Stiff Collars

They think I can't hear, but I can. It's not that their whispers are loud; they're not loud at all, but by some sense I can hear them and it convicts me.

A Weasley? Can't be worth that much then, huh? people comment cruelly, their words stabbing into my back as they murmur behind me. They still think I can't hear them, but I can. And well.

I pull along my trunk, the Head Boy badge shining wonderfully, pinned down on my chest. I puff up.

People want to know, Why is he so proud? It's just a badge.

Of course it's just a badge; you think I don't know that? But it's the only thing I can be proud of, the only thing my mum can look at and cry, "Percy, brilliant job, dear!" It's the only thing my dad can see about me and smile, thumbs up and all.

It's all I have.

It's all the same story. Look at Bill, so smart and so handsome and so funny and so charismatic. Look at Charlie, so talented, so smart, so kind. Oh, there's the third child, and look here! George and Fred! Twins? Goodness, how alike they look! Oh, and they're so funny and charming. And look, it's Ronald. How adorable and hilarious. And little Ginny! What a beauty, so athletic and smart, the only girl. What a family!

I wonder who they overlooked.

Always in the background, meticulously tiding up from childhood to help Mum and Dad, only to have the terrible two, Fred and George, drive a tornado through the living-room again. Then I'd start over.

Middle children always suffer. But that's not you, Percy! It's George! Is it now? Well, George always has Fred and they always crack their funny little jokes to make everyone forget he's the middle child. So who's the middle child then? Oh, it's just prim Percy.

Prim Percy with his collar stiff with starch and not even a strand of hair out of place on his perfectly combed head. What a child.

Prim Percy, the center of all of Fred and George's funny little jokes. Makes everyone go ha-ha-ha and hee-hee-hee, doesn't it? No one asks Prim Percy how he feels. He's just the center of a joke's attention.

And being so ambitious! Everyone says, "What's the hurry, Percy? Why so ambitious?" and they scoff. Shake their heads and disapprove. "Why don't you calm down? What's the problem, Percy?" Nothing's the problem. I'm just trying to show the world that I can measure up.

Wanting to be the Minister of Magic, yearning for it... But that's a big no-no. Weasleys don't become Ministers. They become little men, hiding in the corner, toying with something no one wants to touch. Or they're just hilarious folks, working the little jobs. So that's where you should go.

So I try to prove them wrong. Prove them all wrong. Weasleys can be Ministers.

Then you're the junior assistant. How proud you were, expecting applause and cries of happiness from your family. They did, at first, but then where did it all go? Down a drain.

A sudden whirlpool. A natural disaster. A war.

Now you're torn. Here you are, in the middle. Going this way means letting go of all you've worked for, all the pride that was in store for you later on, while going the other way means you keep everything except your family's approval. So you choose the latter thinking, They'll forgive me. They'll forgive me when they see how far I've gone.

A little message: They didn't. And won't.

Your mum sobs, your dad shouts, your siblings turn their backs. You're alone. With what? The illusions of the proud, happy smiles you had so wanted and your ambitions.

You cry. Mourn. Grief. Want to go back, but can't. It's your pride. And ambition. So you sit.

And wait.

You wait for the war to be over. You want the world to be back to normal again, to stop swirling about, and just return to the happy jokes that were made about you and the laughter that would follow. Oh, how happy you were then.

You know the Ministry is going corrupt with all the Death Eater spies infiltrating through it, all the purebloods managing to weasel their way out of everything, and the lies that choke the place... But you think to yourself, "It can't be. It can't be."

Well, Percy dear, it can.

You know it's corrupt. You know it's wrong. But your burning pride and ambition make up reasons to justify it. And you still stay up hours and hours holding a quill in your hand, wanting to put a few words on parchment and owl it away. Explain to your family what's going on. Tell them funny stories. Apologize.

You see Harry, Ron's little mate, sitting down at a hearing, and Dumbledore coming up and saving him. You see your father wandering around the Ministry, shoved in his little corner, tinkering with muggle things. You want to approach.

But you stay away. You stay away, Percy Weasley.

The Minister laughs and compliments, but he lacks the charm. He doesn't give you the happiness of your family. Then you question:

Is this worth it?

The position of a Minister in exchange for your family? Is that worth it? Losing the respect of your brothers and sister, your mates, just to gain the respect of the people you barely know and trust, is that worth it? All the fame and money and prestige, what is that in comparison to comfort and happiness and love?

You doubt yourself. And it's a torment.

You hate Voldemort. Not only because he killed your brother and left a scar. You hate him for making you have to choose. For creating sides. Putting Ambition and Family on two different path ways. You despise him.

How dare he divide you and your family? All the pain, all the pressure, all the looks and scorn you got from your old mates... How dare he?

But now he's gone. And you're back in the arms of your family.

Comfort... Happiness... Love...

Your collar, it's less stiff. So many turns of ambition and tears bent and softened the starch. It folds, but it's still stiff. It still holds itself up.

And you hold yourself up.

The war's over.