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Chapter 9 : Despite Complication
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If there was one thing that Percy Weasley hated it was unannounced visits in the workplace. Of course, they were only to be expected from Hermione, who had the rather fantastic notion that by simple virtue of their familial status he suddenly had more hours in his day which he would willingly afford her. Her latest plan was founding a magical, international Wizengamot which she said would serve as something like the Muggle U.N. Percy didn’t quite know what she meant by that and had never bothered to find out seeing as he was extremely busy and wasn’t the most spontaneous of fellows, so didn’t often stray from his regular line of work.
Lately with the botched relations with Greenland spiraling out of control he had taken to focusing on the smaller, menial tasks that his inferiors really should have been completing; only the trouble was he’d sent out all his inferiors abroad to work with Flitwick on the international task force that would reign in the coming tournament. He didn’t trust Flitwick to patch things up as nicely as he could with Greenland and he supposed that was what brought him back, time after time, to the reversing and rewriting of the Peace Treaty. He knew that until Minister Diggory came back to him with the exact details of his phone conversation with the Greenlandic Minister there was no point in attempting to guess at the impending amendments, so he did not bother to think about the words that he pressed into the parchment with bright purple ink (per Greenlandic request, though how Percy’s heart balked at the thought when it was first a request!).
As I say, his hatred for unannounced visitors at work did nothing to stop them coming. On the contrary, at times he felt that this specific and particular dislike for unexpected interaction with society probably brought all manner of riffraff zooming towards him as if one had Accio’d them. On this particular occasion, he was anxiously awaiting word from the Minister as to his recent conversation with Greenland when there was a sharp knock on his door followed by a pitchy yowl. He knew only one set of lungs in this country capable of procuring such a melody and so was not surprised although was more displeased than he’d been all day when his Aunt Muriel burst through the doorway, pulled out her wand, and rearranged the letters on his modest wooden plaque so that instead of Percy Weasley they read Prince of Stinkers.
“Hello, Auntie,” Percy said without humour. Muriel was looking more and more like a bird of prey each day and her disposition was not doing anything to improve.
“Get me a chair, I’m two-hundred years old!” Muriel screeched. Percy hastened to obey her though he felt like doing otherwise; perhaps sticking his tongue out and living up to his new appellation.
“You’re not two-hundred years old,” Percy said, putting his wand away. The chair he’d procured was her regular seat, high-backed with grotesquely Victorian upper-class details. He would have considered the amount of gold filigree completely tasteless if he did not bear in mind the consideration that Muriel had been born almost two centuries ago and had carried with her, determined as a permanent sticking charm, the traditions of that era.
“Maths! Maths! Maths!” Muriel howled, scrabbling at her mane of grey, matted hair, looking annoyed. “All you ever speak about is maths!”
“I never speak of maths!” Percy said, indignant for a moment, and then remembering that he was not a child anymore and he did not have to act as though he were one, even in the presence of ancient material. Aunt Muriel was certainly a spectacle. She appeared as though a doll-maker had fashioned a flesh-coloured skeleton and then had offered somebody else the job of filling it up with fluff, though someone who didn’t quite know when to stop. He imagined this combination would produce the amalgamation of angles and flesh that was his oldest living flesh relative.
Muriel proceeded to ask for tea and sugar lumps. Percy grumbled as he went about, quite unwillingly, and fetched her a small pot and a few sugars.
“Here, Auntie,” he said and sat down at his desk again. He was a rather smart chap and knew very well that she had not come for chatting or even tea but most likely had something on him. Though his mother said that out of all her children Percy was most like Muriel, Muriel herself had never taken a liking to his professional attitude and ambitions. When Molly had been born, Muriel’s only comment was to say that she was glad the girl had inherited Percy’s beak of a nose or it might have easily died out of history. Worse than that was her initial reaction to the news that Audrey was a half-blood, but Percy tried not to think about that. It had taken ages to get the stains out of the sofa and he wasn’t quite sure he was ready to forgive her that, Muriel, even if she had lived a century and a half.
While Muriel was busy working up whatever it was she had to say to him, which no doubt had to do with all this Greenland malarky, Percy took a moment and relinquished to the pressing desire to close his eyes and pluck at his hair. It had been a trying few days, what with the Minister’s silence, which may or may not have had to do with the former’s knowledge that Percy had been part of the plan to kidnap his son, though now he could not even find it in him to remember how it was he agreed to that at all…and somehow it all came back to Ron, because when Percy searched himself for answers, as he had frequently for the past days and hours, he found in himself absolutely no semblance of surprise at the fact that it was Ron’s children, finding the ghost of the Minister’s dead son--which was bad for Percy, too!
Did they not remember that it had been he who was also a judge, he who had staked so much of his life and future upon participating in the event! And it had been a mark of his failure though he hadn’t know it then, that things should end in the death of a prominent ministry employee, one who should later find it in him to become the Minister for the whole of the magical community of the UK! That in the coming months, nay, weeks! he should find himself groveling at the feet of the authority that would allow the rise of Voldemort to pass unnoticed and unimportant from the eyes and hearts of the vulnerable public--
But that was all gone, and done, and did not bear agonizing over.
“You know what I have?” Muriel croaked from her throne, and Percy nearly spilled out of his chair, having quite forgotten that she was there.
“How could I possibly--”
“Don’t take that tone with me! Tone! Tone! All you young’ns forgotten how to speak--”
“Do not interrupt me, Percival! I have here something which very well may put an end to your little stint as International Relations--er, well, whatever it is you are!”
“What is that?” Percy asked, having spotted, at last, and he felt a foreboding build up in his stomach and rather pull it down till he was quite certain he was trembling like a plate of jelly, the roll of a yellowed newspaper poking out from Muriel’s velvet coat.
“Oh, nothing, only a little newspaper article from Le Héraut,” she said, putting on a nonchalant tone that turned Percy’s insides to some sort of heavy element, probably lead.
“I am not so good at French so I had a friend read it to me,” Aunt Muriel said, ignoring Percy, who felt rather uncannily similar to a grindlylow who’d found all the water around him suddenly vanish, and it was Aunt Muriel who had pulled out the stopper from that awful drain. “It is so helpful to be two-hundred, remember that if you’re ever considering kicking the bucket. Though I’ve never quite understood what that actually means. Is it because there’s water inside--”
“Auntie! Please, the article.” It was all the remaining strength he had, so it seemed, to utter that phrase, and he promptly flopped over and closed his eyes, willing himself not to panic, though a small part of him realized that might have been a moot point and it was already too late for him.
“All right, you chump!” Muriel drawled and made a show of unfurling the paper. “I’ve noted the translation in the margins, it may take me a moment to deciper--oh, yes, here we are. It is a Madame Maxime that drew my attention, besides her portrait, which makes me rather ill to consider, as I would stand no chance in a brawl against a woman whose nearly ten feet tall--”
“Oh, quite, as I was saying,” she said, and here is where Percy heard in her voice the thing he had been dreading, the whisper of which she had retained in her announcement of having something that might interest him. It was the “I’ve pulled one over on you or someone else has done” tone to her voice that was becoming rather a thing of hers whenever she came to see him or the family. He wondered if this is why most people had evolved to pass on before they reached Muriel’s age, if they’d all be plotting against each other and seeing the world into selective ruin.
“As I was saying, Madame Maxime, well, I recognized her as one of the women you were working with to get the tournament to go the first time, and I won’t bother asking if that’s right because I can tell by your manner of expression, which is quite unattractively pallid, that I’m right about this--and of course I need no such confirmation from you, it’s all over the papers!--all right, sit down, sit down!” For at the last turn Percy’s head had shot up from its position perched on his arms and he had looked at his aunt in pure and utter horror, although in his way, it was exaggerated, because of his general manner, which I hardly need to point out is slightly theatrical.
“Oh, Merlin,” was all he muttered, and his head sank down to his arms once again as he waited for the worst of it.
“Well, I’ll skip right to the meaty bits, then, won’t I?” Muriel said with an indecent cackle and Percy heard the crinkle of day-old paper as she cleared her throat and said the following words:
“‘You have not heard the end of this, Percy Weasley! How dare you make a fool of le France in this manner! I put my reputation on the line for a tournament that is rejected and you think that you can swoop in to save the day all on your own? I think not! You have not heard the last of me, Mr Weasley!’”
Percy did not say much, or rather, did not say anything at all as Muriel judged she had done the damage she had come to do and got up, leaving the tea tray on the plush seat of her fancy chair and showing herself out of her nephew’s office.
“Yes, rather,” Hugo said as Herbert chomped loudly on a carrot. He reached up and petted the unicorn’s mane. By now Herbert was no longer a baby and was capable of devouring everything that Hugo could knick her from the kitchens. Hugo often felt bad for naming her Herbert when she was a girl, unbeknownst to him, so he made an extra effort to bring her carrots, which appeared to be her favourite.
Hugo fiddled with the sign that he had put up a year or so earlier, which was small and black and read with sloppy, hand-carved, golden letters, “MEETING PLACE FOR THE UNICORN APPRECIATION GUILD.” Of course, it didn’t quite matter that it was sloppy lettering, because it was only him and his closest friends who visited this place; Professor Neville stopped in once a week to make sure that Herbert had enough water and food because Hugo sometimes forgot, Scorpius came by to make notes in his ledger on Herbert’s healthy development, Headmaster Flitwick came in every once in a while simply because he adored unicorns, and Marjie sometimes brought her own unicorn onto the grounds and to the meeting place to visit and play with Herbert.
Marjie had been rather more perceptive to the fact that her unicorn baby had been a girl and had named her Lumpy, which she said was taken from “sugar lump,” which was the first thing she ever fed Lumpy and was an allusion to the bright white colour she would become once she turned seven. Right now both unicorns were slowly turning from pure gold into a mottled gold-silver. Hugo knew once they were a bit older they’d be completely silver, but he liked this weird patchwork of their current coats, because it reminded him of the view of the grounds in early winter, late autumn, from the height of several hundred feet on broomstick.
Hugo and Herbert had been discussing, over the last of Hugo’s bunch of carrots, whether or not to take the issue of unicorn appreciation outside of their small circle of supporters. After all, with the eye of the magical world on Hogwarts and the journalists like buzzards who had infiltrated Hogsmeade and a great number of the castle’s unused classrooms through secret entrances, now would be the perfect opportunity to shed some much-needed light on this subject.
Besides, it was not that Hugo was running into this blindly. He had taken the issue of Centaur wishes and rights to his mother upon returning from him escapade in the Forbidden Forest two years ago, which however hard they had tried had not been able to remain a secret from everybody, and she had guaranteed the success of the Centaur Equality Act of 2024 as well as drafted and passed the Non-Human Magical Creatures Equal Rights Amendment the same year, which guaranteed centaurs the right to claim and maintain property as well as carry wands, use the Knight Bus, and make use of all Wizarding and magical amenities. It was an interesting bill, as the centaurs didn’t want anything to do with Wizarding society, but Hugo’s mum said it was more for the human’s sake, anyway, to get used to the idea of cohabiting the planet.
“But mostly people don’t think about centaurs,” Hugo said out loud, poking Herbert’s nose as she snuffed around his hair looking for more food. Silly Herbert, I only brought you sugar lumps in my hair once!
Now that he was sitting in the straw our behind Hagrid’s cabin in the stables he was thinking twice about having asked for a meeting with Scorpius and Neville. They were probably thinking that it was some kind of big emergency. Hugo didn’t know much but Marjie had really helped him learn some more things about expectations...mostly to explain Rose’s crazy-woman behavior after the first couple days Hugo, Scorp, and Professor Neville had gotten back from the Forbidden Forest back in fifth year and they had hoped to shield her off with stories of rescuing unicorns.
“It’s a good opportunity,” Herbert’s large black eyes seemed to say to him as she pawed in the straw by his legs.
“You’re right,” Hugo said. “It’s a good opportunity. But don’t expect me to get a law made for you, Herbert, I’m beginning to think that was more of a one-time thing.”
Plus, the Centaurs don’t even care that much.
“Well?” Scorpius said, warming his hands by the fire. There was a small wind rattling the roof of Greenhouse Seven “It’s been ‘after supper’ for a couple hours now. Do you reckon he’s wandered off into the woods again?”
Neville was proud of Hugo for how much he’d grown on their escapades all those years ago, but thinking back on their encounters with creatures and, almost, with death out in the Forbidden Forest two winters ago still made him shudder. He was also not close enough to the fire, he told himself, and moved closer, shoving hair out of his eyes. It had been a long time since he’d trimmed it, but what with his role in the TriWizard Tournament having been uncertain all summer and, yes, still, even after its reinstatement, as well as the strain of keeping information off Hugo, who had been very determined to get something out of him and had some very persuasive tactics up his sleeve (including, but not limited to, licorice wands and pumpkin pasties)...he hardly blamed himself.
“I’d rather not think about that,” he said to Scorpius. “Why don’t we leave him a note asking him to meet us in my office, and I’ll go put a kettle on there?”
“Tea! Great idea, I’ll get it started!” Scorpius was all too willing to leave the cold greenhouse and scampered out the door, slamming it behind him, where it clattered shut noisily on the metal frame. Neville took a moment, looking around, wondering where he’d actually find something to use to write a note to Hugo and almost coming to regret his decision before he remembered, oh, yes, I’ll just leave him one in the air, then.
He took out his wand and muttered Flagrate, writing a message that would hang in the air, where Hugo would be sure to see it:
With a brief hope that Hugo would arrive before the spell wore off, Neville followed suit and wrenched open the door to Greenhouse Seven, allowing it to clatter behind him as Scorpius had done, and walked to his office, where he could see clearly from the belt of smoke issuing from the chimney, that Scorpius had the kettle on as well as a fire going in the fireplace.
Autumn was full on its path to winter. It would be a strange year.
Marjorie Barrows was crouched on the cellar floor, having brushed aside cobwebs, with a torch in hand, scanning the pages of a cultural-relativism paper, her glasses sliding off the tip of her nose.
“Rose?” she called, over her shoulder. There was a small disruption from the direction of the back shelves, where Rose was busy pulling books for research for a new story she was researching on an Alaskan radical separatist group.
“Hm?” Rose said, emerging from the shelves with her nose dusted with dirt and her hair frizzing in the late-night dampness. The cellar of Dervish and Banges was home to forgotten and underrated information, old and obscure histories like How the Anchovy Came Inducted to British Wizarding Cuisine, and was the number one hang-out of Marjie and, increasingly, Rose.
“I’ve found something that may be useful for you,” Marjie said. She sat up straighter and pushed her glasses up. “I think it might also be a problem that your Uncle Percy didn’t account for with the Tournament.”
“Oh, no, the poor sot,” Rose said, folding her arms and coming closer, to see the parchment with Marjie’s torchlight. “He’s having trouble from Madame Maxime, you know. He owled me earlier today. Apparently our Auntie Muriel came to see him about it and thinks she needs to be involved somehow, too. You’d probably find her amusing, though, but being related to her is a bit of a downer.”
“I’m sure I’d love to meet her,” Marjie said, though not without thinking that inevitably Hugo seemed to be speaking to her even when he wasn’t around. She sighed deeply and leaned forward to the parchment. “Look at this...”
“The ADJHFI ERUISFHAL,” Rose read. “Oh, no.” She read more. “I wonder what Dad’s doing, he’d like a look at this, what with everything happening.”
“That’s what I’m thinking,” Marjie said. “You know, the Ministry should probably hire us on by now.” The two girls got up and joined hands, turning on the spot. When they opened their eyes again they were in a quite different place.
“Don’t forget Hugo, too. He’s been a help, particularly where Centaurs are concerned.”
They were looking up at a golden fountain, in the Ministry of Magic for the second time in the middle of the night in the space of a few days.
“I can’t help but think we’ve been here quite often, lately,” Marjie muttered as Rose led the way to the Aurors Department.
“We’ll show Dad first, yeah?” Rose said, and Marjie nodded, pulling the parchment closer to her body and taking a moment to swipe some cobwebs out of her hair.
“You have dirt on your nose,” she said to Rose, who swiped at her face distractedly.
“I hope Uncle Harry’s in, too, though he won’t be,” Rose said, and the act of eye-rolling was palpably evident in her tone of voice. Marjie smiled, humoring her.
“He’s a family man, Rose.”
“My dad is, too, though! It’s just a coincidence his family is more often visiting the Ministry than living at home.”
Marjie wasn’t sure coincidence was the word to describe it, but bit her lip and bowed her head to her papers as they exited the lift and stepped off at the Aurors Department, past the empty receptionists’ desk, and walked through the labyrinthine arrangement of cubicles to find Ron Weasley snoring, his face stuck to a stack of parchments and photographs, from which convicts of petty crime waved and winked up at the two girls.
“Dad!” Rose whispered, poking at his cheek. Ron woke with a start and sat back in his chair, his robes almost completely dislodged from their correct position around his shoulders and looking more like a dark blue cowl than a proper article of clothing. His eyes appeared to take a moment to adjust to the dim light, but after a moment, he leaned back, adjusted his robes, and cleared his throat.
“Rose! Fancy seeing you here.”
“Quite fancy,” Rose said, grabbing her father by the arm of his robes and pulling him to his feet. Marjie felt slightly out of place amongst the much taller, much red-headed-er company.
“Hello, Marjorie,” Ron said over his shoulder as Rose marched him from the Aurors Department, down a lift and to the Atrium, where there was full light.
“Hello,” Marjie chirped, patting the parchment at her side.
“Bit bright down here,” Ron said, squinting up at the lights, when they had stopped in the middle of the marble, fire-place studded room.
“That’s the point, Dad,” Rose said. “We need to show you something.” She turned and nodded importantly to Marjie, who hastened to hand over the parchment. “You better read it to him, Marjie, we woke him up, after all.”
Marjie cleared her throat, and began.
“One, thanks,” Neville said, sitting in his armchair by the fire in his office.
“I heaped it,” Scorpius said. “We could use a little extra energy to deal with whatever Hugo brings our way.”
“Thank you,” Neville said as he accepted the mug of tea gingerly. It was very hot and strong. Just the kind of resolve-builder one needed, as Scorpius said, to prepare one for Hugo’s shenanigans.
It wasn’t that they weren’t enjoyable shenanigans, Neville thought, trying to assuage a pervasive sense of somehow being unkind to the boy. He had come a long way since that winter out in the woods, but in a way, it had been his most shining moment, and it must be hard for someone to have a shining moment without being able to tell anyone about it. If you ever happened to venture a bit further into Hugo’s life than the normal person would, you’d start seeing signs of the strain that that was taking on him.
For example, on the door to the Gryffindor Boys Seventh-Year Dormitory, there was a small wooden plaque that read
GRYFFINDOR QUIDDITCH CAPTAIN
DISCOVERER OF SOMETHING REALLLLLLY SECRET
FREELANCING LIAISON TO THE CENTAURS OF THE FORBIDDEN FOREST
PROUD AND CERTIFIED UNICORN OWNER
FOUNDER OF THE UNICORN APPRECIATION GUILD
AND OTHER RESIDENTS.
Knowing Hugo, it was really almost unbelievably thoughtful of him to have remembered that he shared the quarters with other boys at all.
It was with a smile at the thought of this plaque, which continually garnered new etchings as Hugo achieved new things and wished to make them known, that Neville sat back and sipped at his tea. It hadn’t been longer than a few moments before a high-pitched shriek came from the direction of the Greenhouses.
Scorpius and Neville’s eyes met for a moment and Neville knew they were agreeing upon certain things, such as where exactly the sound was coming from and from whom, exactly, it came.
“Er--” Scorpius said, and in a moment both men were up and running from the office to Greenhouse Seven. Scorpius reached the door first and wrenched it open, Longbottom close behind him. There was Hugo, sitting slumped on a potting bench, looking quite mangled at the hands of--or rather, the vines of--a Devil’s Snare which Longbottom and Scorpius had been raising in the slightly warmer heat of Greenhouse Seven, hoping this would result in subdued predatory activity. So it was not a wholly disappointed Scorpius who whipped out his wand and shot a ray of sunlight into the plant’s core; though they had not been results in support of the hypothesis, per se, they were results, after all.
“Hugo, are you all right? I knew I should have included Devil’s Snare in the curriculum somewhere. I’ll have to talk to Flitwick about that.”
There was a pop in the air somewhere behind them.
“Talk to me about what?”
Neville, Scorpius, and a newly-freed Hugo turned to see the Headmaster himself, and hanging off his arm with a giant golden brooch weighing down the front of her blouse--
“Yes, boy! Your hair looks a mess! A right sight you are!”
Hugo ran forward and trapped the woman in a hug, though Scorpius was secretly nervous that it would crumble her to dust.
“Hello, Muriel. Headmaster,” Scorpius said, and stepped forward to shake their hands respectively.
“Hello, hello, welcome to Greenhouse Seven,” Neville said, looking around furtively for any other potential attacking plants. Not seeing any, he stepped forward and was about to ask the reason behind this surprise, but obviously not unwelcome, visit. He glanced at his watch, and found it to be about eleven o’clock in the evening. He almost remarked upon how funny it was Hogwarts nightlife had been so unusually active in recent days, but another loud set of cracks from direcly behind Flitwick and Muriel distracted him.
“Rose! Marjie! Uncle Percy! Dad?!” Hugo was beside himself with unfiltered glee, all horror of the run in with the Devil’s Snare apparently forgotten. “You shouldn’t have! You shouldn’t have! Oh, no, wait, it’s not my birthday, is it? What are you all doing here?”
“Yes, how did you--”
“Madame Pomfrey told us you’d be here,” said a melancholy Ghost Cedric, leading forward his human father, the Minister for Magic, from the doorway.
“Madame Pomfrey?” Neville asked, feeling quite nonplussed. “How did Madame Pomfrey--”
“Well, you’re here all the time, aren’t you, working on Scorpius’s thesis for him?” Rose spoke up, punching Scorpius, who had moved to stand near her without realizing, on the shoulder.
“I write my own papers, R--”
“That’s beside the point,” Percy spoke up. “We’ve come aware of certain--er--services that Hugo may be able to offer us--”
“Services? But I gave up pre-ingestion digestion ages ago,” Hugo said, looking confused.
“You know, when you--”
“No, we don’t want to know details,” Scorpius said, putting a hand on Hugo’s arm.
“Excuse me,” Ron said. “I’m just as lost as anyone.”
“Probably not as lost as the fountain of youth,” Hugo said.
Everyone was quiet for a moment.
“I’d say so.”
“Is anyone going to explain to me why I have been dragged here in the middle of the night? You Hogwarts bunch have the worst timing,” Amos Diggory said. He walked with Ghost Cedric, who was looking as though he were becoming increasingly angry and in danger of pummeling the baby Venemous Tentacula sitting next to him on the table. Hugo moved it out of the way hastily, having seen the rage of Ghost Cedric unleashed once before.
“Well, you see, Minister, it’s quite a long story--”
“I don’t want the long story! Give me the short version! The abridged! However you young people say it these days.”
“Young people!” Muriel squwaked. “Get me a chair, I’m two-hundred years old!”
“Someone get Muriel a chair, please, Ron,” Percy said, and Ron obliged, pushing a potting bench towards Muriel’s backside.
“The short story is that we have a problem,” said a deep voice from the doorway. Everyone instinctively seemed to make room for this newcomer, though it was clear from Hugo’s expression that he already knew who it was. Neville was sure, too, he’d recognize that voice anywhere.
“Hello, Harry,” Ron said, smiling broadly, and patting Harry Potter on the shoulder. “I hope you don’t mind, but I called in for a bit of backup.”
[i have partially edited as of 10 april; had to fix some glaring errors :)]
a/n: hello! sorry for the MONUMENTAL wait, but here you are!
le héraut = the herald / messenger, i think. (i used a translator, i don't speak le french.)
i realize this looks like the longest filler chapter in the history of the world but i'm having a hard time with a large cast because all of the characters have to be involved. i pray thee have patience, and hopefully it will all come together like a good story in the end :)
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