Chapter 2 : Miss Adler
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Percy Weasley had always liked the London Underground Coffee House. The tables are clean, the people friendly, the food and drink adequate and the coffee marginally better; the atmosphere and the dim lighting splayed around the brick-walled room is warmly pleasant, and it is also, most importantly, Muggle.
That afternoon, men sat in business suits with a Styrofoam cup in one hand and files and documents that they feverishly flicked through in the other; college students were hunched over their laptops, typing away at the keys faster than Percy suspected they could comprehend the words, and at one table in the corner of the café, a woman sat, looking rather out of place in the less-than-five-star Coffee House, but looking rather exquisite, too. So much so that as Percy walked passed the other tables towards her, he noticed more than one person’s gaze flickering over to where she sat, her head tilted towards the approaching red-headed man with the stillness that would rival a statue.
‘Miss Adler,’ Percy said, pressing a hand to the front of his suit jacket as he reached the table and sat down.
‘You know it’s not particularly sunny in here,’ he said, eyeing the dark glasses that masked her tanned face. The dim lighting of the place submerged her features into enigmatic shadows.
He saw her lips quirk, and he hoped to Merlin that she didn’t see him swallow.
‘Mr Weasley, forgive me, but I find myself rather busy today,’ she said, tilting her head as if glancing at the people that sat around her. ‘Is there a particular reason you requested this meeting? In this café?’
He was the one to smile a little this time. She looked sadistically uncomfortable in the public setting and he wondered if it was due to her reputation, the uneasiness of seeing someone she had once swindled, or another reason entirely. Perhaps it wasn’t of a high enough class for her, though despite her appearance and eloquent manner of speaking, she didn’t come off as that much of a snob.
‘Certainly,’ Percy said. He leaned backwards nonchalantly, a movement that had taken some practice after being subjected too long to stiff, high-back chairs that set his posture into the perpetual state of one who had a stick up one’s arse. ‘Let’s start with me saying this: I know what you are.’
‘And what is that?’ she enquired, pursing her lips. He had expected more of a reaction, but 1. She was Audrey Adler and nothing shocked her and 2. If it did then the emotion was in her eyes that were hidden beneath those glasses.
‘A fake,’ he replied, confidently.
Percy made a small, one-shouldered shrug. ‘Swindler. Con artist. Fraud. There’s probably a few other things you could be called but I think neither you nor I have the time for that.’
She titled her head forwards slightly, an eyebrow raised over the edge of her glasses. They should have looked ridiculous in the dark café, but they didn’t.
‘Tell me, Mr Weasley, how did you reach that conclusion?’ she asked.
And so he told her, explaining his theory about the photos, her prediction of Leonard’s reaction, and her impeccably planned and paid-off interview and how everything fell into place, all conveniently in her favour.
‘And you never considered it all to be simple… coincidence?’ she said.
‘Miss Adler you are insulting me.’ His tone was half-teasing, half-affronted, and he wasn’t sure which one to choose. When in doubt, he went with both.
‘Mr Weasley if I were to insult you, I think you would be quite aware of it.’
Henry, the small, middle-aged waiter came over then, placing a coffee in front of Percy and a glass of water for Miss Adler. Henry flashed her a beaming smile and Percy watched in amusement and faint guilt as the woman turned her head to look at him over the rim of her glasses, and snorted.
Henry flashed Percy a wary look to which he shook his head at, and then chose the valiant decision of simply walking away.
‘You’re kind,’ Percy muttered, taking a bite of the complimentary biscuit. He grimaced. He’d never liked the ginger ones.
‘And you bought me a water,’ she said, as if he had slighted her in some way.
‘Oh, forgive me for not knowing your drink preference, madam, I offer you my sincere apologies.’
She leaned back. ‘Well, well, well. Percy Weasley knows what a dry sense of humour is.’
‘Oh, now you really are insulting me, Miss Adler.’
‘I told you that you would know.’ She grinned, a seemingly unconscious thought. A caught a brief glimpse of her pearly white teeth, but just as suddenly as it appeared it vanished, like she’d caught herself doing something wrong and had to rectify the action. Her next choice of words were as equally cutting as a salvage to her grinning. ‘I’ll cut to the chase here, Mr Weasley. What you are accusing me of is essentially blackmailing the Minister of Magic, the ruler of our society, if I understand correctly, and forgive me if I’m wrong but that almost equates to treason, does it not?’
Percy swallowed his coffee before he could spit it back out. ‘Blackmail? Wherever did you get that idea?’
‘Well, you see, I could ask that the WWN air the interview that you planned, of course. There’s someone who owes me rather a large favour there so I’m sure it wouldn’t be a problem.’
The woman sipped at her water, her lipstick leaving a dark red print on the glass. She wiped it off quickly in one smooth swipe of her napkin.
She wore a suit again today, though the shirt was a satin black and her pencil skirt and jacket red. On any other woman the clash of the two contrasting colours would have been garish, vulgar, and really rather cheap, and he found himself at a loss as to how she managed to pull it off with such class. Her hair was pulled up into a high ponytail, sleek and straight as it fell long down her back, and two diamond studs were visible on her earlobes. Con artist she may have been, but unsuccessful she most certainly was not.
‘You remain silent, Mr Weasley,’ she commented, staring down at her nails that click-clicked against the cool glass of water. Small bubbles of condensation had begun to form in the warm room. ‘Either you have found yourself overwhelmed with a sudden attraction for me or you are mulling my devious plans over.’
His eyes flickered back to the pair hidden behind the lenses. ‘So you admit that you had… devious intentions, Miss Adler?’
Percy liked to think that he was treating this whole situation with the utmost seriousness and professionalism, but he would be lying. When there was the chance to exchange witty repartee with a highly attractive and evidently intelligent female, contrary to popular belief, the supposed stickler for rules that was Percy Weasley, would not opt out of the opportunity.
He was as appreciative of the female sex as most men, but his passion for his work and job simply blinded people to that fact, and he found it rather awkward when they seemed to be surprised when he showed an interest in a woman. And when those ‘people’ are the Minister of Magic, it was rather awkward indeed.
The two men had known each other long enough now to recognise an interest that either one displayed in something. And clearly, for Percy, if he ranted and raved and insulted something it was usually because he was interested in it, or it was something he wished he had himself. When he later left the Minister’s office after their discussion about Miss Adler, he realised he wasn’t quite sure which category this woman fitted into.
‘You’re twisting my words, Mr Weasley,’ Miss Adler pointed out. She looked down at her water, shook her head a little, and sighed. ‘It seems I am forgetting that you are a politician…’
‘And we wouldn’t want that.’
‘No,’ she said quietly, giving him a thoughtful look. ‘No, we wouldn’t.’ She leaned forwards a little. ‘Look, Mr Weasley, you have no evidence to suggest any of this, only a theory to base it on. And if I were a con artist, I certainly wouldn’t slide in and out of the public’s eye, would I? Someone might recognise me.’
‘Then how do you explain your actions, Miss Adler? No one is that auspicious to be able to guess what’s going to happen, no matter how much attention you paid to Leonard Shacklebolt.’
‘Not true, Mr Weasley. You’d find a wealth of things from simply looking at someone.’ She leaned back and looked at him. Once up, once down. ‘You don’t smoke, you are well kempt, you enjoy coffee—you drank it both here and in your office—hence you enjoy you’re work, or perhaps you’re only dedicated it, or perhaps you’re simply a workaholic. You also talk to yourself to solve problems, you think more about how people present themselves than what they say—’
‘How can you—?’
‘You say ‘look’ Mr Weasley, not ‘listen’. You’re also a family man; you keep looking over at that mother and her child and smiling, and then your eyes flicker to me, which means you’re either ashamed of that fact, again showing that you think it would ruin your public image, or you wonder what I’d be like as a mother, or you’re imagining having a relationship with me which would then lead to sex and perhaps a child.’
He swallowed and licked his lips. Her blunt boldness did nothing to diminish his feelings of attraction for her, and he wondered if she were aware of that. He mentally rolled his eyes. If she could deduct all of that about him then she could bloody well tell if he fancied her.
‘You… you say ‘look’ as well,’ he said, his voice thick.
Her crimson-painted lips twisted into a smile. ‘That I do, Mr Weasley, that I do.’
‘So it’s settled, then?’
Percy stood with her, patting his pockets for his wand, like a Muggle would do for his wallet or phone, and then nodded. ‘I believe so.’
She nodded curtly in response. ‘Well, then. Good luck in your career, Mr Weasley.’
He shook the hand that she held out, holding her smaller one in his as if it were a delicate flower too easily crushed. ‘And you, Audrey.’
Her eyes flashed up to his at the mention of her name for the briefest moment, and he wondered if he had seen the look of understanding and recognition in them, or if the dark lenses had simply caught the light.
He let go of her hand. They both simply stood there for a moment, like awkward teenagers who aren’t sure how to part, before she began walking to the front of the café.
‘Miss Adler?’ he called out. He knew that if he didn’t take the chance right that moment he never would and his nerve had failed him enough times for it not to succeed now.
She stopped, but she didn’t turn around.
‘Miss Adler, would you… Do you think you could…’ He shook his head. ‘Miss Adler, would you like to join me for dinner one evening in the week?’
She turned her head to the side and he liked to think he saw a smile on her lips. ‘I’ll be in touch, Percy,’ she said, and then she left.
He waited a few moments until the bell above the door had stopped ringing, and then he slowly sank back into the chair before his shaking legs fell out from beneath him.
‘Merlin, it’s like Ron and Lavender Brown all over again… Did she slip you a love potion, Perce?’
Percy smiled at his younger brother, letting his eyes drift upwards as he relayed to him the events of the past few months, beginning with their date. The evening had started off pleasant, if not a little stiff as the two chatted about public and foreign affairs and sipped at their wine politely and ordered a ridiculously expensive meal that would cut out a nice chunk of this month’s paycheque.
When the meal was finished and the orchestra had begun playing, the harp lulling the restaurant into a slight hush reserved for dark, candle-lit rooms and whispered voices, they started getting the champagne. Percy thought the affair was more a competition of who could out-flash the other, each taking the chance to buy a different, more expensive bottle than the last, than anything to do with pleasing each other and trying to make a good impression. He knew she had money, and lots of it, but he still couldn’t help wincing as his eyes trailed down the wine menu and forced a fake smile as the waiter poured it into the glass attentively, one arm bent behind his back.
‘Bloody hell, you sound like you had a miserable time. What’re you bloody smiling for?’ George demanded, his expression almost fearful. He’d seen Percy wear that smile only once before.
‘I… I find myself quite in awe of the woman,’ Percy told his brother, taking a slow sip of coffee. It was thick, black, and slightly congealing, but he didn’t mind all that much.
George blinked. ‘Oh, don’t tell me you’ve fallen in love with her.’
With a soft smile Percy thought back to the past few months in which they’d spent together; exhilarating and amusing and witty and hours and hours filled with simply watching her and drinking in the sight of her and thinking She’s mine, even though he knew she was thinking something entirely different.
They were so alike. Too alike, it could be argued, and yet perfect and matching in every way and equals. They fitted each other, but she was just slightly better. And he was helpless. ‘I… You know, I think I might have.’
‘Oh, Perce, you’ve heard the rumours,’ George groaned, wanting to put his head in his hands at the thought of how naïve his brother had been. ‘You of all people know what the woman’s like!’
‘And who said I had to believe in them?’
George shook his head. ‘You’re both as ambitious as each other, you know? You’ll run each other into the ground, Perce.’
‘No, George, we’ll help each other stay afloat. That’s the beauty of the relationship, don’t you see?
‘Oh, will you listen to yourself.’ His brother’s eyes shone with emotion that he hadn’t seen for a very long time. George dragged a hand through his bedraggled hair so similar to his own. Except, of course, his was neat.
‘Perce, I didn’t want to say anything before, but… She’s using you. She’s using your status to get ahead in her own—’
‘—get ahead in her own profession, to improve her image—’
‘Yes, Percy, and she’s using you as a stepladder! You’re her ticket to fame, to the office, to the bloody seat in the Minister’s ch—’
‘Don’t you think I don’t know that!’ Each word was hard and harsh and echoed off the walls.
Percy rarely raised his voice, and his brother fell silent, as well as every other person in the café. Percy looked down, waiting for the quiet hubbub and the scratching of pens and the pressing of keys to rise up again before he raised his eyes, meeting his brother’s pitiful staring ones.
‘I know that. You don’t have to tell me.’
‘What d’you mean? Why the hell are you with her if you can’t trust her? What’s it been, four months now? And yet you’re still with her?’
‘I needed to monitor her,’ Percy muttered.
The mug in George’s hand paused, half way to his mouth. ‘You needed to what?’
‘Monitor her,’ Percy said again, the leather of the chair groaning as he leaned back, an elbow on the arm rest and a hand rubbing across his lined forehead. ‘Kingsley asked me to make an agreement with her. We’d pay her half the sum of the money that she wanted and she’d get all credit for the interview, claiming no affiliation with the government, it simply being a… personal event. Kingsley didn’t like it, though. He thought she was up to something and so he asked me to remain close to her. He should have asked someone else to do it.’
‘Then why did he pick you?’
‘Because—and this is what he said—“You’re the only person that I’ve seen, Percy, who’s had the rare pleasure of Miss Adler’s company, that she has been remotely affected by.”’
‘And you were equally affected by her,’ George surmised.
‘Unfortunately,’ came the curt reply.
The two brothers sat in a familial silence for a while. Percy contemplated the downward spiral that this mood had slipped to, and how stupidly tragic his situation had become and how he, Percy Weasley, Deputy Minister of Magic, professional-maestro, had fallen into this abysmal state. How had he let his feelings and emotions run away with him and get so out of hand? The only person he wasn’t lying to was his brother, but keeping up the detached face in front of the Minister when he gave his reports was straining on him and his career and his mind. It was tiring.
George was wondering similar things. He supposed that the rumours of this woman had to be true if she had managed to shake the solid foundations that his brother stood upon.
Since the war was over and the family was recovering from the tumults of their losses, George found himself with little else to do but be dragged along by his brother, Percy.
He was the only one in the family still bothered with keeping up appearances, and in doing that it didn’t stop him from delivering quick, blunt sentences that left George weeping. He was constantly telling him to ‘keep his head up’ and stop ‘looking so damned miserable’ all the time. Sometimes Percy went too far, and those were the days when they argued incessantly and threw things at each other and screamed until the neighbours came knocking.
Percy grinned the entire time.
George had been mourning the loss of his twin utterly by himself, ignorant that the rest of his family and friends were mourning him, too, and only Percy had seen fit to sort him out and remind him that life really did go on and that he didn’t have to be by himself.
Before he moved in with Percy in London he’d lock himself up in his room for days on end, clutching at that gaping hole in his side where Fred should have been and that felt hollow and painful, and burned when it was touched by an old memory or a certain smell or object. There were too many of those things, and he found himself in a perpetual state of agony, aflame in his mind and heart.
Percy had pulled him from the Burrow, away from the family that fluttered about uselessly and set him up in the guest bedroom in his ritzy apartment. The door didn’t have a lock on it and Percy was more than capable of pulling him out by his ear if the occasion so called for it.
He wasn’t afraid to admonish his younger brother or let the neighbours hear their screaming or to let George feel what he needed to and ‘let it out’. Of course George would be hurting the most; of course Fred’s death would push him so very close to the edge, miles ahead of everyone else, and so Percy came along and stood as a fence and a wall and a solid barrier around that cliff, until George could contemplate falling no more.
He moved out from the apartment almost two years ago, Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes quickly become a globally recognised name, and began his relationship with Angelina Johnson. At first Percy had had his worries, using his power to do a shameless background check on the Quidditch player and finding that she had once had affection for Fred in their younger years.
It was no concern of his, though, as George had shouted at him when he found the files in his home office, and Percy quickly became to realise that it didn’t matter if she was thinking of Fred when George stood in front of her, because George was probably thinking about his brother, too, when he saw Angelina, and neither of them minded or cared, because they shared a common love and in it found love for one another.
They knew each other so well now, that George knew to say slowly, carefully, ‘So… is she up to something?’
Percy gave him a measured look, and then sighed. ‘It would seem so, George. The Minister never received any information regarding a treaty with the President of Kenya, and she’s still in possession of those photos that could potentially ruin his career.’
‘You didn’t think to include that in the agreement that you made?’
‘She refused to hand them over, hence the main reason for Kingsley’s mistrust.’
‘Right. And… was that it or has she been doing other things?’
‘No, that’s not it, but I’m not sure how much of it concerns you.’
‘Oh, come on, Perce!’ George cried, earning a few irritated look from the other customers. He whispered, ‘If you can’t tell me who else can you tell?’
Knowing that that was, sadly, true, Percy told him.
‘She’s been having meetings with people late at night,’ he said. He ignored the suggestive look his brother gave him. ‘People who she shouldn’t be having them with and people who would likely be given to the dementors or hanged for Muggle crimes in certain countries if they were found. The locations are always different, all very shady and all decided about five minutes before the meetings. Sometimes I can hear her talking to people via the Floo and sometimes she uses one of those Muggle laptops. You can see people and hear them through it with a camera. It’s their version of a Floo system, in a way.’ George looked expectedly confused and so Percy moved swiftly on.
‘I’m not sure what her purpose is with speaking to these people and I’m not sure what she’s hoping to gain from it.’
‘Is that why you haven’t arrested them?’ George said. ‘I mean, you obviously know where the meetings are and who with, so are you just waiting for them to say something important?’
Percy shook his head. ‘We don’t know what they’re saying at all. Each person that she meets with must have a following of at least a hundred people holding up the wards. We can’t break them without harming someone from our team or theirs, and we don’t even know if what they’re discussing is a crime⎯we can’t carelessly harm innocents. Not after the Findlay Affair last year.’
Most people in office usually had one crisis or affair or scandal that went horribly wrong, and that was Percy’s. No amount of public apologies and regrets for giving the say-so could ease his mind from the guilt of that incident last year, and not just because he had had to cling to his job by his fingertips. Had that interview been broadcasted, he could have drawn another line on the tally chart.
‘That’s why it’s so hard to trust her,’ he said. ‘For all we know she could be organising another anti-Muggle, pro-Pureblood group, or some other insane fanatical party intent on wiping out a society.’
‘But she doesn’t seem the type…’ George said, frowning.
‘And that’s why it would be so brilliant. Or rather, disastrous. No one expects her to go to the lengths of something like that, so she’d be able to get away with it.’ He sighed. ‘And that’s why it’s so terrible that the Minister assigned me to the job. I’m… I’m in love with her so that impedes rational thinking and it means I can’t possibly believe that she’s a criminal of any sort.’
‘Why hasn’t Kingsley removed you from your job if he knows your feelings are affecting your judgment?’ George asked.
‘Because he hopes her feelings are affecting her judgments, too.’
Thanks for reading! This is for mangagirl’s Summary Challenge, and will consist of three chapters – only one more to go!
Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it,
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