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The Outsider

Part One: Bill and Charlie

Percy Weasley had some distinct memories from his childhood: the soothing voice of his mother singing him a lullbaby; the exhausted face of his father, who nevertheless always wished to spend some time with his children; the deliciously tempting smells of the small kitchen; the softness of Scabbers' fur when he'd played with him...

And always, always, being on his own.

As far as he could remember, Percy had always been a lonely boy with only his books and loyal old Scabbers for company. Some people said that it was his pompousness and gravity which drove other children away, but sometimes Percy wondered whether the lack of his peers' company hadn't been what had made him turn to books for company, which in turn had made him to become a quiet, serious and way too pompous boy. Perhaps yes, perhaps not... he would never know.

The reason for young Percy's loneliness was simple and yet, it wasn't. The Weasleys, as the only and rather poor Wizarding family in quite some miles, didn't have much contact with other families with children of Percy's age. On the other hand, his first five years of life were marked by the shadow of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's reign of terror, a time during which Wizarding families kept to themselves and didn't let their children to socialize much.

That shouldn't have been a major problem considering how large the Weasley family was. Surely the children would make each other company just as well.

Alas, that was not the case for Percy. His brothers Bill and Charlie were born with only a one-year-gap between them. That, added to a similarity of characters and tastes, made them to be inseparable. When poor Percy was born, three years later, there already was no way for him to join his brothers in that unique bond.

It is said that in every big family there's a left-out child. In the Weasley family it became clear from the very beginning whose place was that. It wasn't like Bill or Charlie were cruel or uncaring with their little brother, not at all. But they were four and three years older than him respectively, they were much wiser, much stronger and their legs were considerably longer. Percy couldn't keep up with them and he was more of a burden than anything else to his brothers. They teased him and took care of him like anyone would do with a small child, but they rarely included him in their games and when they did, Percy was soon left out by his own unability to follow their lead succesfully.

Percy, finally realising that Bill and Charlie didn't really want him around that much, decided to seek another source of companionship. His mother was as good as any other option he got, but unfortunately she was too busy to play with him since the twins were born. His father, on the other hand, usually got home when Percy was already asleep so he didn't make a good playmate.

In the end, Percy turned to his rat, who would listen to anything he wanted to say, and his books, who would make him company. As a result of this he turned even less sociable than before, becoming harder and harder for him to come out from his shell. At Hogwarts it was no different. The only one he'd made friends with was Oliver, just because the Quidditch Captain was as sociable as he was.

Back to his family, Percy had always thought of his siblings in pairs: Bill and Charlie, Fred and George, Ron and Ginny, being him the only one left alone. Now that he had to face his siblings again after the events of the prior year, Percy thought he'd figured out why he'd always been an outsider in his own family.

Thoughts of family, siblings and lost chances had been swirling in his mind lately, after the encounter and reconciliation with his parents a few days ago. His mother had told him all the news about his brothers and sister, which had piqued Percy's curiosity about them, whereas his father had pointed out that, even though it would be hard for them, they would eventually forgive him. Percy had doubted it. Too many spiteful words had been exchanged, too much had been left unsaid. There was too much resentment, too many hurt feelings, too many doubts. Percy wasn't certain there could be a bridge over an abyss as deep as theirs.

Time, however, can prove us wrong as Percy had found out many times, and in this case only two days had passed until he began seeing things in a different light. It was not because he had thought things over – although he had – and he'd come to the conclussion that his current situation could change all by himself, no. Let's say he received a little help to change his mind, help that arrived on his doorstep in the form of a letter.

A letter from Bill.

Percy had stared at it, dumbfounded. He read and reread the contents, just to make sure he wasn't imagining things. Why would Bill write to him now, after all what had happened between them? Why would he try to reopen dialogue when Percy had made himself fully clear more than once that he wasn't interested in what Bill got to say?

Percy shuddered when he remembered it. Bill had been the only one of his siblings who had tried to talk to him. He had sought for him right after Percy had stormed out the house, before even his mother did. Percy still felt furious at his parents' blindness and hurt for some of the things both parties had said. The full impact of what he had done started to sink in, a part of him not entirely believing it. Had he really walked out on his family? Had he really abandoned the first place he had called home? He had never, in his whole life, contradicted his parents openly, even less had he argued with them. Now he had not only done that, but incredibly hurtful things had been said, things Percy had never thought that were hidden in the depths of his mind and soul. He had always thought highly of his parents although admittedly in the last couple of years he had come to see they were not always correct in their beliefs and actions, which was normal. All children realise their parents weren't perfect once they were grown-up. It was part of life.

But the things, the hateful things Percy had said... Where had they come from? He had never suspected that such insidious feelings were lurking inside him, waiting to come to the surface.

They had, though, which made Percy to feel shocked and disgusted. He still felt self-righteous anger towards his father, who would not believe in his son's talent, preferring to be fooled by preposterous rumours of the Dark Lord's return, but a tiny part of him felt sad, and confused, and homesick. A tiny, tiny part of him began to doubt his actions. Could he be wrong? Was it possible that the Dark Lord...? After all, why would Harry lie? He was a decent child. Percy knew him well. And Dumbledore... Dumbledore was the wisest man alive. Could he be losing his marbles?

If Bill had been smart and prudent, if he had spoken softly and wisely to his younger brother when he sought him, perhaps things would have turned out differently. Perhaps Percy, in spite of his pride, would have been forced to see that Bill's arguments were more reasonable than his. Perhaps he would have been able to see that Fudge, despite being the Minister, wasn't as clever as Dumbledore. Perhaps he would have been able to see the error of his ways and return home...

But Bill was angry, too, and he wasn't thinking clearly when he banged on Percy's door. He was disconcerted at his quiet brother's sudden outburst, angered by it and was not in the mood to be patient with the idiot of Percy, who was gullible enough to swallow Fudge's lies and insult his parents. In his eyes, Percy needed to be shaked a little so his bran began functioning again and did not think that perhaps the only thing his brother needed was a guide.

So when he showed up, instead of trying to listen to Percy first and then reason with him, he scolded him for his behaviour unawarely using the same tone Percy used with Ron when he went looking into a girls' bathroom. Percy hated that tone, although he used it often, as he considered he was too old now to be chastised by his brother or anyone else. There had been a time when anything Bill said was law and accepted as the only truth, but that time had passed a long time ago. Bill had been away for some years now, his influence slowly vanishing, so it annoyed Percy that his brother acted as though he had the right to give him orders. He was a grown-up man now, not the boy who used to follow Bill and Charlie around like a lap dog.

It didn't help that Bill practically called him a git for what he had done to their parents, and a fool for believing Fudge instead of Dumbledore. Although he had been thinking along the same lines, Percy fired up at this. He had always been the most corteous, the most judgemental of all of them. How did Bill dare to insult him?

The conversation hadn't ended on good terms. Bill had slammed the door on his way out, claiming that he wouldn't come when Percy called him asking for help, whereas the youngest Weasley bellowed he had never needed anyone's help and he would never need it. That was the last time he had heard from his eldest brother.

Until today. An envelope on his desk, an envelope with a familiar handwriting scribbled on it. He couldn't believe his eyes at first. He had hesitated a moment before ripping the envelope open. The note was short and straight to the point.

'I've talked to Dad. Today I'll be at Florean Fortescue's about four. Charlie's going to be there too. Do whatever you think it's best.'

It didn't sound like a warm invitation. Percy frowned, wondering what did his brother mean by this. It sounded harsh for an attempt at a reconciliation, yet Bill had never been particularly diplomatic. On the other hand, if his brother wanted to insult him face to face, he could have done it a long while ago.

Do whatever you think it's best. The problem was deciding what was best, and for whom. The thought of facing his eldest brothers after all this time was painful and scary, too. He didn't know what he could say to amend things, not when he didn't even know whether he would be able to make amends at all. Would they be willing to listen? Would he be willing to swallow his pride and ask for forgiveness?

The coward side of Percy was tempted to let it pass. He was afraid of the outcome of the meeting. However, even when Percy had many faults, being a coward had never been one of them, especially now that he had overcome so many of his fears and prejudices. He had a chance to try to fix things. What should he do?

Seize it. Seize it fast.

Florean Fortescue's. In the middle of December. Freezing, icy December. Who in his right mind would choose it for a meeting? Was it a hint or what?

To his surprise, the place wasn't deserted. On the contrary, there were many families and groups gathered, as Diagon Alley remained as one of the few safe places from a possible attack from the Dark Lord, one of the few places where wizards and witches could reunite at peace... by now.

It didn't take him long to spot two unmistakably flaming heads. Gulping for air, Percy held his head high and edged through the narrow spaces between tables until he reached theirs.

'Good afternoon,' he said more stiffly than he intended to. He hesitated for a moment, wondering whether he should wait for an invitation before sitting with them.

''Afternoon, Percy,' Bill said in an even voice, gesturing him to sit down. Percy couldn't help noticing his brothers had both sat at one side of the table, so he was right in front of them... like in a trial.

It couldn't be casual. Probably they had all planned beforehand... The thought irritated Percy, particulary because it made him to turn to defensive tactics. And they hadn't even started to talk.

'Do you want some ice-cream,' Bill inquired, with the same seriousness as if he'd asked Percy "Are you a Death Eater?"

He shrugged and nodded. 'Sure.'

As they waited for the young waitress to bring Percy's ice-cream, he took the time to study his brothers. Bill, with his even longer hair and his extravagant clothes, looked pretty much the same. Percy, though, didn't look at Bill much and instead focused on Charlie. His hair was shorter and he looked considerably thinner, whereas his face and arms had more marks and burns than ever. What the hell had he been doing for Dumbledore?

When his vainilla ice-cream arrived at last, Charlie dedicated Percy a faint smile and he knew at once what his brother would have said hadn't the circumstances been so tense (Always so bloody conventional, eh Percy?, just like when they were little) and he felt a wave of relief warm him for a moment. He'd always suspected that Charlie would be, of all his siblings, the easiest to approach. His temper was very similar to their mother's: he fired up easily and forgave just as fast. His smile, Percy thought, was a sign of that.

Percy's relief didn't last long: if facial expressions were enough sign of people's eagerness to forgive, then Bill's was none, as he wore an adust expression on his face. Percy tried his best not to gulp or look like a frightened child. The silence stretched on for some minutes, until Charlie said in a forcibly cheerful tone:

'Hey, Dad's told us about your new job. Sounds impressive, Percy. Fighting demons and all. I'd have gone for it hadn't it been for dragons.' He made another feeble attempt at a smile. 'Never thought you'd go for something like that... But, um, I'm sure you're good at it...'

Percy realised Charlie was doing a great effort on his part to keep things cool and he appreciated it. He talked a little about his job, and then another little bit about safe subjects like Oliver, Andrew or the band. Charlie kept asking questions, but there was an evident nervousness in his voice and gestures. Percy doubted he was really paying attention at all. Percy didn't mind, as he wasn't paying much attention to their small talk either. Soon the feeble chat died away, falling them all in an awkward silence. Bill had asked him a couple of uncompromised questions too, in the same even, collected voice he'd used before, but Percy could tell his heart wasn't on it. The three of them seemed to be waiting for something to happen, for some important and solemn event to take place. The problem was that Percy did not know what that event could be and, for the look of it, neither did Bill nor Charlie.

Percy started to eat his ice-cream at top speed until he remembered this was no Muggle candy that would melt. Although, now he came to think of it, in such a cold day even the poorest Muggle ice-cream would have lasted hours. Percy wished that the ice-cream would melt, though. Then something would happen, even if it was as stupid as staining his shirt with melted vainilla. Besides, melted Muggle ice-cream made him think of evenings spent at the Multicolour Flat, watching films with Oliver and Andrew, perhaps even Vi and some of her friends, all having a good laugh and a good time. He wished he were in one of those 'movies marathons', as Andrew called them, instead of where he was now. At the Multicolour Flat there were no questionings, no attonement for past faults, no judgement. And no elder brothers that could make him feel like a four-year-old. Suddenly, Percy wasn't so fond of Fortescue's ice-cream anymore.

Charlie started a monologue on Quidditch which neither Percy nor Bill was paying any attention to. He seemed to realise this because a short while afterwards he fell silent without even getting finished a phrase about the Chudley Cannons' new Beater. Thick, dense silence charged with doubts, unsaid things, regrets and repressed feelings stretched between them, pushing them further from each other.

If Percy had thought before that the abyss between him and his brothers would be hard to cross, now he was certain it was nearly impossible. Percy stared at the two strangers sitting across him. They didn't feel like his brothers anymore. Had they really been a family, once? Had they really shared a home, a family, games on Sunday afternoons, birthday parties? Because right here, right now, he felt as he had never seen Bill or Charlie ever before. Judging from Charlie's sad attempts to pretend everything was normal, like nothing had happened between them, and Bill's detached silence, they felt the same.

What was the point, Percy wondered. They weren't going to mend their relationship like this, just pretending there had never been a rift between them in the first place. Admittedly, Percy had no idea of how they could repair it, or whether there was any hope left of doing so.

The question is not whether it can be repaired or how. The question is... you want to?

Percy started. In all the time he had been brooding – because there was no better word to describe it – on the matter, it had never occured to him that seemingly foolish and yet vital question. Did he, Percy Weasley, want to make amends with his older brothers? Did he want to mend a relationship that had started to decay long before the Dark Lord's return? Or did he, perhaps, wish to start a better one, now they were at the same level and there were no prejudices or age difference to affect it?

Or was it too late to think about it? Were there too many regrets, too many bad memories for a fresh start?

Percy looked up from his never-ending vainilla ice-cream... and found Bill's blue eyes digging in his.

Percy had always been amazed at how many emotions those clear orbs could reflect. He had seen those eyes alight with interest, shining from excitement, flashing with anger, darkening with fear and watering from sadness. And he'd also seen them irradiating warming love and compassion.

The thought brought a distant memory to Percy's mind. He had been barely five years old and felt as though he was the most miserable boy in the face of earth. He had sat under the old oak, hiding from everyone to cry alone. He'd stayed there what had seemed a lifetime, although it probably had been a very short time. It was funny how time seemed to stretch on when one was young and felt heart-broken.

Bill had found him and, instead of laughing at him for crying like a baby, he'd sat at his side and gently asked what was wrong. Sobbing, Percy had explained that their dad had refused to buy him a pet.

'I didn't even ask for an owl,' Percy pouted. 'Just a puppy or a kitten... maybe even a puffskein...'

Nine-year-old Bill, although sympathised with Percy's disappointment as he had felt it many times before, was wise enough to know why his father had refused at Percy's request. Things weren't going all right at work, and many times Bill had seen his father, with sunken shoulders and a defeated expression on his face, bending over the kitchen table as he stared to a towering pile of bills, wondering how on earth they would make ends meet. Bill had long ago learnt that there were children that could get anything they wanted because their parents were rolling in magical gold and children like them, who couldn't. Unfair, but that was the way the world worked.

Bill put an arm around Percy's tiny shoulders, trying to comfort him. Suddenly, a brilliant idea struck him.

'Oi, Perce! You don't know what I found today in the bushes...'

Percy's curiosity was piqued.

'What did you find?'

Bill grinned.

'A rat. He's got a finger missing and looks quite beaten up but, if you wish, and if you promise you'd take care of him, it could be yours.'

Percy's eyes shone like stars as he flung his arms around his brother's neck.

'Thank you, thank you, thank you...'

Percy remembered. Percy remembered that day and many, many others, when his older brothers had been there for him, to offer him comfort, to lend him a hand. Apart of being the eldest, apart of being the ones who kept him out of games, apart of being the ones who outshone him, Bill and Charlie had been the ones he'd always turned to for help, the ones he'd turned for comfort, the ones who'd made him laugh. They had been the ones who had been with him through thick and thin during his whole childhood and adolescence, the ones who had defended him from any external menace, the ones who had praised him. They had been his heros, his protectors. They had been the first people he'd looked up to. They were his older brothers...

And nothing would change that.

Percy looked into his brother's eyes, which still were as blue as they had been that cold November day so many years ago, and made up his mind. He was surprised he hadn't been able to do it sooner. It was so simple, what needed to be done...

'I am sorry. For everything.'

Charlie started, astonished, but Bill kept his face unreadable. Percy, however, had no more questions, no more doubts.

'I am sorry for acting like a fool last year and walking out of our family. I am sorry for being an ungrateful brat, for not listening to yout advice, and for siding with the enemy. I do know that I cannot fix things... but my apologies are all I have to offer. If you're willing to accept them.'

A charged silence stretched on, a silence that lasted for an eternity and beyond. Charlie was nervously darting glances at his brothers; one, looking apologetic yet resolved; the other, with an unfathomable mask placed on his face. He gulped but did not dare to break such silence.

Then, in a sudden, like all miracles happen, a smile illuminated Bill's face, like a ray of light that came through dark clouds.

'Apologies accepted, Perce, but there was no need to offer them in the first place.'

Percy was nonplussed.

'But then... then why did you ask me to come here...?'

'Well,' Bill shrugged, a mischievious glint in his eyes, 'I could have send it by owl, but I thought it'd be better if I handed it in person.'

Percy frowned, feeling more and more bewildered by the second.

'Send me what?'

Bill's grin was broader than ever.

'The invitation to my wedding, moron.'

Percy was thrown off-balance for a moment. Then, as he looked back at his brother's eyes, he understood. He smiled, and by the corner of his eye he could see Charlie letting out a sigh of relief.

'Good to know you've finally decided to settle down. Who's the lucky girl?'

No more words were needed, no more questions, no more explanations, no more apologies. In the end, Percy realised that reconciling with his brothers was much simpler than he'd first thought. Because, as he had very recently leanrt, blood was thicker than water...

...and brotherhood lasted longer than wars, political intrigues and petty differences and jealously.

Coming... Part Two: Fred and George