Author's Note: I introduced Aunt Audrey in "Angelica" as Percy's muggle wife, and Albus and Rose's favorite aunt. Here's the story of how she got to be that way, on both accounts. Many, many thanks to Katy for the Brit-Pick, without which this would have lost much of its colour. So, this is a Mercury Chronicles prequel, taking place when our trio are just ikkle five-year-olds. Aww. Please enjoy.
Before there was Mercury: Audrey's Riddles.
One can't help but love Percy Weasley. Ginger, gangly thing who walked about life as though he had a broomstick lodged straight up his arse; he's just so adorable. We met completely by accident; I was a 'pap' with the Mail (yes, I know, but a job's a job) covering the 2010 Election – you remember, when that bastard Brown was sacked in favour of that bastard Cameron – and I found myself (ironically enough, as it turns out) in the doorway of No. 10 Downing Street of all places completely by accident (I was generally on the Lifestyle beat), feeling dreadfully out of place, when I see this man who couldn't look anymore official if he tried. So I ask him if it was okay that I was standing there, waiting for Mr Cameron to make some sort of appearance, and he tells me that he doesn't rightly know himself, as he's from a visiting ministry. And the best I can come up with at that moment was
"Right. Well, your English is quite good. Barely a hint of an accent at all."
And I don't know if it was the absurdity of the situation or what, but he just could barely contain himself laughing. Which caused me to laugh, first nervously as I hadn't a clue what I'd said, then more just because he was still laughing and turning quite red. After he composed himself, he extended a hand in my direction and introduces himself.
"Percy Weasley, madam. And I'm sorry about that; don't mean to laugh at an honest mistake. You were just so earnest about it." And then he smiled. And, truth be told, he was rather earnest in that smile, too, which was just terribly disarming.
"Audrey Willoughby," I replied. "Daily Mail. Er, but I've done some freelancing for the Guardian – it's just a job, you see, and – "
"Miss Willoughby?" Percy graciously interrupted, "You might want a shot of this."
And I'd no idea (well, I do now, but you understand) how it happened, but it was if time moved so slowly. There was Mr Cameron and his lovely family, and they were right there in front of my camera walking through the door to applause. The shot the Mail used was lovely – caught a few well-wishers, and the kids were adorable – and next thing I knew, it was over, and it was as if time re-started itself.
"Did you get your shot?" Percy asked, so formally I thought he might just pull a muscle. And I must have been beaming when I turned around, because his face just lit up, and I think it was there that I knew I was in trouble. Or perhaps it was when I handed him my card and he just looked at it, expecting it to move or something. But he smiled again, and said he'd be delighted to call on me, which is really quite a touching thing to hear if you've not heard it much. Having him actually call was even more of a delight.
We dated for awhile. It seemed like awhile at least, as the romance was rather quick in developing. After a few months, it became a bit disconcerting that we always wound up back at my place and not his. He was pretty smooth with his answer – that it had to do with the ministry's secrecy policy – and that made me more than a little suspicious. Firstly, Percy Weasley was never that smooth. Secondly, what could he possibly be allowed to carry home with him that would get him into trouble in the first place? Thirdly, did I mention he was never that smooth? I left it alone. I thought maybe he was living with his mum, or maybe I was a bit on the side – hey, it's always the quiet ones, you know. But I really didn't care. Percy was the most fun I'd had in ages, and I think I was starting to grow on him, too.
It was June of '11 when I found out. It had been about a week since we'd seen each other, and we arranged to meet for brunch at this place on the high street in Stoke Newington we enjoyed. Brunch was lovely, but I guess I didn't find it nearly as lovely as Percy did, because after the bill was paid he had that look in his eyes, and in a very deep voice he made it clear that we were to head back to my flat, and that he'd brook no discussion on that point. And so we did, and 45 minutes later our clothes were strewn about my sitting room and corridor, and we were lying breathless and sweaty in the June sun that was beaming in through my second-floor window, and he turns to me and says he loves me, which was really and truly the nicest thing I'd ever heard. And I told him the same, and the room suddenly felt different – chilled, kind of, and somehow tingly – and a few minutes later I'm curled up in his arm with my head on his chest when he asked me, quite softly, if I'd like to see where he lives.
"Well, sure," I say. "I mean, right. Of course. But won't you get in trouble with your ministry or whatever it was you told me?"
"At this point, they'll just have to understand," he said, and he said it with such deadly seriousness I couldn't even laugh at him trying to continue that particular deceit. So we got dressed, hoofed it to the rail station, and the poor lad had such a confused look on his face as he got to the ticketing machine that I just about died for him inside. So I pulled him aside to let others use the machine, and I said
"What station are you looking for, Percy?"
"Charing Cross, actually. Why can't I find it here?"
"Can't we just drive? We'll have to wait half an hour for the train here, then it's two different Underground lines once we get to Seven Sisters – I'll put the top down; it's a lovely day to be stuck in a jam, innit?" He thought about that for a moment.
"How's your stomach?" he asked, and while this wasn't the oddest non sequitur I'd ever heard from Percy, it was right up there.
"It's fine, I guess. Why?" Percy didn't answer me, instead dragging me behind the station to an alleyway, which made me a bit nervous.
"Do you trust me?" he asked, rather ominously. Now, normally when men ask me this question, it doesn't end well. But Percy, for all his starched-shirtedness, was anything but normal. And it was June, the sun was out, I was in love...
"Of course I trust you."
"All right. Please hold on tight, and whatever you do, don't let go." I did as he said, and as I felt a strange squeezing sensation take over my body, I understood why he asked about my stomach. Next thing I knew, we'd landed somehow or other in the middle of an immaculately apportioned sitting room that looked as though it fell out of a boys' public school photograph from 1908, so I had no worry at all that we hadn't found the right place. And then, the more I looked around, it all made sense. His over-formality, his chivalry, the way he looked rather askance at many things I said...
"So, this makes you the 12th Doctor or something, I suppose? That's fine; I didn't care much for Matt Smith in that role, anyway. And all this time I thought that was just on the telly. Who knew it was a bloody documentary...?"
"My dear, what are you talking about?" Percy asked, rather mystified.
"Well, aren't you going to tell me you're a Time Lord, and you've taken me back a hundred years or so? You know, that also explains why you're always precisely three minutes early every time you pick me up. If you could just zap yourself to whatever time you need, I mean, it makes sense, right? So then I guess it's not 'where' you live so much as 'when,' right? Don't suppose you actually need that police box looking thing, anyway. What year is it, then? And, can we – "
"Audrey, darling. Stop. You're making my brain hurt."
"Wait, I'm making your brain hurt? You're the one who brought me back in time, and –"
"I didn't bring you back in time. It's still 2011. And still Saturday, the 12th of June. Now, I am going to tell you some things that will sound like fiction, so I will need you to listen to me and listen carefully..."
And that's how Percy told me he was a wizard; an actual wizard, not just someone who smoked a bit too much ganja at Glastonbury one summer. He told me that magic was real, and that there was an entire society of people who lived quite apart from the rest of us, yet right alongside. He performed a couple of parlour tricks to prove his point, and then told me that he made his home in a section of York that's only accessible to Wizarding folk.
"Well, then. I'm sorry, Percy; I really thought this was going to work out." I got up from the couch where we'd been having this conversation. Percy was crushed on the inside, I could tell, but he did his best to maintain that stiff upper lip of his.
"I do understand. It can't possibly be easy to continue a relationship with someone who's been holding all of that in for over a year, who hasn't been able to be honest, who comes – quite literally – from a different world."
"Quite right," I said. "Although, it's not me. I'm fine with all this; honest. But my mother would simply die if she found out I was seeing a Northerner. I mean, a bit north of Watford Gap is one thing, but Yorkshire's practically in bloody Scotland as far as Mum's concerned."
It took him a moment to understand I was having him on, and I'm not entirely sure he understood even when he replied "But I grew up in Devon! Look!" He opened up his refrigerator for emphasis. "Clotted cream! Cider!"
The following weekend, or the weekend after, he brought me around to meet his parents, and I met Molly and Arthur (and Charlie, who was going through a rather painful divorce). I was warned that Arthur might have a few questions for me, being a "muggle" and all, (and it did take a bit of convincing for me not to take that as a term of disparagement). Percy was right, of course, he nearly always is, but he didn't prepare me for the type of questioning I was to get from Molly. She shooed the men out to the shed to look at what she called "Arthur's latest contraption," so that we could have some "girl talk," which is when I knew I was in trouble.
"Young lady, exactly what are your intentions regarding my son?" was her opener. I was speechless, of course.
"I mean, honestly. At your age, living in a London flat, no husband, no children, never been married. When I was 38, I'd already put one child through his NEWTs, with six of them waiting in the wings."
"Suppose I 'aven't found the right –"
"Suppose you've been a bit of a career girl to get about looking then, what? You expect me to believe a London career girl's going to be able to take care of my Percy?"
Now, I may have lived in a posh part of town by '11, but one didn't grow up in Souf Lunnon in the '80s just to listen to some West Country hausfrau prattle on about her precious baby boy who was quite old enough to make his own decisions, thank you very much.
"Right. Now you just look 'ere a minute. Percy 'n' me, we're 'appy, see? And 'e's a man what can take care of 'imself. Now I reckon you had somfin t'do wivat, but I ain' goin' to put up wiv –" I kept my voice down, but I do believe my point was made.
"Oh, you'll do nicely." Molly cut me off, smiling. "You should have seen the last girl Percy brought by – bit of a shrinking violet that one. Penelope was her name, I think. Anyway, my dear, Percy's quite fond of you, you know. I just want to make sure he's in good hands. Now, have you ever had elf-made wine?"
"So, that was some kind of a test, then?" I asked, adrenalin still running through my veins.
"Just a mother looking after her son, dear," Molly replied. "Let me just get you a goblet."
"Right. Well, Percy did mention having a sister who's married; I don't want to know what that poor bloke had to go through."
Molly chuckled a bit. "Oh, Harry? Well, that's a story for another time, Audrey. Suffice it to say he went through plenty. Perhaps you should ask Percy about him. Actually, that would be quite a good idea indeed..."
It was only four months after I passed Molly Weasley's test that Percy proposed.
We had a party to celebrate – a big "meet the Muggle" event hosted (quite naturally) at the Burrow. This was the first time I met the whole gang, except for Victoire, who'd just started her second year at Hogwarts. Mum was invited, of course, but she wasn't sure she wanted to meet a 20-person family and an entire secret Magical society all in one afternoon, and I don't suppose I could blame her. There was a certain ritual to these get-togethers; the kids would play three-a-side Quidditch on toy brooms in the garden, the men would be in the sitting room enjoying some firewhiskey, the women would be in the kitchen, unsuccessfully trying to help Molly get the meal together, and Molly would shoo them back to the table one after another. Not knowing any of the women, I did my best to sit with Percy, but the awkward silences in the middle of stories got a bit much after a while. So I moved over to the kitchen, showed off my ring, while trying to come up with some way to explain Percy's proposal that was in any way clever or romantic. This bought me 20 minutes or so, but a wand in my hands is nothing more than a well-polished stick, so I felt a bit useless sitting there while the rest of the Weasley Wives tried to lend a hand.
The children's Quidditch game had ended, so I wandered out to see if I could make a friend or two with the children. Dominique had been watching Hugo and Lily (Louis's arrival was still several years off, then), and taking her job very seriously, which left her no time at all for conversation. Albus and Rose, even at five, were watching the proceedings with a rather amused and sceptical look on their little faces. But James, Roxie and Freddy were having a ball, rolling on the ground laughing at something.
"Hi there. So, what's got the three of you giggling like that?" I asked, friendly as I could.
Freddy (quite naturally, being unafraid of anything) piped up. "Oh, it's Martin Miggs. You know Martin Miggs, right? I mean, they had him around when you were young too, or so my dad says."
"Actually, I don't know Martin Miggs at all."
"Oh, it's a comic book, you see. About this muggle, and all the mad things he does. It's called 'Martin Miggs, the Mad Muggle.' Are you sure you've never heard of it?"
I chuckled a bit. They had comics about us, did they? "No, Freddy, I've not seen that at all. Mind if I take a look?"
The kids budged over, and I got my first look at a Wizarding comic book. The pictures moved, but Percy had shown me some Wizarding photographs, so I was prepared for that. And Mr Miggs certainly was mad; he danced around the page as if he'd drank far too much coffee, wore a silly beret and a striped shirt one generally finds on folks who've just been to Normandy for the first time, and kept shouting 'The bottom's fallen out of the Foot Sea!' and other such misspelled non-sequiturs at his dog, Pepe.
"Do you suppose this is really how they act, then? The muggles, I mean." I asked the three of them. They looked at me as though I'd sprouted a second head.
"Never met an actual muggle," James said. "But I'd think it'd be wicked to meet one!" Freddy and Roxie emphatically shook their heads in agreement. I couldn't help myself.
"Well, children. I've heard that there just might be an actual muggle here at the Burrow today. Wouldn't that be something?" Oh, how their little faces just lit up.
"Ooh! Really? Can we meet him?" was the general chorus. I bit my bottom lip to keep from blowing my cover.
"I suppose," I answered. "But you'll have to ask your parents, and I imagine they'll want you to be on your best behaviour, right?" They quieted down for a split second, then Roxie's face lit back up, and she grabbed the boys by the hand as the three of them tore off for the house. I chuckled a bit to myself as I picked up the comic book and leafed through it. There was a broad "tsk" from where Dominique was sitting with the toddlers. I looked over at Rose and Albus, and they were ambling towards me, holding hands.
"You're the muggle, right, Aunt Audrey?" Rose asked, timidly.
I put my finger to my lips. "Yes, sweetie, I am. But let's keep that a secret from that lot, right? We'll see how long it takes them to suss that out."
"I never cared for Martin Miggs," Albus offered. "He always seemed too dumb to be real. That's probably why James and them like him so much. You're not like him at all."
"Albus, right?" I asked. He smiled and nodded. "And that makes you..."
"Rosie," she said, confidently. "And everyone calls him 'Al.'"
"Well, Al and Rosie, how long do you think it'll take before those three find the muggle?"
"What does the winner get?" Albus asked. I liked these kids already.
"Winner gets some actual muggle sweets the next time I come to visit," I replied, and they placed their wagers. Turned out that shortly before George and Angelina left for the evening, I had to come clean to the three of them, who'd been asking all during supper "When's the muggle getting here? I want to see his dog!" to general laughter. I flashed a wink to Albus and Rose, and even managed to eke a smile out of Dominique.
Percy caught me as we exited the Floo at his York flat. It would take years before I'd get the hang of magical travel.
"Those were George's kids you pranked back there, Aud," he said, after we'd sat down and caught our breath. "Dead proud of you, I am." And he kissed me solidly on the mouth.