First night for family
Percy and Bill meet over lunch and have a brotherly chat about travels, jobs, politics… and family.
This story is written in parallel with "Their least favourite brother" and "Percy's war". As they are not really compatible, I regard them as three different versions of Percy Weasley. Characters belong to Rowling. .
"...and then report back to me as soon as possible, will you, Weasley?"
"Yes, Mister Fudge. I will see to it immediately, Mister Fudge," the young man smartly answered and left the minister's office. The Minister's! He, Percy Weasley, was now working for the Minister of Magic himself. He could never in his wildest dreams have imagined such a comet carrier, but talent like his could not be expected to go undetected, could it?
In these happy thoughts Percy made his way back to his own office. It was neatly tidied and strictly in order, but there were no signs at all of a personal life, other than a picture of his fiancée Penelope Clearwater. Percy preferred it that way. Now, however, he walked into the office only to find it uncommonly out of order. There was a worn jacket tossed over a chair, a dirty backpack on the floor, and in his own chair, broadly smiling, his muddy boots on Percy's newly polished desk, his red hair gleaming in the light from the enchanted globe in the ceiling, sat...
"Bill!" Percy exclaimed, staring dumbfounded at his older brother. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi bro!" Bill said and got up from the chair and over to Percy in one fluent movement. He gave his brother a large bear-hug which Percy, after a moment of hesitation, returned. They withdrew from each other, Bill with a broad grin, Percy still looking utterly flabbergasted.
"Bill!" he repeated. "What a surprise. I haven't seen you for months... Why..."
"I just came back from Saudi Arabia," Bill answered with a shrug. "The portkey from Riyadh brought me to the ministry, so I thought I'd pop in and say hi to my little brother. Everything's all right?"
"Yes... certainly," the younger brother said, carefully placing the paper folder he had carried with him on a still unspoiled part of the desk. "Things are going really well to tell you the truth. Why, just the other day the minister himself said..."
"Splendid!" Bill interrupted. "But tell you what - I'm starving. I haven't tasted the 'horrible English kitchen' for months. What about carry on with the happy reunion over a lunch?"
"I would love to, but I'm expected to work on this report and..."
"Knock it off, brother," Bill said with a twinkle in his eyes. "If you're anything now like you were in the school days, you're a week ahead anyway. You can afford to take a few hours off."
"Well..." Percy hesitated, but then he gave in. His carefree manner and sloppy appearance aside, he had to admit his oldest brother had style. And they had always gone well together.
"All right," he therefore said and was rewarded by a yet broader smile. "Do you want to go to the department canteen?" he went on as Bill picked up his jacket and backpack. "Or should we go down to the Leaky Cauldron to be able to speak more... in private."
"Neither," Bill answered, not noticing - or pretending not to notice - the short pause. "The ministry house elves are good enough, but if that canteen is anything like the one at dad's department it's like trying to enjoy a meal in a hospital ward. And the food at Leaky Cauldron is simply yechy. No, I know just the place. Bring your coat and let's go."
Nodding his agreement, Percy picked up his neatly folded coat and put it on. He locked the door to his office with his wand.
"How are you these days?" he asked as they walked into the elevator, followed by a dozen or so paper airplanes that circled the upper part of the elevator as they waited for it to take them to the entrance level.
"Fine, just fine. It was a really good trip, really. I found this Sumerian tomb that... Wocher Tonks! Fancy to meet you here."
"Bill!" almost screamed the delighted pink-head who had been waiting for the elevator on the main floor. She rushed forth and hugged her laughing friend. "It has been AGES. I didn't even know you were back in the country... got time tonight? We have loads to catch up on."
"Sure we have!" Bill agreed as he more or less carried the happy babbling girl out from the elevator. "But not now. First night for family, you know."
"Aw," Tonks pouted, but her eyes twinkled. "But then it's my turn. Promise? Hi Percy," she added as in afterthought. Percy just gave her a short nod.
"Yeah. I'll send an owl tomorrow after I've reported to the bureaucrats at Gringotts," Bill answered. "They always make a great show of needing my report the second I'm back at British soil, but then it'll take them a week to even look at it. I've got plenty of time."
"That's terrific! Er... I seem to hold up the elevator. See you in a few days then. Bye."
And with that Tonks threw herself into the elevator the second before the doors clanked shut. Bill laughed. "Good ol' Tonks is herself then?"
"I suppose so," Percy answered, quite stiffly. Bill shot him a glance but did not comment.
"So, where are we going?" Percy asked as they walked down a deserted London street a few minutes later. Bill pointed at unsigned basement door a bit down the road.
"There," he said. "Best food in town... well, at least the best cheap food in town."
"I've never heard of this place," Percy said with a thoughtful frown.
"No wonder, really," Bill answered and pushed open the door. "The Bloody Bladvak is only known among some selected few... and I happens to be among them. Close the door, bro."
"The Bloody Bla...?" Percy begun, standing on the doorstep and looking uncertain around. The room was small and dark, smelling of fried food and sweat. In the darkness many, many pair of small, glowing eyes regarded them in silence. Suddenly comprehension dawned on him. He turned to Bill with a start.
"This is a goblin pub?" he gasped, and from various places in the dark room the scrapes of chairs moving against the stone floor could be heard. Bill flashed one of his wide grins, not so much towards his brother as towards the invisible spectators.
"Yes, dear brother. This is a goblin pub. And we're going to enjoy a nice undisturbed meal here." He raised his voice and openly faced the goblin crowd. "Anyone's having a problem with that?"
There was a quick round of whispering in the darkness, followed by silence. Then a goblin emerged from the darkness. Percy almost screamed when he saw the knife in its hand, but the apron suggested the possibility - even if slight - that it was not intended for more sinister use then cutting vegetables for the stew. The goblin nodded at Bill.
"Your table is ready and food will be out in a minute, Mister Weasley," he said with sour voice. Bill shot him a carefree smile and strode after him into the darkness. Percy, after a moment of hesitation and a longing glance at the door behind him, followed.
They found their table moderately clean, but it was in a corner where Percy to his immense relief could sit with his back towards a wall. Bill tossed his backpack and jacket over a chair and sat down at the one next to it. Percy gave his brother a bewildered look.
"What are we doing in a goblin pub?" he hissed. Bill leaned forward.
"I told you," he smiled. "Best cheap food in town. Trust the goblins to demand value for their money."
"But... is it really safe. I mean, there are stories..."
"Listen bro," Bill interrupted, a hint of sternness in his face. "You want to lay low on talk like that while you are here. They know me, and they know that you're with me, but there is no reason to provoke them. Right?"
"Oh... OK. But how can you be so sure they trust you?" Bills grin widened.
"Well, maybe 'trust' is the wrong word. But they know I work at Gringotts, of course, and no goblin with at least half a mind does anything that might annoy the bankers. And I've given a few of these buggers reasons of their own to tread carefully around me, and those stories goes around..."
"Really?" Percy said, partly with dislike, partly with pure awe. Bill laughed.
"Oh yes, little bro. When you're out in the desert, five days from anything but bloody sand, and the camels are kicking you, and you have fly bites everywhere, and the damned goblins start whining, then you aren't in any mood to take shit from them or anyone, I can tell you. You have to be pretty firm with that lot, sometimes. But when you have their respect they can do anything for you." And he went on describing one of his latest expeditions and how the goblins got mutinous after a few weeks. Percy listened with delight, anxiety, fear and excitement at his brother's adventures, and without really noticing how it happened he was a child again, sitting wide-eyed in his bed as his older brother read him a goodnight story. He had always loved Bill's stories when he was a boy.
"...but even sandstorms die out after awhile, and having spent a full week in a pit with goblins and camels you actually start to enjoy the company of the former. Gnawtooth was a mean little creep, I'll give you that, but I've never heard anyone tell a story as he did. Some of them kept us laughing for... Oh, here comes the food."
And large plates loaded with chips and pastries were placed on their table by the sour-looking goblin. He placed two large tankards of beer in front of them as well and shot Bill a quick, questioning glance. Bill nodded shortly and the goblin scurried off. Percy sniffed his food carefully. It actually smelled good.
"Ah! England, how I've missed you!" Bill exclaimed and attacked his plate with a knife taken from his belt. He caught Percy's quite lost look as he searched in vain for cutlery.
"Oh yes, I forgot. Everyone here brings their own knife... Hang on..." and he made a quick wave with his wand, making a sharp looking knife appear with a rattle on Percy's plate. "There you go."
Percy hesitated for a moment, but then he followed his brother's example and started to eat the food with the knife and his fingers.
"So, how's work?" Bill asked with his mouth full. Percy quickly swallowed the piece of pastry he had just put in his mouth and threw himself into a breathless monologue about his work, about reports and meetings and the faith Fudge - the Minister of Magic himself - put in him. Bill listened with interest, added a few small comments when appropriate and laughed heartily at Percy's jokes about the other departments. He had almost finished his meal when Percy slowed down enough to eat with any efficiency. Bill didn't say anything for awhile. He only sipped his bear and watched with a smile as his younger brother tried to catch up with the eating.
"You really do well for yourself," he said after awhile. Percy beamed.
"I have really been lucky," he answered between two bites of the pastry, the pride in his voice obvious. "The Minister of Magic himself..."
"Yes," Bill interrupted, a bit thoughtfully. "I was thinking about that. You work pretty close to Fudge, right?" Percy straightened himself in his seat.
"I am not one for boasting, as you know, but if I may say so..." Bill gave him a serious look and put down his tankard.
"Can I give you a piece of career advice without you getting angry, bro?" he abruptly asked. Percy stared at him, quite taken aback.
"What... why... what do you mean?" he asked. Bill leaned forward in his chair, looking his brother attentively in the eyes.
"Listen, I don't want to speak ill about Fudge, but just out of general consideration it might be wise not to associate yourself too closely to any single person. I know you think highly of him, and that he's helping you in your career, but if you're too close to him, and he should fall, then he'll bring you down with him. You're bright and hardworking enough to go far in the ministry all on your own. I know it's a great position to work directly with the minister, but don't put all your eggs in the same basket. Make sure you have some work done at the other departments as well, and in the routine work of the place, just in case." Percy opened his mouth, and closed it again. He shook his head slightly.
"What are you getting at, Bill?" he asked with disbelief in his voice. "My position at the ministry is more secure then ever. I'm given responsibility for some of the really delicate issues the minister has to deal with, and you ask me to decline that and go back to filing and scribbling pointless reports?" Bill shot a quick glance over his shoulder and leant closer, a hint of urgency in his eyes that did not escape Percy.
"It's just a word to the wise, brother... But there is this thing with... You-Know-Who." Bill whispered the last words, forcing Percy to lean even closer. "Fudge is really betting a lot of prestige on Dumbledore being wrong, about him not being back, isn't he?"
"And so he should, because Dumbledore IS wrong," Percy said hotly. Through the gloom of the pub they could se a number of shining goblin eyes turning their way. Bill made a hushing gesture with his hand. He hesitated for a moment before he went on.
"Well... yeah... listen, all I'm saying is that IF there should happen something that makes it looks like Fudge is wrong on this one, I can't really see him keeping his position, that's all. The newspapers and the rest of the community would be down on him as a hungry horntail. You wouldn't want to be too closely associated with him if that happens."
"It won't happen," Percy replied obstinately, but he kept his voice down this time. Bill kept the eye contact and didn't say anything. Percy quickly took a gulp of the beer to hide his confusion,
"What makes you think that something might 'happen' anyway?" he asked after a while. Bill gave him a sort of wry smile, even if his eyes were still serious.
"Hey, I work in a desert. What do I know?" he said, laughing a bit, but he went on almost immediately; "But really, I hear things. The goblins are a secretive bunch, but if you know how to listen..." He bent forward even more, his forehead nearly touching his brother's, and he went on so silently that Percy had to listen with all his attention to hear the words.
"There are signs," Bill whispered. "They're restless. They talk. Messages go back and forth. Some of the old clan leaders from the mountains show up at the bank and summon to meetings. Money is moving between the vaults. Serious money... They know something. And they're preparing for it, whatever it is. They're storing weapons, did you know? The goblins are worried, bro, and if you have spent even one of Binns' lessons awake, you know what that means."
"Does the ministry know about this?" Percy, who had been awake on all Binns' lectures, whispered, not really knowing whether he should be anxious or annoyed about the implication in his brother's story. Bill shrugged.
"If the ministry doesn't have any spies at Gringotts, they aren't doing their job properly. Anyway, it's not only the goblins. I talked to Charlie and... you remember Romedancil, right?"
"The Romanian wizard?" Percy said, remembering the name of the old, highly respected hero of the Grindelwald war. "What's up with him?" Bill glanced out in the gloom before he answered.
"Let's just say that the other countries remember what happened in England fifteen years ago, and they keep an eye open for any rumours about it. No one wants another Grindelwald. And there are quite a lot of people out there who trust Dumbledore far more then Cornelius Fudge, I'm sad to say." Percy opened his mouth to answer, a protest on his tongue, but Bill interrupted him.
"I hope they're wrong - we all do, but just in case... think of what I have said. Right?" Percy hesitated for a moment, but then he nodded. To pretend he wouldn't think of the implications his brother had made would be foolish, but that didn't mean he would agree on them.
"That's the spirit!" Bill said, his carefree attitude back as if it had never been gone. He leaned back in his chair and emptied his tankard. "Another beer," he added, not raising his voice at all, not in any way indicating that he was addressing someone else than his brother, but as if by magic the goblin with the apron appeared out of nowhere with two filled tankards. He put them down on the table and disappeared in the gloom of the pub again.
"Cheers!" Bill said and raised his tankard. Percy quickly responded, and they both drank deeply. There was a thoughtful pause after that, which Percy came to break in the end.
"So... you spoke to Charlie? How is he?" he asked, keeping his voice as casually as he managed. Bill shrugged.
"Fine, just fine. He should be out from the hospital by now." Percy almost spilled out his tankard.
"What? Is he in hospital? What happened? Is it serious?" Bill laughed and shook his head.
"Trust Charlie to go down with a bang. There was some kind of sticky business with mating fights in the dragon reserve, and he did some really spectacular moves to separate the dragons before they did serious damage to each other and the village. He claimed that there wasn't time to wait for backup, but if you ask me he was just trying to impress some girl or another. Anyway, he got in way of about two hundred tonnes of pissed off short-snout. Luckily, they have some really skilled healers down there, because they had to patch him up pretty much from scratch."
"That's... terrible," Percy said, white in his face, but Bill laughed again.
"Nah, he didn't mind. Got a reward and shook hands with the boss for the reserve and all... and as far as I gathered from his owl, the girl in question visited him quite often at the ward... Even after it was closed, some nights. That's what I call concern." He blinked in a meaningful way. "You know Charlie. It doesn't matter how much he hurt himself as long as it's in a fun way and he gets a good scar for show. He'll be all right."
"I suppose so," Percy said, still shaken. "But still... I didn't know..." Bill shot him a quick glance over the tankard.
"You haven't been in touch lately, then?" he asked casually, only his eyes showing more than idle curiosity behind the question. Percy sighed. He opened his mouth to give one of his usual, evading answers, but... But this was Bill. He caught his brother's eyes.
"No. I haven't. Surely you know what has happen," he said with low, slow voice. Bill nodded.
"Yes. I got an owl from mum and dad about it... and Charlie of course. And the twins sent one - a lot of exotic language in that one - and Ron and Ginny... it was a time there when I was literally showered in owls. Got the goblins pretty annoyed, because we were trying to lay low at the moment, but yeah, I heard from the whole family. Except for you, that is."
"I didn't want to disturb you," Percy mumbled, feeling a blush creeping up along his cheeks. Bill snorted.
"Don't give me that, bro. You were too cowardly to tell your big brother that you had caused the biggest row in the Burrow since Fred and George blew up the fireplace. Sure, I understand how you feel, but I'm a tiny bit annoyed with you, you know." Bill was still smiling, but there was a hint of seriousness in his eyes. Percy blushed more badly now.
"That is not the same thing," he muttered. "Those two get away with anything. I only..."
"...cut with your family," Bill finished the sentence, no trace of a smile in his face now. "You're right in it being something different, but I can't see how that makes it any better."
Percy stared at him, dumbfounded, and suddenly he felt something very cold take form in his chest.
"What..." he begun, but Bill shook his head in an irritated manner.
"No, I'm sorry, bro. I didn't mean it to come out like that. But you know what I mean. You have made everyone feel pretty bad, you know."
"I didn't want that," Percy mumbled, looking down in the table. "I only wanted to..."
"...be independent," Bill interrupted yet again. "Yeah, I know. I've been there myself. But why you had to be independent to me, that's beyond me."
"What do you mean?" Percy asked, shameful and confused at the same time. Bill looked up and met his eyes, a hint of smile on his lips.
"That I would bloody well have wanted an owl from you, bro, and got your version of what the hell happened. Just because you break with family, you don't have to break with me."
That last line was followed by a silence, a silence in which knifes scraped against plates, hissing goblin voices mumbled in their own weird lingo, and in which the two brothers regarded each other with warm eyes. When the moment was over Percy leaned forward and put his hand on the table, next to Bill's.
"Do you really mean that?" he whispered. Bill reached forward and put his hand on Percy's shoulder. He shook it gently.
"Of course I do. We're brothers."
"Thanks," Percy said. And they smiled at each other, and for a moment it felt almost like being back at the Burrow again. Almost.
"So," Bill went on, still some tension in his voice, "what's your version? What happened back then?" Percy snorted.
"You know it, bro. It's the same old thing."
"Tell me anyway."
"All right," Percy sighed. "I got a promotion - a really big one as well, and came home to tell the big news. Do you think they were happy for my sake?"
"I think they were, actually," Bill said quietly. Percy shook his head.
"They had a pretty strange way of showing it, then. Mum almost went into hysterics. Dad went into a long speech about not trusting the ministry, about them using me for spying - pretty rich for a man who has worked there for two decades. The twins..." he made a sour face. "No, that doesn't matter. Ron went with them of course. But even Ginny..." his voice trailed off and he swallowed whatever lump had formed in his throat.
"You must remember that Ginny believes Harry," Bill said soothingly. "And they're not particularly fond of Fudge for the moment."
"That's my point exactly," Percy said hotly. "They don't like Fudge, and therefore they don't want me to work for him, no matter what it would mean for my career."
"Was that why you left?"
"Yes it was. I was fed up, and I still am. If they don't think higher of me than that I need to spy on my own family to receive a promotion, then I bloody well can do without them. It is hard enough at it is, doing a name for oneself at the ministry if that name is 'Weasley', thanks to dad and thanks to their mistrust with the Minister. I told them that if they think I'm spying on them, then I won't stay around and burden them with my presence. And I'm doing well for myself, thank you very much." Percy silenced, red in his face, and he realised that he had shouted. Yellow goblin eyes from the surrounding tables quickly turned away when Bill let his gaze sweep over them. He sipped on the tankard.
"Yes, that is pretty much what I gathered from the other's letters," he calmly said.
"And they are right, I suppose," Percy said with sarcastic voice. Bill shrugged.
"Sure. And so are you."
"What?" Percy asked, suddenly off balance. Bill raised his eyebrows.
"Doesn't take a genius to figure out that mum and dad are sticking to Dumbledore. Everyone knows that they're pretty close, and in times like these it's just common sense for Fudge to gather as much information as he can about what Dumbledore's inner circle is up to. If he then has an ambitious and highly competent young man at hand, one who needs a new position, and who just happens to know a few things about what's going on in a family that is close to Dumbledore, of course he should apply him. It is just strategy."
"That's not..." Percy started hotly, but Bill held up a hand and silenced him.
"That's not the only reason, or even an important reason, for you being hired. But you can damned well admit that it probably is a reason. Fudge isn't stupid. And neither are you."
"On the other hand," Bill went on before giving his brother time to answer, "there's no doubt that being a Weasley isn't the best career-move at the ministry right now. Dad's singled himself out as an obstinate, muggle-loving fool, and with all this fuss around Harry, and our family sticking close to him... Well, I'm not sure I would've betted on you getting responsibility for those 'really delicate issues' if you still lived at the Burrow. Your career is better off as it is, bro." He leaned back in his chair again, and took a large gulp of his beer. Percy suddenly felt very confused.
"Er... Thanks, Bill," he said meekly. Bill nodded.
"However... there's one thing I don't get."
"What?" Percy asked.
"Is it really worth it, bro?" Bill said, staring intently at his brother. "I mean, the ministry-food is nice enough, but can it compete with mum's cooking? Or those 'delicate issues' you work with. Are they really as fun as helping dad tinker with an old type-writer or kompoter? Or, in the bottom-line of it all - Fudge is sure a nice chap and all, but can he smile in that special way Ginny always does when she's up to something? Does he hug you like she does, just on an impulse? Can he laugh like Ginny? Can anyone?"
And tears welled up in Percy's eyes. Bill leaned forward over the table and took his hand, holding it and waiting for his little brother to get control over his emotions.
"Come home, little bro," he said softly. "You have proven your point, both for the family and for Fudge. There is nothing more to gain. Come home to the Burrow, Percy. To mum and dad, me and Charlie, the twins and their idiotic pranks. To Ron and his corny sense of humour. Come home to Ginny, Percy, because we miss you."
Percy shook his head, tears still trailing. "They don't want me there anymore," he mumbled. "I burned those bridges." Bill smiled at him.
"Remember what I told Tonks?" he asked. "First night for family. I've spent six months in a desert with sand and goblins, but you have been out on a longer journey than that. Sure, it's fun to travel and test one's wings, and I think you have seen and learned a great deal. But every journy has to end, and now it's time to come home. The twins and Ron will grumble a bit, but that's just how they are. You know very well that mum and dad will be more than greateful to have you back. And that goes for Ginny as well."
Percy looked up and met his brother's eyes through the tears. He smiled tentatively at him.
"Do you really think so?" Bill laughed and stood up.
"I know it, brother. We're family, after all. Come on - let's go home."
And side by side the two brothers walked out from the gloomy pub, away from the goblins, away from the whispers about the approaching war, and away from Percy's self inflicted exile from his family. Because every journey has to end, and sometimes the best end station is at the beginning.