otherwise trying to calm himself. Was he really that predictable? Was he really so destined for failure that this woman, this bizarre, utterly sexy woman whom he, as well as the rest of the world, knew nothing about, could tell what was going to happen when he planned something without the Minister’s guidance?
‘Mr Weasley,’ she sighed, apparently taking note of the distraught expression on his face that reeked of self-disappointment, ‘one of my people saw the photos of the Minister’s little… indiscretion, and I struck yesterday before Leonard would have the chance to see them. I knew that when he did there was very little to suggest that he would be sober or coherent when answering questions about his father in your interview this morning.’
‘And you could not have told us this before?’
She gave him a coy look. ‘Come now, Mr Weasley, how could that have possibly benefited myself in anyway?’
‘And tell me, Percy—and don’t tell me nothing because they always want something—what does the woman want?’ Kingsley asked, having remained quiet throughout Percy’s tale of the week’s events.
Miss Adler’s recording had been aired, irrelevant of the letter of permission that Percy had sent, and he had listened on in silence as Audrey laughed and flirted and Leo responded with charm and a charisma to be desired. She had listened too in the office, though Percy could feel her eyes on him and he daren’t look at her for fear that it was true. She had then stood up with an: ‘I’ll be in touch,’ and shut the door behind her, arriving apparently as quickly as she’d come.
Percy shifted, looked down at his shiny black Gravatis, and then peered back up at the haggard-looking Minister who looked like he hadn’t had a holiday in ten years rather than having just got back from one. He cleared his throat. ‘Ten thousand galleons, sir.’
‘Ten… ten thousand galleons? Percy,’ the man said quietly, austere as usual even in the most desperate of times, ‘does Miss Adler understand the crisis we are currently in? It is a money crisis. And that means that we cannot afford to be handing out thousands of galleons to someone.’ He rubbed at his forehead. ‘Does she not understand the whole point of the interview was to help with this recession in the first place and that by handing over that sum of money only… only defeats the entire objective?’
Percy folded his hands behind his back, gripping one wrist tightly. ‘I think she does, sir, but I think… I think Miss Adler is very used to getting what she wants.’
‘Yes,’ the Minister said softly, staring down at the profile of the woman that he held in his hands; it was a very thin file. ‘Yes, I have heard that.’
‘Sir, forgive me, but have you heard from the President of Kenya yet? It has been a week since you returned from your visit.’
He lifted his dark eyes to meet Percy’s. ‘No, not yet. Would you…?’
Find out from Akili’s secretary if the President has given any thought to the alliance without actually letting it be known that they were interested?
‘Of course, sir,’ Percy said, a small smile playing around his mouth.
He and the Minister had, over the years, become rather reliant on one another in terms of professionalism. Percy needed the man to guide him for when he hopefully became the Minister, and the Minister needed some who really knew the rules and regulations and the code of conduct and everything that the public expected to see from their governor. Though of course Kingsley was able to add the touch of a fatherly protector, the feeling of safety and the approachability that Percy thought he was still rather lacking.
‘She is a rather incredible woman,’ he heard the Minister mutter.
‘This Miss Adler,’ he said, lifting up the manila file. ‘No one seems to know what she does or who she is or what she’s worth, but she seems incredibly wealthy and she has people working for her, that much I know… For the Ministry to know so little about someone is astounding.’
‘Maybe there really is very little about her, sir,’ Percy said with a slight shrug as he stared out through the glass walls and down onto the bustling atrium of the Ministry below. He wondered if the Minister ever stood there, staring down at the people that looked so small and thought, I govern these people, or if he just regarded the whole thing as a weary job that never seemed to come to an end.
‘You can be as beautiful as a Siren,’ Percy continued, speaking more to himself than his superior, ‘and speak with all the alluring ambiguity you like, but that doesn’t mean someone has substance or intelligence or—or any worth.’
He put a hand over his mouth, shook his head a little as he reminded himself of his place, and when he turned back around, the Minister was leaning forward, his mouth slightly open and an odd look in his eyes.
‘You know, Percy, I think that might just have been the most passionate thing you’ve ever said about a woman before,’ he remarked, half-joking, half-incredulous.
Percy only smiled, but inside he was in turmoil over the woman. No one had ever caught his attention so, not even the studious, kind-hearted Penelope. It wasn’t just her looks—though they were certainly something to be revered—it was her air and that oozing, palpable aura that she carried around her like a misty cloak, and the throaty way she spoke and that infuriatingly puzzling smile and those glasses that made you never quite sure what she was thinking, and those hard eyes that made you wonder if you could be the one to reach through to them and the utterly entrancing way she held herself with a sheer confidence and certainty. But it was also the sly planning and the cunning with which she thought had been superior enough for him to miss the meaning behind her words.
The woman had said one of her people had seen the photos of the Minister, and he suspected the likelihood of them being the ones who had given Leonard the photos in the first place more than likely, and upon her orders.
‘Of course,’ he whispered to himself, ignoring the Minister’s odd look. By having the photos sent to Leonard, anyone who paid any attention to the news would know how he would react to them. They showed a betrayal to his mother’s memory, and considering Leo’s relationship with the deceased First Lady of the British wizarding government, he would then, rather predictably it had to be said, form an expected relationship with drugs and alcohol, perfect timing for the interview the following morning.
‘And then she’d already have an interview recording,’ he muttered, ‘a perfect trade for money, one that the Minister couldn’t risk refusing…’
He blinked up at the Minister. The normally sombre man was leaning forwards, elbows resting on the desk with hands clasped loosely, and a look of uncommon worry on his face. Percy Weasley had always been a straight-edged, moralistic kind of man, and to watch him mumble and mutter to himself, looking rather conflicted, was more disturbing than the Minister thought possible. When one is as uptight and constricted by rules and regulations your whole life as Percy was, it was always those sorts of people that snapped the worst…
‘Sorry, Minister, I think I just… I think I just realised something about Miss Adler.’
A small crease appeared between his dark brows. ‘Oh?’
‘I think… I think she’s a con artist, sir.’
He sucked in a breath and leaned back in his chair, the leather creaking. ‘Well that certainly makes things interesting…’
This short story is for the Summary Challenge over in the forums, and the summary I was given was: It all started one normal day at the office. He was mesmerised by her in every way. This is how Percy met Audrey.
The story will consist of three chapters including this one.
The surname ‘Adler’ was inspired by the Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as it was the surname of Irene Adler, aka. The Woman — hence the reason for the title of this chapter and the story.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this as much as I have writing it, and I’d love to hear from you! ☺
Ps. Thank you to CloakAuror9 and fauxthefox over at the forums for the help with Leonard/Leo’s name! ;) x