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Chapter 2: II
Isolation had a vastly different effect on a person when it was imposed by circumstance rather than choice. In the day-to-day particulars Percy supposed his life was no different than it had been before - only now he couldn’t believe that he’d willingly brought this on himself. When at home, he went through a lot of books, stared at his blank walls for far longer than any sane person should, and spent a great deal of time inside his own head, which was an unpleasant but rather unavoidable place to be.
At work they persisted in their attempt to torture him slowly through dry, meaningless tasks interspersed with express and implied threats against his safety and that of the people he cared about. All of Percy’s energy went into appearing neutral at all times. That it was exhausting was the least of his turmoil. It took a special sort of person to stand by quietly and watch while twelve year-old Muggle-borns were dragged through the Atrium crying as they were taken to be interrogated, and an even rarer person to sit there and force an apathetic expression on his face in response to remarks about the possible fates of his parents and siblings.
He went back and forth between telling himself that he had options and was just too cowardly to pursue them, and assuring himself that any attempt to change the state of things would be akin to imposing his own death sentence - and how was he ever supposed to be useful or helpful if he was dead?
But, Percy realized one day, danger and rashness had become relative terms.
He was standing in Yaxley’s office, taking notes as Yaxley dictated a number of new orders and assignments, when Yaxley stopped abruptly in mid-sentence, staring over Percy’s shoulder at the doorway. Percy turned to see a bald, paunchy man he recognized as a member of the Minister’s staff, poking his head into the office and looking slightly out of breath.
The man was looking at Yaxley. “We have a situation. On level ten. Urgent.”
Yaxley swore, but immediately strode around his desk and headed for the door. The other man’s head disappeared as he took off back down the corridor.
“Back to your office, Weasley,” Yaxley threw out dismissively as he followed close on the heels of his colleague.
Percy finished jotting down a few notes, took two steps out the door, then stopped, staring after Yaxley’s retreating back. Yaxley was halfway to the lifts already. A ridiculous idea caught hold of him.
“Don’t be psychotic,” he muttered to himself, starting for his own office again.
But he only took a few slow steps, stopping again after Yaxley had disappeared into the lift. Percy listened for a moment - everything was fairly quiet. If the situation, whatever it was, required Yaxley’s intervention, that meant anybody else important and in command would be down on level ten as well. The only people left would be subordinate staff.
He looked up and down the corridor, then turned and slid back into Yaxley’s office.
“So stupid, so stupid,” he told himself. But he was resolved. Taking a deep breath, he looked up at the ceiling and whispered grudgingly, “I think I’d be willing to come to an understanding if you give me just two minutes.”
He had the good sense to summon a report from his office that was almost entirely completed, so that if anyone asked he could claim to be dropping it off for Yaxley’s approval. Then, with his heart pounding, he began looking - for what, he had absolutely no idea. Anything.
The endeavor was largely fruitless, as he knew it would be, and he became frustrated quickly. After about thirty seconds of looking through stacks containing meaningless administrative and personnel documents - very, very carefully so that nothing would appear to have been disturbed - he muttered, “Two minutes and anything vaguely effing helpful would be nice.”
But of course, there was nothing. There were a few locked file cabinets in the back of the office, but Percy wasn’t even going to think about messing with those. The powers that be would never in a million years have thought Percy had it in him to do something like this - or anyone else, for that matter - but just in case, they weren’t going to make it any easier for him. So after another minute of glancing over records of the disposal of wands that had belonged to now-imprisoned Muggle-borns, and a few cryptic notes he could barely decipher - Yaxley’s handwriting was atrocious - he gave up and decided to get out before he got himself killed over absolutely nothing.
He flipped through one last document, a list containing a seemingly random collection of names and corresponding Floo gate numbers. A few of the names he recognized, but none well enough to be helpful - and at any rate, the Floo Network was being watched.
The name Aberforth Dumbledore caught him off guard for a second. It wasn’t a common name, Dumbledore. Floo gate 3279. Gate numbers beginning with 32 corresponded with Hogsmeade. He registered this as mildly interesting, but nothing more.
He was hardly surprised to see his own name and Floo gate number towards the end of the list, just below his parents’ names, and Bill’s and his wife’s. So it was probably a list of persons of interest.
Someone coughed in one of the nearby offices, and Percy just about jumped out of his skin. Holding his unfinished report so as to look like he was studying it for errors, he strolled out into the corridor. A nice girl called Katie had just emerged from the administrative support offices. Percy knew she was a good, normal person by the way she walked with her head down and a constantly worried expression on her face.
“Katie,” he called tentatively, hoping for some information on exactly how empty the place was, “is Lou in right now?”
Another thing Percy could tell about Katie: judging by the wary way she usually looked at him, she wasn’t quite as assured of his goodness and normalcy as he was of hers. He also knew she wasn’t the only one with those suspicions. This never failed to bother him.
“Hi, Percy. No, it’s just me and Martin and J.D., I’m afraid. I don’t know where everyone else has gone.”
Percy sighed with relief and told himself he would never do anything that idiotic again.
A nagging feeling in the back of his mind distracted him for the rest of the day - like his brain had two pieces of information it wasn’t going to share with him until it had worked out how exactly they fit together. He hated that feeling. It was usually the cause of a great deal of lost sleep.
But it clicked in his head that very evening. Like all epiphanies, it came about randomly, in the middle of something completely mundane. This time, Percy was brushing his teeth when suddenly he stopped and stared at his reflection in the mirror.
Aberforth Dumbledore... Floo gate 3279... Hogsmeade...
“No way…” he said through a mouthful of toothpaste.
He was hit with a memory from what seemed like eons ago: Him and Penelope Clearwater dying of laughter because they’d just spotted the old man who apparently ran the Hog’s Head - and who, at a distance, looked incredibly like Professor Dumbledore - causing them to speculate jokingly about the possibility that the Headmaster was moonlighting as a barkeep.
So on the one hand there was a person by the name of Dumbledore with a Floo gate number corresponding to Hogsmeade, and on the other hand there was a man running a bar in Hogsmeade who looked like he could be the former Headmaster’s twin. Sure, it could be the biggest coincidence in the world. Yaxley could also secretly be a ballerina.
Still, it really had nothing to do with him, so Percy pushed the information to the back of his mind. But as the months passed, and his desperation increased, it seemed it was the closest he was going to get to any kind of help. It didn’t matter that the Floo Network was being watched. That’s what front doors were for, as long as you knew where you needed to go.
He knew this could end badly. It was incomplete research. Nobody in their right mind would have bet money on the outcome. It was full of uncertainties. But it was the only thing he had, and that would have to be good enough.
Besides, he assumed that someone related to Albus Dumbledore couldn’t be anything other than helpful.
As it turned out, Aberforth Dumbledore was one of the most abrasive people Percy had ever met. It took a quite awhile before he warmed to Percy - assuming he ever did, which was debatable - and he had a wholly irritating habit of calling Percy “boy.”
“Look,” said Percy one evening after Aberforth had asked him, for the hundredth time, what exactly he wanted and precisely how much of an idiot he was, “I don’t even want information, okay? I’m not asking you for names or locations. I just want to… I don’t know, I just want to know if anything…happens, I guess.”
“What, you want to know if somebody dies?” Percy cringed, and Aberforth continued, “You don’t think, if that happened to someone in your family, those people you’re working for would take every opportunity to rub it in your face? You don’t need me for that.”
Percy took issue with the phrase ‘those people you’re working for.’ Technically, he supposed it was an accurate description, but he still didn’t like how it sounded.
He drummed his fingers on the bar top for a moment, so irritated he couldn’t even be bothered to think about how unsanitary it was, as Aberforth busied himself with rearranging things behind the bar. The truth was, he didn’t know what he was looking for. He hadn’t reached that point in his thought process, having focused almost entirely on how to get help, whatever ‘help’ meant. He certainly wasn’t expecting Aberforth to give him sensitive information - for all Aberforth knew, Percy might not be totally trustworthy. Percy supposed he was lucky Aberforth had continued the conversation even this far.
“Fine,” Percy said at last. “I guess I don’t know. I’m open to suggestions,” he added sarcastically.
“Here’s my suggestion: Go home if that’s what you’re after.”
“I can’t,” said Percy through clenched teeth. He thought he’d made this perfectly clear.
“Pride’s a hell of a sin, boy.”
“It’s a lot more complicated than that.”
“What’s complicated? Memory loss? Lose your sense of direction?"
Percy glared at him, unamused.
"Doesn’t your dad work where you do?" Aberforth continued. "You know where to find him. Problem solved.”
Did he think Percy hadn’t thought about that in moments of desperation? Percy wished it were that easy - to be able to just say it the next time he bumped into his father at work, instead of pretending he hadn't even seen him:
I want to go home, Dad. I want to go home now.
“Oh, yeah,” he replied. “Brilliant idea. Just walk up to him in the corridor where everyone can see and hear and know what’s going on. Or, you know, maybe I could just pack up my things, move back, and send everyone a change of address. I see that working out well, don’t you?”
“You’ve made it fairly clear by coming here that you don’t have much to lose anymore.”
“But he does!” snapped Percy. Could Aberforth not see that, or was he just being purposefully instigative? “They all do!”
“Oh, and I suppose I don’t? You don’t think you put me in a bad position, coming in here asking for my help?”
Percy was momentarily at a loss for words. Finally, he offered, “If you’re really concerned about that, I’m sure all you have to do is tell anyone who asks that I’m just… I don’t know, some guy who keeps bothering you.”
“Not far from the truth.”
A long pause followed. This seemed to be as far as they were going to get for the time being. Percy grabbed his cloak off a chair and started heading for the door, now feeling more defeated than angry.
“Hey, boy,” said Aberforth. Percy turned to look at him. “You got a sister in school here? Short little thing, redhead, sort of a pain in the arse like you are?”
Aberforth looked at him for a moment before offering quietly, “She’s doing alright for herself.”
Percy didn’t even ask how Aberforth knew this. “Thank you.”
Aberforth waved dismissively, and Percy took his cue to leave.
He was still a long way away from believing things would turn out alright - but for the first time in a long time, he had something. Aberforth was not exactly someone he would call a friend, and Percy knew better than to think this precarious alliance would solve any of his problems… but he couldn’t discount the fact that there was now at least one person in this world who knew that if he had it to do all over again, Percy would have done a lot of things differently.