Authors' notes: Once again, I apologise. To those who read and liked Full Moon Rising enough to want a sequel, I am sorry. That project was (once again) pushed to the back burner. Percy will not leave me alone (once again!). Taking himself apart, and putting himself back together is turning into quite a project for the boy, and I am privileged to be going along with him. I've gotten rather used to Percy actually, so don't be looking out for the FMR sequel too soon. Anyway, this is the second in what promises (cue dramatic music) to be a three-episode story arc. It started with "Catharsis" and if you haven't read that, this won't make much sense. So, go here to read it first. The third part is writing itself even as we speak.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, just my obsession. Everyone but Erec and Tris, who are wholly mine, belongs to J.K. Rowling.
For my Bestest, without whom I would be lost and alone in the universe: seeing magic everywhere having no one to share it with. And for Cairnsy, did you really think Percy's healing could be complete without Oliver?
A'jes' Blue, March-April 2001
Look at me,
And tell me who I am.
Why I am
What I am
Call me a fool,
And it's true I am.
I don't know
Who I am.
It's such a shame,
I'm such a sham.
No one knows
Who I am.
Am I the face of the future?
Am I the face of the past?
Am I the one who must finish last?
Look at me,
And tell me who I am.
Why I am
What I am.
Will I survive?
Who will give a damn,
If no one knows
Who I am?
Not even you-
No one knows who I am.
-"No One Knows Who I Am" from Jekyll & Hyde (Wildhorn/Bricusse)
He is running. Running fast and hard through a forest at night. He is following a shape in front of him. He can't keep up; all he feels is terror. The harsh terror of not catching up to the fleeing form. Branches and brambles catch at his clothing, tear at his skin. He is getting tired, and falling farther and farther behind. He keeps calling, pleading with the one in front to stop, wait! There is something so important he needed to say. His throat burns with it. They are climbing now, up into a tall tree. He can't see the ground, but keeps doggedly climbing after the small form. Suddenly there is a cracking noise and the form is falling toward him. He sees it as it flies by and recognizes it. "Nooooooooo… Erec!" He is reaching out, wanting to grab the outstretched hand as Erec tumbles by, terror etched on his face as he crashes from branch to branch on the way down to the ground. The bit of the tree that broke under Erec crashes into him and he feels his grip loosen from around the branch and then, worst of all, he is falling too. Falling into a blackness that goes on and on and on.
The wind whipped Percy Weasley's hair back from his face. His cloak billowed about his tall and slender frame. Shivering slightly, his hands clenched and unclenched the railing in front of him. He stood near the prow of the boat that was taking him from England to the continent. His eyes blurred with wetness as the chilled wind made them tear. Bill had insisted they take the boat. Percy didn't see the point. Apparating would be much more efficient, but Bill had patiently explained that this was about the journey, not the destination. Apparating would be no fun. Bill thought it prudent not to mention he was afraid Percy might splinch himself if he tried to Apparate in his current condition. So here Percy stood, watching the horizon. Watching as the far shore drew ever nearer. Standing here, with his eyes glued to the far off landmass he didn't feel the queasiness he was prone to when aboard boats.
Bill watched Percy standing at the railing, swaying with the movement of the boat. His shoulders were hunched with tension, and he clutched the railing as if he were afraid the boat would throw him off. Getting Percy to agree to this adventure had been difficult, and had taken the combined efforts of his parents and himself to do it. Charlie had been surprised that Percy was coming along, and Bill had promised to explain the whole situation in person. It was a good thing Charlie was such an easy-going person. Having an extra houseguest was never easy, especially when that guest was Percy. Bill was still waiting to see if Percy would retreat into his shell again, or if he was truly starting to find a balance within himself in relation to his brother's death. It was all up to Percy, now. Bill and Charlie could only hope that Percy would find his own way out of the despair Bill had found him in.
"What?" Percy looked up, startled. Nervously, his hand went to his face, and hovered for a moment before he realized he wasn't wearing his glasses. He hadn't heard Bill approach.
"Knut. For your thoughts." Bill studiously gazed at anything but Percy's face. He didn't want Percy to think he was intruding, but at the same time he wanted to be supportive.
Percy studied his brother's profile. Bill was tall. Taller than their father. He had the same long body and slender grace, but he was broader of shoulder, and he had built up a strong upper body. His clothes tended toward Muggle fashion. Skintight black jeans, t-shirts that hugged his body, dragonhide boots, and leather jacket with silver studs. From one ear dangled an earring. Sometimes, like now, he wore a fang linked from a silver post; at other times he wore a simple diamond stud. His hair was long. Much to his mother's dismay he insisted on wearing it gathered in a black leather tieback at the nape of his neck. He moved with feline-like grace-with an almost palpable aura of danger and a supreme confidence. Percy envied him his confidence. He envied the way Bill seemed so at home in his own skin. He envied Bill's courage, his daring, and his adventurous spirit. He envied his close relationship with their brother, Charlie. He just envied him, period. Percy never felt at home in his own skin. He never felt confident, however much he tried to project that type of aura for his younger siblings.
"I wasn't thinking about anything, really." Percy's voice was so low, Bill had to strain to hear it. "Actually, I was trying not to think at all."
"Mmmm. The sea air is wonderful." Bill purposely didn't respond to Percy's almost whispered confidence. He knew Percy was more than likely to run from or reject any overt comforting. "Charlie is supposed to meet us at the dock." Concentrating on inanities helped Bill assess Percy's mindset. There were dark hollows under Percy's eyes, and he was too thin. Before they had left home, his mother had taken him aside and told Bill privately that Percy had been working very long hours, and over-scheduling his time at the ministry. Long before the night Bill had discovered him, face down sobbing his heart out over their brother Erec's grave, Percy had been pushing himself too hard. His parents had been worried for weeks, thinking Percy took his job too seriously. He hadn't found a balance between work and play. But this wasn't anything too surprising, Bill mused. Percy never did find a balance between work and play. Bill wasn't at all sure Percy knew what play was. At least not since he was five years old. He had always been so driven. Driven to prove himself-worthy, perhaps.
Percy's head was bent and his hands were nervously gripping the railing. He was so tense. Bill wanted to soothe the tension away, but he knew Percy probably wouldn't accept his comfort. Swallowing back a resigned sigh, he spoke about the things they were going to do with Charlie in the next few days.
As they disembarked from the boat, Charlie waved them over. With a broad grin he hugged Bill roughly, thumping him on the back. Turning to Percy, smile no less welcoming he embraced Percy as well. Stiffly, Percy returned a tentative hug. "Percy! I'm glad you could come." Charlie turned back to Bill, as if sensing Percy's discomfort and confusion. Clapping a hand on his taller brother's shoulder, he continued. "How's treasure hunting for the goblins?"
"Good. Next month I'm off to the jungles of South America. I thought I'd get a taste of civilization before I went."
"Ah, yes. Civilization. Dragons. It all goes together, doesn't it?" Laughing, the two brothers carried on back and forth, letting Percy follow along behind. Increasingly, Percy felt like a fifth wheel. As if sensing the thought, Bill reached back and pulled Percy up between them, keeping one long arm companionably around his shoulders. Percy could scarcely follow the quick repartee between Bill and Charlie, content to just walk along between them and let their words break over him in waves, feeling included even though they didn't expect him to participate. He felt an unfamiliar warmth wash though him and discovered he felt good. It felt really good to be here with his brothers. They teased him good-naturedly from time to time, but he never felt sharp barbs in their words like he did when his younger brothers, Fred and George, or even Ron said similar things.
Charlie glanced over Percy's bent head to look at Bill. They continued their conversation, but Bill's attitude and body language always said so much more to Charlie than his words. Charlie's innate ability to read body language made him an excellent Quidditch player. Skilled enough that one of the British teams had wanted to train him, but his heart was with the dragons. Being able to read body language had saved him from being toasted by one of his enormous charges on more than one occasion. He could see that Bill was plainly worried for Percy, and that made him take a closer look at his younger brother. Percy looked worn and tired. He was too thin, even though his reed-slender body always tended to be lanky; Charlie thought he looked almost gaunt. Percy's head was bent so that his hair fell over his eyes. Charlie was surprised that Percy wasn't wearing those ridiculous glasses he had insisted on when he was a student at Hogwarts. He was growing alarmed at the sallow appearance of Percy's skin, and the way he moved as if he hurt somewhere, deep inside. Again he brought his eyes up to meet Bill's, wide with shock. What's happening here? Bill shook his head, and Charlie bit back the questions hovering on his tongue, and continued with the silly banter. Later, he knew, Bill would fill him in on why, out of the clear blue sky, Percy was here on holiday.
They ate in a small wizarding establishment reminiscent of Hogsmeade's Three Broomsticks before catching the train to the Here There Be Dragons Preserve. The Preserve was the largest dragon sanctuary in Europe. It encompassed several hundred kilometers of land and boasted five different breeds. Their nurseries were the best, the enclosures were state of the art, and no matter how short a time he had been gone from them, the dragons always took Charlie's breath away. They were pure terror. Beautiful and dangerous and they needed him. He was looking forward to showing them off to Bill-and Percy, of course.
The three of them had a sleeper compartment on the train to themselves. Percy's total exhaustion was apparent as he boarded the train and went straight to his berth. Bill gazed after him with an unhappy expression. He sighed deeply as he and Charlie sank into the uncomfortable bench seats provided in the cramped compartment. Leaning forward, Bill cradled his head in his hands. Sometimes, being the eldest child was so much harder than he could cope with. Give him the desolate spaces, the uncivilized lands, the buried treasure, and the puzzles of curse-breaking for Gringotts over dealing with the myriad responsibilities of being the eldest of Molly and Arthur's brood any day. Any day of the week. The last few days he had been dropped into the hell that was Percy's tortured existence, and he honestly didn't know what he was doing. Not that he'd let anyone but Charlie know anything about that.
"You ready to share yet?" Charlie's light tone made Bill start. Raising his head he met Charlie's eyes.
"You have no idea." Pausing, Bill glanced away, swallowing back the edge of hysteria in his voice. "No idea."
"So help me understand. What is going on with Percy? He looks terrible. Anything to do with the frantic call from Mum I got three nights ago?"
"Yeah." Bill paused, lips pressed together into a tight line. "Three nights ago happened to be the anniversary of Erec's death."
"Oh, god." Charlie stiffened and swore softly, looking contrite. "I forgot. How could I forget?" He glanced over to the curtained berth Percy was sleeping in.
"Yeah." Bill reached out a hand and laid it on Charlie's shoulder. "I found him out at the grave, Charlie. I've never seen anyone suffering that much. Do you remember him? I mean the way he was before?"
"You mean before the accident? Yeah." Charlie nodded. "They were quite the pair." Charlie grinned suddenly. "Remember the first time they snuck out of the apple orchard to go swimming in the quarry? I thought Mum would burst a blood vessel scolding them. Erec took the blame as usual. 'But Mum, Percy didn't know. He was just following me, honest!'"
Bill found himself smiling at the memories. "Or the time Erec took your new broom without permission and the two of them went for a ride they would never forget."
Charlie chuckled at the memory of the two small boys holding on for dear life, screaming and whooping and laughing manically. "I thought they'd fall off for sure. Percy could do anything with Erec beside him." Suddenly somber, he turned his attention back to Bill. "What happened?"
Bill cleared his throat a trifle nervously. Charlie should know exactly what was going on. "Percy blames himself for Erec's death. Has since it happened." Bill snuck a glance into Charlie's face. Charlie looked like he'd just been pole-axed. "I don't know how it happened, and I don't know why we didn't see it, but god, Charlie! You didn't see him that night. He hates himself. For whatever reason he thinks Erec died because of him. I don't think he's ever felt worthy of… anything… living maybe. Surviving when Erec didn't."
Charlie swore low and long and creatively. When he'd finished he found Bill staring at him with a gleam in his eye.
"I am not so sure some of that is physically possible. But, yeah. I know exactly how you feel. Although it might be best if Mum never hears you say that." Feeling better, Bill smiled at Charlie. Sharing his problems with Charlie always made them seem less somehow. Charlie may have been a goofball, and besotted with dragons when there were better (and more fun) ways of killing oneself painfully, but he was still his best friend. Charlie was Bill's other half, his other self. They got into and out of more trouble that the twins did, and that was saying a lot. They competed at everything, pushed each other to do more and go farther. Everything was a game, something to be won. Bill had been a Prefect, and then Head Boy. Charlie had been Quidditch Captain for Gryffindor. Bill worked as a treasure-hunter and curse-breaker for Gringotts and had the respect of the goblins. Charlie worked with dragons, one of the most dangerous conservation jobs in the wizarding world. They never kept score-at least they professed they never kept score. In truth, they had a point system so complex they couldn't even begin to describe or explain it. It didn't matter to anyone but the two of them anyway, and when you came right down to it, it didn't really matter all that much to them, either. Bill didn't know what he'd do without Charlie.
That is precisely it, he reflected. Percy is living your deepest fear. He lost his best friend. How do you help someone heal when you can't even bring yourself to contemplate his pain?
"God, Charlie. If that ever happened to you… If one day you zig when you should have zagged…" Bill's voice was husky and low.
"Don't. It won't happen. It just won't." Charlie gazed into Bill's eyes and read pain there. It was the same gut wrenching fear he knew was reflected in his own eyes. "Besides, we all know your job is much more dangerous. I mean, some day one of those old curses might just decide you're too smart for your own good." His expression softened at the ghost of a smile on Bill's face.
"Yeah." They sat there in silence for a while before going to bed, rocked gently by the movement of the train speeding over the land toward the Preserve.
Percy's first look at the Here There Be Dragons Preserve the next morning was of a tall stonewall with an ornate iron gate. Walking swiftly, Charlie led them through the gate to a cluster of small cottages. He opened the door to his own little home and ushered his brothers inside. Modeled on the magic of wizarding tents, the inside was larger than the outside. He showed Percy to a small room at the top of a short staircase. Bill's room was just opposite, and his own room was up one more short stair. They ate a late breakfast, and then Charlie changed into his work clothes while Bill cleaned up. Tough leather pants protected his legs, and his sleeveless leather vest allowed total freedom of movement. His clothes had been specially treated with the oil harvested from fire salamanders, and so they reflected back a faint orange sheen against the black of the leather. His boots were flame repellant dragon hide, and his wand was tucked conveniently in a sheath at the small of his back.
"Come on, we missed feeding time, but this is the best time to see them." His eyes fairly glowed with pride as he took them on a tour of the facility. From nursery to healer cave, past broody females, and flying males, he led them showing them all the wonder that were his dragons. He was one of a hundred wizards tasked with the care and study of the five species of dragon housed here. He explained in almost excruciating detail his own duties and responsibilities until Percy's head was whirling with more facts and bits of knowledge and disjointed images than he thought possible to know about dragons. Professor Kettleburn's and Hagrid's Care of Magical Creatures classes did nothing to prepare him for the sheer size of the dragons. From the Common Welsh Green to the Chinese Fireball to the Romanian Longhorn he wondered at the power in the wings, the fire flaming from the snouts, the burning gaze in the hot reptilian eyes. Although he couldn't share his passion, he understood in part what attracted Charlie to the elegant, dangerous beasts.
Bill was amused at Charlie's single-minded pursuit of all things dragon, but he had been here before and experienced this several times. He was enjoying the look of confused wonder on Percy's face. This is exactly what he needs, he thought. Experiences that take him out of himself, keep him from sinking too deeply inside. Maybe Charlie's team could use some unskilled labor… His thoughts trailed off as they reached an open space with low cliffs and watched as a crowd of wizards gathered below the cliffs. A large, shining female dragon appeared at the top of the cliff herding several small grayish forms with her snout. Charlie suddenly clapped him on the back.
"Brilliant! Bill, Percy! It's flying day!" His excitement was contagious as he showed them where to stand and hurried to join his associates at the base of the cliffs. Watching with intense interest, Bill tried to split his concentration between the wizards, the top of the cliff, and Percy's face. As the mewling dragonets were herded to the edge of the cliff, wings flapping unsteadily, their dam nudged them ever closer to the edge. Roaring her encouragement, she pushed one and it called pityingly back to her. Percy tensed beside him, lips moving, and almost murmuring encouragement, wholly caught up in the drama unfolding above them.
Suddenly, one little dragonet lost its balance and tumbled over the cliff. For a long moment it fell, screaming its terror until it sorted out its wings and caught an updraft. With a surprised squawk it glided-ending up in the circle of wizards looking surprised and calling up to its dam in a warbling triumphant cry. One of its siblings followed in surprise and glided smoothly to land wobbily next to it. One by one the dragonets fluttered down. Their dam followed the last one, scattering the wizards when she trumpeted and flamed her approval. Bill found tears on his face with the intensity of emotion the sight pulled from him. He didn't notice when Percy reached out and grabbed his arm almost painfully in his joy. Grinning broadly, he threw an arm around Percy's shoulders and thumped him on the back. Percy coughed a little with the force of the blows but his eyes were too dazed, too wet with emotion.
When Charlie finally came to collect them, after the brood had been shooed back to their indoor enclosure to practice flapping in relative safety, he found them only slightly more composed. His eyes were bright, and he was fairly bursting with pride.
"Charlie, that was incredible!" Bill couldn't continue, and Charlie nodded with a knowing smile. This was what had decided him, when the choice had come to him after Hogwarts graduation. Quidditch was all right, but nothing compared to the power and grace of the beasts, or the awe the dragons inspired in him.
"We didn't have one casualty! Not one! That's amazing. Usually there are some bumps and bruises. Sometimes, one doesn't get itself sorted out in time and the fall breaks something. Not today!" He was fairly bubbling with enthusiasm and he took in the faraway expression dominating his younger brother's face. Percy was beyond words. He had never seen anything so wondrous.
For the rest of the day, nothing his brothers said to him penetrated the fog of pure awe he was in. Over and over he re-lived the first tumble of dragonet off the cliff, and in slow motion he replayed the wind catching leathery wings, and the surprised glide to the ground. Bill and Charlie exchanged knowing glances and amused smiles when Percy trundled up to his room after supper that night, still seeing nothing but the images of the first flight of a brood of dragonets. Bill sighed as he watched him go.
"Today was a good day."
"Yeah." Charlie smiled. "I don't think I've ever seen Percy beyond words before."
"I have." Bills' face darkened a moment. Then he smiled tiredly at Charlie. "But never like that."
They held on to the memory of that good day. Sometimes, it was all that kept them going through the darkness, as Percy's violent nightmares started that night.
He was at the top of the cliff, his body was small and grey and winged. Something was pushing him, and he didn't want to go. Insistently pushing him toward the edge. He dug in his feet (talons?) and tried to retreat, but he couldn't. He flapped his ungainly arms and felt someone beside him. Another small grey body, with wings called to him piteously. The large form behind him tumbled him into the other, and the other lost it's balance. It cried as it tumbled over the edge. He scrabbled to look down on the broken form of the little dragonet, but it was the body of his brother lying there instead, broken and bloody. "Erec… NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" The cry ripped from him and echoed back at him from the cliffs. Then he was falling, screaming his terror and grief, tumbling head over heels toward the body, the ground rushing up to meet him…
Bill woke from a deep sleep to Percy screaming in terror. Pulling himself from his tangled sheet he met Charlie stumbling down the stairs into the hall. They went together into Percy's room. Percy was curled tightly on his side screaming and sobbing, still caught in some nightmare. Rushing to his side, they exchanged worried glances as they tried to soothe him and wake him as gently as possible. His skin was clammy; he had sweat through his pajamas and the sheets on the bed. His hair lay in a tangled clump, and his breath came fast and loud as he whimpered and twisted, screaming and crying.
"Shhhh, Percy. It's all right. It's OK, now… wake up… come on, wake up… I know you can…" Bill had pulled the thrashing, twisting body into his arms and pushed the hair off his face, Percy's eyes were open, seeing nothing but terror. Slowly, he woke up to the calm rocking and soothing voice. When his body stopped shuddering, Bill smoothed Percy's hair back and smiled gently at the confusion in Percy's eyes.
As Percy realized where he was, and what had happened he flushed in embarrassment. He had been screaming. Shouting… there had been something terrible… he was trying to warn someone… Charlie was holding a fresh pair of pajamas out to him and he realized he was drenched in sweat. Climbing out of bed, he changed into the dry clothes, and watched as Charlie and Bill stripped down his bed and remade it with clean sheets. After they had settled Percy with gentle words, and seen him drift off, Bill and Charlie weren't ready to go back to sleep.
They were both too keyed up with the adrenalin rush; they adjourned to the kitchen for a soothing cup of tea. As the tea calmed his nerves and his hands stopped trembling, Charlie turned to Bill with an almost feral growl.
"How the HELL did we not know about this?"
Bill flinched, knowing the same guilt that etched Charlie's face was readily apparent on his own. "I know. I know. Looking back we've all been incredibly blind and stupid where Percy is concerned. It doesn't help that we were gone all the time, either. First school, and then our own careers. We left Percy holding down the fort as big brother when he wasn't even equipped to look after himself, let alone the twins, Ron, and Ginny."
Charlie was quiet for long minutes, and when he began talking his voice was low. "You remember last summer when he asked us to help him with spells to soundproof his room so he could work in relative peace? I mean between Fred and George and the ghoul in the attic, he had a point, y'know? Do you think that was the real reason, or do you think he was having nightmares back then and didn't want anyone to know?"
Bill started, the thought hadn't even occurred to him. "God, Charlie," he breathed. "I wish you hadn't thought that."
"Yeah. Me, too." Charlie scrubbed a hand over his short hair and scratched at his scalp. "I'm for bed." Bill sat for another few minutes before he drained his teacup and followed Charlie up the stairs.
Twice more that night Percy woke screaming. The next day he was put to work sweeping out dragon stalls, laying down fresh bedding, scrubbing patchy dragon scales, and generally being helpful under Charlie's and Bill's watchful eyes. Magic was reserved to control the dragons, so most care-taking was done with brute labor. Charlie's clothes hung loosely on Percy's thin frame, making him look almost pathetically frail. He even had to punch an extra hole in one of Charlie's belts to make it cinch tightly enough. But Charlie told him he needed the protection from the treated leather. He did everything. They worked him hard and at the end of the day he was sweat-stained and exhausted. His hands were blistered, and he had his first dragon burn, a slight thing where he got too close; one of the yearling Common Welsh Greens snorted a stream of scalding steam from its nostril, catching Percy in the side of his face. Shaken, but vowing to be more careful, he went back to what he had been doing, keeping one eye on the green.
Charlie's associates were unsure about this gaunt, unsmiling Weasley brother, but their respect grew by the day as they watched an obviously magically gifted, although frightened man slowly learn the ways of working around dragons. He never complained, and he threw himself fully into any task they gave him with an almost desperate look in his eyes. His nightmares diminished to two a night, then one. By the end of his second week of servitude, he had managed to log one nightmare-free night.
He still refused to talk about the dreams, but Bill and Charlie were happy to note a healthier glow in Percy's face. He was still grimly silent, which worried them no end, as they were used to his fussy speeches. However, the purplish hollows disappeared from under his eyes, and he filled out a bit. With all the manual labor he was eating better, too. His concentration improved, and he even smiled a couple of times. Bill made it his mission to make Percy laugh.
In the afternoons he paused whatever he was doing so he could watch the brood of dragonets as they were herded out daily to fly from the cliffs. They got better and better, launching themselves, instead of just tumbling from the heights. Soon, they cavorted playfully as their scales turned slowly from the mottled grey-brown of hatchlings to the pale, muted colors of the adolescent. Fully-grown, sexually mature dragon's hide was brilliantly colored, flashy and rich. These dragonets had many months before their skins turned, and they were mature enough to spout fire.
At the end of the second week, Charlie tossed a heavy package to him. When Percy looked up at him in confusion Bill urged him to open it. He peeled back the layers of wrapping to find that his brothers had outfit him as a Dragonkeeper. Heavy leather, dyed blue (the exact shade of his eyes, he noticed foolishly), made into trousers, and a sleeveless vest. Embossed down the vest on either side of the chest were flame designs; on the back was a detailed picture of a dragon in flight. There was a narrow belt with a simple silver buckle. Over the blue of the leather it all had a faint sheen of dusty orange, treated as it was with fire salamander oil. A pair of blue dragonhide boots completed the outfit. Percy felt his eyes fill with tears as he looked up at his brothers, speechless.
"Go ahead, try them on. You've earned them." Charlie instructed.
"Percy, you can't keep wearing Charlie's clothes. He's going to want them back eventually."
"Besides, you're going to need something other than Mum-sweaters and Ministry robes. We are going off premises."
"Out. We're going out. Bill is going off to the remote jungle for Merlin knows how long, and we - are - going - out. We are taking the whole day off, and going out. You are coming with." Charlie informed him in no uncertain terms.
"Oh, no… I don't think I…"
"It wasn't a question. We are not asking. We are telling. Now, put your new clothes on and let's get a move on. Day's a wastin'!" Bill grinned down at his younger brother and watched as he swallowed convulsively. Small doubts gnawed at him- whether this was too much too quickly, but he pushed them aside as he waited for Percy to respond.
"I… I… Okay." As Percy breathed his acceptance of their plan, Bill and Charlie each sensed the other relax, although they waited until Percy had retired to his room to dress before exchanging relieved glances and sighing out their anxiety.
With trembling hands Percy pulled off his clothing and sat on the edge of his bed. He gathered up the new leather clothes in both hands and considered them carefully. The workmanship was beautiful. His eyes filled again as he thought of his brothers planning this surprise for him. It touched him that they would even consider doing something like this. Slowly, he pulled on the trousers, shivering a bit when the cool leather rasped against his skin. The belt slid easily about his waist and he buckled it carefully before taking up the vest. He stood bare-chested for a moment before the mirror on the wall and looked at himself flinchingly. He was still very thin; he could count his ribs without sucking in a breath to make them stand out in sharp relief to his body. His collarbones still protruded painfully, but he was fascinated that his arms seemed more muscled, stronger than he had been. Quickly, he donned the vest, and buttoned it. Surprisingly, he still felt naked. There was nothing immodest about the clothing, but he was so used to robes that hid his body from neck to wrist to ankle, seeing so much of himself was disconcerting. Even telling himself that he had been wearing close to the same outfit as what he'd had on for the last two weeks did nothing to make him feel better. They were going off premises. He was going to be seen by people who didn't wear this similar uniform on a daily basis.
When Percy reappeared in the small kitchen, Bill and Charlie did a double take. The leather clothing fit Percy like the proverbial glove. It was apparent that he had indeed put on a few pounds, because he was no longer painfully thin. His arms were heavily freckled, and had an underlying rosiness of sunburn from working intermittently outdoors. He looked strong, tougher than he had when he had arrived. He no longer had an aura of fragility about him. Where he had been swimming in his stockier brother's clothing, looking like a child playing dress-up, these, which had been created for him, made him look vibrant, strong, and like a man. His hair hadn't been cut in weeks and fell shaggily about his face. The boots were a perfect fit, and he looked almost dangerous in the clothing. The only thing ruining the image of a tough, ready for anything wizard was the expression on his face. Percy looked unsure, and a bit scared, gnawing as he was on his bottom lip.
Bill grinned at him. "Well, hello tough guy!"
Charlie chuckled a bit before clapping Percy on the shoulder. "We are going to have a blast today. You see if we don't!"
Following them, Percy left the grounds of the Preserve, unsure of what to do with his hands, feeling very exposed in the sleeveless vest. And the trousers fit him like a second skin. They felt… almost sinful. Bill dropped back and threw his arm around him.
"Yeah…" Percy said a trifle nervously.
"There's a secret to it, you know."
"Bill, what are you going on about?" Percy eyed him with a confused expression on his face.
"You decide you belong somewhere, and you do." Bill grinned at him. "You look great, Percy. Very in control. Just stop twisting your hands and no one will know you didn't grow up in clothes like this. Relax."
Percy flushed and stilled his hands' nervous twitching. His left hand went self-consciously to his face, and not for the first time did he wish he had his glasses to hide behind. You deliberately left them home, he reminded himself. You promised no hiding on this adventure. Yes, it's hard. The hardest thing you've ever done. You've got to make Erec proud. Merlin knows he's never had reason to be proud of the way you've acted in the past. So you will go with them. You will have a good time. You will do anything to stop from feeling so awful, so alone…
Bill watched a grim expression come over Percy's face. His chin raised a little, and Bill noticed the steely determination in those blue eyes. His breath caught as he also noticed the faint desperation there as well. I'm glad he didn't bring his glasses. It's been so much easier knowing what he is thinking. He is totally incapable of hiding his emotions from leaking into his eyes. We've all missed so much of Percy because of those glasses, Bill mused as they walked along. Charlie took them to the local team's Quidditch practice. Afterward there was an exhibition game, as several teams were training in the area. The same reason that made the area ideal for a dragon preserve made it ideal for Quidditch training. It was rural enough for both activities, far away from the local Muggles. Because of the high concentration of wizards, a small wizarding village served the needs of both the magizoologists and the Quidditch players in the area. Late in the afternoon they went from one establishment to another, eating, talking, drinking, laughing. Bill thought the day was marvelous, and although he was quiet, Percy seemed to be having a good time.
They went to a local Quidditch player's hangout after dinner, because Charlie knew some of the players. It was noisy and crowded, and Charlie had been waved over to a table filled with players almost immediately. Bill headed for the bar to get them some drinks and for a moment Percy found himself alone in the crowd. It was at once freeing and terrifying. He was never comfortable in crowds, and this one jostled him at every turn. He glanced around, growing increasingly distressed, looking for the familiar bright hair of his brothers, and was met at every side by strangers.
Suddenly, someone shoved into him hard and he almost lost his balance.
"Oy! I'm so sorry! I didn't see you…" Turning, Percy faced the apologizing stranger, and blinked in surprise. The other man's mouth hung open as his gaze raked down Percy's body and then back up to his face. "P-Percy Weasley?"
Percy blinked, his long fingers plucked nervously at the side seam in his trousers, and he smiled uncertainly. "Hello, Oliver."
Oliver Wood felt like he'd been hit with a bludger. Percy Weasley, one of his longtime roommates from Hogwarts, stood in front of him looking distinctly un-Percy like, dressed as he was in- good lord, were those leather pants? And dragonhide boots? "Where are your glasses?" Was the first thing to exit his mouth, and he immediately wanted to take it back. Good Oliver, first time you see him since graduation and the best you can say is 'where are your glasses'. You are such a moron. Oliver's face reddened and he mumbled an apology.
"It's… It's all right, Oliver. I… I left them home when I came to see Charlie." Percy was surprised Oliver was embarrassed. Oliver was easily the most outgoing and confident of his roommates from Hogwarts. They had never been friends. Percy had never really had friends at Hogwarts. He had had roommates, classmates, siblings, fellow Prefects, and acquaintances. But never friends. Not even the brief relationship he shared with Penelope Clearwater, the Ravenclaw Prefect, went as deep as friendship. Their relationship left him a little cold. Penelope was safe. Penelope was expected. She was also bloody boring. As was his habit, he had held himself slightly aloof from the rest of the students. In turn, they snubbed him, feeling his attitude snobby and elitist.
What no one realized was that Percy was ill at ease with people, which was compounded by his being painfully shy. He overcompensated for this by trying to hide behind his knowledge. He always made sure he had something to say, no matter how trivial it seemed. For his part, Oliver had never really gotten to know Percy. Percy wouldn't let anyone too close, even his roommates. He remembered how driven Percy always seemed. He also remembered the petty, nasty things said behind Percy's back, sometimes by his own younger brothers. Even though Oliver was closer to Fred and George Weasley than to his own roommate, he never brought himself to tell the twins how uncomfortable their merciless teasing of Percy made him feel. Oliver would never let Percy know it, but he admired him enormously. Oliver admired how Percy kept going in the face of almost constant opposition. Then there were the nights of their first couple of years at school when Oliver woke to the slight noises of one of his roommates crying in the darkness. Once Oliver noticed that the muffled sounds came from Percy's bed, he could no longer feel anything but deep empathy for Percy. Gazing into his face, Oliver couldn't shake the feeling that Percy seemed different somehow, different regardless of the clothing he was wearing. He couldn't help but feel a bit guilty for never comforting Percy in those long dark nights. Oliver snapped back to the present when Percy continued, apparently unaware that Oliver's thoughts had drifted off.
"I… I'm here with him. And Bill. On holiday. I've been working with the dragons." Stuttering nervously, Percy ran out of things to say to Oliver. What's Oliver Wood doing here? Why did I agree to come today? Where are Bill and Charlie? Percy's thoughts were zooming a bit desperately as he tried and failed to come up with further conversation. He was so bad at this.
"Oh." Brilliant conversationalist you turned out to be, Oliver told himself, exasperated. "So… Um… How is the rest of your family?" Oliver knew he was grasping for straws. Percy's nervousness was rubbing off on him.
"Fine, I guess." Percy's reply was less than enthusiastic, and both men had run out of things to say to each other. Luckily, just as the silence between them became uncomfortably long, Bill returned with two butterbeers, and handed one to Percy.
"Here. Where'd Charlie end up?" Bill had watched the awkward exchange between his brother and the athletic-looking young man, and wondered who he was.
"I… I don't know. Bill, this is Oliver Wood. He was one of my roommates at school. Oliver, my eldest brother Bill."
Oliver goggled a bit at the introduction before holding his hand out. He noticed the tough calluses on Bill's palm as it pressed warmly against his own. He remembered that Fred (or was it George?) had told him Bill had been Head Boy his seventh year at Hogwarts. Bill was everything Percy was not. Where Percy had always been prim and proper and straight-laced, Bill looked like the poster boy for rebellious youth. Long hair, earring, and dangerous fashion. Although, Oliver mused, Percy was looking anything but prim and proper in that get-up. A sudden thought of what anyone they had gone to school with would say if they saw their "Big-head Boy" Percy Weasley dressed like that made Oliver smile. Idly he wondered if the twins had any idea the changes Percy was undergoing. He thought… not.
Bill was now clapping him on the back and herding both over to the table where Charlie sat surrounded by laughing Quidditch players. Oliver knew some of them, having played against them and all, but shook hands all around as he was introduced as a friend of Percy's from school. Oliver flushed at this, but didn't correct the assumption. Percy looked at him sideways as if he was scared Oliver would divulge to his brothers and their friends the fact that Percy didn't have any friends. Not at Hogwarts, and not now. He was surprised to see Oliver smiling a little at him, and he relaxed. He knew he shouldn't be surprised. Oliver had always struck him as being one of the most compassionate people he'd ever met. Unlike most of their schoolmates, he had never poked fun of anyone that Percy knew of.
They were easily the youngest at the rowdy table, and had been shoved into the corner together. Oliver noticed Percy's hands were gripping his glass so hard his knuckles were white. His head was bent, and his unruly hair, longer and messier than Oliver had ever seen it, had fallen over his eyes. Percy sighed slightly, and one hand reached up and pushed his hair off his face. Oliver's breath caught at the expression in Percy's eyes. His eyes were filled with such an aching mixture of need, grief, and desperation.
Oliver felt like someone had slugged him hard in the stomach. Someone, somewhere hurt Percy deeply. He didn't know where, or how, or why, but Oliver suddenly felt protective. He didn't pause to question the reaction, just rose to his feet, and grabbed Percy's arm. Percy was too surprised to put up a fight. Bill watched as the strong young Quidditch player almost man-handled his younger brother out the door of the pub, and caught Charlie's questioning glance. He shook his head and smiled. Maybe Percy could use a friend more than a browbeating older brother right now. Sometimes, Bill knew, it's easier to confide in a near stranger than in family. And if the flush of embarrassment Bill had caught on Oliver's face when he introduced him as a friend was any indication, Percy didn't know Oliver Wood very well at all, for all they had been roommates at school. With luck he would help them bleed the poison out of Percy's festering grief.
"So." Percy wondered what impulse made Oliver grab him like that. He wondered what Oliver Wood could possibly have to say to him. Percy had followed without thought, without planning. It just felt right somehow, following Oliver outside and falling into step beside him.
"So. Uh…" Oliver cursed silently. They were walking side by side, and had been for the last few minutes. Oliver was slightly nonplussed by Percy's uncharacteristic silence. He always had something to say. Always. Even if it was dreadfully boring and bookish. Percy could talk for lengths on terribly dry, impersonal, completely uninteresting subjects. On more than one occasion at school Percy had been unflatteringly compared to Professor Binns. "You want to tell me what impulse made you wear those… clothes?"
Percy blushed deeply and hugged his arms around his body. "Uh… Bill and Charlie gave them to me. I've been wearing some of Charlie's old ones to work at the Dragon Preserve, but, well, they wouldn't let me wear my robes out today… Robes were all I had brought with me and… uh…" Percy's speech trailed off and he studied his feet as they walked along.
"The Dragon Preserve, huh? I hear they've got an amazing breeding program going."
"Oh, they do!" Oliver sucked in his breath as Percy turned to him with an incandescent smile on his face. As he spoke about seeing the dragonets and their first flight, Oliver found himself wishing he had been there. Then, almost as quickly as the joy spread across Percy's face, a look of terror passed, too, and Percy lowered his head; allowing his hair to obscure his expression. Oliver stopped walking and put out a hand to stop Percy as well.
"You want to tell me why you're really here?" Oliver spoke gently, not wanting Percy to feel threatened. "I mean with Bill and Charlie? Because I know for a fact the Percy Weasley I had as a roommate would never take a holiday to muck out dragon filth." Slowly Percy raised his head to meet Oliver's eyes, and Oliver was bowled over by the look of utter despair etched in those expressive blue eyes. Had he ever really seen Percy's eyes? He searched his memory and remembered only silver light reflecting off of glass. No wonder he wore glasses. There is no way anyone could look into those eyes and tease him. He's too vulnerable. It's all right out there for anyone to see… Everything he feels is just there-- in his eyes. Uncharacteristically, Oliver felt a surge of righteous anger directed at his one-time teammates, Fred and George. They had been merciless in their heckling of their older brother. And Oliver had not stopped it.
"I… I…" Percy licked his lips nervously. "Bill suggested it. He found me at the cemetery, and suggested it and I came. I… I… I don't know what I'm doing. They all know what they're doing and I… don't. I am such a fool… I don't know why I came… I just felt so, so bad and they looked so happy when I said yes, and Tris told me I'd have a good time, only I'm not… I mean not really… I mean the dragons… they're so… so… amazing, but I'm really not doing so well… and there are so many horrible things in the night… the dreams are killing me…" Percy shivered at the remembrance of the nightmares that had been haunting him.
Oliver listened in disbelief as Percy's stumbled explanation ground to a halt. He stared for a moment trying to process the disjointed images and finally gave up. "Cemetery?" He queried, genuinely puzzled. Who died?
"Yeah. It was the anniversary of… I ended up at his grave…"
"Who, Percy?" He pressed gently, wanting to understand, but still very confused.
"M… my bestest." Percy whispered brokenly. "My brother, Erec."
Oliver searched his memory and came up blank. Erec? Was there an Erec Weasley? No, I only know of six Weasley brothers… No Erec among them… at least not that anyone told me. "Erec?" he prompted softly.
"Erec was older than me. Just less than two years older, but he was everything. We did… oh… Everything together." Percy looked so longingly at Oliver, willing him to understand. "He was my everything… we were so close… as close as Fred and George, maybe. And then… and then h-he died." Percy took a long steadying breath and continued doggedly. "He died and left me alone… so alone… and it's cold without him… He was-he was so beautiful. Erec was so- he was my bestest. He shouldn't have died… he had gone to find me… They tell me it didn't hurt. The accident. That he died instantly… but… but I keep seeing it. Every time I close my eyes I see it… Every night in my dreams I lose him all over again… I can't make it stop. How can I make it stop?" Oliver flinched at the brutal despair in Percy's voice and he found himself holding on to the shuddering figure as Percy wept against his shoulder.
When Percy stopped crying, Oliver kept his arm around him, and slowly they started walking again. This time, Oliver led Percy back to his flat, laid a comforting, crackling fire in the fireplace, and fixed them some tea. Through it all, Percy told Oliver about his brother Erec, realizing as he did so that Oliver must find this incredibly boring. But he was unable to stop the words. He had swallowed back all the words about Erec for fifteen long, lonely years and now he found he couldn't stop them from spilling out of him. For his part, Oliver found he liked listening to Percy. Percy could be incredibly eloquent. His used language so superbly Oliver could see the impish little boy that had been Erec as clearly as if he had been standing in the room.
When Percy finally stopped, Oliver felt oddly let down. Percy drew a long breath and sank back into the comfortable couch. Oliver's mind was still whirling with the images of Percy and Erec's first ride on a broomstick as he quietly cleared away the tea things. When he returned, Percy's eyes were shut, and even in his blue leather clothing- clothes that screamed "dangerous man approaching," he looked very young. Sitting next to him, Oliver threw an arm around Percy's shoulders and gathered him close. He wondered how he could have ever left Percy to fend for himself. He was so ill equipped for handling life. Oliver remembered all the times he had heard the sneering, sniggering, mean little things said about Percy behind his back, and flushed with shame for not having the courage to stand up for the lonely boy. They sat for a long time, watching the fire in the fireplace. Oliver didn't know when Percy fell asleep, but he could feel the heavy even breathing against his chest. Touched that Percy felt comfortable enough to relax, Oliver decided he wouldn't wake the sleeping man next to him, and settled deeper into the couch, shifting Percy's body only slightly to find a comfortable position.
It was late when Bill and Charlie left the pub. Oliver hadn't returned, and neither had Percy. Hoping it meant that Percy had found in Oliver the friend he desperately needed to confide in, they followed the directions given to them by one of Oliver's teammates. Checking the address again when they reached the apartment building, they climbed three sets of stairs before reaching flat number 4B. They knocked, but got no answer. Bill tried the knob, and it turned easily in his hand. Charlie looked at him with a questioning expression, and Bill merely held a single finger to his lips. Cracking the door open slightly, he peered into the room. There was a faint glow from the direction of a fireplace; it cast odd shadows on the walls. He called softly as he entered. What he saw when he slowly moved to the middle of the room brought him up short. Putting out a hand to quell Charlie's surprised question, he pointed to the sofa in front of the fireplace.
Oliver Wood lay, feet propped up on the coffee table, his arm protectively around Percy, with his nose pressed up against Percy's bright hair. Percy was asleep, curled into Oliver's chest, and he had an expression of deep contentment and peace on his face. Charlie clutched at Bill's arm, his eyes tearing up at the scene. It looked like whatever pain Percy had been in, Oliver had soothed it away. As if he sensed their presence, Oliver's eyes opened slowly. His arm tightened protectively around the body he held as he looked up into the faces of Percy's brothers.
"No, don't move." Bill said softly. He and Charlie knelt next to the sofa to speak with Oliver. "How is he?"
Oliver saw the naked concern on the two brother's faces and he smiled slightly. "Okay, I think. He tired himself out talking. I mean I've heard Percy talk before, but never like this… it was astounding."
"What…" Charlie cleared his throat almost as if he didn't want to ask the question. "What did he talk about?"
Oliver looked at them with compassion. He saw the long nights of worry etched in both faces. "Mostly, he talked about Erec. I didn't know you had a brother that died. I'm sorry."
"Yeah. Erec was special. To all of us, but mostly to Percy. He's been having such awful nightmares. He won't tell us about them." Bill stated, but Oliver heard the implied question.
"The dreams…" Oliver struggled to find the words, considered whether to tell at all. Glancing down at Percy, he made the decision to not hide anything from his brothers. He owed Percy that much. Taking a deep breath he continued. "He said he's had them for years. They don't always begin the same, but I think they end the same. It's awful. They all come back to the image of Erec falling, and then of him being dead, body broken and bloody. It's almost like he remembers it- as a true memory, not something someone had related to him." Oliver broke off as both Bill and Charlie paled visibly and clutched at the couch's arms. He now wondered if he had made the right decision.
"It's okay… go on…" Bill's voice was strangled as he fought the urge to gather Percy up and shake him for keeping this terrible anguish to himself. He also fought the urge to grab him and crush him in a hug so tight it hurt.
Oliver continued softly. "When we were at school, I'd wake and hear crying in the night sometimes. It took me weeks to figure out that the crying, most often, came from Percy's bed. It was so quiet, and I didn't want to intrude. He took great pains that no one would hear him… The first couple of years we all had bouts of homesickness, and sometimes I'd cry, too. I just thought it was that, y'know? Then after the first couple of years I didn't hear it as often. I didn't really think about it. Sometimes I thought I should maybe get Percy to talk to me, but in the day it was just too awkward. He always… always seemed so in control- not emotional at all… I thought maybe I'd imagined it- until the next time… I kept telling myself that if he really wanted to talk to someone, he would. Then Fred and George came to Hogwarts, and Percy retreated farther away. He wouldn't be in the Gryffindor common room much anymore, and he studied practically all the time in the library. It didn't get any better when he became a prefect. I know he spent time with the other prefects, but I don't think they accepted him any better than anyone else. And he was always so busy. Up and gone early, and back late. We all were, really. I had practice all the time… It- his behaviour- just wasn't different enough to make a big deal about. I didn't find a chance to talk to him. Now I know I should have…" Oliver broke off feeling again that he should have done something.
"Don't. Don't blame yourself. We all should have seen long before now." Bill comforted the younger man. Oliver smiled weakly, glad Bill was there.
Reaching out Bill shook Percy gently. Oliver bit back a groan, not wanting to let the heavy warmth of Percy go. Percy woke slowly. He had been deeply asleep, blessedly without dreams of any kind. When he woke it was with his brothers leaning over him. Shifting, he realized the warmth at his back was Oliver. He couldn't remember ever feeling so safe as he had when Oliver simply held him. Bleary-eyed he looked up at Bill and Charlie. They held out their hands and he took them. Oliver, feeling bereft, watched as the three brothers embraced. Bill took out his wand and checked with Charlie. Charlie nodded slightly. Oliver watched-- fascinated that Fred and George were not the only Weasley brothers who could communicate without talking. They turned to Oliver, smiled and thanked him. Oliver just nodded, trying to smile back. If Percy had been as close to Erec as Bill and Charlie seemed to be, and as close as he knew Fred and George were, it was amazing Percy had managed to be alone so long.
Sleepily, Percy stood between his brothers as they carefully Apparated back to the Preserve. After they had disappeared, Oliver sat thinking deeply for some long minutes. He felt emotionally drained, but good. Percy was so different from what he remembered of the slender youth. Perhaps, just perhaps, the real Percy- the one that made Professor Dumbledore make him Head Boy- was finally showing through. Oliver knew he would always think of Percy now as the strong yet fragile young man he had met today. As he finally drifted off to sleep he wondered if the three brothers would mind his dropping in at the Here There Be Dragons Preserve his next break day from training. He wanted to make sure Percy was really all right.
The next few days went by in a blur for Percy. He felt a subtle shifting within himself. His dreams had calmed down, changed a bit. He still woke crying sometimes, with Bill holding him gently, but he no longer screamed and thrashed and struck out with everything he was. Hesitantly, he started sharing the dream-images with Bill and Charlie. With them came the inevitable discussions that led to talk about Erec. The memories were so painful, but Percy was surprised to find them sweet as well. For so long he could only see Erec's body, lying broken and alone. Since the night in Oliver's flat he could remember the good times. The times when there were only the two of them in the whole world.
As Bill and Charlie shared their memories of Erec, they sensed an almost desperate need in Percy. He needed their memories so badly. He needed someone else to remember his bestest the way he was now remembering him. Bill recognized that Percy was finally healing, making this loss a part of himself. Instead of pushing it away, he was finding a way to deal with it.
Bill thought long and hard about what the next step should be. Then, he owled his parents with a special request. When the package arrived, it was bigger than he expected. He read the letter from his mother and smiled that she would try so hard to fulfill his request. Charlie stared with interest at the package Bill had received.
"What's all this, then?"
"It's for Percy."
"More clothes?" Charlie crooked an eyebrow at him.
Bill smiled slightly, albeit a bit nervously. "No. Come have a look."
He leaned back as Charlie peered into the box. Bill heard his breath catch as he saw what was there. "You think he's ready for this yet?"
"Yes. No. Only one way to find out." Bill stood, picking up the box with a resolute expression on his face, and marched up to Percy's room. Percy sat at the small desk, writing on a bit of parchment. He flushed slightly when his brothers entered and sat on the bed. Bill shuffled his feet, and wouldn't meet his eyes. Charlie was having a difficult time sitting still. Fascinated, Percy watched them with growing trepidation.
"What?" He finally said. Bill took a deep breath.
"I… I don't know whether you are ready for this. I don't know whether you'll hate me for this… I don't know so many things, Perce. But I want to say, before I give this to you, I am so proud of the person you are right now, and the person you have always been. I hope… I thought it was time you had these things. If I'm wrong, if you're not ready for this, I'm sorry. I want you to know that right up front."
Percy had never heard Bill apologise for anything, to anyone, and simply sat there, blinking his surprise and confusion. Charlie nudged Bill a bit, and Bill reluctantly held out the carton he was holding on his lap. Unsure of it, and Bill's speech because of it, Percy reached out tentatively and took it from him. Setting it on the desk in front of him, he reached inside. The moment his hand touched it, he knew what it was. Obscured from view by the box flaps that got in the way, he couldn't see it properly, but if he closed his eyes he could see it clearly. It was a simple wooden box with a hinged lid. Somewhat dirty, a bit beat up, it had a lynchpin lock holding it closed. By itself it was nothing. It was worn out and shabby, something to be discarded. But what it held was nothing short of priceless. Biting his lip, he pulled it free of its packaging and set it on the desk. There was something else in the package, and he retrieved that as well before setting the carton aside. It was a book. Putting the book to one side, he turned his attention back to the box. It was their treasure box. Anything, and everything that was of the utmost importance to two small boys was housed here. Gently, and with shaking hands, Percy reached out and pulled the pin. Bill and Charlie watched with concern at the careful way he lifted the lid and peered inside. One by one, he reverently took out the items and lined them up on the desk in pure fussy-Percy like fashion.
Stroking each one gently, he set them down. One pure white stone found at the quarry on the occasion of their first swim there alone. One iridescent blue feather that fell out of a clear summer sky to drift lazily to the ground and land right next to them, as they lay on their backs watching the clouds blow by. A small handful of beach glass, all colors, collected the summer they spent at the seashore. Some bits of seashell and a dried out crab shell from the same summer holiday. A black rock, flecked with gold found by the side of the road. A wooden spinning top. The first tooth Erec ever lost in a small clear container. Two bottle tops from Percy's first taste of butterbeer. A notebook with "Erec" scrawled, in large awkward letters across it. A small doll-shape made out of long dry grass, brittle now, and falling apart. A rough, whittled stick, tip burned a bit from their backyard campfire. A small bag full of marbles. A bit of chalk in its raw mineral form. A spell-preserved butterfly, caught one bright spring morning. Old, dried seeds from a sweet autumn apple shared between them, consumed directly from the tree.
Licking his lips a little, he glanced quickly at Charlie before extracting the last item. It looked like a slender twig, or a stiff bristle. Charlie was puzzled. It was familiar somehow, familiar size, even a familiar color. It looked vaguely like part of a broom. And then he understood and he laughed suddenly, startling Bill badly.
"Why, you little imps! That's from my broom!"
Percy hung his head and nodded. "He… Erec wanted to keep a bit. So we'd remember our first ride. He did that, picking up bits of whatever was lying around. Most of these are his. He called them his memories." He carefully set the twig along side the other things, the collected treasures of a life lost too early.
He told them a bit about each item as he put them back in the box, lowered the lid, and replaced the pin. Holding the box gently against himself for a moment, he thanked them quietly.
Then he reached for the book. It was a scrapbook, lovingly put together by his mother. Percy had been on the verge of crying as he held the treasures that had meant so much to his adored older brother, but now he felt the tears slide unchecked down his face as he flipped slowly through the pages. On each page there were photos, smiling pictures of himself, and Erec. In almost every one they were pressed together, laughing. Blue eyes meeting brown, heads conspiratorially close together, giggling, laughing, smiling, happy.
Over and over his hands stroked the pages, almost as if he were trying to imprint the child's face into his fingertips. After a while he closed the album and got up from the desk.
"I… I think I'm tired, now. I… I'd like to lay down for a while."
"Sure, Percy. Do you want us to stay?" Bill was a bit worried by the silent weeping the album had pulled from Percy. He didn't seem to notice as tears continued to slip from his eyes and down his cheeks.
"No. Thank you. I just want to rest for a while. Please." Bill nodded and he and Charlie left Percy alone.
It was only a few days later that Percy was summoned to the front gate of the Preserve by a rather curmudgeonly wizard.
"Yes?" Percy addressed the gatekeeper, puzzled as to why he had been pulled away from his morning duties.
The grizzled old wizard crooked his thumb over his shoulder. "'E sez 'e knows yeh." Was the cryptic reply. Percy peered around the man and his eyes widened in surprise.
Oliver whipped around at the sound of Percy's voice, smiling broadly. "Percy! How are you?"
"Good. Well." Percy was still flustered by Oliver's sudden and unexpected appearance. He peered at Oliver in confusion. "Oliver, what are you doing here?"
Oliver noted the awkwardness in Percy and smiled. "I came to visit you. I had a day off, and I have never been here before. I thought maybe you could show me around?" Oliver's voice became a little unsure at the last and Percy had a sudden insight that Oliver was nervous.
Oliver, nervous? I must be imagining things. "Of course. I'd love to show you around." Oliver smiled at this, seemingly relieved. It was a whim, showing up on the spur of the moment. Oliver wasn't at all sure of his reception. After all, he'd seen Percy at his most vulnerable. It was possible Percy wouldn't want to be reminded of that night. Oliver was pleased that Percy seemed so happy to see him. He felt an unexpected rush of warmth at the thought that Percy was really and truly happy to see him.
Percy spent the morning taking Oliver on a tour of the facility, very similar to the tour Charlie had taken him on almost four weeks ago. Towards lunchtime Percy ran out of things to say and they walked quietly together, each sunk in their own thoughts.
"I… I'll be going home soon."
Oliver's head whipped up to stare at Percy. "What?"
Percy's head was down and he was twisting his hands nervously. "Bill is going off to South America, and I'll be going home." Percy glanced up at Oliver. "I… I'm dreading it, actually. I don't want to go back. I should be happy. I'll be going back to work at the Ministry… But I'm not. Happy, I mean. I don't really want to go back there." Percy paused for long moments before he sighed deeply. "I don't really know what I want anymore."
"Why not stay for a while? I mean after Bill goes?"
"I shouldn't. Charlie won't want me hanging about. And I have to go back eventually." Percy sighed again. "It's not a bad job. I just don't know whether it fits me anymore."
"Maybe you don't have to go back yet…" Oliver started, and at the expression on Percy's face he stopped. "No, listen, Percy. You don't have to stay here- at the Preserve, I mean. You could stay with me for a few days. Learn a little more about the wizarding world than you see from a school desk or a Ministry office. There are numberless possibilities out there, Percy. You've been kind of sheltered, and overshadowed. Maybe it's time to spread your own wings. Do something for yourself for a change instead of doing what you think is expected of you."
Percy was staring at him with a very surprised expression. "I… I… Stay with you?" he said weakly.
"Yes, you silly git. Stay with me. That's what friends do. They visit each other."
"Friends?" Percy tested the word as if it were a completely unfamiliar concept. "We… We're friends?"
Oliver smiled kindly at Percy, gentling his tone. "Yes. We're friends. I mean if that's what you want."
"Friends." Percy said softly. He stared at Oliver for long minutes before smiling a blindingly brilliant smile. "I'd like that. I'd like that a lot!"
The rest of the day passed in a daze for Percy. He was truly happy for the first time he could remember. Tris was right. I am having a lovely time. I hope he knows… He kept coming back to the thought- friends. He had a friend. Not someone who had to spend time with him, like his siblings, but someone who wanted to. He was right all those years ago; Oliver was one the most compassionate people he'd ever met.
The day after Percy went back home to England after spending an extra five days staying with Oliver, Oliver considered carefully before he pulled out his correspondence parchment. Writing to the twins. Occasionally he wrote to his former teammates, and the Weasley twins were no exception. They were in their final year at Hogwarts, and he knew from Percy they had a mysterious backer for their wizarding joke business. A flash of the prissy Percy had shown when he told Oliver that not even their mother could find out who was funding their enterprise. Then the flash was gone, and Percy had tiredly said that he hoped they would be able to make it profitable; it was just the sort of thing they were suited for. It was the first time Oliver had heard Percy speak of the twins with anything resembling approval, or even pride. Smiling slightly at the remembrance, he filled his quill and wrote.
Dear Fred and George,
Training is going really well. The team is good this year, really good. If I can, I will send you some tickets when we are back in England. I hope the year off last year didn't hurt Gryffindor's chances for the Cup this year. I hope Alicia is training the two of you hard. Oh, I ran into your brothers the other day. I guess Bill is off somewhere this month and was spending time with Charlie before he went. Charlie told me the true story of how Harry defeated the dragon last year in the Triwizard Tournament- somehow the papers all made it sound uninteresting. Not when Charlie tells that story! Tell Harry I said, "Hooray! Go Gryffindor!"
Did I mention I saw Percy the same time as Bill and Charlie? No? Well, enclosed please find a photo of the Percy Weasley I met. I don't believe you know this particular brother of yours. He says to tell you, "Hi," by the way.
Send me some order forms when you get the chance. I've got some interested parties for some of your Wheezes. I think they will be good repeat customers.
My best to the team,
Oliver stared down at the letter before he folded it up, then he looked at the photograph he would include. It was of the four of them, Percy, Oliver, Bill and Charlie. Bill and Charlie were relaxed, smiling and waving for the camera. Oliver had just turned to say something to Percy and he kept turning to talk. Percy was almost unrecognizable. He had his familiar bright hair, but he was dressed in the blue leathers. He was grinning a wide, genuine smile, his face alight with joy as he watched something far above. And his eyes- his eyes were the brightest blue, enhanced by the color of the clothing he wore. He looked strong, tough, and so totally at home within his own skin. He kept raising his hands in expression of that joy; it was almost painful to watch. Oliver felt his eyes tear, and his throat burned a bit as he remembered that day. With a mischievous smile, he wondered what the twins would think of the picture. Hastily he shoved the letter and photo in the envelope and addressed it quickly to the twins.
***Epilogue- Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry:
As usual, with breakfast came owl post. One owl swooped gracefully down to the Gryffindor table, and landed neatly between two identical young men about seventeen years old.
"George, look! A letter from Oliver." Fred Weasley plucked the letter from the owl, and it winged away. Tearing it open he pulled out the bit of parchment, and watched a photograph flutter to the floor. George dove after the photo and looked at it for a few seconds before his brain processed the image and his mouth dropped open in surprise.
"Fred?" George's voice was oddly strangled as he held the photo in nerveless fingers.
Fred read the note and looked up at his brother's shocked face. "What? What? He says it's a picture of Percy."
George's mouth opened and closed several times as he tried to find the words. "It is." Silently he handed the picture to his brother and waited.
"Oh. My. God!" Fred breathed. "That's PERCY?" The twins exchanged comical looks and started to laugh maniacally. Their two youngest siblings with Harry Potter and Hermione Granger in tow came to see what the big fuss was about and the picture was passed from one set of hands to another until Ginny Weasley, youngest sibling, and only sister to six rambunctious brothers, cradled it gently.
"That's Percy." She said so softly only her brother Ron heard her. "That's the real Percy." She said again and smiled up at Ron, tears in her eyes. He smiled back, unsure exactly what she meant by that.