"Where have you been?" Percy scolded Hermes as the owl sailed through the door of his small office and scattered the papers on his desk. Percy smiled and rubbed the soft feathers on Hermes' neck. "You don't fool me, old chap. I know what you've been up to and I can't say that I blame you. I'd rather be with her, too."
The owl let out an angry screech and eyed Percy in a dignified sort of way.
The fire in his grate was beginning to burn low. It must be almost nine o'clock. The door to Fudge's private office was behind Percy's desk and it had been locked for almost two hours. The Minister kept to a rigid scheduled, while Madam Umbridge had the odd habit of appearing when you least expected it. He was sure she was lurking somewhere.
Percy pushed Hermes to the side and straightened his papers. "Sorry, we can't go home quite yet. I have to finish copying these last few notes."
He sighed and looked down at his fingers. He was sure they were permanently stained with ink. When he had first accepted this assignment within the Order, he had visions of excitement and danger, sneaking around in an invisibility cloak and rifling through desks. Instead, all he did was keep notes. If Cornelius Fudge said it, Percy had it on paper. It was boring and tedious and Professor Dumbledore assured him, it would one day be important.
Sometimes, he could not resist goading Fudge into more outlandish statements. It just made things more interesting, and the right encouraging remark worked wonders. However, tonight things weren't interesting at all. His usually neat handwriting was beginning to look messy and the letters on the page were beginning to blur.
If he just rested his eyes for a minute, maybe just a moment, he - would - be - able - to -
He was sitting on a park bench in the middle of Snape's classroom. Beetles were flying around the ceiling singing a pleasant rhythmic song.
Penelope was there and she was beautiful. A light breeze lifted her hair and pushed at the fabric of her gauzy white blouse. She walked toward him, straddled his lap and began to kiss him. He slipped his hands underneath her shirt and she made lovely breathy sounds as she moved slowly against him. It was bliss.
A flash of red caught his eye and Percy froze. Ginny sat at a desk, twirling her hair with a quill.
"What are you doing here?"
"Oh don't mind me," she smiled. "I'm just here to watch."
"Watch? Are you crazy?!"
"Oh, not at all. You set my example, Percy."
"And what an example it is!" said Fred, who along with George, was taking notes on a long piece of parchment across the room. "Don't worry, Perce. We're logging your every move."
"Consider it product research!"said George. "We're developing a new line of -"
"Stop it boys," Molly Weasley scolded as she sat knitting a sweater from her rocking chair. "You are doing beautifully, Percy. I am so proud of you. Just don't be afraid to use two hands on that bra strap, son."
"Ignore them," Penelope whispered as she undid a button and kissed down his neck.
Percy felt uncontrollable panic rising from within. "I can't ignore them!"
"Wrong answer, Weatherby." Mr. Crouch was now sitting next to them on the park bench drinking a cup of tea.
Percy jumped to his feet, knocking Penelope to the floor. "GO AWAY!"
"Percy, how could you?" she cried, looking up with a tear-stained face before disappearing with a "pop".
"Penelope, wait! Not you! Please, don't leave me!" he screamed frantically.
Fred and George rose to their feet with applause, as the beetles swooped down into his face.
Percy's eyes jerked open to the sight of black ink spilling across his desk and a moth fluttering around his candle. He had knocked the well over. He reached for his wand to repair the damage and Hermes eyed him sternly.
"I think I'm going to have to see her, Herm," he sighed.
A paper airplane marked "Urgent, Minister of Magic" sailed onto his desk. He opened it out and smoothed the folds. It was from Mafalda Hopkirk, in the Improper Use of Magic Office. Percy's eyes skimmed the page. It was Harry. He had performed a Patronus. But how could this be? Harry was supposed to have guards following him. Something was dangerously wrong.
Percy opened his bottom drawer, took out the Phoenix feather quill and wrote quickly.
Harry has performed a Patronus in front of a Muggle. Hopkirk is on her way to the Minister's office.
As he wrote the words they disappeared from the page. He had just enough time to replace his quill before Umbridge was standing in his office. "This just arrived Madame Umbridge. It seems Potter has performed a Patronus."
Umbridge snatched the paper from Percy's hand and he could have sworn a smile flit across her ugly face. "This is serious, Weasley. You must notify the Minister. The boy is finally showing his true colors, egotistical and unbalanced -- not a pretty combination."
Percy shook his head, "Blatant disregard for the law." He scratched out a Floo message to Fudge and tossed it into the fire, calling "Ministerial Mansion" into the flames.
Hopkirk Apparated into the office with a "pop." She was a large witch who towered above Umbridge, but she was always pleasant in a matter-of-fact sort of way.
"Unbelievable. Did I not predict it, Mafalda? I told you it was only a matter of time." Umbridge waved the memo in the air.
"Yes," Hopkirk nodded gravely. "It is a serious offense."
"We must go immediately and destroy the boy's wand. We have no idea what he could do next," Umbridge said.
"Excuse me, Madam Umbridge, but don't you think we should wait on the Minister?" Percy questioned.
"The Minister is here." Fudge emerged from his office door. He was wearing a smoking jacket and carrying his pipe. "What's the word Weasley?"
"It's Harry Potter, sir. Improper use of Magic."
"Well, well, well..." Fudge bit his pipe and rubbed his hands together. "Mafalda, what's our intelligence report?"
Hopkirk handed the Minister a roll of parchment, which he unrolled and read while he paced the room. "We've got him." Fudge rolled the parchment back up with glee. "We're fortunate it happened so quickly. This will totally discredit the boy and we'll be able to keep him away from Dumbledore. Stop their power-mongering dead in its tracks. Malfalda, send Potter a notice right away that he is expelled from Hogwarts and that we will be destroying his wand shortly."
Hopkirk nodded then Disapparated.
"Well done, Minister. The public will be relieved," Umbridge cooed.
"Yes, yes," Fudge clapped Percy on the back. "Let's draft a press release, my boy. Ministry saddened. Offers Potter mental health services."
"Yes sir. Excellent sir." Percy scrambled for a quill and began to jot down notes.
"Send an owl to St. Mungo's too, Weasley. Potter could take a rest there for a bit. He could do a nice photo-op right next to Gilderoy Lockhart, don't you think?" They all laughed. Umbridge seemed so overcome that she fanned her face with her chubby hand.
"Isn't it a little early to contact the press, Cornelius?"Albus Dumbledore stood in a corner of the office.
Fudge inhaled too deeply on his pipe and smoke leaked from his ears causing a hacking round of coughs. Percy quickly conjured a tall glass of water for Fudge and Umbridge turned pale, her sharp teeth clenched. "Dumbledore?" Fudge wheezed. "What are you doing here? How dare you barge into our private..."
"I am sorry to intrude, Cornelius, but I am aware of Harry Potter's circumstances tonight. The boy is in severe danger, you must not take away his wand." Dumbledore spoke calmly but there was something threatening in his voice.
"The boy has broken the law and he will face the consequences. My job is to uphold the rule of law and protect our citizens, Dumbledore. Harry Potter is a reckless threat to our safety," Fudge snarled. He seemed to recover himself and thrust the empty glass back at Percy. "Our intelligence report is not mistaken, Dumbledore. The level of the boy's offense is quite high."
"You're not the only one with intelligence, Cornelius. I've been keeping a close watch on Harry," Dumbledore said calmly.
"Well, then you must agree that casting a Patronus tonight in front of a Muggle is..."
"I shall wait to hear Harry's explanation as I'm sure you will," Dumbledore smiled.
"What possible explanation could there be? The law is clear and he has broken it," Fudge raged.
"Is the famous Harry Potter above the law, Dumbledore?" Umbridge smiled sweetly. "Are we going to have two sets of rules for our citizens? One set for those born to privilege and another for the common wizard?"
Percy raised his eyebrows. He had to admit it, she was a sly creature.
"No, of course not. If Harry has broken the law he must be punished. But don't exclude his rights. The ministry does not have the power to confiscate wands unless charges have been successfully proven. Perhaps we should consult with Amelia Bones about appropriate procedure."
The top of Fudge's round head turned bright red. "Potter and trouble seem to go hand in hand, Dumbledore. You cannot believe the Ministry will allow him to continue at Hogwarts."
"The Ministry has no business in whether or not students continue at Hogwarts. Harry's discipline there is my determination," Dumbledore said coolly.
"We shall see about that," Fudge fumed. "Weasley, go get Mafalda Hopkirk back in this office and tell her to bring copies of the Statute of Secrecy and the Underage Sorcery Decree."
"Yes sir, right away sir." Percy nodded and practically ran from the room, at the door to the Executive Suite he was met by Amelia Bones.
"Hello Percy. Where is the Minister?"
"He's in the outer office with Madam Umbridge and Professor Dumbledore." She strode toward the door, and knocked twice before entering. Percy could hear their voices as he headed toward the lift.
Halfway down the hall, he paused. Standing in the shadows of an empty office was a tall figure with glasses. He inclined his head toward the figure but didn't look, then pushed the button on the lift. This had all been too close, but for tonight he knew Harry would be safe.
Penelope stood in her tiny kitchen and tried, once again, to figure out how to make everything fit. She had designated one cabinet for potion ingredients, one for potion storage, one for cauldrons, pots and scales, and one for actual food. That left no place for dishes, glasses, or table linens. There was simply not enough space.
She was going to have to purchase a cupboard, that was all there was to it. She just refused to give up space for her potions. Professor Snape had taught her well and now that she was starting at St. Mungo's she needed an extensive inventory.
It was almost midnight. She knew she should stop and go to bed, but it irked her to leave the job unfinished.
She had found her little flat through a healer at St. Mungo's. It sat above the garage on his estate. There was a similar space above the garage at Clearwater Manor, but they had always used it for storage. Here, she had a sitting room that opened into her kitchen, a small bath and a separate bedroom. Grandmother had allowed her to bring some pieces from home and she had shrunk her four-poster, a love seat and cushioned chair, and a few small tables, bringing them to London in her purse.
She purchased a rug, some embroidered pillows, and a lovely wizard pastoral for above the mantel, which showed some cows grazing in a meadow. When she brought the painting home, the cows had been off on a distant hill, their bells making soft clinking sounds, but she found on her first night that they could move to the front of the picture and become quite noisy. She managed to scare them back by jumping around in front of the frame and shouting 'shoo, shoo'. All in all, she felt quite good about her first decorating venture. Her flat was warm and feminine and was much more to her taste than the gothic style of Hogwarts.
Still, even surrounded by things she loved, she sometimes felt lonely. She was definitely on her own now. No Ravenclaw girlfriends, no sweet Professor Flitwick, and no Percy.
She sighed as she looked at her favorite photograph of the two of them together. Oliver had taken it during the Head Boy and Head Girl Party at the end of Percy's seventh year. She had been so proud of Percy that night. It had been a splendid party. Granted, they both had a little too much to drink. Somehow, for just a minute, she had ended up riding around the room on Percy's back and Oliver (much to Percy's later embarrassment) had had a camera.
Her photographic self leaned over Percy's shoulder and kissed his cheek, as he smiled, looking flushed and happy. The only problem was, whenever Percy in the photo caught anyone looking at the two of them, he promptly carried photographic Penelope behind the frame. "Come back, silly, it's just me," she said, stroking the picture with her finger.
A sharp breeze caught her curtains and she heard a loud thump and a moan from her back yard. Her heart stopped and she felt a cold rush of fear. She was all alone. She could Apparate away but then she wouldn't know when to come back. Her mind raced with safety precautions and she gripped her wand tightly in her right hand and reached slowly for a bottle of fire potion with her left. Moving as quietly as possible she crept toward the back door. Her hand was just reaching for the knob when Hermes flew through the open window.
"Hermes, you're back! Herm, I think someone is in my back yard."
The owl hooted and tapped her back door with its beak. Penelope grabbed her wand tightly and cracked open the door. Percy was sitting at the bottom of her back steps smiling sheepishly up at her.
"I think I sprained my ankle when I landed."
"Yeah, I followed Hermes here."
Penelope rushed down the steps and pulled off Percy's shoe and sock. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes.
"It's swelling but I can fix it. Can you stand?"
"Yeah, I'm okay."
"Lean on me and try not to put too much weight on it."
Penelope helped him maneuver up the steps but he stopped halfway. "Wait --I forgot, before we go any further, you must ask me something only I know."
"Are you kidding?"
Percy grabbed Penelope's arm tightly and spoke to her intensely, "No, I'm serious. This is very important and you should get into the habit. Never, ever go with me or take me into your flat without making me answer. If I refuse, or tease you or answer incorrectly, Apparate away from me, immediately. Do you understand me, Penelope?"
"Okay, Okay, I understand."
Percy sat on the steps, "Ask me now."
"Um, alright," she muttered as she sat down beside him. "How much did I pay you for the infamous Ravenclaw-Gryffindor Quidditch bet?"
Percy grinned. "Nothing. I lost my winnings on a second bet later that night."
Penelope giggled. "Hello, Percy Weasley."
"Hello love. But Pen, you've got to do the same thing now. I've got to ask you a question."
"Who's the chauffeur at Clearwater Manor?"
"Phillip, of course. Can we go inside now and fix your ankle?"
Penelope pulled Percy into the sitting room then brought in a small cauldron of hot water into which she poured a bright blue powder.
"Soak in this," she instructed as she settled herself on the floor in front of him.
"Ah, so this is what you are learning at St. Mungo's?" he said as she carefully rolled up the leg of his trousers.
"Don't be ridiculous. Your mother could do this."
"Yes, but it wouldn't be as much fun."
"So, why are you here?"
"I had a hard day and I missed you."
"Why did you have a hard day?"
"I can't really tell you."
Penelope sniffed and frowned, "I thought we didn't have secrets."
Percy looked down then looked back up sadly. "I can leave if you want."
"Don't be a prat. How's your ankle now?" She wrapped his foot in a fluffy towel before he set it on the floor.
"Excellent," Percy wiggled his toes and removed his other shoe.
Penelope rose to take her cauldron back to the kitchen, "Do you like my flat?"
"I do. It's very, um, floral."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It's good. I'm just not used to so many pretty things. My flat's pretty dull, but it does have a great view."
Percy stood and for the first time truly looked at Penelope's things. He wandered toward an open door and stopped in awe. Her four-poster stood covered with soft white pillows and a white goose down duvet. He felt her approach behind him and she slipped her hand into his and gave it a squeeze. "It's very comfortable, much better than park benches and blankets. Would you like to give it a try?"
He nodded slowly.
They moved silently to the bed and lay down flat on their backs, staring straight up at the ceiling for a full minute.
"Penelope, this is indeed a very comfortable bed."
"I'm so glad you approve."
"I think we should sleep in this bed."
"Well, it definitely can be used for that purpose."
He turned to her and her eyes were soft and warm. "Can you think of any other purposes?"
"Mmm...maybe one or two...."
Carefully, he reached out and traced the curve of her shoulder, her neck, her lips. She was real, not a dream. The only sound was her breath, the only movement the rise and fall of her chest. His life was filled with deceptions, but here with her, was truth.
"What are you thinking?" she whispered.
"I'm just thinking about a dream I had."
She pulled away his glasses, gently smoothing the crinkles from the bridge of his nose.
"Was it like this?"
"No," he smiled as everything dimmed but her. "This is better than dreaming."