Charlie slid the mug of tea across the table. "Here," he murmured, "Drink it."
"No," Percy replied, rubbing at the sudden fog on his lenses. "No thank you. I don't want it."
Charlie's gaze softened. "Percy…"
"No, Charlie," Percy said simply. His voice was stronger than Charlie's, despite the stream of tears, channeling soundlessly down his cheeks. Crying had become second nature to him, and he had learned to weep while doing other things.
Charlie took his chair, bringing it around by his brother. "You didn't do anything wrong."
"Yes," Percy said, nodding.
"But you just lost a brother," Charlie said, resting a callused hand on his shoulder. "Don't do this to yourself now."
"When else?" Percy asked. His sentences were so much less flowery than they'd once been; it made Charlie miss his expansive vocabulary.
"Percy," Charlie said again.
There was a drawn out pause, and Percy cleared his throat. "How are you?" he asked gently. "I'm sorry, I haven't asked."
Charlie's gaze flickered to the table. He felt so much better when he was comforting Percy, rather than wallowing in his own regrets. He didn't like having the tables turned.
"Fine," Charlie muttered, the rustiness in his voice all the more prominent.
"No," Percy said. "You're not fine."
"No, I s'pose not," Charlie said gruffly, giving a humorless laugh. "I'm alright, though." He forced a smile. "Really Percy, don't worry about me."
Percy didn't answer this. With everyone so busy worrying over him and Mum and obviously George, he figured that somebody should worry over Charlie. He'd seen just as little of Fred as Percy had, and now both of them were feeling the aftereffects.
Silence reigned again, and it was nearly five minutes later that one of them spoke.
"You know," Charlie said, "I don't think my job's so dangerous anymore."
"What?" Percy asked, dazedly. He hadn't really been listening.
"Dragons," Charlie replied darkly. "They don't seem so dangerous."
Percy understood what he meant, and nodded. It was about as philosophical as Charlie ever got, and it tugged at Percy's insides painfully. Charlie wasn't meant to analyze, it wasn't who he was.
"I've always admired you," Percy said, shaking his head. His tears had quelled, at last, and he took a sip of the tea. It was cold, but he didn't mind too much. "Taking such a risky job like that."
Charlie shook his head. "Like I said, it's not so dangerous anymore." The brothers listened to the gentle humming of the house; no one upstairs made a sound, and it was strangely eerie. The Burrow was never silent.
"Your job's dangerous too," Charlie said, flashing a half-smile. "Working with those Ministry blokes."
"No…" Percy said quietly. "I resigned. During the battle, actually. Right before…" he trailed off, his eyes moistening yet again. "I should have done it long ago."
Charlie only caught the first bit, about resigning. "You don't work there anymore?" He sounded shocked. "Why didn't anyone tell me?" Percy looked at him pointedly. Job announcements had been low on the list of priorities. "Oh, right." He clapped Percy on the shoulder, bearing a very Charlie-esque grimace of embarrassment. "Sorry."
"That's alright…" Percy muttered, grudgingly removing his glasses. They made it all the harder to see, anyway. "You know, you and I – we're always safe." He looked around at Charlie sideways, a guilty expression on his face. Not deep guilt - like the type he felt about his falling out – but more of a slight regret as to his words.
"What'd you mean?" Charlie asked. He leaned forward, pleased to be finally making progress with his brother. In his mind, it was Percy who needed the extensive talking to.
"Bill was mauled," Percy said quietly. "I wasn't there."
'Well that's –"
"No," Percy cut him off. "Please Charlie."
Charlie recognized the expression on his face; it was the look he got before he made a point. Charlie quieted down, nodding and listening hard. He wanted so badly to help his brother, but he wasn't good at that sort of thing.
"And George… he lost an ear." Past tense George, who had lost only an ear. They could talk about him without too much anguish, although Percy still felt a fair amount. The first time he'd noticed that George's face was no longer symmetrical was long after it mattered. At that point, his brothers were no longer symmetrical either, and he didn't think to mention the ear to George.
"Ginny got taken into the Chamber of Secrets," Percy said, slowly. He'd always remember that night. He was a respectable prefect, and yet he'd still lost it entirely, storming from the Great Hall in a hysterical rage. Only Penny had managed to talk him down, and that was after he'd sobbed into her shoulder for over an hour. Yet, Ginny's kidnapping had taught him a lot. He had to protect his siblings, and a moment's inattention could bring disaster.
"Perce?" Charlie asked, confused. "That was years ago. Why are you… why are you thinking about that now?"
"Because," Percy said simply, his voice bland, "It all connects, doesn't it?"
"What connects?" Charlie asked.
Percy shook his head, continuing with his list. "Ron's been in Mortal Peril countless of times." Both boys' eyes flickered involuntarily over to the clock. It mocked them, with its pretend rendition of their daily lives. Percy looked ready to say something else, but stopped himself. He sighed.
"What?" Charlie said, prodding him.
"I sent Ron a letter, you know."
"A letter?" Sometimes, it was like pulling teeth with Percy. Even when he was opening up, he didn't quite.
Percy nodded. "I'm quite ashamed of it, actually. I asked him to stop being friends with Harry Potter."
Charlie didn't reply to that. They owed their lives to Harry, how could he justify Percy requesting to cut him out? "You didn't know," Charlie said simply. This was true, and he couldn't comfort Percy any better without lying.
"Dad was attacked," Percy said. "And I didn't visit him." His voice petered out on a squeak; he looked positively miserable.
Charlie didn't respond to this, either. Again, he couldn't quite justify what Percy had done. It wasn't right, it would never be right, and he couldn't think of how to tell Percy that it was. "That doesn't matter now, Perce," Charlie said. "Look around, nobody cares."
Percy shook his head, "Maybe, but I do. It's more than that, though."
A smile slid into place on Charlie's lips. "I thought you might."
"They've all been hurt so much," Percy said finally, his voice trembling. "I – I don't mean emotionally, but… they've all been injured so often, just because they believed…" He sniffled ominously, his tears bubbling at surface level. "I couldn't even manage that."
Charlie encircled him with an arm, understanding better now. It made sense, in Percy's logical way. Whether it was a life, a son, or a useful appendage, all of their family had lost something visible. Except for Charlie and Percy. They'd never been directly victimized, never known the extreme pain from battle.
"And you've got your bloody dragons," Percy sobbed, without the slightest grasp on composure. "And I feel so useless." He rested his head in the crook of his arm, and Charlie held him close.
"Oh Percy… you aren't useless. You worked in the Ministry! You're the next Dad!"
Even with his face hidden, it was clear that Percy was shaking his head. "That's not what I meant Charlie," he muttered, sitting up slightly.
"You and I – we never really fought for anything. I mean sure, at the end. But we never…" He trailed off, more in thought than anything else.
"Percy," Charlie said, sighing, "You lost a brother. How much more do you want to lose?"
Out of nowhere, tears were once again on Percy's cheeks. He looked a wreck, with his once-perfect red locks lying in disarray. "You lost a brother too Charlie," Percy blubbered. "And I'll lose however much it takes for me to stop feeling this way."
Charlie stared at him for a moment, realizing what he meant. Percy wanted to pay for his crimes; he wanted to lose as much as he could, until he stopped feeling guilty. Silently, he pulled Percy against him, unsure what else to do.
Minutes passed, and Percy continued to sob, and then an idea struck Charlie. He took a deep breath, allowing his rare temper to rage.
"Percy," he said, his voice firm. "How dare you talk like that?"
Percy pulled back, his face stricken. "What…" he mumbled, rubbing furiously at his face.
Charlie felt his insides tense; he didn't want to hurt Percy, but now he had to make a point. "You're making it sound as if you didn't already lose enough." He spat each word, putting extraneous amounts of emphasis on every syllable.
Percy's mouth creaked downward, his tears still falling. "What?" he repeated.
"You lost a brother!" Charlie shrieked, his volume soaring. "Why do you have to lose anything else?"
Percy sat still, completely stunned. His tears were gone, but so were his words.
Now it was Charlie who was a mess, tears dripping unnoticed from his brown eyes. He reached up to touch one, drawing his hand back with an expression of surprise. He lowered his voice, grabbing Percy's arm. "Perce, don't talk like that. I. Don't. Want. Anyone. Else. To. Die." His voice trembled as he forced himself not to break eye contact; the two brothers stared at each other, with similar expressions of heartbroken horror.
Percy spluttered fruitlessly for a few moments, unable to choke out coherent words. "I don't want anyone else to die either," he finally said, eyes pleading. He thought Charlie had misunderstood him, when in fact, Charlie had understood better than he could have imagined.
"Alright then," Charlie said, nodding. He wiped at his eyes once again, an expression of satisfaction on his face. "We're in agreement."
"Of course," Percy whispered, dabbing his own eyes. "I never…"
"I know," Charlie interrupted, keeping his hand on Percy. "Don't worry, I understand."
"Okay," Percy whispered, even more softly. His face crumpled once again, this time with relief. That's all he'd wanted, someone to understand.
A/N: Please review! s