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Chapter 3 : Arrangements
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“Brucie? Are you in?”
The office of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures was not normally this cold in the morning, and considering Hermione had walked to work on this warm May day with just a jacket thrown over her work clothes, the chill was almost biting. She pulled the coat around herself a little bit more tightly and scanned the various desks for sign of her co-worker.
Here, in the Office for House-Elf Relocation, she was routinely the second person in every morning, though the arrival of the first was down to shift patterns rather than any keenness of his own. Thus, although she expected the office to be rather quiet, it being absolutely abandoned was new.
With a sigh, she deposited her bag onto one of the desks and padded over to the fireplace. It was cold and empty, and so it was with not an insignificant amount of grumbling that she set about making the fire.
There were certain advantages to the Ministry of Magic having its offices underground, secrecy being the biggest and space being the second. Warmth was usually not a problem so long as the offices were well-maintained, but that step appeared to have been bypassed by the staff today.
When she was finished and the fire was crackling away merrily, chasing the chill inside her, Hermione brushed her hands off and stood to, again, regard the rest of the office. “Brucie, I know you didn’t have today booked off. Are you there?” She hunched down a little to peer between the desks in the administrative pen.
But there was nothing, so Hermione retrieved her bag and made her way over to her office. It was a small, cramped affair, but her department had never been highly regarded enough to enjoy particularly comfortable facilities, and considering she herself was right at the very bottom of importance when it came to people who deserved their very own office, it was the most she could hope for.
With little ceremony she pulled some of the paperwork she’d finished at home out of her bag and sat down at her desk, keeping her jacket on for a while until the whole office warmed up from the fire. The documents before her were all ordered neatly, well labelled and well prioritised, and so within seconds she was losing herself in the latest drafts of the bill that would hopefully ban physical abuse of House Elves.
She must have lost forty-five minutes like this, only dimly registering when the clocks chimed nine and still going on until there was a knock at her half-open door.
“Er… Hermione?” Julius Crawford, the director of the office, poked his head around her door with a slightly hesitant air.
She was jerked very slightly out of her reverie, blinking and looking up at Crawford and only just then realising that, with the fire having done its work, she was now very warm. “Oh, Julius, good morning.”
“Morning.” He took a half-step into the office. “Can’t sit and chat, I’ve got to talk to the boys down in legislation to make sure we’re getting the wording right on the drafts so far for the Elf Abuse Bill. I was just wondering if you’ve seen Brucie?” Crawford was rather young for the head of an office, which was more a reflection on the low important of their department rather than his abilities. In his mid-thirties, he tended to wear robes that looked like he’d owned them since leaving school, with messy light brown hair and a tendency to fidget nervously.
Hermione shook her head. “No, he wasn’t here when I got in. I had to set up the fire myself,” she said, shrugging off her jacket. “It’s not his day off, is it?”
“No, and the desks are a mess. I don’t think he’s been in all night.” Crawford gave a wry smile. “You’d think if we were paying the House Elves to do the work here at the Ministry they’d have been more productive…”
“I’m sure he’s got a very good reason for not being in,” Hermione replied, a little hotly. “He might just be ill. You should try and get in touch.”
Crawford blinked at her as what had been intended as a joke fell flat. Most everyone else in the office had a love-hate relationship with House Elves, insulting them amongst themselves but kicking up a stink if anyone else would dare criticise the creatures. But all of the staff had learnt, and usually remembered, that even joking criticism should be avoided in the presence of Hermione Granger, whose usually perfectly adept humour-detecting skills imploded on the subject of House Elves.
“I… I will,” Crawford said, sagging a little. “But there’s one other thing, something actually important.” He ignored the slight expression of outrage that crossed Hermione’s face at the implication that House Elves weren’t important. “I got a message yesterday from the Department of Mysteries. They want to talk to you, and as you were out and about in Kent all day, I booked them in for a meeting with you this morning.” He glanced at his watch. “In about ten minutes.”
The stack of papers Hermione had been rifling through were placed firmly on the desk. “The Department of Mysteries? What do they want? And couldn’t you have told me earlier?”
“Yes, I don’t have the foggiest except they asked for you specifically, and… I forgot.” Crawford shrugged helplessly. “I had asked Brucie to leave you a message, but, well, that did a fat lot of good, didn’t it. I’m sure it’s nothing, they haven’t gone through the main channels to request the office’s assistance. You’ve probably just accidentally poked something irrelevant they’re convinced is a state secret, and will want you to sign non-disclosure papers or something.”
“Oh, ‘just’ a debriefing on something from the Unspeakables. You’re very reassuring, Julius.”
“I know, it’s my talent.” Crawford gave a nervous grin. “I’m sure it’s nothing. Drop me a message when you’re done, though, and we’ll go over the amendments you wanted to make?”
“It’s a bad bill, Julius,” Hermione said with a sigh, looking back at the papers. “Most households instruct an Elf to punish themselves; very few bother to actually dirty their own hands with such menial tasks. This bill isn’t going to change anything.”
“It’ll show we’re doing something,” Crawford said, sighing tiredly.
“It’ll show we’re toothless.” She frowned, then shook her head and waved a hand at him. “Fine. You go talk to legislation. I’ll see what the DOM want.”
“I’m sure it’ll be fine,” he stated firmly, before disappearing from her office door.
“Yeah, right,” Hermione muttered under her breath, then promptly returned her attention to the paperwork. She was sure there was a way to get phrasing into the bill that would stop it from being so pointless; something about a household not being allowed to cause an Elf harm in the course of his duties or as a punishment, rather than inflicting it. Or perhaps a better legal definition of ‘inflict’…
She was still lost in these word games, scribbling on a pad of paper, when there was another knock on the door, the visitor this time seeming to wait for a response rather than just barging in, as was customary in this office.
“Oh, um… come in!” Hermione called, pushing her paperwork to one side and straightening up, pushing back a stray lock of hair that immediately reassumed its previous location once left unattended.
The door swung open slowly, and in stepped two men. Both wore dark robes, but they couldn’t have been more different from one another – one was tall and burly, somewhere in his forties, with short, stubbly dark hair going grey at the temples and craggy features. The other was shorter, more wiry, with well-kept brown hair, boyish features, and didn’t seem to be much older than her.
“Miss Hermione Granger?” the burly man asked immediately, straightening up in front of her desk in a posture that was both respectful and potentially intimidating at once.
“Yes, that’s me,” she said, wearing a slight frown. “I assume you two gentlemen are from the Department of Mysteries?” She stood, extending a hand for introductions.
The burly man grasped hers and shook it firmly, offering the slightest hint of a painful iron grip. “Aye. I’m Tancred Burke, this here is Malcolm Trevelyan. We’re both what you’d call Unspeakables.”
“I often wonder – is ‘Unspeakable’ the professional term for those who work in the Department of Mysteries, or is that just an unofficial nickname that’s never been corrected?” Hermione asked, switching handshakes to the younger Trevelyan.
“We can’t speak about that,” Trevelyan replied, though not without a small hint of a smile that his partner did not share.
“Very well. Have… er, a seat, gentlemen, I’m afraid I’ve only got one chair for the two of you, if you’ll wait a moment I’ll…” Hermione paused, scanning the room for perhaps a spare stool, coming up empty and taking a step towards the door.
“Don’t bother, Miss Granger. Trevelyan can stand,” Burke reassured her, claiming the seat on his side of the desk as Trevelyan rolled his eyes slightly before leaning against the doorframe.
“Oh, uh… alright.” Hermione gave a slight frown of consternation, then sat herself down and clasped her hands on the desk in front of her. “So what can I do for you gentlemen?”
“It’s not about what you can do for us, Miss, but more about what you can do for the Department of Mysteries. We require your assistance in a very particular project,” Burke said, shifting around in an effort to be comfortable as he found his large frame not quite fitting the small chair.
Hermione’s sympathy for him was low as she noted Trevelyan still leaning against the doorway. “I’m not sure my areas of expertise are really those that the Department of Mysteries would be interested in,” she said hesitantly and not entirely truthfully, for she was well aware that her magical abilities rather surpassed some of her professional ones.
“Considering the Department of Mysteries’ remit is rather broad, under the right circumstances I don’t think there’s a witch or wizard alive whose expertise might not interest us,” Trevelyan observed casually. While Burke was looking right at her, his eyes were scanning the office coolly, attention being paid to every scrap of paper, every picture, and Hermione felt a slight shiver up her spine at how almost invasive his examination felt.
“You are the foremost expert in diplomatic negotiations with Magical Beings,” Burke explained. “We have seen how effective your work with the House Elves has been, and know you have also spent some time working with the Goblin Liaison Office.”
“…some time. Not a great deal,” Hermione confessed.
“However, when it comes to all-round expertise with the widest range of beings, you are considered the best. So we have come to you.” Burke leaned forwards a little. “The Department of Mysteries requires the assistance of other Magical Beings, and so we wish for you to aid us in negotiating that assistance.”
Hermione blinked at him with slight confusion. “Assistance? What in?”
Burke and Trevelyan exchanged glances, and the older wizard gave a slight sigh as the younger spoke. “We are attempting to reconstruct a magical relic of some not insignificant power. Our own efforts with our own magic have been left somewhat wanting. However, we know the extent of House Elf magic has been only barely quantified, and the skills of goblins when it comes to magical craftsmanship are well-documented.”
“What is the relic?” she asked curiously.
Burke shook his head very firmly. “I’m afraid you’re not cleared for that information.”
“What?” She stared at him for a few seconds. “You want me to help you negotiate the assistance of House Elves and goblins, but you won’t tell me what for?”
“It’s for the reconstruction of a magical relic,” Burke said without missing a beat. “And even that much information is very delicate.” He leaned forwards. “Understand, we cannot afford to tell the beings during the negotiations what they are being asked to fix. This is information that cannot reach the ears of anyone but an Unspeakable. We are not expecting you to negotiate without information that would be important to the discussions.”
“So you’re going to want their help and you won’t even tell them what for,” Hermione added, rubbing her eyes tiredly.
“Unfortunately not,” Trevelyan conceded. “Which is why we have come to you – not only are you experienced at dealing with goblins and elves, but you have a positive relationship with both.”
“In so far as one can have a positive relationship with goblins without showering galleons on them,” Hermione pointed out.
Burke and Trevelyan again exchanged glances. “If they want payment, then that can be quite capably done. We would, however, prefer to use house elves rather than goblins due to the fact that they are, well, more reliable,” Burke explained.
“Though beggars may not necessarily be choosers,” Trevelyan added.
There was a pause as Hermione leaned back in her chair, taking a deep breath and eyeing the two Unspeakables dubiously. “This relic,” she began. “You can’t tell me what it is, but… it isn’t a weapon of any kind, is it?”
Another exchange of glances, before Burke sighed. “No, it is not, Miss.”
“Why is it being reconstructed?” she asked.
“I cannot explain that in full, for that would give away its nature. But most simply, Miss Granger, it is being remade because it is broken. Not everything need have an insidious purpose,” Burke said, offering a small smile that almost seemed to split his craggy face in two.
“So, will you help us?” Trevelyan said.
“I would like to,” Hermione said slowly, “but I do have an awful lot of work here in this office. There’s a bill going through that I need to work on to stop being a waste of…”
“The Elf Abuse Bill,” Trevelyan confirmed. “We know. And you know as well as we do that the amendments you wish to add on are never going to be passed this year. So you could, instead, work for us and do something… helpful?” His tone was hesitant enough to take the sting out of the potential implications of his words.
It was enough to see her glaring at him for a few seconds, though, until sense overtook ideals and she concurred that Crawford and the others would never let the bill make it through to the Ministry with the amendments that she wanted tacked on.
She sighed again as she straightened up. “Very well. I’ll need as much information as you can give me – what sort of magical reconstruction we’re talking about; if it’s physical or purely arcane, for example. And what sort of offers you’re able to make to the goblins and the elves.”
“We came prepared,” Trevelyan said with a grin, reaching into his robes and pulling out a roll of papers, which he handed over. “What the Department is prepared to give, and the various skills that we will require for this task. The party that do the job will, of course, have the project explained to them in full once they accept.”
“Though we will require a binding contract that will make them unable to back out, and unable to discuss the project with anyone other than their own team or the department,” Burke added briskly.
“That,” Hermione said slowly, “is going to make gaining the assistance of the goblins very difficult indeed. They dislike contracts that bind them when they don’t know the full set of circumstances.”
“Which is why we would prefer House Elves,” Burke said.
There was a small pause as Hermione glanced between the two Unspeakables suspiciously. “If you are expecting me,” she began coolly, “to aid in deceiving or manipulating House Elves to do your bidding due to their naïve natures, then you have not done your research on me, gentlemen, and I shall have no such…”
“Absolutely not!” Trevelyan interrupted firmly. “No, miss. The House Elves are just… more honest, more able, and less greedy. They are, however, more difficult to get to commit to something. At least, the liberated ones.”
“And we will need liberated House Elves, otherwise our requirements of confidentiality will likely clash with their obligations to their households,” Burke added.
Hermione paused, mind already running through several House Elf unions or groups that she knew with whom she could begin to set up some negotiations. “Alright,” she said at last. “I’ll get started on organising some meetings. I assume the two of you will be negotiating on behalf of the Department?”
“I will,” Burke said, finally standing up. “Trevelyan will be coordinating with you on the organisation and arrangements of the meetings. He is more well-versed in the legal and practical aspects and requirements than I.”
“The flunkey work,” Trevelyan added in a mock-whisper with a conspiratorial tone. Burke ignored him.
“We have also already arranged to have your work schedule in the Office of House Elf Relocation cleared for the foreseeable future,” Burke continued seamlessly, straightening his robes. “So you’ll be working on our ticket, and our time. You will, however, continue to use this office, so as to avail yourself of the Being Division’s resources.”
“The pay’s better in the Department of Mysteries, too,” Trevelyan said with a small grin. “Who knows, you might want to become as unspeakable as us when it’s over.”
“I happen to doubt that, Mister Trevelyan. I enjoy my work here,” Hermione said coolly.
“Well. I’ll be in touch, if you two want to get started right away. Trevelyan, you know where to find me.” Burke leaned over to shake Hermione’s hand, then briskly shook Trevelyan’s before heading for the door. “Good day, Miss Granger. Thank you for your aid.”
Then he was gone, leaving her in the room with the younger Unspeakable, who had gone back to examining her office with that same cool, evaluating air. There was a short silence before he looked at her, expression polite. “I read your interview in the Clarion. I thought it was classy to dodge the press who just wanted to pump you for information on Potter.”
“Um… thank you,” Hermione said, never having been comfortable with taking such compliments. She gestured to the chair Burke had vacated. “Please, Mister Trevelyan, have a seat.”
“Malcolm,” Trevelyan said, sitting down.
“It’s Malcolm, please. I get an itch when I’m called ‘Mister Trevelyan’ by people who aren’t ten years my elder or younger.” Trevelyan paused, seeming to realise that this might have been construed as being too forward. “Or, uh, just ‘Trevelyan’. That’s what Burke calls me when we’re not being all official for people.”
“No, Malcolm is fine,” Hermione said with a small smile. “And you can call me ‘Hermione’. Miss Granger gets a little stuffy. So, Mister Burke is your… partner?”
“So to speak.” Trevelyan nodded. “We’re researchers in the same field, and are about the only two in our division who can be trusted with talking to people in the outside world.” Though his expression was wry, there was a slightly long-suffering air about him that suggested he wasn’t entirely kidding.
“I’m not surprised, you hear rumours about the Unspeakables…” Hermione’s voice trailed off, and she looked at him curiously as a thought struck. “You read the Clarion?”
“Uh… yes.” Trevelyan looked slightly surprised by this change of tack. “I find it a lot less corporate than the Prophet. Though the Prophet has the inside track on Ministry affairs, so you pretty much have to read both… well, I’m sure you know the problems.”
He shrugged and leaned forwards, straightening out the roll of parchments he’d handed over to her minutes before. “So… House Elf negotiations…?”
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