When Percy Weasley left work early at six-thirty on Friday evening for a well-earned weekend break, he hadn't expected a dramatic change in his conditions of work by the time he returned on Monday morning.
Of course, he'd had an inkling that something important might be going on. Minister Scrimgeour had been unavailable for most of that Friday in a meeting with his Department heads. Percy had been even more absorbed than usual in his own work, as an antidote to thoughts of weddings he refused to attend, but he couldn't help but notice that the man had spent most of the previous few weeks shut up in his office alone. So when he opened Saturday's Daily Prophet to read the announcement that Scrimgeour had resigned and been replaced by Pius Thicknesse, it wasn't a total surprise. Obviously the old man had been overdoing it, and needed a good long rest.
On the other hand, from a personal point of view it wasn't good news. Percy had always had Scrimgeour's trust, even though he'd been Fudge's man to begin with, but he'd had little previous contact with Thicknesse – by all accounts a severe man who was a stickler for proper legal procedures. There was no guarantee that the new Minister would confirm his appointment; Junior Assistant to the Minister had always been a position with considerably less job security than prestige.
So it was with some trepidation that he knocked on the familiar office door at eight-fifteen on Monday morning and, at the summons from within, threw out his chest as confidently as possible and entered.
"Ah, Weasley." To Percy's surprise, the new Minister wasn't alone; Dolores Umbridge was standing by his enchanted window and positively beaming with pleasure. "Dolores has just been telling me what a valuable member of staff you've been. I understand Rufus could rely on you – unlike some of your family, I hear."
Percy looked at her, startled but pleased. "I try to be dependable, sir," he replied stiffly. He hesitated for a moment, then added, "I want you to know that while of course I care for my family, I strongly disagree with their views on many subjects."
Umbridge's smile grew even wider, and Thicknesse nodded in approval. "I'm glad to hear that, Weasley. I need staff who are loyal. New management, new approach. Things will be changing around here from now on – as you'll have seen in today's Prophet."
"Sir?" He'd been so nervous he hadn't even glanced at the morning paper before dashing out of the flat. "I'm sorry, I haven't had the opportunity to read it …"
"Ah, I see." Thicknesse took a copy from his desk and held it up to show the front page; Percy's eyes widened as he saw the headline and he felt a flash of pure vindication. So they'd actually been right in the first place – Harry Potter really was disturbed and dangerous! Everyone had feted Potter over the last year – but personally, Percy had always felt that charging off on a wild-pixie chase to a Department he wasn't even supposed to have heard of, and worse, dragging Ron and Ginny along too, didn't in any way prove Dolores Umbridge wrong about him.
He glanced up to see Thicknesse watching him closely. "Surprised, Weasley?"
"A little, sir. But … well, no, not really. I know Minister Scrimgeour has made several overtures to him in the last year, and Potter rebuffed him on each occasion and was most offensive. He seems to have followed Dumbledore's lead – there was definitely something very unhealthy about the boy's relationship with him."
Thicknesse snorted and Umbridge gave a tinkling little laugh. "Oh dear, Pius, I do hope not!" Percy blinked, but she had continued before he could ask for clarification. "Well, I must love you and leave you now. The Commission won't run itself. I really must thank you for your trust in me!"
"Commission?" asked Percy as she left.
Thicknesse contemplated him for a moment. "Do you share your father's obsession with things Muggle, Weasley?" he asked in a disdainful tone of voice.
Percy flushed, and tried not to look as humiliated as he felt. "No, sir," he replied. "Not at all."
The Minister nodded. "Good. You'll do, Weasley." He brushed off Percy's delighted thanks with a wave of his hand. "As for the Commission, see page two of the paper. Here, you can take my copy."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Percy would never have admitted it to the Minister's face, but over the following few weeks he found his 'new approach' rather disquieting at times.
Like most of his colleagues, he was irritated by the revised system for entry and exit to the Ministry that Thicknesse immediately introduced. He could see the point of it – after all, if it was necessary for security reasons to prevent Death Eaters gaining access to the Ministry, then it would be wrong to complain – but it was … well, undignified to have to flush yourself in, not to mention inconvenient for someone who had been used to Apparating to work every morning.
The new Muggle Relations policies were somewhat troubling also. He knew that Scrimgeour had assigned the Muggle Prime Minister one of their top Aurors for protection, but Thicknesse seemed to regard the man with complete indifference. All right, there probably wasn't much he could do, but surely it was only fair to keep him informed? And as for the statue that had replaced the old Fountain of Magical Brethren … it was actually rather repulsive. Clearly the sculptor should never have been allowed to choose his own interpretation of the motto 'magic is might'. Even someone less enthusiastic about Muggles than his father was could agree that it was a bit over the top.
And then, of course, there was Dolores's Commission.
Percy had been thoroughly startled by the article in the paper that Thicknesse had handed him. After all, he'd known plenty of Muggle-borns over the years, worked with them, been friendly with them. It had never occurred to him that there was anything untoward about their magical ability. In fact, he was really going to have ask Dolores for clarification about the policy.
Unfortunately, she was so busy implementing it that it took several weeks for an opportunity to present itself. But then there was an incident in which some people – extremist protestors, no doubt – actually broke into the Ministry and released a number of suspects due to appear before the Commission. It was thoroughly deplorable, but nevertheless the disruption it caused to their schedule gave him an opening that was too good to miss.
"Er, Dolores?" He poked his head around her office door, and tried not to blanch as fourteen cute multicoloured kittens turned to look at him from their plates. "Could I have a word?"
"Of course, Percy." She waved a hand graciously and he stepped in. "Is it about the repairs to my door?"
"I beg your pardon?" Percy, disconcerted, tried to remember if anyone had written a memo about that. "Oh, I think Magical Maintenance said they'd deal with it as soon as they had someone available – apparently they're a man short at the moment. No, what I wanted to ask about is this new Muggle-borns policy."
Umbridge lost her smile, and Percy thought that Magical Maintenance might also consider doing something about sudden temperature drops in the room. "What about it?"
"Well …" Now that he actually had the chance to ask, he wasn't entirely sure how to phrase it. "It's this theory about them 'stealing magic' that worries me, Dolores. I never knew that was possible, I mean, not even –" he shuddered "– You-Know-Who has claimed he can do that, has he? There have always been lots of Muggle-borns, surely they can't all have found out how to do it if we haven't?"
"Who can tell what vile perversions the Muggles might have invented, Percy?" Her smile was back, but it didn't seem to reach her eyes.
"But what have the Unspeakables actually found? I don't understand."
"Well, I don't think you're meant to understand, dear." Her voice was honeyed. "Surely you are not questioning our foremost experts in the realm of magical theory?"
"No, but …"
"The new policy is based on very solid research by the Department of Mysteries, Mr Weasley." He swallowed; the use of his surname wasn't a good sign. "I certainly trust them to get their facts right, don't you? And we really shouldn't inquire too closely into what they do. That is why they're called Unspeakables," she added with a little giggle.
"Well, I suppose so … But it's just shocking to think that all the so-called Muggle-borns I've known are criminals. Could they have wizarding relatives in their line they don't know about, maybe a generation or two back?" he added, as a hopeful thought struck him.
"Naturally, that would be perfectly acceptable. I certainly don't wish to imprison anyone who can prove that they are from a true wizarding family, Percy, even if their Blood Status is … less than it might be." To Percy's relief, her smile was back, as was the use of his first name. "But we must be careful. You have to remember that these Mudbloods –" Percy tried not to show his shock at a word he had been brought up to regard as obscene "– are often very aggressive, and a bad influence on true wizards. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if poor Mr Potter would have done what he has if it hadn't been for that scheming girlfriend of his. I myself had no end of trouble with her."
"Do you mean Hermione Granger?" asked Percy in surprise. She'd always seemed nice enough – although she was rather odd … "Well … I suppose she could be a bit unbalanced. She told me off once just because I defended Mr Crouch's treatment of his house-elf! Mostly she just seemed to have her head in a book, though."
Umbridge sighed in regret. "Yes, yes, it all makes sense now. Stealing more of our knowledge, it's always the way. I suspect she and Mr Potter may be off together somewhere – if so, we can only hope they cause us no more trouble. I seem to remember that your brother was a friend of theirs, Percy?" she added with a touch of suspicion.
Percy's face clouded. "He was. He'd probably have run off with them, but I hear he's got spattergroit, fortunately … er, I mean unfortunately, but it could be worse, couldn't it?"
"Exactly," she said approvingly. "I trust I've set your mind at rest?"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Unfortunately, every new development seemed to make it harder for Percy's mind to remain at rest.
The nature of his work meant that he rarely had cause to visit the lower levels where the courtrooms were. But when he did, he had to brace himself for the cold terror as he passed the Dementors. The pitiful wretches brought before the Commission clearly had it worse, and it was difficult to remain unaffected by their obvious misery – yes, they might be criminals, but surely not dangerous criminals requiring this level of security. Most of them looked as if they could barely lift a wand, let alone perform stolen magic with it. Surrounding them with Dementors was practically torture.
Then again, torture now seemed to be considered a perfectly acceptable practice. One of the new Minister's first acts had been to revive the Crouch Rules that allowed the use of Unforgivable Curses on suspects, and the reports suggested that they were being freely used. Obviously there was a need to interrogate potential criminals by any means necessary, but still … it was something that needed to be queried.
"According to the records, uses of Cruciatus and Imperius by the Aurors are increasing steadily week by week, Minister," he reported at the next weekly briefing. "I believe there has been adverse comment in the press – only The Quibbler, of course, but still, people read it. Perhaps you could confirm that this is in accordance with the policy as you see it?"
Thicknesse looked oddly blank for a moment, and Percy sighed. The Minister had these occasional moments when he seemed not quite there, and it was an alarming thought that he might be cracking up under the strain of the war just as Scrimgeour had (the former Minister hadn't even contacted them to offer advice). But this time he shook himself and said tartly, "Yes, it's in accordance with policy, and Lovegood be damned. Our situation is as dangerous now as it was when Crouch authorised them in the first war. Understood?"
"Yes, Minister," said Percy resignedly. If that were the case, clearly the war was going extremely badly.
Even so, at least Aurors were trained. You couldn't say the same for the so-called 'Snatchers'. Percy was deeply uneasy when Yaxley announced that the Department of Magical Law Enforcement would pay a bounty for any Mudblood captured, regardless of who was doing the capturing or what methods they used to make the capture. That was surely a policy that had to be authorised at a level higher than Head of Department.
"You'll need to countersign this order as a matter of form, Minister, in order to make it legal under the Extension of Enforcement Powers Act 1937," he said, pushing the document before Thicknesse. "Does it meet with your approval?" he added, half-hoping that it wouldn't.
Thicknesse reached for his quill and scrawled his signature without a second thought. Percy sighed, although not loudly enough for the Minister to hear. "On a related matter, Minister, I note that the order uses the colloquial term –" he forced himself to say it in a neutral tone "– 'Mudblood' rather than employing the accepted Ministry terminology of 'Muggle-born'. Do you wish me to amend the text before forwarding it to the Daily Prophet for publication?"
This received only another blank look. "I see no need for that, Weasley. The meaning is perfectly clear, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir." So 'Mudblood' had become an acceptable – even quasi-official – term now? He glanced at the desk, and saw a copy of Dolores Umbridge's pamphlet lying in the pending tray. Yes, it obviously had. It was a minor point really, he supposed – if Muggle-borns were such a threat, there was no real reason to object to an offensive name for them – but it certainly wasn't the way he'd been brought up.
Very few things about his job, or indeed his life, at the moment were the way he'd been brought up.
At home that night, Percy found himself contemplating the situation with the assistance of a very large glass of Ogden's Old Firewhisky, and a contraband copy of The Quibbler that had been left in the mail room. It was mostly the usual total rubbish, of course – accusations that people such as Yaxley who had been appointed to jobs in the Ministry were really undiscovered Death Eaters, even rumours that convicted Death Eaters had broken out of Azkaban and been seen in Diagon Alley! – but still, the overall picture was worrying.
Whichever way you looked at it, the Ministry was placing strong official emphasis on Blood Status, something it hadn't done for the past … well, Percy couldn't personally remember a time when the policy had been this extreme, but from what he recalled from History of Magic lessons, it had to be at least fifty years. Even Thicknesse himself had never been known to take such a hardline stance before. He could only think of one reasonable explanation for the Minister's 'new approach'.
Clearly, Thicknesse must be hoping to steal the Death Eaters' thunder by making concessions to the views of the powerful old pure-blood families, to show them they didn't need to turn to You-Know-Who to have their concerns heard. Lovegood's wild claims of actual Death Eaters in the Ministry could be dismissed out of hand, of course, but still – some of the people appointed from those old families were frankly unpleasant, and in other circumstances might have been feasible candidates for recruitment by You-Know-Who. It was certainly a bold move on the Minister's part … but in all honesty, as a policy it wasn't especially palatable, and it seemed to be getting out of hand.
Percy stared into his glass for a minute or two, then drained it with a convulsive motion and headed for bed.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Lists of the people brought before the Muggle-Born Registration Commission were supplied to the Minister as a courtesy measure, but Thicknesse had never done more than briefly scan them, nod, and pass on to other business, and Percy had never previously paid much attention to the names on the roll. Of late, however, he found himself reading them with a kind of ghoulish curiosity.
Several were people he had met, or at least known of – a school colleague from Hufflepuff here, a minor Ministry functionary there. Although he told himself firmly that sympathy was misplaced – it could only help the Death Eaters if the Ministry took a lax attitude towards criminals who had come into the wizarding world from outside – he still didn't like to imagine what they must be going through in Azkaban. Even the occasional walk past the Dementors was more than enough to leave him weak, sweaty, and prone to morbid thoughts about the takeover of the Ministry by You-Know-Who.
When the name 'Harriet Clearwater' appeared on one of Umbridge's lists, it took several seconds for his stunned brain to accept that he was seeing it.
Harriet Clearwater? He knew Harriet Clearwater, indeed at one time had known her well, she was the mother of his ex-girlfriend. He'd forgotten that Penny had talked about having Muggle grandparents. But … Harriet, a schemer, a thief of magic? No, not a chance – a more scrupulously honest woman he'd never met, in fact she was practically austere about it. There was clearly some mistake.
"Dolores? Could I have a brief word with you?"
Umbridge looked up from her desk and smiled sweetly. "Of course, Percy. How can I help you?"
"It's about Harriet Clearwater." Dolores's smile faded, as he'd expected it would, but he pressed on. "I saw her name on the latest Commission interrogation list, and honestly, Dolores, that can't be right. I know her – I used to go out with her daughter – and Harriet definitely isn't the type who would do anything criminal. She must have a wizarding relative that she doesn't know about."
"I'm afraid that's not the case, Percy. Of course, she made that argument, claimed that a great-grandfather none of her family could remember much about must have been a wizard, but we looked over her family tree and there are no names on it that we recognise as wizards or witches." Her smile was back.
"Obviously this family tree can't be complete, then!"
"It goes back three generations, Percy. How much more do you want?"
"Well, a wizard or witch might not use their real name on Muggle birth records," said Percy desperately. "I think we need to look a bit more closely."
"'We', dear?" asked Umbridge sweetly. "I'm afraid that this is my decision, Percy, not yours. I can assure you that we on the Commission are perfectly satisfied with our investigation."
"That's ridiculous!" It came out sounding much too vehement, and Percy fought to control himself. "Surely not everyone who comes before your Commission can be some kind of master criminal?"
"Now listen to me, Percy." Umbridge sat up, and there wasn't a trace of a smile on her face now. "Harriet Clearwater's situation is quite clear, and her case is now closed. Closed, do you understand? And perhaps I should draw your attention to a simple fact that you appear to have forgotten, which is that proper behaviour for Ministry employees –" she giggled, and for the first time Percy found it grating "– is to refrain from attempting to interfere with decisions that are not their responsibility."
"But, Dolores …"
"In dangerous times like these, it's very important that all of our workers demonstrate their loyalty and commitment to the Ministry," interrupted Umbridge. "Certainly they should not take it upon themselves to criticise policies put in place at the highest levels, for reasons that are not the concern of anyone but the senior officials." Her voice was almost sing-song now, and Percy found that irritating too. "Do remember, dear, we like to keep an eye on our staff with a view to measuring the effectiveness of their performance in implementing Ministry policy, and of course this gives us advance warning of possible disloyalty in time to take preventative action. I do hope you won't need such close attention as some of the people in your family."
Percy recoiled as if Umbridge had physically slapped his face. The reference to his father was obvious – because yes, he would surely try to implement current policy in such a way as to frustrate its aims – but whatever their disagreements had been, the idea that Dad might be in so much trouble that he was actually being specially monitored was quite shocking. As was the implied threat that he himself was in danger if he continued to ask awkward questions.
"N-no, of course not, Dolores," he managed to say. "I just wanted … clarification on an administrative issue that seemed to require it. Just doing my job."
"That's all right then, Percy," she said. "As long as you just do your job according to the Ministry rules, there can be no complaints."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
When Percy got back to his office he dropped limply into his chair. Everything seemed to have suddenly turned sour on him. He'd always felt that he got along very well with Dolores, that she liked him, even approved of him – which made what had just happened all the more shocking. He had no problem with her demonstrating zeal in the implementation of Ministry policy, but this was something more. He was struck with the uncomfortable thought that she seemed to be taking actual pleasure in penalising Muggle-borns, and might not have been entirely honest with him. She'd always been a strict disciplinarian, but this was showing … well, cruelty.
Worse still, there wasn't even an effective procedure for questioning such behaviour. Percy was thoroughly familiar with the bureaucratic lines of command in the Ministry, and knew that Dolores Umbridge was more or less a law unto herself. The only person who could give her a direct order was the Minister – and even if Percy dared to approach him. it was most unlikely to help. These days Thicknesse seemed to have forgotten his previous insistence that proper legal procedures should be followed – and if he was in one of his occasional distracted moods, he might not even pay attention. Although if he was cracking up, it wasn't the same symptoms as Scrimgeour …
Percy suddenly went cold.
No, it wasn't the same symptoms as Scrimgeour.
It was the same symptoms as Mr Crouch.
It was a terrifying thought. If the Minister himself was under Imperius … if You-Know-Who was giving orders to the Ministry through him … then his change in attitude towards legalities and Muggle-borns was perfectly explicable … much that had been incomprehensible about the Ministry's direction suddenly became comprehensible … Scrimgeour might even have been removed to make way for him, no-one had seen hide nor hair of the previous Minister since his resignation …
Percy buried his head in his hands. It certainly fit … but what could he do? He had no proof – and if he was right, asking the wrong questions of the wrong person would surely get him sent on a one-way journey to Azkaban. Even if he was wrong, Dolores's attitude had made it clear that it would still be a risky proposition. He had no desire to join the people imprisoned as traitors.
It took him a second or two to register the fact that a memo had just arrived – indeed, it wasn't until the little paper aeroplane had jabbed him in the ear a few times that he realised what it was. He opened it and fought down an urge to laugh maniacally; Thicknesse wanted to see him immediately. Did that mean Dolores Umbridge had already run to the Minister's office to complain? Was he in danger of arrest? Would he have to try to escape from the Ministry by force?
It was with some trepidation that he knocked on the familiar office door and, at the summons from within, gripped his wand inside his pocket and entered.
"Ah, Weasley." To Percy's surprise, the new Minister was alone. "Have you seen the memoranda relating to the suggestion by the authorities in Hogsmeade that we should impose a curfew during the hours of darkness?"
"C-curfew?" It took a stunned Percy a couple of seconds to switch his brain back to the paperwork that had crossed his desk that morning. "Er, yes, I believe that was mentioned as a possibility …"
"I've received letters of protest from the tradespeople who claim it will affect their business." Percy stared at Thicknesse, startled but pleased; did this mean that he wasn't in trouble? "They'll keep complaining, I suppose, so someone from the Ministry had better go up there and tell them to shut up and leave the decision to the powers that be. That old hag Rosmerta is probably the one behind it all – but the people in the village like her, so we don't want to arrest her unless we have to. Try to smooth the ruffled feathers, will you?" When Percy didn't reply, he snapped, "What's the matter with you today, Weasley? You seem distracted."
"Sorry, sir!" Percy looked closely at Thicknesse to see if there was any sign of what he suspected, but the Minister didn't seem to be in one of those suspiciously distracted moods today, even if Percy himself was. Then again, the man had obviously considered putting Madam Rosmerta under arrest merely for complaining – surely the old Pius Thicknesse wouldn't have done that? "Do – do you mean you want me to go to Hogsmeade?"
"Well, I'm certainly not going to go myself, Weasley. I can spare you tomorrow, it's Friday anyway. Explain that this is a Ministry matter of security against Undesirables, we can't take business matters into consideration. By the time we get the curfew properly set up the days will be getting longer anyway. And if they give you any backchat, warn them that they could find themselves in serious trouble if they get too mouthy. Do you think you can manage that?"
"I try to be dependable, sir," he replied stiffly.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The last time Percy had visited Hogsmeade had been some two years before, on a Saturday out with Penny. It had been a lively, bustling sort of place, with the streets packed with residents and visitors alike, and the local businesses doing a roaring trade. The change in its appearance between then and now was startling. There was an unmistakable atmosphere of fear about the village – and since there were unpleasant-looking people watching the streets, and the occasional sudden heart-stopping chill caused by a nearby Dementor, Percy couldn't blame the villagers for feeling it.
He braced himself, then began the uncomfortable work of going from shop to shop to explain that the curfew would be imposed come what may, and encountering a mixture of resigned acceptance and the occasional suggestion that he attempt something anatomically impossible without the use of illegal spells. On the whole, he preferred the latter response; the dull terror his official presence inspired in most people was profoundly depressing.
By the time he had finished, his feet were hurting and the daylight was already fading. There were few people still on the streets; it seemed as if most of the village wanted to avoid being out after dark regardless of whether or not a curfew was officially in place. A few hardy souls were making their way to the Three Broomsticks, however, and Percy, contemplating the prospect of going home to a cold flat and spending another night brooding, felt a strong desire to join them.
He had almost reached the door when sanity took hold; Madam Rosmerta had been one of the most vehement protesters when he had tried to explain Thicknesse's new policy (not to mention making by far the most creative suggestions), and he couldn't stomach the idea of facing her again. Nor did he want to get her into trouble if his presence provoked a row; he'd always thought she was a good sort, and there were rumours that she'd been a bit unstable ever since some kind of traumatic experience last year.
Percy sighed and prepared to Apparate back to London, thinking vaguely of the Leaky Cauldron, and then he remembered – there was that other pub, the Hog's Head, the one he'd never set foot in before because of its dodgy reputation. It probably wasn't as bad as all that, though, his brothers and sister had all been in there. He'd heard Bill and Charlie boasting about it in the Gryffindor common room, and as for the younger ones – well, Dolores Umbridge had received that report about some secret Defence club they were all involved with, one which was set up solely to cause her trouble. He winced; if he knew Ginny, she would be causing exactly the same sort of trouble for Professor Snape if she could. He thought of the Dementors surrounding the castle, and the kind of regime Snape had apparently implemented, and had a sudden mad desire to help her.
He shook it off and headed down the side street towards the Hog's Head.
He entered the pub with caution, but although it was dark and dirty, it wasn't quite as bad as he'd feared; although when he took a quick glance at the clientele he decided hastily that it was probably best to avoid making eye contact with them. Fortunately no-one was actually sitting at the bar, so he plonked himself down on a passably clean stool and then realised that the barman was watching him through surprisingly piercing blue eyes.
"What're you having?" The tone was brusque.
Percy considered the question. It didn't seem like a Butterbeer sort of pub, and for that matter, he wasn't in a Butterbeer sort of mood. "Firewhisky, please." He fished into his pocket and put a handful of Galleons on the bar. "I'll be having more than one, I should think. Long day."
The barman didn't say anything, but plonked a glass on the bar and turned to find a bottle. Percy blanched at the sight of what he was expected to drink from, and performed a surreptitious non-verbal Scourgify while the man's back was turned. He made no comment other than to scowl slightly when he saw what Percy had done, and contented himself with pouring out a surprisingly generous measure.
"Cheers," said Percy, and drained the glass in one, barely managing not to choke. He looked around him as the barman refilled it, and realised he could hear what the group of dubious-looking people at the nearest table were muttering. The subject appeared to be their reward for capturing two Mudbloods, and Percy scowled in turn. "Are they Snatchers?" he asked, nodding towards the men.
"None of my business if they are or they aren't," said the barman tartly as Percy swallowed half of his drink. "None of yours, either."
"If it's Ministry business, it's my business, I work there," he answered mulishly. He finished the second glass and put it down on the bar with more force than he'd meant to. "We used to have proper Aurors, or at least Patrollers. I wouldn't have authorised them."
"Well, that's as may be." The glass was refilled and Percy grabbed it. "Way of the world now."
"Don't you mind having those sorts of people in here?"
The barman shrugged. "I get all sorts in here. As long as they don't make trouble –" he raised his voice on the last few words and glowered at the Snatchers, who had clearly heard Percy's comment and looked as if they were considering getting involved in the discussion "– I let 'em be. Maybe you should too."
"Right. Just like the Ministry, then." He drank most of the third glass; it was beginning to have a slight effect on him now. Clearly he couldn't possibly be drunk, not on just a few drops of Firewhisky, but he definitely wasn't used to drinking this quickly. "Any crap they tell us to do, we do, whatever the real reason they want it done, but we're supposed to just do our job and of course don't make trouble."
"Aye, well, the Ministry's always been like that, from what I hear," said the barman. Percy was surprised to see that the glass was already full again. "Even my brother had more sense than to get involved with 'em more than he had to."
"Did he? Good man, whoever he was. The place is going to the d … dogs." He stumbled over the last word, and decided that he needed to drink a little more to clear his head, which he did. "Or maybe it's already gone to …"
"Mind you don't drop that drink waving it about like that, son." Percy blinked at the interruption, and was surprised to realise that he was making some kind of gesture with the hand holding the glass. The man had clearly just made an excellent point, so Percy drained the glass again, as the best way of ensuring that nothing spilt from it. The barman took it from him, poured out another large measure, and placed it within easy reach of his hand, which seemed a remarkably kind gesture.
Percy extracted another few Galleons from his pocket (which action for some reason seemed to be more difficult than it should have been), and scattered them on the bar. "Keep it coming, landlord."
The barman rolled his eyes and swept the money into a till. As Percy downed the Firewhisky he thought that something about the man looked familiar, but at the moment, for the life of him he couldn't think why he would recognise a tall man with blue eyes and a long beard. Maybe it would come back to him later. "Should I know you?"
"Maybe, maybe not. I've never met you before."
"Didn't think you had." Percy picked up the glass, and wondered if there was some kind of Refilling Charm on it. "Why do I … oh hell, I don't know." The only thing that currently seemed to make coherent sense to him was the consumption of more Firewhisky, a lot more Firewhisky, and he proceeded to apply himself to that task with as much zeal as he'd ever shown for his job in the Ministry.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
There was a light. And an awful taste in his mouth. And it was cold, yet he seemed to be lying in something damp. And someone definitely seemed to be tugging on his clothing, although he could think of no good reason why they should.
He opened his eyes. It took several tries, but he managed it in the end. He saw something large and hairy and quickly shut them again.
He tried once more and this time, managed to make some kind of sense of his surroundings. He was out-of-doors, on the ground in what seemed to be a back yard, and – Percy blinked, this wasn't something he felt up to processing at the moment – there was a goat nibbling curiously at his robes. He tried to yell at it to stop, but all that came out was a sort of croak.
"Don't scare her, now!"
Percy swiftly turned his head to locate the source of the indignant voice coming from behind him. This proved to be a mistake, as several hundred Billywigs, whose presence inside his skull he had previously overlooked, began trying to escape from it by main force. He whimpered and sank back to the floor – at which point it dawned on him that the something damp he was lying in was fresh vomit, and he groaned loudly.
"Where am I?"
The tall barman came into view and shooed away the goat. "Back of the Hog's Head, of course. Wasn't going to have you being sick all over my floor."
He couldn't remember much about the previous evening, but one thing seemed clear. "Why did you keep pouring the stuff out for me like it was pumpkin juice, then?" he asked peevishly.
"Trying to do you a favour, son." Percy made a funny noise that was as close as he could manage to an incredulous laugh, and his companion added, "You'd been all round the village yesterday saying things you didn't seem to like saying. Then you came in my pub and started mouthing off. You don't want to be overheard saying things that'd get you in trouble if the wrong ears heard them. Best thing I could do for you was let you get good and drunk as quick as possible."
Percy considered this view of things as best he could. It made enough sense to take as a working assumption. "Oh. Thank you then." He winced as a jolt of pain shot through his head; it felt as if one of the Billywigs had actually succeeded in splitting it open. "I think."
There was a snort, and a small bottle was pressed into his hand. "Drink this. Take the worst of it away." As Percy gratefully swallowed the potion, the barman waved his wand to Vanish the vomit and added, "You're a Weasley, aren't you?"
He nodded, and immediately regretted it.
"Knew it from the hair. I've had all your family in here, I reckon. Some of 'em were plotting a little gang against that cow Umbridge a couple of years back, weren't they?" Percy managed a croak in affirmation; he didn't feel like defending Umbridge against the slur. "Not saying they were wrong, not saying they were right either, mind. My brother liked it, though. Right up his street, that."
"Brother?" A strange idea hit him as he realised who the man resembled. "Not … Professor Dumbledore?"
"That's right. Aberforth's the name. You're not completely incapable of seeing what's in front of your eyes, then." He contemplated Percy. "You don't look like a man happy with what the Minister's got him doing. Don't worry," he added in a dismissive tone as Percy looked alarmed. "None of my business what you think about the Minister … or his boss."
Percy looked up abruptly in shock. "You think it's …" He couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence and actually voice the suggestion out loud.
Aberforth snorted again. "Not too hard to work it out from what they've been doing this past few months, is it?" Percy felt that he was probably supposed to disagree, but with his head in such a state he couldn't really think up a good counter-argument. "Watch yourself, son. Don't want to shoot your mouth off, stick your head in the firing line, you'll lose it."
"I'm not that stupid," said Percy, stung by the implication.
"Oh, aye? I'm not so sure, You look the sort who barrels in and gets yourself killed. They'll be watching you, bound to be. They're watching everyone else. Ruins my trade."
By dint of great effort, and by holding on to the door for support, Percy climbed to his feet. "So what am I supposed to do then, according to you?" he snapped.
"Be a sleeper, Weasley. That's my advice."
Percy managed a bitter laugh that held more than a little confusion. "You seem to think I've been asleep all this time anyway. Changed your mind again?"
"Not that kind of sleeper," retorted Aberforth tetchily. "It's a word the Muggles use, at least my brother said they did. Sleeper's an agent who pretends to be part of the Ministry, doesn't put a toe out of line, but he's ready to switch and fight if he's needed."
"But I want to fight," said Percy. He hadn't realised it until that moment, but saying it seemed to crystallise his resolve "What else can I do?"
Aberforth shook his head. "Use your brains, son. You want to fight, bide your time, wait for the right moment. You go in wand blazing all by yourself, you won't get nowhere. Albus reckoned You-Know-Who's lot had plenty of sleepers in place, pretending they were one of us, just waiting their chance. You take a leaf out of their book and do the same."
"Right." Percy stared at Aberforth. "Why are you doing this for me?"
"We all do what we've got to do, Weasley. You look a good sort. Not much I can do to fight, but I don't see as why I should let you get in trouble if I can help it."
"And would you fight if you could?" The potion Aberforth had given him seemed to be taking effect now, and Percy suddenly felt better than he had for months. "I'd help, if it came to that!"
Aberforth looked nonplussed for a moment. "Right. I'll bear that in mind. If there's a fight going on, I'll be sure to let you know. Watch yourself … what's your name, anyway?"
"Percy." He stuck out a hand. "Thanks, Aberforth."
Aberforth hesitated for a fraction of a second, then shook it. "Thanks then …Percy. Off you go now."
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Over the next couple of weeks, Thicknesse and Umbridge kept Percy busy with routine administrative tasks – the kind that he had once taken to with zeal, but in his current mood simply seemed like a mockery of everything he believed in. He did his best to follow Aberforth's advice and be a 'sleeper', but it was hard work – he felt painfully awake. Every time he looked around him now, another layer of scales seemed to fall from his eyes.
Persecuting 'Mudbloods'? Who but Death Eaters or their sympathisers would care? Certainly many pure-bloods had always objected to Muggle-borns and would have preferred them to be denied access to any important position … but the current pogrom against them was something nastier. It wouldn't be justified even if the Unspeakables' research was true – which on reflection it almost certainly wasn't, of course. It had the feel of an excuse that had been conjured merely to provide a sop for those like himself who cared about proper procedure. For that matter, Potter probably was everything Percy's family said he was, nothing like the claims the Prophet made about him. Things had come to a pretty pass when you couldn't even trust the daily paper to print the truth.
Appointing potential or suspected Death Eaters to work in positions of power? Why would any sane Ministry ever allow such a thing without a thorough investigation – unless it was at best bending over backwards to accommodate them, at worst completely in their pocket?
A Minister for Magic who had undergone a profound change of views from the ones he had espoused ever since taking over from Amelia Bones? Why had he not recognised that as a huge warning sign? Then again, there had been frequent low-level mutterings from some of his fellow staff members – he suspected that others had been more sensible. And come to think of it, there were officials other than Thicknesse who had exhibited surprising behaviour, and who occasionally appeared to be sleepwalking through the day. Percy briefly considered whether he himself could have been Imperiused – but no, he didn't even have that excuse.
At least once a day he found himself considering the possibility of just cutting and running, abandoning any attempt at a 'sleeper' policy – but the irony was that there was nowhere he could go without the risk of being caught by Snatchers (or worse). He could of course swallow his pride and attempt to join forces with the Order of the Phoenix, if it were still in existence – but he could think of no likely contacts except his father or his brother, and neither possibility appealed to him. Both were surely being watched closely, and since the Ministry had been taking an increasingly hard line on 'traitors', such a suspicious action could get them all sent to Azkaban. For that matter, he reflected sourly, they would probably reject any overtures from him anyway on the assumption that he had been put up to it by Thicknesse.
What he wanted was a chance to fight back, even in some minor way.
He dragged himself into work in the usual way one Monday, flushed himself into the building (he now recognised this for what it was – no mere security measure, but a subtle demeaning, a gesture of contempt for all those who worked in the Ministry), took the lift up to the executive offices with a heavy heart, and set to work checking through yet more new reports and regulations.
The curfew for Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley had now been fully implemented, he saw. The Minister was commissioning a revised History of Magic textbook to replace Bathilda Bagshot's – one that would stress the new party line on Muggle-borns, and put far more emphasis on the horrors of witch-burning (Percy remembered that this had been completely pointless, as Binns had once set a fascinating essay on the subject for homework). There was to be a new committee to monitor the goblins' handling of gold in Gringotts and recommend ways to bring it under closer Ministry control. Wonderful.
"I said it's terrible how busy we are these days, Percy, but you don't seem to be listening to me."
Percy looked up with a start as Umbridge's coy voice trilled in his ear. "Er …"
"Dear me, such industry that you're positively lost in thought. What can it all be about?"
Several possible replies flashed through his mind, but he settled on a safe answer. "I've always concentrated hard on my work. I'm very efficient at dealing with paperwork, Dolores. Actually, I quite enjoy it."
Umbridge tittered in a way that he had once found rather endearing, but was now rapidly beginning to loathe. "Oh, Pius is very lucky to have you then, Percy." She was looking down on him, he was sure. "I must admit, I find the minutiae of administration so tiresome. And now that I have to run the Commission too, there is so much more of it. Of course it's a very important position –" she preened slightly "– but having to work through all the tedious submissions that people make, well, it keeps me from my main occupation."
Percy thought that this was probably a good thing. "Submissions?" he asked neutrally.
"Oh yes, the criminals we bring before us always submit a mountain of paperwork about their claimed wizarding relatives. Sometimes they're even real. We insist they go into detail, of course – we wouldn't want any Mudbloods to slip through the net, now would we?" She giggled girlishly and Percy fought to keep his face impassive. "But checking is such a time-consuming process …"
Umbridge was looking at Percy in an odd manner, almost appraisingly, and with a sudden flash of insight that left him temporarily breathless, he realised that the sensation of someone tapping him on the shoulder was in fact opportunity tentatively knocking.
"That's terrible, Dolores," he said carefully. "I know how overworked you can get. The Ministry should offer you the extra help you deserve."
"Oh. I'm afraid I have to commandeer help where I can get it, Percy … Are you terribly busy at the moment?" she added in a thoroughly unconvincing innocent voice.
With another flash of insight, he realised that it would be far better to seem reluctant and let her make the running. He kept his voice studiously calm, "I'm afraid the Minister always has a lot of work for me, Dolores. It's very important for a senior Ministry official such as Mr Thicknesse to offload as much of the routine work as possible onto his staff, and he trusts me to do it well." He found himself subconsciously falling into the familiar routine, saying it with a touch of pride; and although internally he cringed and berated himself, he could see that it had a beneficial effect on Umbridge, who was smiling widely.
"Oh, I'm sure we can come to some arrangement, Percy …" She wandered over to the Minister's office, knocked briefly, and opened the door without so much as asking for permission to enter. "Oh, Pius – couldn't you spare me just the teensiest moment?"
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Alone in his office again, his heart in his mouth, and with a new stack of paperwork in front of him, Percy picked up a quill and began to work through the small pile of official Commission correspondence that Umbridge had presented him with. It was time to implement policy in the manner he expected of his father.
The first one could be dismissed immediately.
"Dear Mr Thorndike,
You have not filled in the enclosed Blood Status form correctly. The regulations quite clearly state that black or blue ink must be used for all forms submitted to the Ministry -- not what is self-evidently Walter Mann's Dragon Green Ink, however popular a brand it may be.
Please apply to the Ministry for another form, explaining exactly why you were unable to read simple instructions."
Percy made a note on the list – 'breach of Ministry regulation 1954/qb/39' – and moved on.
The next form was filled out in the correct colour of ink, but as he read it through, it was clear that it was inadequate in other ways.
"Dear Madam Higgs,
We have now received your completed questionnaire. I regret to have to inform you that the Commission cannot accept your claim that your maternal grandmother was, in fact, a witch merely on your unsupported statement that such is the case, without further details of said heritage, especially her name.
I hereby return this form to you in order that you may remedy this situation by supplying a family tree as originally instructed."
He noted 'unable to process due to missing documentation' and moved on.
The documentation attached to the next three forms was complete, indeed detailed, and Percy judged that the Commission would have no trouble in deciding that Messrs Macintyre and Wilkins and Madam Cornfoot were, in fact, of sound wizarding blood. He penned brief letters to inform them that their hearings would be held on the fourth of the following month, and that attendance with full documentation was required.
The sixth letter was easily dealt with.
"Dear Madam Jenkins,
We have now received your completed questionnaire, in which you claim wizarding descent via the Abercrombie line, but without any supporting documentation. I would point out to you however that this claim is clearly invalid, since if it were true then Madam Cynthia Cornfoot, who has supplied complete documentation to indicate her Blood Status, would be your second cousin once removed.
As you yourself have put forward no such documentation to show your magical descent, you must appear before the Commission to explain yourself as best you can. Your attendance is required on the fourth of next month at 3pm."
He entered the appointments into the Commission's schedule and picked up the last letter in the pile.
"Dear Mr Charles,
Thank you for your owl confirming attendance at a hearing before the Muggle-Born Registration Commission on the 4th proximo. I regret to have to inform you that your appointment will need to be rearranged for a later date, due to an unforeseen scheduling clash.
The Ministry will write to you as soon as a suitable revised date can be arranged. Please be prepared to make yourself immediately available at that time."
He signed 'pp Dolores Umbridge' to all the letters, sealed them with a tap of his wand, and took them down to the mail room where a row of owls were waiting. As he watched them fly away, he smiled. It felt like a good morning's work.
After all, he hadn't put a toe out of line; he was just doing his job according to the Ministry rules.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
"Your family have disappeared."
Startled, Percy looked up from the fifth batch of Commission paperwork that he'd received. "I …er … what, Dolores?" Somehow he managed to keep his face impassive and hide the lurch of fear he felt at those words; it was a sleeper technique he'd learned well the past few months.
"Arthur, Molly, Frederick, George, and Ginevra Weasley, Percy. Surely you remember them dear, they were there when you grew up. Also William and Fleur Weasley." Umbridge was talking in her quietest, most honeyed voice, and that had to be another bad sign. "You don't know where they've gone, by any chance?"
Percy stared at her, and with a feeling of giddy relief realised that if Umbridge herself was asking that question, it must surely mean that his family had gone into hiding, not that they had been taken into custody as blood traitors. "Of course not, I haven't spoken to them since last Christmas. They wouldn't want to talk to a Ministry loyalist like me anyway," he added with an entirely unfeigned bitterness that seemed to mollify Umbridge somewhat.
"Of course not, Percy. Pius tells me that your brother Ronald has been seen with that Undesirable Mr Potter, and since he's supposed to be at home sick with spattergroit, we can't help but be a tiny bit suspicious that they were covering up for him. I'm afraid it looks as if they may be traitors."
"That wouldn't surprise me." He had managed to get his composure back now, but still – it was an unpleasant feeling to have to voice this thought insincerely, when for so long he had thought it entirely true. "They've been doing it for years," he added for verisimilitude. "No ambition to make something of themselves in the Ministry."
"Not like you, dear. They just walked out of their jobs without so much as a by-your-leave to the various competent authorities. Not that those jobs were really important, of course. Where do you think they might have gone?"
That was of course the thousand-Galleon question. Percy considered it; they'd probably sought refuge with one of the many Weasley relatives, but it wouldn't do to pick the wrong one – or rather the right one – and inadvertently betray them.
Although he could think of a couple of plausible answers that were almost certainly untrue …
"If they've got themselves into that much trouble, Dolores, they would probably have fled the country." He seriously doubted this – they would surely want to be on the spot where they would have a chance to fight – but even if they had, making the suggestion wouldn't help the Ministry find them. "My elder brother Charlie works in Romania, I'm sure he'd help them hide out. As for Bill … I understand his wife is French, so they could have gone to her relatives. I wouldn't know, I didn't attend the wedding," he finished, with a sneer in his voice that he was quite pleased with.
"Not merely French, but a half-breed," said Umbridge with a kind of dainty shudder. "Yes, I suppose we will have to contact our Continental cousins for assistance. Perhaps you could draft the letter for Pius to send?"
"Of course, Dolores. I'll get on to it straight away." He felt sure that this was a test, and was determined to pass it. Fortunately, she just nodded and left him.
This is a formal request for co-operation under the charter of the International Confederation of Wizards, to which your Ministry is of course a signatory and hence obliged to offer all possible assistance.
We wish to determine the whereabouts of a group of suspected serious criminals belonging to the Weasley family – an old-established line but with a regrettable tendency towards blood treachery – and we believe that they may have sought refuge with relatives in your country. (A schedule listing the names and descriptions of all parties concerned, and their putative connections, is appended to this letter. Please ensure that it is placed in the hands of your Auror department with all dispatch.)
The charge to be filed against these malicious individuals is treason by dint of concealing an Undesirable lawfully designated as such by this Ministry – namely one Harry James Potter, wanted for investigation in connection with the murder of Albus Dumbledore, as described in our request for co-operation of the fourth of August. In addition, all of the persons sought are known to be, or have been, members of so-called 'resistance' organisations created specifically to oppose the policy of the Ministry of Magic of Great Britain regarding the wizard commonly referred to as 'He Who Must Not Be Named', and additional charges on this count may be filed against these parties at a later date depending on the results obtained by interrogating them.
Please investigate this matter at your earliest convenience and report back to this Ministry."
Percy read the letter through. It seemed to strike the right note. If the Romanian and French Ministries approved of British policies, naturally they would jump at the chance to assist. Of course, less than satisfactory results would be obtained if they took a different view of the arrest of people resisting dangerous Dark Wizards such as He Who Must Not Be Named, but that wasn't Percy's fault – he felt he'd followed Thicknesse's approach, right down to the peremptory style. He'd even pointed out that the Weasleys were all supporters of Harry Potter – and of course everyone now knew that individual to be disturbed and dangerous, instead of the Chosen One as previously thought, because the British Ministry said so.
Percy folded the memo into a paper aeroplane and sent it on its way with a tap of his wand, and returned to his regular paperwork.
Thicknesse and Umbridge could surely have no complaints about this letter. Still, he had a feeling that the time for an alternative way of fighting was rapidly approaching. How much longer could he get away with this before even Umbridge worked it out? And how much longer could he bear to wait and play the sleeper?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The answer to his first question turned out to be: a surprisingly long time.
The answer to his second question turned out to be: a surprisingly short one.
By the time another month had passed, Percy had continued to implement current policy in such a way as to frustrate its aims, putting as many bureaucratic obstructions as he could in the path of the Ministry, and remarkably this had failed to excite comment from Umbridge or Thicknesse. There was a definite pleasure in doing it, but it was rapidly losing its appeal in the light of the way events had begun to develop.
Because they weren't even bothering to pretend any more.
People in Death Eater garb were openly on watch in Hogsmeade, without even the fig leaf of a claim to be members of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol. For that matter, known Death Eaters were walking around free – it was more than just a rumour in The Quibbler now, and he no longer believed the vague memoranda about official pardons. No Minister in his right mind would give Bellatrix Lestrange a pardon, and she had apparently been seen in Diagon Alley more than once.
As he sat at home on a pleasant evening in early May, he had an inkling that something important might be going on. Minister Thicknesse had been unavailable for most of that day for no stated reason, but fanciful tales that the Chosen One had broken into Gringotts and escaped on a dragon were going around the Ministry like wildfire. Percy had been far less absorbed than usual in his own work, his thoughts turning to what might happen next – whatever the real truth, surely only some dramatic action by Harry Potter could have provoked such a reaction – but he didn't expect the Ministry to confirm any rumours. So when he opened the Evening Prophet to read nothing but the blandest headlines about a forthcoming speech by Thicknesse, it wasn't a total surprise. Obviously printing the news would be overdoing it.
He found a bottle of Firewhisky in a cabinet and contemplated it; ever since his trip to the Hog's Head, he'd avoided the stuff, but perhaps now was the time to use it to get him through the evening. He opened the bottle and picked up a glass, and then something unexpected and amazing happened.
There was a bright flash of light which made him drop the glass in shock. The light resolved itself into a silvery goat, of all things; it looked up at him with mild curiosity and then spoke in a voice he recognised as Aberforth Dumbledore's.
"Hogwarts making a fight of it. Come if you want. Apparate to my place."
Percy stood still for a moment or two, to allow himself to savour the sudden exhilaration that shot through him.
A glimmer of his old caution told him that he ought to be terrified at the prospect of becoming involved in an all-out battle against Death Eaters, but somehow he was unable to feel anything but a fierce joy at the chance of fighting back at last – of finally being able to do something he, and his family, could be proud of.
Then, all thoughts of Firewhisky or Ministry policy forgotten, he took hold of his wand and braced himself for a precise Apparition.
It was finally time for the sleeper to awake.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Notes: Originally written for fellbeast2 in the hpholidaygen exchange on Livejournal. Thanks to snuggle the muggle and lareinenoire for betaing the fic.