Three weeks had passed since Voldemort's appearance in the Ministry, since Cornelius Fudge and all those who supported him had been shocked, embarrassed, and horrified to learn that they had all been wrong.  Percy Weasley had yet to speak to anyone in his family.  He had been there to see the Dark Lord.  He had gone through all the stages that preceded his need for forgiveness.  First he had been too stunned by the knowledge that the Minister of Magic himself had been wrong to even react.  Next should have been denial, except that he couldn't possibly deny all that which had been going on under his nose the whole time.  He'd spent months in denial; that stage was taken care of long before it's time.  Then was the anger, both at himself and at those around him who had been fooled into believing the same pack of lies.  Now, finally, he had calmed down enough to see that he had two choices; continue to live alone with his stubborn pride, or be a man and apologize.  He didn't have to think too hard about his decision; his need for forgiveness overpowered any pride he may have had left.

He apparated to a secluded spot just outside Ottery St. Catchpole, nearly a mile from the Burrow.  He couldn't just appear on the front stoop like that; it didn't feel right, somehow.  There was a need to walk home, to humble himself properly before facing his family.  So he walked along the dusty road, facing the lowering sun.  If he looked hard, he could make out the tall, close-set trees on the hill surrounding the small paddock his family owned.  It was nice weather for Quidditch; he wondered if his brothers and Ginny would be outside enjoying a game.  Everything was pictured clearly in his head; now that Bill had gotten a job transfer, he would probably be up there with them, playing on Ginny's team so he could have a good excuse to keep her out of harm's way.  Mum would be inside whipping up enough food to feed a small army, Dad would be tinkering around in his shed until time to eat. 

A small pang of guilt pulled at Percy's heart.  He knew the scene so well, not because he had been a part of it, but because he had watched from his window for years.  He could remember days, even weeks when he never left his room except for meals, too wrapped up in his work to care about his family.  But he still saw them through the glass that separated him from the outside world.  Even then, a part of him longed to be in the memories, but he had always pushed that part aside.  There were much more important things than playing games and telling stories.  At least, there used to be.  He wasn't so sure about that anymore.

He was also unsure of why he had gone along with Cornelius Fudge's ideas in the first place.  Harry Potter had been accepted into the family like another brother, yet at the slightest indication Harry was wrong, Percy had turned against him.  As much as he hated to admit it, something deep inside him told him that jealousy had caused him to distrust Harry.  Although his parents were proud of his accomplishments, Percy had never been able to fit in with the rest of the Weasleys.  Even little Ginny, who seemed to want to be kind to her big brother, wasn't ever really able to accept his nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic that kept him apart from everyone else.  Yet Harry Potter had been welcomed the moment he stepped through the door.  He had immediately fit in 'like one of the family,' a thing that Percy had yet to accomplish.  Percy had spent his life watching his family through the windows.

Another few meters and he would be at the front hedge.  His pace quickened; he'd had time to think things over, had time to realize that yes, he did need forgiveness more than he needed prestige.  All he wanted now was his mother's arms around him, his father's hand clapping him on the back, his brothers teasing him as their way of welcome, his sister smiling up at him.  Faster and faster he walked, until he was almost at a run, no longer caring how undignified he looked.

And then suddenly, he stopped.

The Burrow was empty.  There was no wisp of smoke from the chimney due to Molly's cooking fires, no shouts of laughter, no explosions from the twins' room, no light on in Arthur's shed.  There was no one home. 

Percy walked closer, tears threatening his eyes.  Of course they weren't home.  Half the family was part of the Order, that much he knew, although it was the one piece of information he had staunchly withheld from Fudge.  Of course they couldn't leave Ron and Ginny alone in the house while they were busy trying to save the world.  Of course they weren't home.

Despair flooding his heart, Percy pressed his hands to the kitchen window and leaned his forehead against the cool glass, letting a single tear drip down his cheek.  They were gone.  He had come for forgiveness, and they were gone.  It was all just another piece of the puzzle that he had never been a part of.  Once again, Percy Weasley was standing alone, staring emptily through the windows.