Summary: Bill, Percy and the scars that define them both. Spoilers for DH, set six months after the final battle.
Notes: Wow. The last time I posted HP fic here was in 2002, but I have a feeling the last book is going to drag a lot of fans old and new out of the closet! This is for Penguin, who wanted Bill and Percy fic set post DH. It was only supposed to be a drabble, so I'm not entirely sure how it ended up over 5000 words long.
Into the Night.
Bill knew where Percy lived of course, in the same way he knew where the muggle Prime Minister lived. His younger brother had sent a proud letter to Bill the moment he'd moved in, and it was where Bill had sent his house warming gift and apologies for not being able to come to Percy's official moving in party. It was only the envelope Bill clutched now, although the letter itself still brought a warm, wry smile to his face. Percy's barely restrained excitement had been evident in the way his script in the letter had been just a touch rushed, even though the words themselves had been as formal as ever. His younger brother hadn't wasted any time in telling Bill all about his new position at the Ministry and how his apartment wasn't simply any old apartment but one more befitting his position, one of historical importance.
Bill's smile took on a hint of incredulous. When Percy had said that the apartment block had historical relevance, he'd assumed that it was one of the many wizard ones that claimed some vague connection to a famous event or wizard. It was certainly the sort of thing that Percy tended to love. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that Percy had meant that the apartment block was be in a muggle neighbourhood and have a muggle history. According to the small, smudged sign that was attached to the front door of the building, a famous group of muggle politicians had plotted something important here over three hundred years ago.
"It certainly wasn't anything to do with building preservation," Bill wryly murmured under his breath as he let himself into the building foyer. The 'rugged' carpet and 'authentic' wallpaper would have been touted as fantastic muggle touches by most visiting wizards, however the two muggles Bill passed on the way up to Percy's apartment seemed less impressed. Bill had caught up over the years with old school friends who wound up working for the Ministry, and while the pay was often overstated by recruiters, the apartment block still seemed a touch too ... well, normal. Simple. Unadorned.
He glanced down at the envelope once more as he came to stop in front of the third door on the fourth floor. The small, bronze numbers that read 412 were in the same style as all the apartment numbers on the floor, which made sense after all. It was just that Bill had always assumed that his younger brother would never grow out of the somewhat pompous name plaque that he'd placed on his door at home, ridiculous as that now seemed in the cheap fluorescent light of the corridor.
And he really should have let Percy know he was thinking about dropping by. That thought, however, did not keep him from rapping his knuckles against the door.
"Bill!" Percy's surprise as he opened said door held just a touch of weariness. "I wasn't expecting - come in." Percy added belatedly, stiffly waving Bill into the room.
"I'm sorry for dropping in without warning," Bill said with a smile. "I'm in the area for business and thought I'd see how things were going." It was the oldest excuse in the book, and Bill didn't pretend otherwise. Percy snorted quietly, hardly convinced.
"Why don't you sit down, I'll put the kettle on." Percy disappeared into another room, allowing Bill to settle down into one of the small, comfortable chairs that made up his younger brother's living room. With Percy gone, the strain that had settled upon seeing him dissipated somewhat, and Bill mentally chided himself for being so uncomfortable around his younger brother. This was still Percy after all, still family.
Bill could still remember when family had been easy. He knew that some of his younger siblings blamed Percy for making family life more ... complicated, but things had slowly been falling apart at the seams for years. Percy had simply ripped apart the remaining threads as opposed to letting them slowly come undone themselves.
What they'd needed was someone to stitch them back together again. Bill had never expected that from Percy, of course - the thought itself was quite laughable. 'Fixing things' was a Ginny or Ron trait, although neither seemed to really realise the way they managed to bind the family together. But Bill had also never expected Percy to be the most destructive of them all, either. That was in the past, however, all in the past. The war had been over almost six months, and there was no reason why things couldn't return to normal.
If nothing else, it was at least a noble thought. The fact that 'normal' would not have brought Bill to Percy's apartment for a catch-up was not something Bill was quite yet ready to examine. Instead, he allowed his gaze to sweep around Percy's apartment, a small smile tugging at his lips as he realised that somewhere along the line Percy had learnt how to properly clean up after himself. His younger brother would be aghast at the thought that ANYONE would consider him untidy - especially someone who was known to be as messy as Bill was - but Percy had always had too many books and parchment and things for his room back at the Burrow to really be able to hold. The apartment was certainly bigger than Percy's room back home, almost bigger than half their old house itself, and the extra space had allowed Percy to invest in a large bookcase that stretched along the length of the far wall. Bill had a distinct feeling that it was the first thing Percy had brought when he moved in, just like Charlie and his large wardrobe and Bill himself and his far, far too large bed.
It was strange, Bill thought as he rose to his feet and drifted around the room, just how much Percy's apartment mirrored Bill and Charlie's own homes. Oh, Percy didn't have Quidditch posters on his wall or a well stocked wine cabinet stashed in the corner (Wait, Percy did. Interesting.), but it felt as though the apartment had gone through the same stages that theirs both had. The first big buy, followed by a series of far more cheaper pieces that belonged more in the Burrow than in the apartment of a young working man with no financial responsibility to others. Being obsessively careful with money was something all the Weasley children had been taught practically from birth, and it had been months before Bill had been able to buy anything that wasn't second hand. Scattered in between the vases that didn't quite fit the room's colour scheme and the bits of essential furniture that had a slightly battered feel, however, Bill could see the pieces that Percy had finally graduated to once the guilt of having money had worn off. There were first editions in Percy's bookcase and the fireplace had been restored to its former glory. A trio of paintings that were beautifully painted hung above the fireplace, and small, rare artefacts shared the mantle with a series of photos set in frames made from perfectly spun silver. He frowned slightly as he studied more closely a photo that showed Percy with another, strangely familiar boy in a Quidditch uniform. It took him a moment to recognise him as Oliver Wood, Pudlemere United's keeper. Curiosity piqued, he placed the photo back before reaching for the one beside it. He recognised this particular picture immediately, it had been taken several years earlier at Christmas back at the Burrow. Bill couldn't quite bend his wistful smile into something happier. Things had seemed so simpler when they photo had been taken. None of them could have possibly have known just how hectic things were to become. This time, he placed the frame back with a sense of reverence. His smile dropped completely as his gaze swept across to the small bottle of pills that was half hidden behind the next photo frame (this one peppered with Ministry staff), and with a quick glance over his shoulder he examined the label.
Dragonscale tablets. Bill's gaze narrowed thoughtfully before carefully placing them back exactly where he had found them.
"I only have muggle sugar, I hope that will suffice," Percy said as he returned with a tray. "It's simply easier to drop by one of the muggle dairies when I run low on things." Bill took the cup with a smile before settling back down in one of the chairs across from Percy.
"That will be fine." Muggle sugar was actually a welcome change. At home, the sugar was always infused with lavender or rose or lilac, resulting in everything it was used in taking on a similar flavour.
"So," Percy started stiltedly, visibly uncomfortable. "How have you been?"
"Busy, things at Gringotts haven't been the same since Ron and co broke in," Bill replied fondly before taking a sip of his tea. "The higher-ups have decided that every single charm needs to be changed, but that means that all the current ones have to be disabled first." Bill's smile turned wry. "You wouldn't believe how many times I've had to regrow my eyebrows this last week alone." A hint of a smile threatened on Percy's lips. "How have you been?"
"Fine. I've spent the last month or so sorting things out here." Percy's response wasn't entirely convincing, and for the first time since his arrival, Bill took a good look at his younger brother. Tiredness ghosted across his features and Bill thought that Percy perhaps had lost some weight - his mainly muggle clothes seemed to verge on hanging from his shoulders and waist as opposed to being worn by them. The shock of red hair that was darker than any of their younger siblings (mainly, Bill thought, because Percy ventured outside far less often) had grown longer than Bill could ever remember it being, falling in soft, rebellious curls against the back of his neck.
"Sleeping ok?" Bill cursed himself silently the moment the words came out. They'd sounded more casual in his head, but once spoken they came across as calculated even to his own ears. Percy's gaze slid momentarily to the fireplace before returning blankly to Bill.
"Perfectly." His words allowed no room for discussion. "You?"
"Perfectly," Bill echoed with a touch of a smile. "You have an interesting photo collection on your mantlepiece; I didn't realise you knew Oliver Wood." He had meant to turn the subject to something a little less heavy, but his comment made Percy frown.
"I know him. We lived in the same dormitory for seven years; naturally we've kept in contact." Percy's gaze narrowed slightly. "Not that I would expect you to know that, of course." Percy turned his attention abruptly away from Bill and down to his cup, his pale fingers tightening around the fine china. His biting words hung heavily in the air before Percy spoke again. "I'm sorry-"
"Don't be." Bill interrupted briskly. "I should have known." Percy could proudly recite each of Bill's achievements (usually in alphabetical order) and workmates (always in order of rank), and yet Bill couldn't name a single one of Percy's friends. He'd always thought that Percy …
… that Percy was above such things. How ridiculous. How completely, utterly, selfishly ridiculous. Tiredly, Bill ran his fingers through his hair. The last few years hadn't really allowed Bill much time to think about any of his younger brothers. Charlie was different because the age gap between them was smaller and it was easy to visit each other one-on-one than it was anyone else in their family. But Charlie aside, he had been so focussed on Voldemort and Fleur and Harry that there just hadn't been time for anyone else.
This wasn't going well.
"Have you been home recently?" And was sure to only get worse. But it was Percy who breached the practically taboo subject first, carefully empty eyes flickering up between strands of rich red hair. "I've been meaning to drop in but …" Percy trailed off. Bill knew from Molly that Percy did stop by every now and then, but while the tension between Arthur and Percy had evaporated, things were still difficult. Percy was still waiting, Bill knew, for something – anything – from Arthur that indicated that he knew that Percy alone wasn't to blame for how their relationship had disintegrated. For his part, Arthur still expected Percy to come to the realisation that everything that had happened between them was all on Percy's head.
One day soon, Bill really would have to convince Charlie to take a day off to have a talk with Percy. There was a reason why Charlie had practically fled home to live on the other side of the world the moment he had graduated. Stubbornness was not a trait Arthur appreciated when it concerned values that differed from his own.
"I visited a week or so ago." He'd moved back in briefly after Fred had … after Fred. They all had – even Percy – but after a few weeks even grief couldn't keep them all from tripping over each other and tempers flying. He still tried to get back as often as possible; otherwise the weight of it all seemed to rest too heavily on Ginny and Ron's shoulders. "Our parents are doing well, Father has been promoted at the Ministry." Bill paused. "He says you were offered a job there."
Percy nodded, his gaze clouding over briefly. "Yes. However, I believe that the Ministry is not the best place for me at the moment." There was a finality in Percy's words that shook Bill. Percy did not plan on ever returning to the one place he'd always strived to be accepted into.
"The Ministry is a hard place to get into," Percy cut in sharply. "It can, at times, be a very difficult place to leave as well. I have no intentions of returning." Bill had heard rumours of what the Ministry had been like in those last few months, rumours that were whispered quietly as many of those who could have made a difference but hadn't still remained in high places. And, Percy had said something on the day of the last battle, hadn't he? Something about how he'd been trying to get out of the Ministry for months …
"Mum is thinking about returning to work," Bill said instead of asking any of the many, many questions that he could have. Percy appeared visually grateful, his grip on his cup relaxing just slightly. "I think she realises that Ron isn't going to be around for much longer, neither will Ginny for that matter. The house must seem practically empty with only the five of them there." Confusion flickered briefly across Percy's featured. "Harry is still there," Bill clarified, and Percy nodded in understanding. "He, Ron and Hermione have all these plans," he added fondly, remembering what it was like to still be young and have so many choices ahead of you. "They keep changing their mind about what they are going to do everyday." Bill paused, taking a drink of his tea as he fought to find the courage to say what was to come – had to come - next. "I popped into the store yesterday as well."
"Oh." Percy's features tightened. There was no need to clarify which shop Bill meant. "How, how is George?"
"Fine. Business is up; he managed to use that secret channel of theirs to promote some of their stock just after the war ended." He shook his head at the sheer audacity of his younger brother. "Lee Jordan – he's own of George's friends from school – seems to drop in a fair bit."
Percy hesitated before he next spoke. "And ... Fred?"
Ah, yes. Fred. The way Percy said his name left Bill with no doubt that his younger brother wasn't quite sure yet how to address the twin, but it was hardly something that Bill held against him. They had all been taken back when, two weeks after the funeral, George had unveiled the painting of his twin bother. It had been the twins backup plan, one that they had been working on secretly for years. It had been difficult to see Fred smiling triumphantly back at them, doing a mock twirl and posing in ridiculous positions as the rest of them stood gaping, unable to respond. It wasn't natural - surely the twins must have known that when they had invested in the dark arts paints and potions that had been used in the painting, and it wasn't real. And, yet, and yet ...
Humour flashed in the painting's eyes in the exact same way it always had in Fred's, and the jokes and jibes rippled forth on a light tenor that mimicked Fred's perfectly. They were all used to paintings of famous people and relatives talking and interacting, but there had always been something foreign about them that differentiated them from the living. With the painting of Fred, however, there had been a distressing familiarity there that had been unnerving.
Part of Fred's soul had been embedded in the painting.
The thought still made Bill shiver.
"He and George seem to be taking advantage of Fred's ability to travel between frames," Bill replied with a smile he didn't quite feel. It was all still too raw, too soon to address the underlying issues. "I take it you've heard about the rival store that opened up nearby? The owner can't seem to figure out how Fred and George always have a jump on him when it comes to his latest inventions." Bill's smile became a touch more genuine. "I think George might be a little jealous, Fred's been taking advantage of all the different sceneries he can jump into and has been having a blast. George wants to know why HE can't go dragon riding whenever he wants." Bill had been carefully watching Percy as he spoke, silently noting the way Percy had become stiffer and stiffer the more he discussed Fred. His younger brother couldn't even look at him, Bill realised with a start. Instead, Percy was rigidly focussing on something just to his left, the muscles in his cheeks pulled tight.
Six months, and Bill still didn't know how to say anything more comforting than 'it wasn't your fault.'
"He visits the frame here on occasion," Percy said abruptly, his gaze momentarily flickering to Bill. "Usually at the most ridiculous hours." He waved his hands in the direction of one of the paintings that Bill had observed earlier.
"You gave him a painting with books in it?" Bill asked with a laugh as he took in the painting of a library filled to the brim with books and parchment.
"Just because he's-" Percy broke off briefly before starting again. "There is no reason why Fred shouldn't continue to educate himself just because he is no longer at Hogwarts." While Percy's words were said pompously, there was just a hint of a smirk in them as well. Fred would drop by Percy's frame more often, George had told Bill earlier, if it wasn't for the fact his visits often seemed to do more harm than good. Sometimes Fred managed to draw a rare smile from his tightly wound brother when he came to visit, but more often his presence resulted in Percy becoming haunted and guilt-ridden. Percy needed time, George thought. More time to get to the 'new' Fred.
Didn't they all.
"Fleur sends her wishes as well," Bill added when the silence seemed too linger a touch too long. "She wants you to come around for dinner sometime next week, although I think it's only fair to warn you that she's planning on inviting a friend of hers that she thinks will be just perfect for you." Percy looked horrified at the thought. "She has good taste, you know," he continued teasingly. "She did pick me, after all."
"I would hardly give that as an example of good taste," Percy scoffed.
"You're probably right," Bill agreed with a smile, before absently brushing his hair away from his face. Percy's gaze stilled on the deep scars that suddenly became more visible.
"Do they hurt much?" Percy asked quietly, his voice strangely distant. His younger brother then straightened in his seat, as though suddenly coming back to his senses. "I'm sorry, that was inappropriate of me."
"It's no problem, Percy. The others asked that sort of thing for weeks after it happened." Percy flinched at that. "Most of the time they're fine, but sometimes they ache a little. Oh! It's nothing serious!" Bill quickly reassured when Percy became obviously concerned. "It's a dull sort of ache, an occasional reminder that the scars are there just in case I ever forget." Not that he ever did. "How about you, how are your scars treating you?" The comment startled Percy, whose gaze drifted traitorously down to his right arm before he could stop himself. Percy hadn't said anything about how the final battle at Hogwarts had left Percy with permanent 'souvenirs' of his own, but Charlie had caught a brief flash of tell-tale too-pale flesh back when they'd all been staying at the Burrow. Percy had clearly not wanted to talk about it and therefore Charlie hadn't pressed the subject, but Bill found it strangely important that Percy realised that others knew.
"I have no idea what you are talking about." Percy's stiff denial surprised Bill, who couldn't figure out why Percy would lie about such a thing. Resources had been stretched thin after the battle, and those with life threatening injuries had been cared for first. As a result, injuries that normally wouldn't have left scars had, and it wasn't as though Percy hadn't been right in the thick of things.
"Do you remember the time that I wanted to know what Charlie had done with my potions assignment?" It had been during Percy's first year at Hogwarts, and Charlie had made their younger brother promise not to tell until Bill had returned Charlie's Puddlemere jumper.
Percy's gaze narrowed. "You wouldn't dare." Bill's answering smile was predatory. "We are adults now, Bill!"
"You're never too old for a tickling curse," Bill replied conversationally, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips. Percy's wand, Bill knew, was on the other side of the room while Bill's just happened to be resting on the coffee table in easy reach. Percy appeared to be weighing up whether Bill actually would carry through with his (childish, stupid) threat, before he roughly dragged his sleeve up with a huff.
If he'd been Charlie or George or Ron or Ginny, Bill would have remarked on how the long, thin scar that started at Percy's wrist and wound itself up around his arm before disappearing beneath Percy's shirt at his shoulder was a strange sort of war wound and left it at that. But Bill had not been one of the top students at Hogwarts merely by chance, and he recognised the distinct burn pattern.
Deadly Nightingale. There had been none of that during the final battle.
"The Ministry is a hard place to get into. It can, at times, be a very difficult place to leave as well."
"Perce-" His younger brother's eyes widened slightly and he pulled his sleeve back down again quickly. It seemed Percy had thought that Bill would make the same mistake Charlie had.
"I don't wish to talk about it," Percy said stiffly, his gaze cold.
"I mean it, Bill." Percy's mask slipped for just a moment. "Not, not yet."
Fred. The Ministry. His scars. There was so much that Percy wasn't ready to talk about yet, but that they were even talking at all was perhaps all Bill could really ask for. And, Bill acknowledged as he settled back into his chair, 'just' talking with Percy was turning out to be rather nice, even if it occasionally felt as though he was navigating blindfolded through a minefield.
"All right," Bill said simply, and the childish relief that shone in Percy's eyes helped alleviate some of Bill's doubt over not pressing the subject. "But tell me, what ARE your plans now that you've decided not to go back to the Ministry? There are always plenty of positions open at Gringotts."
"That's because it's staff are always getting 'temporarily misplaced'" Percy replied dryly, easing into the conversation. He waved a hand towards the pile of letters that sat on the coffee table. "There have been offers from various places," he went on to acknowledge, a hint of disbelief in his voice. "Including one from Hogwarts." Percy's gaze locked briefly on the letter that had the school's symbol etched into the right-hand corner. The thought of returning back to Hogwarts even to visit made Bill feel suddenly ill, and he doubted Percy had considered that particular job for a second. "There is a position with the Archives in Alexandria however that I believe I am well suited for, and the pay appears decent enough." While Percy spoke in an almost offhanded manner, Bill did not miss the flicker of excitement in his eyes, and Bill did not blame them. The Hidden Archives held the largest collection of ancient books, scrolls and articles in the Wizard world, and those who worked there were notoriously known for finding importance in each and every word that was printed in the often encrypted scrolls. Percy, who had found something fascinating even about cauldron thickness, would surely fit right in, and Bill knew the mere thought of being the first to be exposed to new, previously undiscovered knowledge was something that Percy would find very, very enticing. Bill himself had visited the Archive on occasion when he needed help breaking a particularly ancient curse.
"It sounds perfect, Percy. Egypt's a fantastic place to work, at least it is once you get used to the heat. If you take the job you'll have to let me take you out for lunch sometime, I know a great restaurant near the Hidden Archives that serves the best fatayeer." Percy seemed startled by the offer, and when he nodded in response Bill couldn't help but notice that his younger brother's ears had turned bright red.
"I still haven't decided yet, but I shall let you know if I do take up a position with them." The formal declaration was so Percy that Bill had to take a sip of his tea to hide his smile. When he went to refill the cup he was surprised to find the pot empty, and it was only then that he realised just how long he'd been at Percy's. Percy too seemed visually surprised, and gave him a wry, apologetic grin.
"I'm sorry, Bill. I did not mean to talk your ear off for so long, especially since you were only dropping by because you had business to attend to in this area." Percy spoke the words with such sincerity that Bill knew that he HAD to be deliberately mocking Bill's pathetic excuse for visiting. "I, I if." Flustered, Percy broke off. "You're more than welcome to stop by if you're ever in this area again. For business, of course." Percy hurriedly added.
"Thank you, I'll be sure to do just that," Bill responded with a smile as he stood. "And I can tell Fleur that you will be coming around for dinner next week? She really does have her heart set on getting to know you better."
"Just send me an owl with the details," Percy replied briskly as he opened his front door for Bill, although Bill noted fondly that his ears had turned red again. "I'll see then if I can fit the dinner into my schedule."
"Will do." Bill stopped just as he was about to pass through the door frame. "Hang on a sec, there's something-" he started patting the pockets of his jacket and trousers before triumphantly pulling out a small bottle. "Here. I got these from Charlie - he says ground dragon teeth are more effective than scales when it comes to catching up on sleep. I've still got half a bottle at home so you can have these." Percy slowly took the bottle from him, a silent question in his eyes that Bill didn't bother answering. Percy would surely figure it out on his own. "Promise me you'll take care of yourself?" He ordered, and Percy's responding nod was just a touch wry. Bill knew he must have sounded exactly like Molly. He hesitated for just a moment before stepping towards his brother and wrapping his arms around him in a quick hug.
"I'll let you know as soon as possible about dinner," Percy said quickly when Bill released him, his face flushed. "I ... it was nice to see you, Bill." As stiff as Percy's words were, there was no hiding the genuineness behind them.
"You too, Perce." Bill's smile faded the moment Percy closed the door, hiding him away once more in his apartment. Bill stood there for several long moments, unseeing eyes blindly focussed on the brass numbers before he finally spun on his heels and briskly started walking towards the stairs.
All was not well, and Bill wasn't entirely sure how to make things better.
It didn't mean he didn't plan on trying.