The woman in the monocle opened the meeting by making introductions. “Thank you for meeting with us today, Hephaestus. I’m Amelia Bones, Director of the DMLE, and I’ve brought some of the key members of our department with me today to discuss our needs from you. With me are Lord Sirius Black, who is head of Prosecution,” she said, gesturing to the obscenely attractive man sitting to her left, who gave Hermione a flirtatious smile that only made her narrow her eyes at him, much to his (and everyone else’s) surprise.
Was there no brain beneath that hair? Hermione wondered, a little unkindly. Head of legal dealings and he doesn’t abide by a signed contract?
Director Bones cleared her throat, drawing Hermione’s attention back to the woman. “With him are Blaise Zabini and Taryn Pavlova, two of our prosecutors.”
“And then we have Rufus Scrimegour, head of the Auror department,” Bones said, gesturing to the man on her right who looked like a graying lion. “With him are our section chiefs: Kingsley Shacklebolt, Dora Tonks, John Dawlish, Ron Weasley, Harry Potter, and Emmeline Vance.”
“Along with them today, we’ve brought our Liaison from St. Mungo’s, Healer Draco Malfoy, and our two contractors, Fred and George Weasley, They’ve provided us with some of our specialty gear, and we would like them to take over manufacturing whatever you come up with for us once your term is up.”
Though her face stayed blank, Hermione was seething inside. They want me to just turn over my patented inventions? To these two? After what they did to me?
“And finally, we have Albus Dumbledore, who, as you know, is our representative at the ICW. And Undersecretary Percy Weasley, who is here today taking notes for the Minister, who unfortunately had another meeting at this time and could not be here,” Bones concluded. “Now, we’ve made a list-” Hermione held up a finger and Director Bones paused mid-sentence. “Ye-es?” the Director asked, raising an eyebrow at the young witch.
“Were you aware that you’ve already violated your contract with me in several different ways, or do you simply not care?” Hermione asked coldly.
“I beg your pardon?” Director Bones sputtered. Everyone in the room had almost identical expressions of shock on their faces.
“Enchantress-level runic crafters from the ICW do not come for free,” Hermione said slowly, as if she was explaining a levitation charm to misbehaving first years. “Your Minister is aware of this. He signed the contract.”
“What contract?” Lord Black asked. “My department should have been informed of any contracts.”
“That is not my problem, Lord Black,” Hermione said bluntly, glancing over to see Percy Weasley’s ears turning the infamous shade of Angry Weasley Red.
“Percy,” Bones barked at the man. “Explain.”
Before Prefect Percy (she could never not call him that in her head) could speak, Hermione interrupted. “I’m sorry, but I need to inform my supervisor of this. This is grounds for termination.” Before anyone could stop her, Hermione stood, walked away from the table, and ensconced herself in a privacy ward in the far corner of the room. Within moments, she had contacted Elphinstone via her communication mirror and was recounting everything to him in angry, rapid-fire French.
As soon as the researcher from the ICW was behind her ward, the room erupted into action. Bones was yelling at Percy to retrieve the Minister now, while Scrimegour told Shacklebolt and Vance to try and break the researcher’s ward so they could speak with her and try to fix this mess.
Harry moved over closer to his dad and leaned in close. “What is she saying?” he asked quietly, knowing that Sirius could sometimes hear through privacy wards thanks to his animagus form.
Sirius shushed him and angled in his chair to face Harry. “Something....something about weasels? I can only partly hear through her ward, and my French is somewhat rusty.”
Draco came to sit by their group, next to Blaise. “Merlin, she’s an Enchantress-level?” he whispered in awe. “We fucked up.”
“We fucked up, big time,” Blaise agreed. “When I heard who we were getting, I contacted a cousin of mine in Milan. She works for the Italian equivalent of the Unspeakables. Apparently, Hephaestus is a legend . She designed a cuff that channels magical outbursts from children into defensive wards. It can block Fiendfyre ,” he told them. “Then, she patented it, and made one for every muggle-born student at Beauxbatons. For free. She charges over a thousand galleons for one.”
“Holy shite,” Harry murmured, the men sitting around him making similar noises of shock.
“What I want to know is, how can we have violated a contract already? All we’ve done is arrange for a meeting and provide housing for her stay in Britain,” Tonks said, sliding in to join their little group. “I set her up in one of the flats in that building you own,” she said to Sirius.
“Yes, your mum told me,” he replied absently. “It must be someone in the meeting,” Sirius mused, answering Tonks’ question. “The previous ICW researcher that was sent refused to work with the Croaker we had at the time. That’s why the DoM wasn’t included in this meeting.”
“But who could it be?” Harry asked, confused. “She looks about our age, but from the sounds of it she attended Beauxbatons, so it’s not like she would know any of us. And I would bet she is muggle-born, so she would not have heard of anyone prior to her introduction to the magical world,” he reasoned out based on Blaise’s earlier story.
“Right, all of you get on your communication mirrors and start making calls. We need to know every piece of gossip we can on Hephaestus. Anything to help us piece together what she would want out of a contract,” Tonks said. “I’ll get Weasley to talk to his sister-in-law. She attended Beauxbatons; maybe she remembers someone who matches her description.” As she marched back over to the rest of the Auror contingent, they all scrambled to do as she bid. Blaise called his cousin again, while Draco called one of his Malfoy cousins in France. Sirius contacted one of the prosecutors he knew at the ICW. All of them erected privacy wards around their calls and Harry was surrounded by the low murmur of their voices.
Just as he pulled out his own communication mirror, there was a crackle in the air, followed by a high-pitched yelp and the unpleasant smell of burnt hair. He turned quickly with his wand out, following the noise, only to find Kings spraying down Dumbledore with an aguamenti because the Headmaster’s beard was on fire.
His gaze slid to the mysterious Hephaestus, still behind her ward and now glaring at the Headmaster with a look that sent a shiver down Harry’s spine.
She set Albus fucking Dumbledore’s beard on fire , he finally realized. Not that he didn’t understand the urge - he and Dumbledore had a long history of not seeing eye to eye - but holy fucking shite. She actually set Albus Wulfric Percival Brian Dumbledore, Order of Merlin First Class, Chief Warlock, Supreme Mugwump, blah blah blah, on fire.
Harry kind of wanted to applaud her.
Before he could finally get to making his mirror-call, the door to their meeting room opened and Percy returned with Minister Fudge. Internally groaning, Harry stored his mirror back in his dimensional storage and returned to his seat at the table.
Hephaestus removed a thick roll of parchment from her bag and slid it across the table to Director Bones. “Here’s my copy,” she said. “My terms are laid out quite clearly.”
Bones unrolled the scroll, and Sirius leaned in next to her to read over her shoulder. Harry leaned forward slightly to watch his dad’s face. While Sirius had a hell of a poker face, Harry knew him well enough to read the smallest gesture he made.
He was...angry. And somewhat...regretful?
Sirius pointed to a section on the contract, and Bones’ eyes skimmed down the parchment to that section. Both read through it, and as Harry watched his dad’s jaw got tighter and tighter until he could swear he could hear his teeth grinding, even at the other end of the table.
Bones looked up from the parchment and said one word.
Hephaestus stilled under the older woman’s gaze, seemingly lost in thought. After a moment, she sighed, and then removed a thick folder from her bag. “This...this is why,” she said slowly, pushing the folder to Bones but not loosening her grip on it. “It’s not...it’s for your eyes only,” she said quietly.
The Director nodded, and Hephaestus reluctantly loosened her grip. Sirius and Scrimegour both politely scooted their chairs away from their superior and averted their gazes.
Silence descended on the room as Director Bones slowly read through each page of the folder. Everyone waited on tenterhooks, it seemed, as she carefully turned each page, parchment eventually giving way to glossy photo paper before going back to parchment again.
After a good ten minutes, Bones finally turned over the last parchment and closed the folder. In an act Harry had never seen before, she removed her monocle and wiped a hand across her face, suddenly looking older and more tired than Harry had ever seen her look. He was appalled to realize that there were tears in the corner of the Director’s eyes.
Just what was in that folder?
Bones returned the folder to Hephaestus, who promptly tucked it back into her bag. The older woman took a deep, shuddery breath, and then resolutely straightened her spine and returned her monocle to her face.
“All Weasleys, out,” she ordered gruffly. “You are to have no contact with Hephaestus in your professional capacities for the Ministry, and I highly recommend you do the same outside these walls.”
All four of the redheads in the room started to protest, but Bones steamrolled over them. “Weasleys, out,” she growled again. “Albus, out. Cornelius, out.”
“It’s simple, Minister: either all of you leave, or you break the contract, which means that Britain is forcibly ejected from the ICW, losing all support from them, and your Ministry has to pay several million galleons in fines, half of which will go to me personally,” she said, grinning a bit viciously. “Oh, and obviously, you lose out on whatever inventions I would have created for you, which would have guaranteed at least a 20% decrease in Auror injury rates and a 5% increase in criminal capture rate.”
Fudge may have been a coward and an idiot, but he wasn’t stupid. If he cost the Ministry that much money, he’d be out in the street so fast that his bowler would be spinning, with no hope of ever drawing the cushy retirement package that former Ministers get. With much grandstanding, he left the room, a confused Percy Weasley following behind him like a duckling.
Fred and George were definitely not stupid, though arguments could be made for their youngest brother. Moving in tandem, they pulled Ron out of his chair and frog-marched him out of the room while he loudly protested their manhandling.
Finally, only Dumbledore was left protesting his exclusion. “I am surprised that you would let a childhood grudge carry on this long, Miss-”
Fire erupted suddenly, cutting off Dumbledore as it ran in a long streak down the center of the conference table. Everyone hurriedly pulled their papers back from the gin-blue flames, but the fire stayed controlled in the center.
“Which is more important to you: having the last word, or your placement in the ICW representatives?” Hephaestus asked coldly. “Because if you finish that sentence and reveal my identity without my permission, I can assure you that you will lose your position in the Conference.”
Once the door closed behind Dumbledore, the flames on the table winked out of existence, leaving a pitch-black scorch mark down the center of the table. The ICW researcher lifted her hands from the table, crooked her fingers, and pushed them out. A ripple of smoky gray magic rolled out of her hands and spread about the room like fog.
“What are you doing?” Dawlish asked, fear creeping into his voice as the fog swirled around each person at the table.
“Checking for eavesdropping charms or any other enchantments,” the researcher murmured as she watched the fog swirl through the room, under the table, and even around her.
“First, there is another name on your list of people you will not interact with,” Bones said, opening the negotiations again.
“Yes. I am aware that he is not employed by the Ministry, but he does hold a Wizengamot seat and that does technically provide him access to me.”
“Is his inclusion on your list related to what you showed me?”
“Yes...and no. There was another incident but,” Hephaestus paused and pressed a fist to her mouth. She closed her eyes in what looked like an effort not to cry and it made Harry’s heart hurt. He wanted to rush to her aid, to fold her in his arms and hide her from sight from everyone else in the room.
He didn’t understand why he was having such a strong reaction to this witch. She stirred up such immediate feelings in him that he’d never felt for anyone else before, not even his family.
She took a deep breath and straightened her spine. “But I’m not willing to disclose that at the moment.”
“Now, as to your next term, about research space?”
“Oh, yes.” “I have a private lab space here in London, set up on property I own. I’d like to use it. I will consent to an Auror guard while I am researching, and I will need a Healer on hand once we reach the testing phases.”
“That is acceptable,” Bones agreed. “And housing?”
“Oh, that’s me,” Dora interjected. “We have you set up in a flat in a building with 24-hour private security, several of which are former Aurors. “The building is owned by Sirius, here, and managed by my mum, Andromeda Tonks. It has Black family wards on it, which I assure you are quite dangerous if set off. There is only one apparition point, in the lobby, and all residents and guests must check in at the front desk. Harry and Draco both have flats in the building as well, so they’ll be close by should you need anything.”
“I’d like a walkthrough of the wards, if possible, but other than that, it sounds ideal for my needs. Am I allowed to bring my familiar there?”
Dora glanced at Sirius, and he nodded. “Certainly. I wouldn’t separate a witch from her familiar.”
“Thank you,” she said, giving Sirius a grateful nod. “He’s rather content in the lab with me, but I’d feel better if I could keep him somewhere else during testing phases. He’s getting a little gray and his reflexes aren’t as sharp as they were.”
“I’m assuming you have a cat, then?”
“Yes, a half-kneazle. His name is Crookshanks.”
“And now, your final term. You wish to have an introduction arranged with a Mr. Remus Lupin,” Bones said as if she’d never heard of the man. “Why?”
“I publish my independent research under a pseudonym, and Mr. Lupin has been corresponding with me for years about some of it. I just...wanted to put a face with the name, I guess. Thank him for his insights and book recommendations,” she said, a faint blush dusting her cheeks. “I don’t...it’s not a have-to, I guess.”
Sirius and Harry leapt to the same conclusion at the same time because in unison they said, “You’re Jean Dumas,” with matching reverent tones.
Hephaestus may have been a legend in international circles, but Jean Dumas had been a legend in the Potter-Black-Lupin household when Harry was in school. Moony had stumbled across one of her research articles in Runic Quarterly about sympathetic magics and their use in ritual circles not long after Harry’s run-in with the basilisk and what they now knew to be the first horcrux. He’d written to her about it and Jean Dumas had eventually been unknowingly instrumental in helping them create the ritual to defeat Voldemort. Sirius had even told the Wizengamot as much when they’d had the inquisition about the events surrounding the Third Task.
“I...yes, how did you know?” Hephaestus asked nervously, tugging at the hems of her sleeves.
“Potter. We have a problem,” Dennis Creevy, one of their dispatchers, stuck his head in Harry’s office door, interrupting the impromptu Black family luncheon that was happening. When Harry, Sirius, Tonks and Draco all turned to look at him, he blushed but forged on. “The ward notification you placed on that ICW researcher’s lab just pinged. She’s left the building again, but I can’t pick up her Trace.”
Harry groaned and rubbed his hands over his face. This would be the fourth guard that the researcher had blown off in less than two weeks. The first she’d terrified so badly that he was on a Mind Healer-mandated sabbatical; the second apparently tried to hit on her and she’d hexed him with impotence so strongly that cursebreakers were still trying to get rid of it. The third had been a little too curious about what she was making, gone poking around on the workbench and blown off three of his fingers. (They’d been reattached with no problem, but the damage was done and he refused to return.)
“Who’s on her guard duty today?”
“Edgecombe,” Dennis said, checking one of the parchments in his hand.
“Mirror call her and get her to check the building.”
Before Dennis could pull out his communication mirror, a rumble shook the Auror offices like an earthquake. Magic heaved and rolled around the space, making Harry’s desk shake and the windows rattle in their panes. There was a loud whip-crack of an apparition landing, and then utter silence fell across the bullpen.
Silence in the bullpen was never a good sign.
Harry pushed past a stunned Dennis, everyone else close on his heels.
Rodolphus Lestrange stood in the middle of the bullpen, held captive by ropes of fire around his throat and ankles. His left arm was twisted at what looked like a painful angle behind his back, and his right arm - his wand arm - was missing entirely.
“Filthy Mudblood! I’ll split you from cunt to crown and piss on your remains!” the Death Eater yelled maniacally.
Whoever was holding him captive jerked on the fire collar, forcing the man’s spine to arch as he fought against the noose tightening around his neck. Captor and prisoner turned, revealing the surprising captor.
A petite woman, clad only in trainers, tight muggle workout shorts, and an oversized long-sleeved shirt, held the much larger man captive. She had no wand in sight, but a shining mithril-headed ax was tucked into the waistband of her shorts at the small of her back. She had Lestrange’s wrist turned at such an angle that any movement by the man would snap the appendage in question. Her other hand was wandlessly floating Lestrange’s missing arm at her side, bobbing above her shoulder like some sort of demented balloon.
She turned to look at Harry, revealing her identity as their missing researcher. One eye was already swelling shut, the left side of her face was a mass of overlapping bruises, and her lip was split and bleeding. “A little help here?” she grunted.
The Aurors on duty finally sprang into action. Boot and Haversham locked magic suppressing cuffs around his wrist and ankles, while Brinkley silenced Lestrange, locked him in a body bind, and then floated him to a holding cell. Tonks took the floating arm, encasing it in a stasis-charmed evidence bag.
The researcher withdrew the ax from her shorts, flipping it deftly in her hand to offer the handle to Harry. “You’ll need this for evidence. It’s charmed to cauterize, so your forensics should be able to match the magical residue to his wounds.”
He nodded and took the weapon, dropping it in the open evidence bag Tonks was holding out.
Draco stepped forward hesitantly. “If you’ll allow me, I can heal your wounds.”
“Don’t,” she said harshly, stepping back from him. “They need to be photographed for the evidence log, along with my lab.”
“What happened?” Harry growled.
“That’s what I want to know,” she replied coldly. “Lestrange strolled into my heavily-warded and fortified lab like it was a public Tube station. I thought I was to have an Auror guard?”
“You were,” Harry confirmed. “A four-man team. Two on the exterior, one on the interior, and a spotter on the neighboring rooftop. I know you have anti-apparition and anti-portkey wards on the building itself, but my team was to set up a two-block perimeter ward so that anyone coming would be forced to walk up to the door.”
“He sure walked up alright,” she muttered. She arched a disbelieving eyebrow at him. “Four-man team?” she questioned.
“I figured that after how badly we started, we’d better take into consideration anything you ask of us,” he said sheepishly. “It was a good plan, I just...expanded it a little.”
“It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you,” she said wryly. “But I only saw one guard at a time, ever.”
Her face was impassive as one of the magi-forensic techs snapped photos of her bruises from every conceivable angle. Before he could rush off to develop them, she stopped him. “Wait,” she said quietly. “There are more.”
She went to lift her shirt hem and stopped with a wince.
“Allow me.” Sirius stepped up carefully and, with surprisingly gentle movements, slid the researcher’s shirt up her torso, over her shoulders and head, and down her arms.
“I’d always heard you were quite skilled at disrobing women, Lord Black,” she murmured dryly.
Sirius ignored her statement, and instead stared and the nasty curse scar that cut across her sternum and ribs. “Did Lestrange do that?” he asked worriedly.
The researcher shook her head. “No, that’s...an old scar,” she said, absentmindedly rubbing the heel of her hand over the mark.
“I need to get torso and full body shots for the record,” [name] said, gesturing to the researcher to hold her arms out from her sides. She complied, and [name] clicked his camera repeatedly as he slowly circled around her, documenting the bruises on her back, the spellfire on her arm, and the sluggishly bleeding cut on her left side.
Harry stared, not at the long legs, curved hips, lean torso, or the soft swell of breasts encased in a tight sports bra, but at the other nasty scar revealed by her lack of shirt. Mudblood was carved into the inside of her right arm, the letters silvery-white against her tan skin.