A/N: Thanks to everyone who reviewed 'There's Something About Percy'! I'm glad people are enjoying this... one more to go and then we're done.
To be honest I'm expecting a few 'but
Ginny's not like that!' reactions for this one, and I'm not really sure
about her myself, so if you have any comments on her character they
would be appreciated.
'There, sure enough, was Percy Weasley, striding across the snowy yard, his horn-rimmed glasses glinting in the sunlight. He was not, however, alone.
"Arthur, he's – he's with the Minister!"
Before any of them could say anything, before Mr and Mrs Weasley could do more than exchange stunned looks, the back door opened and there stood Percy.'
chapter 16 of the Half-Blood Prince, by JK Rowling.
The kitchen table was laden with the remnants of a delicious Christmas lunch, crowded with his mum's finest china plates and cutlery, and there were dishes already charmed to wash themselves flinging soapsuds around the sink up the back. Through the open door to his left he could see the armchair-cluttered living room with a heavily decorated tree in the corner, crowded with a myriad of delicate-looking paper chains. The air still lingered with the smell of his mother's cooking and the familiar warmth that had nothing to do with the fire blazing happily to his right in the small, comfortable hearth.
His heart constricted so tightly in his chest that he found it difficult to breathe as he looked upon his family, gazing back at him like multiple deer in headlights; as far as he was concerned, there was no one else in the room. Ron and Ginny's eyes were narrowed with unconscious suspicion; pale Fred and George were both looking at him as though they'd never seen him before; Bill's piercing eyes were somehow sorrowful; his mother looked as though she were about to burst into tears at any moment and his father…
His father's jaw was set, his face reflecting a stony hurt, and Percy felt his eyes begin to burn.
No! He shook himself mentally. You can't. You can't.
Suddenly aware of the painful silence, Percy gathered the last shreds of his dignity, thought of Dumbledore and said with unfeigned stiffness, "Merry Christmas, Mother."
Bill stared down at his plate, somehow having lost his appetite as his mother prattled on tearfully, seating Percy down across from the twins and Ginny. Beside him, Fleur shifted uneasily under his arm, her sharp eyes darting from Weasley to Weasley although she kept her peace. She knew all about Percy; Bill had told her about it often enough when the third-eldest brother had first left.
Only now she didn't know all the facts.
Across the table, the twins were staring at Percy with closed expressions. It looked like anger. It should have been anger. It wasn't.
With a sigh, Bill lowered his fork, his chest aching with distant grief. "Bill?" Fleur asked softly beneath Percy's stony answers to his mother's questions. Bill gave her a tight smile, resting his cheek against her head and taking a few deep breaths to calm himself, comforted by the fresh, tangy scent of her silvery hair.
It was so much easier, he thought with a pang, to pretend we didn't know anything when he wasn't here. We were getting good at it. But to be sprung on us like this…
He couldn't imagine what it was like for Fred and George; they had always taken a more forthright approach towards Percy's decision to leave, before they discovered the truth. It was one thing to insult Percy in casual conversation, but to actually act on the supposed hatred to his face, even after a half-year of pretence…
He frowned, suddenly realizing that neither of them had moved. He didn't even know if they'd blinked.
That wouldn't do… they needed to maintain appearances or Percy's cover might be blown. If they went on like that for much longer someone would notice something was up.
What he didn't realize was that someone already had.
Fred stared at his brother, hardly able to breathe, hardly able to think. For once in his life not a single joke or prank came to mind; his wayward sibling was right there, so close.
When they'd first agreed to keep Percy's secret he hadn't expected to actually see him beyond a passing glimpse. Now, he was sitting, he was talking, and even though Fred knew he was supposed to be angry he couldn't muster up the pseudo-hatred required for a scathing remark. All he could do was stare.
But gradually he came back to himself, and it was then that he saw Bill's worried glances over Fleur's head. Do something. His older brother seemed to be saying. Do something.
Oh. Fred glanced sidelong at his twin, who had been sitting as frozen as Fred, and surreptitiously nudged him. George jumped a little in surprise, his shell-shocked eyes meeting Fred's before he blinked and the shock vanished. Fred tilted his head at Percy and a distressed expression flashed momentarily across George's freckled face; then he nodded and reached across the table to pick up the ladle that was resting in the pot of mashed parsnip just as Fred lifted his fork.
"…and we're doing our best to rein in the panic, of course, but it's difficult with so many people taking advantage of it, I must've signed two dozen forms impounding counterfeit equipment in my last two hours alone the other day…" Percy was saying.
That's our cue.
"Oi, Perce," Fred said aloud, narrowing his eyes in what he hoped looked like anger. Percy's eyes had barely flickered from their mum to Fred before three spoonfuls of mashed parsnip flew through the air and splattered themselves across his face, clouding his horn-rimmed glasses in dollops of chunky vegetable.
Their mother shrieked. "Fred! George! Ginny!"
Red-faced, Percy jumped to his feet, his chair clattering to the floor, and stormed out without a word, just as a grim-looking Harry was entering.
Fred stared after him forlornly, his spoon
dripping parsnip over his fist, paying no attention to his mum's
sobbing yells. Sorry, Perce.
The night was clear, the sky lit up with the silver light of millions of stars. There was no breeze but the air was cold, crisp, and the backyard was a playground of snow. The mangled trees surrounding the garden, half hidden in cloaks of ice, obscured the view into the fields beyond, apart from the prickly hedge on one side, but neither Fred nor George much cared for that anyway.
George, wrapped in a plain black cloak, had his patched knees drawn up to his chest, leaning against a weathered post facing towards his twin, whose stockinged feet were stretched out over the two rickety wooden steps leading into the garden itself. Fred leaned back on his hands, staring absently up at the stars, his own cloak fallen open to reveal his knitted blue jumper.
Though it was chilly enough to dress more warmly than either were at the moment, neither seemed to care; the cold, without the breeze to reinforce it, was easily adapted to and ignored.
The door creaked open, light spilling across the snow-swept porch, and Fred turned a little to see Bill emerge from the warmth of the house, clumping across the floorboards to sit down between them, booted feet on the second step. George didn't even look up, his arms crooked over his knees.
"I don't envy you," Bill said honestly, his face shadowed as he folded his arms over his knees and into the warmth of his cloak, leaning into his lap.
"Why wouldn't you envy us?" Fred asked with a forced grin. "We've got style, looks, intelligence…"
"The inescapable ability to be an ass," Bill added dryly, and George snorted, a tiny smile pulling at his lips as Fred grinned for real.
"Occupational hazard, brother mine." Fred answered lightly. "For laughs and all."
There was a sudden tense pause. Then, "Didn't help Percy, did it?" George said in a low voice.
"No," Fred admitted bitterly, cursing his words. "Never thought I wouldn't have the heart to prank Prefect Percy. Perfect Percy. Merlin, he deserved that Head Boyship, didn't he? And all we did was take the mickey out on him."
"It won't be forever," Bill cut in a little sharply, as though to curtail such depressing thoughts. "Everything'll come clean sooner or later."
"What'll come clean?" A youthful, muffled voice demanded from behind them, and three heads snapped up in surprise as Ginny pushed the door open and let it close again with a clack. For a moment she stood glaring at them all, hands on her hips, long red hair lit up by the golden glow emitted from the window. "What'll come clean?" she repeated.
"Nothing," Bill answered quickly. "Nothing, Gin, go back inside, you're not dressed right to come out here."
She wasn't; she had a pair of socks on her feet and her jeans were some of her oldest, ragged and almost faded to white. About the only thing she wore suitable for the cold was the thick woollen jumper their mother had knitted.
If Bill thought this would send her scurrying, he was dead wrong. She merely frowned and pointed out the fact that neither Fred nor George wore shoes either and that a single jumper and a cloak wasn't enough to ward against the chill. "Besides," she added, coming to plop beside her eldest brother and snuggle into his side, where he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and let her pull his cloak close. "You're all out here for a reason. Don't deny it; Bill's been acting like someone's died all night –"
"I haven't been that bad," Bill protested above Fred's half-hearted sniggers, but Ginny ignored him.
"…and you two, I've never seen you pass up a chance to wind Percy up. For a while there I thought you weren't going to at all. Now what's going on?" The fierce look she gave all of them then was so reminiscent of their mother that Fred grimaced and Bill ran a protective hand through his long hair.
George didn't say anything, merely studied Ginny closely, his face more serious than Ginny had ever seen it before.
"I think we should tell her," he said softly, now sitting cross-legged and back straight against the post. "We said she could keep a secret, remember, and she knows something's up now. No point in trying to hide it."
If Ginny hadn't been struck with sudden fear at his gravity she would have bristled at the fact he was talking as though she wasn't there. As it was she just stared, her face paling, her stomach churning. "What?" she demanded anxiously, looking around at them all, brown eyes pleading.
Bill sighed, tugging fretfully at his fang earring. "Percy…" he began, and then stopped, blue eyes considering his only sister. She looked determined, if afraid, her red hair in bunches around her neck, drawn there by the cloak she wrapped tightly around herself. "Percy's been working for the Order," he said matter-of-factly.
Ginny stared at him and Bill met her gaze unflinchingly, silently promising her that what he said was the truth.
"We've even got evidence if you want to see it," Fred added after a few tense moments in which he didn't think she'd do anything. "Remember the hearing they put Harry through last year? Perce warned Dumbledore they'd changed the time. That's how he knew to get there earlier. And those Educational Decrees, you should see the ones that Perce managed to curtail. And –" Now that he'd begun it was as though the elder twin was desperate for Ginny to understand and believe.
"He's Dumbledore's spy in the Ministry," George cut him off quietly, fisting two handfuls of his cloak in his lap. "Has been all along."
"How long have you known?" she asked finally, not looking away from Bill. The twins exchanged uncertain glances.
"I've known for six months, give or take," Bill answered softly. "The twins a little longer."
"We heard Perce arguing with Dumbledore when we visited Hogwarts that day after the Department of Mysteries fiasco," George expanded. "He didn't want to keep on with it, see, was afraid one of us would die without knowing…" he trailed off.
"Why didn't you tell anyone!" Ginny almost exploded, her voice quiet only because she knew it was important no one heard, but her eyes blazing.
"This is Percy's task, Ginny," Bill said bluntly, his eyes slits as he regarded her suspiciously. "We didn't have the right."
"But Mum, Dad –" she sounded almost in tears now, her lower lip quivering dangerously even as she stubbornly restrained them. "They're hurting so much. You could've stopped it if you'd just told them. We could've had a proper Christmas dinner tonight." Fred and George exchanged aggrieved glances, both wanting more than anything that had been the case.
"Do you think," Bill said quietly, "That anyone is hurting more than Percy himself? This is his choice. After the way we've treated him, the least we can do is keep his cover."
For a few moments she stared at him mulishly, but then her brown eyes filled with tears and Bill drew her close with a sigh, resting his chin atop her head as she cried. He knew what she was feeling: fading anger at the deception, guilt for the way they'd treated him, helpless rage because she knew that even if she revealed the secret, Percy could not come home.
In the shadows, no one noticed the glimmer of unshed tears on Bill's own face, not George who'd looked down as he swallowed hard, nor Fred who glanced away, wiping surreptitiously at his cheeks.
"It's not fair," Ginny sobbed into her brother's chest, her voice muffled and thick. "This could've been the perfect present. This should have been the perfect present."
Could have, should have; it wasn't. Because there was nothing worse than a present you had to keep back when you knew just how much joy it would bring.