Colours is taking a while longer than I expected to update (my beta for that story is busy, real life attacks again), so in the meantime I bring you the first chapter of part 3 of Sticks and Circles, the continuation of If Anyone Pulls One of Those Sticks on Us, Burn It :)
I hope you enjoy!
Despite the weeks that had passed, Lucius Malfoy still had some difficulty believing his good luck on occasion. Cornelius Fudge’s stupidity had worked wonders in returning Lucius to the Dark Lord’s good graces despite that fiasco with the diary a few years ago. And now here he was, waiting along with a select group of people for the arrival of two wizards from another world.
Truly, the only downside to the current situation was Kingsley Shacklebolt’s presence, which meant Dumbledore most certainly knew of this other world by now.
Dolores Umbridge’s office, as per Lucius’ advice, had been magically enlarged to fit their party, an ample seating area by a warm and welcoming fireplace and a long buffet table offering an exquisite selection of their society’s finest cuisine, along with a wide, cleared space where their guests could arrive comfortably.
It was in this space where a crackling net of blue light appeared, quickly taking the shape of a perfect circle. Lucius had witnessed this event once before, when he had been present at the Ministry for the arrival of one of the letters. This time, instead of an official letter in a small circle of blue light that would’ve fit on top of a desk, the light had formed a much larger circle and two figures materialised in the middle of it.
As the light vanished, Lucius could take in the two people’s features.
They did not look anything like what Lucius had been expecting of them.
From the information provided in the letters, Lucius had deduced that it took a very long time and great achievements for anyone to reach any of the ranks of general in the Amestris military. There were, after all, many other ranks below them. Thus, Lucius had accounted for two old wizards or witches, similar to the kind of people one expected to find seated at the Wizengamot.
Roy Mustang and Olivier Armstrong did not look anything like that.
Lucius didn’t know which of them was who, but both of them appeared to be younger than he was; the woman by a couple of years, the man by around a decade.
Both of them were dressed in blue clothes, long coats over loose trousers, black boots, and an assortment of medals on the left breast of their coats. Lucius guessed these were their military uniforms. They didn’t have anything in common with the auror robes worn by the people standing guard at the back of the room.
Even before the blue light had completely faded, Fudge took a step forward.
“Welcome, welcome!” he greeted enthusiastically, taking off his hat and making an exaggerated bow with such overdone reverence that it sent a wave of second-hand embarrassment crawling down Lucius’ spine. That behaviour was utterly unacceptable for the leader of the wizarding world. Fudge lacked the propriety, poise and dignity expected of someone in his position. Lucius comforted himself with the reminder that soon enough their world would be in the hands of people truly worthy of leading it.
“My name is Cornelius Fudge, and I am the Minister for Magic. It is a veritable honour to welcome you to the British Wizarding World,” Fudge continued, his back straight now. Then he turned to his right, where Amelia Bones stood. “This is Madame Amelia Bones, head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement; Rufus Scrimgeour, head of the Auror Office and the man in charge of the security for the duration of our meetings; and Mr. Lucius Malfoy, who has graciously agreed to oversee the more social aspects of our negotiations.”
Lucius inclined his head in greeting, careful to keep his gesture polite but not obsequious. He needed to establish his high standing position from the beginning.
The woman nodded, curt but polite.
“I am Lieutenant General Olivier Armstrong, and this is Brigadier General Roy Mustang, of the Amestris State Military,” she introduced formally.
Standing a step behind her and to Armstrong’s right, Mustang nodded his head in a similar manner to Lucius’ own gesture.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you!” Fudge enthused, back to his overly cheerful demeanour. “Please, come forward; we have prepared a small meal to welcome you after your trip.”
They didn’t accomplish much on the first day. Olivier had expected it, fully aware that hoping for anything past the mandatory pleasantries would only be wishful thinking on her part, but that didn’t mean Olivier liked having to play social games.
Cornelius Fudge was as unimpressive as Olivier had expected him to be, but the other members of the reception party had proven to be somewhat more interesting. From what little Fudge had allowed her to speak without interrupting with some inane comment, Amelia Bones seemed to be far smarter and a more no-nonsense person than what many generals Olivier had met over the years could hope to accomplish. Rufus Scrimgeour had been tense and mostly silent throughout the meal, and if Olivier had to make a guess about him right now she’d say that he wasn’t all that thrilled about the whole affair. As for Lucius Malfoy, he’d been nothing short of perfectly polite. Olivier had to wonder what sort of influence he had to have wormed his way into a top secret situation like this one.
After the meal, Fudge and Malfoy —alongside four of the aurors who had been standing guard the entire time— had escorted Roy and Olivier to what Malfoy had described as one of the finest establishments in the entire wizarding world: a very posh hotel with gold practically everywhere and the sort of furniture that Olivier was used to seeing in the houses of those who liked to boast their wealth. Fudge had informed them that the Ministry of Magic had booked the entire top floor of the hotel, and would keep it so for as long as was necessary. He had also said that a couple of aurors would be stationed in a room down the hallway at all times for their safety —Olivier had nearly snorted.
“Two bedrooms,” Roy said in amusement, snapping Olivier out of her thoughts before she could start pointing out all the flaws in such lame security. Two guards, and no traces of technology or magic to monitor them. Olivier had checked: there was absolutely no technology in the suite —according to everything they had read magic fried it anyway— and all the detection spells had come back clean. Olivier would never allow strangers into her fortress with such pitiful security measures, much less an unknown entity into Amestris’ territory.
“Obviously. We’re not going to advertise our relationship,” Olivier said, moving to sit on a couch in the common area.
“Such a pity,” Roy said with an exaggerated sigh. “Did you notice the way Fudge was looking at you?” he asked, settling next to her.
Olivier felt her eyes twitch. Yes, she had. Fudge had been trying to charm her the entire time.
“Why the hell do you think I drew attention to my sword?”
Roy, being his annoying self, laughed. At least he had the sense to suggest that they started on their first report to Grumman before Olivier decided to reach for said sword.
“I haven’t been able to gather any information on their culture or beliefs,” Kingsley continued later that night, once the facts had been covered, during the meeting of the Order of the Phoenix that had been called expressly to discuss this first encounter. “As for my thoughts on our visitors, I would say they are clearly high class purebloods. Olivier Armstrong carries with her a magical sword as a symbol of her status. Even Malfoy was impressed by her.” Malfoy’s reaction had surprised Kingsley; he had expected Malfoy to attempt to ingratiate himself to their visitors —and he, of course, had— but having such an elitist and dangerous Death Eater appear to be genuinely pleased by the first impression he had of said visitors was nothing short of worrying.
“Of course he was,” he said derisively. “He’s finally found someone else who carries around a useless and old-fashioned symbol of his supposed superiority.”
“Sirius!” Molly admonished him. “We don’t know if Miss Armstrong is anything like the Death Eaters.”
“Don’t we?” Sirius asked, sarcasm clear in his voice. “What did you say, Kingsley? Cool, aloof and carrying a power stick sounds pretty Death Eater-ish to me. Merlin, you even said this Mustang kid can do the political rubbish with the best of them!”
“That doesn’t necessarily mean they share the Death Eaters’ beliefs,” Dumbledore said before Molly could reply. “Kingsley, I have brought my pensieve with me. Would you mind showing us what they look like? I have a theory I’d like to confirm.”
Winry leant back in her chair and stretched her arms over her head in an attempt to loosen some of the knots that had formed in her back. After the umpteenth argument with Ed over his penchant for getting lost in his research and forgetting basic things such as food or sleep until someone dragged him away from it, they had settled on an agreement. Now Winry had a table in his lab to work on her designs and make sure Ed left the lab at a reasonable time every day. Besides, simply because she couldn’t work on the mechanical side of automail, it didn’t mean she couldn’t do anything at all.
In truth, Winry spent more time working alongside Ed and his team than designing. As it turned out, her expertise made Winry a better choice to work on this project than some of the scientists Ed had been assigned.
A plate of sandwiches appeared between her face and the notebook she was sketching on, and Winry looked up to find Ed standing next to her.
“Lunch time,” Ed said, placing the plate next to the mess that were Winry’s writing tools.
An unexpected side effect of Winry’s presence in the lab was that, while Ed didn’t particularly care about his own body’s needs, he never forgot Winry’s. Ed hadn’t let a single meal pass since Winry’s arrival to the lab. He had even dragged Al here to transmute one of the unused offices into a bedroom for when Winry needed to rest.
Winry smiled in thanks, and Ed turned to drag a chair over —pretending he hadn’t done anything, as he always did. Winry noticed the folder he was carrying.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Mustang sent it over with their first report,” Ed replied. He dropped the folder next to the plate and plopped down on the chair. “I bet it’s full of the complaints he couldn’t put in the official report; he can’t have had the time to learn anything useful, it’s not even been a full day.”
Winry bit back a snicker. Despite Ed’s nonchalant tone, she could tell he wanted to read Brigadier General Mustang’s unofficial report of his and Lieutenant General Armstrong’s first impression of the wizards. Truth be told, so did Winry, and she couldn’t be the only one.
“Al and the others?” she asked. It would be unfair to leave them out of this.
“Out for lunch,” Ed said, and grinned. “He’s with Mei.”
Winry shook her head at Ed’s petty attitude. She found Al and Mei’s budding romance really sweet.
“I left them messages to come up here when they’re back,” Ed added.
“Okay. Let’s eat then,” Winry said, and reached out for a sandwich.
The first official meeting took place in the same office where Roy and Olivier had arrived, though the room had been considerably modified since the previous day.
As Roy took his seat across from Madame Bones he made a mental note to suggest further research into magically-modified spaces in his next report. His own investigation of it had been superficial at best. Roy’s mind went on a quick tangent on all the ways life could be made easier for the troops if they could have such things as actual working bathrooms inside their standard tents without adding weight or volume to them before returning to the here and now.
Roy had no delusions about this meeting, he knew they would do little more than exchange the more developed dossiers on each world that had been composed over the last few weeks. Roy didn’t like to remember how much effort that had cost them, or how many times Sheska had been forced to rewrite the text. Neither Scrimgeour nor Malfoy were present, but Fudge was positively vibrating with excitement, so Roy steeled himself for an excessively long meeting.
By the end of the meeting he had been proven right: they had exchanged dossiers and agreed on a period of two weeks to go through them before the next official meeting took place (Roy could almost hear Olivier internally snorting and wondering why they hadn’t done this through letters). The only half-surprise was Fudge’s offer of having a team of aurors show them around parts of the wizarding world in the meantime, which Olivier accepted.
As they walked down the street, Roy thought it was a good thing that he and Olivier had already been to Diagon Alley before today. Otherwise, acting as though they weren’t fazed by certain things would have proven tricky at best. Ignoring the abysmal fashion sense and most of the store fronts they passed was easy enough, but their group had just nearly been run over by a troop of small children who had been racing on tiny, hovering broomsticks of all things.
One of the aurors dressed in civilian robes was lecturing the children on broomstick safety right now.
“I think we’ll be adding those to our list of interests,” Roy said, infusing his voice with amusement. He would have loved a flying broomstick as a child (hell, he might now as well, as long as he could ascertain its safety first).
“You don’t have flying broomsticks back home?” asked Kingsley Shacklebolt, one of the aurors showing Roy and Olivier around Diagon Alley.
“Fortunately for our pedestrians, we don’t,” Roy replied lightly.
“Children can be a menace on those toys, but real broomsticks are very useful.”
“How so?” Olivier asked, glancing at him and freeing the poor children from her murderous glower.
Shacklebolt gladly started to talk about real flying broomsticks and their many advantages. He was clearly a fan.
“I’m curious,” Roy said, looking around at the still too bizarre Diagon Alley, “how have you managed to keep muggles so utterly unaware of the existence of magic?”
Given the lack of any such division in their own world, they hadn’t bothered to look into the subject as part of their preparation for these meetings. Edward had snorted and said that it would be like attempting to hide alchemy from non-alchemists when Roy had mentioned the division. Looking around, at the lack of discretion and muggle-like clothes from the people milling about, Roy had to wonder how no muggles had seemingly put the pieces together yet.
“Wait, it’s true?” one of the aurors, Dawlish, asked with obvious surprise.
Olivier glanced sideways at him, but it was Roy who replied.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
Dawlish looked around before speaking, his voice considerably lower this time.
“Do you really live alongside muggles in your world? Peacefully?” Roy nodded. “How?”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. I’d need to know what this world’s history with muggles is like first.”
Olivier snorted. It was her fake but very believable snort.
“Subtle, Mustang,” she muttered, loud enough to be heard by everyone present.
“What do you mean, ma’am?” Dawlish asked.
Roy bit back a snort. The aurors felt enough at ease around Roy to be casual with him, but they had immediately figured out that the best way to interact with Olivier was to be formal and very respectful. To be fair, the only one who hadn’t figured that out was Fudge —or, if he had, he was under the delusion that his position spared him the need to be formal to Olivier.
“Mustang’s been dying to get his hands on some books since he was brought into this project,” Olivier explained, scorn dripping from her voice.
“There’s nothing wrong about liking to read, Lieutenant General Armstrong,” Roy said easily, and added a charming smile for good measure.
Olivier rolled her eyes.
“What the hell are you doing in the military?” This question was a common element in their public banter.
“There is a good bookshop nearby,” Shacklebolt interjected in a pacifying tone before Roy could fire a response. He looked at Olivier. “Perhaps we could find something to your liking, Lieutenant General,” he offered.
Olivier fixed a steady glare on Shacklebolt, and Roy was impressed when he didn’t back off. Eventually, Olivier nodded.
“You’d better show me something good, Shacklebolt,” she warned him.
And, just like that, they had wormed their way into an excursion to a bookshop and opened the possibility for future trips.
At first, Roy worried that the clerk at Flourish and Blotts might recognise them despite their uniforms, but the person sitting behind the counter was an unknown young woman, not the man Roy had spoken to last time.
When Shacklebolt asked Olivier to follow him, she turned to glare at Dawlish.
“Make sure he,” she jabbed a thumb at Roy, “doesn’t get lost.”
Dawlish nodded, his eyes wide open. It was due to experience and his amazing acting skills that Roy managed to maintain a mildly amused face instead of bursting out laughing.
Kingsley wasn’t sure whether he was more interested by today’s trip or bored to tears by it. Arthur had asked him to take notes and tell him everything later, of course, but the only real interest Kingsley had in muggle culture was to know how a wizarding society had managed to adapt anything created by muggles so it would be useful to them in some way.
Brigadier General Mustang, however, looked about as interested as Arthur had been when Kingsley had told the Order that the aurors would escort their visitors on a tour around the muggle world today. When the suggestion had come up, Fudge had barely managed to suppress his derision at the idea, but he was doing his best to get on Mustang and Armstrong’s good side, so he had agreed to it as graciously as he could.
Lieutenant General Armstrong looked barely interested, as though she was vaguely curious but didn’t expect much out of the trip.
Organising this trip hadn’t been easy, given that no muggleborns were officially authorised to know about the other world, but Kingsley and Robards had eventually managed to set up what they hoped was an acceptable routine. Starting with a tour around London’s landmarks which would also provide a chance to look around at the local muggles, followed by a meal at a muggle restaurant Robards had heard of from a cousin to sample muggle cuisine and a trip to a large bookshop. Kingsley had suggested this one after learning of Mustang’s interest in books, though he wasn’t sure how he would convince Armstrong it was worth it yet. And convincing Armstrong was up to Kingsley, because the other aurors had unanimously decided the fact that Armstrong didn’t constantly glare at him meant she kind of liked him.
Privately, Kingsley wondered if Armstrong even liked anyone. None of the information he had guessed about her so far suggested as much.
To be continued