A/N – I received a few requests to further delve into Percy and Audrey's story when they appeared in Escape. I had things drafted up about the pair already, and there are a couple of other things that struck me I could expand on. This has no update schedule, and I will post as and when I've got the chapters done.
When Percy left Hogwarts and started his job at the Ministry, he had an expectation that his parents would be proud of him. He was the third son, so he wasn't expecting to do anything Bill or Charlie hadn't done already while at Hogwarts. Percy didn't expect to command attention at home like Fred or George did or receive the coddling Ginny did, however much it chafed her. He was more invisible than Ron who had managed to make friends with Harry Potter. But he had expected his parents to approve of his choice of career. They hadn't, and he hadn't predicted how badly it all would turn out. Some days it was impossible to trace the steps from there to here, but here was where he most certainly was.
Percy stared morosely down into the cup of tea he was nursing. It had gone cold, the milk forming a greyish skin on top of the liquid. He didn't know what to do. It was the end of August, it had been an impossible summer. The tiny room he rented in the house share with the other Ministry workers like him, was empty and uninviting.
He was going to move out. Ever since the papers reported what had happened to Mr Crouch, his housemates had been edifyingly sympathetic, but Percy wasn't a fool enough to think that they weren't all gleefully glad it hadn't been them. It was time he stood on his own two feet and got used to living alone. It would be preferable to have somewhere he could lick his wounds in peace even if he'd never lived alone before. From the overfull Burrow, to Gryffindor Tower, to his current house share, Percy had never been simply alone. It was a terrifying and exciting prospect.
It would have to be a muggle place, and that was the rub, no overt magic. He couldn't afford anything wizarding, or at least nothing that wasn't more than a shoebox, and while he was happy to accept small, he wanted more space than he had now.
His house hunt had been narrowed down to a handful of properties, the details of which were spread in front of him on the small table he occupied in the little bistro café. Going into the Muggle side of London had been the only way he had felt he could get away from the stares and whispers that followed him when he appeared in the Alley.
He'd known enough from the magazines left around Gryffindor Tower to transfigure his clothes into something passable. Something that would allow him to blend in and not stand out like so many magical people that couldn't be bothered to do their research. The muggles he had passed on his meandering path had been wearing much brighter colours and with patterns but for all that, in his sober suit, Percy had attracted no attention. He was invisible.
The waitress bustled around collecting up cups onto her tray. Percy watched her covertly, marvelling at the volume of cups she stacked on the tray and handled easily without a single featherlight charm to help her. The café he was in was nothing like Madam Puddifoots in Hogsmeade, it was inviting. The menu was written in French with the English translations printed underneath. The walls were decorated with framed Muggle posters in French. Percy liked the place.
When the waitress got to his table, he frowned down at the estate agent details and his own notes not wanting to draw attention to himself.
"Are you finished with that?" the waitress asked.
Percy's head jerked up guiltily. "Yes, sorry. Yes, I've finished."
The waitress smiled in a friendly manner. "Do you want anything else? Another pot?"
Percy glanced down at the property pages spread out before him and sighed dejectedly. "Yes, yes please I think I'd better."
She swept the cup and teapot up off the table onto her tray and patted him consolingly on the shoulder. "I'll bring it over love."
Percy smiled his thanks and gave himself a shake, he needed to concentrate and stop dithering. He was going to get his own place to live, he was going to have a place just for him. He was going to make something of himself. If his family ever came around, then he'd be able to show them that he hadn't yearned like a lost puppy, he'd made something of himself.
The waitress slipped the fresh pot of tea and a clean cup onto his table and left as unobtrusively as she'd arrived. Percy dealt with pouring his tea then shuffled the pages and his notes and started looking in earnest. The only advantage he had was that the conversion rate from galleons to pounds was favourable. He'd be able to afford a little better than he'd expected while still maintaining his savings. Percy drew out the map of London he'd taken from the bus station and marked the location of the Leaky. He'd need to apply for a licence to set up a floo connection and if the Muggle property didn't have a fireplace, then he'd need to make sure it was within walking distance, or there was somewhere he could apparate to and from.
He listed the pros and cons of each property in neat, tidy columns before deciding on a viewing for three potentials. If he accepted one today, he could then bring the paperwork to the estate agents on his lunch break on Monday. He could slip into the Ministry tomorrow and get all the documents drawn up. No one would think it odd that Percy Weasley was in the Ministry on a Sunday.
One week later Percy was back in the café. The flat he had chosen was a short walk away from the café, and if the café wasn't on a sunny terrace in France where he could sip coffee and eat delicious pastry, it was warm and welcoming. The waitress had recognised him when Percy had come through the door and greeted him with a smile that convinced Percy that he'd made the right decision. So far he'd done little more than sleep in his new home. He'd been able to collect the keys on Tuesday's lunch break the day after dropping off his documents and deposit, and he'd wasted no time at all in moving his things out of his house share into his new home.
Percy, however, discovered that his things didn't take up as much space as he had thought and the flat was looking rather bare. He would need to find a sofa and a coffee table and a table to eat at. He had considered transfiguring the things he needed but had admitted to himself buying a comfortable sofa was probably a lot easier than transfiguring one, so that was his job for this weekend. He was going to go out and find some furniture and some kitchen equipment, and since his flat was muggle, he might even look into getting a television just to see what all the fuss was about.
Set in his thinking, he didn't notice the café filling up until a pleasant voice broke him from the newspaper he was perusing and the crossword he was trying to complete.
"Is this seat taken?"
Percy looked up to see a woman his own age with a silk scarf of a dark cobalt blue wrapped around her neck and left to hang to her waist.
"Only it's getting a bit full in here," she said glancing around.
Percy tore his eyes from her to follow her gaze around the tea shop. She was correct all the tables were currently occupied.
"No," he blurted out.
She smiled at him in gratitude. "Thanks," she said, awkwardly pulling out a chair balancing her bag and cup in one hand. Percy hastily gathered up the newspaper he had brought with him, trying to wrestle it back into the shape it had been before he'd started spreading it about.
"That's the problem with broadsheets, isn't it?" the woman commented. "They never seem to want to go back into place once they're loose."
Percy shuffled the pages as best he could then folded them over a few times clearing room for his companion.
"I'm Audrey," the woman said holding out her hand.
"Percy Weasley," Percy replied automatically taking the hand and shaking it gently once before letting it go.
"Hello, Percy," Audrey said as she settled into the chair unwinding the scarf from around her neck. Percy watched in fascination as the scarf revealed itself to be a lot thinner than he expected but considerably longer.
"I know," Audrey said catching the look. "It's completely mad how long it is but I really loved the colour, and I couldn't leave it in the shop."
"It's very becoming," Percy said then cringed internally. Becoming? He sounded like an idiot.
Audrey, if she noticed the odd word choice, only smiled at the compliment and picked up her cup.
Percy stamped on his growing embarrassment and turned back to his now folded newspaper to continue the crossword.
"Are you any good at those?" Audrey asked after a moment.
Percy looked up surprised. "I'm, well. I've never completed one."
Audrey smiled. "Me neither, devilishly hard, aren't they?"
Percy put the folded paper down and picked up his cup, observing his new companion. His mother would have scolded him for ignoring her, and while he no longer felt the pressing need to obey his parents, good manners had been ingrained. "Do you prefer the Guardian or the Financial Times?"
"The Telegraph actually," Audrey replied with a smile.
Percy looked at her and smiled the first genuine smile he had done for a long time. She was pretty, and he had an urge to converse with her as long as he could.
"I don't think I've seen you in here before," Audrey said with another warm smile.
"I moved to the area last week," Percy said. "I moved out of a house share I was in. I wanted my own space."
"I'm not sure I'm brave enough to live in a house share. I know they are all the rage, but what if you end up with someone who drinks all the milk? Or leaves the bathroom in a state? Or throws wild parties every weekend?" Audrey said shuddering.
"I didn't have those problems," Percy said. Silencing Charms were invented for a reason after all, and after living in a house with five brothers, he'd learnt the necessary cleaning and freshening charms at a very young age. His mother had insisted they all had. "But I think it was time for me to move out."
"How long have you lived there?"
"Just over a year," Percy answered. "My housemates, and I all work for the same place, so there's mutual respect about not having parties and such."
"Banker or law?" Audrey guessed.
"Where you all work, at a city bank or in law?"
"What makes you say that?" Percy asked curiously.
"The suit," she waved a hand at Percy who was wearing the same Muggle suit he'd worn each time he'd been in Muggle London. "It's too formal for day to day management, so that leaves an older establishment that expects a higher standard of dress than current fashion. Which rules out most things except high-end banking or law."
"Neither I'm afraid. I work for the government," Percy confessed.
"Really?" Audrey said surprised, she considered him again closely. "You don't strike me as the type."
"I beg your pardon," Percy said straightening up, a little put out that she didn't think he could work in government.
"Oh, god, sorry. I mean, you're what my age? So it's going to be some sort of entry-level thing. I have a friend, Rose, who works as a Data Clerk for Whitehall. Which sounds very glam but honestly, she does nothing but complain about it. She was telling me about the blokes there, and well they are either aristocratic arses coming in from boarding school on Mummy and Daddy's money. Or they are the ideological type who won't last six months in the rat race but make up lovely support staff for the aristocratic arses who know how to play the game." Audrey winced. "And, umm, you don't seem like either of those. Sorry, I didn't mean that to come out quite like that," she finished.
Percy who had sat in shock at the diatribe coming from this woman smiled. She was beautiful, especially with the blush covering her face at her embarrassment over her blunt assessment.
"Ah well, I am the type apparently. It's entry level post to a department buried within the depth of the government checking on the standards of imported items. It's horribly dull, but I did go to boarding school," Percy said with a smirk.
"Oh God," Audrey said covering her face with her hands. "Could you just pretend I didn't say any of that?"
Percy laughed surprising himself. "Perhaps," he said to ease her embarrassment. "If it helps my case of 'not the type', my parents aren't part of the aristocratically wealthy class."
"Neither are mine," Audrey replied. "You might have been able to work that out for yourself however as you witnessed me placing my foot in my mouth."
"So, what do you do?" Percy asked happy to spare her any more embarrassment.
"I'm in antiques," Audrey replied swallowing a mouthful of her tea.
Percy looked at Audrey waiting for further clarification. When it didn't come, he asked. "What does that involve?"
Audrey shrugged. "If I worked for anyone other than my uncle probably making a lot of tea. It's a bit of a family business, my grandparents used to own an antique shop, my uncle runs it now. I'm an Assistant Valuer. A lifelong exposure to the Antiques Roadshow on TV as a child combined with been taken to the sales on the weekends and during the holidays and I've got the bug. My parents are horrified. Supportive, but horrified. It's not the most lucrative of things to do, and my grades at school were good so they'd rather I got a steady job. But ever since my first auction I've wanted to be an auctioneer. We've compromised, and I'm still taking night classes in case it all goes belly up, and I need a job as a data clerk in Whitehall."
Percy settled back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other. "Most of that meant very little to me. What is a valuer and what are these sales you were dragged to?" Percy ignored the reference to the TV, he knew nothing about it and hoped his silence would be mistaken for understanding.
Audrey nodded as if him not knowing wasn't unusual and proceeded to explain her chosen career and the bug she had developed as a child.
The conversation meandered over antiquities, Percy's need to buy furniture for his flat, Audrey's recommendations of where to get a bargain and parental expectation. It was two hours, and two shared pots of tea later that Audrey bit her lip and shot him a look he didn't quite understand but could see was tinged with a little bit of embarrassment.
"I feel I owe you dinner," she confessed.
"Why?" Percy asked twisting in his seat to see the clock on the wall over the counter that showed it was nearly four in the afternoon.
"Well, I wasn't very honest. You see my last relationship ended badly and I was upset. It was serious, and I liked him a lot. And you know how it goes, one day it's all sweetheart and roses and the next day you're hunting for a flatmate to share the rent. Anyway, I've not been on a date since and it's been eight months, and I don't mind. I'm happy, but my friend, Lucy, who kindly stepped in as a flatmate until I could get out of the lease. Well, she wants me to date, and I told her this morning that I was meeting someone for coffee thinking that she'd leave me be. Only she followed me here, and I didn't have a date so I took a bit of a gamble and asked if I could sit with you knowing she was watching through the window. In my head, it didn't sound crazy, but there you go, now I've said it, it does. But since you've been an absolute trooper and put up with me I'd like to thank you." Audrey explained in a rush glancing at him with her guilty and embarrassed expression.
"With dinner?" Percy clarified.
"Yes," Audrey nodded.
"Dinner that would make it look like you were moving your dating life onward even further when you reported back to your friend Lucy?" Percy asked in a slightly condescending manner but with a smile to take the sting out of his words.
"Well yes," Audrey admitted squirming. "But that's not all of the reason. I find I quite like you Percy Weasley and I'm hoping you improve on further acquaintance."