Title: Long Winding Road
Pairing: Percy/Oliver
Rating: T
Wordcount: 10, 668
Dedicated to JagBdB, who requested a Percy/Oliver fanfiction way back in January. I hope the fact that this is 21 pages long makes up for the delay.
Author's Note: This was originally going to be a oneshot in which Percy dies, but it would have made it about twice as long, so I cut it down. That's probably a very good thing for Percy.

Your life starts at Hogwarts, Bill used to say, and Percy knows that it's true. For him, at least, it does indeed start when he is nothing but a nervous eleven year old, staring up at a looming castle with a mixture of apprehension and excitement. He can barely believe that he's finally here; the very thing he's been looking forward to all his life. He's spent the last six months attempting to learn all the spells he can; partly because he wants to look clever and mostly because Bill and Charlie told him that they'd had to face down a dragon to get sorted into their houses. He doesn't believe them really, but a little part of him mind keeps whispering 'what if…?'

He doesn't know anyone in his year – well, actually, that's a lie. He knows a couple of Slytherins by their names, which he overheard them mention. But he doesn't want to be associated with their like. He's a Gryffindor, even if he hasn't been sorted into his house yet.

"I'm Wood," the boy sitting across from him says, pulling Percy out of his reverie. "Oliver Wood." They're in the boats the first years take; Percy and Oliver are in their own boat because there's so few of them.

"Percy Weasley," replies Percy, and sticks out his hand like he's seen his father do when meeting work colleagues. "A pleasure."

Well, a little voice in his mind comments snidely, it'll be a pleasure as long as he's not in Slytherin. But Percy ignores this thought, and Wood grips his hand firmly.

"I'm really excited to be here, aren't you?" Wood says quickly. "I've been looking forward to Hogwarts for as long as I can remember. It's a shame the first years can't play Quidditch, because I really think I'd get in otherwise. I love Quidditch – I practise all the time. What about you? Do you play?"

This mostly comes out as a string of words that are almost merged together and mixed with a strong Scottish accent, but Percy thinks he can understand most of it. "I play all the time with my family," Percy tells him, which isn't really stretching the truth. "But I'm not that great at it. I prefer books."

Wood looks at him as if he'd just declared that his mind was made up of several Crup fighting for control of his limbs. "How can you prefer books to Quidditch?" he asks incredulously. Percy is soon to learn that this sentence tells him all he really needs to know about Oliver Wood.

They are sorted into the same house, of course, but Percy can barely find free space for himself at the Gryffindor table, let alone an empty part of the bench with enough room for Oliver to sit down beside him. Besides, his brothers would be offended if he sat anywhere but the seat between them that they are wildly gesturing for him to occupy, so he resignedly slips into the gap, making a mental apology to Oliver for abandoning him.

His new friend finds a seat further down, and Percy frequently glances his way during the night. He'd like to say that it's because he's worried that Oliver would be intimidated by all the new people, but he does feel a small spike of jealousy when he sees that not only is Oliver doing fine, but he's getting along famously with the people sitting near him. Percy's glad, of course, but that small doubtful voice makes itself known again. He's never made friends easily, and he'd been very quick to rely on Oliver's friendship – so quick they hadn't even been sorted. What if Oliver had just been being nice?

He needn't have worried. As soon as they leave the Great Hall, Oliver locates him and sticks to him like glue. The Scottish boy takes the bed next to his new friend and spends the rest of the night saying about ten words to every one that Percy manages to get out.

It would be a stretch to say they become inseparable. In fact, it could almost be counted as a lie. Oliver is too popular with the rest of their year (excluding the Slytherins) and they are too different to be joined at the hip. Percy won't abandon his books, and Oliver doesn't do a lot of reading unless it's classwork or somehow related to Quidditch. That doesn't matter, though; they remain good friends and, on sunny days, Percy can be found reading in the Quidditch stands while his friend practices on the school's shoddy brooms.

They write to each other over all the breaks; Oliver tells of flying cross-country over England and playing Quidditch against the older-but-inferior boys he lives close to. Percy tells Oliver of his insane family and makes up some stuff about a bicorn getting into his house and his parents having to fight it off, because Oliver's holidays sound so much more interesting in comparison to his uneventful, dull ones.

The year passes faster than Percy can blink, and all too soon he is stressing out about the exams and is studying twelve hours a day. He would be studying more, but Oliver takes it upon himself to regularly drag Percy out for 'fun and fresh air', something which the Weasley grumbles about, but he cooperates with his Scottish friend nonetheless.

Then the exams are over and, in the brief gap between the end of the school year and going home for the summer holidays, Percy spends a few wonderful days hanging around with no one but Oliver. His happiness at finally having a friend all to himself is marred only by the shortness of their time left, and even though he spends a lot of that time on a broom, he doesn't really mind.

Neither of them broach the topic of staying at each other's houses over the summer. Percy is too afraid Oliver might say no, and he's a little hurt when the other boy doesn't mention the idea in any of his letters.

Second year dawns bright and hopeful, and Percy finds that it's a lot more fast-paced than the previous twelve months. Not even a week passes before Oliver manages to score a place on the Gryffindor Quidditch team – as a chaser. "It's better than nothing," he tells Percy when he puts himself down on the try-outs list, "and Millicent is in his seventh year." Millicent is the current keeper. "Charlie says there'll be a vacancy for it next year. I'm bound to get the place."

Percy signs up for a study group in his third week, mostly because he doesn't have that many other interests and he isn't very good at chess. He tries to persuade Oliver to join him, but the Scot refuses point blank. "I'll do the stuff the teachers give me," he says bluntly, "but you won't catch me doing it for fun."

Fred and George also start Hogwarts that year, and they very hastily proceeded to shame the Weasley name in their attempts to be the youngest students ever expelled from Hogwarts. By the second week in, they already had four detentions between them – for "cheek".

"It's not our fault," George – or Fred (Percy wasn't sure which one was which at the best of times) – tries to protest.

"Yeah," the other chimes in. "We wouldn't have insulted any teachers if Snape wasn't such a git." This makes Oliver laugh, but Percy is unimpressed.

"That's Professor Snape," he tells the two in his most disapproving tone.

"Or Professor Git," Oliver grins, who dislikes Snape as much as the rest of his house. "But you'd best not call him that to his face." His comment inspires a glance gleaming with mischief to pass between the twins, but Percy can't quite bring himself to admonish his friend like he had his brothers.

The first match, to the Gryffindors' dismay, is against Slytherin, and Oliver spends the weeks beforehand practicing for it. When there isn't a team practice, he's flying alone on the pitch, and when the pitch is occupied he practices his catching with quaffles he enchants to fly at him. Sometimes Percy joins him, but as the big day draws closer and closer, Oliver practices more and more. Percy would suggest that he might be being a bit too enthusiastic if it isn't for the fact that the Slytherin Captain, Macy, has put together a very violent team, and for them winning them winning the cup looks very promising. This match might very well make or break the tournament for the year, and Percy has full sympathy for his friend. It's going to be an important game, and it's not the first match Percy might have wished for.

Perhaps Oliver should have spent less time practicing his catching and more time practicing ducking, Percy reflects after the match is over. A nicely-hit bludger ensures that the enthusiastic second year barely sees two minutes of the game.

"It was a foul," Oliver fumes from his hospital bed. "We didn't even get the points for the penalty throw! They missed!" Percy has to take his word for that, because at that point he'd been running beside the stretcher on the way to the hospital wing.

They'd won the game, though, and the fuss over the game has already died down by the time Oliver is out of bed. Percy tells him repeatedly that no one even remembers he didn't get to play, and that even if they did remember they certainly didn't blame him. "It doesn't matter that they don't remember," Oliver shoots back with a dark look, "because I do."

Oliver throws all his free time into practicing, and although neither of them intends for it to happen, they drift apart a little. Oliver has no free time anymore, and with summer approaching, Percy becomes less and less willing to sit out in the freezing air just so he can watch his friend run himself into the ground.

Maybe the practice pays off; maybe Oliver is just luckier by the time their second match comes around. He stays in the entire game this time, and even scores a few notable goals. Percy is initially happy and he cheers just as loudly as his housemates surrounding him in the stands. He actually loses his head a little and hugs the girl next to him when they win one-hundred-and-ten to twenty.

His joy is short lived. Oliver had always had other friends, but Percy had only ever had him, and now that the other boy is part of the team that put Gryffindor as the leading house in the Quidditch scores he's more popular than ever. Oliver, for his part, doesn't revel in the glory as much as he could've, Percy will admit to himself years later, but neither does he shy away from the attention. The fact that all their Gryffindor year-mates are suddenly competing with Percy for Oliver's time, even though they're practically strangers, makes Percy grumpier than usual when he goes home for the holidays.

Oliver's popularity is not something Percy likes, but it soon becomes clear that it is something he must become accustomed to. Gryffindor's winning streak doesn't desert them, and no one can claim that Oliver isn't as skilled as anyone else on the team, despite only being a second year. "He'll be a Quidditch Captain by fifth year," Charlie admits to Percy. "To be honest, he could probably replace me next year, although he won't. No one becomes Captain in their third year."

While Percy is both proud and pleased for his friend, he also nurses a hidden jealousy. His grades re pretty much straight Outstandings, mostly because he does a lot of studying, but he's never received recognition for it like Oliver gets for his Quidditch skills.

They win the Quidditch Cup, of course, and after the match Percy once more feels like he's been pushed to the side. Sometimes he wonders whether Oliver realises this. He's ashamed that he nurses such shameful feelings, but he can't help but feel them regardless of how petty they are.

Charlie is genuinely surprised when Percy tells him that Oliver isn't coming to stay for the holidays. "Why not?" he asks, in his most baffled tone. "I thought you two were really good friends."

"We are," Percy says. "Sort of. But… I dunno. I don't think he wants to come round."

"Have you asked him?" The question is reasonable, but it annoys Percy all the same.

"Well, no," he says, irritated, "but he hasn't asked me to stay at his place either."

"There might be reasons for that," Charlie points out. "It doesn't necessarily mean that he wouldn't want to stay here if you asked him."

"Why are you so bothered?" he snaps at his brother, perhaps unfairly.

Charlie shrugs. "I'm not, really," he says. "But you should think about it. He burnt himself out last year, with all that practice. It's not good for him or his schoolwork, and it'll affect his game eventually. He's a good player, but no one can keep up such a slaughtering pace. I'll be surprised if he gets a grade higher than Exceeds Expectations in his exams, and I know it's not because he lacks the brains."

Percy doesn't end up inviting Oliver over, but he does think on his brother's words quite a lot. Charlie's right; when he asks after his friends grades, they're made up completely of A's and E's, and one T in Astronomy. Not that there's anything wrong with that (except for the Astronomy grade). Percy does idly wonder when his friend had found the time to study, but he doesn't think on it for long.

Third year is the exciting year, Percy thinks as he packs his trunk the night before the Hogwarts Express sets off from King's Cross. They get to choose their subjects this year (Ancient Runes was something Percy was really looking forward to, and he'd chosen Care of Magical Creatures because Oliver had talked him into it). Not only that, but for the first time ever they could go to Hogsmeade on the set weekends.

Percy soon discovers that it's a little overrated. Ancient Runes is difficult, and Care of Magical Creatures doesn't get interesting until about fifth year when they're allowed to handle the more dangerous beasts. Their first Hogsmeade trip is fun though, even if Percy does suspect that after five years of Hogsmeade weekends the novelty might wear off a little.

Nothing even remotely interesting happens until the middle of the year, when Percy falls in love. Or, at least, he believes he's fallen in love. It goes almost as quickly as it comes.

His crush is on a girl called Floridan Lacy; a unique name for a… unique… girl. She's very pretty and soft-spoken, but she has odd habits that include crouching on her chair rather than sitting on it, and reading books sideways. Still, she's clever, she's kind, and she doesn't even know that Percy exists.

He barely says two words to her during the length of his crush, and he certainly doesn't speak of her to anyone else, even Oliver. He can't keep his eyes from her during class, however, and anything she says sounds like the words of a goddess. To him, she is perfect and he would do anything for her to even look at him.

Anything except talk to her.

He's almost ashamed of how long his 'feelings' last for her; it's barely a fortnight before he walks into class to realise that she's just an ordinary girl, albeit a strange one.

The mid-year mock examinations give the entire year a nasty shock, and even Percy gets back a few test papers with E's on them. No one, however, is more worried about their marks than Oliver, who fails more papers than he passed. Percy remembers what Charlie told him about Oliver overdoing his training and makes a resolve to help him with his study.

He contributes by half-tutoring, half-nagging Oliver. He scolds him almost playfully when he doesn't get an essay done, but he also reminds him that not everything in the world revolves around Quidditch, and that he should have some time off, too.

"You spend all your time studying," Oliver accuses after Percy has told him to take a break from his rigorous training routine for about the fiftieth time. "Why don't you follow your own advice? I never see you doing anything fun."

"I play chess," Percy tells him haughtily, "even if I don't do it that well. I read recreationally. And when you aren't too busy playing Quidditch, I hang out with you."

Oliver snorts at Percy's short list, but he does start listening to him when he suggests that the Scottish boy take a break. As the exams draw ever nearer, the pair spend an increasing amount of time with their heads together in the library, studying.

To Percy's glee, Oliver gets astoundingly good grades in his end of year exams, marks that the Weasley is almost as proud of as his own. He has better sense than to mention his help in achieving them, however.

Over the summer holidays, he writes more letters to Oliver than the year before, and they grow longer as well. He doesn't know where he finds the subjects to talk about, and he often worries that he bores Oliver, but Oliver always responds to his letters, and he finds himself looking forward to the post over any other part of his day.

They come back to school to find they have their worst Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher yet – even more hapless than Professor Quirrel, who taught them for a few weeks the year before, before he went on stress leave(also known as a vacation). When, in their first lesson, the teacher attempts a stunning spell that backfired on him, Percy resigns himself to a long year of learning the subject by himself.

The only other interesting thing to note is the hopelessness of the Quidditch Captain. Oliver is fuming at the selection, and even Percy knows enough to immediately write off their hopes at winning. "Why on earth did Brown get the captaincy?" he rants over breakfast before the tryouts. "Surely the Gryffindor team has better players than him?"

Apparently they didn't. Three players had left the school over the holidays, Larkins quit the team when she was made Head Girl, Doyle is a seventh year but is as hopeless as Brown, and Oliver is only a second year.

The first five minutes of the trials are enough to tell Percy that Brown will make just as bad a captain as he does a player. All his friends show up for the trials – as players rather than spectators, to Wood's evident dismay.

He has no authority. No one bothers to listen to him; it takes ten minutes just to get rid of the first years that show up. Even then, it takes another twenty minutes just to work out who is applying for which positions.

Percy is not the only Gryffindor watching from the stands, and murmurs of dissent run through the lot of them. Several people actually get up and leave when the captain himself crashed into a goalpost.

However, the disastrous trials are nothing compared to the list of successful players that are pinned on the noticeboard the next day.

"He's given positions to all his friends!" Oliver exclaims "Look at the beaters! They didn't even manage to hit a bludger in the tryouts! There were heaps of better applicants than them!"

Oliver had, however, managed to be get the place of keeper, although he points out darkly that he probably wouldn't have if any of Brown's friends had wanted it. "You should complain to McGonagall," Percy tells him, but Oliver just shrugs.

"What can she do?" he says hopelessly. "He's got the captaincy. He'd have to do something serious to get it taken off him, and I don't think picking the wrong players would cut it."

Fred and George are equally unhappy about not being made beaters. Percy might have told them that not many people get put on the team in their second year, and that they had to be really good to make it, but he holds his tongue. The main reason is that even one of them would make a better beater than both of the actual beaters combined.

Oliver, Doyle, and a girl called Angelina Johnson are the only three players who weren't on the team because they were friends with Brown, and it soon becomes obvious that they are the only ones who really care about the well-being of the team. None of them hold high hopes for their chances at the Cup.

"He only holds practices once a week," Doyle complains gloomily one evening in the common room. "Mind you, I doubt it would matter much if he held more. Even if we practiced every night, we'd still lose."

"He doesn't make any effort, even when we do practice," Wood says miserably. "There isn't any point even having a team."

"Hufflepuff's going to slaughter us next fortnight," says Angelina. There's silence for a few moments.

"Don't you think you're giving up a little prematurely?" Percy asks.

"You've seen us practice," Angelina challenges him. "Do you really think we stand a chance?"

"No," Percy says, "but there's always next year. You need to keep your skills up."

"Fat chance of that," Doyle says. "At the rate we're going, we're only going to get worse."

"You don't need a good captain to practice," Percy points out. "Not if you practice by yourself."

Their practices start out as just the three of them (and Percy, who joins in for the fun, even though it's obvious he's nothing compared to the other three). But it doesn't take long before word gets out and their numbers soon swell to nine – which means that they can hold a rudimentary match. Fred and George are the first to invite themselves along to the training, and they're soon joined by their year-mate Alicia Spinnet and several sixth- and seventh-years.

They practice twice a week, plus the official team practice. Percy goes along to all three of them - two to play, and one to watch – and can't help noticing that the 'amateur' team is much better than the official one.

To Oliver's surprise, he is made captain of the 'amateur' team by default. While no one states it outright, it is he who organises the players, arranges the meetings, and makes everyone listen to him during their practice sessions. Even the players who are three and four years his senior treat him with respect.

Fourth year flies like none of the others did. The work becomes fascinatingly difficult and the student's minds begin turning over ideas of what they wanted to do after they left school. Technically they don't have to start thinking about it until fifth year, but they're fourteen; the urge to be out in the real world, doing stuff, is a strong pull. Notions are entertained and then tossed aside like last week's socks in the search to find the perfect career.

"I think I'd like to work in the ministry," Percy tells Oliver one day, while the Scottish boy is finishing the homework that Percy had completed the night before. "Not like my father, though – somewhere of import."

Oliver grins at him. "That would suit you, Perce," he says, using the affectionate nickname that had cropped up between them a few months before. "I can just picture you in a tweed suit, shuffling papers and looking down your nose at mud-wallowing Quidditch players like me."

Percy swats at him playfully. "What about you?" he asks. "Let me guess. It's something to do with Quidditch?"

Oliver's grin fades. "You'd think, wouldn't you?" he says ruefully.

They're taking advantage of the quiet of their dorms, and both of them are leisurely stretched out over Oliver's bed. Percy nearly falls off it in surprise.

"You're kidding me," he says. "You live, eat and breathe Quidditch. You practice non-stop. Are you telling me that there's something you want to do more than play professionally?"

"No," admits Oliver. "I do want to become a pro Quidditch player. But it's… well, it's not exactly a stable career, is it? The ministry is safe. You can rise to power, but if you suck then you can still make your way. Quidditch is different; you have to be good to earn your wage."

"Oliver," Percy says seriously, "you are good. You're amazing. Even Charlie thought so, and you were only a second year when he was captain. If anyone should aim to be a famous Quidditch player, it's you."

"You think so?" Oliver asks.

"I know so," replies Percy.

Oliver smiles at him; a wide beaming smile that makes Percy's stomach do strange things. "I have to go to the library," he lies, and escapes the suddenly stifling room.

He goes outside instead, taking deep breaths of fresh air. 'What was that?' he wonders.

Gryffindor do spectacularly badly in the Quidditch matches they play, and they only have one more left to go when McGonagall pulls Oliver aside at breakfast one morning. When he comes back, he's pale and looking like a stunned fish.

"What's wrong?" Percy asks, immediately concerned.

"I've… I'm…." Oliver, never one to skimp on words, is speechless. Percy becomes very worried at this point.

"What is it?" he urges.

"I've been made Captain," Oliver says, as though he doesn't quite believe it himself.

"What? Quidditch Captain?"


"What about Brown?"


Percy is surprised that such a scandal was kept so secret, and that Oliver is actually told officially before the rumours reach him. "And she made you captain?"

"Thanks for your vote of confidence."

"You know what I mean. You're a fourth year."

"I know."

It's far too late in the year for them to win the cup, but Oliver trains the team mercilessly, which has both merits and downsides. One point in its favour is that it quickly gets rid of Brown's remaining friends – the ones who'd gotten in purely because of their connections. They either miss practices or quit because there is too much training involved, and slowly Oliver began to replace the old Gryffindor team with the best players from his unofficial practice sessions.

However, he does make it his mission to train them all to the ground, which means that, with the extra practice sessions and the piling up of homework as the exams draw closer and closer, the only time Percy really gets to speak to Oliver is in class, where they're often surrounded by other students and interrupted by teachers.

All Olivers hard work pays off, though, when Gryffindor win the last match of the year and manage to scrape by in third place. "Next year," Percy tells Oliver with confidence. "Next year will be much better. I know it."

He is only partially right, as he finds out much, much later. Fifth year is OWL year, which Percy meets with a combination of anticipation and dread. Fifth year is also the year his youngest brother, Ron is to start Hogwarts and, much to the stirring of the school, Harry Potter becomes a student of Hogwarts as well.

To his glee, Percy is made a prefect. He realises he may have gone on about it an awful lot over the summer, but he can't help his excitement and pride. Becoming prefect is the first step to becoming Head Boy, a position which will sit him in good stead for a ministry career. It also gives him the same standing as Oliver; both of them will now be allowed privileges such as using the Prefect's bathroom.

Percy takes his prefect duties in his stride, and he enjoyed the responsibility his position gives him. He knows that, at the same time that he's getting a feel for his role, Oliver is putting together a cracking Quidditch team.

It's during the second term that he becomes friendly with Penelope Clearwater.

She is a fellow prefect and, although she is in Ravenclaw, they have numerous things in common. Percy had always kept to himself over the time he spent at Hogwarts; sure, he knows a lot of the people in his year, but they are acquaintances rather than friends.

With Penelope it is different. She is pretty, funny, and clever. She shares his ambition and never seems to not have time for him. Sometimes they have to patrol the corridors together and, at some point during the year, it seems only natural for them to begin studying together.

Percy finds a friend in her that he'd only ever found before in Oliver. This is exceptionally convenient as Oliver now has less time than ever, and if it hadn't been for Penelope, Percy would have found himself spending a lot of time alone.

He doesn't find it odd when he isn't attracted to her, even though she is, in many ways, the perfect girlfriend for him.

He does find it odd when he begins to feel a growing attraction for his other, very male, best friend.

It worries him more than he can ever say, and, unsure how to deal with these feelings, he attempts to draw away from the Scottish boy. Oliver is so busy this year that Percy wonders a few times if he even notices the growing distance between them. Other than a hurt look or two on those occasions when he suggests hanging out and Percy turns him down, Oliver shows no sign of it.

It's not uncommon for Percy to hunt for answers in the library when he has a problem, and this particular quandary is no exception. He spends several lunchtimes skulking around amongst the books, hurriedly pushing them back into shelves and grabbing less incriminating ones whenever anyone walks past. He finds several interesting titles, including Wizarding Homosexuality Throughout History; Muggle and Magic: The Answers to the Gay Question; and an interesting chapter in Muggle Persecution on how homosexuality had once been illegal in the muggle world. He also comes across several names of well-known gay wizards, which reassure him, though only a little.

He'd never actually known anyone who was gay before. It seemed to be one of those things that no one likes to talk about, a bit the same as squibs. Reading about it makes the prospect that he might be attracted to men a little less daunting, although he it takes him two months before he finally checks out a single book on the subject. He'd been too afraid Madam Pince might look at the title and judge him on it. Even then, he takes out about fifty other textbooks at the same time, and hastily rushes it up to the common room where he immediately hides it under his mattress. Only the house-elves will ever know of it.

He and Penelope are walking back from the library one day when she kisses him out of the blue. She pulls away almost immediately, blushing a furious shade of pink but looking quite pleased with herself, as though she'd accomplished something she'd been meaning to do for a very long time.

Percy is stunned into silence, but realises he has to say something. "Penny," he starts, but he can't seem to find the words to follow it. What's he supposed to say after that? 'Sorry, I don't swing that way'? "Penny, I'm sorry," he says. "But I don't… you know I don't think of you that way."

Her redness in her cheeks barely changes colour, but suddenly the tinge looks embarrassed and angry rather than pleased and innocent. She turns away from him without another word, but not before he sees the tears in her eyes.

He tries to grab her arm, to stop her from running, but she is gone before he can even shout her name. He stands there for a moment before leaning against the wall, and burying his face in his armful of books. 'Why do things have to get complicated?' he thinks to himself.

He retreats to his dormitory, and for once wishes that Oliver wasn't still at Quidditch practice. He would have liked to talk about it with the other boy and perhaps ask for his advice, regardless of his conflicting feelings about the Scot.

He doesn't sleep well that night, too busy tossing and turning while thinking of the kiss that apparently came from nowhere. Except the more he thinks about it, the more he wonders whether he should have seen it coming. He goes over and over all his conversations with Penny up to that point, and wonders whether he'd been deliberately ignoring the signs that should have told him that she was developing feelings for him. The fluttered eyelashes now register in his mind, and he recalls several conversations that could almost have been considered flirting.

He gets maybe three hours sleep that night, at the most. It must have been apparent to those around him, because when he gets down to breakfast, Oliver asks him if he even went to bed.

"Bad night, then?" his friend asks sympathetically when Percy responds to his first questions with a terse "Yes". All desire to confide in the other boy had disappeared over night.

Penelope had recently taken to sitting next to him and Oliver in the classes the three shared, but if the Quidditch captain notices that she chose seats on the other side of the rooms that day, he doesn't say a word. At least, not until their lunch break, which they spend out underneath a tree by the lake.

"So," Oliver says in that falsely-conversational tone that people use to when there's a delicate subject they want to bring up but aren't too sure how to go about it. "You and Penelope. Lover's tiff?

"Why would you say that?" Percy asks quickly.

"Well, you've been joined at the hip for months now, and all of a sudden you're taking pains to keep as far away from each other as possible. Did you two break up?"

"Break up?" Percy says, genuinely surprised. "We were never dating."

It's Oliver's turn to be surprised. "You weren't? But I thought…." He trails of awkwardly.

"No," Percy says. "We're just friends." He pauses, then adds, "At least, we were."

"What happened?" Oliver asks.

"She kissed me."

"Oh." A small pause. "How is that a problem?"

"Because I don't like her like that," Percy says, as though it should be obvious.

"Really?" More surprise. "Why ever not?"

Percy wonders if his friend is being deliberately obtuse, and is beginning to get annoyed. "Because I don't," he says. "I like her as a friend, but nothing more."

"Then you should tell her that," says Oliver.

"I did," Percy says, "last night. I told her that I didn't think of her like that."

"Ah," Oliver says, as if he was a wise old professor and had just discovered something fascinating. "That'll be you're problem.

"What will?" asks Percy.

"You told her it all wrong. You've got to talk to her like you talk to a girl."

Percy looks at him as though he's grown a second head. "Come again?" he asks, mystified.

"You don't just tell her you don't think of her like that," Oliver says. "You have to tell her that even though she's beautiful and smart and clever, you just don't like her in that way. Tell her that she deserves someone much better. And it wouldn't hurt to add that if you did like any girl, it would definitely be her. Unless," he pauses to look quizzically at Percy, "that isn't the case?"

"No, no," Percy says hastily. "That's correct." He's quiet for a moment, and then asks, "How am I supposed to tell her all this if she isn't talking to me?"

"Give her a few days," Oliver tells Percy wisely. "She'll come around."

"Okay," Percy says sceptically. "And thanks."

"No problem," Oliver says contentedly, and stretches out against the tree, his arms behind his head as he basks in the early spring sunshine. His shirt rides up to reveal a hint of abs that have been toned during hours of Quidditch practice, and Percy's mind goes blank except for that image, before he manages to force himself to look away. "Any time."

"Yeah," Percy murmurs, as he deliberately keeps his eyes fixed in the direction of the water, where there are no sights to inspire indecent thoughts.

It's a full week before he manages to get Penelope on her own again. He probably could have whispered his apology to her during one of their more laid-back classes like Charms, but he doesn't for two reasons. The first is that, if it goes badly, he doesn't want the entire class to be witness to their argument. The second that he wants to tell her the full truth, and a crowded classroom is not the ideal place for this.

He ambushes her in the library on one of the few occasions that she studies by herself. He'd no idea that she had so many Ravenclaw friends to study with, and wonders whether they'd had so much time alone in the last few months because she'd designed it like that, or whether she was spending an extraordinary amount of time around her friends now in order to fend him off. Probably a mixture of both, he decides.

He starts talking before she has a chance to tell him to go away, and it seems to work because she falls silent.

"I really am sorry if I ever gave you the wrong idea," he begins hastily. "I never meant to. And, if it's possible, I don't want to lose you as a friend. You're amazing and beautiful and clever, and if I was ever going to fall for a girl it would be you."

He tries to read her expression to see how she was reacting to this, and detects a softening around the mouth. He takes this as a hopeful sign.

"I didn't mean to hurt you, you know," he says. "I'm sorry for that too."

"I know," she says sadly. "Doesn't make it hurt any less."

He lowers his head in agreement, and takes the opportunity to lick his lips, which are dry from nerves. He can hear his heart beating in his chest. "Would it… would it help if I told you why I can't date you?" he asks.

"If you want," she replies, which isn't the answer he was hoping for. A part of him does want to tell her, to confide in her, but a part of him is still unsure.

"I...," he starts, and then pauses. "Can you keep it a secret," he asks, stalling.

She nods.

"I'm gay," he blurts out in a hushed whisper, before his paranoia forces him to glance around to check that no one else is listening.

Her eyes widen. "What, seriously?" she asks.

He nods, and she lets out a low whistle. Her rejection seems to have been forgotten, and her cool demeanour is left behind. "I wasn't expecting that," she tells him. "Who else knows?"

"No one," he says. "That's why you can't tell a soul. You have to keep it to yourself."

"Of course," she assures him. "My lips are sealed.

Oliver accepts their renewed friendship with a smile that tells Percy he'd been expecting just that outcome, and Penelope remains true to her word and keeps his secret for him. She brings it up a couple of times when they're alone, which both relieves Percy and makes him uncomfortable at the same time. While it's nice not to have to hide it from her, he still feels awkward talking about it. Luckily the exams arrive before she can probe too deep into the subject, and once Gryffindor are flattened in their last Quidditch match of the year (due to their star seeker being laid up in the hospital wing) Oliver spends much more time around them. Percy is grateful for this, as he made it clear to Penelope that the Scottish boy was not to know. She had blatantly disagreed with this call of judgement at the time, but she did respect it.

Then the holidays come. Percy exchanges letters with both Oliver and Penelope, although he never sends his letters to Penny with Errol, electing to use Hermes instead. It's better to wait a few days for his own owl to return rather than send a letter containing mentions of his sexuality with Errol, only to have it delivered to his mother or another member of his family only a few days later.

He was very grateful for his decision when this actually happens with one of Oliver's letters that Percy sends with the family owl, as Hermes had been delivering to Penelope at the time. When the grey own comes crashing through the window to her room, breaking the glass in the process, Ginny forgets to check the address in all the excitement. Percy shudders to think what she might have read if it had been to Penelope, whose last letter had enquired why he didn't feel ready to come out to his family.

The holidays seem to drag on forever. Near the end, Fred, George and Ron steal their father's flying car to kidnap Harry from the Dursleys, and Ginny is over the moon about finally being able to start Hogwarts, but other than that the holidays are dull and monotonous. He's keen to go back to school and the start of the year can't come soon enough.

School is started off with a bang when Harry and Ron crash the Ford Anglia into the Whomping Willow, but Percy only takes enough notice to scold his brother absentmindedly. He'd got exceptional OWL's, of course, but NEWTs begin this year and he is determined not to be distracted. He's going to put his inconvenient feelings for Oliver aside for this year, and focus on nothing but his grades.

Unfortunately, it doesn't really work out like that.

"It's Oliver, isn't it?" Penelope asks him one day during the first term, as they take advantage of the fading summer to study outdoors. They're in the Quidditch stands, ironically enough, watching Gryffindor practice.

"Of course it's Oliver," Percy answers. She'd been watching him closely for weeks, he knew, ever since he let slip that there just might be someone he liked. He busied himself with his Transfiguration essay to avoid looking her in the eye. "Who else would it be?"

"Well you're not exactly obvious about it," she says.

"Then how did you guess?"

"You look at him the way I used to look at you."

There's quiet between them, and then Percy asks, "Do you think he knows?" The idea is both exciting and terrifying at the same time.

"I doubt it. He's a great friend, and he isn't thick, but I think you'd have to kiss a boy in front of him before he even worked out which team you batted for."

He has to think for a second before he remembers that 'batting for teams' was a muggle expression pertaining to being gay. Penelope is a muggleborn and still keeps in contact with her friends from the school she'd gone to before Hogwarts, and she quite often comes out with odd things like that.

"You should tell him," she advises him.

Percy laughs bitterly. "Great, and then he can never speak to me again." He was under no delusions about the reactions the majority of people would have if he were to come out. Homosexuality had never been illegal or openly persecuted in the wizarding world, but it wasn't something decent wizards talked about much, particularly the pureblood ones. And while Oliver didn't hold with traditional pureblood views like hatred for muggleborns, Percy knew that, like him, Oliver had been raised in a completely wizarding household.

"You don't give him enough credit," Penelope says. "And I don't mean that you should tell him that you like him. I just mean that you should tell him that you're gay." She holds up her hand before Percy can argue. "I know you don't want to," she says, but you really must start facing the truth sometime. It's who you are."

"I'll tell him when the time is right," Percy concedes. "But that time isn't now."

And he leaves it at that.

The right time never comes, because the 'Discovery Behind the Herbology Greenhouses' occurs first.

Percy isn't taking Herbology anymore; he'd done well in it in his OWL's, but it was hardly a subject that would get him a high-placing job in the ministry. But the night before, Mrs Norris had been attacked and Ron had been first on the scene. As a prefect, Percy feels it is important to know anything that might help him protect the students of the school should they be threatened, and he wants to know any details that could help him should the need arise. Ron has Herbology in Greenhouse Two that lesson, hence why he is at the greenhouses.

Unfortunately he misses them by about five minutes; the second year class has already gone up to the castle to shower by the time he gets there. Percy is just about to head back when he hears leaves rustling from behind Greenhouse Four. Lurking around the greenhouses is expressively forbidden, so he heads over to investigate and, if it is a student, to tell them to head back up to the castle.

It is a student – two, in fact – but Percy never gets the chance to tell them off, because he's shocked into silence by the sight that greets him. The student is Oliver, and some Hufflepuff that Percy doesn't recognise, and the rustling is caused by the movement of the bushes as their branches are disturbed by the pair snogging.

The only thought that goes through Percy's head is observation that the Hufflepuff is a boy.

Percy didn't think he'd made any noise, but he must have because Oliver breaks off the contact, looking up to meet Percy's transfixed stare. The Scot's eyes mirror the shock that Percy feels, and before anyone can say anything, Percy whirls around and begins running back up to the castle.

It's cruel, Percy thinks, to find out this way. A week ago, he might have given anything to know that Oliver likes boys to, but, now that he's seen him kissing another student, it just makes Percy feel like a bludger has hit him in the stomach.

The dorms will be the first place Oliver will look for him, Percy knows, and so he heads to the library instead. It's lunchtime, so there are other students there and he doesn't feel out of place. He grabs a random book off the shelf and flips it open to the middle before staring blankly at the page.

He must have only been gazing at the letters for five minutes before a delectably deep, Scottish voice comes from over beside him. "You know, when most people read, their eyes move."

Percy looks up to see Oliver's very nervous expression. "Can we talk?" the Scot asks. "Somewhere other than here? It's a bit crowded."

Percy nods.

They head back to the dorms in complete silence. Half of Percy's brain is screaming at him to say something, and the other half is advising him to stay quiet, and listen to what Oliver has to say.

They're only halfway back before Oliver halts, and pulls open the door to an empty classroom. He gestures for Percy to step through. When the red-head hesitates, Oliver says tartly, "I'm not going to jump you, if that's what you're worried about."

"It's not," Percy murmurs, and steps through.

He perches himself on the edge of a desk and waits while Oliver closes the door. When the other boy turns around, he fixes him with an expectant look.

"What you saw," Oliver begins, and then pauses. "I mean, I'm not… I'm not…."

"Not gay?" Percy supplies. "Because that's not what it looked like."

"I know," Oliver sighs, and runs a hand through his hair. His face is taut with stress and worry, and Percy gets the odd urge to wrap him up in an embrace. He blinks, hard, and fights to keep his expression blank. Where on earth did that come from?

"You weren't supposed to see that," Oliver says. "No one was. It was an experiment. I just wanted to see if I am… if I was…."

"Gay?" Percy supplies once more, because Oliver doesn't seem to be able to bring himself to say it. Percy knows how that goes.

"And are you?" he asks, not daring to allow himself to hope.

"I… I…." Percy has never seen Oliver have so much trouble talking. Usually it was a mission getting him to shut up. But now, the other boy looked genuinely lost.

Percy considers how he'd feel in Oliver's place, and his expression softens. "It's okay if you are," he says, a little more gently.

"I… I am," Oliver says, and then lets out a large breath as though the admission came as a huge relief.

And then Percy learns exactly how Oliver felt, because it comes to the point in the conversation where it was only decent of him to admit his own secret. It turns out to be harder than he would have thought.

"I think…," he begins, but then has to pause to swallow. 'This is even harder than telling Penny,' he thinks.

So he opts for the easier choice. He takes a step forwards, leans in, and kisses Oliver gently on the mouth.

It's quick and innocent, and nothing like the display Percy had witnessed behind the greenhouse, but all the same, when he pulls back he can see Oliver's Adam's apple bobbing up and down furiously as he swallows hard, and a rare blush adorns his cheeks.

"You too?" he asks, and Percy nods. Hesitantly, Oliver steps forwards, his arms outstretched slightly. Percy leans in again, and their bodies just… fit.

This kiss is longer, but no less gentle, and when they pull away, both of them are breathing heavily. Percy can't remember exactly how long he'd wanted to do that for, but he knows now that it was worth the wait, and the fact it is with Oliver just makes it all the better.

Oliver brings one hand up to cup Percy's face, and leans in for another kiss, and that's when it all goes wrong, because at that moment the door swings open, and Percy turns his head to see Ginny, his baby sister Ginny, standing in the doorway.

He takes in their position at once, and realises what it must look like to her – which is exactly what it is, really, but he doesn't take any comfort in that knowledge. Oliver sees her too, and jerks away from him, but it is too late.

"Oh," she says, surprised, before shutting the door quietly. Percy takes one apologetic look at Oliver and dashes after her.

It could have been a lot worse, Percy muses later. Of all his siblings who are still at Hogwarts, Ginny is definitely the preferred one to walk in on him. At least she promises to keep it a secret.

Oliver acts distant afterwards, though, and Percy can't ask him about it because there's no privacy in their dorms, so he has to go to sleep hoping that he hasn't ruined everything.

Percy has two free periods first thing the next morning, although he doesn't share any with Oliver until the second one. He uses the first one to fill Penelope in, though, and she squeals with excitement at all the right bits, and gasps when he tells her about the greenhouses and Ginny walking in. Her reactions makes him wonder if his life isn't turning into one of those romance novels his mother reads, but he sets that thought aside.

"So what are you going to do?" she asks when he's finished his tale.

Percy shrugs. "I guess I'll wait until next period to talk to Oliver," he tells her. It was a good thing the story-telling took up so much time; by this point he doesn't have to wait too long.

Penny has a free period next too, but she makes an excuse to leave, for which Percy is grateful. He wouldn't be able to talk to Oliver if she's there.

"She won't tell," is the first thing Percy says to Oliver when they're alone.

"Who? Your sister or Penelope?" His tone is bitter, and Percy realises that he hadn't actually asked Oliver before he outed the boy to their friend.

"Neither," he says. "I spoke to Ginny, and made her promise she'd keep it to herself. And Penelope's known about me for ages and hasn't told anyone."

"So you told her that you were gay, but not me."

"You didn't tell me either," Percy points out.

"I didn't tell anyone."

"Except some Hufflepuff you don't even know."

Oliver doesn't meet his eyes and silence descends on them.

"I'm sorry I told Penelope," Percy says eventually. "I honestly didn't think."

"I never told the Hufflepuff," Oliver replies. "He… he saw me looking at him, in the Quidditch changing rooms. He… offered."

"I see," Percy says, although he doesn't really, and the information just makes him want to curse the Hufflepuff with an extremely painful spell.

And it seems that those words are all that are necessary to make everything okay. They don't say anything else, except for casual banter. If they have to discuss anything more, it will come up in due time.

Very little changes, really, Percy realises with surprise. They remain the close friends they are, except sometimes they take risks and sneak into abandoned classrooms to snog. Sometimes he gets the urge to hold Oliver's hand in public, which is something he has to fight; both of them agree that they aren't ready to come out to even their families, let alone go public to the school.

Meanwhile, events outside their relationship continue. Muggleborn attacks increase, and Percy begins to worry for Penelope. He starts walking her to and from any class he can, and warns her to always stay with a group of friends.

But the thing he fears most happens regardless; just when Gryffindor are due to play their match, an announcement is played over the loudspeaker telling all students to return to their dormitories. Each and every time he hears of an attack, a needle stabs his heart, but this time the fear isn't relieved by the news that it is someone else.

Percy knows that, had it been anyone else who was petrified, Oliver would have complained about the match being cancelled, but instead he simply waits with Percy, pale faced, while Penelope's friends in Ravenclaw go in two at a time to see her. Finally they've all gone, and it's their turn.

She looks still and beautiful; and ethereal kind of beauty that Percy can feel is wrong. She's not supposed to lie still – she's supposed to smile and laugh at him, and tell him to stop studying so hard.

Their time is short, but it's enough. They don't head up to the dorm immediately; instead they take a detour through a little-known passageway behind a suit of armour, where no one will see them. It's dark and they'd usually have to light their wands, but they don't this time. Instead they stand in the blackness and hold one another.

"She'll be alright," Oliver says, although Percy thinks he might be trying to convince the both of them.

"Yeah," he murmurs, but he doesn't let go.

The saying went goes things must get worse before they get better, and Percy had assumed that Penelope was the "getting worse" bit and the "getting better" but was about to happen. He finds out as the end of the year approaches that he'd been wrong.

When Ginny is taken, it's as though his world has come crashing down. He can see Oliver hovering on the other side of the common room, wanting to comfort him but not able to. 'She's a pureblood,' he can't stop thinking. 'She's not muggleborn. She shouldn't have been taken.' But he doesn't like thinking those thoughts, because they make him ask himself why, then, would she be taken, and it reminds him that she was the only non-petrified person who knew about him.

He voices these thoughts to Oliver when they're alone, and the Scot responds to them fiercely. "That's not the reason," he says. "Salazar didn't care about that stuff. He only cared about muggleborns. It's not your fault."

"Then why was she taken?" Percy asks, to which Oliver can't find an answer.

It gets even worse when Ron disappears as well, but Percy only feels that deep, crushing anguish for a few hours before he turns up safe and sound, with Ginny in tow. Percy's with his parents when they're told the good news. He never before believed he could feel that happy. To lose so much is devastating, but for it all to be put right again is more amazing than he could ever describe. When he's alone with Oliver again, later that night, he actually spends five minutes just crying into his boyfriend's shoulder, too emotionally wrecked to care that he must seem pathetic. Oliver doesn't seem to mind, however. He holds Percy through it and afterwards kisses the tears away.

Penelope's soon cured, and Percy is so relieved that he doesn't even care that exams are cancelled. He is briefly concerned when Ginny pulls him aside to tell him that she told Fred and George he was going out with Penny, but he's too grateful that she's not dead to scold her. Instead he hugs her and thanks her for keeping his secret, before quietly finding Penelope to tell her.

He would have been perfectly willing to let people think they'd broken up, but she voices the suggestion that they keep up the farce. "After all," she says, "It's probably best people don't ask questions about you and Oliver."

"That's hardly fair on you," he points out.

"It won't matter," she assures him. "I'm not looking for a relationship. And if anyone does turn my head, I can always break up with you." She winks at him playfully.

And so the lie is sorted. Oliver, surprisingly, is the most reluctant participant.

"I thought you wanted to keep this a secret," Percy asks him.

"I did," he says. "I do. But there's a difference between staying in the closet and having my boyfriend pretend he's going out with someone else."

Percy felt surprisingly pleased at the term of endearment; it was the first time Oliver had called him anything official like 'boyfriend'. "It's just a cover," he said. "You know that I don't love her."

"Do you love me?" Oliver asks softly.

Percy doesn't even hesitate. "Yes."

Oliver smiles. "I think I love you too."

Percy laughs and kisses his nose. "I should hope so."

They meet up over the holidays for the first time ever, in muggle London which is both a good and a bad idea. It's good due to the fact that they can walk down the street holding hands without having to worry. It's bad due to the fact that neither of the two boys know anything helpful about muggles. After getting stuck in a lift, causing a lot of damage on an escalator, and making a waitress at the coffee shop to think that they're barking mad, they finally go home, feeling very sheepish but incredibly happy.

Seventh year is dull, barring only two things: that Sirius Black is on the loose and Percy is made Head Boy. While Fred and George tease him mercilessly, it doesn't make Percy any less proud.

Oliver seems to like the badge too. "It suits you," he comments in their dormitories that night. "I like it."

"Me too," Percy grins.

"I would never have guessed," Oliver jokes.

"I guess it means we're on the right track," Percy states, glancing at Oliver's own badge that reads 'Quidditch Captain'. "Next year we'll be out in the world, making our own way. Being Head Boy and Quidditch Captain are just the beginning."

"I don't care what happens out there, just as long as I don't have to leave you," Oliver says, and Percy smiles at the cheesiness of it. Then Oliver sits up, concern marring his features. "We will still be together, right?"

"Of course we will," Percy replies instantly. There's nothing he's more certain of.

The year rushes by too fast. It can't be more than a few weeks before they sit their midterm examinations, and surely only a few months pass before their NEWT exams are upon them. Penelope and Percy spend all their time worrying about study, while Oliver is in a similar state over Quidditch. "This is my last chance to win," he says more than once. "For the past two years, we should have got it. This time we'll make up for that."

The year has gone almost smoothly for once; other than one game, Gryffindor win all their matches, which seems to be a good omen for the future. Even better, more than one talent scout expresses interest in signing Oliver as the year draws to a close.

Percy begins to correspond with his father about jobs available in the ministry. He almost falls out of the chair he's sitting in when his father writes him a letter saying that he might be able to get a position as Crouch's assistant.

Then the exams are over, and the results are in – all of them good. Gryffindor has the Quidditch Cup. Oliver has several teams he can choose from to play for next year. Percy has a place in the Ministry – a higher place than he ever dared dream. Penelope is also going to be working for there, although in another department.

"It was too quick, wasn't it?" Oliver asks on the train ride home. "This last year."

"All of it was too quick," Percy says, although he agrees that their seventh year went faster than the rest. Maybe it was because he was so happy.

"Are you sure you don't want to come live with me?" Oliver asks for the hundredth time. He plans to go flatting rather than move back home, and he's very eager for Percy to join him.

The Weasley shakes his head. "I'll visit, I promise," he tells him. "Every day, if you want. But my parents would ask questions. I think, though… I think I might almost be ready to tell them."

The notion seems to worry Oliver. "I'm trying not to think about that part of my future," he admits. "I'm happy the way life is now."

"I am too," Percy tells him. "I don't want things to change. I wish they didn't have to."

Much, much later on, he'll remember that conversation. He'll remember that wish as the dream of an innocent boy who knew no better. He'll wonder how he could ever have been so foolish.

But in that moment, he is happy, and he'll remember that most of all.