Disclaimer: Not JKR. Do not own. I write for my own amusement. The Scarlet Pimpernel was written by Baroness Orczy and belongs to her descendants I use it because I love it, not to be base and mean and infringe on copyright.
Percy Weasley liked paperwork. He enjoyed it. However, he was not quite sure he liked or enjoyed this new paperwork.
"You would entrust such a task to me, Minister?" Percy asked, pouring over the genealogy charts and questionnaires. He felt a vague sense of unease and moved his shoulders back to loosen the tension in his back. It didn't help.
Dolores Umbridge smiled (in a rather reptilian fashion, Percy thought, though he would never speak something so disrespectful aloud) and pushed over another stack. In a syrupy sweet voice she said, "Of course, Weasley! We would never entrust such a vital task to anyone less talented."
Percy puffed up with pride. "Ah, well…."
"In fact, I think we ought to make you Assistant to the Minister."
"Yes, knock off the 'junior' for Weasley," Pius Thicknesse, Minister of Magic agreed, a bit vaguely, pushing his streaked hair away from his high forehead.
Percy was secretly thrilled that he was no longer known as 'Weatherby', despite the very rude owls attached to "Norwegian fertilizer samples" that his brothers still sent him occasionally. But the thought that he, Percy Weasley, at twenty, would be placed in such a position of authority, be given such a vital task! No one so young had ever risen so quickly through the ranks of the Ministry. Percy felt so swollen with pride it was quite a wonder his feet were still on the ground.
"Why, Minister, I-"
"Shush, shush, shush!" Dolores said, smiling so widely it was almost grotesque. "No need to thank us for recognizing your dedication to the Ministry of Magic. It is always a happy event when a pureblood realizes their true place and position. Now, it comes with a pay raise and a very nice new office with an enchanted window." She waved her stubby wand in her equally stubby fingers, and a piece of pink paper rose up, folded itself into a paper airplane and hovered over the desk. "This will take you to your office, Weasley. Can we, perhaps, trust you to take on this teensy- weensy task of all this paperwork? We need it all done in time for the hearings. Can we trust you to make sure no nasty, horrid person will be telling lies to our ministry?"
There was something very wrong. Percy could feel it. It was an increase of the tension he'd felt for the past few months, an increase in the ache between his shoulder-bones, an increase in the chill, metallic air.
'Blasted dementors,' he thought, resolutely scooping up all the charts.
"Of course," he said, not showing the unease he tried to shove out of his mind. He was Percy Weasley, keen (over-keen), ambitious, intelligent, eminently capable. He was good at paperwork and he reveled in the inner workings of bureaucracy. He liked his work more than anything else. He was detail- oriented, could spot innaccuries with ease, could nit-pick so well it would put even the most determined of editors to shame. That was why he had this job. That was why he had to do this.
"I am so pleased!" chirruped Dolores. "Now, why don't you see if you can check these thoroughly before lunch? Here-" presenting him with a stack of books and a set of dusty tapestries "-is everything you'll need. Now, let us do hope we can have the trials in time for everyone to go home and have dinner?"
"Of course," Percy said, with dignity. He waved his wand at all the books and they followed after him to the office not more than ten feet away from the Minister's. He tried, with much difficulty, to get rid of his unease in thoughts of his new office (with his own window!) but the brief daydreams were hollow and the new office looked very much like his old one- just bigger, with nicer furniture, and a window. He did have a leather swivel chair now, though. Percy rather liked the leather swivel chair.
The window wasn't much good; it was raining. The weather was always bleak. The Magical Maintenance Department hated the new Minister (why the Minister never listened to Percy's warnings about discontent in the Ministry Percy never knew). He flicked his wand at the ceiling, where a large glass bubble flicked on, bathing the office in what felt like sunshine.
That was nice at least (as was the very comfortable swivel chair) and Percy could convince himself that he was comfortable as he spread out the charts and the tapestries and the books, as he flipped through the questionnaires and marked up the paperwork. It was the work Percy liked best. He enjoyed fact checking, he enjoyed working on details. Research had ever been a strength and ever been a relief. It was comparatively easy and extremely enjoyable. Percy liked piecing together bits and pieces to make a whole, taking facts and adding them together to create a new understanding of the world.
The unease crept up upon him again and Percy flung himself into the last of the work, finishing well before lunch. He tried not to be disturbed by the names of the witches and wizards on the questionnaires and the charts- he knew a fair few of them. This one was a friend of his fathers, that one was a cousin-by-marriage, this one was a student he had talked to when he, Percy, had been Head Boy, that one was… his ex-girlfriend, Penelope Clearwater.
Percy looked blankly down at the questionnaire, with Penny's scrupulously neat writing. Mother, worked in the Muggle French Embassy, in the Foreign Aid Office; Father, owner of a rare books store, which he ran; and Brother, worked as an Anglican priest in Kent. Yes, all correct. But he couldn't-
All Muggleborns, he thought uneasily, were condemned to Azkaban as soon as they walked through the doors to the courtroom. Could he really do that to Penny?
Percy neatly stacked all the charts and corrections to the side, intending to think more deeply on the subject before he was interrupted by another sudden thought. He had been uneasy earlier because this must have been someone else's job before. What had happened to them?
He was reasonably sure Dolores's personal assistant had checked the charts, but Percy decided to look it up regardless (which, he thought, a bit smugly, was the reason he was scarcely twenty-one and Assistant to the Minister). After making a mental note to suggest rosters that automatically changed, pulled a roster of ministry employees from his desk drawer and scanned it. He tapped his wand onto the name of Dolores's personal assistant ('Martha Austen') and felt enormously pleased with himself for thinking up a rooster that listed all official duties.
Ah, he had been right.
She had been in charge of fact- checking for the muggleborn inquisitions.
Austen was a good name, a respectable, pure-blooded name, but, as his ex-girlfriend Penny told him, it was a very common Muggle surname as well, so Martha's parentage was completely up in the air. Percy had known Martha. She was a smart young thing who liked gossip and was passionately fond of Rita Skeeter. Percy had absently thought of asking her to dinner once or twice before realizing that, one, Martha had quite possibly the most irritating laugh he had ever heard, and two, Martha simply wasn't Penny.
Percy frowned. It seemed very unusual that someone like Martha had given up part of her job.
He hadn't seen Martha in days, however. He had assumed she had fallen ill, which was an entirely dangerous assumption- Percy remembered Bertha Jorkins with the horror he felt when he thought he'd never see his Head Boy badge again- but he, Percy Weasley, Assistant to the Minister of Magic himself, would not take over Martha Austen's duties because of a cold or a bad hex.
Percy checked his pocket watch, trying not to remember that his parents had given it to him, tucked his wand into his sleeve for safe keeping (he had his robes made with a special pocket in the sleeve for his wand- he did like to have it close to hand), stacked all the charts and questionnaires and made his way down to the lowest floor. This really was very strange. True, he had a reputation for being over-keen and an absurd work-a-holic, but he had a Ministry to run (more or less- administrative details, which Percy reveled in, gave the new Minister headaches). Surely this task was an unimportant one when they considered how frosty the French ministry was. Madame Maxime had friends in very high places indeed and she had believed Dumbledore from the get-go. Then, of course, there was the Order of the Phoenix, and the Minister's burning desire to find Harry Potter- surely Martha could handle something as comparatively minor as fact-checking registered Muggleborns's backgrounds….?
"Sorry about this," said the security witch, on the last floor, just by the elevator, bringing Percy out of his thoughts.
"I need to have your wand for inspection. Strange really, but I suppose some people transfigure themselves before they come in or something, so I have to check your wand. So, er, I'll need to see it."
"Oh, of course," Percy said, handing it over. "Can't be too careful, can we… er-" friendly looking face, nose a little off-center, "Eloise? Not after that… infiltration. Disastrous."
"Oh yes, it was." She tapped his wand and muttered 'Prior Incantato.' After she watched the smoky gray shapes of Percy's last few charms and spells flit about she handed it back. "There you go."
"Thank you, Eloise," he said absently, taking his wand back and burying his nose amongst his papers. "What a thorough job you're doing."
"And it isn't exactly easy," Eloise said, scratching absently at a spot the bubotuber pus had not removed. "The dementors are all over the place. Gives me the creeps." She shivered. "I hate having them around. Horrible, they are. Just horrible."
Percy tried for a reassuring smile. "They're for our protection. Now, have you seen Martha Austen around?"
"No, not for days, which is odd because we eat lunch together. She hasn't owled me or anything. You'd think she would. I did nip by her flat yesterday, but she made it impenetrable after Dumbledore's funeral, so I couldn't go it."
"I shall have to report her absence," Percy muttered. Then, louder: "You are sure she isn't ill?"
"She'd send me an owl, I think," Eloise said, albeit dubiously. "I mean, I would think she'd send me an owl. Unless she's too sick to send one. But then she'd go to St. Mungo's, and I think I'm closest to her in the wizarding world, since her parents are Muggles, so St. Mungo's would owl me wouldn't they? I haven't had an owl from anyone in weeks though, so she can't be ill, can she?"
"Rest assured I shall look into it." With a swell of pride: "The Senior Undersecretary herself is waiting for these, you know. Top Ministry business cannot be kept waiting." He lifted up his documents, tucked his and back in his sleeve, and continued down the hallway and down the stairs. He braced himself against the unnatural chill of the dementors, the cold that sapped of strength, energy, the will to go on….
Percy thought grimly of his promotion and walked on, making quite an affair of putting away his wand and restacking his papers. If he ignored the dementors, absorbed himself in work he liked, kept his mind busy-
He dropped the top few sheets of parchment and one of the witches waiting on the hard wooden benches knelt down to help him with it.
"Ah, thank you…." Percy abruptly trailed off and looked up at the witch. "P-Penelope?"
The witch, in lime green robes with a crossed wand and bone embroidered on her chest, let the paper she picked up flutter from her fingers to the floor. "Oh." Penelope Clearwater, her blue eyes wide, looked up at him, a faint blush spreading over her pale cheeks. "I- er, hello."
It is always awkward to meet an ex, and even more awkward when said ex dumped you particularly harshly. Percy thought he had reached levels of awkwardness hitherto unknown to any couple who had broken up badly in the fact that one, he still happened to be more or less in love with said ex, two, said ex told him in no uncertain terms she was breaking up with him because he was working for the Ministry and here he was, working for the ministry, and three, said ex was currently awaiting her inquisition into her Muggleborn status… which he, most likely, was going to have to attend, and for which he was currently carrying the paperwork.
This was not a good day.
"Miss Clearwater," Percy said. He picked up the papers very slowly, eyes on the floor. "It's… been a while."
"Yes," Penny said. Her hands were very cold when Percy brushed them accidentally. Her calm, pretty face was very pale and pinched.
Percy begun to feel absolutely miserable, the cold weighing in on him as surely as memory.
"You made your mother cry!" Penny shouted, her long, curly hair whipping around and hiding her face.
He felt taught and tight and utterly angry. He felt raw, incredibly raw. "Penny, why do you keep revisiting this?"
"Because I spent an hour pouring her tea and patting her shoulder saying, 'Oh no, Percy's fine, he didn't mean it' and hearing that oh yes Percy you did and what's worse you think Dumbledore's an horrific liar and what's even worse you yelled at your father and refused to say anything to your family ever again." Her voice was low, sharp, wounding, and deadly, deadly quiet. It was always dangerous when Penny really started talking on a subject. She preferred to watch, to listen, to sit quietly and think. It was always an incredibly serious matter when she broke past her habitual reserve.
"Penny! Don't be unreasonable. Look, I have worked- really worked for years to get here. You should know Penny! I ran the entire Department of International Magical Cooperation on my own for nearly a year. If you think I don't deserve this appointment-"
Sharply: "Percy that's not it."
"Then what is Penny?"
She roughly grabbed her cloak off of the couch and turned her back to him. He could still see her hands tremble. "I hate you like this Percy. Listening to you about Crouch was one thing, but this? You- you're a moronic, overly ambitious, self- seeking individual with little to no sense of morality or family loyalty if it helped his career."
Nothing could hurt like that. His face hardened. "If that's what you really think of me, Penny- fine, fine! We all hold opinions even if they're crackpot theories about He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named coming back and ruining-"
"Oh shut up, Weatherby," Penny said, whirling around at him, her voice taught and tight and horrible to his ears. Percy felt something inside him crumble, some deep inner wound that twisted and hurt so unbearably that he felt he could no longer stand. He couldn't look at her. "We're through."
And she was gone.
And Percy was utterly alone, as he was ever since then.
Percy, with some difficulty, pulled himself out of his thoughts and tried for his usual elf- possession. "I am sorry that we did not part of amicable terms. I still think very highly of you and with our last meeting-"
"I believe I dumped you," Penelope said, very simply. She looked down, her mouth suddenly twisting, as if she'd tasted something bitter. "I called you a moronic, overly ambitious, self- seeking individual with little to no sense of morality or family loyalty if it helped his career."
"Very good memory," Percy replied, a little peevishly. And then, in an attempt to regain some of his dignity, he shoved his glasses up his nose and said, as pompously as he possibly could, "I suppose you regret that now."
Penelope looked up at him and appeared to think about this a moment.
"No," she said.
"Oh." Percy took the paper back from her, noticing Penny's closed, reserved expression. He took the paper back from her and looked at it.
It was hers.
"You don't need to explain," she said, stonily.
"Do excuse me, Mr. Weasley, but I do not think it is entirely within your rights to call me by nicknames anymore." She sat down on the bench and picked up her book, staring fixedly at a spot on the page. The Scarlet Pimpernel trembled in her hands. Percy thought she ought to give up the pretext entirely; it certainly wasn't fooling anyone.
Feeling rather waspish as well as incredibly depressed, he gathered up his papers and walked into the courtroom. His neck felt hot.
"Have you got the papers, Weasley?" Umbridge chirped, as soon as Percy walked in. "How very prompt! I just got in myself."
"Yes," he said dully, walking forward.
She exchanged a look with Yaxley, sitting next to her. Yaxley leaned forward. "Have you been down here before, Weasley?"
"No sir," Percy replied, focusing on the Patronus walking back and forth before Umbridge. It, he decided, was an utterly foul cat and it was with difficulty that he suppressed the urge to kick it.
"Oh, have the Dementors got you down?" Umbridge asked, in her syrupy voice.
Percy struggled to respond. "I am not used to so many at once. Ah… what happened to Martha Austen, by chance?" He repressed a wince. His voice sounded shaky, weak.
"She's in Azkaban," Umbridge replied, making Percy stop in the middle of the courtroom. "Her work was not quite… up to standard." Umbridge's smile sickened him. Percy forced himself to step forward.
"What have you got there, Weasley?" she asked.
Percy looked at his clenched fist. "Er…." He had unconsciously crumpled up Penelope Clearwater's questionnaire.
"Hand it over."
Percy did so, having been trained for years to obey authority.
"Now, Weasley," Umbridge continued on, her voice so syrupy sweet Percy wondered why she wasn't diabetic, "why did you crumple up this questionnaire? Did the nasty Mudblood lie to us?"
Dolores Umbridge, Percy thought miserably, had an ability hithero unknown outside of his family, to make him feel like a naughty five-year-old. "No."
"Then why did you do this to Penelope Clearwater's questionnaire? I know you would not be… disloyal to the Ministry, so what is this filthy Mudblod to you? Did she misspell something? I know you dislike that."
Percy felt the back of his neck heat up again. "I was- she was my first girlfriend," he said stiffly, too proud to tag on that she had been his only girlfriend. He felt he ought to tag something on, but couldn't quite think of it.
"Oh, embarrassed, are you?" Yaxley asked.
Percy nodded quickly. He was embarrassed- mostly because Penelope had completely rejected him, again, even though he was Assistant to the Minister of Magic himself, and partly because he had been caught trying to keep Penelope, however unconsciously, from coming to trial.
Umbridge looked quite surprised, either because she had not imagined Percy could debase himself to date a muggleborn, or because she thought Percy had never had a girlfriend. It was more likely the latter, but Percy pretended it was the former, to salvage what was left of his pride.
"Did you never think to ask if she was a Mudblood?" Yaxley asked, looking a little surprised.
"No," Percy said. "She was petrified by a basilisk in my sixth year, but Sir Nicholas was as well, and he has one of the most impressive pedigrees in wizarding society. I looked it up in Hogwarts, a History in my first year- distantly related to Merlin, you know. All the Hogwarts ghosts are pure-blooded. I was told The Grey Lady, the Ravenclaw Ghost, is somehow related to Ravenclaw herself." He was babbling. Percy cut himself off by clearing his throat and making a great show of restacking his papers.
"Mudbloods," Umbridge said slowly, toying with her stubby wand, "can be so devious, can't they, Percy?" There was something sickening in her smile, in her voice. Percy felt ill. "I can call you Percy, can I not? I feel quite a connection with you Percy. How easy it is to make mistakes in the heyday of one's youth! Not that I ever did," she added, with a silvery little laugh. "But for a young man, it is so easy to be taken in by a pretty face." Percy nearly trembled with rage. Taken in? By Penny?
"He's clearly in shock, Dolores," Yaxley said, who was turning out to be extremely helpful by telling Percy how to behave. "Ah, I remember a Veela in my youth…."
Umbridge cleared her throat with a little 'hemhem' sound. "Is this entirely appropriate, Yaxley?"
"Er, no." He turned to Percy. "Can't believe you tainted yourself, did you? Well, now you know better."
"Indeed!' Umbridge chirped, taking the papers from Percy. "It is a shock to discover that one has been so deceived, but you are a Weasley and… oh, such blood!" She clicked her tongue. "You are not the first Weasley to be deceived by the wrong side. Now you have recognized it and learned from it, yes?"
"Mm," Percy said, doing everything he could to keep himself from leaping up and throttling the senior Undersecretary and instead looking as neutral as possible.
"Now you can move on and find a nice pureblood girl, who can help advance your career. I will introduce you to one of my cousins for you know I am related to almost every pureblooded family there is." With a toad-like smile: "I shall put you in charge of the prisoners today. You can deliver them to Azkaban. That will cheer you up immeasurably, I'm sure."
Percy forced himself to look grateful, his blood pounding furiously through his veins. 'My life depends on this woman's trust,' he thought savagely, trying to keep his control over himself, 'My life depends on this woman's trust.'
"Thank you very much Dolores," Percy managed. "I really am shocked that I could be so- so taken in." He could not help the flash of real fury at that, the raging bitterness that leapt up to choke him. Hopefully it added to the verisimilitude. No need to punish Percy for being taken in- he was already angry enough at himself.
Umbridge smiled. "Of course you are, Percy."
"I… really!" he spluttered, before making a big show of taking a deep, calming breath. "Yes, well, I have a job to do. Miss Clearwater will get what's coming to her." Savagely, with an utter self- loathing he just managed to disguise as anger towards Penelope: "I shall make sure of it. It is my job, after all. I would not give it up for anyone."
Yaxley and Umbridge looked exceptionally pleased with him and themselves.
"You will send word once the trials are over?" Percy asked, with a vague return to his usual pompousness. "I should so hate to miss out."
"But of course!" Umbridge exclaimed.
Percy walked out of the room, posture ramrod straight, chin tilted up, and shut the door behind him firmly. Once out he leaned against the door, sagging. He had to answer to all the memos still in his in-tray, the Minister always took his tea about now, they had an hour and a half until the latest press conference and their spokeswizard desperately needed the practice, there was that new bill he had to draft on when and where and why the Killing Curse could be excused, there was probably another dead body in the Atrium again that no one bothered to clean up, and- oh Merlin- in three hours he had to take Penelope Clearwater to Azkaban.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no…..
"It didn't go well?" asked one woman, managing to look up off of the floor. "I've heard it never goes well."
"No, it never does," Percy said thickly. He desperately wanted to edit some statements, do something, anything reassuringly simple- rearrange a department, reorganize the security measures….
"It'll be all right in the end," said the woman, sounding thoroughly unconvinced.
"No," Percy said, glancing over to where Penelope stared at her book. "It won't."