This fic was written for MissingMommy (who is incredible, by the way) in the HPFC Exchange.

It won Best Written and Best Characterization, and tied for Best Overall. It also won Judge's Choice from ReillyJade.

It was originally posted on the HPFC Exchange account, so if you've seen it before – I didn't steal it. I wrote it, and all fics were posted on that account so that they could be judged anonymously. It has since been removed from that account so that it isn't in violation of the rule about the same content being posted twice.

Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter – the series is all Jo's. There are a couple of direct quotes from PoA in this – some of Percy's words in October – which I also don't own.

SO MANY thanks go out to intrepidfish, because not only does she have an awesome pen name, but she's also one of the best betas I have ever had the pleasure of working with. You're a goddess, darling, and this fic is only as good as it is because of you.

~xxx~

"Against the Odds"

September, 1993

Oliver moves Percy's bag to the floor and flops on the seat next to Percy, despite there being plenty of room elsewhere in the train compartment. Percy glances up from his book, an amused smile flitting across his lips.

"Hello, Oliver." He pushes his glasses up his nose where they've been slipping.

"Really?" Oliver says, completely lacking volume control as usual. "I haven't seen you in three months, and all I get is a, 'Hello, Oliver'? C'mon, Percy! A little enthusiasm would be nice!" He's grinning that broad, crooked grin of his that always causes butterflies to flutter in Percy's stomach – not that he'd ever mention that, of course.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he drawls sarcastically. "Enthusiasm, eh? Let me try that again." His face takes on an overly cheerful appearance. "A lovely morning to you, best mate of mine! And how are you on this fine day?"

Oliver attempts to look stern, but his lip twitches. And then it twitches again. Finally, he bursts out into guffaws of laughter. "Sorry, Perce. I'll never ask you for enthusiasm again – it doesn't suit you." He ruffles Percy's curly hair in a way that, from anyone else, should be condescending. From Oliver, Percy knows better than to be offended.

Oliver grins suddenly. "You know, there are people out there who wouldn't believe that you speak sarcasm?"

This time Percy's lip twitches. "I'm aware, Ol."

Oliver sinks comfortably into the train seat. "I just can't fathom that. Y'know? Like, they all see you as some stuck-up, rule-following Prefect – which, don't get me wrong, you are –" he grins again, widely, to let Percy know that he's just teasing "–but… I can't see it, you know? To me, you're just Perce."

Percy smiles softly, pushing his glasses up his nose again. "Feeling deep this year, are we?"

Oliver laughs once. "Guess so."

"Only, I'm not really a stuck-up, rule-following Prefect anymore," Percy says. Oliver stares at him in confusion, and Percy smirks slightly before continuing. "I'm a stuck-up, rule-following Head Boy."

Oliver blinks a few times before breaking out into another grin. "You did it?"

Percy smiles – an immensely satisfied expression. Unlike with his family, he doesn't feel the need to gloat with Oliver. He knows that Oliver knows how much this means to him. "Yes."

Suddenly, he finds himself with a lap full of Oliver Wood. "Congratulations, Percy!"

Percy can't help but laugh. Oliver is, and has always been, very much a touchy-feely kind of person. It took some getting used to, at first, because Percy is very much not. He doesn't usually much go for physical displays of affection. But by now, given he's had seven years to adjust, it's not unexpected, nor, he forces himself to admit, completely unwelcome.

"All right, Oliver, all right!" He laughs, attempting to push the bigger boy off his lap and back onto the seat where he belongs – despite some reluctance. "You're like an overeager puppy!"

Oliver pouts, slouching back. "Excuse me for being excited for my best mate!"

Percy can't help but soften at the pout on Oliver's face. Merlin, but he's a sucker for that particular expression of Oliver's. His hazel eyes somehow always get rounder, and his bottom lip sticks out just enough to evoke pity, but not quite enough to make him look like a sullen two-year-old. It isn't fair what Oliver can do to him with that look, Percy thinks.

"You're quite excused," he says dryly. Then, to distract himself from potentially dangerous thoughts about Oliver's lips, Percy changes the subject. "I wasn't aware you knew the word fathom." He smiles, blue eyes dancing.

Oliver gapes at him in mock-offense. "I read!"

"Occasionally." The quip is immediate and the tone completely dry. Oliver stares at him for a moment. Then his lips twitch. Percy tries to keep his expression composed, but when Oliver breaks out into a grin, Percy's stoicism falls. He grins back.

Oliver slings a careless arm around Percy's shoulders. "See? This, right here. This is what I mean." He turns his head toward Percy's, and Percy holds his breath at how close he is – has to be, for his arm to be where it is. Percy knows that Oliver can't know how this closeness is affecting him.

"I'm lucky," Oliver continues. "I get to see this side of you. Cheeky Percy." He grins that beautiful, crooked grin. "I missed my cheeky Percy this summer."

Percy completely stops breathing at the word 'my.' Best mates, he tells himself. Best mates, best mates, best mates. Because it doesn't matter how much he wants it to be more. It doesn't matter. Because he can't lose Oliver as a friend, no matter what. That's not worth anything.

"I missed you, too, Ol," he murmurs, making Oliver beam.

After a moment, Oliver ruffles his hair again and then sinks back into his own half of the bench, still closer than he was before, but at least separate, now. Percy can breathe again, now that his air isn't filled with the scent of Oliver: an odd mix of broomstick polish and summer wind – even in the dead of winter, which Percy has never understood but refuses to question; it's a heady scent.

"What else is new?" he asks lazily, head back against the seat. Completely at ease.

Percy cannot help but smile as he pushes his glasses up his nose again and talks about his summer.

~xxx~

October, 1993

Oliver can see Percy's face as he surveys the mangled portrait of the Fat Lady – it drains of all color in seconds, turning ashen. "Somebody get Professor Dumbledore. Quick," Percy says – all business, of course. But Oliver can see that he is much more shaken than he allows anyone to notice.

For once in his life, Oliver takes charge somewhere besides a Quidditch pitch. He uses his power as one of the only two seventh year Gryffindor boys, and he helps herd the younger Gryffindors into the Great Hall. As proud as Percy seems to be that his authority as Head Boy is actually useful, Oliver knows he doesn't exactly need to handle their entire house by himself.

Oliver pulls two sleeping bags over to a wall and reclines, still standing, as Percy tries fruitlessly to quiet the crowds of students with a million things to talk about. He knows that sleep is… unlikely, at best, tonight. The odds that Percy will even settle enough to sit, not to mention actually close his eyes, are slim to none.

"The lights are going out now! I want everyone in their sleeping bags and no more talking!" Percy yells above the chatter, spelling all the candles out. Oliver's Quidditch honed eyes can still pick his tall frame out as he weaves in and out of the rows of sleeping bags, shushing those who continue to whisper too loudly.

Eventually, he makes his way to Oliver.

"Not sleeping?" Percy murmurs.

Oliver shakes his head before quietly pointing out, "Neither are you."

Percy shrugs. "Someone has to watch them."

"And someone has to watch you. You aren't invincible."

Percy meets Oliver's gaze – his blue eyes are heavy. "I know that." His voice, too, is heavy. As much as Percy relishes the authority that he has, thrives under it, even, he is only human.

"It's okay to admit that you're scared, you know."

Percy bites his lip, pushing his glasses up his nose where they've been slipping. He shrugs. "I suppose… I don't know. I suppose I thought Hogwarts was safe. Impenetrable." He laughs bitterly. "Foolish of me, I know. After last year… But this is different. Black is… an outside threat. I suppose I never really thought he could get through the wards."

"It isn't foolish to believe Hogwarts is safe, Perce. The wards were assembled and strengthened by some of the best minds of the century. Problem is, wards that aren't keyed by magical signature, will always be flawed. Most of them are forced to operate on taint, or intent. You've told me yourself that it says in Hogwarts: A History that Hogwarts' wards operate on intent, because the founders believed that any person, no matter how tainted, could be redeemed. Black is said to be clever. If he's got enough of his right mind left, intent is easy enough to fake for a wizard that's clever."

Percy contemplates this for a moment. "When did you get so smart?" he finally asks.

Oliver smirks. "You were bound to rub off eventually, right? Now, if we could just get you to understand the greatness that is Quidditch…"

Percy sighs in mock exasperation. "Keep dreaming, Ol."

Oliver smiles. "I'll get you there. You mark my words." He sighs. "Go on, then. Be… Head Boyish."

"Head Boyish?"

"Yes. Head Boyish. Do… Head Boy appropriate things. Pace. Tell people off. Look authoritative." Oliver grins. He can tell that Percy is debating sticking his tongue out at Oliver, but he appears to decide that that would be ridiculously childish.

"No respect," he mutters jokingly, before walking away to monitor everyone once more. Oliver eventually sits down, back against the wall, appearing to doze off, but his sharp eyes don't leave Percy's shadowy figure.

~xxx~

November, 1993

"I can't believe this! Arghhhhh!" Oliver mutters in frustration, flopping agitatedly onto his bed.

Percy looks up from his book – A Comprehensive Lexicon of Shield Spells – in bemusement. "Can't believe what, exactly?"

"Flint! That cheating, stuck-up, two-faced-"

"Okay, okay, I get it!" Percy laughs, interrupting Oliver before he can launch into a tirade of profanity describing Marcus Flint. "What's he done now?"

"He's still pulling this stupid BS that his Seeker's hurt! Malfoy's arm is fine, but since Flint went and whinged about it, argggggggggh!" Oliver moans in absolute frustration. "It isn't fair. Two days! Two days! That's all the notice they give me!"

"Notice of what, exactly?" Percy asks carefully, knowing that Oliver is like a land mine when he gets like this.

Oliver sits up abruptly. "We aren't playing Slytherin! We're playing HUFFLEPUFF!"

Percy blinks, dumbfounded. All this over who their opponent is?

"We've been training as though we're playing Slytherin for months. And now, two days before the match, they throw this at me! Urgggggggh!" he moans again, flopping back into his mattress.

Percy stands up, pushing his stubborn spectacles up his nose and striding across the room in a few steps. "Oliver, you should know best of all that your team is good enough to handle this."

Percy doesn't know this, actually – the little he knows about Quidditch comes from the matches he attends, and even then he's only really attending for Oliver. Still, it sounds like the proper thing to say to make Oliver feel better.

"This is my last year, Perce," Oliver says, his voice quiet. "My last chance." He turns to meet Percy's eyes. "Do you know how many times we should have won? Your brother Charlie was the best Seeker Gryffindor had in… decades. Potter is even better. If it were about being good enough, Gryffindor would have had the Cup for the last eight years, at least!"

He sighs. "Do you know, Percy? Do you know just how much I want this? It isn't fair that he should try to screw it up."

Percy sits carefully on the edge of Oliver's bed. "I know, Oliver. But you can't control them. You just have to make sure that you don't let them get to you."

Oliver sits up again, pulling up his knees so that his feet are on the edge of the bed. He puts his head in his hands, elbows propped on his knees.

Percy has a sudden urge to wrap the dejected boy in his arms, but he tamps it down. Instead, he pours the pent up emotions into a few choice words. "You can do it, Oliver," he says softly. "I know you can."

"I wish I was so sure," Oliver mumbles into his knees. After a moment, Percy pulls his own feet up, wrapping his arms around his knees. He rests his chin on top of them, and they sit in comfortable silence.

~xxx~

Percy stands warily outside the Gryffindor changing rooms after the disastrous game, shielded from the rain by an ever-impeccable Impervious Charm. He watches the team slip out dejectedly, none of them noticing him. Eventually, Percy opens the door and enters. The room smells like sweat and disappointment.

The sound of a shower running comes from the other room. "Oliver?" Percy calls cautiously.

"Go away."

Percy sighs, moving toward but not through the open archway. "Come on, Ol. Drowning yourself won't solve anything."

"It'd make me feel better." Percy can visualize the stubborn pout that Oliver is wearing as he says this. He's very much trying not to visualize anything else.

"And how do you think I'd feel if my best mate went and drowned himself? Hmmm?"

A loud sigh comes, and then the thunk of a shower being turned off. After a moment, Oliver emerges, soaking wet, a red and gold towel around his waist. Percy barely manages to keep his gaze very firmly on Oliver's face, which bears an expression that is agonizingly mournful.

"I don't really want comfort at the moment, Percy."

"Fair enough," Percy says, sitting down on one of the benches. "I can understand that."

Percy turns his head politely the opposite direction when Oliver pulls out a pair of pants and a pair of trousers.

He jumps a foot in the air when he feels rather than hears Oliver laughing – a low, infectious rumble that Percy can only feel because Oliver is now directly behind him. He jumps again when a still shower-warm hand gently lands on the small of his back.

"You're so innocent, Perce."

When Percy whirls around, pushing his glasses up his nose, he feels the loss of that hand more acutely than perhaps he should. He is momentarily frozen by the fact that, while Oliver has donned the trousers, he still isn't wearing a shirt.

After a moment, his brain stutters into motion and he opens his mouth to protest Oliver's words, but the look in his eyes stops him. The words and actions were playful, but his eyes are… almost dead with disappointment.

Percy wants to tell Oliver that they still have a chance at the Cup, but Oliver said he didn't want comfort. Percy snaps his mouth shut and keeps it that way. Oliver sits down next to him, leaning against the empty lockers behind.

After an eternity of silence, Oliver eventually asks, "Do you believe that the universe conspires against people? Do I just have really bad karma or something? Was I, like, a murderer in another life?"

Percy wants to laugh, but he knows Oliver doesn't mean the question in a comical fashion.

"I believe," Percy says carefully, "that you have the worst luck of anyone I've ever known."

Oliver laughs humorlessly. "You've got that right."

~xxx~

December, 1993

Percy seats himself once more next to Oliver after making his rounds of the train.

"Still love being Head Boy?" Oliver asks.

"Wouldn't trade it for the world," Percy replies.

"But maybe you'll enjoy the break?"

Percy hums. "With Fred and George around, is it ever really a break?"

Oliver laughs. "I suppose not."

"Maybe I'll see you some time over the holiday? My parents adore you, you know. I think it's mostly because they never thought I'd actually have a friend, but…"

Shaking his head, Oliver says, "C'mon, Perce, give your parents more credit! Just because they acknowledge my awesomeness…"

Percy laughs. "All right, you've got me there. So? Visit?"

"Sure. 'Course."

~xxx~

January, 1994

Oliver moaning in frustration and collapsing on his bed seems to be becoming a familiar sight in the seventh-year boys dormitory.

"Can the odds be any more stacked against us?"

Percy assumes it's about Quidditch – generally a pretty reliable assumption, when it's Oliver.

"What is it now?" he asks, sealing his inkwell and drying the tip of his quill with a spell. He reverses the charm that he's been using to turn a piece of his mattress to the firmness of a desktop and swings his legs over the side, adjusting his glasses.

"Potter got a Firebolt for Christmas."

"…well, that's good, isn't it?" Percy may not know much about Quidditch, but he'd have to be blind and deaf not to know how much of a big deal the Firebolt is.

"It would be. But McGonagall confiscated it."

"She… what?" As far as Percy can tell, Professor McGonagall seems almost as dedicated to winning the Quidditch Cup as Oliver is.

"She confiscated it. It was unsigned, thinks it might be 'dangerous.'" He mutters the last word as though it's an obscenity. He sits up angrily. "Potter's a tough kid – he's handled danger before! He'd be fine!"

Percy frowns. "Oliver…"

Oliver sighs, dropping his head into his hands. "I'm not crazy," he mutters. "I know, I know. There are more important things than Quidditch." He looks as though it physically pains him to admit this. "Besides, even Potter'd be a shit Seeker dead."

Percy cannot keep his lip from twitching. The joke is perhaps a bit lacking in taste, and Oliver knows full well that Percy disapproves of vulgarity – not that that tends to stop him – but Percy can't help but find himself slightly amused.

Oliver grins sheepishly at him. "Sorry. I'm just… frustrated."

"Understandable," Percy murmurs.

Oliver flops back onto the bed. "I just hope she gives it back in time for the Ravenclaw match. Can you imagine it? A Firebolt on our team…" He stares dreamily at the ceiling. Percy simply chuckles at his over-dramatic, Quidditch-obsessed roommate before returning to his essay.

~xxx~

February, 1994

Oliver is already in his Quidditch robes, standing by the window when Percy gets up. His entire figure is trembling.

"Ol?" Percy asks blearily, grabbing his glasses from his bedside table and shoving them on his face.

Oliver turns to face him. "This… Perce, if we lose this match…"

Percy strides across the room to Oliver. He can't help but take Oliver's face in his hands, forcing the nerve-stricken Keeper to meet his gaze. "Oliver, you listen to me. You said it yourself, the team was unbeatable at practice yesterday. Potter is on a Firebolt. Ravenclaw has no chance."

Oliver's eyes are darting rapidly back and forth. "If we lose, Perce, this is it for me."

"You aren't going to lose. Do you hear me?" Percy drops his hands. "Oliver, just… trust me. You are not going to lose."

His eyes are wild, frenzied.

"Calm down, Ol. Deep breath, then come with me and we'll get you some breakfast, okay? Maybe a piece of toast?"

Percy feels like he's speaking to a child, but slow and simple speech seems the best way to get through to a distressed Oliver.

Oliver takes the breath and then nods. "Okay."

"All right. Just let me get dressed."

Percy practically has to drag Oliver to breakfast, but they're still some of the first there – Oliver's always an early riser on match days. Percy sort of suspects that he doesn't actually sleep at all, merely pretends to because he knows Percy would reprimand him otherwise.

Oliver stares at the toast in front of him, unmoving. Every few minutes, Percy will prod him to see if he's still alive, and Oliver will turn to him slowly with solemn eyes.

Eventually, people start to filter into the Great Hall, many of them wishing Oliver good luck as they pass. Oliver doesn't truly come to life, though, until Potter walks in with a Firebolt slung over his shoulder. When he does, Oliver immediately springs up, clearing a spot in the center of the table for the prized broomstick. Percy smiles and steps back, knowing that Oliver will play through his nerves just fine, as always.

~xxx~

Percy is screaming himself just as hoarse as everyone else when Potter snatches the snitch before Chang is anywhere near it – moments after casting what appeared to be a corporeal Patronus. For a brief moment, he quits caring about dignity and decorum, because he knows that this moment means more than anything to Oliver. It isn't a victory, oh no, not yet, but it's a start, and it's not a defeat. For right now, that's all they can ask for.

As Gryffindors flood the field in scarlet and gold, Percy weaves his way through the crowd toward Oliver.

The moment Oliver catches sight of him he throws his arms around Percy. "We did it, Perce!" he screams. "We did it!"

And Percy smiles, hugging him back. "I told you you would," he says softly, and he's not even sure if Oliver hears the words, as loud as the masses are around them. "Never stop believing."

~xxx~

March, 1994

Breathe, Percy reminds himself. Just, breathe.

His knees are tucked into his chest, his head resting on top of them. He sits alone in the Gryffindor Common Room. He's sure it's nearing four in the morning, which, really, tends to explain the current state of the room.

Percy knows that he should be sleeping. He knows that. Somehow, though, everything seems to have decided to all come crashing down on him in this moment right now.

"Perce?"

He sucks in a deep breath through his nose and then lifts his head. "Hey."

Oliver takes a few steps toward him, his bare feet near-silent on the rug. "You all right?"

"No." Percy is surprised that the word escapes at all, let alone how quickly – it's true, of course, but it isn't exactly the socially accepted answer to that particular question.

Suddenly, Oliver is on the couch beside him, and Percy is engulfed in his arms. Without thinking, Percy moves to return the hug.

Oliver is smart enough – or he just knows Percy well enough – not to speak, that Percy will speak when he's ready.

After a few moments, Percy does, mumbling into Oliver's shoulder, "I don't like feeling this helpless, Ol."

He can feel Oliver's arms tighten. "You aren't helpless."

"There are things, so many things, that I don't have control over."

"You're human, Percy, not helpless."

Percy sighs. "Logically, I know that, of course. I… just feel that there should be something I can do. I'm Head Boy!"

"A badge and authority don't make you invincible."

"Which is more important, Ol: happiness, or safety?"

Oliver doesn't even flinch at the sudden change in tack, apparently used to Percy's brain moving from subject to subject in an instant. "What do you mean?"

"Three years in a row. Three years in a row, my little brother has been dragged into near-death experiences – a possessed teacher, a basilisk, and now a mass-murderer! Potter is a danger magnet, and Ron's getting hurt because of it! It's just a matter of time before something-"

"You can't stop him from being friends with Potter!"

Percy pulls back slightly, though Oliver maintains an arm around his shoulders. Both of them are turned toward each other, so it's easy to meet Oliver's eyes. "Why not?" Percy asks, knowing his voice sounds stubborn and sullen, but unable to modulate it.

"You can't dictate his life!"

"It'd be for his own good!"

"Percy, listen to yourself! Every dictator who's ever lived has used that same line – it's for their own good!"

Percy slumps. He knows that Oliver is right. It doesn't matter how much he wants to. He can't protect his siblings from everything; he can't seal them up in spell-tight bubbles and keep them safe at home. Even if he wants to sometimes.

"I know," he murmurs. "It's just…"

"I know," Oliver says, and Percy can tell that he understands everything that has and hasn't been said.

He's wondered before if Oliver was a Legillimens, but not with any seriousness. He just knows Percy.

~xxx~

April, 1994

Careful composure and dignity are thrown out the window as Potter snatches the snitch out from under Malfoy's nose. Percy's sure he looks like a complete maniac, but he's long ceased caring – they've won! For the first time in Percy's seven years at school, Gryffindor has taken the Quidditch Cup!

The volume is deafening. The stairs bottleneck as the entire house of Gryffindor attempts to move toward their victors, and Percy can see before he even reaches the field that Oliver is sobbing.

The team is born on the shoulders of the roaring crowd until they are deposited in front of the Headmaster, his blue eyes twinkling. Oliver is still crying as he takes the Cup from Professor Dumbledore and lifts it up. The volume of the crowd rises, which Percy hadn't thought was possible.

After a moment, Oliver passes the cup to Potter, who lifts it up, still riding on top of the crowd.

Percy wonders about hearing loss before he realizes he's screaming just as loudly as anyone else.

He weaves his way through the crush of bodies toward Oliver.

"Six years!" Oliver screams, his voice barely audible above the din. "Six years, I've been waiting for this moment!"

"You did it, Oliver!" Percy screams back.

The entire house of Gryffindor rides a wave of euphoria up to their common room to celebrate.

~xxx~

The anticipated Gryffindor party is in full swing – Fred and George have conjured (though not literally, of course) a whole host of drinks from Merlin-only-knows-where, and Percy can't even bring himself to mind. He does mind, however, when Oliver pulls him up on top of the table with the team – Percy is reluctant, but Oliver is stronger than his resistance. "Everybody give it up for this bloke, right here – my inspiration!"

Half-hearted applause rolls through the crowd, and Oliver seems quite disappointed. "Come on, people! You don't even know how many times this kid right here told me that it is not okay, it is never okay to give up on your dreams!"

Percy wants to protest at being called a kid – he's only eleven months younger than Oliver himself, after all – but he can't; the applause of the Gryffindors is too loud. Percy flushes, unused to approval from his peers. The red of his cheeks only brightens when Oliver suddenly spins him about, pulling him in tightly so that they're standing close – too close, and yet notnearlycloseenough – almost chest to chest.

"Isn't that right, Percy?" he murmurs. "Never stop believing."

Percy feels like a hypocrite as he nods – after all, hasn't he stopped chasing Oliver? Or, rather, never started at all? That's different, he tells himself.

And then, suddenly, his mind goes utterly, absolutely blank. He stops comprehending – it must be a mental overload of some sort. A hallucination, perhaps? A very good one, then, not that this surprises Percy in the least. If his mind were to create it's own construct, obviously it would do such a thing well. There is an astounding amount of detail – even the floored looks of surprise on the faces of their housemates. If it weren't for the impossibility of the situation, Percy would actually believe that the hand on his neck and the lips on his own were real. Only, there is no possible way that his – very much straight – best mate could be kissing him right now. The same best mate that he's been head over heels for for the last two years.

Percy is frozen in shock, his eyes wide. He cannot react – his brain is still stuck. After an eternity – a moment – Oliver pulls away. He takes in Percy's expression, which Percy knows is probably just as stuck as his brain. Blank, perhaps, or maybe shocked. Percy watches as Oliver's eyes turn from glowing to dull, disappointed, anguished.

"I'm sorry," Oliver murmurs – so softly that Percy barely hears the words, even as close as they are. Then he's gone, and Percy is still standing on top of the table, very much alone. Still, Percy cannot get his brain to unstick

Did that really just happen? Percy cannot help but wonder. He pinches himself, and it doesn't appear that he's dreaming. The rest of the common room has gone oddly silent – which never happens with Gryffindors who have something to celebrate.

Percy's eyes catch and follow Oliver as he disappears up the dormitory steps. Slowly, Percy dismounts the table. He spins around as he hears twin thuds behind him – Fred and George have jumped down as well. Percy finds himself being dragged off into a corner. The twin that Percy thinks is George casts a silencing spell as they seat themselves.

"Sit."

Percy sits.

"Now explain. What, dear brother, was that?"

"I… I…" Percy's not sure he can explain. He's not even sure he knows what that was.

"Okay––"

"––let's try this again, shall we?"

Their identical grins are terrifying.

"Have you––"

"––or have you not––"

"––been in love with our dear Captain for years?"

Percy's brain seems to still be caught in slow motion. Love? He considers the word. And then he considers how he feels about Oliver. How, whenever Oliver is hurt, Percy feels like he can't breathe. How just a quick grin – that beautiful, crooked grin – from Oliver can lift Percy's mood exponentially. How it doesn't even matter to Percy what they're doing – sometimes they do nothing at all – as long as they're in the same room. That's enough. He considers the butterflies in his stomach, the countless dreams about Oliver, the fact that he already knew he was head-over-heels for his best mate. But love?

"Yes," he admits softly, more to himself than anything else. And as that sinks in, Percy's conviction that it's true only grows. It feels right. Percy doesn't typically operate on feeling alone, and he knows full well that he's out of his depth in situations like this – after all, there is no intellectual explanation for love. Still, Percy tucks the feeling in a corner of his mind to analyse in depth at a later date. Perhaps, with time, he can put a rational explanation to the feeling.

On the other hand, if he's honest, some part of him feels that he doesn't need to.

"Yes, what?" One of the twins – George, he thinks – interrupts his thought process.

"Yes. Yes, I'm in love with Oliver Wood."

Fred and George exchange gleeful grins.

"Knew it!" they exclaim in unison. "Charlie owes us each ten galleons!"

Percy frowns, his eyes narrowing in disapproval. "You… bet on me?"

They shrug.

"Honestly, are you surprised?" Fred says.

"Now, if you're in love with him––"

"––and we all know you are––"

"––then why––"

"––the bloody hell––"

"––pardoning our French, of course––"

"––did you just let him walk away?"

Percy stares at his hands. He doesn't quite think it's fair that his little brothers can make him feel so small.

"I… because…" Percy is unable to answer.

"Exactly."

"There's no answer to that."

Percy looks between them. "What if he doesn't…"

"Percy, he kissed you––"

"––Merlin knows why––"

"––bloke's clearly got bad taste––"

"––in front of everyone."

"That generally means he's quite attracted to you––"

"––at the very least."

Percy ponders this. It's… oddly logical, coming from the twins. But his acceptance is interrupted by another thought. "Wait, wait, wait. So you two are… okay? With… well, this? Me?"

They look at each other and shrug. "Percy, you've never quite been normal anyway."

"And it's not really a surprise that you bat for the other team."

Percy has never been more grateful for the Weasley definition of family: forever.

"Thanks," Percy says.

"Well?"

"What are you doing still sitting here?"

"Go talk to him!" The last sentence they say together, hauling Percy up out of the chair and shoving him toward the steps.

~xxx~

"Oliver?" His voice is smaller than normal, and he hates it. He'd meant to sound confident.

"Don't, Percy." Oliver's tone sounds like he's trying to make his voice cold, but he can't quite manage it. Instead, he just sounds… wounded. Broken. "Just… don't."

Percy is not deterred. He takes a step forward. "Ol… I want to just say-"

Oliver whirls around, eyes blazing with anger – anger is easier to deal with than hurt. "I think you've made your opinion very clear already, thanks." There's a snarl in his voice that Percy has never heard when Oliver speaks to him.

And now Percy's angry, too. Oliver isn't being fair. "I haven't made anything clear! You've assumed!"

Oliver scoffs.

"Please. After seven years, I know how to read you like a book."

"Oh? Oh, really? Then what, pray tell, was I saying?"

The flames in Oliver's hazel eyes drop down to a low smolder and he drops his gaze. "Your disgust was rather clear."

Percy takes a furious step forward. "My disgust?" His voice is dangerously soft. He takes another step forward, angrily shoving his glasses up on his face. "My disgust?" he asks again, his volume rising.

Oliver seems slightly wary, now, but he nods.

Percy has reached the edge of Oliver's bed by now. "I was surprised. I was shocked. And why wouldn't I be? Merlin, I'd never once suspected that you might…" He trails off, then seems to recall that he was angry. "But let me tell you something, Oliver Wood. Don't you dare presume that it was disgust that you saw."

"But-"

And, to shut him up, to silence any lingering protest, Percy buries his fist in the collar of Oliver's robes and pulls him up, leaning forward and kissing him soundly.

"I… what?" is Oliver's eloquent response when Percy pulls away, letting him go.

"Right," Percy says. "Shock. Surprise."

"Percy-" Oliver starts, but Percy holds up a finger for him to wait, because he knows that if he doesn't say this all in one go, he won't say it at all. Even knowing that Oliver feels something for him, Percy is still afraid of losing him. It's irrational, he knows, but he cannot help himself. He supposes it's only human – he fears that which could, above all else, cripple him entirely, irrational as that fear may be. He shoves the fear back and continues, just like the Gryffindor he's never truly believed that he is.

"I've been in love with you for… about two and a half years, now – even if I only just realised. Ever since that match in fifth year, when they knocked you off your broom. I was so terrified. And that's when I knew that you mattered to me… more than just as my best friend." He takes a deep breath. "And I… I never said anything because… because I was too afraid of losing you. Your friendship meant more to me than anything, and I didn't ever want to risk that." He meets Oliver's eyes. "But now… Well, we have to try, don't we?"

There is a war going on in Oliver's hazel eyes. Rage and confusion and hurt and something Percy can't quite identify, all warring for dominance. Hurt and disbelief seem to win.

"Don't lie to make me feel better," Oliver says, his voice low and soft.

"Would I do that?"

Oliver looks at him, his expression clearly saying, 'I don't know.'

"I wouldn't," Percy says firmly. "Especially not about something like this." Their eyes lock, and Percy refuses to look away. He means this. More, perhaps, than he's ever meant anything.

And, after a moment that feels like an eternity, Oliver nods. That indescribable emotion in his eyes seems to win, and he grasps Percy's wrists, pulling him into a sitting position on the bed next to him and then, for the third time in one night, though certainly not the last, their lips meet. Only, for the first time, neither one of them is frozen in shock.

It isn't perfect, not by any means – neither of them are particular experts – but it's them: clashing wildly and yet still, somehow, a perfect fit.

~xxx~

May, 1994

Oliver Wood muses that he has never liked studying so much. With N. E. W. T.s approaching, Percy's in a bit of a frenzy about studying, and Oliver's not surprised that he's being dragged into it. But this? This, he doesn't mind.

Oliver is on his bed, reclining against the wall, legs sprawled out in front of him. Percy's head is in his lap, and Oliver has one hand tangled in the mess of red curls. Percy has their Defense book propped up on his stomach and is quizzing Oliver.

Every once in a while, when Percy notices Oliver's attention drifting, he'll start rewarding right answers with kisses. This, however, (unfortunately according to Percy, fortunately according to Oliver) tends to lead to much less attention being paid to the book by either of them, which Oliver doesn't really much mind, but which Percy seems rather concerned about.

As much as he's enjoying the study sessions, Oliver figures he'll enjoy himself even more when exams are finally over.

Some part of Oliver still can't quite believe this is real. He still wonders, every once in a while, if this is just an elaborate dream. If it is, he doesn't ever want to wake up.

~xxx~

June, 1994

Percy's estimate is that the entire student body of Hogwarts – and some of the teachers, as well – is outside on the grounds. He figures that this is quite a reasonable estimate, as classes are over for all years, finally, and it's the epitome of a "nice day."

This being established, it tends to be a bit difficult to find a spot of privacy that's still in sunlight. They're seventh years now – Merlin, that's still strange, to think that they're done – though, so they know the grounds better than some of the younger years. It's a spot Oliver found the year prior, on the far side of the lake. It's almost a clearing, but it never properly entered the forest at all, so at the same time it isn't. There's a single line of trees blocking the view, though, so it's private.

Percy feels entirely at ease with his head on Oliver's chest, both of them splayed out on their backs. Oliver has both arms tucked under his own head, elbows out, staring skyward.

He doesn't want to disrupt the peace of this moment. Some desperate part of him wants to freeze everything, right where they are. Stop time, because right now is absolutely perfect; they're both on Cloud Nine, and where can they go from there but down? A bigger part of him knows that isn't possible. It's a childish idea.

That logic doesn't stop the idea from lingering, though.

"Where do we go from here?" He can't help it. He can't help but shatter the perfect moment, because he needs to know.

"Wherever we want to."

Clearly, Oliver is the dreamer in this relationship, Percy thinks wryly. Not that he hadn't already known that. Oliver seems to be able to sense his skepticism. "I'm serious! You'll work in the Ministry – they'd have to be insane not to hire you, and I've been talking with that scout from Puddlemere, and she says things look promising. We'll write and have lunch and go on silly picnics for the heck of it and keep in touch because this is worth whatever effort that takes."

Percy bites his bottom lip. "Things are going to change."

He can feel Oliver nod. "Yeah. But that's all right."

Percy won't admit that he's afraid, but he knows Oliver knows anyway, so that's all right. He's afraid of the future, because it's unknown. Percy likes the concrete.

Oliver shifts so that his head is resting on his right forearm, leaving his left free. He takes Percy's hand.

"We'll be okay."

Despite the overwhelming lack of evidence, Percy believes him.