Author's Note: This was originally written for the 20 Random Facts Challenge on Insane Journal, based on my fact about Audrey Weasley, specifically 1-3, 5, and 7-14.
Thanks a ton to the lovely ladies who helped me out, my faithful, irritating betas, Anne, Maggie, Heidi, and Katie, as always, for forcing me to write and forcing me to finish.
Six Impossible Things
The first time he walked into the pub, he looked no different from any other customer off the street, but for some reason, her eye was drawn to him. She was prepared to write it off as a fluke and ignore it, but the second time he walked into the pub, it happened again.
The third time, she watched him from across the dim, crowded room, and tried to figure out what exactly it was that drew her to him.
It wasn't his clothes, though they were nicer than one usually saw at Jake's. But the slacks and dark button-downs didn't set him apart. Businessmen normally spent their lunch hours at higher scale establishments, but he was young, maybe in his early twenties, and while the clothes were good quality and fit him well, they were also, upon close examination, slightly worn. There were other well-dressed young men at Jake's, nicer even than this young man, but none of them held her attention.
And it wasn't his looks, though his bright red hair was striking, and the eyes behind the horn-rimmed glasses were a piercing blue. Redheads stood out in most crowds, true enough, but there were other redheads who came to Jake's, and this man was as pale and freckled as any of them, but none of them held her attention either.
In the end, she decided it was his countenance. It was the way he walked, gracefully enough, but slow and somewhat heavily, as if he carried the weight of horrors beyond his years on his shoulders. It was the way he sat in the corner booth, letting the shadows hide him from the public eye, resting his weight on his elbows on the tabletop as he ate the fare that Jake served for lunch. It was the desperation with which he strove to lose himself in the crowded room, present amidst the masses, but completely anonymous and unidentifiable.
It was the focus that never wavered, so thoroughly and intensely turned inward that she somehow knew that the actions he performed - walking in, placing his order, sitting down, eating his food, leaving - wouldn't change, no matter what happened around him in the pub. She was drawn to him, she decided, because he was focused so intensely on himself that he pulled her focus there as well.
The fifth day he walked into the pub, she asked Jake who he was.
Jake shrugged. "His name's Percy," he said. "Started coming this week, but he's well on his way to being a regular. Mostly keeps to himself, though." Jake couldn't understand her interest. Truth was, she couldn't understand it, either.
The first week he ate lunch in the pub, she observed him from the end seat of the bar. The second week, she called in a favor.
She had been friends with Jake, the owner of the pub, for many years, and had gotten him out of more than a few sticky spots during their years in university. He owed her, and one afternoon when the pub was particularly crowded, she reminded him of that. Though he couldn't understand why it was so important to her, he did as she asked and placed "Reserved" signs on the two empty tables left on the floor.
She took the plate of food he handed her with a "Wish me luck!" and headed for the table in the corner. He didn't seem to notice her approach, so far inside his head was he. Audrey took a deep breath, gathering her courage, then said, "Excuse me?" as brightly as she could. The red-haired man took a moment to realize he was being spoken to; he rose his head slowly. "I'm so sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you'd mind sharing your table? The only empty ones left are reserved." She tried to sound as friendly and apologetic and non-threatening as man glanced around the pub, seeming to notice the crowd for the first time. He said nothing. "I understand if it's too much of a bother," she said when his silence had gone on for a bit too long and she started to regret this hasty decision.
"It's no bother," he said softly, with a shake of his head. His face was closed and unreadable.
"Thank you so much," she said with a warm smile, sliding into the booth across from him. "I'm Audrey."
"Percy," he finally said, after another long pause. His eyes caught hers for a long moment, and her breath caught in her throat at the depths of pain and grief she saw in them before a carefully constructed wall came up and covered those harsh emotions, leaving only a slight shadow to darken the piercing blue.
A silence descended on the pair as they ate, a silence that was not, surprisingly enough, uncomfortable at all. He sat across from her, focus turned inward as always, as if they were next to each other at the bar instead of sharing a table. She sat across from him, watching.
She used the time to examine him more closely. Sitting a mere three feet away yielded far more details than scrutiny from across a dim and crowded pub, like the fact that his eyelashes were as red as the rest of his hair, or that he had freckles spattered across the back of his hands, or that he was able to sit so still for so long, with a single-mindedness that was almost frightening in its intensity.
And she was loathe to be the one to break that intense focus, loathe to speak and draw that attention to herself. Speaking felt wrong, somehow, as if she'd be breaking some kind of spell, crossing the line into forbidden territory. So she said nothing, just sat and watched, not even wanting to breathe too loudly.
It was Jake who pulled her back to it, who caught her eye from behind the bar and gave her a look and made a gesture that clearly said What the hell are you waiting for? She glared at him fiercely before clearing her throat to speak.
"So, Percy," she said softly. "Tell me something about yourself."
His head came up slowly, and he almost stared at her, blinking once or twice, looking almost startled, as if surprised to suddenly remember that he was no longer alone at his table. After a very long and heavy pause, she watched him swallow. His eyes flickered down nervously as he asked, "What is it you want to know?"
She noticed his voice was a little rough, husky and uncertain as if from disuse. She noticed he chose his words carefully and deliberately, weighing each of them before any were uttered. She noticed he seemed unable to meet her eyes.
She shrugged, and when she spoke, it was the voice she used with her patients - casual, confident, calm. "Oh, tell me anything," she said, smiling at him then. "It doesn't even have to be true."
She watched him carefully then. He looked away and almost smiled and seemed to be at war with himself. When he did speak, the words were not at all what she expected.
"I'm a wizard," he said, looking her in the eye, perfectly calm. "I own a magic wand, and I can cast a spell for almost anything you could imagine."
She stared openly at him. And then she laughed.
He started at the sound of her laughter, the confidence he'd shown when giving his answer evaporating. He watched her warily, his eyes fixed on her face. "In that case," she said with a wide smile, "I am a mermaid who has slipped her tail for the day, and I am looking for a prince to rescue. Do you have any idea where I might find one?"
His uncertainty lingered for a moment longer, then he smiled slightly and looked away again. "I'm afraid not," he said, his quiet composure returning. Audrey sighed dramatically, keeping up the game.
"Ah, well. But I suppose a sad, lonely young man will do just as well. Know any of those?" The smile faded from his face then.
"One or two," he said, a trace of sadness in his voice.
After that exchange, silence reigned once more at their table, but it was the companionable silence of those who have shared something.
Eventually he pulled out a silver pocket watch and said softly, "I have to get back to work." Audrey nodded as he stood. After a slight hesitation, held out his hand to her. "It was nice meeting you," he said as he shook it. Then he draped his jacket over his arm and headed for the exit.
On an impulse, Audrey called after him. "Percy!" Looking slightly surprised, he looked back over his shoulder. "Do you come here often?" she asked him. After a pause, he nodded.
"Most days," he said.
"If I should find myself able to slip my tail again some crowded afternoon?" She left the question open, for him to fill in as he would.
There was, once more, that slight pause before he answered. "You would be welcome," he said softly, and then he left.
She kept her eyes on the spot at the table that he had occupied long after he was gone. She sat without moving for quite a long time, as lost in her thoughts as he had been before she'd intruded.
And when Jake joined her at the table and began asking the questions she knew he would, she didn't have any answers for him. She didn't know why she'd wanted to talk to him, she didn't know what she'd learned that afternoon, she didn't know why it was all so important. She only knew that something had happened, something big, even if she didn't completely understand it.
"What is it about this guy, Aud?" he asked softly then. She shook her head, looking distant.
"I'm - not sure," she said. "He wants so badly to disappear, except . . . there's a part of him that is utterly terrified that he might. That part of him is practically screaming for someone to come help." She smiled sadly then, remembering. "I doubt he even knows how loudly."
And the next day, she watched the door all morning, waiting for him to come in, terrified he wouldn't. She had to know he was coming back. She had to know she hadn't scared him away.
And when he finally walked in, heading to his booth in the corner the same as he always did, she gave a sigh of relief that was audible. She stopped biting her lip and she stopped wringing her hands, and, squaring her shoulders, unable to stop smiling, she walked over.
"Weren't you supposed to be bringing me a prince?" she asked as she approached. He turned his head to her slowly. He looked at her a long moment, his face unreadable, before answering softly.
"I couldn't find one. I'm afraid you'll have to settle for me."
"I assure you," she said with a smile as she slid into the booth across from him. "I won't be settling."
It started out as purely wanting to help him. She'd coax him into conversation, and then she'd let him talk. But the more he told her about his life, the more she found herself telling him about hers. At first, it was just little things, little pieces of 'get to know you' information that everyone exchanged. They spoke about jobs - he was a clerk in some government office building; she was a psychiatrist in training who someday hoped to work with child abuse victims. They spoke about family - he had five siblings, four brothers and a sister, all of whom not still in school worked a variety of occupations, everything from a banker to a wildlife preserve worker to a joke shop entrepreneur to a law enforcement official; she was an only child, orphaned and essentially alone since the age of 19. They spoke about schools - he'd graduated with high honors from some fancy remote private school; she'd attended the local high school with people she couldn't stand.
However, once they had exhausted all the superficial topics of interest, they moved on to deeper things, and then something remarkable began happening. Over the first few days, their relationship became routine. Over the first few weeks, it became habit. And by the time June had melted into July, Audrey counted Percy among a group that, in her life, had contained few others - her friends.
And it didn't take long for the hour each weekday that she spent eating with Percy to become the highlight of her weeks. Jake, who knew her better than perhaps anyone, and other patrons at the bar who barely knew her at all, saw that she perked up when he walked through the door, and that she wilted a little when he left. Audrey, however, saw none of that, and took to brushing Jake aside whenever he mentioned it.
"Are you falling in love with Percy Weasley?" he asked her one afternoon in July. She barely took the time to laugh and say no, the idea was that ridiculous.
"We're friends, Jake," she said. "That's all. Like you and me."
"No," he said slowly, with half a smile. "I buy that you're friends, but it's not like you and me."
"What's that supposed to mean?" she asked, irrationally defensive.
"It means what it means, Aud," was the only reply she got. And he retreated back behind the bar, where he continued to watch her light up when Percy walked through the door, and he continued to be happy for her while still being the slightest bit worried and protective over her growing feelings for this stranger who had walked randomly into her life.
Audrey saw none of that. Audrey saw Percy, her friend, who was slowly coming out of his shell. He was still reserved and slightly formal, but she had grown to find that that was simply the way he was. She'd jokingly called him on it one day, and he'd immediately pulled back into himself, and she'd watched a shade drop in behind his eyes for the first time since the first day.
"I - apologize," he said immediately. "I didn't mean to -"
"Percy, I was kidding," she said gently. He tried to smile, but couldn't. He looked away, slightly pained. She reached over and covered his hand where it lay on the tabletop. "What is it?" she asked him, for by that time, she knew him well enough that she could.
"I - " He looked down and away, and took a deep breath. "I don't - do well with chaos," he finally said, softly. "I - if you knew my family, you'd understand. Eight others in the house - it was chaos given solid form, always, and I - couldn't stand it. I like order. I like precision. I like rules and regulations. I - they don't. They - my parents couldn't, with so many of us. Life had to be - flexible, fluid. But I - I couldn't. I couldn't live that way. I needed more structure than that, more than my family could provide. I can't change it, and I - I don't want to. I like predictability. I like knowing there's a pattern to my life. I want to know, right now, where I'm going to be in a day, a year, a decade. I want to have it mapped out. I don't do spontaneity. I don't like randomness, or - or disorder or chaos. I like boring. I always have. And my family - they didn't know how to - to relate to me. Or I to them. There was - there was constantly tension. I - it drove me away, in the end."
Audrey squeezed his hand gently. "It's not a crime to like rules and regulations, Percy," she said softly. He smiled without humor, looking away.
"That depends on who's judging you," he said.
"Who's judging you?" she asked.
"They are," he said, nearly inaudibly. "They always are."
Audrey saw Percy, the person she began to realize that she told more about herself than she'd ever told anyone. With Jake, she hadn't needed to. Her father had still been alive, and she had been his favorite topic, and so all the stories from her childhood had come out around the dinner table, and all Audrey had had to do was later lend them the ugly truth her father had invariably left out. But with Percy it was different, for she was the one telling the stories, stories she had sworn she would never tell a soul, for despite the fact that her father found humor in them, they still pained her, even ten years later.
She told him about the Great Father Christmas Incident, about the weeks of ridicule her ten-year-old self had received from her peers for stubbornly believing in Father Christmas because her parents, who would never lie to her, had assured her he was real. She told him about staying up all night that Christmas Eve to prove her friends wrong, about not telling a single person what she planned on doing. She told him how, just after midnight, a man in a big red suit with a long white beard came into their house to put presents under the tree, how she didn't think anything of the fact that he came through the front door, because they didn't have a chimney. And she told him how excited she'd been, how she'd run to him to give him a hug, only to find her dad in the suit, pretending, as he had every year since she could walk, just on the off chance she decided to watch for Santa through the bannister.
She told him about how angry she'd been, and how she refused to speak to her parents for a week. And then she told him how, over the course of the next year, she slowly stopped believing in everything.
"I was completely disillusioned at the age of eleven," she told him. "I went from believing in everything to believing in next to nothing, and I doubted everything everyone told me, unless they could back it up with real proof. I stopped going to church when I was thirteen because, as far as I could see, God was just Father Christmas all over again, another lie passed down from adult to child, and I wasn't falling for it again. Most people have good reasons for not believing in God. I just don't believe in him because my parents lied to me about Santa Claus." She broke off abruptly then, realizing what she was saying, and who she was saying it to. "I - I never told anyone that before," she admitted softly, embarrassed.
And somewhere between wondering how the hell that had come spewing forth and wondering in a panic if she'd destroyed something with her outburst, he reached over and gently covered her hand with his.
"I'm glad you told me," he said, soft and sincere. "And," he added, after a slight pause, "if it helps . . . I don't believe in God, either."
She was aware of staring at him, and aware of the fact that she probably ought to be saying something, but she couldn't because what she was most aware of was a small voice in the back of her head.
Are you falling in love with Percy Weasley?
Despite the frightening level of significance that question took on, things continued much as they ever had, and after that step had been taken, it didn't take Audrey long to figure out about the missing brother. In hindsight, she supposed it should have been glaringly obvious. There was always a certain . . . hesitancy when Percy spoke of his family in terms of numbers, as if he had to make sure he used the right one. There was the slightest, smallest pause before his brother George's name, as if something else should come before. And whenever he spoke of his family, that haunted look returned.
And eventually, the time for that confrontation came as well.
"Percy," she said softly one day, halfway through August, when there was a lull in their conversation. "Tell me about your brother." There was the briefest flare of panic in his eyes that she would have missed if she hadn't been looking for it.
"Which brother?" he asked, a shade too casually, a moment too late.
"The one you never talk about," she said. "The one whose name I don't know. The one who should come between you and George." She watched his reaction carefully, and it confirmed everything she'd begun to suspect. His eyes flicked from her face to the door and back again. He swallowed, hard, and reminded her of nothing so much as a rabbit about to bolt.
"How - how did you -"
"I guessed," she said softly.
"How?" he asked again.
"It's what I do," was her gentle response. It didn't do much to calm him. On impulse, she reached across the table and laid her hand on top of his. "Percy," she said in a calm, soothing voice. "Tell me about your brother." He did not respond. He kept his eyes on the table, on her hand over his, and she could practically feel the tension radiating off him. "What happened to him?" she asked. He glanced at her for the briefest moment before looking away again. She tried one more time. "What was his name?"
And then, just as she began to fear that she'd gone too far, began to fear that she'd pushed too hard, too fast, he spoke, one word, so quietly she almost didn't catch it. "Fred," he whispered. "His name was Fred."
That one statement opened the floodgates, and sent every wall he had kept around him crashing to the ground. After that, the words began to spill out, and all Audrey had to do was sit, listen, and keep her hand over Percy's.
As she sat and listened to him speak of his brother, dead for two and a half months, in some kind of accident, the details of which were never quite clear to her, Audrey felt her heart go out to Percy over everything that he had been through, everything he had clearly been keeping locked away since early May. She felt connected to him in a way she never had before, and then came the statement that made her breath catch in her throat.
"It was my fault. He died because of me." With that admittance, everything Audrey knew about Percy clicked into place. "I distracted him. If I hadn't been there . . . if I hadn't been there, if I hadn't said anything, if I - if I hadn't left in the first place, he'd still be alive. He died because of me. It's my fault."
It took Audrey a long moment to speak around the lump in her throat brought on by those words, raw with emotion, especially emotions she knew all too well.
"When I was sixteen, my mother died," she said softly. "She was coming home from the store and she got in an accident. It was my fault. Because I had forgotten to go to the store on my way home from school, and then I was too much of a teenager to go when she asked. So she went instead. And she was killed. And if I'd remembered, if I'd done what she asked, if I hadn't argued with her, she'd still be alive." Audrey glanced up then to see Percy staring silently at her as if he'd never seen her before. She looked away. "And it doesn't matter how many people tell you it wasn't your fault, that there was nothing you could have done, that you have no way of knowing how things might have worked out differently. It's still your fault. And you never - never get past that. Believe me. I know."
For a long moment, nothing happened. But then, Percy's hand turned until his fingers closed around hers, and Audrey held on to that connection as tightly as she'd ever held on to anything. But it didn't matter because Percy was holding on just as tight. And they sat that way for the rest of the hour, in that dark, quiet corner of the pub, and grieved together in silence.
And when Percy finally released her hand and said in a voice raw with emotion, "I need to be going," Audrey spoke, looking down at the hand now cradled in her lap.
"You need to start spending time with your family," she said. "Losing your brother . . . I know it can't have been easy, for you or for them. But punishing yourself by staying away isn't working, and it's only really punishing them. A family like yours, Percy . . . it doesn't matter how different you are. You shouldn't take them for granted."
And the next day, for the first time in two and a half months, Percy didn't walk through the door. She sat in their booth and stared at the door, and stared at it and stared at it and stared at it, until their usual hour and come and gone, and she didn't know what to think.
She had even less of an idea the next day, when a message came to the pub early in the morning.
Meet me at the park this afternoon, our usual time, if you're able. -P
And so, at their usual time, she headed for the small park nearby, to find Percy sitting under a tree, on a blanket that hosted all the makings for a picnic. He rose when he saw her, and hurried over, his hand extended.
"Percy, what is all this?" she asked, touched but still confused.
"Do you like it?" he asked as he led her to the blanket.
"It's lovely," she told him. "But why? This isn't like you. You told me you don't like spontaneity."
"I know," he said softly. "But this is different." She took him at his word and didn't press the matter further as she sat beside him on the ground. But still she wondered.
"When you didn't come yesterday, I – I was afraid maybe I'd gone too far –" But he silenced her with a shake of his head.
"No," he said with a smile. "Yesterday was my sister's birthday, and I spent it with my family." There was a slight pause there, then he said, "You were right, you know. I was punishing them. On purpose. Because they wouldn't blame me. Not – for Fred's death, that was – but for other things. Things I deserved blame for. They should have hated me . . . and they forgave me instead. And that just proved that I didn't understand them, and I never have. But – I'm trying." She smiled at that, and reached over to touch his hand. He seemed almost to start away from the contact, beginning to unpack the basket to cover. But Audrey didn't miss it, and she watched him as he worked, in much the same way that she had watched him the first week he came to the pub. What she saw now was quite dear to her, though no less fascinating. She could watch him all day, especially this Percy, this no-longer-haunted Percy.
In time, he caught her staring, but instead of looking away, embarrassed, she just smiled and said, "Tell me something about yourself," which had become the phrase they tossed back and forth whenever their conversation slowed. In the past few weeks, it had become a game to see who could come up with the craziest sounding true fact, to see who could make the other laugh.
But there was no laughter in his voice when he answered this time. "I'm in love with you," he said softly, and from the intensity in his voice and his gaze, Audrey knew the words were nothing less than the truth. But that didn't stop her from whispering, "You are?" if only for the thrill that ran through her when he nodded.
Then he began to lean toward her, and she couldn't quiet her mind. She start thinking about the oddest things, thinking about what was surely about to happen and about what it might feel like to run her hand along the jawline that was suddenly much more prominent and about why in hell she was thinking all those things, and then, she stopped thinking as Percy's lips met hers.
It was a release of everything she hadn't known was building, and she acted without thinking everything through for the first time in years. Her fingers came up and traced his jaw completely of their own accord, and all she was really certain of was that this was right in a way her life hadn't been in ages.
Abruptly, she pulled away. He looked at her in concern and worry, a line forming between his eyes that she wanted to do everything in her power to erase.
"I have a confession to make," she said in a breathy voice she was sure wasn't her own. "The first day we met? It wasn't just chance. I'd been watching you for a week, and I – I had to find a reason to talk to you."
"Why?" he whispered, meeting her eye.
"I don't know," she said, unable to look away. "I just did. I've been trying to answer that question for the past two and a half months. You're not the first to ask, but the best answer is one that I – can't tell anyone."
"What is it?"
"Just that . . . I knew it was one of the most important things I was ever going to do." They looked at one another for half a second more, before moving together at the same moment, and it was his hand on her jaw this time, gentle and intense all at the same time.
He was the one who pulled away then, and said, "I have a confession to make, too. Do you remember what I told you the first day we met?"
She smiled at the memory. "When you said you were a wizard? Yeah, I remember." She expected him to return the smile, but he didn't. Instead, he simply reached into the picnic basket at his side and, without once breaking her gaze, pulled out a long, thin, polished stick of wood. She looked at it, her brow furrowed. Then her eyes snapped back to his face.
"I wasn't lying," he whispered. With a nearly silent intake of breath, she stared at Percy, waiting for him to start laughing, to say he was joking, anything, but he didn't. He just looked right back at her, pale and apprehensive. Then, without a word, he looked at the basket. She followed his gaze as he waved the stick in a complicated gesture. The basket disappeared.
This time her gasp was audible as she stared at the place where the basket had been. She just had time to think, muddily, How are we going to get the food back to his car? when he made another complicated movement with the stick and the basket reappeared.
"How did you – how did you do that?" she asked faintly.
There was a slight hesitation, then he said, "Magic," almost apologetically.
"Magic?" she breathed, her eyes returning to his face at last. "Real magic?" He nodded. She sat still as stone for a long moment, trying to reorder the world, without fully knowing which warring emotion would end up winning out. "This – is –"
"Audrey?" he asked, the hesitation and uncertainty clear in his voice.
"This is . . . incredible," she said, now unable to stop the slightly stunned smile from spreading across her face.
"I – really?" Percy asked, clearly taken aback by her reaction. Covering her mouth with her hands, she nodded. "You really think it's . . . incredible?
"Percy, this is everything my ten-year-old self ever wanted to be true!" she said, laughing. "I mean . . . you're a wizard. You're a wizard!" Slowly, her excitement became infectious, and a smile spread slowly across his face.
Questions began spilling out of her then, and, amused by her childlike enthusiasm, he answered them, laughing and more at ease than she'd ever seen him.
Eventually, her questions ran out, and she started to get over the shock and wonder of it all, and she sat, mulling over all the information she'd been given and the new world she now knew existed.
"I want to meet your family," she said suddenly, turning to him.
"Yes?" he asked. She nodded. "I was hoping you would. Because my birthday is next Saturday. Will you come?"
"Yes," she said. "If you want me there."
"I do," he said, nodding. "Though I should warn you. They're a lot more interesting than I am. You may regret your decision." He tried to make a joke out of it, but Audrey knew better.
"Percy," she said somewhat sternly. Slowly, he met her gaze. "This may come as a surprise, but I love you. And not because you're a wizard. I love you."
"I don't know why," he whispered, looking away. She reached out one hand and turned his face back to her.
"Because you found the things that had been hurting me for years, and fixed them. You did that, Percy, not anyone I work with, not one of your brothers, you. And I would love you even if you truly were as ordinary as you seem to think yourself. Do you get that?"
He kissed her in response.
The first time she met Percy Weasley, she knew it was one of the most important things that had ever happened to her. Two and a half months later, she finally understood why. And for the first time since she was eleven, Audrey Fletcher believed in something again.