A/N: Finally! I'm so sorry this took so long. I got swamped by two other fandoms, not to mention half a dozen mid-year Uni assignments and a good dose of writer's block. This one was the toughest one to write because I knew a little less about what was happening, and I'm not as happy with it as I am with the others, but I figured it was finally time to get it done.
So get ready for some Weasley family fluff. Kinda mushy and cloying, but I hope it's not too bad.
Oh, Petites sorcières: in one of your reviews you wrote something in… French, was it? I was just wondering what it meant, so I'd love a translation if that's possible! (grins)
Okies, everyone, enjoy!
Nervously he tried to resist rubbing his sweaty hands on his blue dress robes, the new fabric bright and unsullied by time, dirt, or greasy skin. You'd think you were about to scout a newly-found tomb, he admonished himself, taking a few deep, discreet breaths. Recently discovered and heretofore unidentified tombs were often the most dangerous of all, because the curses they possessed were unknown and there was little information to base conjectures upon. Smart curse breakers made Moody's paranoid tendencies look like the actions of a reckless youth when dealing with such, and Bill had landed himself in the Gringotts hospital wing more than once because of that particular job.
On the other hand, scouts got hazard pay.
But somehow Bill doubted that Fleur would appreciate the comparison to their wedding day.
As though sensing his nervousness – and perhaps he did, since the second Weasley brother was a better reader of people than many thought he was – Charlie clapped a semi-gentle hand to Bill's shoulder. Bill managed not to jump, but his head twitched towards the other, who grinned. "You're not about to step into an arena with a dragon," the redhead chided quietly, his broad, freckled face amused.
"At the moment, one of your dragons might be preferable," Bill muttered back, though he kept an eye on the numerous French visitors seated on conjured wooden chairs right down the front. It wouldn't do for any of them to hear a comment like that; Fleur's family tended to be high-strung. Charlie just snorted, brown eyes twinkling with an unsubdued merriment, and Bill found himself glad they had all been able to celebrate this day, as family, even despite the war everyone knew was going on around them.
Family. The curse breaker's blue eyes clouded, his gaze drifting off to the clear sky overhead as he sighed. There were two long rows of redheads crowding the front, chattering, anxious, and – in the case of his mother – teary; but though their presence meant more to him than he could say, especially when he knew how they'd disapproved of Fleur, there was still someone missing.
That's when the bridal music abruptly soared over the heads of the congregation, seated in conjured chairs on the fresh grass of the meadow just next to the Burrow. Bill's attention snapped from his gloomy thoughts to the white, gold-trimmed pavilion standing at the entrance to the wide, red-carpeted aisle, his heart suddenly pounding in his throat and limbs partly frozen with sheer nervousness.
But then, somewhere along the way, a flicker of red hair caught his gaze, and his breath caught when he saw the accompanying flash of the sun off of horn-rimmed glasses.
The tightness in his chest eased and he felt a smile tug his lips, suddenly content, turning his eyes back to the elegant tent as the awning shading the front was lifted.
Percy stood nervously at the back of the crowd, eyes flickering every now and then over the congregation, hands occasionally twisting themselves anxiously before he caught it and schooled himself to stillness.
At the front, behind an ornate pedestal that had been conjured by the efforts of his father and uncle, the priest hovered over an open book, his bald pate reflecting the sun. Before him was Bill and Fleur, the latter resplendent in a gown of gold-trimmed white, with a long, lacy train. Each of them were flanked by their respective companions; Bill by Charlie, in worn but still serviceable robes of red, and Fleur by both Gabrielle and Ginny, clad in gold-toned dresses.
Every time Percy looked at his eldest brother, his stomach twisted alarmingly and he swallowed hard, looking down at his polished shoes. The curse breaker's face was hideously raked with twisted, still-pink scars, and though the third Weasley had heard that Fleur proclaimed it just proved how brave Bill was, to him it was a reminder of how he'd failed.
Not to stop the attack from happening – he knew he'd been in no position to do anything of the kind – but failed to stand by his family, to be with them while they fought. Bill had suffered because of this war… and Percy hadn't been there for him.
Now Dumbledore was dead, the last thing keeping him from doing the thing he longed, the person who'd kept him bound by his sense of duty. When he'd heard the news he hadn't believed it; then it had slowly sunk in, that the greatest wizard of their time was dead.
That he was free.
He'd felt confused, conflicted, wanting with all his heart to go back to his family and explain, and he had planned to do so; but then he'd gone to Dumbledore's funeral, and somehow, the sight of his body, of the white marble table, had stalled him.
Would Dumbledore have wanted him to keep on with his assignment?
For days he'd hated the old man, reaching out even from beyond the grave to manipulate him. But then he thought of the wizard's gentleness, his humour, his understanding. A year ago the war had begun in earnest; the lines had been drawn, plans made, and Dumbledore had been there to orchestrate them. But things had changed, grown darker, and Dumbledore was no longer there to do so. He had always put great store in loyalty, in love, and Percy knew that the best way to show his loyalty to Dumbledore would be to renew his love for his family. Would be to display what Dumbledore had fought and died for.
So, in the bright summer sunshine, with the breeze ruffling his red hair, his heart pounding in his throat, clutching a fat leather satchel containing his proof, his olive branch, the only gift he had left to give his family, he watched. He watched as the minister waxed poetic on the virtues of love during times of darkness; as Bill and Fleur exchanged their vows; as the crowd cheered, throwing rice and confetti; as his mother bawled into her husband's shoulder and the entire field was caught in the throes of celebration.
Uncomfortable, heartsick, a stranger, he stood aside and watched.
Molly Weasley clung to Bill fiercely, sniffling, before finally pulling away and patting his cheek with a watery smile. "You have fun, dear," she practically ordered, automatically smoothing his jacket and shirt, tucking his hair behind his ears.
"I'm not sure if this is a good idea," Bill began, frowning, a movement which twisted his scars awkwardly.
"Oh, no you don't," Charlie cut in, giving Bill a hefty whack on the shoulder and a grin, his open face glowing. "You're going on a honeymoon, and you're going to have the time of your life, you hear?"
But what if something happens? The curse breaker couldn't help thinking, even though half of his thoughts were already outside with Fleur, having said goodbye to her own family by now, waiting for him so they could apparate to a cross-continental floo port.
Bill's gaze turned to his father, standing just behind Molly, his face reflecting both questions and pleas, but Arthur's only response was a slight, melancholy smile. "If we need you, we'll get in contact," he said softly, almost mildly, but his own blue eyes were sharp with promise, promise that they would give him as much time as they could, that they wouldn't call him back unless You-Know-Who himself was at their doorstep. Bill knew it was the only concession he could expect him to make.
Behind him, the curse breaker heard the soft clack of the door closing and didn't need his father's stony expression, the abrupt silence, to tell him who it was. Heart beating painfully quick against his ribs, Bill slowly turned to find Percy standing at the entrance to their cluttered little home; Percy, looking nervous; Percy, gripping a thick leather folder, red hair ruffled by the breeze outside, shoulders unconsciously drawn back; Percy, unable to look any of them in the eyes, horn-rimmed glasses flashing with fading light.
No one missed Ron's hiss of surprised indignation, but a quick glance at his younger brother proved he wasn't about to go picking a fight; instead Ron had drawn almost instinctively closer to Hermione and Harry, the latter sinking unassumingly into the colourful pillows of a plump armchair and the former standing with her hands on its flowery back, bushy hair still somewhat tamed by the Sleekeazy potion she'd used on it for the wedding. Though the tall redhead's eyes were narrowed, Bill knew he had grown far too much in recent times to bother actively holding grudges.
Percy apparently didn't hold to the same convictions. "I don't want any trouble," he said quickly, quietly, without meeting any of their gazes, his glance skittering quickly over Ron, and then Fred and George, those who he obviously felt most threatened by, before finally settling on Arthur for but a moment, flickering away. "I just – I came to say something."
"Why?" Ron asked, his voice harsh with anger, with betrayal, glaring at his older brother. "Haven't you said enough? We know how you feel – you said it often enough. Why'd you bother coming back?" You should have been with us, his thick tone said silently. Look at Bill. Look at Harry. Look at what happened to Dumbledore. You should have been with us. Percy flinched as though the words had been shouted, eyes squeezed shut, and Bill's breath caught, his heart in his throat at his brother's raw expression.
He was on the verge of going to him, secret be damned, when Charlie interrupted. "Open your eyes, Ron," the dragon keeper burst out, his face red and brown eyes blazing with emotion, and Bill cringed, catching sight of the identically-dressed twins exchanging half relieved and half exasperated glances. Charlie was a softie at heart; he would never have been able to keep a secret like this without being several countries away. Ron, however, looked startled enough to break of his glower, blinking confusedly back at Charlie. "Perce has always been on our side."
Ron stared at Charlie uncertainly and their mother gasped, hands flying to her mouth, but Bill's eyes were for Percy. The young man's head had jerked up, his expression wide and wild with consternation, and the eldest Weasley couldn't help smiling. "It was a good try, Perce," he offered softly, catching and holding his brother's gaze. "Good try to make us believe you hated us. But not good enough."
"Not for yours trulies!" Fred declared, slapping George on the back, who seemed speechless with passion but nodded fervently. If Percy had been dumbfounded before, now he was absolutely thunderstruck, his face pale, jaw hanging slack, eyes moving from Charlie, to Bill, to Fred and then George.
Wordlessly Ginny passed across the room, Percy watching her with somewhat dazed apprehension. When she reached him she crushed him into a hug that knocked his glasses askew, almost dropping his precious burden, pulling him down to her level. "Welcome back," she choked out, her cheeks already wet with tears, and he put a tentative hand on her yellow-shirted back before she broke apart, sniffling and rubbing at her face.
"But – but –" Percy stammered, adjusting his glasses, bewildered. "But – why didn't you – you didn't –" he stopped, not knowing what else to say, what to ask, but Bill understood, and smiled sadly.
"You had to go on being noble, Perce," he said simply. "You kept it secret for a reason. It was the least we could do to keep the secret for you." Hermione squeaked unintelligibly, her hands clapped over her lips in an unconscious imitation of the Weasley matriarch, her eyes huge with tears.
"But what about us," Ron exclaimed, his bright eyes travelling between everyone, his freckled face an open board of confusion and lingering anger. "You couldn't even tell us?" His last words were plaintive, and when a frazzled Bill turned to rebuff his accusation against Percy he found, to his utter surprise, that Ron's reproachful stare was fixed on him. "You knew all this time – and you didn't. Even. Tell. Us." At his last word Ron's voice broke and he turned away, his shoulders shaking, his face screwed up against the emotions he surely had to be feeling, and Hermione placed a ginger, gentle hand on his arm in comfort. Harry's forehead was wrinkled with a frown towards the eldest Weasley, his green eyes eerily piercing, stating his opinion as clearly as though he'd said it out loud.
Everyone knew Harry's opinion when it came to being kept in the dark.
"We had no right," Ginny snapped, her own voice breaking on the last words, her expression a maelstrom of relief and hope and that utter exhaustion that came from feeling too much. "Ron," She moved to him and gripped his hand, cutting off Harry's unnerving stare on behalf of his best friend as she brushed the youth's hair tenderly to catch his attention. She gained it, the thin wizard blinking and looking up at her. "It wasn't our secret to tell." Fleetingly she caught Hermione's eyes, who nodded and smiled weakly, one hand still pressed to her lips, brown eyes moist.
"We wanted to tell you, bro, really we did," Fred offered uneasily over their mother's bewildered sob as she sank into the nearest chair, stunned, her full cheeks wet with tears.
Ron lifted his head and turned around, his jaw clenched with anger and hurt and uncertainty; but beneath that there was a spark of acceptance, and he nodded stiffly.
Percy didn't see any of it; his family's voices seemed a buzz in the distance. His eyes were on his father, tall amid the haze of his surroundings. His heart was pounding painfully loud in his chest and he could hardly breathe through the lump in his throat, his eyes wide and raw with sorrow, with grief, with pleading.
Arthur stared back, his expression blank.
He's still angry, he's not going to forgive me… the fearful, babbling voice wreathed through Percy's mind.
Abruptly the taller, balding man moved across the room in two long strides and Percy flinched, almost sure that his father was about to hit him, willing to take it, he deserved it –
Only to find himself enveloped in a hug so tight he couldn't breathe for several heartbeats, Arthur's arms around him trembling, his tears soaking through Percy's black robes, his babbling voice sounding in his ears. He didn't really know what his father was saying but that was okay, because suddenly he was doing the same, a sobbing, gibbering wreck. Distantly he felt it when other arms closed around them both, other voices sounded softly in platitudes and reassurances, and for the first time in over a year he felt safe, felt loved.
When they finally pulled away Percy's glasses were fogged with steam and tears, forcing him to pull them off to clean them as he rubbed his red face with his sleeves. When he replaced them, blinking rapidly against the remaining burn in his eyes, it was to find Ron before him, looking uncomfortable and guilty, but studying him with bright eyes. "Prat," the younger brother said with a twisted smile to show he didn't entirely mean it, which Percy returned tentatively. Abruptly Ron leaned forward to embrace him roughly, but a startled Percy didn't get a chance to return it before Ron had released him and added with a fierceness created only to mask his feelings, "Don't think I've forgiven you yet!"
At that Percy smiled fondly for real; he knew Ron's anger had always stemmed from his steadfast loyalty.
Then he took a deep breath, automatically adjusting his rumpled robes, reaching for the thick leather satchel only to find it put in his hands almost instantly by Ginny. He lifted his chin and made for Harry, his family parting around him in silent understanding.
Harry stood, waiting for him, his expression warily curious, accepting. Nervously Percy cleared his throat and held out the folder. "This is – this is everything I collected for Dumbledore," he managed. "The Educational Decrees – the notes on your hearing – new laws and departments – planned defensive measures – everything." Behind him he heard his mother's indrawn breath, as though she was about to object to laying all that on Harry; but Percy didn't look around, meeting the young wizard's serious green eyes and knowing he was giving it to the right person, to someone who would know what to do with it. Dumbledore's heir.
Harry didn't speak, but he nodded, taking the folder, accepting it with determined resignation.
"C'mere, Perce," Charlie's voice sound and Percy turned to find the dragon keeper coming towards him with his muscular arms full of a leather-bound book, its pages edged in silver, corners shod with gold. It was open to the inside cover, revealing two lists of inked names beneath a flowing title; one of them had a gap in the centre, space another signature.
"Our wedding album," Bill explained quietly, holding out an ink pot.
With a grin that threatened to split his face, his heart full for the first time in two years, Percy accepted the fluffy quill that his brother offered him and signed.