25 March 2020

Dear Mum,

I need to tell you something that will probably disappoint you, and I hope you'll be able to help Dad understand why I'm doing this.

I don't want to start working in the Ministry straightaway when I finish school. To be honest, I don't really know what I want to do. The idea of going into international law makes me nauseated just now. After seven years of studying, jumping straight into three more years of studying like that makes me want to throw my books at the wall and run in the other direction screaming.

Professor Moreno suggested I take a year off and try to figure out what it is I do want to do. I think I'd like to do that. The Muggles call it a "gap-year", I believe.

I just don't want to let Dad down.

I still intend to take all my N.E.W.T.s, so you shouldn't worry about that, and I promise I will do my best on them, despite my own ambivalence about how I shall use them. And I suppose you, Dad, and I will have to sit down during the Easter holiday and have a chat about all of this. I just wanted to warn you it was coming. I think Dad will take it better from you.

Love,

Parker

*****

Penelope Weasley smoothed the creases from Parker's letter and her fingertips drummed a thoughtful tattoo on the surface of the kitchen table. She had suspected something like this had been forthcoming. Parker was so earnest and so anxious to please both her and Percy, that she had feared Parker was going to place himself on a path that would make him unhappy. If not now, then in the future.

When he'd come home for the Christmas holiday, she'd fussed over him. Exclaimed over the shadows under his eyes and how he picked at his meals, more often than not gently tugging the book away from his hand and replacing it with a fork.

Penny recognized the signs of a burnout. She'd done it herself in school and was grateful to take a low-level position as someone's assistant in the Ministry. It required little original thought on her part and was almost refreshing mentally. By the time the war had broken out, she had only begun to rediscover her intellect, using it to spy for the Order. After she'd married Percy, Penny had been somewhat shocked to find she didn't want to return to work. She stayed on for another year, then quit in order to stay home with Parker. Percy hadn't commented on it, but seemed to accept it was what made her happy. He'd neither attempted to convince her to stay home, nor to return to work when Parker was old enough to begin primary school.

This was an entirely different situation. Percy already had Parker's paperwork to work at the Ministry ready to go, sitting in a folder on his desk. He'd been looking forward to Parker joining him at the Ministry since the day he'd taken him to work one day when Parker was five years old. Parker perched on a tall stool behind the desk next to Percy, busily scribbling on scraps of parchment, dressed in a miniature version of Percy's neat robes. When they'd put him to bed that night, Parker had said, 'Daddy, when I'm grown up, I'm going to come work with you!' Percy had smiled and patted his son's curly head. Penny saw the brief pang in his eyes, and knew he was thinking about the years he had seen his own father every day and ignored him each and every time their paths crossed.

'Where are the boys?' Percy asked, setting his briefcase next to the door.

Penny glanced up from the letter. 'Oh… They're at my mum's.'

'Is that wise?' Percy asked dryly.

'So they'll rot their brains in front of the telly for an hour.' Penny shrugged. 'It won't kill them.' Percy shook his head. He'd seen the televisions in Ron and Hermione's flat and Harry and Ginny's house and had been deeply suspicious of them at first. 'We've gotten a letter from Parker,' she said, trying to make her voice bright and cheery.

'Oh?' Percy eagerly reached for it, only to have Penny snatch it away.

'I think you ought to sit down first,' she warned.

'Why? Did he set off a Deflagration Deluxe in the middle of class?'

'Of course not.' Penny motioned for Percy to sit. 'I really think you ought to sit down.' She suddenly waved her wand at the cupboard and a bottle of Odgen's Old Firewhisky landed between them, along with a small glass. 'And perhaps a drink.'

'Penny, what's going on?' Percy asked tightly, pushing the bottle aside.

Penny tried to tell him what Parker had written, and instead, merely pushed the letter to him. 'You should read it.'

Frowning, Percy took the parchment and read it. He closed his eyes, then opened them, reading the letter once more, in the hopes it would say something different, but the words were the same. Everything he'd wanted and dreamed for Parker was drifting away. He set the letter on the table, and reached for the bottle, pouring a few fingers' worth of whisky into the glass, tossing the whisky back with an economy of motion. He looked at Penny and abruptly pushed his chair back, clattering up the stairs. Penny waited a few minutes, then followed him.

She found him sitting on the edge of the bed in Parker's bedroom, cradling a photograph of the two of them behind Percy's desk from that long-ago day in the Ministry. Percy's photographic self couldn't help glancing down at his son with undisguised pride. 'Perce?' She joined him on the bed.

'Yes, I know,' Percy mumbled. 'The Ministry isn't for everyone. He'd just be so good at international law and diplomacy…'

'He would,' Penny said softly. 'But you know Parker… He'd do anything for you if he thought it would make you happy. However, he needs to do something for himself and figure out what makes him happy.'

'I just wanted…' Percy choked.

'I know,' Penny soothed. 'And you should talk to him when he comes home. You. Not me.'

'Why?'

'Because it's you he's always worked so hard to please. Even if you don't entirely agree with him or his wish to take a year off, you have to let him know you're all right with it. And you have to be all right with it. For his sake.' Penny paused, unwilling to bring up unpleasant memories, but plowed ahead. 'And think about how different it might have been, had you been able to do the same,' she added delicately, before sliding off the bed. 'I'll just go and fetch the boys.'

She left the room, leaving Percy to his thoughts. Percy traced Parker's round cheeks in the photograph, grudgingly admitting to himself Penny was right.