Chapter 1 : September 1st
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“Lucy, where’s my favorite jumper? Did you take it again?”
“I haven’t got it! What do I want with it, it’s a stupid color.”
“It is not, and I know you’ve got it, so give it!”
“Get out of my room, Molly!”
This argument finally reached decibels that Percy couldn’t ignore, and he groped for his glasses and stared at the clock in disbelief.
“It’s six o’clock.” Without removing his glasses again, he let his head drop back onto the pillow. “Why are they up so early?”
Audrey’s voice was muffled in her own pillow. “Because they didn’t pack last night like I told them to.”
Percy groaned. “I was having such a good dream, too.”
“What an excellent concept boarding school is.”
Finally summoning up enough energy to toss his glasses back onto the nightstand, he pulled his wife close to him and brushed her disheveled brown hair out of the way so as to allow him to nuzzle the back of her neck.
“I should get up.” She didn’t really mean that. Her voice was drowsy and reluctant.
“Oh, don’t do that,” he protested. “Give it another hour, maybe they’ll kill each other.”
Audrey shook with contained laughter.
A few more moments passed, and he had almost fallen back asleep. Almost.
“Mum!” Something small and annoying banged on the door. “Dad!”
And so began another September first.
Despite its soul-sucking beginning, this was one September first he’d been looking forward to for a long time. And apparently, he was the only one in the house who was at all happy about it. Lucy most decidedly did not want to go to Hogwarts, and had spent the better part of the past week moping and being quieter than usual. Molly was not looking forward to the idea of her little sister tagging along after her at school, and had spent the entire week in an impressive strop. And Audrey, though she tried not to show it, was forlorn over the prospect of both her children being far away until Christmastime.
Percy had borne it all very cheerfully, because for the first time in what seemed like forever, his house was going to be blissfully free of bickering, pre-teenaged angst, and inconvenient interruptions.
Nine o’clock found him sitting on Lucy’s tidy, pink and yellow bed, holding both her small hands in his, as she stood before him looking like someone had just killed her cat (Percy had, in fact, nearly accomplished this on several occasions, but that was neither here nor there).
“What’s the matter, Lu?”
Lucy hadn’t actually managed to squeeze out any tears yet, but she was sniffling miserably. “Why do I have to go?”
Because your mother and I haven’t had two seconds of alone time for the past thirteen years.
“Because you have to learn, pumpkin. And it’ll be fun.”
“No, it won’t,” she pouted. “You’re just saying that!”
Yes, yes I am.
“No, I’m not. Promise.”
“But…but what if I don’t make any friends?” Two very small tears rolled down Lucy’s plump cheek.
“What? Don’t be silly, all your cousins will be there. And Molly will watch out for you - ”
“I am not going to babysit Lucy!” interjected a shrill voice from the next bedroom over. “I’ve got my own friends, and - ”
“You will be friendly to your sister,” stated Percy mildly, but loudly enough to make himself heard, “or I’ll write to Professor Longbottom and have you off the Quidditch team before you can say ‘broomstick.’”
There was an ominous pause, and then -
“Are you blackmailing me?”
“No,” he said simply, “I am adjusting your attitude.”
“Mum!! Tell Dad that - ”
“Listen to your father,” replied Audrey in an absent way, making sure all Lucy’s things were packed.
Molly slammed her trunk shut with such force it rattled the windowpanes.
Molly wasted no time, once they’d reached Platform 9 ¾, in storming off towards the train, her nose high in the air, muttering various threats about not even bothering to come home at Christmas.
“Well, don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep!” called Percy wryly. Molly threw him one last murderous look, grabbed Stella Davies’ hand, and disappeared aboard the train.
Lucy, meanwhile, had a death grip on Audrey’s arm.
“Oh, look, dearest,” said her mum, scanning the throng of families, “there’s Alice Clark, her daughter Hazel’s starting this year, too. Let’s go say hello.”
Percy had no desire to talk to Alice Clark, so he pried Lucy away from her mum long enough to give her a kiss, hug, and ‘Love you, Lu.’ Then he watched Audrey usher Lucy along the platform, hoping very much that Hazel Clark was less obnoxious than her mother.
Moments later, he found himself cornered by Ben Birtwistle, which almost made him wish he’d gone and talked to Alice Clark. Usually, Percy could talk to anyone - as long as they actually knew what they were talking about. Ben Birtwistle was not one such person. Percy didn’t really listen to a word he was saying, but he knew it was nonsensical and incorrect. That alone was reason enough for him to try and extricate himself from the situation…but moreover, he had exactly 110 days until the kids came home - yes, he’d counted - and he was wasting valuable time talking to this cretin.
“So sorry, Ben,” he interrupted when he couldn’t take it any longer, “wife’s calling me.” This was completely untrue, as Audrey was now busy talking to his sister, and was paying him no attention at all.
Ginny finally ran off to scold one of her own kids for dawdling and not getting on the train, and Percy placed his arm about his wife’s shoulders, barely registering anything she said about the conversation she’d just had with his sister. Lucy, now aboard the train, looked slightly less anxious now that she’d made a new friend: she waved from one of the windows, and he waved back. Audrey blew several kisses and grew sadly quiet when the Hogwarts Express started to pull away from the station.
“It’s going to be so odd with both of them gone,” she sighed. “I don’t know what on earth I’m supposed to do with my time now.”
In every. Room. Of the house.
“And don’t forget, we have plans tonight with - ”
Percy cut her off with a soft “Shhh…” once they’d entered the house and shut the door behind them. He held up his hand for further silence. “Hear that?”
Audrey looked around, perplexed. “I don’t hear anything. Am I supposed to?”
Percy closed his eyes, smiling contentedly. “It’s the sound…of no kids!”
“Very funny.” She pinched his arm.
“I am terribly serious.” He was still smiling slightly, however, and he stared at her for what seemed like quite a long time, until comprehension dawned on her face.
“Oh! Oh, ha ha. Yes, very good try, but you have to go to work.”
“No, I don’t.” He took hold of her hand before she could disappear into the kitchen.
“What? Yes, you do, you think nobody’s going to notice?”
“I’m a very important person, nobody cares.” He brushed her hair back from her face and placed kisses on her nose and forehead.
“Arrogant thing.” Audrey bit back a laugh, then glanced at the clock over his shoulder. “Oh! Percy, I am so serious right now, it’s almost twelve - ”
“I know. Train’s miles away, no chance of them coming back now.”
She bubbled with laughter in spite of herself and kissed him back a few times. “No, really, I mean it, I’m supposed to go with your sister and she’s - ”
“Hang my sister.”
He started kissing her neck, and she relaxed and ran her fingers through his hair. He felt her heart beating more quickly. He held her closer and kissed her more deeply.
The whoosh of flames in the fireplace across the sitting room, followed by a muffled exclamation, made him freeze. In the very brief moment before he opened his eyes, two questions went through his mind: Who was in his house, and what would be the best, most sadistic way to kill this person?
He most unwillingly removed his arms from around his wife’s waist and straightened his glasses before beholding the intruder.
“Criminy, Gin!” In an extraordinarily delayed reaction, he jumped about ten feet upon seeing his sister standing there, nearly knocking over Audrey in the process. “Can you…can’t you owl before Flooing or something?”
Ginny, who at least had the common decency to look away pointedly until now, rolled her eyes, though she still looked appropriately discomfited. “Don’t be stupid. And anyway, I’ve been invited over.”
“Well, I didn’t invite you.” This response was met with a gentle poke in the ribs from Audrey, who was otherwise engaged in taking several steadying breaths and compulsively smoothing her hair.
“I told you, darling,” she said in a low voice, “I had plans with Ginny.” She gave him an apologetic look and an affectionate tap on the nose. “I thought you’d be going directly to work.”
“Well…well, I didn’t,” he answered petulantly. His entire face burning, he added under his breath, “This is so unfair.”
Audrey, still pink in the cheeks, excused herself from the room for a moment, and Percy alternated between smoothing his shirt self-consciously and making a show of crossing his arms in irritation. Ginny, despite her obvious embarrassment, seemed to be biting her lower lip to contain a smile, her handbag swinging cheerfully at her side as she studied the ceiling. This irked him even more.
“Oh, no, it’s quite traumatizing, trust me.” Ginny looked far too amused for this to be true. “Almost as bad as the last time. And I’d almost succeeding in repressing that particular memory. Suppose I’ll have to go back to square one in therapy.”
Percy glared at her.
“Well, look - why don’t you just tell Audrey to pop over to my house when she’s ready? I promise there won’t be any similar exhibitions taking place.” She did a good job keeping the laughter out of her voice, though her mouth still twitched a bit and the corners of her eyes were crinkled with mirth.
“Best idea you’ve ever had in your entire life.” Percy turned on his heel to find where his wife had run off to.
“Oh, by the way,” added Ginny, her hand full of Floo powder, ready to make her escape, “your hair’s messed up, Mr. Assistant Head of Law Enforcement. Might want to fix it before you go back to work.”
Percy halted, color rising in his cheeks again, and attempted to smooth his usually immaculate hair. Without looking back at Ginny, he made to stride off again.
“And you’ve got lipstick on your ear.”
“Oh, piss off, won’t you?”
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