Almost Like Real Magic
Disclaimer: I don't own anything related to Harry Potter. This is an amateur, non-profit work.
A/N: This is a very, very belated gift for Mistymist. For the Twin Exchange's Holiday Exchange, she requested Percy/Audrey (with Audrey as either a Muggle or Muggleborn that Percy met post-war), Weasley family holiday mayhem, and a hint of Harry/a Weasley brother. Thanks for reading! :)
"We're off to the village, there's a very pretty girl working in the paper shop who thinks my card tricks are something marvellous...almost like real magic." — George Weasley, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
"I don't know, mate," George said, scratching the back of his neck and squinting as the sun created a blinding glare on the white field of untouched snow in front of him. "I'm not sure it's an occasion that requires a gift."
Percy frowned. "It seems like it should."
"Why? Because it made Mum look like she was going to faint?" With an aimless kick at a snowdrift, George let out a burst of laughter. "I wish Charlie or Harry would've told me first. Could've had a camera ready to capture the family's reactions."
"I suspect that is precisely why they didn't tell you." Pursing his lips to hide his smile, Percy shrugged. "I just want to let them know that I support them."
A curious expression passed over George's face. It was almost...what was the word? Proud?
How very unsettling.
While Percy was preoccupied with his brother's sudden shift in emotions, George scooped up a handful of snow and rubbed it in his hair. Percy yelped, scrambling to remove the chunk of ice that slid down the back of his neck and into his shirt.
George guffawed, and Percy felt at ease. As irritating as George's antics could be at times, if he was teasing Percy, then all was as it should be.
They fell into a comfortable sort of silence as they walked on towards the village, their boots crunch-crunch-crunching on the icy road in a rhythmic fashion. Stone cottages, dusted with white, dotted the landscape with increasing frequency, until they found themselves on a slippery, cobbled street lined with terraced houses and a meagre handful of tiny shops.
"Oh!" George exclaimed, coming to a halt outside a shop with a twinkling Christmas display in the window and a cheerful, lacquered red door. "The paper shop! Perfect!"
"Paper?" Percy echoed. "Why would I want to get Charlie and Harry some paper?"
"Well, look, they sell cards now." George pointed at a tall display next to the till, which was being restocked by a woman with long, dark hair who had her back to them. "You're bound to find something. Muggles make a card for everything."
The bell over the door jingled as George enthusiastically swung it open. A burst of warm air and the fresh scent of brand new paper welcomed them into the shop. Percy drew in a deep breath. He loved that smell; it was like a library, but cleaner.
"Hello," the woman said, turning around as she greeted them with a polite smile.
Percy noticed right away that she was pretty, with her wide blue eyes and a nose that was ever-so-slightly too big for her face (in an adorable way). He might not have taken any more notice of her appearance than that, but then, after a slight pause, a bright, genuine grin spread across her face.
"George!" she said. "Is that really you? My goodness, I almost didn't recognise you. It's been, what, six years?"
That smile — the one meant for his brother — changed everything. Like magic, it made Percy freeze in his tracks. His limbs no longer seemed willing to obey his orders. Speaking was entirely out of the question.
He thought he'd never seen anyone so lovely.
Later, he would wonder why it didn't occur to him that it was a bit strange that she didn't ask about Fred (or mistake George for him, for that matter) if she'd last seen George six years ago. Nor did she mention his missing ear.
"Something like that, yeah," George said, giving her a smile that was tinged with nostalgia and, unless Percy was mistaken, a touch of sadness. He looked miles away.
"Still doing those card tricks?" she asked.
George laughed. "Nah," he said, raising his left hand and wiggling his fingers to show off his wedding band. "Can't. I'm an old married man. I only ever used the card tricks to help me pull. I suspect that if I did that now, the wife might get a bit grumpy."
"Ah, well," she said with a soft chuckle and a wink in George's direction that made Percy's stomach sink. "Never know until you chance it. Anyway, can I help you find anything, or did you just come in here to risk incurring your wife's wrath?"
"Oh, right. Audrey, this is my brother, Percy. He needs a card to congratulate someone on being a poof."
Percy's elbow apparently decided it would once again deign to be under his control. He used it to jab George in the ribs.
"Oh, really?" Audrey asked, raising a single eyebrow.
"It's for our brother, Charlie," Percy managed to choke out. "He...what's the phrase? Came out? And...I wanted to show support, err..."
"Smooth," George whispered.
"Oh, well, let's see, then," Audrey said, turning back to the display and spinning it round. "Hmm. Maybe one that's blank inside for your own message?"
"That could work," Percy replied. Stepping forward, he looked at the cards that were fanned out on the rack. As he browsed, Audrey continued talking.
"I have one with a rainbow, but that's a bit cliché, isn't it? This one looks like one you'd give your grandmother. That one is a bit too Christmassy. Hmm. Ooh, how about this one?"
She placed a navy blue card in his open palm. Shiny silver stars were strewn across the cover, not in the shape of any constellation Percy knew, but in a sort of shimmering, wavy cloud. Turning it over, he noticed the stamp on the back: Handmade by Audrey.
"You made all of these?" he asked.
"Yeah." She shrugged. "It's silly...just something I do in my spare time. Keeps me off the streets."
"They're very nice," he said, running his finger along a birthday card with a picture of an elaborate cake. "You did all of the drawings yourself? Extraordinary."
Audrey beamed at him, a pretty pink colour flooding into her cheeks. "Thanks," she murmured.
As Percy paid for the card Audrey had selected, trying desperately to think of some small talk that wouldn't make him look like an utter fool, George kept nudging him and shooting him a devilish smirk.
That couldn't be good.
"I'm sorry, Percy," Hermione said, furrowing her brow. "Why, exactly, do you want to know so much about Muggles all of a sudden?"
"Work project," he muttered, his quill racing across the parchment. "Now, when you use the telephone—"
"What's this?" a familiar, singsong voice said. George poked his head around Percy's shoulder in an attempt to read his notes.
Percy scowled, holding his ream of parchment against his chest. The secluded corner behind the Extendable Ears display where he'd led Hermione to talk as soon as she entered the shop apparently wasn't secluded enough.
"Just discussing Ministry issues, George," he said, brushing a non-existent bit of lint off of his robes. "If you'll excuse me, I've finished doing your books, so I'm going to go complete some of my own work."
George nodded, his mouth set in a mockingly serious line. "Of course. Try not to have too much fun, Perce."
Right. This wasn't going to be difficult. He could do this. How hard was it to ask a girl out? He'd done it before. Oh, but then, he knew her, and they had the same background. There were no secrets he had to keep because of certain international statutes.
What if he said something strange? He'd only had a few minutes to interrogate Hermione, and according to her, the Muggle Studies course at Hogwarts was severely lacking.
Percy took a deep breath. His hands trembled. He forced himself to open the shop door.
"Oh, hi again!" Audrey said, giving him a warm smile. "Err, Perry, was it?"
"Right, sorry. How are—"
The shrill ring of the telephone behind the counter cut her off. Audrey groaned.
"Sorry, just give me one second," she said, rushing to pick up the receiver. "Hello, Paper Box."
How strange. She was speaking at a normal level. Percy would have guessed that she would have to shout in order to be heard, given the likely distance between herself and whoever was calling. He'd have to make a note about that.
"Oh. Mother. Hello."
Even stranger. As soon as Audrey realised the identity of the caller, her voice changed, shifting from her usual soft hint of a broad Devon accent to something refined and posh. Percy pretended to look at thick packets of white paper.
The bell over the door jingled. George, decked out in Muggle jeans and last year's particularly vibrant Christmas jumper, grinned at Percy as he sauntered into the shop.
"What are you doing here?" Percy whispered as George sidled up to him.
"Making sure you don't bottle out, of course."
"How is Verbier?" Audrey asked the caller, waving her free hand at George in a silent greeting. "Oh, that sounds lovely...No, I'm afraid I can't...Mother, I can't just shut the shop down for a week during one of the busiest times of the year. You know I'd love to see all of you, but I'm the owner now, and...Well, it's Christmas Eve, I think it's a bit too late to...Yes, I know he could arrange it, but I hate travelling that way...Yes, I'm certain...Very well. I'll ring you on Christmas Day. Give my love to Dad and Justin...I will. Have fun. Goodbye, Mother."
Returning the receiver to the cradle, she let out a long sigh.
"Sorry about that," she said. "Hi, George. My, my, two visits in one week? You're going to spoil me."
George chuckled. "Hey, Audrey. I'm sorry, I couldn't help but overhear...are you spending Christmas all on your own?"
"Yeah. My parents and brother went to Switzerland this year, but I couldn't leave the shop. It's fine, though. I have a date with Black Books, some cottage pie, and a lovely bottle of wine, so I'm all set."
"Well, why don't you come to our parents' house for dinner?" George asked.
"Oh, I couldn't impose—"
"It wouldn't be an imposition at all! Mum always makes enough food for fifty people. We'd love to have you. Percy could come to the village and escort you up there, couldn't you, Perce?"
"Bill, the potatoes are about to boil over!" Hermione shouted across the crowded kitchen.
"Fleur, what did you do to these mince pies?" Harry asked, wrinkling his nose. "I'm pretty sure feeding these to anyone would violate the Geneva Conventions."
"The Geneva what?" Ron said.
With Audrey present, Christmas dinner had to be cooked the Muggle way. The entire family had been recruited to chop and strain and simmer, led in large part by the only two people who had the slightest idea of how to cook without magic.
"She's not even in here right now," Charlie whispered. "Can't we just use our wands a bit while she's in the loo—"
"Tsk," Mrs. Weasley replied, turning from the pile of parsnips she was washing and peeling to wave one of the white vegetables at Charlie. "It won't hurt you to do it this way. Goodness knows you could—Arthur! Keep stirring, or the gravy will get lumps!"
Percy had a headache. There wasn't even any room for him to squeeze in and start his own attempt at ruining what had once been perfectly good food. He sneaked through the back door, the clamour and noise and burnt smells fading slowly as he walked across the garden.
"Hi," a soft female voice said, startling him out of his thoughts a few minutes later.
Percy turned around and smiled. "Hello," he replied.
"I saw you through the window when I was upstairs," Audrey said, "but if you want to be alone, feel free to tell me to bugger off. I'll completely understand if you want the space. It's rather...hectic in there, isn't it?"
He laughed, the noise echoing in the snow-hushed quiet. "One of the hazards of a big family, I suppose."
"Mm. It's a change for me, that's for certain. I like it, though. Your family is really nice. At my family's Christmases, it's always just the four of us — my parents, my brother, and me."
"Is your family from nearby?"
"Oh, no. I'm from London."
"How did you end up here?"
An inscrutable smile tugged at her lips. "When I left school, I wanted a fresh start — to make it on my own. I got out a map of the UK and told my little brother to close his eyes and point somewhere, and that was where I'd move. He landed on Devon, so here I am." Pausing, she scrunched her face up in amusement. "Well, that's only partially true. First he landed in the North Sea, and then on Hull, but third time's the charm, hey?"
Her lovely smile widened when Percy chuckled. She took a step closer to him.
"Percy," she said. "I tried to tell your mother something, but she just kept shooing me out of the kitchen and saying I was a guest, so I didn't need to help. If I would have thought about the logistics of preparing dinner, I would've told you on the walk down here."
"Oh? What is it?"
A wicked gleam lit up her eyes. "Did George ever tell you that those card tricks he used to use to help him pull never worked on me?"
"No," he said, barely managing to suppress the relieved smile that threatened to break free. "He did not."
"I oohed and ahhed over them like all of the other girls in the village, but they never won me over. See, I knew he was cheating." Grinning, she took another few steps closer. "All those times he visited me at the shop, flirting his head off, and he never once bothered to ask my surname." With one last step towards him, she held out her right hand, as though they were meeting for the first time. "Audrey Finch-Fletchley."
Finch-Fletchley? Percy shook her offered hand, searching his mind for where he'd heard that name before. Suddenly, he remembered a snippet of Audrey's conversation with her mother from the day before: Give my love to Dad and Justin.
"Your brother is Justin Finch-Fletchley?" he asked, his jaw dropping open when she nodded. He was still holding her hand. His fingers seemed to have staged another coup; they refused to let go. "You're not..."
"A witch? Sadly, no. My parents shipped me off to Marlborough College, not Hogwarts. But I do know the secret, so if your family wants to use magic to prepare dinner in front of me, they won't be breaking any of your rules." Squeezing his hand, she frowned. "Though I must admit I'll be sad to let George know that I know. It was so much fun to take the piss out of him. Ooh, they're almost like real magic! Ha!"
Audrey had been teasing George for years, and he'd never caught on? Not once?
That was it. Percy absolutely had to ask her out — as soon as possible.
Hell, if she'd have him, he was going to marry that woman.