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The Bureaucrats

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‘I have something to tell you,’ he said.

What had started as her turning a blind eye to inconsistencies in his usually meticulous paperwork had gradually moved into outright covering up his tracks for him, and then eventually actively helping him create nightmarish bureaucracy to trap officials in apparently never-ending loops. No, you can’t transfer that muggleborn to Azkaban because you haven’t filled out form H8-B12 yet. You need to have it signed off by three members of the Wizengamot. I’m sorry, you can’t enter the Wizengamot unless you have a prior appointment with a notarised Purple Slip. There’s a huge backlog for Purple Slips at the moment because they’re so busy, but you can jump ahead of the queue with a completed H8-B12 form. They were good at that, the pair of them, because they had really been the only ones that had understood all the systems and procedures before anyway, so it didn’t feel any different, and they could gradually, softly, gently, muddle things further, add extra little requirements and blocks. By the time it was clear that the new Ministry regime was locked in paperwork, no one could really say who was at fault. She could. It was her and Percy.

It was funny how they had never discussed this plan, just quietly got on with it, so much so that she thought they had probably worked together on it for several months unsure if the other was really trustworthy or not. Everything was hidden. ‘Mr Weasley,’ she’d say briskly, ‘some wanted posters went out yesterday for Kingsley Shacklebolt, but there was a misplaced apostrophe. This cannot stand.’

‘I completely agree,’ he would bluster angrily. ‘Recall them at once and issue a direct order for them to be reprinted entirely.’

‘But that would take a week!’ she protested. ‘Besides which I really think to prevent mistakes like this again, we should be adding a new step to the process for proof-reading. I think all Ministry literature should be proof-read and signed off by at least two members of senior leadership - for accountability.’

‘That sounds sensible. I agree it’s frustrating that Shacklebolt may get a head start, but I have every faith in our Aurors. Grammar is not something I am willing to compromise on, Miss Fawley. Recall the posters and have them reprinted.’

But eventually he had been more open. ‘Audrey,’ he’d said quietly, closing the door behind him. ‘I need you to tie up this arrest warrant in some way. I won’t need long, but I can’t find anything wrong with it and it’s been signed by Dolores so-’

He had only seconds, she knew that. He had probably been sent to take it directly to the Aurors, and he was risking time stopping by her office as it was.

‘Well take it straight to them now,’ she said, and his face paled a little, ‘but take the second elevator on the right. What’s the name of the individual?’

‘Manning,’ he said hurriedly. ‘Zoe Manning.’

She swallowed. ‘From my year?’ she asked, her voice barely more than a whisper.

‘Yes.’

‘Quickly then.’

He left the room at once, and so did she, though she went the opposite direction, through a little door that went around the central column where the lifts were, and then, checking over her shoulder to ensure the coast was clear, into another little door usually only used by Magical Maintenance.

The second elevator on the ground to a screeching, juddering halt. Percy was flung sideways into Travers as the packed elevator was filled with gasps and shrieks.

‘For Merlin’s sake!’ Percy roared, kicking the wall as people gathered to their feet. ‘Can’t Magical Maintenance ever keep these things running properly? I have an urgent matter to attend to!’

By the time the elevator had been repaired and Percy was able to sprint to the Auror department, Zoe Manning was interrupted in her job as a receptionist on the front desk of St Mungos by an owl. In his beak, he held a small note.

Run immediately. Do not return home.

From then on, Audrey and Percy had no choice but to trust one another with their lives, completely and utterly. They were both complicit, now, in quiet acts of rebellion that they could no longer pretend were out of their hands, or coincidences, or quirks of their personality and obsession over grammar and proper procedure that they could not, under and circumstance, look past.

So for him to turn up now, at her flat in the dead of night, with the words ‘I have something to tell you,’ filled her with terror. ‘There’s no danger,’ he assured her. ‘Not immediately anyway.’

She gulped as she stared at him through the small gap of her slightly opened door. He had never come to her flat before. ‘How do you sign a 75(A) category form for the seizure of personal possessions?’ she asked him.

‘It can only be signed with green ink,’ he told her. ‘And the form must be on red paper. Why did we devise that policy?’

‘Because Travers must sign it and he’s colourblind,’ she said, and, both satisfied that they could trust one another, they smiled and she took the chain off the door.

‘Come in,’ she said, ‘quickly.’

She could see his eyes flitting around her neat, neutrally toned flat, the only mess being the odd little piles of books left on the glass coffee table and her embroidery left on the arm of the sofa. She turned off her wireless, which had been tuned to the classical channel, and gestured for him to sit. ‘Tea?’ she suggested.

‘Please.’

She did not need to ask him how he took it, because she knew very well that he liked his quite strong, and she watched him out of the corner of her eye as she busied herself making it. He was sitting nervously on the edge of her sofa, his knee bouncing, his hands wringing, his eyes occasionally closing behind his horn-rimmed glasses.

‘Here.’

‘Thank you.’

She sat beside him and they were silent for a few moments. Though the tea was still much too hot, he took a large gulp; she saw him wince as it burned his tongue. ‘I’m sorry to come here like this,’ he said. ‘Out of the blue.’

‘Is everything all right?’

‘No.’

She waited, unsure and even a little frightened. Had they been discovered? Was he here to tell her that he had let something slip and they would have to run?

Eventually, he took a breath, and said, ‘you know… you know Arthur Weasley?’

‘Not well, but yes.’

‘He… I lied, before. He’s not a distant relation.’ He looked at her intently with his blue eyes, and she realised he was terrified. ‘He’s my father.’

‘Oh,’ she said, blinking. Her hands instinctively curled around her own mug of tea. ‘Oh, I see,’ she said, though she didn’t. Not at all. Percy had been two years below her at school, she had barely known him at all. It had felt, at one point, that the entire place was full of Weasleys - she had just assumed they were a big family in general, with lots of cousins and so on, but as a Slytherin she had had nothing to do with any of them anyway, so she had never cared to find out what the relation between them all was. Percy was simply one of the Prefects she had to organise in her duties as Head Girl, and that was as much thought as she had ever given the name Weasley. She had never really thought it was odd that Percy never mentioned his family, beyond saying, ‘yes, distantly,’ when someone had asked if he was related to Arthur, she had just assumed that, like her, he was from a small family of no particular interest, and he did not have any strong relationship with the distant cousins that might be dotted about.

‘We - we fell out, some years ago,’ Percy said, his ears reddening. ‘It was quite public, so I haven’t been… I haven’t been compromised in his love of Muggle things or his associations or anything like that.’

She put down her mug of tea, thinking very hard. She still, in all honesty, knew very little about the Weasley family or Arthur Weasley, but you didn’t have to know much to know that Arthur Weasley was regarded as a blood traitor. On her very first day at the Ministry, as she’d been shown round, Arthur Weasley had breezed past with a cheery, ‘hello, Mafalda!’

Mafalda had chuckled as he left. ‘Oh, he’s a funny one, that Arthur Weasley. Fanatic about all things muggle, you know, it can get a little embarrassing - not that there’s anything wrong with it, of course! But he doesn’t exactly help himself against accusations of being a blood traitor… I do like him though, decent chap. Now, up here is the cafeteria…’

‘It was no secret that I was quite different to the rest of my family, or at least people though I was,’ Percy continued hurriedly. ‘But… anyway, that’s not important, I… I just…’

She placed her hand on his knee, and he blinked at it. ‘Has something happened?’ she asked him again.

He swallowed, and looked up at her face again. ‘They’ve… they’ve had to go into hiding,’ he said. ‘My family. Tonight.’

‘How do you know?’

He closed his eyes, and took a shuddering breath. ‘Dolores and Travers and some Aurors… they… they just came to my flat.’

‘What?’ she whispered, and that terror was back, rising in her throat like bile.

‘It’s all right, I think,’ he said, speaking very fast again. ‘I think they were just checking that I wasn’t hiding any of them, or - or in contact with them or maybe they just wanted to see my reaction or something, I’m not sure-’

‘But… Dolores? That’s top level, Percy, what can your father have done that-’

‘Not my father,’ he muttered, and he put his tea down now too, and took off his glasses to rub his eyes. ‘He hasn’t… well, I don’t know, he might have done, but as far as I’m aware his only crimes are associations, he hasn’t done anything…’

‘Associations? With muggles?’ she prompted. ‘Or the - oh, heavens, Percy, not the Order of the-?’

‘Yes,’ he said, and she stood quickly.

She couldn’t help it, she began to pace, clutching at her hair, trying to steady her breathing. ‘You - you never told me you have associations with the Order of the Phoenix, Percy, that’s - that’s - quiet sabotage is one thing, open rebellion is another, I - are you in it?’ she demanded.

‘No,’ he said urgently, looking up at her desperately. ‘No, I’m not-’

‘Because they’re all very admirable and brave and everything, but I’m risking enough, Percy, I’m trying my best but I-’

‘I’m not part of it, and I’m not trying to recruit you,’ he said swiftly. ‘And don’t worry, no one at the Ministry thinks I have anything to do with it. I haven’t spoken to my family - not properly - in years.’

‘Why not?’

He winced. ‘Sit down.’

‘Percy…’ she said, in a dreading voice.

‘Please, sit down. Have some tea.’

She did so, and waited, and eventually, with an expression somewhere between resigned fear and sheepishness, he told her.

‘Harry Potter is a family friend. Has been since about 1991.’

She sat in frozen silence, the tea still warm in her hands. Then she giggled. ‘Sorry?’ she said, and she couldn’t understand why she was laughing, because she had never heard anything so terrifying in her life.

‘Harry Potter,’ Percy repeated quietly. ‘He’s a very close friend of my youngest brother. He… my mother sort of took him in. He… he stayed in my family home during the summer.’

In her final year at Hogwarts, the school had erupted in gossip. They had all watched in captivated silence as Professor McGonagall read out a name that she rather thought people had forgotten was attached to a living person, that had always been so heavily tied into bedtime stories or long reminiscence from parents about the war that she might have announced ‘Merlin’ or ‘Salazar Slytherin’ or ‘Beedle the Bard’ instead.

And then this small boy had walked up to the three-legged stool, like all the other children. Audrey had been right at the back of the hall, so she struggled to see clearly, but even from a distance she had noted the mess of unruly dark hair, the thin, nervous face and round glasses as the hat was placed on his head.

‘Doesn’t look like much, does he?’ Serena Selwyn had muttered next to her. ‘Wouldn’t think he’d defeated anyone in his life, would you?’

Gryffindor got him - Audrey had somehow known they would, and had been surprised that the hat seemed to consider for so long - and she had gone about her life without much further thought to him, panicking about her exams and applications for the Ministry graduate schemes, stressing about her Head Girl duties, only occasionally staring as he passed in the corridors, a slightly, skinny little thing, with the air of someone who was a bit fragile, but always felt disconcertingly mysterious. She’d glimpsed the scar a couple of times, an ugly, jagged thing it was, and it felt all the more brutal because it did exist, it wasn’t some colour that had been added to the tale over the years. It was evidence of something extraordinary and violent, something no one could explain, something her mother had darkly speculated, ‘we’re not being told the whole truth about that. You mark my words, there’s some kind of cover up.’

And for the next few years he became nothing more than an odd little anecdote. ‘I was at school with him, you know. For my final year.’ Then people would ask her what he was like, and she didn’t have a clue what he was like, because seventh years didn’t exactly befriend first years, especially not from rival houses. She would tell them this and they would look irritated or disappointed, and so she learnt to stop mentioning him at all, and instead returned to reading about him in the press, her feelings towards him ebbing and flowing with the tide of public opinion. Often she forgot that she had ever seen him in the flesh at all.

But now Percy was sat here, on her sofa, telling her that Harry Potter had stayed in his childhood home, that he had had many conversations with him, sat beside him at dinners, given him advice on subjects to pick for OWL, had shared a tent with him to watch the Quidditch World cup…

It was ludicrous, bizarre, alien - yet Percy sat there and mumbled through his confession of his connection to the most wanted man in the country, and Audrey could do nothing but stare at him, wide eyed and gripping at her hair, bewildered that he was talking about Harry Potter like he was any other boy, like he was a normal, real person. They never could have known, she realised. They were just taking a little boy into the family, just making friends, looking past the legend. They could never have known that the legend would only grow and grow and grow like a vine, wrapping itself around their family and squeezing it as it clung, and even if they had cut it back when it put them at risk, how could they? Not when it had become such a part of them.

‘But then I… I fell out with them all,’ said Percy, blushing now more than ever. ‘I was… stupid. Foolish…’ he seemed to choke slightly. ‘It’s… it’s really complicated, and I suppose I… I don’t know, I ended up thinking things I didn’t believe. I ended up… forgetting the… the Harry Potter I knew and… Anyway,’ he said, sniffing slightly, and putting his glasses back on his face. ‘The Ministry has been aware of that family connection, and I know that my father was being watched for it, and by all accounts my brother was seriously ill at home, but it’s come out tonight that that’s not the case - he’s with Harry. I think something must have happened, they must have been sighted together or something. They must be… on the… on the run somewhere-’

His voice cracked and she rushed forward to embrace him, kneeling beside him as he suddenly began to sob, his face crumpled and red, his hands trembling. ‘They’ve been sheltering him all this time, I think,’ he said, his voice so strained with emotion that it was quite hard to understand him. ‘I thought maybe he’d distanced himself from them - maybe the Order was hiding him or he was on the run on his own or just with Hermione, but… my brother’s with him at the very least. My brother’s with him. My little brother.’

Without thinking, without considering that she had never done it before, she kissed his head, rubbing his back comfortingly with one hand, the other caressing his sobbing face.

‘He’s going to die, they’re all going to die,’ Percy blurted out uncontrollably. ‘Dolores and Travers came round to check - they said the - the whole family will now have warrants for their arrest for aiding him - thank God Ginny wasn’t still at school -’

‘But they haven’t been caught?’ she asked urgently. ‘They haven’t been found?’

‘No - no, I don’t think so, not yet - but, Audrey, they already had the warrants, they bypassed us completely, we can’t do anything about it-’

‘No, it’s too late for that now,’ she agreed. ‘Don’t worry about that now, that’s done - they’re in hiding, they’ve lasted this long, haven’t they?’

‘But how much longer?’ he moaned. ‘God…’

He sobbed again, and she held him, her mind swimming. Helping Muggleborns where she could had felt darkly thrilling as it was, each piece of paperwork making her heart thud as she invented more and more ways for it to be wrong, or to delay it, each time she denied Runcorn what he wanted keeping her on the edge of a panic attack as he roared at her and she tried to stare confusedly back, feigning bafflement that he didn’t understand the ludicrously complex system she had invented. That had all felt more heroic and daring than she had even envisioned being comfortable with, and now Percy was confessing things that entangled her in the very heart of the war. She could be killed simply for listening to him…

‘Do you know where they are?’ she asked him softly.

He shook his head, still gulping and sniffing. ‘No. No I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to them in years. I suppose they might have gone to my Aunt Muriel’s, she’s got the space-’ he was starting to babble and sob again.

‘It’s all right,’ she said soothingly. ‘Percy, it’s going to be all right.’

‘I’m sorry,’ he gasped. ‘I shouldn’t have told you, I’ve put you in danger - but I - I had to… I couldn’t hide it anymore - I had to tell someone-’

‘I know. It’s all right,’ she said.

The dawn was starting to seep through the gap in her curtains, a soft grey light cutting through the yellow of her lamps. Audrey was not an impulsive woman. She never made decisions without carefully calculating the consequences, weighing up the evidence, estimating the risk to the best of her ability.

She touched her fingers to his chin, and kissed him gently. He kissed her back, both of them soft and mild and slow. They had not done this before, though the thought had occurred to her many times before. She was still too full of fear to be happy, but there was a sense of relief, a burst of hope, a security of trust. He was kissing her back, and that made her feel safer.

‘Stay here today,’ she told him, when they broke apart and he blinked at her in a stunned sort of way. ‘I’ll worry that you’re not safe if you go home.’

‘If…’ he said, and his voice was hoarse, so he cleared it. ‘If I stay here, that drags you into it all.’

‘I’m not being dragged,’ she said. ‘We can’t do anything now but keep our ear to the ground for news. It’s going to be all right, Percy. We’re right in the heart of it, we’re in the best place for hearing if anything changes, it’s our best chance of being able to help.’

He nodded, staring at her intently. ‘Thank you,’ he said, his voice barely more than a whisper.

Just a few weeks later, the Ministry was in chaos as news spread. Harry Potter was at Hogwarts. The students were being evacuated. There was going to be a battle, and the thought hung in the air as people rushed from one department to another. It might all end today. Or it might begin on a terrible scale they had scarcely imagined.

Percy burst into her little office. ‘I’m going,’ he said at once, and she didn’t need to ask what he was talking about.

‘I’ll go with you,’ she said, and he smiled, his eyes shining with tears.

‘You’re terrible at Defence,’ he said, with a watery laugh. ‘You don’t want to be in a battle.’

‘You’re not much better,’ she replied, though she nodded in acceptance. She was no fighter. Outside her office, she could hear chaos; shouting and running. They were headless chickens panicking but with nothing to do. She saw Travers storming past, roaring at someone, yelling at them to fetch Yaxley, bellowing that he was going to go to the school and find Potter, that he would be tortured and slaughtered, that his body would be strung up - but in it, she saw opportunity. ‘While you’re gone,’ she said, ‘I’m going to go to Yaxley’s office and destroy everything he has on the fugitives.’

He strode forward and seized her with uncharacteristic boldness, kissing her deeply. ‘Come back,’ she told him, when they broke apart. ‘Please come back.’

‘I love you,’ he said, and then he kissed her again. ‘I will.’

‘Take the elevator now,’ she whispered. ‘So I can break them before Yaxley and Travers get in.’

He kissed her once more, and then within seconds he was gone.