The Sugar Quill
Author: Zequist  Story: The Conversation  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

The Conversation A/N: This story takes place the morning after the events of Chapters 32-36 in OotP.

"Good morning, sir!" said Percy Weasley cheerfully, stepping into Cornelius Fudge's office. "I've finished the letter to the French Minister of Magic that you asked me to draft yesterday, and...."

Percy stopped short at the sight that greeted him. Fudge looked a mess. His normally immaculate suit was rumpled, he was running his hands nervously through his hair, which looked quite untidy, and the bags under his eyes suggested that he had not slept all night.

"Is something wrong, Minister? Should I come back later?" Percy inquired, his smile fading.

"No, no. In fact I need to talk to you, Weasley. Er, why don't you sit down for a minute." Fudge waved vaguely at a chair.

Panic surged inside Percy. "M-m-minister--what is it? Did I do something wrong? You can't--I mean, you're not going to--are you?" He couldn't bring himself to say the word fired. He'd been living in too much dread of it ever since the Crouch incident the previous year.

Fudge chuckled darkly. "No, no, you're not being fired today. Sit down, please."

Percy sat, though hardly feeling reassured by that remark.

"I could use your help with something, Weasley. You come from a big family, so maybe you'll have some wisdom for me."

"Anything at all, sir," said Percy. "I'll do my best."

The Minister finally raised his head and looked Percy directly in the eye.

"How do you admit to everybody else, that on a very important issue where you were determined to cling to your own beliefs at any cost, you turned out to be completely and utterly wrong?"

This question was so out of character for the Cornelius Fudge that Percy had come to know over the past year that he was struck speechless. Has that ever happened before? he asked himself, frantically racking his brain for a way to answer this unexpected question. When it became clear that he was at a loss to reply, Fudge prompted him again.

"How do you do it, Weasley? Swallow your pride and admit to something like that?"

Percy still wasn't quite sure what to say, but felt like he had to say something. "I--um--I don't know, sir," he began at last. "I mean, I've stood up to my brothers before, when they were getting up to something they weren't supposed to and didn't want me turning them in. Even though they didn't like it, I did it for their own good, because I cared about them. They usually came around, after they realized I was right." This was a difficult subject, since it was at the heart of the most recent and largest rift with his family. If only they could see the truth, he thought for what seemed like the millionth time.

"But what about you?" Fudge persisted. "Can you forgive them, when the roles are reversed?"

"What? Oh, well, yes I suppose I could. I mean, they are my family, sir, and we've always been pretty close until...this." What was this all about? Percy couldn't quite read the look on the Minister's face, but plowed on anyway. "I told my brother Ron months ago when he became a prefect that I would be willing to forgive them as soon as they were willing to admit they were wrong. They're all a stubborn lot, you know," he added pompously. "You have to be patient, sometimes."

"That wasn't quite what I meant, but I guess it will do." Fudge stood up and stared out the window for a few minutes, which maintenance had set today to look like the sun breaking through the clouds after a rainstorm. Then he sighed and sat down again, as if coming to a resolution with himself. "And as long as we're talking about forgiving people, I owe you an apology, Weasley," he said.

"Sir?" Percy was visibly startled.

"You never should have been away from your family over the last year; all of you should have been on the same side from the beginning." He stopped and visibly struggled with himself again before forcing the next words out in a rush. "And it's my fault."
  
"Minister," Percy began, trying to sound reassuring. "I know this has been a difficult year for you, trying to keep the peace in the face of Dumbledore's troublemaking, but it's not your fault or mine that the rest of my family chose to buy into that old loony's--" he broke off as Fudge waved for silence.

"No, Weasley, it is my fault. The 'old loony' was right. Lord V-V..., well, You-Know-Who." Fudge made a face as though sucking on a lemon, but continued doggedly. "He is back."

Percy was struck dumb for a moment, but swiftly recovered. "Oh, excellent joke Minister," he exclaimed heartily. "Very good indeed. You got me good there."

"It's not a joke, Weasley. I saw him myself, last night. Right here in the Ministry."

Percy felt the blood drain from his face.

"It was a raid, apparently. He fought Dumbledore, and I arrived just in time to see him grab one of his followers and leave."

"Im--impossible," Percy moaned, finding his voice again. "It must have been a setup. An illusion or a glamour, to trick--"

"We also captured eleven of his followers, including some of the escaped prisoners from Azkaban. Ten were fit to talk, and in addition to what I saw myself, all ten confirmed under Veritaserum the truth of his return. Everything they told us agreed with Dumbledore's story." Fudge grimaced again before adding, "And Harry Potter's."

Percy sat back in his chair, his head spinning.

"I'm sorry sir, I just, I can't believe this...."

"Yes, nasty shock for all of us, but now that we know, the Ministry's got to act. Have to satisfy the people that we're doing something, or it will be all our necks on the block. Enough talk, Weasley, I've got an assignment for you."

"Yes, sir," said Percy weakly, attempting to straighten himself back into a semblance of professionalism. In truth he was only half-listening as Fudge rattled off a list of press releases and advisories to draft and persons to arrange appointments with. His mind was still trying to come to grips with things. He mulled over the startling news, as he scribbled down the contact information for the secretaries of the Swiss and Italian Ministers of Magic. Pulled up vague memories of the previous war that he had barely been old enough to remember as Fudge dictated a list of newspapers that would need to be contacted. Tried to come to grips with the reality that his family had been right all along...

"That's all for now, Weasley," said Fudge. "Go get started on that, and make sure the other Ministers' offices know that I need to speak with them as soon as possible. And then come back here when you've finished; we need to begin drafting a statement to give the press."

"You can count on me, sir," Percy replied, grabbing up his notes and hurrying out of the office. Once around the corner, though, he had to stop and lean back against the wall. Fudge's earlier question rang loudly in his ears. How do you admit to everybody else, that on a very important issue where you were determined to cling to your own beliefs at any cost, you turned out to be completely and utterly wrong?

He realized now that the Minister had been asking the question for both of them, not just himself. He also realized he still had no idea how to answer it.

He had never admitted to anyone, especially Fudge, just how painful this year of separation from his family had been. Deny it as he might, he missed them. The twins too, even though he still shuddered at the thought of what the world would come to if they ever managed to start that joke shop they were always talking about. And to find out now that he had done it for nothing, that they had been right all along and everything he believed in had been wrong, left him at a loss as to what he should do next.

Why not make the first effort to reach out to them again? said a small voice in his head. Dad should be in his office by now. Start with him.

He decided he could spare a few minutes for that, so he strode over to the lift, punched it open, and rode down to the second level. Passing through Auror headquarters, he located his Father's office and raised his hand to knock.

His hand refused to obey.

Come on Weasley, show your Gryffindor courage, he thought to himself, and willed his raised hand to hit the door.

Nothing.

Percy's shoulders slumped and he took a step backwards, away from the door. Why can't I do this?, he thought.

The answer slowly dawned on him, as he looked back on his behavior over the past year, all the mistakes he'd made and bridges he had burned in his determination to cling to his beliefs. He could have forgiven his family had they been wrong, but he couldn't forgive himself. He didn't know how; he'd never dealt with this before. And if he couldn't forgive himself, he knew he wasn't ready to ask his family to forgive him yet either. Thinking of the things he had said to his Father and Ron, once things that had made him proud for taking a stand on the side of right, now made him slightly ill. And Mum, how she must feel...I even sent back her jumper this year. This he tried to block out. He couldn't bear to dwell on how much pain that must have caused. Especially since out of all his family, he had always been closest to his mother.

Percy sighed and turned away, defeated. But as he walked back to the lift that day, he made a promise to himself. He couldn't change his mistakes of the past year. But the Ministry and his family were on the same side now, and if he couldn't bring himself to face his family yet, then he would keep working as tirelessly as before. But instead of doing it for Fudge or the Ministry this time, he'd do it for them--for his parents, his sister, and all his brothers, even the twins--to make up for the pain he had caused them. Hopefully one day they would all understand and be proud of him, and then maybe he could find it in himself to knock on that door, and reach out to all of them again.

Percy snapped his head up as the lift doors opened and he marched in, ready to return to his office. He had a job to do.

Fin


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