Chapter One: "In the Midst of Life"
Arthur Weasley vaguely
mouthed the words of an apparently well-known hymn, glancing around the
congregation with a practised eye. To his left, Molly unconsciously smoothed
a wrinkle from her sleeve. He smiled proudly: she looked suitably non-magical
and really quite at ease in her sombre muggle get up. Which was more than
he could say for himself, he thought, surreptitiously tugging at his black
tie for the umpteenth time that morning. Muggle clothes really were the
pits, particularly on official occasions.
All in all, it was
a very good turnout, both wizards and muggles. The magical folk had been
obliged to toe the party line generally for this solemn occasion as the
church was peppered with muggle press and the coverage would likely reach
the national muggle news. He sighed. It had scarcely been sudden and was
not at all unexpected, but Cornelius Fudge's death had ended an era for
all of them. Sir Cornelius actually - he had been knighted in the last
Honours List, but had been too ill to attend the ceremony. Lady Fudge
had been his proxy. Arthur's eyes drifted towards the widow in the front
pew, correct in deep mourning, stiff-backed and stony-faced. Her two sons
stood closely either side of her, and she was accompanied by a few relatives,
some close colleagues from the Ministry of Magic, and Tantalus Brown.
Arthur clamped his jaw tightly and looked away. Over his years at the
Ministry, he had learned discretion, how to govern by persuasion rather
than fiat, how to conceal one's true feelings, and how to sideline unwanted
interference. Unfortunately, Tantalus Brown was the first in a long career
to irritate him so badly that all his carefully won diplomacy promptly
jumped ship and headed for the hills. And Brown just happened to be his
Arthur put those thoughts
firmly aside and glanced about him, catching a glimpse of long, eye-catchingly
red hair. He smiled tenderly as he recognised his daughter, Ginny, and
her partner, Harry Potter. They made a very attractive couple, he mused,
and their respective talents in a wide range of areas made the partnership
a very valuable one to the wizarding world. They were at present investigating
the ramifications of their strange magical bond, a potentially devastating
mind-meld which seemed to spring directly from the strength of their attachment.
Its manifestation had caused much consternation among the ranks of the
ungodly. His forehead creased in a small frown as he recalled the events
of the past few days.
his wand carefully on the table and for a brief moment, rested his
forehead in his hands. Ginny sat motionless, gazing at the floor,
biting her lip apprehensively. Arthur mentally braced himself for
no good, we're just not going to be able to trigger it this way."
Harry started to pace the floor gesticulating wildly with his hands.
this mind-bond thing has locked into place between Ginny and myself
precisely three times, and on those occasions without exception we,
or someone else close to us, were in considerable danger. Now, I don't
pretend to have either the abilities or the detailed knowledge that
you gentleman possess, but, for the wisdom of Merlin, it doesn't need
a genius to put two and two together and come up with four!"
He glared at the assortment of experts assembled from various parts
of the globe, ran an exasperated hand through his unruly hair and
turned away with a sigh of disgust. There was a short silence, then
Harry turned back to face his colleagues.
force it into place by willpower alone." he continued more calmly,
"We have to find another way."
present in the Ministry Laboratory exchanged glances. One or two shuffled
their feet in embarrassment.
difficult." a quiet voice began. "No one here present has
any concrete knowledge of magical mind-bonding between wizards. In
fact, were it not for the shadows of these incidents in your minds,
I could be forgiven for doubting the existence of such a phenomenon.
In all my researches, I have never come across any reference to this
ability, nor have I encountered anyone with such knowledge."
The softly-spoken Chinese Dr. Lim was attempting to lower the temperature
of the meeting.
the Dark Side," added Dr. Galen, the Ministry's own expert, "We
have it from their agents that bonding has been known to occur before
between Dark Wizards. Indeed, the great Merlin himself was unwillingly
bonded with the Dark Witch, Morgan le Fey, but we can discover nothing
further from our archives, just the bare facts. It's very frustrating."
there is conflict between the parties." Dr. Petrucci now entered
the discussion. Arthur had never met anyone who looked less like an
academic. An olive-skinned, smouldering Latin-lover type, Petrucci's
languid good looks concealed a first-class brain and a habit of speaking
his mind. "Perhaps neither of you will submit to the other's
will." There was a short, awkward silence. Arthur winced: it
had not escaped his notice that Petrucci's roving eye had lit once
or twice upon his pretty daughter, and Ginny's almost contemptuous
disregard of his advances had not earned her any Brownie points with
the Italian wizard. Ginny spoke for the first time.
Malfoy …" she swallowed, then began again, "He told me the
Dark Forces considered it unlikely that we would succeed in a full
bonding because of my volatile temperament." Harry whirled round
in dismay and took hold of her shoulders.
goodness sake, Ginny, you're not going to give credence to anything
that vermin told you, are you?" Ginny stared straight into his
eyes, not at all intimidated.
she challenged. "They seem to know rather more about it on his
side of the fence." Harry admitted this reluctantly, but still
may be true, but it seems to me a very unfair description of you."
Ginny shrugged indifferently.
consider it unfair at all." She replied. "I know I'm unpredictable
- it's a large part of my creativity and my magical strength. Of course
I won't submit to you - why on earth should I? I wasn't brought up
to be submissive, for Merlin's sake. I have six brothers - that's
not exactly encouragement to be meek and mild, now is it?"
Arthur shook his head
with a gentle smile, coming back to earth as the hymn ended and the congregation
sat down. He looked up at the highly-decorated lectern, observing as he
did so that the unseasonally bright flowers were rather over the top.
A faint smile crossed his face as he recalled the profusion of snowdrops
and crocuses back at The Burrow. What would Cornelius himself have made
of all this pomp and circumstance, I wonder? mused Arthur as Tantalus
Brown approached the lectern to read the first lesson. What had Cornelius
really been like anyway? Had he been as accomplished a Minister as they
were today proclaiming? Or had his success been largely due to the considerable
support he had received from Albus Dumbledore? Arthur wouldn't be surprised
if the latter were the case. Things at the Ministry had turned on their
heads after Fudge and Dumbledore fell out over You-Know-Who, and it had
been some considerable time before anything coherent had been achieved
at a high level. Tantalus Brown began to read. Arthur really did not want
to listen, he preferred to keep his blood pressure at a manageable level.
A faint, grim but satisfied smile settled over his lips as he recalled
his relief when Brown had reluctantly withdrawn from the campaign to fill
Cornelius's shoes. The article that Rita Skeeter had submitted to Brown
for pre-publication comment, dealing with his treatment of Harry and Ginny
over the Mexican affair, had been some of her best work. Rather a pity
that Tantalus had caved in - it would have made marvellous copy. The downside
was that Arthur's Department owed Rita big, and they had no doubt that
come payday it would cost everything she could screw out of them. C'est
la vie: they'd cross that bridge when they came to it. Arthur sighed soundlessly:
even if they knew nothing bad about him, the fact remained that the New
Man was something of an unknown quantity.
A shuffling of feet
alerted Arthur that Brown had left the lectern. He strode back to his
pew staring straight ahead, without deigning to acknowledge the diffident
young man now taking his place at the huge Bible. Harry Potter carefully
turned the pages until he found his place, refusing to be phased by Brown's
discourtesy in not turning to the next reading. Arthur smiled faintly
at the sight of his daughter's partner, still blinking behind his spectacles,
still trying to flatten the unruly mop of hair that insisted on falling
over his face. It was at times like these that Arthur was most forcibly
reminded of James. Not that they had ever been close - Arthur and Molly
had, after all, been several years senior to James, Sirius and Remus at
Hogwarts - but he remembered James well, Lily too. And now their son was
involved with his daughter, together with all that followed from such
an alliance. Ginny had scarcely had time to breathe since hooking up with
Harry. Their relationship had been fraught with danger from its very beginning.
No wonder Ginny was reluctant to marry him - either or both of them could
die tomorrow. Arthur shook his head again. That was why the exploitation
of their mind-bond was so important. They had no choice but to see it
through, if only for their own survival. The Dark Side were unlikely to
slacken their vigilance now. Arthur's mind wandered again.
answered my message - he's agreed to help us!" Hermione's almost
incandescent excitement led Arthur to overlook her bursting into his
office without even knocking. He looked up from his everlasting paperwork
as a piece of well-worn parchment was waved frantically in his face.
Arthur steadied it and squinted at the crabbed, scribbly writing.
The message was from Dr. Ratcliffe in Florence, the learned gentleman
Harry had consulted over his discovery of the Holy Grail last year.
Seeing how desperate Harry and Ginny were becoming over their continuing
inability to trigger their mind bond at will, Hermione had consulted
the professor unofficially to see if he could shed some light on the
problem. His response was to invite Harry and Ginny to the
World Wizarding Library to explore some potential leads that could
aid their endeavours. He insisted that Hermione should accompany them
of course, but knowing the old man's partiality for his wife, Ron
refused to let her go without him. Arthur came along for the ride,
and also because he was curious to meet this eminent expert who had
shed such a deal of light on the Holy Grail affair.
If he had known
what he was letting himself in for, Arthur would probably have stayed
quietly at home. Immediately on catching sight of Hermione, the good
Professor enveloped her in a bear hug, kissing her soundly on each
cheek. Arthur glanced fleetingly at his youngest son, observing a
muscle twitching in his rigid face, and coughed discreetly into his
handkerchief to hide his amusement. Ron refrained from kicking Ratcliffe
in the shins as he received his rather more formal greeting, but only
just. Almost immediately, the Professor and Hermione went into animated
discussion, swiftly making lists and consulting the Catalogue. His
suggestion that they should research some muggle documentation, namely
that of the ancient Indonesian peoples, particularly Javanese Hindu
writings was greeted with puzzlement by the others.
demanded Ron, his antagonism making him blunt. Oblivious, the Professor
turned an animated face towards him.
good question, Mr. Weasley." He replied, absently stroking his
beard. "The fact is that throughout history, a number of famous
wizards were prominent Hindu priests, that particular great religion
always being more tolerant than any other of so-called "magical"
phenomena. Consequently, Hinduism has had far more interface with
the magical community than Christianity, Islam, Judaism or any of
the Eastern faiths." Hermione was nodding earnestly.
Professor. I've also read that the older, pre-Christian religions
of Europe have revealed a surprising wealth of knowledge and artefacts
known to be magical in origin."
is absolutely true, Dr. Granger." replied the Professor. "But
we have so few European sources - the early Muggle Christians took
it upon themselves to destroy anything they considered Pagan. I suggest
we begin where the pickings are good and hope that we strike gold
her enormous reading list to the Catalogue and within a few minutes
the first instalment of texts was delivered. Arthur's jaw dropped.
a task!" he muttered. Hermione turned her head.
only about a quarter of it." She told him, frowning in concentration
as she divided the books rapidly into six categories. "Even though
I jumped the queue by using the Professor's name, these are only the
references they had within easy reach. It should take them the rest
of the day to track down all the texts I've requested, and probably
most of tonight to assemble them. We should be able to discard half
to three-quarters of this consignment - or at least send the relevant
pages for copying - before we leave this evening."
By six o'clock,
Arthur was going cross-eyed. When they broke for lunch, he had been
congratulating himself at having reduced his huge pile of books by
approximately 75%. Over lunch in the Library Refectory, he was
looking forward to sloping off home early for once and surprising
Molly. His spirits fell sharply, however, on his return to the reading
room to find the next consignment of texts had been delivered while
they were eating. The piles practically reached the ceiling! Arthur
rested his forehead on the table and despaired.
It took two
days to sort through the information. Two solid days of backache,
cramp, sore necks, gritty eyes and aching brains, but the relevant
material now resided at the Ministry of Magic. Hermione, with immense
aplomb, had run roughshod over anyone who tried to stand in her way
and had commandeered an office, some furniture and the services of
a secretary. She then proceeded to work her way through the references
slowly and methodically, magnanimously waving aside Tantalus Brown's
protests about non-Ministry personnel and shutting the door firmly
on his attempts to interfere.
Arthur's musings were
interrupted again as the congregation stood for another hymn. Opening
the small black book, he looked carefully around the church for his daughter-in-law,
Hermione. Ah, there she was, sandwiched nicely between Ron and George.
He must remember to ask her if anything new had come up over the past
couple of days. Was that Fred standing next to George? Yes, it was. Good.
Bill had put in an appearance (suitably dressed, much to Molly's relief)
and was standing on the other side of his mother. Percy, a little further
down the row, was dipping his head to murmur something to his wife Penelope.
Sadly, Charlie was involved in the hatching of a brood of Hungarian Hornbacks
which had reached a critical stage. The Hogwarts contingent had seated
themselves towards the back - no doubt somewhat concerned about the all
too blatant intrusion of the muggle press.
The hymn ended, the
congregation sat down and the new Minister for Magic, Jeremy Wingford-Hill,
slowly ascended the lectern to begin the Address. Arthur immediately started
to pay close attention, not solely because the man was his ultimate superior,
but because he was very curious as to how he would acquit himself in such
a sensitive situation. Wingford-Hill took his time arranging his few pages
of notes against the large Bible, then he looked out over the top of the
lectern, surveying the congregation thoughtfully for a moment before beginning
to speak. The proverbial pin could be heard echoing throughout the large
building. Arthur smiled: he liked a man with a sense of theatre.
flesh" it was called. Or at least Arthur remembered it being described
so by his then immediate superior when he joined the Ministry so many
years before. Armed with a solitary glass of a vaguely alcoholic beverage
that he pretended to sip every now and then, Arthur cruised the crowd
attacking the funeral baked meats, feeling slightly nauseous. Trying to
formulate a plan of attack, he was distracted by a low voice in his ear:
crush. We'd get better service down the Cat & Broomstick. And a better
meal too, although that wouldn't be hard!"
"Good to see
you, Fred." replied Arthur without bothering to turn round. "Rather
a good turnout, I thought. At least most of our side stuck to the rules.
And you're being a little unfair about the food: from the little I can
see, it appears to be very good."
"I'm not protesting
the quality, or even the quantity, just the proximity. Or lack of it."
Fred pursed his lips and took an unenthusiastic sip from his glass, surveying
the room. His eyes narrowed and fixed beadily on someone over the other
side of the room.
he said, patting his father's arm without breaking his gaze, "I'll
catch up with you later. I've got to go see a man about a hippogriff."
He took off purposefully into the crowd and Arthur later spotted him deep
in earnest conversation with Caesare Brooks.
"Damn and blast!"
another voice exploded in Arthur's ear. "I've been trying to snatch
a word with Fred all day. Couldn't you have held on to him for five minutes?"
Arthur smiled sympathetically.
mother and I have been trying to hold on to either or both of you since
the day you were born," he replied, amused, "With a singular
lack of success, I might add." George grabbed a passing waiter by
the sleeve and directed him to fill their glasses.
"Never know when
you'll find another one in this crush." He commented, eyeing the
diminishing buffet with chagrin. Arthur gave his son a considering look.
"You say you
haven't been able to pin Fred down all day." He said thoughtfully.
"That's unusual, surely. Never a day goes by without you two cooking
up something together, even now you've supposedly both grown up."
George shook his head.
"I'm trying to
focus his attention on the business." He complained. "We've
got some important policy decisions to make as to our future direction.
Most of the time I run the whole bang shoot, but there's the odd occasion,
like now, when I needs Fred's input - and incidentally his signature on
some documentation." Arthur smiled. It was scarcely perceptible to
outsiders, and if challenged he would have denied it vehemently, but there
were definite signs that George was beginning to show a little more adult
responsibility. Arthur was of the private opinion that it was well past
time he grew up a little, but part of him couldn't help mourn the passing
of the happy-go-lucky, irresponsible twin boys whose pranks he had outwardly
condemned but inwardly enjoyed as much as they had.
George suddenly spotted
Oliver Wood among the crowd and, hastily excusing himself from his father,
fought his way to the other side of the room. Arthur caught sight of Oliver
looking handsome and well-groomed, surprisingly well at ease in his muggle
suit. With him were Lee Jordan and Ellen MacBeth, both long time friends
of Fred and George. Arthur wondered if wedding bells were tentatively
ringing in that direction and promised himself to make time to talk to
the youngsters today.
pleasant to see you. Wish it could have been under more cheerful circumstances
though. Still, it wasn't exactly unexpected." Arthur turned to shake
hands with Professor McGonnagall, a broad genuine smile creasing his face.
to see you too. How are things at Hogwarts these days?" The years
had changed Minerva McGonnagall very little. She was still stiff-backed
and severe, radiating an aura of calm competence from behind her square
spectacles. If Arthur could discern a few more wrinkles and perhaps a
little more grey in her hair since she had taken over from Professor Dumbledore
as Head Teacher, he would never be so ungallant as to mention it. She
was accompanied by Professor Flitwick, the tiny Charms teacher, who was
so small as to be almost lost in the crowd.
along much the same as usual." Professor McGonnagall replied to his
question. "We're working very hard on the new student exchange programme,
you know. Beauxbatons and Durmstrang have both been very supportive, and
the scheme has been extremely successful. It's in it's third year now,
and this year we've had some students from the American schools, LAWA
and NYWA - Los Angeles and New York, you know. I think Harry Potter may
have had some influence there." Professor McGonnagall smiled in satisfaction.
"We've also had
an approach from Caravadoccia, the Italian school, but sadly the Russians
and the Japanese regard the whole thing with grave suspicion. Professor
Sinistra," she gestured to nearby group which included the Arithmancy
teacher, Professor Vector, Professor Kettleburn and Madame Hooch, now
retired, "Has put in a great deal of effort to forge links between
the various schools." Arthur nodded briskly.
"This is all
excellent news." He replied with approval. "These links must
be forged while the children are young enough to be flexible. You need
have no worries about the continuation of your grant for this work, Minerva,
I will make sure of that personally." She inclined her head in thanks.
"I have been
a little concerned," she began, "That there are some in the
Ministry who have their doubts as to the validity of our work in this
area." She let her eyes slide over to a stiff little group standing
somewhat apart from the crowd where Lady Fudge, flanked by her two sons,
was being lectured by Tantalus Brown. Arthur followed her gaze and nodded
slightly, noticing Percy and Penelope on the edges of that group. Penelope
seemed to be trying to urge her husband away from Brown's monologue without
being too obvious, but Percy was having none of it. He was hanging on
his superior's every word. Arthur gave a small sigh.
"Have no fear
Minerva." He said quietly without turning back. "The Ministry
will support your work." But his eyes were flinty. As they watched,
Jeremy Wingford-Hill approached Lady Fudge to spend a few minutes chatting
to her. It seemed to Arthur that she latched on to him with the same relief
a drowning man feels at the sight of a lifebelt. He smiled: for someone
who had only known Cornelius personally for a year or so, Wingford-Hill's
eulogy had been considerably better than anyone had expected. At least
the man had done his homework.
A few moments later
found Arthur taking very real pleasure in approaching a group comprising
his daughter, his youngest son and their respective partners. Ron and
Hermione were both radiating rather too much happiness for such a solemn
occasion, but Arthur felt his spirits lifting just looking at them. Ron
acted as though he and Hermione were joined at the hip, refusing to be
parted from her for a moment and gazing sappily into her eyes whenever
he thought he wasn't observed. Hermione seemed equally star-struck, and
if Ron's fussing around her like a mother hen caused the occasional little
frown of irritation, she refused to dwell on it.
look well?" Ron said to his father as Hermione turned to exchange
greetings with a colleague. Arthur nodded.
"Indeed she does.
Motherhood becomes her." He raised his glass and clinked it against
Ron's. "I remember your mother when she was carrying Charlie - looked
as pretty as a picture." Which was a good deal more than he could
say for his own daughter, Arthur thought. Not that he had any reason to
think Ginny was pregnant, of course. His smile faded as he noted her uncharacteristic
silence, the shadows under her eyes, the tension in her body language.
Harry seemed little different from usual, but Arthur noticed that he wouldn't
stray far from her side, although he didn't touch her in any way, not
even to hold her hand. He glanced around: people were starting to drift
away now the buffet had been cleared.
"Have you spoken
to Oliver yet?" Ron was talking to him. Arthur shook his head.
"So you won't
have heard about his stint in Singapore then. Get this: the team has a
new chaser who needs to be broken in. Seeing as it's the low season for
Quidditch at the moment, matches are sparse anyway so Oliver's keeping
the whole team in Singapore for two months' training. Imagine that! Two
solid months in one of the most exciting cities in the world!" Arthur
and Hermione could visit him for a holiday?" Ron shook his head.
"Nah, no Apparating
or Porting for her until she's six months gone - too much of a shock to
the system. And by that time, she says she won't want to be too far from
home. I guess we could use muggle transport, but it's a long way to go,
especially with morning sickness. I guess we'll wait till there's three
of us!" Arthur grimaced.
"As a dog. It's
supposed to stop after three months. Just goes to show you can't believe
anything these Witch Doctors tell you!" Arthur smiled, drained his
glass and looked around for Molly. He found her talking kindly to a nervous
young wizard from Arthur's department who seemed very ill at ease in muggle
clothes. Arthur nodded at him kindly before gently taking hold of Molly's
"I don't know
about you, dear," he murmured into her ear, "But my feet are
killing me, and I need a proper drink!" She smiled obediently and
made her excuses to the young man before the couple embarked upon the
obligatory round of farewells. Tantalus Brown seemed rather put out at
being interrupted in full flow, but the widow received their condolences
and thanks warmly. Arthur and Molly made their way slowly towards the
exit. Molly sighed with suppressed exasperation.
really don't think I could have stood another minute." She confided,
rummaging in her handbag for their Portkey. "Ah, here it is. What
with Hermione still with morning sickness, Ginny looking so tense and
Fred so very unhappy at the moment, this funeral has given me enough family
worries for several weeks. And Arthur dear, you really must do something
about that dreadful man, Tantalus Brown. He spilled my drink, positively
stamped on both my feet, then had the nerve to glare at me as though it
was my fault! And poor Lady Fudge! How she managed to stay civil to him
is beyond my imagination."
dear." agreed Arthur, wrapping her gently in her coat. Yes indeed.
But there's more to it than simply promotion beyond his level of incompetence,
I'm quite sure about that. He's like a Hydra - wherever you go at the
Ministry, whatever avenue you explore, you'll find one of his heads at
the end of it. It just doesn't tally with the bluster, the sidelining,
the petty one-upmanship. We've all been feeling the squeeze lately, but
it can't be coincidence that my allies are gradually disappearing - seconded,
being shunted to other posts, taking early retirement. I'm calling in
more favours than I'm creating just simply to stay afloat. The muggles
call this a War of Attrition, I believe. Their so-called "Cold War"
was one such - it went on for decades. Somehow I don't think I'm going
to last that long.