The Sugar Quill
Author: Hunter's Moon (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Foul Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart  Chapter: Default
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“But no

The Foul Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart

 

By Hunter’s Moon

 

Author’s Notes: Thanks very much to Gwynne for beta reading my fanfic! The title I stole from Yeats and his poem The Circus Animals’ Desertion.

 

Percy’s head had to be in a vice. There was no other way to explain the pounding headache, the feeling that his skull was fractured and ready to burst. He could hear the blood rushing past his temples and wished that it would quit the horrendous racket.

 

A low, animal whine welled up in his throat, passing through a mouth as parched as a desert cave and lips cracked and dry. The noise produced a stabbing in his skull that almost made him whine again, but he managed to stop himself.

 

Percy forced himself to take stock of the rest of his body. Almost as great as the pain in his head was the agony radiating from his gurgling belly. Either he was hungry or going to throw up – he didn’t care to find out which, and hastily moved on to inspecting the rest of himself. His arms and legs were spread; he was fully clothed, lying against something soft. Percy pushed down on it a couple of times with his left hand. Mattress, he determined. He dared not open his eyes; the only thing protecting those raw, stinging orbs from the ravages of open air were his parched eyelids – which were hardly adequate protection.

 

Percy lay on the bed, breathing slowly, fighting past his pain and discomfort to remember how he got to this state.

 

Colours and unrelated scenes flashed in his vision as his mind oozed along at a slug’s pace, trying to pick up any crumb of memory and form a clear picture. Something stirred. A timid voice whispered that perhaps he shouldn’t try to remember, that he should just get up, wipe his face, go to work and then….

 

To work….

 

The Ministry. Cornelius Fudge. The Death Eaters. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. A failure, a fool, in prison and…back.

 

He’d learned about You-Know-Who’s return on Friday night after Fudge’s speech to the Prophet, just like most Ministry workers. Saturday was a haze of scribbling, drafting memos, reading, searching through notes – Percy couldn’t remember what about. He only knew that yesterday Fudge had muttered for him to go home and get some rest. The article had come out yesterday. Not some stupid piece in the Quibbler but on the front cover of The Daily Prophet!

 

When Fudge had told him to go home, all the tenuous threads that had held Percy Weasley together finally snapped.

 

Alarm skittered through his system before he remembered that, fortunately, he’d been away from work when that happened. Percy was sure he had shock to thank for that. He’d staggered through the day, Apparated home, and done something he’d only heard others talk about, but something he knew was very adult and very appropriate for the circumstances: poured himself a stiff drink.

 

He hadn’t been able to get it right, of course. He could gulp a small glass of Firewhisky in the Leaky Cauldron with other Ministry workers, but he just plain didn’t like the stuff. What he had in his flat was wine suitable for a Junior Assistant who would occasionally invite a guest or two over. He’d had four bottles when he walked in.

 

He surfed through blurred memories and figured out how many he had left. The response was a dismal two.

 

Pig, came the thought, one he agreed with wholeheartedly. But a private one, at least. And could anyone really say he didn’t deserve to drown himself after…after…

 

His soul shrivelled, begged not to hear, but his mind continued mercilessly.

 

Leaving my family in a wretched fit of pride only to find that they were right all along? To know that I’ve wounded the people who cared about me since birth? Making them hate me? Cutting myself off from my roots, my childhood, my home?

 

Ah yes. He’d found himself thinking those thoughts a lot last night. They’d surged through his brain, clung to its folds and crevasses like fungus – it would take far more than a good soaking of wine to get them out.

 

At least he hadn’t done anything stupid (nothing that he remembered, at any rate). He remembered talking to no one…babbling, actually, his voice cracking and entire body clenched as he fought against the shame that gnawed at him with Crucio-sharp teeth. He remembered drinking – obviously – and winced as he remembered staining the pale grey carpet of his living room with red wine. He’d have to Scourgify that. But what next?

 

…He had a quill in his hand, was slopping ink over parchment, writing…

 

The letter.

 

The terrifying thought made his eyes spring open and jerked him upright, after which he couldn’t think of anything. The air against his eyes was sandpaper, the contents of his stomach sloshed, the back of his throat was moistened not by saliva but bile. And his head pulsed in agony. Percy gasped, whined, and stared up at the ceiling, blinking rapidly. He took deep breaths through clenched teeth. The warm wetness at his throat abated slowly, his stomach went back to its dull ache, but the headache remained with him.

 

He decided that thinking would be best, not movement. The letter….

 

He remembered vaguely what he’d written. He’d written about how sorry he was for leaving his family, how if they’d just accept them back he’d be whatever they wanted him to be, how he hated them all with a fiery passion and he knew they despised him in return. He was little more than a gnome that should be tossed out of their lives forever, and they were Crups and jackals that had always nipped at his heels, ready to tear him apart at any sign of weakness (surprisingly poetic, mused the tiny part of him unaffected by the horror of the memory). He was worthless and loved them and wanted to crawl back to them even if they could never forgive him; he could never forgive himself for even now still hating them.

 

How he’d managed to tie it to Hermes’ leg, he never knew. But he’d done it. And what directions had he given his owl? Through the throbbing of his head, Percy tried to remember to exact words.

 

“Just get out, stupid bird. Take this to…no,” he’d sobbed – God, he’d been crying. Percy couldn’t help but grind his teeth at his childishness, but reminded himself that only his owl had seen it.

 

“No, no one in that…the Bu…that house. Never there. I can’t – they’d throw it away, like I threw, threw Mother’s letter away, sent back her jum— jumper. Take it to someone who cares, anyone, just get it…out of my sight.”

 

When Hermes had stared back at him, Percy had growled and opened a window, leaning too far forward and almost tumbling out in the process. “Get!” he’d snapped, his vision already blurring around the edges. Hermes had given a reproachful hoot and a glare, but flapped off.

 

To someone who cares. How would an owl interpret that? Could they interpret such a vague order? Hope spluttered to life within him. Yes. Of course. Post owls couldn’t be expected to drop off something without explicit directions. They were just animals. Gloriously stupid animals.

 

Percy sighed, some of the tension flowing out of him. And now he had to get ready. Ready to…well, he wasn’t sure. He didn’t want to think of his options. But he knew he wanted to feel better.

 

He turned toward the brown bedside table of his flat and saw, much to his relief, a fuzzy outline of his glasses. He put them on, ground his teeth, and slowly got to his feet. Whining a bit as his various complaints acted up, he mustered his courage and laboriously made his way towards the bathroom just down the hall, which was luckily only a few steps away from his bedroom.

 

He hissed angrily as he flipped on the light switch for the bathroom. Damn Muggles. Damn Muggles and their harsh lights that made his eyes boil like lava. He turned the tap on, laid his glasses down on the counter, and began splashing his face with water. The cool liquid was soothing on his face, but even better in his mouth, and Percy soon cupped his hands and slurped up as much water as he could.

 

Once his thirst was finally quenched and his tongue didn’t feel like a sock filled with lead, Percy reached for the blurry outline that he knew was a towel and dried his face off. He slipped on his glasses.

 

A casual glance in the mirror turned to a stare as Percy took in just how shabby he looked. His eyes were puffed up, the undersides shaded with violet. His hair was ruffled like the fur of a startled cat, he had some crust in the corner of his mouth, his nice blue work robes were wrinkled and there was a large stain running down the front. But the worst were his eyes. Each blood red, criss-crossing vein in them stood out, the vibrant colour detracting from the brown of his irises. There was hardly a place for white.

 

He grimaced, and the wretched face grimaced back. Sighing, he searched his robes for his wand. A tingle of panic raced through him when he came up with nothing.

 

It’s all right, he thought firmly. It must have fallen out while I slept.

 

A hiss managed to intrude on Percy’s consciousness. A jolt ripped down his spine. Turning away from the monster on the other end of the mirror he stared in the direction of the noise. Was it an intruder? What kind of intruder would hiss? Did he need his wand?

 

No, not yet. He’d take a quick peek first, see what it was, then if it was dangerous, get his wand. Not that it was dangerous. After all, who’d want to hurt him? He was only…only the Minister’s Junior Assistant, and a Weasley….

 

Percy had just determined to go fetch his wand when a low, human voice came over the constant serpentine hiss.

 

“Hello darkness, my old friend…”

 

Percy froze. Was someone casting a spell? Percy reached for his wand, growing more and more frustrated as his fingers closed on air instead of wood. But this didn’t sound like a spell…

 

“I’ve come to talk to you again…”

 

It was a song. A slow, mournful song. Percy stumbled out of the bathroom, and soon found himself overlooking the kitchen of his flat.

 

He knew that form anywhere, though the clothes were Muggle instead of Hogwarts robes, and the hair shorter than he remembered it. Penelope Clearwater stood with her back to him, in front of the stove, her wand on the counter beside her and a wooden spoon in one hand.

 

The memory of her Howler-magnified voice echoed through his brain. “ALL OF MY FRIENDS WERE ASKING ME WHY I DIDN’T KNOW YOU WERE COMING TO THE YULE BALL, AND I DIDN’T HAVE AN ANSWER! HOW COULD I TELL THEM THAT MY ‘BOYFRIEND’ HAS OWLED ME ONE LETTER SINCE THIS SUMMER, AND THAT LETTER ONLY TALKED ABOUT HIS MARVELOUS PROMOTION! I’VE OWLED YOU MILLIONS OF TIMES! OH, I KNOW YOU’RE BUSY, IGNATIUS, SINCE YOU WERE SO KIND TO MENTION THAT DURING THE THREE WORDS YOU DEIGNED TO GIVE ME AT THE BALL! I STARED AT YOU THE WHOLE NIGHT, WONDERING IF YOU WOULD NOTICE ME, AND YOU BARELY LOOKED MY WAY! AM I WORTH ANYTHING TO YOU, PERCY WEASLEY? BECAUSE IF I AM, YOU HAD BETTER START ACTING LIKE IT!” He remembered the surprised, worried look of his mother as she walked into his room and asked tentatively if she’d heard that correctly.

 

He and Penny had formally broken up by owl, as he didn’t have time to come down to Hogwarts to see her due to his workload.

 

Yet Penny was here, singing softly. It didn’t seem that the Howler was on her mind.

 

“Late at night while I was sleeping…” she hummed a few notes, adding the word, “creeping…” at the end of the verse.

 

“And the vision, that was…” she continued, only to stop abruptly.

 

Percy froze. Had she sensed his presence?

 

“No, why would it be strain?” Penny murmured distractedly. She poked the eggs with her spoon, tilting the pan slightly as she did so. Percy remembered Penny saying that she had often cooked for her younger sister. Right now he wished Penny gone from the face of the earth; his stomach was heaving at the thought of food.

 

“Ah!” Penny said suddenly, pleased with herself. Her song continued. “And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remained, within the sound…of silence.”

 

Percy took another step – and the floorboard creaked loudly, easily shattering the final word of the tune. Penny ceased all movement for three seconds, until she became animated, turned, and moved forward to get a better look at him. Her face was a delicate pink, which could have been from the heat of the stove or the embarrassment of being caught mid-song.

 

“Percy,” she stated. “Hello.” She gestured back to the pan. “I was just about to wake you. Breakfast will be ready in a few seconds. Just sit down. Unless of course you’d rather I get the Temperance Enchantment out of the way now, but I don’t quite want to leave these yet.”

 

She sounded so professional.

 

“Eggs would be--” he tried to stamp down the sour-tasting surge rising inexorably up his throat, “f…fine.”

 

“Oh,” Penny said as if she’d just remembered something, and picked up her wand. “Accio bucket,” she said – and a bucket Percy didn’t know he had flew towards her. She checked on the eggs, frowning.

 

“Well, if you have to throw up now, try to move toward the bucket,” she muttered as she set it down.

 

No amount of blinking would moisten Percy’s horribly red eyes; nor did it seem to help him understand the situation.

 

“Don’t…think I have to,” he said unsteadily, drawing himself up in an attempt at dignity.

 

Penny nodded curtly, set out two plates, and laid the eggs down on them.

 

Percy had lived through too many of Fred and George’s pranks. He’d seen fake brain splattered over walls, smelt the stench of Dungbombs, seen spurting blood, been attacked by a Transfigured snake, watched a spider the size of a small dog climb over a five year old Ron…among other things. But at that moment those eggs were the most disgusting things he’d ever seen in his life.

 

Percy launched himself forward and fell at Penny’s feet, kneeling in front of the bucket. He heaved once; out spewed gooey chunks and liquid that he thought would burn his mouth as it came up. If he hadn’t been able to hear the splash and smell the searing scent, he probably would have been fine. As it was, his eyes squeezed shut and he threw up again. Sweat prickled on his back and neck. His stomach finally gurgled to a standstill. He spat into the bucket a few times – the taste would never leave! – and shakily stood up.

 

Penny was by his side, and handed him a napkin.

 

“Thank you,” Percy muttered as he wiped the corners of his mouth, not meaning it in the slightest. He couldn’t help feeling very grouchy.

 

Penny had her wand out – she told me once it was ten inches long, rosewood, unicorn hair…odd time to remember that… – and clearly said the magical word. “Claro,” and her wand made a horizontal line over Percy’s forehead.

 

His head didn’t clear immediately, but the smell of those eggs was becoming more appealing. Anything to wash the foul taste from his mouth.

 

“Thank you,” Percy repeated, more sincerely now that the throbbing was decreasing.

 

Penny nodded once. Glancing at the bucket, she wrinkled her nose and quickly Vanished its contents and walked into the dining room, where the plates were laid out on opposite sides of the table, complete with forks, placemats, and two glasses of orange juice. Percy saw that Hermes was resting in his cage near the couch. The two sat down and began to eat. Percy eyed the eggs for a few seconds before testing them.

 

It took a while for him to get used to the taste after what had previously been in his mouth, but he soon formed an opinion on them; they were good. She’d put some sort of spice in them. Did he even have any spices in his flat? Had she brought some over? Or…perhaps she’d simply Conjured some. When he thought of Penny, he always thought of someone who knew complicated spells, charms and potions. The idea that she’d learned simple household spells was a new one…though one that made utter sense. Hadn’t she told him that she would move out of her house once school finished?

 

“Feeling better?” Penny asked.

 

“Oh, ah, yes. Much.” It was true. His head was clearing by the second.

 

“That’s good.”

 

“Mmmhmm.”

 

As they ate, he watched her. Her face was fuller than he remembered it. The sun from the window hit the left side of her head, making her brown hair shine. Percy had to admit that Penny had never been what one would call ‘gorgeous’; her nose was a little too small for her face, her eyebrows too heavy, her chin strong and her curly hair was often unruly. Yet no one with eyes could slander her by calling her ugly or even plain. To do so one would have to miss the intelligence in her gaze, the casual grace of her movements, and the way all her features put together gave her an appearance of dignity, intelligence and inner strength that were more appealing than if she’d been a blonde, willowy figure. 

 

And those deep brown eyes….Penny had told him once that she loved looking at eyes. She swore that no two people’s were the same. He winced to think what she must see in his eyes now. The image of the creature in that mirror seemed burned into his mind.

 

“The eggs are nice,” he commented as the silence loomed.

 

“Thank you. It’s a family recipe.”

 

“I see. And how is your family?”

 

Facts Percy thought were long forgotten came rushing into his head.

 

Her father is Adam Clearwater, a history teacher at a Muggle University; enjoys his work although he’s losing too much of his hair for his liking, somewhat absent-minded, loves…that Muggle sport I can never recall. Came over from Canada, hasn’t lost the accent. Penny adores him, and she’s closer to him than she is to her mother. Minnie or Missy or…no, it’s Margaret Clearwater, a Muggle lawyer. Penny hates her need to control everything, but she admitted lately – which, Percy realised, wasn’t that current at all – that no, her mother doesn’t need to control everything, and Penny should start treating her better. Her younger sister Annie is a clever girl but she doesn’t try hard enough in school. She wears an obscene amount of makeup and always has giggly little friends over who talk – he remembered the weariness in Penny’s voice clearly – “about boys, makeup, and how little clothing they can get away with wearing.”

 

“They’re fine,” Penny replied. “And….”

 

She looked as if she had been about to ask the same question, but a spasm of worry crossed her face and she managed to change it to, “I haven’t quite had the time to mention, but I must say the flat is lovely.”

 

“Picked it out myself,” he said, but he couldn’t muster the pride that he usually felt. He couldn’t muster any pride at all. “It’s a good place for a wizard; everyone just goes about their business. Have you…ah, moved into one of your own?”

 

“I have. It’s not too far from my parents, actually.” She chuckled softly. “Sometimes they ask me to take a walk near the mall, spy on my sister. She’s fallen in with a…different crowd. Annie dresses in black, has her hair all spiked up, listens to that whiney music they’ve got playing nowadays, keeps a journal – full of poetry speculating on the meaning of existence, she says. Filled with all the wisdom fourteen years of living can give you, I’m sure.”

 

Percy smiled at that, but only briefly. He wished he had something to tell her about his family. The two of them ate in silence for a few more seconds.

 

“My parents worry terribly about her,” Penny continued. “They think she’s taken up smoking. We haven’t caught her at it yet, but – oh, listen to me, babbling on, you’d think my life was only about my sister.”

 

She smiled slightly, a wry half-smile that brought back memories of happier times. “It’s not. I’ve been keeping in touch with some of my old classmates. We chat, eat out, share gossip, things like that. I did some work with Obscurus Books, at—”

 

“Diagon Alley!” Percy interrupted, smiling. “That’s a wonderful job to get just out of school, Penny, just wonderful.”

 

Penny merely rolled her eyes, and it was then that Percy realized that she’d mentioned it in the past tense.

 

“If you considering fetching tea and coffees for mouldy old editors ‘wonderful’ then yes, I suppose it was.” She sighed lightly, but cut her dissatisfaction off with a one-shouldered shrug. “It just wasn’t where I saw myself going in life. But, bills must be paid. Now I’ve got a job at Madam Malkin’s.”

 

“Doesn’t seem the place for you,” Percy commented.

 

“It isn’t,” she said, looking rather relieved that he’d picked up on that. “I’m on my feet all day – you have no idea the looks you can receive when you ask a person if you can help them! With some of them it’s like you’ve ruined their week just by breathing in the same store. The only good thing is the discounts, but I don’t have to go shopping for robes all that often. I’m definitely getting a better job once summer’s over.”

 

There was a pause, and Penny’s face was solemn. Percy had finished his eggs and sipped his orange juice. He winced at its acid taste. He was only now getting over the shock of seeing Penny here, and was beginning to wonder just why she was – though now did not seem the time to bring it up.

 

“Then again,” Penny added in a softer voice, “I wonder what kind of jobs I can get, with You-Know-Who back.”

 

Percy paused, the cup halfway to his mouth. He stifled the urge to change the subject immediately; he wanted to talk about this rationally, like a man.

 

“I still can’t believe it,” he murmured, setting his cup down.

 

Penny nodded in agreement. “Of course not. It’s just so abrupt. Now we all have to prepare for this. I still haven’t told my parents yet. I can’t imagine how they’d take it.”

 

“My parents—” Percy began, but he found his throat blocked. He swallowed and tried again. The words came out in little more than a croak. “They…knew about it all along. They’d told me. About what was happening. But I…wouldn’t believe them.”

 

Silence again. Percy stared at his empty plate.

 

“You weren’t the only one who believed the Ministry,” Penny said quietly. “Only one of my friends thought more than once or twice about what the papers were printing. If we couldn’t trust The Prophet, what could we trust? Certainly,” she smiled bitterly, “not that silly Quibbler article. I’d seen Harry Potter at school, and, well…he did always seem to be in the thick of things. You’d think all that fame would go to someone’s head. And as for Dumbledore – who knew what he wanted? Maybe he wanted more than Headmastership of the school; maybe he’d just gone mad.”

 

Penny snorted derisively. “The media lied to us. And I went along with it. With the Prophet’s propaganda. Propaganda, what a word! It’s for Nazis, not wizards.”

 

“You weren’t in Gryffindor with Harry,” Percy began, staring at the plate as if its pure whiteness would absolve him of guilt. “I’d had him under my roof and still…do you know what I told Ron after I left? The Minister mentioned Harry Potter, said something about him being seen in the company of that Granger witch and that Weasley boy – ‘Isn’t he your youngest brother?’ he’d asked, and…Penny, I flinched. Forced a smile and said that, why yes, he was. Perhaps he was afraid Potter would become violent if Ron ended the friendship. I thought I was very clever, thinking that up on the spot. That night I wrote him a letter and sent it off, warning him away from Potter.”

 

The words he’d written began to play in his head, mocking him. He fought for breath and clenched his jaw – I’m sorry Ron! But I thought I was helping you, thought I was right! I bet you laughed at me, didn’t you? “That stupid berk Percy, doesn’t know the first thing about me, so glad he’s gone…”

 

Many months afterwards, when Harry had been in Dumbledore’s office – in front of Umbridge and the Minister – he’d laughed at the boy, at Dumbledore’s stories…at everything. Harry must have told Ron about that, too. “What a boot-licker, can’t believe he’s your brother Ron!” But he was my boss, Harry, I had to find ways to flatter him, show him how much I appreciated the job he’d given me. And you couldn’t expect everyone to believe the stories, the stupid stories that were horribly true!

 

Indignation flared, but the feelings of righteousness that had supported him all year were battered down like houses in a hurricane. The feelings of his whole family pressed him down. Percy fought back the only way he could think of; by hating himself as much as they hated him.

 

“I know, Percy….” It was Penny’s voice, soft and wavering. He heard a chair scrape, heard her footsteps.

 

“No you don’t,” he snapped, but what little anger he had quickly died under the onslaught of guilt. “I’d just been promoted – thought the Minister had called me in to fire me, though some part of me thought how odd it was for the Minister to be concerned with firing employees. That horrible inquiry – I could barely sleep after it, every moment was so tense, thinking about how I’d let down poor Mister Crouch, how I’d bungled Ministry regulations…and then the Minister offered me a job.”

 

“Terrible thing, Weasley, no one’s more upset than I am. But no one could have predicted what happened to Bartemius, and certainly not someone as young as you, for Merlin’s sake. Even our best were fooled, Weasley, even our best. And with Bartemius’ absence you soldiered along and showed many admirable qualities – qualities we value quite highly at the Ministry of Magic. Dedication, loyalty, a good grasp of the rules. Your Hogwarts professors saw it, and I see it here before me now, despite these dreadful circumstances. We need people like you, Weasley.”

 

 “Of course I went to tell my family. Apparated right there. I was so relieved. I waited until dinner to tell everyone. I knew Mother would fuss over me – Fred and George would laugh, of course, and maybe Bill and Charlie and Ron would join in, because they, they always do – but my parents at least would appreciate it. But I didn’t expect how…how quiet everything got. And Father, he set down his…his fork and….”

 

“Percy, I can understand how you feel about this,” Arthur said calmly. “But…don’t you find this a bit suspicious, son? After all you’ve been through in the past three weeks, you’re now getting an even more important job, closer to an even more important authority figure?”

 

Shock, cold, rippling throughout his body. “Minister Fudge hired me himself, Father. Said I had many admirable qualities. Everyone was fooled by what happened.”

 

“Yes and…who do you think fooled them?”

 

He shook his head a few times, chancing a look at his frozen family members. No one was standing up for him. Not even Mother. He thought she would always be there to defend him.

 

A hot, sick feeling flared in him, drowning out the coldness. “Nobody in the Ministry…actually believes that…You-Know-Who is back,” he’d managed, unwilling to give the fever a voice no matter how much it burned.

 

His father continued to look at him, his gaze steady, intense. “And what do you think the events in the final Triwizard Tournament task signified?”

 

Percy swallowed and shook his head again. “I…what…what does any of this have to do with my new job?” 

 

Arthur sighed, dropping his gaze from his son for a few moments. When he looked at Percy again, his face was weary. His words, however, were sure.

 

“I’m sorry, son, but I believe that Fudge appointed you to this position because he wants you to spy on your family, as he knows that we fully stand behind Dumbledore and the truth that You-Know-Who has returned.”

 

Percy had suspected something like this. That was why this shock wasn’t quite as big as it had been before. All he could feel was that feverish heat. It leapt to his face, his neck, his brain....

 

They thought that all his hard work meant nothing, that his accomplishments and attributes weren’t being rewarded. They thought he could only get a job of such prestige because of them. They couldn’t be further from the truth; he’d gotten this job in spite of them. They thought his promotion meant nothing? That, then, was the truth of it. If his promotion meant nothing, then he meant nothing. He’d finally seen how little they respected him, cared for him, loved him. If he meant nothing, nothing at all to them…then they meant nothing to him.

 

“I…shouted at them. Exploded. And it seemed so right, I’d always felt it was right, until…until that damn article. I told them that they were wrong, that no matter how much it surprised them I actually could move up in the world. Not that it was easy. Father, I…I said he’d ruined our lives, by acting the way he did, by being himself.”

 

“And you never cared, did you, what they thought of us as we went to school! No! It was always about you, you and your bloody Muggle things. Plugs! Flying cars! Didn’t you hear them laugh at you, at work? Didn’t you care that the same things happened to us and will always happen to us? Because of you! Because of you! Damn you you’re our father and you don’t bat an eye at sending us to school with books that fall apart and ripped robes!”

 

“I sneered at Dumbledore, told them that anyone in their right mind could see that he was going senile. He wasn’t the first Headmaster to hold the post while his mind was dying. And Potter…” Percy flinched.

 

Another son with glasses, is that what they wanted? Sporty, cheerful, famous…a better son, not like Percy, Percy who had to toil for his glory….

 

He gritted his teeth at the memory of that specific thought, unable to still his anger. But it was brief, and he continued.

 

“Who could believe him? My family couldn’t see him for what he was: a mentally disturbed boy. You-Know-Who had come for him when he was a baby, cursed him. How could anyone be normal after that? They were all blind to it. And then…I said that I didn’t want to be a part of my family. I’d never raised my voice to my father before that. I couldn’t even keep quiet about it. It was in front of everyone. My mother…” he was breathing too harshly to continue.

 

He felt Penny’s hand on his shoulder, but that had no meaning. Only the pain that tied his insides into knots meant anything at all.

 

“Mother looked like I’d stabbed my father in the heart right in front of her eyes. At first it looked like she didn’t understand what we were saying but…but soon she started crying. Her sobs...I tried to pretend they meant nothing.”

 

But no, no, he’d never wanted to hurt her. She’d been the only one out of this rat’s nest who cared…but even then it hadn’t been enough. She’d always put so much pressure on him – too much. He’d made himself believe that.

 

“Ginny looked like she would cry too, but…she didn’t.” And he was supposed to protect her, his only sister. But when had she ever cared about him, or ever appreciated his help? She was always off with Fred and George, wanting to become one of one of her fun, loveable brothers. He’d made himself believe that.

 

“Everyone else was just…so very…shocked.”

 

Even the unflappable Bill. Bill, the brother Percy had at times desperately wanted to be. They shared most of the same achievements and they even looked a bit alike, though Bill was attractive, smooth, charming, good company. He never ran out of interesting stories, never was subjected to snickers after he left the room or rolled eyes when he spoke. Bill had always thrown his ability to perfectly integrate with anybody into Percy’s face. He’d made himself believe that.

 

And Charlie – the brother he’d spent time with and never really understood. He remembered researching dragons at age seven. He’d been so eager to come down and present his information. And when he did, babbling on about the weight of Ridgebacks and the fire of the Swedish Short-Snout, Charlie had dismissed him with a laugh. “Hey, I’m the dragon expert here, remember? Don’t you go taking away my job!” he’d teased. The twins had called; Charlie’s eyes had sparkled, as if he’d been looking for an opportunity to get away. He’d dashed off, leaving Percy forgotten. All he’d wanted to do was talk to Charlie, to be better friends than they were. That interaction had characterised their entire relationship. He’d made himself believe that.

 

Ron. Percy winced as he remembered the letter warning him away from Harry. No, he wouldn’t think of Ron. Not yet.

 

“I wanted to smile at Fred and George because some part of me found it…funny, funny to see the two jokers so shocked, when they’d laugh at everything.”

 

The twins. Oh, the twins. He remembered crying alone in his dorm, age twelve, after the Fred and George had recorded him singing in the shower at home and played it in the Gryffindor common room. Laughter ringing in his ears, utterly miserable. He remembered his vicious glee when the Howler arrived for them the next morning…and his dismay when he’d heard that Ron and Ginny had laughed when they found out about the prank. It didn’t matter if Percy had been mocked, tripped, almost locked in a pyramid, sent dragon dung at work. The twins would smile their cheery smiles and nobody would question whether they’d crossed the line, would never care how Percy felt. He’d made himself believe that – and found that he still did.

 

“I felt…victorious. Because I’d wanted this. Hadn’t I always? To finally say what was so obvious to the rest of the world, only they’d deluded themselves into…into thinking that having a giant, noisy family with no money was…was normal.

 

“And then my father started shouting back. We’ve…never been close, not as close as me and Mother, but that’s no excuse to….”

 

Arthur Weasley stood there, stricken, for a moment looking very old. He was stripped bare of his cheerfulness, his gentle eccentricity, and all that was left was exhaustion and pain. But just for a moment. For soon there was a glint in his eye, a hardening of his features that betrayed his anger – the anger any man would feel whose son had just screamed and snarled insults at his whole family.

 

And Percy, flushed with righteous anger, blossoming with pride and scorn, mind teeming with thoughts rarely expressed but so obviously right, sneered at his father. Dared him.

 

Arthur accepted.

 

“I told them I’d leave. I couldn’t stop shivering when I packed. Never felt so cold. And I’ve been cold ever since I left my family, but…I just got used to it, made it part of myself….”

 

It was the only time neatness hadn’t counted. He’d stumbled through his room, rage and shock battling for control, throwing anything he could get his hands on into his suitcases. After a few minutes of packing he became more discriminate, carefully taking out everything that reminded him of his family. He’d thrown every last Weasley jumper deep into the closet, along with his Hogwarts robes and a few photo albums. He’d packed his Head Boy and Prefect Badges. He’d needed to see them to prove that he had accomplished this much, and that he could accomplish even greater things.

 

He’d also thought Fred and George might enchant them, find some way to ruin them – his achievements – forever. He’d made himself believe that.

 

He gave a strangled chuckle, his chest tight as he remembered his family’s intrusions into his life this past year. “Mother tried to talk to me when I bought my flat. I slammed the door in her face. And,” he winced, as if this were deeper betrayal, “I sent back her Christmas jumper. Nobody in the family really liked them, but we’d never refuse them. Except me. I shut her out once again. I can’t…just can’t bring myself to imagine her reaction.”

 

Even speaking about it made a piercing sickness flood him. But he had a greater offence to list, hadn’t he? Percy’s vision blurred as his guilt tried to seep out through tears as well as heavy words. He fought it back. Now that he knew his crimes for what they were, he had to count them.

 

“And that was after I’d found out about my father. I overheard two Ministry workers talking about my father and an attack during lunch break. I asked them to elaborate, and they said that father had been in the Ministry after hours – doubtless on some mission from Dumbledore – was attacked by an unknown assailant and had to be rushed to St. Mungo’s. Their sources said that he was now recovering and his actions were being investigated. I felt…so relieved. I knew that this would force my parents to turn from their path and come crawling to me for forgiveness. I was so eager.”

 

His guts were so tight that he wouldn’t be surprised if he threw up again. He was sick with the realization of what he’d done, what he was to his family and himself. Sick with the knowledge that he would never be clean.  

 

He was dimly aware of Penny’s voice.

 

“It’s all right, Percy, it’s all right…” Penny repeated gently.

 

“Shut up!” he snapped, more embarrassed than angry, tears snaking down his face. And now he was crying. God, what a mess.

 

He heard Penny swallow. “I don’t know everything about the situation. But I don’t need to. I can see that you’re hurting, and I can understand why. And…and you sent me that letter,” she added, as if she didn’t want to admit it.

 

“I didn’t—” he began, only to frown in thought.

 

“Hermes,” he said in between steadying breaths. “I wrote the letter, I was out of my mind, I told Hermes to send it to someone who cared. But not someone at home. He must have thought of you.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Penny hand was still on his shoulder, her other rubbing his arm sympathetically. There was silence, the aftermath of the storm. Penny moved back to her chair and began talking. He was grateful that she only looked directly at him after he’d wiped his face and sniffled, removing all evidence of his childishness.

 

“When Hermes came to my window, I didn’t know what to think. I recognised him right away. But when I saw what you’d written, and how you’d written it, I knew something was very wrong. I shrunk my broom and ran to a place where I could fly up unseen – Hermes lead me to a closer place than the one I’d originally planned on, actually, he must have seen it coming in – and I took off. I cast a Disillusionment Charm, so if anyone did see me they’d just think I was a cloud. Landing here was a bit tricky. Fortunately, Hermes led me to you, and your door was unlocked.

 

“You were stumbling around, shouting. I’d heard stories of what wizards could do when they were drunk, so the first thing I did was take your wand. Which reminds me – here.” She pulled it out of the pocket of her jeans, and Percy took it gratefully.

 

“Then I got you to bed and caught a little sleep myself on the couch,” Penny concluded.

 

“I don’t remember that.” Percy made a mental note to feed Hermes quite a few owl treats once the bird woke up.

 

“I’m not surprised,” she replied with a light grin. Percy stared at her, then determined that he’d rather not ask what exactly she meant by that. He sighed, and Penny immediately stopped smiling.

 

“I’ve been a horrible son,” he murmured. “A horrible brother. They weren’t…perfect to me, but what I did was so much worse….”

 

Of course they hadn’t been perfect to him. He hadn’t deserved it. Due to his pride. His ambition. His all-encompassing seriousness. His bossiness. His willingness to put work over socialization. His desperate adherence to all rules to make himself feel important.

 

“I’ve said some dreadful things to my mother and my sister,” Penny commiserated. She winced. “Once, I—”

 

“Don’t try to compare anything in your perfect life to what I’ve done,” Percy hissed. His jaw clenched as anger and indignation flared in him; it was a relief to direct those feelings at someone other than himself. That was too much. She hadn’t made the mistakes he had. What did she know about what he was feeling? How dare she intrude on this! How dare she….

 

Try to help him when he was thinking such cruel thoughts about her.

 

Penny didn’t respond, and Percy couldn’t bring himself to look her way. He continued to stare at his plate. It was time to stop thinking of himself or the job and start thinking of the people who mattered, and why they mattered. He mustered his courage.

 

“I’m sorry. This…last night…now, today, it’s just been—” he sighed heavily. “It’s taken a lot out of me. But I have no right for me to take it out on you, when you came here of your own free will to help me when I was…just dreadful to you before.”

 

He had never felt pained about cutting off their relationship until now – or, rather, he had, but they had been short bursts of longing and loneliness, easily smothered by focusing on the next task or the next office social event. He hadn’t wanted to think about it. 

 

“Thank you for being here, Penny.”

 

He looked up at her and saw a soft smile on her face. And wariness in her eyes. His family wasn’t the only person he’d hurt.

 

His heart throbbed painfully.

 

Penny looked around his flat before facing him again. “You’re here,” she said, “but I don’t think you should be.”

 

Percy knew what she meant, but part of him didn’t want to hear it. That part of him was overruled by the rest, which had come to the realisation that nothing about this was going to be easy. It was going to be as bloody and messy and wretched as what had sent him from his family in the first place. And he’d have to take it like a man. Like a Gryffindor….

 

Looking at Penny and thinking of his House, Percy was reminded of a friendly argument they’d shared. Penny had been vocal in her dislike of the House system. She didn’t like the notion that one could be known for one main trait only, when people were really so diverse that pigeonholing them into a stereotype did more harm than good. Perhaps it was his wizard upbringing, but Percy had a bit more respect for the Sorting Hat and its decisions. After all, he’d point out, look at Hermione Granger – “cleverest witch of her year, I’d say – good friend of my brother’s and Harry Potter. But she’s not in Ravenclaw. She’s not being pigeonholed, nor has she had her individuality stripped away. I believe that the Hat puts students in the House that could bring out the greatest potential in that student.”

 

When they had first started dating, Penny had shot back that the Hat was made in a time when individuality wasn’t as respected as it was today. But as time went on and they became more comfortable, she’d become more playful. He remembered one response in particular: “Well, all right, but if I hear one more joke about Ravenclaws roosting in the library, I’m going to scream.”

 

Her brown eyes had danced as she said it.

 

“Percy….”

 

He was in the present again, staring up at Penny with what he hoped wasn’t too odd a look on his face. It must have been, for Penny appeared flustered, and a pink flush spread from her throat over her cheeks. It made him blush and look away.

 

“Ah…” he began. Damn. His ears were warm. He cleared his throat.

 

“I think I’ll…go see them. T-Today, in fact.” He took a deep, steadying breath. “Yes, today. Ron and Ginny are still at Hogwarts, of course, but the rest of them will be home. Well, ah, probably not Charlie or Bill with their jobs, and Father is at work, but—” He made a helpless little gesture, then sighed. Going to make up with your family when you were only guaranteed to meet a few members didn’t seem terribly courageous.

 

“I think it’s best to take this situation in small steps,” Penny replied softly. He chanced a glance at her again and found her looking at him with distinct pride. He basked in the look, undeserving of it as he was, before getting up.

 

“You can get back all right?” he asked of her as he looked around for a non-existent fireplace.

 

“Yes, I know the Underground routes,” she said. He tossed her a glance and she explained, “That Muggle train that runs beneath the city.”

 

She smiled lightly. “Do you Apparate everywhere, then?”

 

“To the front office at work,” he admitted. “I haven’t really explored Muggle London.”

 

“You should,” Penny remarked; he nodded in agreement. She headed towards the door and he followed.

 

Once there, Penny turned to face him.

 

“Percy…” she said in a half-sigh, dropping her eyes for a second, “when all this is over – and I know it will be – I’d like to be able to meet in less unpleasant circumstances. I’ve missed having you as a friend.”

 

“I’ve missed you too,” he replied. It wasn’t the truth, as he’d forced himself not to miss anyone over the past few months, but it was a lie for the right reasons.

 

Percy’s mind must have skipped a few seconds. One second Penny was nodding in response, the next she was hugging him.

 

“I know you can do this,” she whispered fiercely.

 

“I, uh, thanks,” Percy stammered. One part of his mind remembered very well what to do; it quickly commandeered his body. He wrapped his arms around her back, holding her much tighter than she held him.

 

Heat that had nothing to do with guilt or anger danced through his body. It was thrilling, intoxicating…how could he have let himself forget….

 

Her breath brushed his cheek, he saw the nervous, eager smile on her face magnified a thousand times in her eyes, heard them whisper silly nothings to each other in deserted classrooms to see how close they could get and still use their mouths to talk instead of explore, always tentatively – sometimes too tentatively – but he would never push her, for he knew she respected herself too much to do the things he guiltily thought of late at night, and when all was said and done that was fine by him, because she was a woman worth waiting centuries for….

 

She made a soft, surprised noise and shifted backwards, but he didn’t let her go.

 

And she was his. Oh, his family would find out eventually, and he’d be quite happy to present her as his girlfriend when the time came, because Mother would be so proud and Fred and George would stare at him with their mouths open. But for now, she was his.

 

“Percy.” The word was tight, controlled; a warning.

 

He took in her reaction for a split second before he slammed his arms to his sides and stepped back. She was stiff. And if he hadn’t been so stupid he would have felt that.

 

“I’m so sorry, Penny,” Percy whimpered.

 

Penny’s tautness fell away, leaving her flustered. Her eyes darted in any direction except his. “So am I,” she said, disgusted.

 

Percy fought for words through the painfully tight blockage in his chest. “It was my fault, I just—” He grimaced, hoping he wouldn’t have to describe his thoughts. His face and neck were hot enough. Fortunately, Penny’s eyes widened in shock and she managed to look at him.

 

“What? No, no, Percy, it was my fault! I started the…the hug. I thought…there were some things that would be all right but,” a nervous chuckle, “they weren’t. Stupid, really. It should have been obvious.” She ran a hand through her curly hair, giving him an apologetic smile that seemed much too forced.

 

Percy opened his mouth to protest.

 

“Look,” Penny continued, taking a deep breath. He envied how quickly she achieved her graceful elegance – the only sign that there was something off was the palest of pink on her cheeks. “Despite what happened just now, it doesn’t change what I told you. I know you can do this. I believe in you. And…if you need someone to talk to, feel free to owl me.”

 

Her words were sincere. Percy nodded a few times, adding a needless, “Yes, of course.”

 

“Good,” muttered Penny. She gave him a nod and a kind – but short – smile. “Goodbye, Percy.”

 

“Ah, yes, goodbye.”

 

She left.

 

Percy stared at the door, blushing still, swallowing and glancing about nervously as if Penny were still in the room. But he was good at training himself not to think of certain people. He’d had to be, to have survived without his family, the people who had made up such a big part of his life. He banished Penny from his mind, with promises that he’d recall her later at a more suitable time. To better focus on the task at hand, he polished his glasses.

 

As he did so, he was reminded just how ratty his robes were; he couldn’t go home like this. Percy went into his bedroom and opened his closet.

 

What did you wear when you begged for forgiveness? His formal robes were too ostentatious. The black set looked too expensive – but did he want to approach his family looking like a pauper?

 

Percy left his room ten minutes later. He wore a comfortable buckskin brown robe, underneath which was a white dress shirt, a dark brown and silver-patterned tie, grey pants and black shoes. He went into the bathroom, contemplating the hideousness of his attire as he coaxed his hair to lie flat against his head.

 

That tie was too busy. The cloth of the robes was too light. His eyes were still red; wasn’t there some spell to get rid of that? Some spell to select the right wardrobe? What was the good of having magic if it didn’t help with important things?

 

Percy finally achieved the look he wanted after wetting his comb. He went into his room and selected a light grey tie. It made a bit of a difference, though he still looked too professional, as if he was getting ready for work.

 

Work. He needed to send a letter to say that he would not be in today. A part of him instinctively rebelled against this, latching onto his mind with iron claws: he had to do his job. It was his duty. The Ministry was expecting him. Could he fail the most important organization in the wizarding world? Could he fail the Minister? If everyone took little vacations whenever they felt like it, society would crumble—

 

If I don’t meet my family today, I’ll crumble, Percy reminded himself firmly. Or, a little voice whispered, my resolve to rebuild bridges will.

 

Percy loped down the stairs and knelt by his owl’s cage. Normally he would just shake the cage a little to wake the bird up, but after what Hermes had done for him Percy felt guilty about the routine.

 

“Hermes…” he said in a strained whisper. “Could you…wake up please?”

 

No response.

 

Percy was silent for a few seconds, then repeated his question in a louder voice. Nothing happened. Clearing his throat, Percy jostled the cage.

 

The handsome grey screech owl opened his eyes. His ear tufts raised and feathers fluffed as he let out a short, wavering hoot common to his kind. Percy wasn’t one for flights of fancy, but he could tell Hermes was annoyed.

 

“Sorry,” Percy apologized. He reached out to stroke the small bird’s feathers, but Hermes clacked his beak and Percy withdrew his finger speedily. He noticed that Penny had left food and water for the bird.

 

“Thanks for bringing Penny, but I need one more favour. I…er, don’t think I’ll be here when you get back, but I’ll keep a window and your cage open for you when you to get in.”

 

Hermes gave no indication that he’d heard; he was already nibbling his food.

 

Percy frowned, miffed at the reaction. He then realized that he’d been expecting a show of thanks from a bird and moved away from the cage, embarrassed. He cleared the dishes, glasses and cutlery from the table, washing them and setting them in their customary places.

 

Percy then spent some time hunting for a quill and inkpot and finding the correct stationary for his letter. Once that was finished he sat at the clean table with a clean piece of parchment and a blank brain.

 

The page leered up at him, accusatorily. Why was he doing this? The Ministry needed him! You-Know-Who had returned! It was in a crisis! Skip today and Percy would be demoted, or worse: fired.

 

Dear Minister,

 

I regret to inform you that I will not be in today, as I have come down with a nasty bug and I have no healing potions available to me. I expect I will be in tomorrow, though, once I go to Diagon Alley and get some supplies.

 

I shall not be in today as I have a splitting headache that prevents me from Apparating. I only pray that it will clear up by tomorrow.

 

I simply cannot be in today for reasons I do not care to divulge.

 

Another reason to go to work presented itself: his excuses were pathetic. He checked the clock on the wall. 10:48.

 

If I go to work now I might have time to salvage my job, he thought.

 

So that’s it? The second Penny leaves I become a coward? What would she think of me, tarrying about with dishes and ties? Some Gryffindor I am. House of the brave. What’s so brave about me going to work for the man who I foolishly chose over my family?

 

Losing my job because of a guilty conscience is better? Failing to do my duty as a wizarding citizen in Britain’s hour of need is commendable? Running home to Mother because I don’t want to face my father is brave?  

 

As his mind raced after doubts and worries like hounds hunting foxes, Percy realized he had to do something. Maybe not the best thing, but it had to happen. Bollocks to the letter; how could it help anything? He knew what needed to be done.

 

He stood up, adjusted his glasses, smoothed down his hair, and flashed his owl a short and grim smile. He hoped this feeling of determination stayed with him, because he’d need it.

 

Percy Weasley pictured the place he needed to be, clearing his mind of all other thoughts. Once it became clear, he heard a popping sound.

 

There he was.

 

 

 

 

//
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