Chapter Five: Book Shops and Billionaires
AN: I went back and rewrote the first four chapters. You don't have to reread them, but you might want to. Specifically, I removed the bashing of the Weasleys as I felt it was lazy writing and unnecessary. I much prefer the way it's written now.
As it turned out, it wasn't that hard to put a Glamour Charm on a bracelet. It changed Harry's appearance just slightly, the shape of his nose and jaw different, while it left his eyes and messy brown hair alone.
To the Glamour Charm, Hermione managed to add both a Notice-Me-Not Charm, and a Muggle Repelling Charm. Together, they made the chances of any one noticing the bracelet, even if they somehow got the drop on Harry, virtually nil.
"Hurry up, Harry, we need to get across town to meet with Barnaby!"
He glanced Hermione, then struck a pose. "Who's this Harry chap? My name is Reginald Sweeney. I'm in banking, you know?"
She giggled, then barked laughter at him. Then her expression went back to serious. Pointing a scolding finger at him, Hermione said, "You are not going to be the reason I'm late."
"Relax, Hermione. I'll just side-a-long apparate you to the alley next to his building. The trip will only take a few seconds that way. And we'll miss traffic." Harry was already learning just how bad traffic could become in a city like New York. It made even London seem tame by comparison.
After that he heard her mutter something about powerful, know-it-all wizards who could side-a-long apparate people across cities to places where they'd been once. Finally, she seemed to wind down.
"Let's go, Harry."
Tony stared at the metal device sitting on his lab table. He glanced from that to the woman standing nearby, looking like she was about to vibrate right out of her sensible shoes. Perplexed, he asked, "Are you sure it failed to stop an EMP, Agent Campbell?"
She opened her mouth, then closed it, blushing furiously. Finally, she managed to get out, "Sir, all of the signs at the scene indicated an EMP. There were fused electronics and damaged circuitry everywhere. If not an EMP, then what could it be?"
Trying to be patient, Tony asked, "Did you bring me a sample of the damaged electronics?"
"Yes, sir!" The woman pulled something out of her bag, a small device sealed in a plastic bag. She started to open the bag, then dropped it. She managed to pick it, but dropped it a second time.
Finally, Tony held up a hand. "Hey! I've go it."
He called out, "Dummy, grab that bag and hand it to me."
Agent Campbell, clearly wondering if he was speaking to her, started to reach for the bag, then stumbled back as the medium sized robot, his metal arm swinging low, snatched the bag from the floor. Dummy presented it to Tony. "Now that's what I'm talking about."
Time to take the new lab for a test spin. Well, partially built lab. Okay, handful of pieces of equipment shoehorned into a tight space while he waited for Pepper to finish up planning permission from the city of New York. But it should work. He called out, "JARVIS, run a level three diagnostic."
"Level three is inoperative at this time, sir."
Rolling his eyes, Tony said, "Then run a level two diagnostic."
"Level two is inoperative as well, Mr Stark. Would you like to try for a third option?"
"Is level one available?"
"Then run that."
"Of course, sir. Level one diagnostic being run."
Tony glanced over at Agent Campbell, prepared to see disillusionment in her eyes at seeing her hero havnig feet of clay, but she was as starry-eyed as ever. Eventually, he got tired of the staring and snapped his fingers in her face. "Hey! Yeah, you. What's your deal?"
"My deal? I don't have a deal."
"Sure you do. Everybody's got a deal. What's yours?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"I mean, why SHIELD? What makes a perfectly nice young lady such as yourself want to become a spy? I mean, I can see why your supervisor, Agent McGrumpypants, joined SHIELD, but I can't see you. Spill."
Looking both amused and scandalized at her supervisor being called a name like Agent McGrumpypants, Agent McDonald shrugged. "I dunno. I got great grades at Harvard. I was thinking about joining the FBI, but I wasn't sure. I'd gone as far as to fill out an application for them, when I was approached by another agency. I didn't know at the time it was SHIELD. It's not like they exactly advertise. They were looking for analysts and I fit their criteria. The rest is history. I-"
As a small chime sounded, Tony said, "Hold that thought. Hmm... let's see. Nope, not an EMP."
The young woman, looking puzzled, said, "Yes, it is. We've had experts look at the damage done and they've universally-"
Tony yawned theatrically. "Look, I don't know who your experts are, but they're not me. Look, EMP cause ionization and electron loss in one form or another. None of which is present in our sample. IE, ergo, not an EMP."
"But the circuits were melted-"
"Yes, and the electronics were damaged. But not by an EMP. No, something else did it. Something interesting that did it without those effects. If you let me keep the sample, I'll do more testing when I have more lab to test it with."
The young woman was already shaking her head. "I can't do that, Mr. Stark. I have clear orders to transport all materials back to the office."
Tony leaned in, a seductive smile on his face. "Are you sure? I can be very grateful when I put my mind to it."
The girl's face turned an alarming shade of red, and she looked like she was about to bolt, or maybe throw up, when a voice behind Tony asked, "What exactly is going on here?"
Turning, he put a big smile on his face. "Pepper! Just the person I was looking for. Put on something low cut and help me seduce Agent Campbell here. Clearly, she bats for the other team as I was unable to make any headway with her."
Two different female voices sputtered out, "I do not bat for the other team," and "I am not doing that, Tony!"
Shaking his head in sadness, Tony snarked, "That's the problem with the female sex. They never know when I'm joking and when I'm serious."
Agent Campbell, her face slowly returning to normal, stuttered out, "Y-you w-were joking?"
"About Pepper seducing you? Oh no. I was serious about that. I was joking about you batting for the other team. I was planning to join in after all."
Agent Campbell made a panicked sound, grabbed her bag, then bolted from the room. He called after her. "Come back, Agent! We'll be gentle!"
Turning around, he beheld the coolly angry face of his erstwhile lover and the woman who ran his company. Tapping her foot, Pepper asked with a sardonic smile, "Care to tell me what that was about?"
"Oh, I wanted her to leave me something so that I could run more tests. She refused, so I turned on the charm. Said charm failed, as did the opportunity to have sex with you, so I cheated. When she panicked because I was suggesting a threesome, I switched out the items I wanted to keep for something else. Talk about win win."
Pepper looked horrified. "Tony, you put that young woman through all that just to get your way about some doodad or another."
"In fairness, the doodad in question was destroyed by something a hell of a lot more dangerous than an EMP, which begs the question of just what could that be? I really need to run more tests as I'm the only person alive who can figure this out. Well, and I wouldn't have said no to a threesome either."
Ignoring the swat Pepper gave him, Tony took his prize and put it into his lab safe, locking it inside. He hoped that no one at SHIELD figured out his subterfuge too soon as it was unlikely the security here could stop them if they wanted it back. Later, that would be a different story, but for now, the work site was a sieve.
Tony admitted he was loath to give it up as he'd bought into the mystery that Agent Campbell had brought him. He'd been getting bored and nothing stirred the creative juices like finding out something bypassed the security of one of his devices in a whole new way, one that had never been done before.
Putting on his thinking cap, Tony Stark got down to work.
"Did he take the bait?"
"Yes, Director Fury. Ah, Agent Campbell allowed herself to be distracted by the man and returned only half of the pulse-damaged items which she left with. Do you recommend censure?"
"How exactly would that work, Agent Frist? Do we censure her before or after we tell her that we arranged for her to be the sacrificial lamb by delivering those items to Stark's keeping?"
Sam floundered, "Sir, I-"
"Here's how it will go down. Those items returned will be entered into the log as correct. They'll be sent off for testing. Soon enough, a discrepancy will be found between the items thus damaged and those that were substituted. During the subsequent investigation, Agent Campbell will be questioned, but you will make sure that she does not tell any one of what happened at Stark's. Seal it under Eyes Only: Director if you must. So she won't be able to incriminate herself. But she will know what happened. It will either break her, or make her a better agent. Either result is a favorable one for us."
Feeling confused, something which he just wasn't used to, Sam asked, "Sir, I just don't understand why we're going to such lengths to make sure that Tony Stark has a sample of the damaged materials. Why didn't we just give him one to start with? He has the clearance for it."
There was a sense of infinite patience in the Director's voice as he said, "Because, Agent Frist, he would not have cooperated. Getting Tony Stark to do anything is like herding cats. Only worse. It's even more than possible, entering into the realm of probably, that Stark is already aware that we want him to look at the samples further, and that we engineered him having the sample he has. But without playing our part in this game, Stark will refuse to play his."
It was weird and twisty and almost too much for a senior analyst to comprehend, no matter what his own clearance was. Sam said, "Understood, sir. And Agent Campbell?"
"Part of the game, Agent Frist. Stark might check on her, so it needs to play out. Besides, it isn't as if any of us wouldn't have been fooled by the man that early in our career. Just because she's the sacrificial lamb, doesn't mean we actually need to sacrifice her for real."
Deciding not to ask how even a man like Tony Stark would be able to find out details from the most secure organization on Earth, Sam merely said, "Yes, sir. Understood, sir."
"So, the deal is, I'll give you half a million off the purchase price if you pay me in gold bullion. So four and a half million. Plus, we only report that you paid me three million, which means your property taxes will be lower. And I'll owe the IRS and state and local income tax a lot less. How about it?"
Hermione turned toward Harry as she considered what Barnaby Neil had said. He raised one brow, then shrugged. Clearly, he didn't feel one way or the other about the matter.
It didn't feel quite right to Hermione, but at the same time, her parents had been true Tories, fighting against the Inland Revenue as much as possible. It had annoyed her dad to no end that taxes were so high on their dentistry practice that it made it difficult to makes ends meet at times.
Feeling that sense of daring that she'd shared with Harry twice this past week, Hermione nodded her head. "We can agree to that, Barnaby. We'd like to take possession of the building as soon as possible."
He scratched his head. Looking dubious, he said, "Well, I have to finish packing up."
Hermione had a burst of inspiration. "What if we bought your existing stock? That would speed things up tremendously, right?"
Barnaby let out a rather abrupt laugh, then shook his head ruefully. "I can't let you do that. Hell, I'll throw it in. You're saving me quite a lot of taxes and I can do without the few thousand from selling the books. When would you like to do the deal?"
"How about today?" Harry asked, finally joining in the conversation.
Barnaby looked, by turns, shocked, speculative, and avarice. He finally settled on speculative as he asked, "You can come up with the gold by then, Harry?"
"Of course. However, that much bullion is going to weigh quite a bit. Can you manage to move it?"
Hermione stated, "Approximately two hundred and seventy-five pounds of gold, give or take an ounce or two."
Barnaby looked from one teen to the other, then said, "That's fine. I can move it. I'll put it in the crates I was going to put the books in. Even at nearly three hundred pounds, it's lighter than the books would have been."
"Then we'll bring it by your store tonight. Sound good?"
He nodded. "Sounds good. I'll see about getting the deed transferred. I take it you don't want to have the building checked structurally or the value checked by an inspector?"
Harry shook his head. "That's not necessary. I did a little research. Your price is fair. Plus, we'll be living upstairs just as soon as we get the keys."
Barnaby looked uneasy for a moment. "I want to warn you that the upstairs is a little rough. You're going to have to put in some work on it."
Hermione smiled secretively even as Harry indicated that wasn't a problem. It definitely was not. Between the two of them, and their two House Elves, they could easily clean and refurbish the upstairs. Plus, she was already planning the space expansion charms she was going to use on the upstairs and downstairs, and possibly even a subtle one on the first floor. She'd ask Harry what he thought about it.
Five hours later saw them loading the last of the gold into a half dozen crates from out of the van that Harry had used a Confundus Charm to 'rent'. He'd make up for it by paying double to relieve any tension about the lack of paperwork when it came time to return it. In the meantime, it was easy enough to borrow it, load it with gold, and take it by Barnaby's place.
Shutting the doors on Barnaby's van, Harry accepted the deed for the property, which still needed to be filed with the city of New York first thing in the morning. They were planning to meet the man one final time at City Hall to take care of that, then he was leaving town.
In the meantime, they had their keys, and had already left the hotel they were staying at. Also in the back of the van were the clothes they'd purchased, as well as any other possessions they had that weren't shrunk on Harry's belt.
Opening the heavy steel back door, Harry held it for Hermione and gestured her ahead of him. She gave him a courtly bow of thanks, then walked through ahead of him. He brought their belongings inside, then closed and locked the doors, putting a Locking Charm on them as well. Then he followed Hermione upstairs to the second floor.
He found her staring in shock as the room was undergoing a dizzying array of changes in what looked like time lapse film. Walls and floors grew bare, then clean, then were covered once more, first with wood, then paint or stain, whichever was appropriate.
What had been a mostly bare room just moments ago, was now a fully restored, fully detailed one, even to the cheerful-looking wood burning fireplace in the opposite wall, it's fire already burning.
Hermione called, "Rimer? Posey? May I speak to you?"
The two House Elves blinked in, using their own special kind of magic. Both looked ecstatic, wide grins on their faces, as he clutched a hammer and a saw, while she was holding a long handled paint brush and some kind of trowel covered in goop.
It was Rimer who spoke, "Mistress Hermione, what may I do for you?"
Harry noted the almost frustrated look on his girlfriend's face as she struggled to find the right words. He stepped in, saying, "I take it, Rimer, that you and Posey have been busy getting the upper floor ready for us to live in?"
Rimer nodded vigorously. "Yes, Master Harry. I have finished all of the construction necessary and Posey is almost done with the small touches and final details. We need furniture! I can be back in a moment with a selection for you to choose-"
Harry shook his head decisively. "No. I won't ask where you got the materials to construct this. However, if any of those locations were in buildings with wide selections of such material, I will want you to go before you rest and leave amounts of gold commensurate in value with the material taken. I trust your understanding on this matter. As far as furnishings go, those Hermione and I will choose from local stores, beginning tomorrow after we meet Barnaby to register our ownership. Now, no more construction tonight. I will conjure some furnishings to last until tomorrow. Once you've paid for the material, you both will rest. Is that understood?"
Rather than looking upset, both Elves simply nodded while saying, "Yes, Master Harry."
They popped out, leaving Harry to deal with an angry Hermione. He delayed the matter just the tiniest bit by using his wand to create a large, overstuffed sofa right in front of the fire. He walked over and sat down. Patting the spot next to him, he gave her an expectant smile.
With a huff, Hermione headed over and sat next to him, though she kept a careful space between them. Knowing she was about to go off on a rant, Harry preempted her by saying, "You know, it was Neville who showed me how to deal with House Elves. They only want to do what is best for their family and often don't consider merely human laws or the constraints upon their own physical selves when doing so. It makes them so happy that they are capable of working themselves to death in service to us. So as someone who has House Elves, it is continent upon us to learn how to deal with them and occasionally give commands, because anything else is open for interpretation."
Her voice was low and argumentative. "You told them to do this. And that. And something else. Harry, that isn't right."
He nodded. "You're right. If I were talking to you or some other person. But it was right for a House Elf. Did you see how happy they both were to do what I wanted? They knew they'd overdone it, burning up their magic at a prodigious rate. They were simply unwilling to stop. They need someone to take care of them, just as they take care of us. So occasionally, it's going to be necessary to put limits on them. If I had done so earlier, both Kreacher and Dobby might still be alive."
Hermione's voice went from angry to empathic in an instant. "Harry, that wasn't your fault. You know it wasn't."
"So I tell myself. But I never bothered to learn how to deal with House Elves. Not really, I mean. Between Dobby being... odd, and Sirius and his hate relationship with Kreacher, another less than normal Elf, I just didn't bother to understand how they really are. How easily both could have had their worse habits curbed and how happy they would have been while it was done. They really do love us, Hermione, but they are not human and can't be treated as such. You can't be anthropomorphic in their case. It just won't work."
There was something sad in her eyes, but she nodded determinedly. "I see that. I'll try to do better. I may, though, need you to help me with this. It doesn't come naturally to me."
Harry bridged the distance between them, pulling her in for a hug. Kissing the top of her head, he whispered into her hair, "It's why I love you, you know."
Then she was slipping astride him and kissing him back. Clothes ended up on the floor, and if they didn't quite consummate their relationship, they came very close, as lips and tongues explored new places.
Somewhere in the middle of this, Harry managed to gather enough wandless magic to transform the couch into a bed, although he'd still needed his wand later to create sheets, blankets, and pillows out of nothing. Snuggling against Hermione's bare form, his arms around her, he considered the future.
They were going to have to be careful in this strange, suspicious world of post-911. He'd finally read about what had happened and some of the reactions over here as well. In some ways, it truly frightened him, that there were people who hated others enough to crash planes into buildings full of people just to kill them, while dying themselves.
It also frightened Harry, that a society that had so prided itself on its freedoms and liberties should take such a step back from those same qualities in the name of fear. Guantanamo Bay was but one example of just how frightening such overblown reactions could be. The so-called Patriot Act was another.
So he and Hermione were going to have to be extra careful. They had their new fake ID's, 'guaranteed' to pass any basic background check, although extensive digging into their pasts would expose them. So they would use those identities for now, but be at least somewhat prepared to run.
Harry would also get Hermione to ward their shop slash living quarters to the nines, with everything from Muggle Repelling Wards all the way to casting the Fidelius on their home above the shop. Plus, he still wanted his dueling range in the bottom floor, something more than possible with the miracle of Space Expansion Charms.
From the circle of his arms, Hermione sleepily asked, "What are you thinking about, Harry?"
Automatically, he answered with the least controversial thing on his mind, "About my dueling range in the basement."
She squeezed him arm affectionately and whispered, "Prat."
Soon, Hermione's even breathing gave away the fact that she was asleep. Harry stayed up for quite some time, considering several different options, but in the end, he took slept. After all, tomorrow would be a truly busy day.