Author's Note – I'd just like to thank everyone who reviewed this story. I hope you all had enjoyed it. I wrote this last chapter to offer a glimpse into Percy and Audrey's future.

Better Strangers

Chapter 9

Percy banged the cup against the counter and slammed the kitchen cabinet doors, purposefully making as much noise as possible as he fixed Audrey a pot of coffee.

He supposed it would be quicker if he simply used magic, but then he wouldn't be able to passive-aggressively slam things. Plus, Percy thought as he watched Audrey wince at each loud bang, it has other benefits as well.

"Enough with all the noise!" Audrey ground out through her teeth as she pressed the heels of her hands against her forehead. "Just say it already!"

"Hm? Say what exactly?" Percy inquired, using his most imperious voice.

Audrey threw her hands up in aggravation. "I'm an alcoholic! A loser! A disappointment!"

That stopped Percy's raging. He gently set the cup down next to her hand. "You're not a loser or a disappointment." He stated. Why would she even think that?

"But I am an alcoholic."

Percy sat down at the table with a sigh. "I just don't understand what happened. You were doing so well! Why did you decide to go out with Amy and Sara and those other girls? You knew there would be drinking. It's best just to avoid those situations to begin with."

"You think I don't know that?" Audrey snapped. "Maybe you can deal with being all alone, but I can't."

Percy bit the inside of his cheek at Audrey's thoughtless comment. He didn't like to be alone; it was hard for him to make friends, she knew that. Percy pushed the thought from his mind. Now wasn't the time for that argument. "You couldn't have stayed home for one night?" Percy asked. The annoyance was evident in his voice. "You had to go out with Amy?"

"I wouldn't have gone if you hadn't canceled our date!" Audrey protested.

Percy stood up again. He moved back over to the counters and began to clean. The stress of the argument was starting to get to him. He could hear the distant buzz of strange thoughts and numbers in his head, muffled by the drugs Dr. Smith had prescribed. "You can't blame this on me. I'm sorry I had to cancel but I had to work late. You can't keep doing this, Audrey! I had to get you out of Muggle jail because you somehow stumbled out of Diagon Alley and into Muggle London! What if you had stumbled into the street and was hit by a car, did you think of that?"

"Don't talk to me like I'm a child, Percy." Audrey ground out. "I'm not one of your brothers and you are not my Mum. You're my boyfriend. I need you to support me."

"I'm trying, Audrey, but then you go and do things like this?" Percy turned back around to face her. "Just… why?"

Audrey shrugged and tried to wipe away the tears from her cheek as though she didn't care. Percy felt his heart clench at the sight. Percy had always considered her to be the strong one out of the two of them. She was the one who left the Grover Hipworth Treatment Center. She was the one who first sought out Dr. Smith. It was hard to see her break down. He hadn't realized just how much of herself she hid from him. "I just don't like to be by myself." She sniffed, the tears starting to flow more freely.

"Why not?"

Audrey shrugged again. She was refusing to look at Percy. "I don't really like myself."

"Audrey," Percy sighed as he sat back down again. "What happened with your father was not your fault. You tried to save him."

"I told him everything was going to be fine. He wanted to go on the run, but I told him that everything was fine. That I had taken care of it. They came for him that night. He would have been long gone if it wasn't for me," Audrey was truly crying now. "And when I'm by myself all I can think of is how I'm still here and he's not."

Audrey reached out and took Percy's hand, looking down at them as Percy intertwined their fingers. "You understand, don't you?" She asked hopefully.

"Yes." He did. More than she realized.

"When you're with me I don't feel so lost," Audrey confessed. "I know what I need to do and I know that I need to be strong. But I get weak. I get lonely. I want you to stay. Will you stay with me?"

Percy said nothing. He just squeezed her hand.

Even now Penelope still haunted Percy's thoughts. Often, when he was alone, he would think back on how he had failed her so completely. He could see the warning signs. She had been depressed, scared, withdrawn. But he had done nothing. He hadn't known what to do, so he just did nothing.

He dreamt about her too. He didn't dream about her funeral, or the body she had left behind on the bed, or the way she would nervously look out the window minute after minute after minute. She was alive in his dreams and happy, the way she was before. He dreamt of the library, the dark stone walls and the wide wood tables. He dreamt of her blonde curly hair and the way it haloed around her face.

"So, Ælfwine the Bald was…" Percy prompted.

Penelope tossed her long hair over her shoulder as she pondered his question. "An elf!"

Percy sighed as he looked back down at his book. "We just went over this. He was a goblin."

"Right! Who led a goblin revolt!"

"Who led the goblin peace movement, actually," Percy corrected. "Before he was murdered, at least."

"You mean the one that occurred in 1587 and would have ended in a human-goblin alliance had Ælfwine survived the attack?"

Percy blinked at the girl. Penelope grinned at him, her expression soft and affectionate. "Percy," she said. "I have a perfect grade in History."

Percy shut his book with an irritated thud. "Then why did you ask me to tutor you?" He demanded. He was worried and a little suspicious of her ruse. It was something that Fred and George would do. He and Penelope were prefects together and Percy would even tentatively call her his friend. His only real friend. So why would she trick him like this?

Penelope shrugged and Percy could see her face beginning to heat up. "I thought it'd be nice," she answered, her smile still wide despite her blush.

Before Percy could ask what she meant, Penelope suddenly turned her head to kiss him on the corner of his mouth. It happened quickly and then Penelope was pulling back to see his reaction.

Percy didn't think his face had ever been as red as it was then. Percy coughed awkwardly, trying to will the blush away. "Yes, well, I don't know if we should do that here in the library."

Penelope burst into a fit of giggles and had to be shushed by Madame Pince.