This has already been posted as part of the Reviews Lounge Birthday Ficathon, where authors wrote anonymous stories as a gift for another author taking part. The link is in my favourites, and is worth checking out - there are some great stories in there!
This is for Lady Altair, who writes the most amazing stories.
She does not understand him.
Perhaps she never would.
She likes him. She cares about him.
Maybe she even loves him, though she isn't quite sure about that yet. But she does not understand him.
Why did their relationship have to be a deep dark secret? Why did they have to sneak around and pretend and lie and prevaricate?
Penelope Clearwater is going out with Percy Weasley, and she doesn't care who knows it.
She does not understand him, he knows that. And there is no way he can explain in a way that would make her understand. He knows, because he has tried. Tried, and failed.
He likes her. He cares about her.
He thinks maybe he even loves her, though he is unfamiliar enough with such feelings about anyone who isn't family that he isn't sure about that.
He wishes he could make her understand the reasons behind his desire for secrecy.
She thinks it is just the twins, but it is more than that. (Though - Merlin knows - growing up with brothers like Fred and George meant that you did your utmost to keep anything personal private if you didn't want to be ribbed mercilessly about it.)
No, it is more than a desire to avoid the twins' teasing. Percy knows - hopes, at least - that what he and Penelope have is special. And having everyone know about it would spoil it, take some of the lustre off it for him. In time, maybe, when he is used to the idea himself, when every thought of Penelope as "my girlfriend" doesn't take his breath away and turn his ears the treacherous Weasley scarlet. In a while, when he is comfortable with the thought that he - Percy Weasley, the odd one out, the misfit, the oddity, who wants so much to be like his older brothers (or even his younger ones), but would never quite make it - has a beautiful, clever, funny, kind girl who had chosen him and wanted to be with him.
But not now. Not yet. Not till he was ready.
She does not understand him.
She knows he was pleased (well, "pleased" is an understatement) to be chosen as Head Boy. She knows he is ambitious, that his exam results and his job applications matter to him. She understands that. She is happy enough to be a Prefect herself (although she was more than a little relieved that Susannah Prendergast beat her to the post of Head Girl). And she has her fair share of ambition, although not the driving desperate need to succeed that Percy has. She knows he feels he needs to prove himself, and she can understand that.
What she does not understand is that his pride in being Head Boy and his ambition is so all-consuming that it leaves practically no room for anything else. No room for her. All she gets are snatched moments between classes or when they are supposed to be on duty; a shared desk in their Transfiguration class; and a grudging agreement that yes, he will go to Hogsmeade with her on Saturday, as long as they are back early enough for him to finish his Charms essay (that she knows for a fact he has spent five evenings on already).
It is not enough.
He knows she does not understand his priorities. She cannot see that he is working so hard because he has to. He could not live with himself if he let their relationship get in the way of his chances of a decent job at the Ministry. She cannot see that he is giving her what he can, that there will be more once exams are over and his future is secure.
He hopes that what he can offer her is enough, but he fears it is not. But it is all he can manage.
Their separation is messy and loud and comes to a head in the library of all places with a whispered row that quickly escalates to such an extent that Madam Pince comes within an ace of sending them both to their Heads of House to be disciplined.
Percy is so upset that he forgets to hand in his Arithmancy homework, and loses points for Gryffindor for the first time in his school career.
Penelope goes about the school with her head held high, and saves her tears for the privacy of her dormitory.
Neither of them understands how this went so wrong.
Two years later, almost to the day, Percy sees Penelope across a crowded bar in Diagon Alley and asks if he can buy her a drink. He is more than a little surprised when she says yes (on reflection afterwards, so is she). Within a week, they are a couple again, without either of them quite realising how it happened.
She understands him even less now than she did when they were at school. How could he have cut himself off so completely from his family? How can he be so utterly bloody-mindedly certain that he is right and they are wrong? Godric knows, the idea of You Know Who returning from the dead fills her with terror, but if it is happening, she thinks the authorities should admit to it and prepare for it. As a Muggle-born herself (albeit from a family tree so filled with witches and wizards that her own early displays of accidental magic were met by her parents with resignation rather than surprise), she knows she will be in danger if the rumours are true.
But Percy will not believe them. He will not even discuss them, beyond spouting the official line that the Ministry is in control and that the Ministry thinks that the stories are false. And to go along with that means denying his links with his family, cutting himself off, being lonelier than he has ever been in his life before. Penelope simply cannot understand how he can bear to do that.
He wishes he could make her see things as he does, to understand that he is doing the right thing. All she sees is how much he is hurting himself with his isolation from his family (and there is no denying that he is – he would never have thought it possible that he would miss them so much). And she half-believes the rumours and speculations about You Know Who's return, and – of course – she is scared. So would he be if he were Muggle-born and believed Dumbledore's line. He cannot make her understand that the Ministry simply would not lie about this, that she is safe, that nothing bad is going to happen.
He tries to reassure her, to look after her, to make her feel safe with him. But he cannot take her fears away. He wishes he could.
She does not – cannot - understand him. Why can't he see the truth now? No one can deny You Know Who's return now, pretend it isn't happening. Suddenly defence and self-preservation are the official policy. But Percy will still not admit that he was wrong before, will still not talk to his family. He is adamant that the way Professor Dumbledore is dealing with this is wrong, that the Ministry way is the only way they can win this. He is hurting himself with his obstinacy and need to be right, and Penelope pities him. She seriously considers leaving him – does she really want to be with someone so utterly pig-headed?
But she loves him, she cannot pretend otherwise. And she sees how much he needs her, how hurt he is by his family's rejection of him at that disastrous Christmas visit, how shaken he is by the news of Bill's injuries, and then George's just a few weeks later. She sees that he is frightened. He needs her, and she cannot deny that she needs him, that he makes her feel safer, though she does not quite understand how.
As things get worse, he tries so hard to look after her, to make her feel safe, secure, protected. But there is so little he can do. She is Muggle-born, and that puts her in danger. He understands how scared she is; he is terrified for her himself.
He is so scared for her, that he scarcely has time to be frightened for himself. He is still toeing the party line, going along with the Ministry, being the good little bureaucrat. But now there is a hollow feeling inside himself when he realises how wrong the Ministry is, how wrong he has been in the past. But he cannot get out now, it is too late. If he did, he would put Penny in danger as well as himself. He bides his time, and looks for his chance.
When the chance comes, he cannot tell her. She is with her Muggle relatives, living as a Muggle, with a new name, in a new place. They have seen each other rarely over the last few months, communicating by carefully-worded messages sent by the Muggle post, and once or twice by telephone. It is strange, but their forced separation has helped them to understand each other as they never have before, has brought them closer in an odd way.
But when the call to go to Hogwarts comes, there is no time to get a message to Penny by Muggle means, and an owl would put her in danger. There is nowhere safe he can leave a letter. If he does not get out of this – well, he hopes she will understand how much he loves her.
She understands him so well now. Understands and pities him. She holds him when he cries for Fred, when he rages and rails against himself for the stupidity and pride that kept him away from his family for so long. She willingly takes a back seat as he moves back to The Burrow and begins to rebuild his shattered relationships with his parents and brothers and sister. She is there for him when he needs her, and she knows he will always come back to her.
They have been through too much for him to leave her now.
He is grateful for her understanding. She is the one person who really knows him, knows everything he has been through in the last few years, and still accepts him. Oh, he realises that his family have forgiven him, have welcomed him back in a way he knows he does not deserve, but none of them understand him as Penny does.
He could not do without her now.
The day after Victoire is born, Percy proposes to Penny in the traditional way, with a candlelit dinner and red roses, and a diamond and sapphire ring that cost far more than he can afford.
She accepts his proposal. They have both known for a long time that this was where they were heading, and now is the right time for this. They know that they belong together forever.
No one understands either of them as they understand each other.