Written for My Dear Professor McGonagall's Sibling Rivalry competition at the HPFC Forum.
It's not like being home. Percy has spent so many nights lying awake thinking, dreaming about home, and now here he is and it's all wrong.
It doesn't even smell like home. Mother isn't cooking – which isn't surprising - but part of home is the smell of cakes or biscuits fresh from the oven, bacon frying, potatoes baking. And it's too quiet. The Burrow has never been this quiet.
And, worst of all, his parents and brothers and sister are all wrong. He has spent the last three years trying to pretend that he didn't care about them – although he did, he did – and now he is home and they don't have time for him because the huge hole where Fred should be is consuming them all.
He can't even say it isn't fair. It isn't fair for them, for the rest of them, but for him it is. He deserves this. He does.
When he can't stand it any more, he escapes to the orchard, and climbs the easiest tree, the one he discovered when he was six. The one where he used to hide with a book to get away from the twins' constant teasing and the babies yelling, and from the feeling that even when Bill and Charlie let him play with them, they were never more than tolerating his presence. Even back then, he had been the odd one out, one on his own.
Now he deserves it. He deserves to be alone.
He leans back against the trunk of the tree and closes his eyes. He's not been sleeping well. He lies awake at night, trying to keep his breathing even, so that Charlie on the camp bed on the other side of the room will think he's asleep. When he does sleep, his dreams are uneasy, full of walls falling, his own voice crying out his brother's name, people crying, Fred, Fred, Fred.
He is nearly asleep when he feels the tree's branches shake, and he swears and grabs the branch above to steady himself as someone else joins him in the tree.
"You didn't eat any lunch," Ginny says without preamble, handing him a handful of biscuits and a mug, which she proceeds to fill with coffee from the flask she has brought with her. "Nor any breakfast. Eat." She glares at him, looking so much like their mother that Percy does not dare argue. He sighs and takes a sip of the coffee and even manages to choke down a biscuit. Ginny smiles at him approvingly, although her eyes are still sad.
"It really isn't your fault you know," she says, as if she is carrying on a conversation that they have been having for a while. "You just happened to be there. It could just as well have been you instead of Fred."
"Who says I think it's my fault?" Percy mumbles, avoiding her eyes. He does, but he doesn't need everyone to know that.
"Charlie does," Ginny replies matter of factly. "He says you've been talking in your sleep."
"Oh." Percy doesn't know how to respond to that. He takes a swig of his coffee, just for something to do. It's too hot, and he feels tears sting his eyes, but when they overflow and spill down his cheeks he can't pretend it has anything to do with the heat of the drink.
"It should've been me," he chokes out. "That would've been better for everyone. Tidier." Ginny takes the mug out of his hand before the contents spill over both of them, and balances it in the crook of a convenient branch.
"Rubbish," she says crisply. "There's no should've about it. We don't want it to have been you, Percy." She stops and swallows. "We just don't want it to have been Fred either."
She is crying now too, and Percy can't stand it. She's his little sister and she's crying, and he can't do a damn thing about it. It isn't right. It isn't fair. He reaches out a hand to her, because it's all he can think of to do. There's nothing he can say to make it right, even to make it better. Ginny's hand clasps his, and suddenly they're hugging, still balanced somewhat precariously on the narrow branch.
Ginny is warm in his arms, and her hair smells of some sort of flower he can't identify, and she is still his little sister and she cares enough to come and nag him about eating, and to bother about how he is feeling and to reach out to him for comfort, even though he has none to give.
For the first time since he got back here, Percy feels as if he is really home.