Part One - “Under False Pretenses”
Disclaimer: All characters and settings in this story belong to J.K. Rowling. This story quotes a portion of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling, U.S. version, pages 341-342.
Thank you, as always, to my wonderful beta, Night Zephyr.
Aside from the scratching sound of Scrimgeour’s quill in the next room, Percy thought the Ministry seemed deserted. In addition to the Aurors keeping watch over the building, Percy had seen only a handful of people shuffling through the corridors, trying to finish their work as quickly as possible so they could spend the remainder of Christmas day with their families. But the building emptied as the day progressed, and now, in the early afternoon, only Percy and Scrimgeour were left in the Minister’s office.
Percy, who had volunteered to work on Christmas, had finished all of his work over an hour ago, and was now busying himself by tidying his already neat desk. He arranged the rolls of parchment so that they formed a pyramid. Unsatisfied, he scattered the rolls and laid them side-by-side. He gave a frustrated sigh, unable to keep still.
Through the magical window beside his desk, he gazed at the orange sun hovering over the snowy hills. It had been easy for him to ignore that it was Christmas while he was working, but now that he was idle, his thoughts had turned to the Burrow. The dread in the pit of his stomach grew; Percy knew that once Scrimgeour saw that he had finished his work he would send him home to his empty flat.
Earlier that morning, Scrimgeour had politely inquired about his Christmas plans but Percy deliberately kept his answers vague. He doubted that Scrimgeour knew about his estrangement from his family, since he had never mentioned it and Scrimgeour had never asked. Though Percy had hoped that the new Minister would take more of an interest in him than Fudge had, he felt it was for the best that Scrimgeour did not know about his family life. Percy did not want it to appear that it distracted him from his work, though it sometimes did.
The invitation to Christmas dinner at the Burrow had arrived weeks earlier, attached to a large package carried by Errol. Percy had read the note so many times that he could almost see his mother’s handwriting in his mind. Percy, I’d like to invite you to Christmas dinner at home. Please consider it, we would all love to see you. Love, Mum. Just as she had done the year before, Molly had also sent Percy a new sweater.
Percy was not surprised to receive the invitation or the sweater, but that did not make them any easier to ignore. After much thought, Percy decided not to answer the invitation. He had hoped that his mother would get involved in preparing the Burrow for Christmas and forget about him. But deep down he knew that she would remember, and he felt a stab of guilt whenever he thought of how hurt she would be that he did not respond. He planned to send the sweater back, as he had done the year before, but put it off several times. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he liked having it as a reminder that someone was thinking of him.
“I think you’re the only one who wants to see me, Mother,” said Percy quietly, though he was alone at his desk. He had seen his father working Christmas Eve day; they had noticed each other but, as usual, had not spoken.
Percy had heard through the office chatter that his father had been named as the head of the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects; one of the new departments the Minister had created. Pleased to hear the news, Percy had wanted to send a note of congratulations but decided against it since he was unsure whether his father would want to hear from him.
Though Percy saw his father frequently at the Ministry, he was never able to gather up the courage to talk to him. Every time, Percy would try to rehearse some sort of apology in his mind, some way to let his father know that he regretted not believing him about the return of You-Know-Who. But the result was always the same, Percy’s pride would block his way and the opportunity would slip away.
“Percy,” called Scrimgeour from inside his office. “Could you come here a moment?”
Percy hurried from behind his desk into the Minister’s office. “Yes, sir. What can I do for you?”
Scrimgeour looked up from the letter he was drafting. “As you know, Percy, I have my ways of finding out things, and from what I’ve heard it seems as though you’ve had a bit of a row with your family.”
Percy stammered but did not reply, he could feel his face becoming hot.
“Nothing to be embarrassed about, Percy,” Scrimgeour continued. “But I think it’s a shame to see a young man like yourself apart from his family. So, I thought that once I was finished here we could take a trip to see them. I’ll tell them that we were in the area on Ministry business and that you wanted to see them very much. We’ll just stay a few minutes, I think that will help you break the ice.”
Percy could not think of anything to say. He could only imagine how awkward it would be once he arrived at the Burrow. But he would be very happy to see his mother. Though he was anxious, he was also hopeful that he could seize the opportunity and possibly rejoin his family. And he was pleased that Scrimgeour was interested in him enough to try and help him.
“Yes, sir. That will be fine,” Percy replied with a small smile.
“Fine, then. I have a few more things to take care of here before we go. Why don’t you wait for me at your desk?” Scrimgeour said.
Percy walked back to his desk while his thoughts churned. He tried desperately to think of what to say to his family when he showed up unexpectedly.
In what felt like seconds, Scrimgeour was standing in front of Percy’s desk, ready to leave. Dazed, Percy took his cloak from the back of his chair and put it on. Scrimgeour asked about the location of the Burrow.
“It’s just to the south of Ottery St. Catchpole,” Percy replied.
“That’s a Muggle village, isn’t it?” Scrimgeour asked.
“Yes, it is. The house is well covered by a wooded area though, there won’t be a problem with Muggles seeing us appear,” said Percy.
“Very good. Off we go, then,” said Scrimgeour jovially. He snapped his wand and Apparated.
Despite his best efforts, Percy could not calm his nerves. He realized it was fruitless to waste more time trying and he Apparated as well.
Suddenly, the Burrow loomed in front of Percy. The warm orange glow from the windows contrasted with the chilly wind outside. Percy could see everyone sitting around the kitchen table through one of the windows.
“Nice to be home, isn’t it?” Scrimgeour asked, walking over to Percy. “Could you tell me your parents’ names? I don’t want to be too formal.”
“Molly and Arthur,” Percy replied quietly, still staring at the house.
Percy took a deep breath and tried to pluck up his courage. He stood up as straight as he could and set off at a brisk pace towards the house. For a moment, the only sound he could hear was his own footsteps crunching across the thin layer of snow. Then he heard Scrimgeour’s slow, faint footsteps and he knew he was walking too quickly. He thought about slowing down so that the Minister could catch up, but he was afraid that if he stopped walking he wouldn’t be able to start again.
As he approached the house, the knot in Percy’s stomach twisted tighter and tighter. His stomach lurched when he saw his mother turn and spot him in the garden. She stared at him, her expression a mixture of delight and surprise. Percy was greatly relieved to see that she seemed happy to see him, despite his neglect at answering her invitation.
He watched her turn back to the others and he was certain that she was telling them that he had arrived. He knew that there was no way that he could turn back now that he had been seen. Ginny stood up to see him and Percy was struck by her appearance. She was a young woman now, not the little girl he remembered. He suddenly realized how long he had been away.
Percy grasped the cold doorknob and opened the door. The warmth in the room washed over him, and he felt as though he had been thawed. All eyes were on him, and his mind went blank as he again tried to think of an explanation for his unexpected appearance. Unsure what everyone else’s reaction to his arrival would be, Percy focused on his mother, the one person he knew would welcome him.
“Merry Christmas, Mother,” he said, trying to swallow the lump in his throat.
“Oh, Percy!” Molly exclaimed.
Before Percy could prepare himself, Molly threw her arms around him and held him tightly. He felt her shudder as she cried on his shoulder. Percy could not help himself; he closed his eyes and put his arms around her. He was so relieved to know for sure that, for all he had done wrong, his mother still loved him. He had forgotten what it felt like to be held; formal handshakes at the Ministry had been a poor substitute for real human touch.
I’m sorry, Mum, Percy thought. I was wrong, the Ministry was wrong. I worked so hard for my job there, but it isn’t what I thought it would be. I just wish I could go back and change what I did, but I'm stuck and I don't know what to do. Can you forgive me, Mum?
After Molly let him go, Percy opened his eyes. A part of him hoped to see the others waiting to welcome him, making his apology unnecessary. But Percy was met with only cold silence from his father, Fred, and George. He was suddenly irritated with himself for getting his hopes up.
Percy looked away from them and noticed Lupin, who looked as though he wished he could leave the room. He recognized Fleur Delacour from the Triwizard Tournament. The way she was draped over Bill, Percy was certain that they were an item. Finally, Percy saw Harry Potter sitting beside Ron. Percy felt a rush of jealousy towards Harry, feeling as though Harry had replaced him in the family.
“You must forgive this intrusion,” said Scrimgeour. His voice startled Percy, who had forgotten Scrimgeour’s presence. “Percy and I were in the vicinity – working, you know – and he couldn’t resist dropping in and seeing you all.”
Percy cringed inside at Scrimgeour’s lie. He looked anywhere but at the people around the table. He did not want to give Fred and George the satisfaction of thinking that he had been looking forward to seeing them.
“Please, come in, sit down, Minister!” said Molly; adjusting a grand witch’s hat unlike any Percy had ever seen her wear. “Have a little purkey, or some tooding…I mean – ”
“No, no, my dear Molly,” said Scrimgeour. “I don’t want to intrude, wouldn’t be here at all if Percy hadn’t wanted to see you all so badly….”
“Oh, Perce!” said Molly, kissing Percy on the cheek. Percy felt his face flush with guilt, his mother seemed so eager to believe the Minister’s story.
“…We’ve only looked in for five minutes, so I’ll have a stroll around the yard while you catch up with Percy. No, no, I assure you I don’t want to butt in! Well, if anybody cared to show me your charming garden…Ah, that young man’s finished, why doesn’t he take a stroll with me?”
Abruptly, all the attention turned to Harry. Percy felt his stomach plummet, he realized that Scrimgeour had no interest in helping him reconcile with his family. He knew now that the trip to the Burrow only served as a cover story so that Scrimgeour could meet with Harry. Percy felt utterly foolish; he couldn’t believe how easily he had been duped. To top off his humiliation, everyone else seemed to see through Scrimgeour’s story immediately. Percy chided himself for being so naïve.
“Yeah, all right,” said Harry. “It’s fine. Fine,” he said to both Lupin and Arthur on his way out.
“Wonderful!” Scrimgeour said, as Harry passed through the door. “We’ll just take a turn around the garden, and Percy and I’ll be off. Carry on, everyone!” He closed the door behind him, and the room became oddly quiet.
“Percy, won’t you join us for dinner?” Molly asked hopefully. Percy was grateful that she did not ask him any questions about the Minister.
“He can’t stay,” George sneered. “There aren’t any more chairs.”
Defiantly, Percy’s eyes drifted along the table and fell on Harry’s empty chair.
Ron seemed to read his mind. “That’s Harry’s chair,” he said. “You can’t have it. He’ll be back soon.”
“There’s plenty of room for everyone,” said Molly, her voice unusually light, as though she was trying to disperse the argument before it had truly begun.
She quickly drew up a chair for Percy with her wand. “There you are, dear.”
Percy sat down stiffly while Molly piled food on a plate for him. He took a few small bites but found it difficult to swallow.
“So, Percy,” Fred began, in a falsely friendly voice. “Did you hear that George and I sold loads of our Shield Hats to the Ministry? Imagine that? They came to us for help. They weren’t prepared for all this You-Know-Who stuff at all.”
“Yeah. How did you like your Shield Hat?” George continued. “They ordered enough for the whole Ministry staff. You probably get a lot of use out of it. People must try to hex a prat like you all the time.”
Percy cleared his throat and adjusted his glasses to give himself a moment to think of a response. Molly clenched her jaw and gave Percy an awkward smile. Percy was not surprised that Fred and George had brought up the Shield Hats. Percy knew the twins would be delighted if they knew about all the Ministry employees that had approached him to talk about his brothers’ brilliant invention.
“The Ministry is committed to the protection of the entire Wizarding community. They will research all solutions, no matter how inane the source,” said Percy snidely.
Fred and George glared at Percy but said nothing more. Frustrated that he had let them get under his skin, Percy decided to try to make conversation with someone else. He thought to himself for a few minutes and his face brightened when he came upon an idea.
“Congratulations on your new appointment at the Ministry, Father,” he said, smiling widely.
“Thank you,” said Arthur formally.
Percy had hoped that his father would discuss his work, and that they would be able to talk about the Ministry, one of the few things they had in common. But it seemed as though Arthur had nothing else to say. Undeterred, Percy tried again.
“You must be enjoying your new post. It’s probably quite a change to be working in a proper department,” he said.
By his father’s reaction, Percy knew he had said something wrong. Arthur put his fork down and fixed Percy with a stern expression.
“A proper department? What do you think that I did at the Ministry for all those years?” Arthur demanded.
“Arthur, please,” Molly pleaded.
“I’m sorry, Molly, but he needs to hear this,” said Arthur.
“I have news for you, Percy,” said Arthur severely. “Your opinion is not the only one that matters. Simply because you consider my new appointment to be ‘proper’ does not make it so. And it does not mean that my previous job was worthless.”
“That’s not what I meant at all,” Percy stammered, though he doubted himself a little now.
“I know what you meant,” Arthur countered.
“You’re even worse than I thought,” Fred interrupted, sneering contemptuously at Percy. “You come here uninvited, and then you insult Dad’s job.”
“First of all, I am not uninvited,” Percy began, feeling heat spread across his face. “Mother asked me quite a long time ago.”
Arthur’s angry expression faded away as he looked at Molly; he did not seem at all surprised that she had invited Percy.
“Second of all, you act as though you never made fun of all the Muggle rubbish in the garage!” Percy continued. Fred looked startled; he had obviously not expected the conversation to take this turn. Percy felt empowered, he knew he had Fred on the defensive. Arthur looked down sadly at his empty plate.
“Do you honestly think that I came here to see you, or your business partner? The only reason I came here was because the Minister asked me to!” Percy shouted.
The instant the words were out of his mouth he regretted them, he had not wanted his mother to know the real reason for his visit. But it was too late, he saw that her eyes were filled with unshed tears.
Fred’s expression hardened; Percy had never seen him look so serious. “Look what you’ve done!” Fred yelled, gesturing towards Molly. “Why don’t you just get out?”
Molly let out a sob and buried her face in her hands. Percy’s shoulders sagged, he felt deflated and defeated.
As Percy looked down, he felt a warm slap against the side of his face. He wiped his face with his shaking hand, and saw that it was covered in mashed parsnips. As calmly as he could, he took off his glasses, cleaned them on his napkin, and put them back on. Ron snickered at him.
Automatically, he turned towards Fred and George. Though their forks were primed at the bowls of food, Percy was surprised to see that they were clean. Puzzled, he looked around the table and noticed Ginny’s fork dripping with parsnips. When he looked at her, she stared back unapologetically. Stung, Percy looked away. It hurt him far worse to know that she had done it; he wished that it had been Fred or George instead.
Percy rounded on Fred and George. “Well done,” said Percy sarcastically. “It’s obvious that you’ve had a wonderful influence on Ginny.” The twins smirked proudly.
“I can think for myself, Percy,” said Ginny harshly. “Unlike you, I don’t need the Ministry of Magic to tell me what to think or do.”
Percy stood abruptly, his chair scraping against the floor. “Thank you for dinner, Mother. I think it’s time for me to leave. I’ll meet the Minister in the garden.” Percy swept his cloak around his shoulders and strode towards the door.
Molly followed at his heels. “Please, Percy,” she begged, her eyes brimming with tears. “Please don’t leave.” She clutched desperately at his arm.
“I’m sorry, Mother. There’s no place for me here anymore,” said Percy quietly, unable to look at her face. He pulled away from her as gently as he could, and her arm dropped to her side.
Percy crossed over the threshold and shut the door behind him. He wondered if he was leaving the Burrow for the last time. The warmth of the house was wiped away, replaced by a cold, biting wind that whipped across his face. He felt certain that his mother was watching him walk away through the window. He could feel the weight of her gaze on his back, though he did not dare turn around. He could not bear to see his mother cry and know that it was because of him.