"Outside the Loop"
Pairing/Characters: Percy/Kingsley, Percy/Penelope
Word Count: 12,689 words.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and associated items do not belong to me. Alas.
Summary: Percy Weasley and the year that was. It's not easy being a prat.
Author's Notes: DH-compliant. The second half of the fic was scrapped and the first half rewritten after the seventh book came out. Writer apologizes for the obsessive compulsion to make this fic vaguely DH-compliant. It's like bashing heads, really.
Slow and with deliberate care, Percy wipes away the sticky food and liquid that drips down his head and face. He uses a monogrammed handkerchief, light blue, his name and the initials I.W. delicately stitched in white along the border. Around the corner in the gardens, he hears some leftover gnomes pitter-patter in tune to their squeals of laughter. The Burrow is silent and he wonders what they say now that he is gone and out, a good portion of their meal on him. Dripping off him.
He ignores Scrimgeour's sideway glances and concentrates on flicking globs of congealing gravy and potatoes from his neck and collar. He thinks that the shirt will be likely to stain if he doesn't get to the can of Mrs. Scower's Magical Stainaway from the third drawer of his desk. If it does, he'll have to change into his spare shirt, simple and smart, something that's kept in his locker for situations like this. If Percy's learned anything these last few years, it's that there is always someone ready to throw food at him. He consoles himself with the thought that at least it isn't rhubarb. Even with Mrs. Scower's Magical Mess Remover, the stain-happy fruit is hard to get out.
"You have many brothers and sisters," says Scrimgeour.
"Yes." Percy knows he borders on the edge of rudeness, but there is no rule, written or unwritten that he must be quite as loquacious as he was with the previous Minister.
"Fine, fine. I remember your brother… William, was it? One of the few human workers for Gringotts. A curse-breaker, right?"
"And your brother, Charles, he live and works at the Romanian Dragon Reserve."
"And if I recall correctly, the dossier on your father indicates his vital, vital role the last time You-Know-Who came to power."
Percy doesn't answer, his mind swirls suddenly. The question is asked with sagacity, thrown in with all the air of a casual observation. But he knows Scrimgeour, he already knows him from how he orders his cup of tea – "Weasley, bring me a cup, straight!" – and the manner in which he leaves his tie crooked – pull to the side, straighten it out, wrinkle the thing up a bit – is all a careful design. Scrimgeour is no fool, but neither is he truly brilliant.
"Yes, I suppose he did. I'm afraid I know little about the workings of… of my father."
"Hm." Scrimgeour strokes his lion's beard in pensive silence. "Your family is very lucky. No casualties, none at all."
Percy almost sees the numbers and names spill out between them and he thinks about the fact that he could really use a Crumple-Horned Snorkack right now.
"I wouldn't say that… we lost Cousin Sunnytail to a particularly fierce Doxy infestation. Definite Dark Arts, very sad."
Scrimgeour nods in pretend sympathy and drops the subject like a hot bag of Erumpent horns. He then asks Percy about a report in regards to the illegal importation of dragon's blood. The Ministry agent indicates that the farm is located in an isolated preserve from Bulgaria. The preserve is one with minimal management, a reason why it's evaded the Ministry for so long. Percy tells him dragon's blood, according to Article 8098 section 212, is not an illegal import if brought in by nations where the dragons 'voluntarily' give up blood in exchange for 'willing virgins'. The section is a very old sub-clause, so Percy is confident they can submit a proposal for it to be expunged. "And it'll only take, at most, seven months. A record, I do believe."
Scrimgeour smiles – creepy – at his new assistant.
It isn't everyday a Minister of Magic takes on a staff member from a former Minister. Even less so when that former Minister is considered a disgrace. Tongues still wag about the possible reasons Scrimgeour would have in hiring Percy, and Percy knows it. He knows and appreciates it. Even if it does leave a bad taste in his mouth. It's enough that he spends a fraction of his hours in the loo, spitting. He thinks they should invest in spittoons for the offices. There are enough people spitting in the bathrooms that the investment might actually save the department money in the long run, what from water bills and lowered productivity.
Lowered productivity means lowered… well, lowered productivity and that, Percy knows, is the real reason why You-Know-Who will win if nothing changes.
Though it's pretty obvious that Scrimgeour has his own ideas about it.
"You know, Mr. Weasley… I do not quite like members of my staff to be so attached to their families as to lose the bigger picture."
Percy looks at him. I really need to buy a Muggle telly. Can't spend all my time organizing my rock collection.
"I prefer my staff to be those of a single, solitary nature, devoted to the Ministry and little else." He coughs, the sound loud in the bland silence.
Right. Groceries. Penny wanted what?
Scrimgeour continues. "I pride myself in being what the Ministry of Magic needs right now. I need people who understand my objectives and are willing to go to far lengths to achieve them… for the good of the Wizarding community, of course. There are necessary precautions and actions that must be taken to insure our safety… if you understand my meaning."
Loo cleaner, a bit of bread, butter, preserves… maybe I'll get takeaway?
"So you see, that is why I need you, Mr. Weasley. You will be a most vital member of my staff."
Percy stares at him and nods slowly. He isn't the sort to stir muddy waters.
The Minister whistles and starts going on about toad tails and newt eyes. Percy sees the two Aurors waiting by the wayside of the road and wonders how this is going to be any different from Cornelius Fudge.
He supposes, in self-consolation, that at least Scrimgeour knows his full name.
After a fire call to Penelope and telling her for the fifth night in a row that he's going to stay late at the office and wouldn't be able to go to her family's Christmas dinner, Percy finds himself alone in the Ministry of Magic's office. Technically, they close for the day, but the Minister keeps a single floo open for those who wish to take advantage of the lull and reduce the mole-mountains of paperwork. Needless to say, Percy is the only one who actually takes the chance. He earns a chilly reception from Penelope for his troubles.
He brushes long – longer – dark red hair from his face with an air of impatience as the strands keep dropping into his eyes and blinding him. He's trying to think of an appropriate title for his new report and Villainous Veela and their Various Vanities has a nice ring to it.
But it inevitably brings up images of Fleur and where Fleur is concerned, he immediately thinks of Bill and then the rest of his family falls into a chaotic sort of line. It's like a conga dance, but not quite as funny.
Bill is first, but Bill is always first, he's an older brother, the one everyone looks up to with adoration and admiration. He's the stuff of legends, cool and cocky, a human actually good enough to work with goblins. What can be cooler than his job, Gringotts curse-breaker, edgy thrill-taker of Egypt, lover of a beautiful part veela like Fleur; it's like a hero's tale come to life.
Next might be Charlie, gentle and laid-back, as different from the Weasley pack as Percy is. Only, of course, it's a different way, a good way.
Percy's quill splinters as he presses his thumb too hard against the base of the spine. The paper splotches with tiny black dots of ink. He spells them and the broken quill away in exasperation. New budget cuts deem that each staff member is permitted only three new quills a month. He'lll have to speak to the Minister about it; people are resorting to the edge of darkness with all sorts of odd preservation spells to keep within the three-quill requirement.
He sighs and selects a new quill out of his personal stash. It's hard to write with a flourish when all they use are the standard issue raven feathers.
It is no use to ruminate about his family, he thinks. This is a day for peace and reflection. Even if he is in an almost empty Ministry doing the reflection.
But the Twins. It's not hard to remember and relive the fact that the Twins are the instigator behind the majority of his headaches and today is no exception. Percy is certain Ginny wouldn't do the things she does without some sort of backing form the Twins. Maybe.
The Twins and their insatiable need to give him ulcers. They are the worst, they never follow rules, the rules Molly and Arthur set down to protect them and while they receive slaps on the wrist for breaking, oh, a million and one rules, what does Percy get for actually following rules and the law to the letter?
Potatoes and gravy, that's what.
He presses hard on the quill again and barely stops himself from breaking another.
Percy looks around his office and then at his paper. Maybe, he decides it's time to go home and call it a night.
He rubs his hands against his cheeks in exhaustion. Penelope is home with her family and the other Clearwater tots; he considers their last conversation. With yet another cancellation under his belt, he knows she'll spend a few extra days at home to avoid him. Percy can understand why, so he decides not to floo her and say he's changed his mind. He can very well scrounge for leftovers and watch the telly. It'll be easier than thinking of the what ifs and whys that seem to plague him every third Thursday of the month. Plus major holidays and phantom Sunday night dinners too.
With a wave of his wand, the floo shuts down inward travel for the rest of the night. It'll only reopen when someone keys into the office with the password. He sweeps most of his papers into his briefcase and steps into the fireplace and out to his flat.
Percy lays his wand carefully on the table after he activates the numerous wards. It is a necessary precaution when one considers the fact that the one time he'd left on only a basic protective barrier, Fred and George had broken in and smeared dragon dung over everything worth smearing dragon dung over. His salary at the ministry isn't high enough to constantly cover the enormous cleaning costs of removing the potent waste off his belongings.
There were times though, he thinks wearily, that their attempts to prove their hatred and anger amuse him. It isn't everyday he sees a cleaning team look completely at a loss about the excrement dripping from his ceiling lamp. The smell still reminds him of fragrant waffles layered with rotting tomatoes and peaches.
He supposes he can thank them. Penelope doesn't like reprisals enacted from vengeance and the sight of his living room and his precious rock collection is enough to enrage her. She moves in, ring firmly on her right hand and she declares that she didn't quite care if the Weasley's did not want him, because she wants him, thank you very much.
That memory is now old and nearly forgotten.
Nowadays, Penny is more likely to argue about his workaholic schedule than she is to cuddle. Percy knows there's something wrong with their relationship if the most consistent contact they get center around arguments and fights. This can only go badly, but darn if he knows how to fix all the creaks and cranks. She doesn't realize it, but she's a very bad liar and secret keeper; he already knows about the offer that Fussy's Charms in Italy is waving in front of her nose. It's a lucrative job with their company and he's very sure that she wants to take it. The only reason she isn't taking it is because of him, because Percy Weasley's whole life and career is centered in the Ministry of Magic.
He wishes he can summon the courage to tell her to go. Or even, the courage to tell her that he'd go with her. Percy smiles to himself. He's many things, but Gryffindor courage is one trait that never leeched into him.
It's Christmas day, so he automatically checks for an owl and lo, there she is. A courier owl sits patiently by his window and he passes a few treats up. She hoots softly and nips at his fingers before she takes off in a gray-dusted flock of pale feathers. The package is as he expects. Brown paper, magically fire and waterproof, wards to prevent hexes and curses from riding along, a note in his mother's familiar handwriting…
The note is cream, the ink navy. He still recognizes the no-nonsense slant of his mum's writing and the special paper she reserves only for important events. Percy's not sure whether he's grateful or not. Only, a queer aching tendril always curls and nests in his chest after one of her letters. He takes it and runs a finger over the words, traces the dips and turns. He brings it up to his noise and inhales; if he closes his eyes, perhaps he senses the faintest hints of warmth and spice, the smell of cinnamon from her tea, flour on her hands, her no-nonsense floral spray.
The letter is the one thing he looks forward to. Call him masochistic, but he appreciates the fact that she still tries to keep in touch. The fact that he is a floo away and refuses contact makes her efforts even better.
A sigh works its way from his throat and he unties the brown string. It flowers open to reveal a scarlet sweater, a pretty yellow P knitted onto the front, a small box of his favorite foods – that aren't really his favorite – and a book that he already owns. It's not too surprising. She doesn't seem to know that he hates the feeling of wool again his skin, that he doesn't actually care too much about food, and the fact that the Ministry already house an impressive library. It contains the latest additions and editions plus all the ancient texts Hogwarts is famous for. It's nice to check things out without Madam Pince breathing down his neck.
He keeps the food – Penny will eat it later and silently blame him for 'being stubborn' – and tosses the book into a closet so that he can return it at a later date. As for the sweater…
It's a curious thing.
Percy hates the feeling of wool, but he wears the sweater every year to please his mum and to have some physical evidence that he really does belong to the Weasley family, that he's not some changeling they got off a leprechaun. He knows, at best, it just makes him look awkward. And not in the Ron-way, but the Percy-way that's just silly. The color clashes with his hair badly. He wears nothing but certain colours, and he still thinks Molly should've noticed after all the time she fusses over their clothing.
The thought annoys him, since his real ire is and always will be directed at his father.
The sweater is placed carefully back in its package. He'll send it back in the morning and he imagines there will be preparations for rhubarb.
The numbers stack up, neat and efficient. The money grows in a steady way, a deposit every two weeks. It's his great secret; a little bit of himself he hides away from everyone else. Gringotts knows who the money is for and has it in writing that if they were to ever receive notice of his death, they are to start an automatic transfer of the name on the vault to a certain witch. Penelope is the only who knows of it and she approves.
The irony doesn't escape him that he deposits money every two weeks into an account for Molly's future use.
He reasons to himself. Mum needs the money, dad might not get a promotion ever again, it's a safeguard, it's insurance for the future. It's not that Percy doesn't trust Arthur. It's just that he knows that Arthur is happy where he is and even if it means his family is in a constant struggle between paychecks, he will stay where he is. It's well and all, but Percy doesn't think trying to calm a fretful Molly as she worries over bills and savings is the best way to be introduced to that fact.
Percy still remembers the period after he left Hogwarts, the time when Arthur bought tickets to the World Quidditch Cup. He supposes the excitement is what makes the whole event worthy, but he also knows something the others don't. He knows Molly went to the family vault and took out every last sickle and knut so that she had an exact amount to work off of and that she spent days trying to make sure that things would eke out, what with the family home for summer and the beginning of another school year. She hides it from the children, but she trusts Percy and needs someone to fret with. He offers to pay for at least Ginny's books and fees, but Molly refuses.
It all works out in the end, but Percy doesn't think he'll soon forget the fact that Arthur bought the tickets without ever really thinking over their family financial situation. Hogwarts aside, there are also numerous fines associated with the twin's wheezes nonsense.
Percy wants to laugh.
He puts away the bank account notice and takes out his quill and neat stack of reports. There is so much at work that he's been taking papers home for a week.
Penelope is quiet. He glances at her from the corner of his eyes. All through dinner, she'd say a few words, toss him a quick glance and then subside into silence again. She's brooding about something, he can tell. But from experience, he knows he'll have to wait for her to say something. Even if he were to ask, she'd simply snap at him and apologize later. It's not a theme he's in the mood to re-enact tonight.
Their dinner of fish and greens sits heavy in his stomach.
He looks up. "Yes?"
"How was work today?"
"It… it was fine." He hesitates. She has not asked about work in a long time. "Minister Scrimgeour has asked me to write a report about the ban on flying objects and whether we can utilize household objects other than brooms. It actually has precedent since Eastern wizards have proven that carpets are perfectly viable, if not exactly safe, means of travel." Plus, we know a car can fly, he thinks to himself.
"Oh. That's really interesting."
Against his will, he brightens. "Yes, isn't it? I'm quite pleased that we're thinking about alternative avenues. After all, the broom industry has a complete monopoly on the flyable implements industry. I really do think countries who allow for more than one object are more likely to be competitive about flying safety." Percy finds his lecture voice. "After all, injuries on brooms have been on the rise for the past ten years. One stick out of place on a broom and the whole flight can be an uncomfortable dip to the side. If the broom companies are faced with competition, this might force them to investigate new options."
Penelope stares at him. There is something unfathomable in her eyes.
He bites his lip, suddenly realizes his foolishness, burns up to the tip of his ears and turns back to his report.
"Percy. I saw Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and Bill and Ginny, and Ron, and, and I saw them at Hogsmeade." She thinks for a moment, and then tacks on, unnecessarily, "I didn't see Charlie."
Percy's quill doesn't stop its scratching, but he's listening. "The twins work there. Of course they were there."
"I thought, um, I thought you might want to know."
He can hear the anxiety in her voice.
"No, not in particular."
"It's just that… they saw me. And they asked after you." She twists her hands.
Penelope's not a very good liar. She tends to look down when she's lying, the degree of her head in proportion to the depth of the lie. Her head is almost perpendicular to the floor. Almost.
In the silence, he looks around their flat and notes that there are some things he needs to get done before the weekend is over. She continues to look down. But Penelope also bites her lip to press on. "I just thought, maybe, you'd, maybe, go into town and, and have, have a drink, or, or dinner? With them?" She turns the engagement ring he'd given her around her finger. "Percy, don't you want to… do you not want to have, maybe, Sunday night dinner with them? Together? It's an owl away. Really, it is. I'll send Artemis straight there, how about it?" She is already reaching for a quill and piece of parchment.
"No." Percy is harsh in his haste and she drops everything. "Penny, I mean, no." He tries to soften his tone, but no matter what he does, the words are hard and unforgiving in his mouth.
He shakes his head, but he can't look at her.
"Percy, please, you can't, it's just, it's…" She trails off in obvious discouragement as he starts to scratch at the parchment again. He needs to finish the report if he wants to turn it in by morrow's eve.
The silence stretches out thin and taut in their flat. Distant, he can hear the sound of breaking.
A ring drops onto the vellum before him. The small clink of metal against wood echoes in the room. That finally distracts him and he stares down at Penelope's engagement ring.
It is a simple ring, elegant and none too gaudy. There's a perfect carat of a flawless yellow diamond, something he knows Penelope has wanted since their sixth year at Hogwarts. He remembers the days that were spent looking for it in Muggle London, a tribute of sorts to her Muggle background. He took it to a magical jeweler who'd woven protective spells and augments into the band and in the right light it fairly glows on his desk. It is a quiet and understated monument to his love and Penelope loves this ring.
And this ring glints up at him.
Percy raises his head and locks his eyes with hers.
Her blue eyes fill with unshed tears and somehow, he thinks rather distantly, that this must have been coming on for a long, long time.
"I'm, I'm giving you back you ring because," she swallows. "Because I can't do this anymore, Percy, I just can't. I need my family and I, I can't understand why you don't need yours. I don't understand anything about your anymore. You used to be different, not so, not so, you've changed, Percy. You used to care more about your family than anything else in the world, I know you did, but now, now you won't even go to Hogsmeade to have a drink with them. You hardly spend any time at home, you work for the Ministry like your life depends on it, and…" She cuts herself off. It's hard to not hear the phantom words after.
"… You want me to meet with them. You want me to meet with Fred and George?" Percy feels as if he's far off. Someone else speaks for him, his voice, different words.
She blanches. Penelope remembers the dragon dung very well. "No, that's not what I mean. It's not, but… but what about your mum? Molly loves you!"
Yes, she loves you so much that she questions your ability to get a job. She loves you so much that you spent years as the arse of all jokes. She loves you so much that she shares all her troubles with you.
"This is not something up for debate, Penny."
"You can't be stubborn about this!"
"I said, this is not something I'm going to talk about. With you. Penelope."
Penelope reels back as if punched. There are a thousand things she can say to that, but everything fails her. She looks at him, as if he's passing before her eyes and all she wants is to reach out a hand. There is love in her eyes but there is also hate. And Percy realizes that this, really, is long in coming.
"Percy… I don't even know if you're getting married because it's the right thing to do or because you love me."
Percy stares at her. She cries and the mascara runs dark down her face in two smudged rows.
"Say something, Percy."
He glances at the clock behind her head and then slowly at his parchments. "You're not being yourself, Penny."
"Damn right, I'm not! Percy, don't you get it?"
Percy shakes his head. "If you're about to go into histrionics over my overworking, I promise you that once this debacle with Potter is over, I'll take you on a trip to anywhere you want, how about that?"
Her eyes boil in fury and she tears a bracelet he'd given her off her wrist and throws it at him. The metal lands square against his chest. They aren't heavy, but he steps back because Penelope is not one for temper tantrums that involve throwing things. She just isn't.
"You think a trip will solve this? This is not about you overworking or, for Merlin's sake, you not believing in Harry Potter, but the fact that you've changed Percy and I can't understand why. You're not the boy from Hogwarts, you're not even the man I knew the first year you were at the Ministry. You're, you're, you're like a shadow." She swallows, the muscles at her neck quiver. "And I can't marry a shadow, I can't. No, I won't."
He feels a numb chill work its way through his chest, as if the contact of the bracelet starts some variation of a cold fire. He somehow finds words. "You're being unreasonable." Hollow, the words are as hollow as his heart.
Penelope stares at him. Then, quietly, she asks, "Say you love me, Percy."
The stillness that follows is heavy.
"Say you love me. Say it."
He can't tell her that he can't. He can't say much of anything, really. Percy cannot say the word love, he physically cannot. He knows Penelope has suffered through it because his actions show who he is and who he loves, but that is not the same as a whispered endearment after a bout of lovemaking. It is not the same as an answering word to hers. But… he can't tell her this because this is how Percy Weasley is.
"You're being unreasonable," he repeats. He feels like throwing something himself. He's a right bastard.
Penelope brushes tears from her eyes and picks up the bag that comes floating out of the bedroom. "That's the worst part, Percy. I'm being more reasonable than I've ever been in my life." She turns and with no little haste and less fanfare, closes the door behind as if she's only leaving for a trip.
A lot of thoughts work through his mind in the eerie aftermath. The flat seems no different, but there is a distinct edge, as if someone blew out one candle and left all the others burning. It's not initially noticeable. But he sees it. He feels it. His thoughts are chaotic in his head. But one stands out. One is insistent on standing out.
This report is not going to finish itself.
He sits back down on his chair and hunches over his parchment and quill. The sound of scratching fills the flat again.
Percy steps into his flat and a weary Lumos follows. He takes a moment to check the wards and after a vague, hazy form of satisfaction, he loosens his tie and places his briefcase on the couch.
His wand is out and Percy spins around before realizing that the voice is recognizable – indeed, he doesn't think he will ever forget that particular voice – and not malicious. It is with astonishment and a certain degree of disbelief that he looks upon Severus Snape and his hook nose. Percy has not seen his former professor since the days of the Triwizard's Tournament. If, he thinks, I were Bill or Charlie or even Fredn'George, what would I say now? Quips, comments, hundreds of jokes come to the forefront of his mind.
But he is not the others and he never will be.
"Professor Snape? What are you doing here? How did you get here? Why are you in my home?"
"Yes, but you're no long in school Weasley. You may call me Severus, as distasteful as that is. I came by apparition. You have no anti-apparition wards though those should be the first ones you set up. Dumbledore asked me to come speak to you." He looks down his nose at Percy and idiot hangs in the air. Percy feels the old admiration he had swell up. But with it also comes the old humiliation. Snape is never kind to Gryffindors and less kind still to Weasleys. But he catches one part of the conversation.
"Dumbledore? The Headmaster?" Percy is astonished. "But I've…" I've spent the last year belittling him.
Snape waves a hand. "Yes, you've been a certifiable moron and hardly any sort of recognizable Weasley, though considering the common traits of the Weasleys I'd say you lucked out."
While Percy doesn't feel much like a Weasley these days, he still bristles at the compliment wrapped up in an insult. "What does Dumbledore want?"
"Mm." Snape raises a dark eyebrow and looks around the room. His robes brush lazy against the wooden floors as he examines the filled bookshelves and Percy's meticulous shelving system. It must be noticeable, because Percy sees a faint gleam of approval in Snape's dark eyes and somehow, it makes his former professor's presence easier to bear.
"I hear you're still working for the Minister."
"… yes, for Scrimgeour." The lack of Minister is telling.
"I see. Well." The older man looks him up and down with a critical eye. "I suppose I should you a question."
"What do you want Weasley?"
"What do you want from Dumbledore that would make you happy?"
Fame? Wealth? Recognition? "I'm quite happy where I am, thank you very much."
"Don't be silly, Weasley-"
"The name is Percy."
"-Dumbledore thinks you can be an asset, though he might have gone a touch mad in the past year." There is a queer note to Snape's voice, but Percy is too flabbergasted to pick up on it.
"He wants… he wants something from me? What could he possibly want from me?"
Snape looks at him. "You know he needs access to the Ministry. From the top."
There is a curious silence. Not a silence born of discomfort or other, but rather of complete shock. Percy remembers, unbidden, that once upon a time, his father said that his job offer was made due to his connections to Harry Potter. That they will use him to ferret out the Boy-Who-Lived. Now, the same job will be used to extract information from the Ministry for Dumbledore. The irony is there, the irony is strong. And Percy suddenly smiles.
"Why do you think I have any more information than you?"
"If you don't, then I've wasted an irritating amount of time." Snape turns to the fireplace and takes out a pinch of floo powder.
"What… what do you need?"
Snape turns back to him, a glint in black eyes. "First, answer the question Percy. What do you want?"
What does he want? That's a difficult question and an even more difficult one to answer. Percy's gone a lot of places in the past year and a half, some less savoury than others. So, what does he want?
"I want vindication."
Snape raises an eyebrow. "What sort?"
"That… that I was right." Somehow, this seems very important. "I want to be partly right. About Dumbledore, about his plots, about something."
There is a measured silence. "Is this for you or for others?"
That stops Percy in his tracks. Is he interested in vindication because he wants satisfaction or because he wishes to prove to his family that he's not completely off his rocker? Did he want them to recognise that there were some bases to his claims? That he didn't spark a family civil war just because he resents them? He almost chokes on a shallow breath. All he knows is at this moment, he wants it, he wants it and damned if it was for him or for others. "I don't know."
Snape seems to think for a moment. "I will return in three days, Weasley–"
"-and I will tell you of the Headmaster's decision." With that, he nods and sweeps out into the floo. He leaves the faint smell of ozone behind and something slightly more sinister. But only not. Percy spends his days in the Minister's office. Everything and everyone from hags to pixies come by to complain and nag. It's hard to feel that 'sinister' is much of a qualification anymore.
The three days pass in a whirlwind of confusion. Someone sneaks a flying toilet, of all things, into the Ministry and somehow all the toilets on the main floor are keyed to its contents. So while it floats around in the lobby with the air of a maiden offended, a constant umbrage of sewage and waste runs out of it like a rainstorm. The smell is horrific. It's enough to throw everyone into a panic and departments form various bans on the act of going to the bathroom.
But Percy hardly notices any of it. He is busy and thinks of all the roads now open to him. He's not really sure whether he likes it or not.
On the third day, he takes an unprecedented afternoon off to calm his nerves. He pretends not to hear the whispers and rumours of why he, Percy Weasley, would take a whole half-day off after two years of avoiding any sort of leave.
On the third day, Percy drinks coffee at supper and glances at the clock every thirty seconds.
By midnight, he feels foolish. Why would Snape come back? Why would Dumbledore ever agree to silly demands like his? He should know better, he really should. How many times has he been tricked about waiting? The twins trick him in pyramids and forests; they tell the others what works and doesn't work and while Percy doesn't think Ginny and Ron is the sort to utilize the trickery, he won't be fooled again.
He takes a deep breath and picks up the plate of tea biscuits and the steaming pot of tea. He is about to toss them into the sink when a figure steps out of the fire with an ease born from long experience. Percy's mouth drops open when a second figure also walks out of the fire with ease.
The first is Professor Snape, scowl firm and pasted to his face, hair hanging in impatient, greasy locks from a ponytail. His thick black robes are much too heavy for the season, but he seems unaffected by the weather. He holds a sheaf of parchment, the vellum cream-coloured in the dusk.
The other figure is tall, even taller than Snape. His figure is slim, but well-cut in a dark blue suit that screams sharp corners and edges. A briefcase is by his side. There are thin lines that radiate from the creases of his eyes. They're the colour of coal and his lips are pressed together in a bland expression. Percy knows that he knows the man before him. But it's impossible, because Kingsley Shacklebolt is a bit of a legend in terms of Ministry employees. The wizard who moves in and out of the Muggle world with an ease that makes Arthur green with envy. He takes on the most difficult cases and more often than not, he solves them.
But Percy is sure that the man is supposed to be with the Muggle Minister for observations and security purposes.
Kingsley quirks an eyebrow at Percy's speech tic. For some reason, Percy feels a butterfly crawl around his stomach.
"Weasley, we don't have time for your affectations of who is who. We're here about other issues; are you going to listen or not?" Snape looks impatient and the irritation leaks out of him like air from a punctured balloon. Eyes spy the tea biscuits and scoff, "we're not here for tea and biscuits either. Put them away and let's be done with this. I have four hundred essays to mark, most of which will be trite bullspeak, the little bastards."
Percy feels his ears burn, but before he can wave his wand, Kingsley says, "If I may have some, that would be very good." He sits at the table and folds his hands. He looks at Percy with an expectant eye and before Percy can even hesitate, the tea is being poured and the biscuits are zinging through the air to land on plates.
The two biscuits on Kingsley's desk are devoured within seconds and more fly onto his plate. His tone is pleasant. "These are quite good."
"Er, I made them myself."
"Really? Did you add almond extract? Or am I tasting it wrong?"
"Uh, no, no, you're right. I added a spoonful of almond extract as a, er, as an experiment. It turned out quite well, actually." Percy glances at Kingsley and wonders if the man is serious.
"I've tried it myself but I can never get the combination right. How many people do you bake for?"
"I bake the standard twenty-four recipe and I give most of it to my neighbors…"
"Hm, a spoonful for a twenty-four serving recipe? How about the flour? The texture of these biscuits are quite exquisite… do you substitute anything?"
Percy smiles. "Yes, I use wheat flour for half the recipe and I replaced the white sugar with two parts brown sugar to one part white. It evens out the dryness that comes from the wheat."
"Are we going to talk about business or is this turning into a cooking show for senile witches?" The annoyance now flows from Snape in tidal waves and Percy tears himself from the conversation.
"Um, er, yes. What are you two… what are we doing?"
Later, Percy will marvel at the fact that Kingsley switches subjects faster than Dumbledore can, does so without blinking an eye.
"So, Mr. Weasley." He ignores Percy's quietly muttered speech tic. "I understand you are willing to give information as long as you are vindicated? Do I understand your stipulations?
When put like that, Percy feels like a turd. "Um, yes."
"Good, good. How would you like the vindication delivered?"
"Loudly? Privately? Are there specific people you'd like it directed at?
"Would you like an article in the Daily Prophet?" Snape makes a sound of derision and Kingsley bulldozes through. "Or perhaps a medal? Order of Merlin, class dependent on the information we receive?"
Percy thinks this is a really bad joke, where a chance is being offered to really spit in the faces of his family, of all the dissenters, of Penny. He imagines how angry they might look when – if – they are proven to be wrong; he fills up with visions of the twins' furious faces, of the chagrin on Ginny, and regret on Arthur. Right, Arthur. Arthur is the one who tells Percy he cannot possibly be good enough to earn the job due to his own merit.
But Percy knows that Molly Weasley, above all, wishes for family peace and happiness.
A muscle in his face twitches, because he also knows that if he is vindicated, nothing will be the same again in their family. He tells himself that maybe, maybe, maybe his siblings will respect him more, maybe his father won't be quite so much of an entity he hates due to his own inability to remember Arthur from his childhood. Even if his memories of the man is limited, it's all about Molly and hiding, secrets and how he must be quiet if he doesn't want the babies to be hurt. He remembers responsibility and spots no one else knows about, tears as Molly tries to rock a fussy Ron to sleep, frustration with Bill and Charlie for being at school while he sits in a darkened house day in and day out. But no, never, never does he give trouble.
He is a quiet boy and an asset to his mother, as Aunt Muriel says.
Percy swallows. "I… can do what you want me to do. But, as for what I want, what I wanted, I believe there is no need for that."
Kingsley's eyes glitter.
He stumbles over his next words. "I have access to all the private records, including the Minister's secret book."
"The secret book?"
"Yes, the secret book."
"Good. That's one thing we could not access no matter how many strings I pulled. If you can retrieve that particular book –"
"Wait." Snape interrupts with a snap. "He can't just waltz in and expect to waltz back out with something like that. And even if he were, he'd soon be exposed and we might need him for other things."
The matter of fact tone, the obvious consideration for the fact that Percy is useful actually makes him feel better about the whole endeavor. He can be useful. That's important.
"Then what do you suggest?"
Snape turns to consider Percy. "Weasley –"
" – I recall you having a memory that's photographic."
"That was, in school, that is, it was." Percy pauses. "Yes, that's true."
Kingsley chuckles. "Excellent. Then that solves our problem. About your vindication… Percy."
He shakes his head so fast his hair flies in a long wave of auburn. "No, forget about it. Just… just don't tell anyone about this. Don't ever tell anyone, especially my family."
"To not tell them the most noble thing you have done?" Snape sounds strange, as if he's quoting something, but Percy ignores him, like he ignores the fact that he's about to commit treason against the Ministry. He's pretty sure that the Successful and Ambitious Ministry Worker Code does not condone the taking of the Minister's Secret Book for any reason other than complete and utter Armageddon. And even then, he remembers a clause that states how the Armageddon must be before the Book is taken out of the Minister's hands.
"No one." Percy knows he is being rude, but he can't care.
Kingsley nods. "Very well. Thank you for your cooperation, Percy. I look forward to out future meetings."
Percy blinks and stands up. "Wait, Professor Snape won't be the liaison?"
Crooked smile. "No, I will be." Kingsley pats his pockets and pulls out an oddly-shaped egg. "Here. This is keyed so that only you will be able to use it. As soon as you can report about the book, come and find me. I'll be waiting." The two wizards nod and walk through the fire.
The crack of wood burning is the only sound in the room and Percy suddenly wants to giggle. Goddamn giggle.
Sweat trickles down the back of his neck and time crawls by like a slug upon pebbles. He feels raw. Uncooked ham. It seems as if nothing is as it is. Snape betrays them – Percy doesn't understand why - Dumbledore's funeral is a big mess where Ron screams that he shouldn't be there. Arthur ignores him, Molly is tearful, Bill can't look at him, Charlie is hesitant, the twins sneer, and Ginny looks like she wants to throw a hex.
He is saved from that hex by Kingsley, who steps in and leads him out, a hand on the small of his back. He can hear the sobs of those closest to Dumbledore and he wishes he could tell them that he is under Dumbledore's employ, but…
"You did well. You did not tell them."
Percy shakes his head. "You need me there. Scrimgeour is going off the deep-end with this."
"… let's just say, Scrimgeour is on a schedule and this works against that schedule. He's starting to doubt himself."
"Is he now?" A kind smile, Kingsley does not have. "I see. That's all. You've put in your appearance. That's the most that Scrimgeour will expect out of one his supposedly loyal underlings. Best to get back."
Percy nods, as he nods every time Kingsley gives him an order. He is getting used to the feeling that, for all intents and purposes, it is actually Kingsley who is his superior. The only difference is that Scrimgeour doesn't make his insides squirm whenever their eyes connect. He figures it's due to the fact that he meets no one outside of work after Penny – Penelope – disappeared from his life and that he essentially has no life. Maybe he is becoming a recluse of sorts.
A hand ghosts up and black knuckles brush against his cheek. Percy is also starting to get used to Kingsley's eccentricities, though this is the one that bothers him the most. The man seems to like giving the barest touches, as if they allow him a modicum of influence within another person's brain. He even likes to pull on Percy's hair, a lock here, another one there. Kingsley is hands-down, the oddest superior Percy has ever had.
Kingsley Disapparates with a pop and Percy glances back at the funeral grounds. As according to Dumbledore's burial wishes, there are purple streams floating gaily in the air, toxic-yellow balloons bobbing for freedom, and a temporary forest and lake for the centaurs and mermaids. Contrary to chaos, the atmosphere is almost controlled, as if someone is pushing buttons to control their breathing.
He jerks and turns to look at a gray Remus Lupin, dark circles under his eyes, the remnants of a three-day hastily shaved beard, and bruises that dot the skin of his neck.
"Um, Professor Lupin…"
"Remus." Remus tries to smile with a corner of his mouth. "You are no longer a student at Hogwarts and I am no longer a teacher there."
"Er, Remus then."
Remus nods and glances at the crowd, the bright red of the Weasleys stands out against the mob. "Your family is sorry for the earlier scene."
Percy glances at Remus, but says nothing.
"I think we're all off our normal routines." There are deep lines carved into Remus' face and for a moment, Percy is reminded of the two grooves that line Snape's mouth.
"They'd like to say goodbye, before you leave, I think."
Eyes skedaddle to the side and Percy feels a stone press his throat close.
Percy interrupts by turning around. "I'm sorry Mr. Lupin. I have something to finish up at the office." He hurries off and can feel dark eyes watch him for hours afterward.
It isn't pleasant.
Work at the office is mundane and quiet; people are subdued after Dumbledore's death and more than one person breaks down into quiet tears in the middle of a report. Dumbledore is – was – well-loved and it shows in situations where witches and wizards send letters by the hundreds to encourage a post-humous Order of Merlin. Even though Dumbledore already has half a dozen. More telling is the thousands of owl notes that demand the execution of the person responsible. People want the traitor dead, though no one is sure what actually happened that night. It doesn't help the only witness is Harry and there are a few more than one who don't exactly trust the Boy-Who-Lived.
When Percy finally gets home, there is one last package. It is the same as the Christmas package, except smaller and less conspicuous. The scrawled writing on a bright pink card makes his head pound because this is Molly's doing and he hates her this one day a year because he doesn't want to remember the day of his birth. His head sinks into his hands, the same way he sinks into the armchair.
No one ever seems to notice how much he loathes celebrating his birthday. A celebration every year at the end of summer, a feast of foods he's not particularly fond of, though everyone thinks those are his favourites. He eats them anyways to please her, to please the crowd, to make a smile crisscross her face. They do something together, or rather, the others do something while he stands by the side and watches. One very memorable birthday passes with an impromptu quidditch game that he can't play, but tries anyway. The laughter about his fall from the broomstick follows him for days after. He broke his arm.
And people wonder why Percy doesn't feel comfortable around his own family.
Percy's gaze strays to the package and he sighs. He hauls the package into his lap. His hands shake with the effort but he's Percy Weasley and he does what needs to be done. Knowing he will regret it later on, he picks up his birthday card, the garish pink sparkling with huge letters and a blinking sign that screams I love you, you're my son, why won't you come back, it'll be the same again, how could you do this to us? and he knows that for all her platitudes, for everything that is said and done, he can't go back. Nothing can be the same.
He knows they will have a moment of reconciliation. One, or two moments to readjust and then a parade of uncomfortable dinners that might happen once a week, where silences will be a common commodity, where resentment on both sides might grow, the hatred would slowly fester and then… no, Percy doesn't believe things will change, no matter how hard Molly Weasley tries to change things. She isn't blind, he knows that. He also knows that she, above all, wants a family where happiness reigns supreme. Percy is the only one to stand in the way of that and for the fifty-fourth time, he wonders whether he should swallow back the bile and knowledge that though he is, in many ways, wrong… he is also right.
But it would be for her. Not for himself. Not for any other reason.
Percy shakes it off. There is no need for maudlin thoughts. Now is now and he'll think about the family when it comes down to that.
Tonks fidgets. "So. How y'doing?"
"Er. Well. Um. I know you don't know me, but I know your family pretty well." She pauses. "I'm Nymphadora Tonks, but, er, everyone just calls me Tonks. Nice to meetcha." She sticks out a hand.
"Right." Percy shakes her hand and gets back to his parchment scratching. He hopes she'll get the hint.
"So… I'm married."
Percy glances down at her hand. A plain gold band. "Alright. That's good."
"You probably know him, it's –"
"Remus Lupin, right?"
She blushes. "Um, right, you were a student of his… blimey! You're not much younger than me!" Then she thinks about it for a moment. "Wait, you don't keep in contact with Remus. How did you know?"
"I saw you at Bill and Fleur's wedding."
"But you weren't there!"
Percy glances at the clock. She's slowing him down. "I was. I watched from a distance."
"When the Death Eaters…"
"Mmm, I had my mask there. Those close to the Minister have Auror training. I went in." He acts like he went in for biscuits and a spot of tea: not the bloodshed that actually went down that afternoon.
"Oh. Well. Cool."
Percy physically reins in his temper and then peers up at her. "Is there something you need?"
"Um, right, that. So… your dad, uh, he asked me to give you this." She hands him a brown bag. He opens the top and finds several sandwiches inside. Percy gives Tonks a quizzical look. "Don't look at me! I'm just the messenger! He says Molly, er, your mum, thinks you need to be fed."
Percy scowls. But he takes the bag and shoves it into one of his drawers. "Tell her thanks… but tell him nothing."
She winces. "Er, not that I want to get into the middle of any family stuff and all that, but eh, didn't the argument start about Fudge? I mean, Fudge is like, out, right? So why not make up? It's been a bit of time, isn't it?"
"It's not that simple." Percy feels like slugging her. But he won't. She means well. That's the worst part. She honestly means well.
Tonks stares at him, doubtful. "It isn't?"
"Maybe you could, I don't know, eat dinner with them first? Just to see?"
"I just thought, maybe, you'd, maybe, go into town and, and have, have a drink, or, or dinner? With them?"
Penny's voice still echoes in his head, sometimes.
"If you don't have any business with the Minister, then please, leave. I'm quite busy here." About cauldron bottoms and substandard newt eyes. Same old, same old.
She looks miffed. "Well, I didn't mean to intrude on you like that. I was just saying, that if, if you want, it wouldn't be hard to give them an owl. I reckon –"
"Tonks." Kingsley's voice echoes a warning note. "Go. You're bothering the Minister's assistant."
"Wha? Kingsley? I didn't do anything!"
She mutters and throws the Auror a cranky glare. Tonks says, "you eat those sandwiches!" before her hair changes into a snapping red to match her temper. It's quite pretty.
Percy hasn't seen Kingsley in weeks, not since the first chaotic month after the quiet takeover of the Ministry. Scrimgeour died a nasty death and while on official reports the events – him being killed by half-crazed Muggle witches and wizards – match his wounds, Percy knows what really happened. He risks digging Kingsley out with the egg-communicator and warns him about the impending Ministry takeover. It had been a close call, a very close one. If he hadn't been at the wedding party when Kingsley's Patronus had come in…
The new Minister is Pius Thicknesse and Percy has managed, by the skin of his teeth, to keep his job. Everyone believes the fact that he hates his family. Too many people have seen him in the hallways and the contention between father and son. Percy inwardly snorts. It doesn't hurt that the proprietors of the popular Weasley's Wizard Wheezes tells anyone willing to listen that their third older brother is a bloody stupid prat and traitorous arsehole.
He pulls himself from those thoughts and focuses on Kingsley who gives him a distant smile. Kingsley manages to keep his job too, though not quite as easily, if Percy believes the rumours. Everyone knows that the Weasley family is as pure as any purebood family. But Kingsley is an unknown entity. A week was spent on tracking down his family background. It took a great deal of research and a good bit of money to square things away. Percy figures that the two of them need to stay banded, if only for the fact that of the three people who knows about his 'side job', Kingsley is the only one still alive and trustworthy.
"It's difficult to keep the overly curious out." His tone suggests that Tonks is like an eager child, and Percy recognizes a cover. "The day is winding down. Why don't we have some dinner?"
Percy looks at his papers. And then at Thicknesse's new door.
"The Minister has already gone home."
"He snuck out two hours ago, I believe."
A muscle in Percy's cheek twitches. "Dinner, you say?"
"Hm. I know an excellent curry place around the corner."
"Uh, right. Yes." Percy scrambles to toss everything into his briefcase. This is the first time for Kingsley to ask him to dinner and Percy finds that he is curious and eager. Besides, all he has at home is a few bits of moldy cheese and a softening apple. Not appetizing in the least bit.
They walk in silence. The streets of London are filled with various witches and wizards on their way to one event or another. It's evening, so the restaurants are buzzing with activity. Percy spots coworkers tossing drinks back and Fimular Fitch throwing up in an alleyway. His shoulders heave with the effort and the woman next to him pats him on the back. She has a sour expression on her face and edges away from the splashing droplets of green vomit.
"How have you been doing, Percy?"
Percy tears his attention away from Fitch and replies, "Um, good. You?"
They lapse into silence. And Percy into discomfort. He can't quite put his finger on it, but Kingsley makes him just a mite antsy. Just a mite.
"Your family still doesn't know?"
Percy blinks. "Um, no. I don't really talk to them." At all.
"Ah. Of course." Kingsley ushers them around a corner. "There it is."
The curry place is tucked into a quiet corner of a smaller side street and the menu is handwritten. It smells delicious and the spicy scents that waft from the doorway are enough to make Percy weak in the knees. Though, Percy supposes, the knees might also have something to do with the fact that Kingsley has his hand on Percy's back and is subtly leading him to the rear of the restaurant. Percy is not fond of being touched, but Kingsley isn't too bad.
A cheerful woman sits them down with one menu and writes down Kingsley's order without bothering to ask him. Percy eyes the two of them and considers the fact that he isn't good at choosing something new, so he says, "same thing for me."
She smiles and flitters off to find the cook.
Kingsley taps the table in unison to some invisible beat. "You'll like it. It's my favorite dish here."
"That's good… um, I'm just not very good at –"
"No, I know. That's why I called in my order already."
"Oh." Percy tries to decipher that answer. "So… Kingsley." He pauses, searching for something, any conversation topic. "How is, um, everything? At work?" Percy's heard through the grapevine that Harry's disappeared, Ron and Hermione have gone also gone loco, Hogwarts is under new management (he still can't believe that Snape manages to worm his way into the Headmaster position with barely a murmur), and worse, no one else seems to see that the Ministry is starting to collapse inward and change. It's a slow, inexorable change that puts Percy on edge. With the rate things are going, he knows a choice is burrowing its way toward him.
"Three birds were sent away, and work is fine."
Percy unravels that sentence. Ron. "I, as well. Those birds are starting to drop feathers everywhere."
"Hm, at least the nests are clean. No worries about them there."
The conversation continues in that strange vein, but it relieves Percy to know that the family is okay and that as far as Kingsley knows, the trio of rule-breakers are fine too. Strange relief. He guesses that if he wasn't such an arrogant, conceited prat, this would have been easier to figure out.
For the rest of dinner, they talk about cooking and pastries, a subject both are passionate about. A couple of times, Percy finds himself laughing and he marvels that he can laugh. The last time he'd laughed in front of someone else was when Fred and George sprouted chicken feathers at the dinner table, causing a minor earthquake as Molly ranted about 'irresponsible behaviour'.
Dinner ends with Kingsley brushing his hand against Percy's neck and the flush that streaks down his body shocks him. More.
"Shall we do this again?"
Percy licks his lips. The curry is fantastic. "Yes, er, of course. Whenever you're free."
The grin in Kingsley's eye makes Percy's skin tingle.
The egg-communicator vibrates in his pocket and Percy looks around rather furtively before sneaking it out. Kingsley is getting into the habit of sending him random messages in this new regime. Whether a dry observation about an incompetent official or frustration over the so-called Muggle reform, the egg-communicator isn't so much a device for reporting than a device for, well, communication. Percy presses the button and smiles at Kingsley.
Kingsley's disembodied head pops out and he hisses, "Hogwarts is soon to be under attack. Your family is going to be there." The communicator cuts off without any preamble and Percy sits with a frozen smile and a cold fire starts working its way through his body.
Your family is going to be there.
Percy stands up. His co-workers peer at him from their desks but he ignores them. He grabs his wand and knocks on the Minister's door. When no one answers, he thrusts his head in and his expression darkens. A quill works on the desk with no one to guide it. A looping spell for automatic signatures.
Pius Thicknesse is gone.
Melinda Lokehart cranes her head around Percy's arm and makes a soft sound of surprise. "Where's the Minister? He's supposed to have a meeting in fifteen minutes!"
There's no answer and Percy considers the options racing through his head.
A.He could tell her what's going on.
B.He could ignore what's going on.
C.He could sit here and gibber.
He decides to go with D. Hell is a lot more fun when it happens all at once. He leaps for the quill at his desk and scribbles a note. He sets the parameter to include every single worker in the Ministry and ignores the question that wells up on the parchment about species.
Percy throws the note into the air and it explodes into thousands of tiny cranes. They zoom out the door and several of them fly to his colleagues. They open the note in confusion since Percy is right there, but he needn't explain himself because all colour drains from their face as they leap up. He stuns two of them immediately and it tells about the dynamics in the office where the others dart their glances in between the still bodies on the floor and Percy. They know why he did what he did.
"I'm going to Hogwarts. The Minister is under Imperio. The rest of you need to secure the Ministry."
Melinda hesitates for only a moment and then nods furiously. The others are in similar states; say what his family will about the Ministry, but most of the people who work for the Ministry are mostly good witches and wizards who will try to do the 'right' thing. And right now, with the power they have as the Minister's assistants, they're reconfiguring all the wards and spells. The passwords are changing, the Auror department is being activated, and Percy heads toward Hogsmeade. He knows of an entrance there that will get him into Hogwarts undetected.
Cruciatus is a curious curse.
It inflicts terrible and unbearable pain that scorches the nerves, wreaks the body with bolts of fire, tears muscle from fat after fifteen long seconds. It's a curse that renders the receiver incapable of coherent thought. Once you're under Cruciatus, it's rare – if not impossible – for you to think of anything else. All that's in your head is the idea that there couldn't – shouldn't – be something quite this painful, that the stars are multiplying tenfold in front of your eyes.
But Cruciatus is curious in the fact that it leaves no physical wounds. The pain is entirely in the person's mind; you're driven by the fact that unless the caster of the spell chooses to stop or is forced to stop, you will not be given a reprieve. The pain will be endless; it'll go on until you're quite mad with the hopelessness and the fact that you can't even defend yourself against this so-called phantom pain.
And in the same way, Percy knows that he might have preferred this curious, curious Unforgivable to the fact that he holds Fred dead in his arms and his mother looks at him as if he's a boogey monster with claws for hands and children on his breath. She breaks down in steps; the quick eye from her third son's face to her fourth (fifth?) son's body. Her nostrils flare. Her mouth opens, her hand reaches out. A tremble starts at her fingertips and it works up her arm, to her chest, to her neck, and then it hits her spine, a one-two-three punch that wipes her knees out.
Unintelligible sounds wrangle out of her throat and then Molly Weasley screams because as hard she tried, she had not protected all of her children.
Percy lives as if he is in a dream. The colors fade in front of his eyes and George is absolutely gray as he looks upon his twin and throws up. He tries to touch George on the shoulder, the boy – man – tosses him away, his eyes are wild with terror – terror for his lost twin – and he scrabbles for a base, for something to hold onto. Percy is the only one who can, Arthur and Bill are trying to take hold of Molly and keep themselves from falling too, Charlie is passed out on the floor and Ginny, no, no, Percy cannot let Ginny be the one to do this. He hauls George up and holds onto his little brother's flailing arms and legs. Tight. Fred is on the floor, still and he will never move again.
Later, Percy tells himself that George is half-mad with grief. Later, Percy closes his eyes and blocks out the sound of a mantra. Later, Percy pretends he never hears the words that George repeats over and over and over again.
"You did this, you did this, you did this, you did this, you did this…"
Percy remembers the way Fred thought of his poor attempt at a joke and the fact that if he had been a better big brother, none of this would have happened.
He looks around him. His family is in the midst of tragedy, but it's not the only death. He can see Remus Lupin's body on the floor, he sees Tonks next to him – "you eat those sandwiches!" – and there are more, too many. Death Eaters and Aurors alike, students. Percy swallows. There are students, most of them older, some are young, and they all are dead.
A breath hitches in his lungs when he sees Oliver Wood. He hasn't seen Oliver Wood in years, except for random articles in the paper about his growing prowess as a quidditch player. The man is as stocky and muscled as he ever was, but he's gotten taller. Brown hair curls around the collar of his shirt and he cradles someone in his arms. Percy recognizes Colin Creevey.
Oliver doesn't even notice him. He's concentrating on Colin and Percy suddenly wishes that Kingsley is here with him. He knows, as the most likely interim Minister, Kingsley is around and handing out orders. Hogwarts is secure, but Voldemort is still out there and alive. They need someone who is capable and in charge and Kingsley fits the bill to a T. It also doesn't hurt that he's the head of the Auror Department.
He spins around; Kingsley is running toward him. Without any realization of what he's doing, Percy picks up his feet and when the two meet halfway, Kingsley shoves a roll of parchment into his hands. "I know this is not the best time, but I need you to do everything on this list for me." Dark eyes skirt past him and zero in on the grieving Weasley family. But Kingsley barely hesitates. "You know what I'm asking."
Work is what brings Percy to the Ministry and ambition is what sliced his ties to his family apart. If he leaves now, if he goes with Kingsley now, if he does what needs to be done now, he's pretty sure his family will never forgive him.
But the sight of all the bodies, of Oliver Wood carrying Colin Creevey, of Harry running past Neville and towards an end Percy can only guess at, he knows that there is nothing less.
He turns to leave, to walk away from his family and the sorrow that threatens to overwhelm him when Kingsley grabs his arm and yanks him close. Lips brush Percy's ear and Kingsley says, "I'll find you. Later."
Kingsley strides off, already shouting to a group of Aurors and notes are whizzing through the air. Molly looks up and locks eyes with Percy, sees the parchment in his hands and opens her mouth. But then, curiously, she seems to consider something. The pain in her eyes is fresh and she is clutching Bill and Arthur like her life depends on it. She looks around at the destruction and mayhem, death in every corner of Hogwarts, death in the arms of healers and even the house elves that litter the ground. And she nods. She nods at her third son and mouths, go.
Percy goes. He's working.
In the Wizarding world, you don't bring flowers to a grave, because flowers wilt and die out and for all the magical theory and almost-quaint disdain of Muggle superstitions, wizards and witches are a very superstitious lot. You don't bring flowers, not unless you want to say that the family is doomed to be a bouquet where one dies off after the other, singular and together. You don't bring flowers unless you're in the mood for a scathing sniff and erudite eye-roll about your irreverent faux pas. Muggle, the explanation can only be, and anyone else is either an idiot or a moron. Both, if possible.
Percy brings flowers because he knows Fred would crow about the funniness of being dead and the ironic juxtaposition of Percy and flowers. It's a small consolation, to know that of all his brothers, a dead one would understand his actions more than anyone else.
Fred's gravestone is fresh, the only new one among others that are crumbling and old. It's simple, but he knows that George has already given it several good curses so that people will be pranked when they touch it. Molly yells at him for it, but Percy finds it oddly appropriate. He thinks Fred would agree.
The air is clear and crisp, a marked improvement from the months previous where all he breathed was air made noxious with anxiety and fear. Now, the Ministry has strict rules about scents and a riot of scents, from buttery caramel to fragrant edelweiss, dots all the rooms. It's become a battle of sorts to see who would get to choose the scent of the week. Productivity is up by almost thirty percent.
Percy is supposed to be in the thick of things. Kingsley has promoted him to his assistant and a high official too.
But he's here, alone, because he is a Weasley again, but only not.
The rift is sharp and the chasm deep; Arthur seems to hate the fact that yes, a small part of him does blame Percy for Fred's death. For a more beloved son's death. The self-hatred translates into mutual distance and Percy knows this will be one thing that will never heal in their family. This is something larger than family civil war, than betrayal. This is one death versus another possible one. And the fact that Percy lives and Fred does not will always stand as a specter in front of them. He also knows that while Molly understands why Percy went to work though Fred was still cooling on the ground, Arthur does not.
Percy thinks Charlie does too. And maybe George, as hard as it is to believe. The final circumstances of Fred's death are told to him by Harry and George is almost crazy in his happiness that Fred died while snickering over the fact that Percy made a joke. A real one.
But three do not make a family, and he understands that, something he might not have months ago.
Snow crunches behind him and he looks up to see Kingsley walking toward him. The man is holding another bouquet of flowers.
"You've found me."
"I said I would. Been busy."
"I know. I work for you."
Kingsley laughs, a first time for Percy. "Mm, you're doing a fine job. You're one of only people to have worked directly under three Ministers, one after the other. I've heard you've become a bit of a legend in the breakroom. Percy, stickier than a sticking charm."
Percy flicks a ball of snow at him. "Not as much as you. The first competent Minister in a century. Difficult to believe, really."
"Oh, I have my moments. I think it's time I signed that bill about making lemon drops the national food of the Ministry, eh?"
"Honeydukes would love that."
"That they would."
A lock of red hair tumbles down Percy's neck and Kingsley snakes a hand out to tug on it. Percy bends his head a bit. "I see you don't subscribe to the same superstition about flowers."
Kingsley crooks a corner of his mouth and places the flowers on Fred's headstone. "Didn't you know my grandmama was a Muggle?"
"I gathered. How did you hide that?"
"Didn't. But you know, Death Eaters aren't very good administrators. Once the paperwork is gone… it's gone."
It's not difficult to laugh at the glint in Kingsley's eyes. His chest eases a little; his eyes don't sting quite as much. Being able to laugh in front of Fred's grave seems to be a step forward. Percy looks at the small offerings; tricks, little mementos, a lock of Ginny's hair. He knows his offering will eventually fade away. It's deliberate. People think he knows nothing about his family, but does know this. Fred would hate being sealed away in this one place, forever doomed to be the focus of other people's tributes. Percy has no intention of binding him to their world. He hopes Fred will fly.
"I'm having dinner at the Burrow." It's no longer home.
"Oh, really." Kingsley's voice grows cool.
"Do you want to come?"
Kingsley is silent. Percy doesn't look at him. He wonders whether Kingsley realizes what Percy is actually asking. Percy cannot say the word promise and love, so actions must speak as loud as words. It is all he has. All he has to give and he knows very well that it may not be enough. The years spiral around him and he realizes that even though the road is hard and he is now alone… he doesn't think he could change many of his actions.
Kingsley's knuckles brush against his cheek and stay there. Percy stills.
"You know… I do not like touching others."
Long habit prevents Percy from grinning. He cannot say the word love and it seems, oddly enough, that Kingsley is the same. Actions must speak louder than words for both of them and he raises his hand to touch Kingsley's chin.
"Mum makes a delicious stew."
"I," Kingsley murmurs, "am there."
And so he is.
- fin -