For the Diversity Competition on HPFC.

700+, "Guilt washed over him/her"

.

"All Falls Down"

It's not one moment, really. It doesn't come out of nowhere – it's more the culmination of things, and he knows it's been a long time coming. Because that's how guilt is, isn't it? It sneaks up behind a person, allowing him to live unaware for a long while as it slowly filters in through the cracks, growing and growing, until one day it becomes too big to ignore anymore. Then must come the realization.

It's too big for him to ignore anymore. Today is the last straw. He can pretend to be stone all he likes, but he cannot unsee the things he's seen, and he cannot stop them from wearing away at him. And today, finally, his armor cracks, and when it does, guilt washes over him like a wave – with all the weight of a thousand tons of water, too. It should be absolutely crushing, completely incapacitating, but it isn't, because that's the way of guilt. The slow build means that he's been bearing the weight for much longer than he knows as it's been growing heavier and heavier. So what should be unbearable, intolerable, would be – if it were deposited all at once. But he's been allowed time to adjust to the guilt he didn't know he was carrying, and so now he can take this.

But he almost wishes he weren't strong enough, because all he really wants to do is collapse under the weight of it all. The weight of what he's see, what he's done. Because it seems unforgivable, and he almost wants it to be – that's only what he deserves, right? He betrayed them. He abandoned them, his family, for a job – and that's only the beginning of it all.

But that isn't true. He didn't abandon them for a job, he abandoned them for a belief. And maybe that's better, but maybe it isn't because a betrayal is a betrayal, no matter the reason, and it should be utterly unforgivable. And he wants it to be. He wants them to hold this grudge, because he deserves it, doesn't he? He knows, he knows that he's hurt them. And he knows, he knows that he can't explain why. Maybe he could have, at the beginning, when he knew himself. Or maybe he was just rationalizing, even then. Merlin knows, he can rationalize almost anything.

And collapsing under the weight of it all absolves him of responsibility – because while he still standing, while he's acknowledging that he made the wrong choice, then that means that – damn his Gryffindor sense of what's right – he has to swallow his pride and apologize. He has to admit that he was wrong. And that's not a particular forte of his.

It was so much easier just being oblivious. That must be what they mean, then, when they say, "Ignorance is bliss." Sometimes it's easier not knowing, because knowing means he has to do something about it. Partly just because that's the way he is.

Things get tricky, though. It's not just him involved here, and this isn't just a family issue. He can't exactly just waltz home and apologize at the moment, even if he desperately wanted to. He knows they're watching him – the spies within the Ministry. They're watching everyone. And he's not sure everyone's convinced that he truly left – abandoned, betrayed – his family. So they're watching. And to go home now would bring suspicion on him, and on his family as well. No, this isn't just a family issue. It's as delicate as navigating a minefield, and at least as tricky, because it's impossible to know who might be the one to blow up.

It's like waking up to realize that they've built a cage around him as he sat there willingly. Oblivious. How could I have been so blind?

But he knows the answer to that one. It's Oliver's voice in his head that says it, because it's something Oliver told him years ago – back when they were still at Hogwarts. Perce, when you get something in your head, it's like nothing else matters. When you think you're right, nothing that opposes that can exist.

Muggles had a term for it. Percy had looked it up. It was called "confirmation bias" – the tendency to ignore information that refuted a previously arrived upon conclusion. And that's what he does. If it doesn't fit his theory, it doesn't exist.

That is, until the guilt washes over him, finally too big to ignore. Then he is forced to reevaluate all of his theories, and what once seemed like solid fact cracks and ruptures until it all comes tumbling down.