Author's Note – I feel that I need to explain a few things regarding this work. J. K. Rowling wrote a richly detailed universe in the Harry Potter series, one that has both good qualities and bad qualities, same as any other culture. One negative aspect of the Wizarding World is its cultural stagnation and closed society. Very little from the Muggle World – especially Muggle science – is able to penetrate into Wizarding society; the last major cultural exchange between these two societies that can be seen within the books appears to have been the invention of the train. The scientific fields of psychology and psychiatry are completely absent from the Wizarding World as far as this reader can discern (or else one would think that after the trials Harry faced at such a young age McGonagall and Dumbledore would have provided counseling and, perhaps, averted some of the consequences in Book 5). This story is to not only provide an alternate explanation to Percy's behavior in the later books, but also to explore the concept of mental illness within the Wizarding community.

Better Strangers

Prologue

Percy felt horribly wrong.

He stood quietly by his family, trying to drown out the sounds of his mother's muffled wailing, as he watched Fred's coffin lower down into the grave.

It was wrong. Percy didn't know what it was, but he knew that it was wrong. The sunlight was too bright, too harsh. They made the tombstones look unnaturally white against the green, green grass. Breathing in the fresh, clean air made his nose burn. His eyes were watering, but he was ashamed to say that he didn't think it was because of Fred.

He was weary. A bone-deep sort of weary that made him want to crawl into bed and sleep for a week. But he couldn't. His brain itched. It propelled him to do something. Do anything. Just make the world seem a little less sharp and a little more palatable. He knew what he wanted to do.

He couldn't stand there anymore. He needed to leave. He had the overwhelming urge to just run. Something was wrong, something was bad, and he didn't know what it was but it was his fault and his parents and siblings would hate him for it. There were five tombstones in this row. Odd number. He was afraid.

Percy glanced at his family. Ginny was crying silently, Harry's arm wrapped tightly around her waist. Ron and Hermione were clasping hands, a dark scowl fixed on his brother's face as he stared down at the black coffin. Bill and Charlie looked stoic and strong; even if their eyes were a bit too shiny and if someone noticed a few tears slipping down Charlie's face no one said anything. George seemed almost… nonchalant about the entire affair, looking down at the gravesite with polite disinterest. His mother's face was buried in a kerchief, her sobs drowning out the vicar's voice. Percy's father just looked so puzzled, as though he had no idea how any of this came to be.

Percy knew that when his father came back to his senses he would ask him that question. How would he answer it? Would he lie? God, if his family found out the truth… He couldn't face this on his own. How could he ask them for help after everything? Not that it mattered. It was his fault that Fred was dead. And they would find out. If they didn't already know it. Were they thinking that now? Were they all silently blaming him, tolerating his company simply because it was Fred's funeral and it was the better thing to do? Stop this, Percy. Stop thinking these things. Percy bit the inside of his cheek. Why couldn't he stop thinking about these things? He hated these thoughts. Always wondering what people were thinking of him. If they hated him. They were intrusive, an ever present force in his mind. There were twenty people at the funeral. Even number. Percy clung to that thought. It soothed his nerves.

Suddenly a loud cacophony filled the air, startling the black-draped crowd. Percy jumped back as the silence suddenly evaporated, the entire cemetery screeching with the sounds of horns and hooting. He felt himself bump into Bill who quickly reached out to steady him. It didn't take long for everyone to figure out that the noise was coming from the coffin. Looking at George, at his soft smile, everyone knew who the culprit was. There were even a few chuckles.

The wake was held at the Burrow. Percy can barely remember it. His mind felt like it was in a fog. Everywhere he saw the same faceless people in a sea of black. He knew that he hadn't eaten yet that day and maybe not yesterday either. He should get some of the food. He made a conscious effort to go to the kitchen, but somehow he didn't end up there. His head was pounding and it was too hot. He couldn't focus. He needed a little help. He knew exactly the kind of help that he needed but he wasn't going to take it. He wasn't going to do that anymore. Fred was dead, remember?

Percy felt himself being led away, a hand on his arm. Looking up, he saw his father guiding him upstairs into an empty room. His old room. They sat down on the bed. This was it.

"I want you to know that I am very happy that you came back." His father stated with a weak smile.

Percy blinked. That was unexpected. He didn't know what to say. And neither did his father apparently. Silence filled the room once more, both of them looking unsure.

"I took you up here to discuss… your problem." Arthur hesitantly stated. Standing up quickly as though a thought suddenly occurred to him, Arthur strode over to where Percy's old desk stood. "I thought it would be best to do this away from the younger kids. Your mother and I haven't told them what was going on." Pulling a dusty folder from one of the drawers, Percy's father sat back down next to him. "When we first learned about your problem your mother and I did a lot of research. We don't know how to help you with this. But these people do."

Arthur handed Percy the folder who accepted it gingerly. Opening it, Percy saw that it contained brochures. Looking down at the sad people forcibly smiling and waving for the camera Percy felt a little sick and afraid. "The Glover Hipworth Treatment Center?" Percy asked. "You want me to go to rehab?" He remembered a similar conversation a few years ago.

Apparently so did Arthur because he held up his hands non-threateningly. "We can't make you do anything." He stated. "But we love you and we want you well. You're killing yourself, Percy, and I've lost too many children already." His voice became firmer. "We can't watch you die. It's either this, or…"

Arthur trailed off, but Percy understood. They couldn't let him back in unless he was sober.

Arthur hadn't asked the question Percy thought he would. He didn't know if this was better or worse. He was scared, but also a little relieved. It only took a minute for him to nod. He would go to rehab.