Disclaimer: Characters and places are the property of J.K. Rowling.
Dear Penny, 28 June
I've just had an owl from the Ministry. Who do you suppose they want as the new junior officer in the Department for International Magical Cooperation? Of course, it is only a beginning position, but I have high hopes of advancing quickly within the department. The head of the department, Bartemius Crouch, was once in line to be Minister of Magic. Some sort of personal unpleasantness prevented him from attaining the position, but I am sure he would be more than willing to mentor me in the same path he was unable to walk himself. This is the beginning for me, Penny.
I do not have time for more right now. Mr. Crouch requires me to begin work right away. The Department is currently overrun, what with the Quidditch World Cup being only a month and a half away. I am not sure how much time I will have for letters this summer, but I shall strive to write you as soon as possible.
Penelope Clearwater fingered the well-worn edges of the letter as she reread it again. I shall strive to write you as soon as possible. Penelope sighed. Three weeks later and she had not received another letter from him.
Most girls her age would have taken offense at such obvious neglect from their boyfriends. But Penelope was very different from most girls. She knew herself to be above such petty selfishness, and felt no anger or resentment towards Percy. Being the one person in the world who truly understood Percy (as well as his ambitions), she did not begrudge him for throwing himself headlong into his work at the Ministry. In fact, she was happy for him.
Despite this, she could not help wishing he would write. It was hard for her to be apart from him, and without letters the separation was almost unbearable. She missed him. It was odd to think that he was not going to be at school with her next year. She hoped that by that time, with the Quidditch World Cup over, Percy would be able to find much more time for letter writing. This thought, more than anything else, had been sustaining her all summer.
A grumbling from her stomach reminded Penelope it was past noon. She got up off her bed and opened the door. Her room was on the second floor of the house, right next to the top of the stairs. She could hear the sounds of her parents in the kitchen from the doorway, and briefly debated going downstairs at all. Another grumble from her stomach convinced her it was worth risking an argument and Penelope started down the stairs.
Her parents were decent people. Dr. Henry Clearwater was a professor of literature at a small private college just outside of London. He believed in three things: Shakespeare, Donne, and Longfellow. Although the literature he loved expressed the deepest emotions and tenderness, Dr. Clearwater was a stern and severe man. He had never understood his daughter and, despite the fact that in his heart he cared deeply for her well being, he had never given Penelope the slightest indication that he loved her at all. The only affection Penelope had received growing up had come from her mother, Mary Clearwater. In contrast to her husband, Mrs. Clearwater had an affable personality and her love was freely given to everyone. However, her constitution was weak, making her an extremely fickle person. She could hardly make up her mind from one moment to the next, which resulted in Henry usually making it up for her.
When Penelope had received her first Hogwarts letter, her parents had been reluctant to accept the truth about their daughter. Dr. Clearwater had been sure it was a joke and had dismissed it as nonsense. Mrs. Clearwater readily agreed and the matter had been settled. A few days later, a Hogwarts official, Professor Sinistra, had arrived to explain that the letter was no joke, that Penelope was a witch and that the opportunity to study at Hogwarts was not to be missed. Penelope was never quite sure how Professor Sinistra managed to convince her dad to let her attend. She imagined it was by appealing to his deep love of learning, but perhaps magic was involved as well. Whatever the case, Penelope had been permitted to go, although she knew her parents still had doubts and certainly had no interest in the magical education Penelope was receiving.
Their lack of interest had abruptly ceased during Penelope's fifth year. After the attack she suffered in March, the school informed Penelope's parents what had happened to her. Since she was Petrified at the time, Penelope had no clue what their initial reaction had been, but she felt the ramifications of it that summer. Every day her father insisted that she would not be going to that dangerous, ridiculous school, and every day Penelope insisted that nothing they could do would keep her away. The arguing was constant, and Penelope nearly wore out her door from slamming it so much. Her dad never gave his consent for her to go back, but on first September Penelope left from Platform Nine and Three Quarters just the same.
This summer had been much milder. Penelope had almost expected to get the door slammed in her face when she showed up, but her dad had let her in for reasons known only to him. Although they were giving her room and board, Penelope quickly discovered that her parents could pretend she did not exist. They had not spoken more than three sentences to her nearly all summer. She supposed it was better than the screaming, but it made her very lonely.
"Good afternoon," Penelope said, feigning cheerfulness as she entered the kitchen. Her mum glanced up from her sandwich and almost smiled at Penelope. Her dad, on the other hand, kept his back to her and grunted unpleasantly.
Stifling a sigh, Penelope opened the refrigerator and pulled out some cold cuts. Reaching over for the bread, she paused as her eye caught something outside the window. For a second, her heart speeded up as she realized it was an owl flapping desperately to hover in the air outside the window. But a moment later her pulse subsided. The large gray barn owl was definitely not from him. With a backward glance at her parents, who openly despised the wizarding form of communication, Penelope opened the window and took the letter from the owl.
It was a thick parchment envelope and addressed in green writing. "I've just got my letter from Hogwarts," Penelope informed her parents as she broke the seal. She was not sure what made her say it. Maybe she was venting some of her frustration at her recent disappointment, or maybe she was sick of being ignored. Whatever the reason, she had just said the one thing certain to get a rise out of her dad.
"Oh," said Mrs. Clearwater, for lack of a better response. Dr. Clearwater simply made a noise in his throat that sounded almost like a growl. Penelope watched as his shoulders tensed up and waited for him to turn around in anger. But he just sat there in furious silence, so Penelope pulled out the sheets of parchment within the envelope. Something clattered to the floor. Bending down, Penelope picked up the shiny metal badge and felt her jaw drop as she read the words "Head Girl" on it.
"I've made Head Girl," she breathed in utter disbelief. She never thought she would make Head Girl. Allison Freed, from Gryffindor, was always the top of the class. And Marci Spenser, a Hufflepuff prefect, was a favorite with all the Professors, including the Headmaster, whom most students never saw. How on earth had she made Head Girl?
But she knew the answer even before the question was formulated properly in her head. Percy. He had shown her how much a person could accomplish when she set her mind to it. Being with him made her want to be a better student, better prefect, better person. He had given her the push she needed to make herself stand out last year. This badge belonged to him as much as it did to her. More than anything else, at that moment, she wanted to see him. See his face light up with pride when she told him. She wanted to look up and find him there, smiling at her.
When she did look up, however, she saw no smiles. Her dad had turned around and was looking at her with an expression that clearly told her if she said one more word about Hogwarts there was going to be trouble. But Mrs. Clearwater was looking at Penelope directly. Her earnest gaze promoted Penelope to spill forth all she was feeling in an excited babble. "It's an important honor. Only one girl in the whole class is awarded it. You have to be outstanding in your classes. I'll be a leader at school next year. All the students will look up to me." She paused for breath and no one said a word. Finally Penelope exclaimed, "Aren't you even a little bit happy for me?"
"Happy?" Dr. Clearwater finally erupted. "Happy? Over something that came from that blasted school of yours?"
"Dad, this is the culmination of everything that's happened since I got my first Hogwarts letter. Please," Penelope pleaded, "just celebrate-"
Dr. Clearwater interrupted her. "Why would I want to celebrate the memory of the worst day of my life? Ever since you got accepted to that school-"
"Hogwarts is the best thing that ever happened to me! I can be who I really am there, something I could never be with you! You never understood me," Penelope yelled, tears starting to prick her eyes.
"You're right. I didn't. I still don't," he told her coldly. Penelope knew he would say that, but she had wanted him to deny it. It was hard to believe he could hurt her that much. She looked to her mother for support, but Mrs. Clearwater was looking down at her hands, her face a blank slate.
"I don't understand you either," Penelope said, childishly determined to have the last word on the matter. Then, clutching her letter tightly in one hand and her badge in the other, she ran out of the kitchen and back up to her room.
Slamming the door, Penelope flung herself on the bed. She cried bitterly into her pillow, wishing she were not Muggleborn. Wishing she had parents who cared. Wishing they were more understanding. Wishing they would support her decisions.
But even in the wizarding world, wishes do not get you anywhere. After a few minutes, Penelope sat up, wiping her red eyes. Her gaze fell upon the letter still left out on her desk. She had to see someone right now who would rejoice with her; someone who would understand what it meant to her to be the top witch in her class; someone who cared about her. She needed to see Percy.
Two weeks ago, Penelope had turned seventeen. For every teenager witch or wizard, turning seventeen means having the freedom to do magic whenever he or she wants. For Penelope, it also meant that she was no longer completely isolated from the world she loved. She could bring that world right into her very own bedroom.
She could also venture forth into the wizarding world any time she wanted. On her birthday, Penelope had gone down to the Ministry to get her Apparition License. She knew where the visitors' entrance was and how to use it. She could be there in a matter of seconds.
Her mind made up, Penelope jumped off her bed, grabbed her wand from the bedside table and Disapparated with a loud pop.
Penelope entered the atrium of the Ministry, self-consciously fingering the badge on her chest that said Penelope Clearwater, Personal Visit. She walked purposefully to the security desk, dodging in between various Ministry officials who were returning to work from lunch. The wizard behind the desk was engrossed in a newspaper article.
Penelope started speaking briskly to him. "I'm here to visit Per-"
"Wand please," he interrupted, holding out his hand without looking up from the paper. Penelope readily handed it over. Dropping the wand onto an odd scale, he then picked up a golden rod. "Step over here," he said, for the first time glancing up from the paper. As soon as Penelope was close enough, he lazily ran the rod over her front. Meanwhile, the scale was printing out a slip of parchment. Grabbing it, he read, " Nine inches, dragon-heartstring core, been in use six years. That your wand?" Penelope nodded. Handing the wand back to her, he picked up his paper and resumed his reading.
"Thank you," Penelope said as she joined the throng of Ministry officials heading through the golden gates towards the lifts. She entered the first available lift and listened carefully for the Department for International Magical Cooperation. Once the lift hit level five, Penelope wiggled her way out, dodging a paper airplane memo as it zoomed into the lift.
The Ministry, Penelope had decided on her previous visit, was controlled chaos. There were witches and wizards running everywhere, cubicles set up in a sort of random hodge-podge around any department and constant streams of Interdepartmental memos filling the air. She supposed it must make sense to the employees (otherwise Percy would go crazy in a place like this) but, to her, it was disorienting.
She walked down the hallway out of the lift, not sure where she was going or how she would even find Percy. As she walked, she caught snippets of conversations, some of which seemed to be work related, "I need that report by Friday!" and some of which were not, "Rosco, does this make my bottom look big?" Penelope giggled at that comment, made by a sizable witch who was flirting with a very frightened looking wizard.
Finally, Penelope turned a corner into a milder section of the department. There was less chatter here and the desks were spaced evenly throughout the room, not hidden behind cubicles. A quick scan was all she needed to locate Percy; his red hair gave him away immediately.
Her heart was in her throat the minute she saw him. It had been more than a month since their good-bye at Kings Cross and Penelope swelled at just being able to see him again. She wanted to touch him and make sure he was really there. After weeks of loneliness, she was ready to feel wanted again.
She approached him quickly, practically running the last few steps. With a huge smile on her face, she greeted him warmly, "Percy, surprise!"
Starting a bit, Percy looked up from the papers on his desk. His jaw went slack and his eyes widened with surprise behind his glasses. Penelope smiled a bit wider and waited for the shock to get over. Shaking his head a bit, Percy recovered himself and stood up. Penelope noticed that he still was not smiling.
"Penny, what are you doing here?" he asked, his voice low.
"I came to visit you," she said, slightly confused. "Aren't you going to hug me?"
Percy glanced around. A few of the workers at nearby desks were watching them. "It's, uh, frowned upon. Public displays of affection, I mean."
"Oh, right. Of course. That makes sense," Penelope said, although she felt a bit dejected.
"Penny, you know, visiting me at work isn't a good idea. I've very busy right now," Percy came around the desk and started to guide her out of the room.
"I understand, Percy. You said in your last letter-"
"Is that why you're here?" Percy asked, his voice sounded almost annoyed. "Because I haven't written. I told you-"
"No, that's not it at all," Penelope interrupted, feeling something unpleasant settle in her stomach. "I know that you're busy and I'm happy that your job is going so well. You've always wanted to work for the Ministry." Penelope reached her hand up to place it on Percy's cheek. "I'm so proud of you."
Percy moved quickly out of reach of her hand. He looked down, almost as though he was embarrassed. After a deep breath, he looked back up at her. Something in his expression made the feeling in her stomach worse. "I think you need to know-"
Penelope interrupted him again. "I came here," she said desperate to move past whatever he was about to say, "to tell you that I made Head Girl."
There was silence between them for a long time. Then he finally spoke in a grave voice, "Congratulations. It's a great honor."
Tears came to her eyes again. "Can't you even look happy for me? My parents couldn't be happy...but I thought you, at least, would be." Percy said nothing, so Penelope starting spilling out the pain that had been building up inside her. "I'm so alone there, Percy. It's eating away at me, living at that house. My dad can't even look at me anymore. My mum hardly says anything. I hate it. I just want to move out, get away. Please help me, Percy. Please get me out of there."
"We're only going out - I didn't sign up for a lifetime supply of your problems. I really don't have time for this," he replied coldly, avoiding her earnest gaze.
Penelope felt her heart catch in her throat. He had never said anything that painful to her before. "Don't have time for what?" Penelope asked when she could finally speak again. She lowered her voice, "To help me? Or to love me?"
"I've been meaning to tell you for the last few weeks. But you can't write something like that in a letter. I'm sorry, Penny," he said, his voice a little less cold. "It's just not working out anymore."
"Because you're not trying. If you'd just write me-" Penelope said desperately.
"Penny, it's not just that. I need to focus on my goals. I can't have our relationship draining my energy."
"Please, Percy, don't do this," she begged him. "I know you still love me." He looked up sharply at this. "Don't you?" she asked timidly.
He looked away again, in pain or regret or embarrassment...Penelope did not know for sure. "I'm so sorry, Penny," he said, looking very contrite.
Penelope gave a sob, not wanting his sympathy. "I can't believe your stupid job is more important than me," she said in quiet anger.
"I thought you were happy for me. Proud of me," Percy said defensively.
"Percy Weasley, if you love a job more than you love the only person who really knows you, than you have nothing to be proud of. I'm the one who should be sorry. Sorry I wasted so much time on someone so unworthy of love." And for the second time that day, Penelope Clearwater ran out of a room in tears.