Special thanks to Kimagure, for letting me borrow her Percy for a while. I did promise to return him in good condition, but, well ...
*coughs* Anyway, thanks as always also to my wonderful beta, WT2, or as she is now known, Hitokiri Gentatsu. *hugs*
The Fifth Day of Christmas.
Lazy eyes slowly drifted open, vaguely noting his surroundings. He didn't move from where he lay comfortably, did not in fact move anything but his eyes at all. He always awoke in his room, and his brief, awakening glance had confirmed what need not be confirmed, yet his mind had for some reason demanded in any case.
Blinking back the last remembrance of sleep, he found himself frowning slightly. That was his wall, that was his desk, that was his bookcase. They were all as he remembered; yet there was something not quite right about how they looked. It was almost as though they were out of proportion, or perhaps he had shrunk overnight. Mind muddled by sleep, it took several moments for the likely situation to present itself, and it was enough of a shock that Percy found himself sitting bolt upright, his earlier laziness forgotten. As he had expected, it was not his bed he found he was resting on, for his bed was far higher and presented a completely different angle of the room. No, he had been resting on something almost as soft, but far lower to the ground than his normal sleeping position.
But a carpet that was hovering just inches above the floor?!
And then, memories that had been whisked away by sleep, returned. Dazed, he recalled the night of flying with the winds, shaking his head in disbelief that they had occurred during waking moments, and not some wondrous dream. The carpet beneath him starved off such thoughts of denial, although as he became more awake, he found himself almost wishing that denial was a route he could take. Away from the bewitching seduction of the moonlight, and the call of the fresh, winter air, reason could finally be heard, and he found himself paling over his antics the night before.
What a fool! He'd risked everything he had ever worked for - surely he would have been suspended if he had been caught! - and for nothing more than a glorified joy ride! He couldn't control the slight tremors, or the way his breath hitched in an almost panicked manner as he quickly removed himself from the carpet, not noticing how it moved away the moment he was off of it, as though it had some other appointment to attend to. He sat down on the carpeted floor, resting his head in his trembling hands. What muse of insanity had inspired him to act as though he had little care or sensibility? If there was one thing that he was forever aware of, it was his own responsibilities and confinements. He could just imagine the look of despair and disgust his mother would have rewarded him if she ever found out that he had indulged in such an activity.
He banished the image instantly. It was too painful to glance at even when it was merely conjured up by himself. To earn his mother's distaste was to lose the one source of support he had in his family, even if that support demanded so much in return.
He was not quite sure how long he sat there; too terrified by his own actions to do any more than berate himself and sink into self-flagellation. All he knew was that when he managed to raise his head, sunlight now streamed into his room - surely he had not opened the window at any time? And the carpet which had caused him fear was no longer in sight, although he rose to his feet to make sure it had truly departed.
With an empty sigh, he collapsed in a nearby chair. He felt no hunger; although he was sure it must be past mid day. He had a habit of losing track of time when he fell into such ... moments. Oliver had called them panic attacks, the few times his roommate had been witness to his otherwise carefully guarded secret. But they weren't panic attacks, not in his eyes anyway, for they differed greatly to what he would classify as moments ruled by panic, such as when his glasses became dislodged. He just seemed to freeze for a period of time, that was all. Panic attacks were controlled by desperation and could hardly be hidden; panic attacks could be as physical as they were mental.
Percy Weasley certainly did not have panic attacks.
It was rare for him to have such episodes, as it was. Oliver knew of them only through the few he had had during his first couple of years, back when he had not had quite the control he had now. It was only when something seriously went wrong that he slipped into his 'quiet spells.'
It was time to pull himself together, he thought with a grim smile. Now that was something he did have plenty of experience with. Even though food was the last thing he found he desired at the moment, his mind demanded it, if he was planning on thinking clearly anytime soon. He changed into fresh robes, for he had fallen asleep in yesterday's ones. If he was lucky, the twins would have already have had lunch, and the great hall would be both prank and titter free. Even though the green dye from yesterday had eventually washed out when rinsed under the potion the Mermaid had suggested to him, the sight of Percy Weasley looking like a Lemming was sure to go down in Hogwarts folklore. Just like every other cursed moment.
The Twins turned out to be elsewhere when he made it down to grab something to eat, for once his luck seemed to be holding, a miracle in itself. But fate was not something one should second guess, and Percy found himself grabbing several pieces of fruit, before heading back out of the great hall. He let himself wonder, making sure to keep away from any of the main corridors, but allowing himself no more restriction than that. Not quite sure exactly where he was, he sat down on a flight of steps that may or may not lead somewhere behind the Slytherin common room.
The apple was sure to be fresh and crispy, just as Hogwarts apples always were. That the bite he took from his tasted more like dust was most likely due to his own state of mind than any fault of the apple's. But at least it was helping to lift the fog that had settled over his mind, if only somewhat.
Of course, that meant he had no excuse for not dealing with what had happened these past few days. Worst of all, it meant that 'Percy the Prefect' was likely to regain control, and Prefect Percy was sure to frown on everything he had done lately, not to mention lecture him endlessly.
A tight smile graced his face, pulled down by self-mockery. One could almost be led to believe that he had a split personality, the Percy who was always in control, and the Percy who had never been. He might even believe it himself; if it wasn't for the fact he knew the 'perfect' aspect of himself to be nothing more than a flimsy facade. Part of him almost wished he did have two personalities within him, as it would mean that at least part of the time he was what everyone thought he was, and somehow that seemed better than being everything that they simply ignored.
He'd confused even himself with that last line of thought.
He placed the rest of the apple down, neatly beside the two bananas and the one pear on the step above him. Perhaps food wasn't as helpful as he had always been taught, if they brought with their awareness such strange thoughts.
A glitter of something gold suddenly caught his eye further down the corridor. Blinking, he realised that what looked like nothing more than a speck of dust from such a distance, was actually coming towards him. He watched, as it wove its way up the corridor, flittering one moment, fluttering the next. It became more solid the closer it got, and it wasn't too long before he could distinguish some form of shape. It wasn't until the golden blob was only a mere few meters away however, that the actual identity of it was revealed.
A butterfly. A golden butterfly.
Hogwarts had become a surreal place, of late.
As the stray butterfly, so out of place in the dark corridors of Hogwarts, fluttered in front of him, he noticed that it was unlike any other he had seen. Looking more closely, he was startled to see that the butterfly was not made up of delicate wings, but tiny specks of golden dust, so tightly inter woven that it was almost impossible to detect where one began or ended.
The fifth day of Christmas.
There was no note, no visual reference that supported such a thought, yet he didn't doubt for a moment that the golden butterfly was sent by his mysterious gift giver. It was a rather strange gift, unlike anything he had yet received. There was no symbolism laced in, no underlying understanding about himself that had started to scare him - it was a strange and not quite welcome feeling to realise that someone knew you far too well.
No, the butterfly was none of that, but at the same time, was certainly no less.
Percy started as the butterfly suddenly fluttered up the stairs, and he felt himself following, as though some invisible thread connected him to the creature. As it twisted down an array of corridors, its speed varied between a light dawdle and an all out intense pace that Percy found himself having to run simply to keep the butterfly in his sights. As he sprinted down the corridor, he thanked what ever gods that looked out for silly Head Boys that they were avoiding all the main corridors - he doubted even the twins could come up with a decent enough reason on the spot for why the Head Boy was dashing down the corridors after a butterfly of all things.
Hell, he doubted the twins could come up with a face saving explanation, even if they had 10 years. Half a second, however, and he was sure they could have a humiliating one.
By the time the butterfly came to halt outside one of the old Muggle Studies classrooms, Percy would have freely admitted to anyone that he was winded. He wasn't known for his athletic nature, and running up and down stairs, through corridors and jumping from one ledge to another, was certainly beyond him at the best of times. But, he noted with a touch of sadness, there was no-one to share this rare admission with. This part of Hogwarts had been used many years before, when the population of the school had not been so drastically minimised by the war against Voldemort. Even now, almost 15 years later, the school still didn't have the vast amount of students it once had, as it surely wouldn't for another 10 years or so.
The door the butterfly hovered in front of looked like the handful of others that made up the forgotten corridor, and he found himself hesitant to open it. It was almost like time had ceased to pass, here. If he strained his ears enough, he could almost here the phantom laughter of students who had passed through, and he wondered where they were now, if they had been lucky enough to survive a war that had taken with it many of their classmates. Had they stormed through here, muttering about how much they hated their Transfig. teacher, or worrying about an assignment, in this corridor that was not unclean, but certainly not free of the grime that clung to things that went unused for any length of time.
Had one of them perhaps, hoped for a golden butterfly of their own?
Shaking off the ghosts that were from a past not of his own for once, he turned the door handle, surprised when it opened with ease. He chided himself almost immediately - did he really believe the butterfly would lead him all the way here, only to gift him with a locked door? With a wry shake of his head, he entered.
The room was well lit, and he had to blink several times as his eyes adjusted to the contrasting brightness that the room had to the corridors outside. A large window on the far side dominated the room, and the view gazing out onto the mountain range that Hogwarts backed onto was breathtaking. Or, certainly would have been, if Percy had done more than glance at it. His eyes had been drawn almost instantly the centre of the room, the only area that wasn't devoid of anything. He almost considered simply walking straight back out of the room again, for his legs were shaking even more than when he had first stepped onto that cursed carpet the night before, and somehow he just knew that this had the potential to be more dangerous than the carpet had ever been.
The easel was made of a fine wood, yet felt, he discovered once his legs managed mysteriously to carry himself to it, an age old. Already a sheet of paper was firmly placed on it, waiting impatiently for the paints that were sitting on a table just to the left to bring colour and design to it. Absently, he let his eyes drift over a hard backed sketchbook, and an array of pencils that varied in both thickness and shape. Slowly, he lowered his hand to one, the perfect size for a brief outline, and looked it over carefully, before glancing up at the stark white paper.
Far more dangerous than the carpet.
But just as tempting.
The Sixth Day of Christmas.
"And the day before that, you wouldn't believe what I received! A flying carpet, a *carpet* of all things!" Percy finished off, scrubbing his hands beneath the flowing water. He'd decided when he had got up that morning that he needed someone to talk to about all of this, because it was beginning to drive him slightly mad. He'd run through an admitably short list of people: Hermione had been passed over due to the fact she might possibly share such information with Ron, Oliver had been avoided as he would simply laugh and ask if he was making things up, and Penelope hadn't spoken to him ever since their rather messy break-up.
He'd considered, just for a moment, writing to Bill or Charlie. Even now, his mind clouded by other thoughts, he hadn't been able to forget what the mermaid had told him, but he had made it no further than pulling out the parchment and pen required before he had backed down. Surely they both had better things to do with their time than deal with his silly problems.
"A flying carpet, you say?" The beautiful mermaid spoke up, a smile on her face. "That sounds rather exotic - it must have been a wonderful experience."
"It was, at least at the time," he admitted gruffly. "But think what would have happened if I'd been caught! They would have expelled me, my career would be in tatters, my family humiliated. And for what? One night amongst the stars?"
"Somehow I think you might have enjoyed the consequences of such a discovery, in the future," she responded brightly, but with that eerie seriousness that never ceased to make him think - or worry. "Nobody would be expecting you to be perfect, not after all that!"
He laughed, finding he couldn't not. Scrubbing hard at his hands - who knew paint was so hard to remove from under your nails? - he let her have that one victory, although it would be the only one she was entitled to. Too often the painting managed to one-up him with her intelligence and insight, restricting her to one remark would be a remarkable achievement.
"I don't know why you are trying so hard, with that paint," she commented. "From what it sounds like, you're going back up there after you've finished with me, why waste so much energy when you are only going to be getting dirty again?" He didn't know how to answer her question, so didn't. Being immaculate and tidy had always been important to him, although he couldn't quite remember why. Rather, he could, but preferred not to. Even now that his robes were new and of a fairly recent style, he couldn't rid himself of the memories of being taunted as a child because all of his clothes were old and tattered, so unlike the perfection that was everyone else. He'd spent hours scrubbing them, not caring when he ruined his hands from having them soaked in washing water for too long, or the allergic reaction he had to the only cleaning liquid he had been able to afford on his barely there allowance. And still, he had never been able to rid his clothes of that used look, never been able to force away that look that distinguished them from everyone else's.
They'd called him unclean and dirty, so he had done everything to try and prove them wrong. It had become almost an obsessive habit at one stage, and he winced as he remembered the times he had taken showers three or four times a day. It hadn't made any difference. It never did.
Perhaps noticing his distress, the mermaid motioned towards the sketchbook that had been protectively placed out of harms way on the floor with the rest of his books.
"You never mentioned that you drew. Can I see some of it?" She said it as she always did, with an inquisitiveness that was completely lacking of pressure. It was the type of question that you could easily say no to, and simply *know* that she would take no offense. Still, he hesitated. Part of him wanted nothing more than to share some of his sketches with someone, but another part, the part that had always resulted in his sketchbooks being hidden guiltily and scornfully away, feared showing them to anyone, least they laugh at his one sanctuary.
"This is the new sketch book," he answered, knowing he was avoiding the question. "It, it only has one picture in it, and it isn't any good. *I'm* not any good." He didn't want her to feel as though she had to rain him with false praise, not over this. His art, no matter how amateur and tacky, was the only honest thing he felt he had anymore. She smiled encouragingly, and after a brief pause, he dried his hands before picking up the sketchbook. Flicking it open, he moved over to the painting, trying to calm the nerves that were beginning to bubble within him. Once he was close enough, he practically thrust the page at the mermaid, needing to show it to her before he lost all confidence.
"Oh, Percy," The mermaid finally said with a sigh, after looking at the sketch silently for several moments. "How is that no-one knows of this? I didn't know that such wonder had the ability to be concealed."
Her words stunned them, far more than if she had gone on about the different details of the picture. He glanced at the sketch, trying to figure out why such a picture was so special to anyone but himself. It was done entirely in pencil, other than the boldly coloured figure that was walking down the sketched corridor. He supposed that very few people wouldn't be able to tell that the student dressed in Hogwarts robes was himself, the fiery red hair and the silver frames of the glasses which were the only real colour in the piece, were also the most telling of who the subject was. Although the corridor itself was drawn with rather heavy and bold strokes, the small figures that crowded the corridor the figure was walking down was done in a light hand, a ghostly thin grey instead of the darker black used elsewhere.
He let his eyes linger for a moment on each of the figures, all of them children, no more than 5 years old. He knew each of them by memory, even though he had only drawn the picture roughly that morning. There was the small girl playing hopscotch, a boy playing with a fake broom. 5 children were running through the throng of kids, ducking and weaving in a game of tag, jostling the brother and sister who were playing skip rope with a friend. One child was sitting against the far wall, content with his book, while yet another was singing happily to herself as she danced, lost in her own world. Together, they projected an image of merriment and companionship, so different to the picture of himself, which, with its slightly hunched shoulders, seemed to radiate loneliness, even when surrounded by others.
"My art room was on the south side," he explained quietly, needing to explain even though it was obvious that the mermaid had understood the picture. "I ... I couldn't help but think of the students who last walked through those corridors, and what had become of them. He glanced up and the painting, wanting her to understand. "This morning, when I went there ..." he trailed off for a moment, searching for words, "- instead of thinking of those who had been there before, I thought of those who should have been there beside me." He forced his eyes back to the picture, fighting back the lump that was rising in his throat. "But they never got the chance, did they? And maybe, maybe things would have been different, if they had."
He wanted to be angry for revealing so much. He wanted to be berating himself for showing the picture to the mermaid, a picture that was an extension of his soul. But, he couldn't. It felt good to be able to talk to someone, even if that someone was a painting in the male prefects bathroom who liked to spend her free time ogling at his naked fellow prefects. He would just have to put this down as one of the many frequent non-Percyish moments he had been having of late.
"It is a brilliant picture, Percy - I never would have guessed you had such wonderful talent, although Lyona has always said you had an artistic soul." Her words made him pause for a moment, as he tried to put a face to the name. He blushed when he realised that the mermaid was talking of the painting of a lioness in the library.
"You've been gossiping about me, again," he accused, but a smile rose up through his blush.
"I gossip about everyone," she dismissed with her own smile, before winking. "Why, you wouldn't believe some of those things those twin brothers of yours get up to! Only yesterday, Sir Lancelot was telling me-"
"Don't!" He broke in, raising a hand in mock defense. "If you tell me, I'll have to tell Mother, and the twins would certainly find some horrid way of extracting revenge on me for that."
"Besides, we do have more interesting things to discuss than the twins," the mermaid agreed, the twinkle never leaving her eyes. "You haven't mentioned how you've been thanking your mysterious giver yet. Are you leaving thank you notes, flowers? I'm sure you must be leaving her something."
"I ... I actually hadn't thought of that," he admitted, shame colouring his cheeks. "I guess I've been too caught up with it all, I haven't had a moment to think." He did now, realising just how ungrateful he must seem, and became determined to rectify the situation as soon as possible. As he nodded his thanks to the mermaid, she rewarded him with a devilish smile, almost as though she was waiting for him to say something.
"Hang on, did you say 'her'?" The slip excited him, it was rare for the mermaid to make one. "How do you know?"
"Bottom shelf, far right," she answered innocently, and Percy found himself rushing to the cupboard, dropping to his knees once he had flung open the doors. Hasty hands quickly found something that resembled neither bottle or wash cloth, and he pulled the square object out with as much delight as a 10 year old on their birthday. The gift was wrapped in gold paper, and a hand writing that was achingly familiar yet not quite placable had scribbled 6 words on the top.
On the Sixth Day of Christmas.
"You were here when they - she," he corrected, "-left this here?"
"You know better than to expect an answer, Percy. It would take the fun out of it!" She spoke with a giggle, guessing his thoughts before Percy could verbalise them. "Well, are you going to open it? I only saw it placed here, not what is inside it."
With a gentleness that was often forgotten when it came to wrapping paper of any kind, he slowly removed the golden wrap, before lifting up the lid of the plain box inside. Colour rose to his cheeks - was this going to happen *everytime*? - and he turned to the mermaid who was glancing back at him, questions in her eyes.
"Are you sure this was left for me?" he asked, and she glanced back at him as though he was clueless.
"Of course it is for you, you idiot." Her eyes lit up. "What is it, naughty underwear or something? Are you going to model them for me?"
"No!" he replied hotly, and perhaps a tad too quickly, because the mermaid now looked more interested than before. "I mean, it isn't underwear of any kind, and I certainly wouldn't model them for you even if they were." Seeing that the mermaid was growing inpatient, and there were few worse things than dealing with her in such a mood, he reached a ginger hand into the box, removing the two items inside.
"Oh," she simply said in response. "Is that what I think it is?"
"If you think that it is a bottle of wine and a champagne glass, then yes," he replied with a wry smile, yet it somehow wobbled at the corners as he let his gaze drift back down to the very much Hogwarts-illegal present. Perhaps his giver really was trying to get him expelled, after all.
He'd never drank anything stronger than butter-beer before.
"17 is certainly old enough to have a drink or two - but don't go drinking the whole bottle tonight," the mermaid offered, smiling. She had obviously noted the rather confused glare he was directing at the bottle. "It is quite nice, I've heard. Perfect for relaxing. And painting."
"You are not the most subtle picture, you know that?" This time his small smile was slightly stronger.
"Shoo," she responded playfully, gesturing with her hands to take the present with him. "You're not the only one who uses this bathroom, you know. I'm sure the last thing you want others to think is that you are having an illicit romance with a painting, although I can't say your taste would be bad, if that were the case."
He rose from his position on the floor, but not before placing the present carefully back in the box. He ignored how the mermaid grinned as he hugged it close to his chest as he went to exit, waving farewell.
"Don't forget to leave him a thank-you letter, this time!" she called out as he closed the door. When he opened it again, mere moments later, he was greeted with an innocent smile.
"Come now, Percy - you don't think I would really give such a tantalising clue away so early?"
Her laughter stayed with him all the way to his art room.
The first sip had been hesitant; he had heard horror tales of students who had sneaked in alcohol, only to make an idiot of themselves when they couldn't hold their liquor. How much restraint did he have to impose, to prevent himself from going too far?
Two sips was all right. As was three. He paused after each one, letting the warm liquid roll gently over his tongue, before swallowing it slowly. The tingling sensation the wine caused as it went down his throat was certainly different, although not unpleasant.
After the fourth tiny sip, he picked up the paint brush. Charms had been placed on the room to make sure no-one stumbled into it, at any time. It was unlikely anyone but the twins would venture into this part of the school anyway, yet who worse to find his art than them?
With a critical eye, he stared at the outline that he had spent all yesterday afternoon and long into the night working on. He had already added a touch of colour this morning before going to see the mermaid, but it had only been a first coat to the sky that dominated the top quarter of the painting. Beneath the brilliant skyline lay the forbidden forest, mostly densely populated with trees of all forms, yet not so much that from the birds eye view of the forest that you couldn't see some of the magical creatures that it held.
Perhaps 'birds eye' wasn't quite the right expression to use. For, soaring above the forest, was a flying carpet, a small figure hovering at the edge, glancing down in wonder. Biting his bottom lip in thought, he put the paint brush down gently, before picking up a pencil. With a hesitant hand, he sketched two more figures onto the carpet, one who was pointing down eagerly at a wolf club, far in the forest below, the other who was simply sitting contentedly, a hand on the original person's shoulder. His shoulder.
Charlie and Bill.
He spared the picture one more glance, before removing it from the easel. He would work on it later this evening, after he had finished his new project. It was about time he started taking the mermaid's advice.