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Symptoms of Family

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After the war, Scrimgeour decided the Ministry needed to be reorganised, and he hosted one hell of a campaign to do it.

All Ministry employees were required to take IQ and career placement tests. The results, unfortunately, proved that more than half of the employees weren't fit to work in their current departments. (That Minister Scrimgeour rated only thirty-four percent in 'ability to lead' was a non-issue.)

The big problem was that Percy was not made for cauldron bottom regulation—or any regulation at all. Apparently. It was a Tuesday in early October when the paper airplane memo dropped off his test results at his cubicle.


2 October
Dear Mr Percival Weasley:

After reviewing your test results, the Ministry Employee Statistical Stationing Equivalency Department (Upheaval Patrol), or MESSED(UP), has come to a decision about your career opportunities. After careful consideration, we recommend the following department for your continuing employment at the Ministry.

Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures

In accordance with Ministry edict SNAFU-4 (from the Statistical Nonsense Association Free Up Department) which was signed into law on the 14th of September, you are required to transfer to your recommended department within one week. Please speak to the head of your new department immediately.

If you feel that this judgement has been made in error, please reconsider. The employees of MESSED have all scored at least seventy-five percent on their MESSED(UP) tests in the delegation category.

Yours delegating,
Agatha Auntagony
MESSED(UP)


Percy stared at the letter, resigned and aggravated. He was half-way finished with his most recent report on methods to improve import relations, and now it was all for nothing.

Across the hall, Tillman lifted his head from his own letter and gave Percy a racy smile. "Finally out of this shit-hole department, I am!" he said. Tillman wasted no time with finalizing his affairs for Import Regulations. A cardboard box was conjured, he tossed in a photo of his wife and kids, and set the rest ablaze before strolling, jauntily, out the door.

Percy watched with a gut-wrenching sort of detachment as something that sounded suspiciously like his life falling apart echoed in his head. Finally, Martha Juniper rushed across the department with water spurting from her wand and shouts spurting from her mouth. Percy blinked and inhaled a mouthful of smoke.

-x-

One week later, on another Tuesday, Percy was settling into his new office which, admittedly, was much nicer than the one before. He had a magical window behind him that looked out onto beaches of the Cayman Islands and another across the hall that showed the Congo. Occasionally, when Percy was staring off into space, trying to think of new laws to pass, a gorilla would amble past. It was much better than staring at the back of Tillman's head, like he had to do in Import Regulations.

"Percy!"

Percy looked up and forced himself not to look away again. There was his father, merry as ever, ambling towards him with a huge muggle-loving grin on his face and his arms outstretched. It was such an odd sight that he fluctuated between standing and sitting, feeling awkward and looking ridiculous, until his father gave him an odd look and stopped several feet from his desk.

Percy cleared his throat and his desk in one go, straightening his back as he finally reached equilibrium and stepped forward. Eyes focusing, Percy became aware that in the confusion, Arthur had dropped his arms. He held his hand out perfunctorily, trying to dislodge the awkward situation—if it could be dislodged at all after such a ridiculous display. Stupid, Percy, stupid! He chided himself.

Arthur recovered first. "How ya been, Percy?" he asked, ignoring his outstretched hand and bring his arms up again to hug him tightly. Percy closed his eyes as his own arms did the same, seemingly of their own volition.

"Well, thank you," he said stiffly. In a situation like that, he was unable to do anything else. He felt like a trapped animal that might not have been trapped if only it had eaten the food that was offered from the hand that offered it.

Arthur Weasley was not deterred by the half-hearted reply. "Seems I'm not fit for muggle artefacts!" he said jovially. "Upheaval Patrol transferred me here to Magical Creatures! And you're here too! What about those apples, eh, Perce?"

Percy had never liked apples, he remembered. Of any kind. Not even when his mum put them in a cobbler, and it had been such a long time since he had even seen an apple that his brain automatically began conjuring different images of them. Gala, Red Delicious, Granny Smith—

"Quite the apples, Father," he said, wondering how one responded to something like that.

"Which reminds me, your mum's making apple cobbler tonight," Arthur Weasley said more soberly. Percy stared at him quietly while a McIntosh appeared in his head. That's what his mum had always used in her cobblers, and— "Why don't you come round? I know how you've always loved your mum's apple cobbler. We'd love to have you."

Percy faltered for just a—how in the world had anyone ever thought he liked apple cob—it was ridiculous! He never ate it. "Busy settling," Percy offered, feeling thrown and gesturing vaguely at his new office.

How awkward.

"Right," Arthur said quickly, nodding his head. "I understand. Well…well, I'll just be settling in as well," he offered. He pointed over his shoulder at the desk underneath the window—the one that showed the Congo. "Some other time," he added over his shoulder.

Percy followed his gesture and frowned. He had just moved from staring at the back of Tillman's head to the back of his father's head. Wrapping his arms around himself unassumingly, Percy wandered back to his desk and tried to figure out why he felt so strange after seeing his father for the first time in two years.

-x-

One month and twenty-eight awkwardly declined offers of lunch from his father later, it was a Tuesday. Percy was just finishing up a report on the new import-export regulations on jarveys—which had caused quite the scandal in the import offices when several of them escaped and insulted thirteen muggles last Tuesday—when his new supervisor, Mullins, came round.

"Weatherby," Mullins said. Mullins was a large man with watery blue eyes and a handlebar moustache in yellow ochre. He twisted one side of it as Percy stared at him, and wondered how, even with his father sitting across the hall, no one in the Ministry seemed able to get his name—even with Barty Crouch Sr. gone. Was it some sort of joke, or did no one really know that he was a Weasley?

"Yes?"

"Got a client coming in before lunch today, Weatherby," Mullins said, patting his belly apropos to nothing. "I'm having my elevenses with my mother-in-law. You'll have to handle it."

"Your mother-in-law?" Percy asked dubiously. He narrowed his eyes slightly; Mullins wasn't even married.

Mr Mullins shifted uneasily on his feet and then stared out of the window behind Percy's desk. It was a scene from Babylon, and poorly replicated at that. The tower wasn't nearly high enough.

"Not really my mother-in-law," Mullins admitted. "Mostly it's my sister, but in a round about way, you see—" He left the sentence hanging and shrugged. Percy looked back down at his report: Mullins didn't have a sister either. He didn't have much of anything really, except for rent boys in Knockturn Alley—which, Percy realised, was a bit similar to his own state of affairs, only he didn't bother with the rent— "She's in hospital," Mullins continued blithely. "Might not make it."

"So you're having tea with her?" Percy asked helpfully. "To ease her transition?"

Mullins nodded emphatically. "Helps the grieving process. There's five steps, you see: birth, life, nearly dying, denial, acceptance and grieving."

"What about the actual death then?" Percy asked, ignoring, for a moment, Mullins' inability to do simple math. No wonder he was in the Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. He wouldn't have lasted a day in Import Regulations.

"They're not 'round for that, are they, so it can't be one of the steps."

"Right," Percy said, nodding uncertainly.

Mullins smiled at him, ruffled his hair and turned to face the other window, clasping his fat, red hands behind his back. It had been snowing outside when Percy came to work, and lately he had been wishing that he could see that instead of the jungle.

"Weasley!" Mullins bellowed.

Percy and his father both looked up, but Mullins was ambling out of Percy's office and into the one across the hall.

"Let's have a curry, yeah? My treat." Arthur Weasley scrambled to follow. Percy stared at the retreating forms of his father and his supervisor, trying not to think of how good curry sounded right then, glanced at the stack of paperwork on his desk and realised that it was a quarter 'til.

He panicked.

-x-

At eleven, Percy was frantic, which was not completely unusual given his disposition, but still exasperating just the same. He had no idea what this client would need or where he would find the paperwork he would need for the meeting.

Mullins hadn't bothered to give him a run down when he transferred from Import Regulations and he was still fairly new and he knew hardly anything about the laws concerning the department or the regulations one had to follow to—

It was then that Ron-the-Auror, who was a Weasley hero, Ginny-the-Auror, who was a Weasley heroine, and Potter-the-Auror, who was Percy's ex-boyfriend and sometimes an arsehole, all came in, laughing much too loudly for an office and making Percy feel strange in that 'I'm out-numbered and we all know it' sort of way. Percy folded his arms and glared at the wall, trying to remember what Mr Crouch had once told him to do when he was feeling overwhelmed.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Imagine your audience naked—

"What do you suppose ol' Percy thinks about not getting to regulate cauldron bottoms anymore?" Ron asked loudly as they rounded the corner.

"Dunno," Potter laughed back. "Probably the same thing he said when he found out he wasn't the only Weasley regulating my bottom anymore," he snickered. There was an expectant silence. Potter affected a very poor imitation of Percy's voice and said, "This is unacceptable!"

All three of them laughed. Percy didn't because that was not really what happened at all. He remembered it vividly, and it had not included him saying, in any form, 'This is unacceptable'. What it had included—and this was important, Percy thought—was Percy walking in on Harry and Fred in flagrant delecto, Harry jumping up, shocked, when he saw him, and Percy running out with trembling legs and an ache in his throat.

Then, Ginny saw him. "Percy! How lovely to see you!" she said. It had been so long since Percy had even seen her that he couldn't tell if she was sincere or not. He smiled stiltedly at her, hoping that she wasn't mocking him, and effected an acceptable greeting in return. Ginny smiled at him a bit.

"Are you my eleven o'clock?" he asked after another moment. God, he hoped they weren't; if they were then Percy might have a panic attack. He wasn't sure if he could deal with any of this right now, or—

"Nah," Ron said blithely. "If we had appointments, we'd make sure to get Dad or that Mullins fellow instead."

Percy frowned, wondering why. Then Potter flopped down, uninvited, at the chair on the other side of his desk, adjusted his scarf, and Percy didn't think his day could get any worse. Several seconds later, he realised that Mr Crouch's advice was wholly inefficient and probably more of a hindrance than a help. He chanced a look at his desk calendar to keep from looking at Potter, only to realise that he had promised Penelope he would have lunch with her—as friends—next Tuesday.

Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.

"Hey, Percy." Percy looked up to see that Potter was smiling at him hesitantly.

"Potter," Percy said flatly. He had heard what Potter said to Ron on the way in; he wasn't deaf, certainly, and even if Potter had just been taking the piss—

Potter cocked his head to the side, cheeks red with the cold, but it reminded Percy of— "So it's 'Potter' now? Not 'Harry'?"

Percy sneered because Mr Crouch's advice kept surfacing and he was seeing things that never happened and things that did and he felt anxious to get away from the situation. "It hasn't been 'Harry' since you decided you'd rather be with Fred," he said. His voice didn't waver, and that, Percy reckoned, was a good enough sign.

"George," Potter corrected with a wince. "Fred's straight. Mostly," he babbled, "And I wanted to tell you that I'm s—"

Percy shrugged, cutting him off. Where was his eleven o'clock? If he had to spend any more time with these three then Percy was going to—

"Professor Lupin!" Ginny exclaimed, much more happily than she had exclaimed Percy's own name, and he felt a shiver of embarrassment roll through him. He was out of place in his own office. Percy's lips twisted acerbically at the thought as he looked up at Remus Lupin entering the department. He was in his usual shabby attire: Percy actually itched to have him fitted for a respectable robe. What Lupin was wearing was simply unacceptable for business matters, and not nearly warm enough at that. Why if Percy had—

"Hello," Professor Lupin said kindly, nodding at each of them. He took the chair next to Potter, removed his tattered gloves, and smiled at Percy, which was totally incongruous with how Percy was feel—Lupin's hands were chapped; he needed better gloves. "Afternoon, Percy, how are you?"

"Most excellent," Percy said quickly—too quickly, in fact; he needed to work on that. Lupin probably thought he was feeling nervous—he was, but that wasn't the point. Maybe it was time he looked for work elsewhere, he thought. Somewhere with less Weasleys to make him uncomfortable—even if he was the only one who was a Weatherby; he wondered if Lupin knew about that shaming reality and hoped he didn't. Too many people knew already. If Lupin knew too, then—

"Wonderful," Professor Lupin said. All three of them stared at each other for several seconds and Ron and Ginny made a ruckus in the background until Potter spoke up, much too loudly. Had his voice always been so loud?

It had, Percy remembered. It had been particularly loud when they—and Potter had always been quiet in class. How absurd—but outside, when he wasn't in class, or a Tri-Wizard Tournament—that was so long ago, Percy remembered.

"How about that paperwork, Percy? I've got a lunch date with Ron and Ginny." Potter seemed to have decided that he would play the 'I don't care' card. Kind of like Good Cop, Bad Cop where Potter was the—which one was which?—and Lupin was—why was Percy making references like that to his family?

Potter wasn't family, he reminded himself. Nearly good as, though, he supposed. More of a Weasley than Percy himself was at any rate. He was a Weatherby, after all. Breathe.

Percy turned his head slowly to stare at Potter. "So go."

"I can't," Potter said waving a hand at the papers on Percy's desk. "Not until I sign off on this stuff."

"I don't even know what you're here for," Percy said, exasperated. His hands shook under the desk. "Mr Mullins just told me to take care of his eleven o'clock."

Professor Lupin cleared his throat. "That would be me. Harry is my legal guardian." He said this self-deprecatingly, like it was true and Lupin didn't mind so much but he thought other people might mind so he tried to make a joke about it. Potter snorted and high-fived Ron. He liked jokes, too.

"'S true," Potter said, nodding. "You know that new werewolf law? All werewolves have got to have legal guardians that make all their legal decisions. Remus wants to start a business, so here I am." He shrugged. His shoulders were too bony.

Percy furrowed his brows. He hadn’t heard even a single word about that law. "What?"

Ginny rolled her eyes. "Really, Percy. I would've thought you of all people would be up to date on Ministry news." She was adjusting her robes around herself as she said this, and Percy got the feeling that she was a bit uncomfortable, too. Ron didn't look at anyone except Harry.

Percy ignored it. "So what kind of business, Professor Lupin?"

"Remus," Professor Lupin corrected gently. Too gently—like he realised how prickly Percy was feeling and wanted to make it better, only it couldn't be made better because if Lupin had found him out then— "I'm not your professor anymore."

"Reeeemus!" Ron, Ginny and Potter chorused in sing-song voices—where had that come from? Professor Lupin blushed. Percy frowned. He was much better off without Potter, he decided firmly, even though he had decided that when he walked in on Potter giving Fred—he was sure it had been Fred, not George—a blow job six months ago. All three of them were so juvenile. Percy was firm in this conviction.

"What kind of business?" Percy asked again.

"A book store," Lupin said happily. He was leaning forward now in an elated rendition of something resembling enthusiasm, graying hair falling over his brows and hands rising to brace himself on the desk. It was like he was about to tell Percy the most fantastic secret, and no one, not even Bill or Charlie and especially not the twins, had ever told him a secret before—

He perked up without realising it. A new bookstore would be fantastic, of course, he thought. Flourish and Blotts was so commercialised lately that he couldn't find anything decent that wasn't a textbook—and he had already read all of those. He opened his mouth to ask more questions when Potter cleared his throat, probably rudely.

"The paperwork, Percy? I've really got to go. Shacklebolt says he's going to shackle all three of us to the wall and bolt our feet to the floor if we take anymore three hour lunches."

"Might be fun!" Ginny grinned.

All three laughed loudly and clapped each other on the backs. Percy frowned, wondering what it would be like to have friends to act like fools with. Professor Lupin smiled blandly, politely ignored their crassness, and fiddled with a loose thread on the hem of his sleeve. Percy's eyes zeroed in on it, and he fought not to clip it off.

"The paperwork, right," he said. He opened his desk drawer, trying to look organised, and was pleasantly surprised when the stack of papers on top was labelled 'Form W-3: Werewolf Business Permit Application'. Finally—something that went right.

"Here you go, Mr Lupin," Percy said, dropping the 'professor' part because he just couldn't bring himself to call any of his elders by their first names.

"Remus," Lupin corrected. He smiled.

"Reeeemus!" two of the three idiots chorused.

"Where do I sign?" Potter asked impatiently.

"Here," Professor Lupin said, pointing to a spot near the bottom after he read through. Potter nodded, snatched the quill from Percy's hand without even a by-your-leave, and signed his name messily. He nodded once, slid the paperwork back to Lupin, and stood.

"See you then, Remus. Bye Weatherby." Potter smiled foolishly at them both and left with Ron and Ginny, whistling on his way out. If Potter could be so unemotional about all of this—so unaffected—then Percy could, too. There was no reason to feel uncomfortable around his family, and it was ludicrous that he had thought so before.

Then Lupin cleared his throat. "So," he said.

Percy looked at him. "So?"

"It's all ready to go," Lupin said, gesturing towards the paperwork. "Signed in triplicate. It just needs your approval." Percy felt like he was being sold something very expensive by someone who was very good at selling expensive things.

"My approval," Percy muttered, skimming through. He had not been briefed about this, he thought frantically. He had no idea whether or not to approve it. It seemed like a good idea to him, but then Mr Mullins was an odd man and it might not seem the same to him. Percy certainly didn't want to alienate his supervisor, especially since he was so new to the department.

"Where do you plan to open this book store?" Percy asked, for lack of anything better.

"Hogsmeade," Lupin said, smiling. "Harry's giving me the start-up with a really fantastic payment plan. I figure it'll be a nice place for the Hogwarts students to buy extracurricular books. No one reads enough anymore."

"You know, there's not a single bookstore in Hogsmeade," Percy said conversationally, leaning forward as well.

"Pity, isn't it?" Lupin responded. "I'm hoping to change that."

Percy hummed to himself, imagining what his school days would have been like if he had been able to shop for light reading during the school term. Much more exciting, certainly. "And what sorts of books do you plan to stock?"

"Oh, this and that," Lupin said airily. "Of course, I'll carry a few copies of each of the textbooks, in case a student loses theirs, but I'm also hoping to carry a wide selection of classical wizarding literature, history, contemporary novels and self-help books. Perhaps some monthly publications."

That sold Percy. He nodded once, signed his name with a flourish and stamped the paperwork with a big, red 'APPROVED', feeling very proud of himself. His first major assignment in this new department, and he had done a splendid job, he knew. Professor Lupin would make an excellent shop owner.

"You'll have to come back a week from today to get your business license," Percy said, passing the paperwork over and keeping two copies for his files. "I'll have it for you after lunch on Tuesday."

Lupin smiled wolfishly at him, stood and shook his hand. Percy felt something twitch in his gut at the look on Lupin's face. He had never seen someone look so excited about something before. Not even when Potter got his jollies off with Fred. George. Whichever. He didn't care right then. "Thank you, Percy. You don't know how much this means to me."

Percy smiled, without faking it this time. He felt rejuvenated. "Not at all. I think it's an excellent venture. I might stop in myself once you're up and running."

Lupin beamed at him, seemingly shocked at the proposal. "That would be lovely."

When he was gone, Percy slumped back into his chair, and realised that not only was the tower too short in the Babylon scene, but the people were also too excited. Who needed excitement like Potter had with his siblings when you had a nice book to curl up with? He would have to stop by Lupin's shop as soon as it opened.

-x-

"Potter," Percy lamented the following Tuesday, "is one of the most foul creatures to ever walk the earth. Can you believe that Professor Lupin—you remember Professor Lupin, don't you?—actually chose him for his legal guardian? He's a disgrace to humankind!"

Six days Percy had ruminated over the visit to his office, becoming more and more perturbed as time went on. Of course, he didn't believe a word he was saying, but he refused to admit to himself that the real reason he was so upset was that he didn't think Professor Lupin needed a guardian anyway.

He was an adult! And Potter was younger than Percy himself. What Professor Lupin really needed was a companion who shared his own ideals, who understood what it was like to have to fight for something and then get it taken away from them anyway, like he had.

Werewolf rights were non-existent in this post-war world, thanks to Fenrir Greyback. Of course, they had never been anything spectacular before, but never had things been so strict. Percy had never realised how bad it was.

And the fact that Lupin was okay with it was even worse. Percy pitied him because he knew that Lupin didn't want anyone's pity. That was a pitiable reason enough, he thought.

Penelope—who was now a Wood and not a Clearwater—stared blankly at Percy over her salmon salad. The salmon was out of season, but Penelope had never had much common sense. She was too intelligent for that. "Potter or Professor Lupin?"

Percy scoffed. "Potter, of course. Lupin's a werewolf anyway."

"He's still human," Penelope added helpfully.

"Do you think so?" Percy asked musingly. "I mean, of course, I consider him human, but is his DNA human, do you think?" It was something to consider.

Penelope shrugged, unconcerned. "And Professor Lupin has Potter as his werewolf guardian?"

Percy nodded mutely, completely dumbfounded, and then started. "Wait: you knew about the new werewolf law?"

"Of course," Penelope scoffed. "It was in the Daily Prophet just last month."

"Am I the only person who didn't know about it?" Percy cried. People from surrounding tables looked up to give him dirty looks. He smiled meekly at them and returned to Penelope, this time whispering: "Even Potter knew about it! And I'm in the Department of Magical Creatures and…the Department for the Control and Taxation—Regulation of…oh fuck it. They transferred me to Magical Creatures! How did I not know about that?"

"Don't use that kind of language, Percy. I'm surprised at you," Penelope chastised him blandly. Frankly, Percy was surprised himself. He never used such vulgar language.

Then, as if it had never happened, Penelope shrugged and sipped her tea. "I don't think your heart's in it like it was with Import Regulations."

Percy's shoulders slumped. "I really did enjoy that." And he had, of course.

"But your SNAFU test said you weren't cut out for it," Penelope reminded him. "Maybe you're not cut out for magical creatures either."

"I like magical creatures just fine," Percy said. "Verily, werewolves are moderately interesting. I would like the opportunity, for instance, to study Professor Lupin in detail—assuming he was amenable to the idea."

The new DNA theory was frolicking through his mind now, creating all sorts of possibilities. Of course, he didn't really give a damn about unicorns—they had never given him the time of day, so why should he?—or jarveys—they were always causing trouble (in every department)—but werewolves weren't so bad, he thought.

"That doesn't mean you're cut out for doing all sorts of forms in triplicate for them though."

"True," Percy said, but he had practiced his 'professional' signature for months in seventh year and he liked using it on the forms nowadays.

"Very true," Penelope said, just as an owl landed in her salad. She frowned. "I didn’t order that."

"Errol," Percy said flatly. How strange. The owl in question looked up at him dejectedly and hooted. "Have a letter for me?" he asked resignedly. He had been expecting this, of course. It was only a matter of time before his mother found out about him working with his father.

Errol, in turn, gave him a reprimanding hoot. Percy was reminded of his grandfather—the one who had given Ron his old Chess set even though Percy had been the better player. He hadn't played Chess since then, deciding that if his grandfather didn't think him worthy, then he should find a new interest. It was principle.

Suddenly, Penelope looked at her watch. "Oh my, it's Tuesday, isn't it? I have to meet Oliver in twenty minutes—we have an appointment at the Magical Fertilization Office."

"Are you starting a garden?" Percy asked with interest. At his studio flat in wizarding Kent, he had a small herb garden in his window box. It would be nice to have someone to talk about gardening with.

Penelope laughed. "Of course not. I hate the sun. We want a baby."

Percy gave her a funny look. "And you haven't tried…you know…," he gestured vaguely, vulgarly, "to get one?"

"Tried what?" Penelope asked, genuinely curious, as she gathered up her things and tossed a few coins on the table.

Percy paused. "Never mind."

Penelope smiled sweetly, hugged Percy goodbye, and suddenly, he was alone with his lunch and an owl that he hadn't seen in years.

"Let's have it then," he said in resignation. Errol gathered himself up and held out his leg for Percy. The letter read:


13 November
Dear Percy,

Your father tells me that now that the two of you are working together, you're getting along swimmingly. That's wonderful news. I do so miss you, Percy, and so do your father, your brothers and Ginny. Ron asked about you just the other day and the twins are always mentioning how—'bland,' I think, is the word they used—it has been since you left.

We're having a family dinner on Sunday. I made apple cider—your favourite—and Harry will be there too. He's always talking about you. I wonder if he fancies you? It would be so lovely if the two of you were together, Percy, don't you think? He's such a lovely boy.

Anyway, dinner will be at seven; I hope that you can make it. We all miss you so very much.

Lots of love,
Mum

 

Percy, suddenly overcome with a fit of shaking, wadded up the letter and shoved it into his pocket. It had been too long—sometimes, too much time passes and you can't fix things—this was one of those times, Percy was sure; there was no way his family would welcome him back after all this time, and, anyway, he didn't like apples and when were they going to understand that—?

Errol remained on the plate.

-x-

After lunch, Percy returned to his office, shaking snow out of his hair and breathing regularly once again to find his father chatting with Professor Lupin. He tried to ease into the office without being seen, but both Professor Lupin and his father seemed to have extrasensory vision: they spotted him at once.

"Percy!" they chorused. Looking truly pleased to see him. Strange. Strange. Strange.

Percy offered a bland smile, shoved his hands in his pockets and felt his heartbeat intensify as it brushed over the crumpled parchment.

"Your father was just inviting me over for dinner on Sunday," Professor Lupin said. "I hope to see you there."

Arthur Weasley looked expectantly at his son. Is there anyone who isn't a Weasley these days? Percy thought. But he was a Weatherby.

Breathe. Instead, he cleared his throat and said, "Mr Mullins is really counting on me to get this paperwork finished before the deadline next Wednesday. I'm afraid I won't be able to."

"Some other time," Lupin smiled.

"Some other time," Percy echoed faintly. For some reason, he was starting to feel very uncomfortable around Professor Lupin, but not the same kind of uncomfortable he felt around his family. And the werewolf was still looking at Percy with that constantly-happy, if a bit demure, smile. He choked slightly on nothing and opened his mouth hesitantly. "You're here for your business permit, Mr Lupin?"

"So you were approved then?" Arthur asked happily.

Lupin turned to him and grinned. "Indeed. Percy was a delight to work with. Very helpful. You've got a wonderful son, Arthur."

Arthur Weasley beamed and began fidgeting with his hands in excitement. "We've always been very proud of Percy's accomplishments," he said happily.

"We should really get started," Percy cut in quickly. He wasn't sure he could listen to that because the fact of the matter was that his family had not always been very proud of him. Or, maybe, they had been proud of him, just disappointed with his decisions, but weren't those the same thing—?

"There are still a few forms to sign, you see," Percy added, breathing.

"After you, then," Lupin said. Really, he smiled far too much. Surely no one could always be so cheerful.

Percy nodded once to his father and started across the hall to his office. They were just settling into their chairs when the door opened loudly and Mr Mullins strode in, looking mightily pleased with himself.

"Weatherby, you're back; good," he said cheerfully. He'd had an unfortunate accident shaving that morning: One half of his handlebar moustache was noticeably shorter than the other side. Lupin tried to catch Percy's eye, silently questioning the name, but Percy steadfastly ignored him; how embarrassing. Mullins had yet to notice that Percy was with a client.

"I'll need you to stay late tonight," Mr Mullins was saying. "There's a parcel coming in from the French Ministry—an Intercontinental treaty regarding the recent Jarvey confusion. Certified post, Weatherby," he explained. "You'll have to sign for it. Use that fancy signature of yours."

Percy opened his mouth quickly. "But Mr Mullins—!" he exclaimed sharply before he could think better of it. He shut his mouth with an audible snap. He had very nearly said something unfortunate right then.

"Yes, Weatherby?" Mullins asked. He hadn't noticed the tone of Percy's response, so caught up was he in his haste to get away from the office early.

"Nothing," Percy mumbled, then cleared his throat and said more clearly, "Nothing, Mr Mullins. It was only that I thought I saw something on your cloak. A trick of the eye," he added in a downtrodden voice.

Mullins tipped his bowler hat—a new addition to his wardrobe, probably added to take interest away from his moustache—to him and left just as quickly as he had come in. "Doesn't he ever think I might have a life of my own?" Percy grumbled. "What makes him think I want to sit around this sterile office staring at my hands until some ruddy owl shows up?"

It was only when Percy returned his eyes from the empty doorway that he remembered he was not alone. Remus Lupin was staring at him intently. Percy blushed, absolutely mortified both with the things he had said and the reason he had for saying them. He probably sounded like such a brat.

"Shall we get on with it?" Percy asked very quickly. He straightened up in his chair, adjusted his glasses and put on his dullest face. Back to business.

"Of course," Lupin said just as quickly.

The business permit had only just arrived from the Licenses, Authorizations and Permits Office before Percy went to lunch, and it was still sitting on his desk. It was absurd what kind of background checks the Ministry ran on werewolves, especially when Percy himself could have applied for and been granted permission to brew instantaneously fatal poisons in his kitchen sink within an hour. All because Lupin was a werewolf.

But Lupin looked so ludicrously over-the-moon about it (which may or may not have been an appropriate idiom to use) and even a little bit scared that Percy couldn't delay the process any longer. He was sitting on the edge of the seat, leaning forward over Percy's desk and staring at the business permit with huge amber eyes.

He looked wild—in a completely natural, calm sort of way. It was so unlike the wildness Percy saw in his brothers and Potter that it caught him off guard. Until then, he hadn't even known that there was another kind of wildness in people. Werewolves were definitely people.

Percy cleared his throat. "This is it," he said. "I just need you to sign here—" he pointed, "and here, and then I'll witness it and off you go."

"Truly?" Lupin breathed.

Percy looked up uncomfortably for a split-second. He felt awkward—like he was doing Lupin some amazing favour that would be repaid and repaid and repaid until Percy felt like he owed Lupin his whole soul. "Yes," he said professionally. "Please keep in mind that this must be displayed in a conspicuous place at your business at all times. Failure to do so—"

"I know," Lupin said, still staring at the business permit. His signature was still inky-wet on the parchment and he watched, fascinated, as it slowly dried. Percy suddenly got the impression that Lupin might have the notion to not only display the permit, but…idolize it, such as it were.

"Right," Percy cleared his throat. "That's it then."

Lupin looked up at him. "Thank you so very much, Percy," he breathed.

Percy's eyes darted sideways for a split second. "You're very welcome." he said. He signed his name, passed the parchment over to Lupin, and watched, puzzled, as the werewolf nearly floated out of his office.

-x-

It wasn't until much later, when Percy was waiting for that dreadful owl from the French Ministry to show up, that he heard a knock at his office door. His fingers were sore from fumbling with them and the loose thread on the hem of his sleeve had become significantly longer due to the worrying. All of his work for the next two weeks was completed; Percy was bored and it was only eight.

He looked up slowly, half-thinking that he was going mad from all of the idle time—it had only been three hours, but Percy was not the type of person to sit idly for even that long—and saw Lupin stick his head in the door.

"Hello," Lupin said apprehensively. Percy gave him a curious look.

"I forgot my coat earlier…in the lobby," he held up the tattered coat for Percy and smiled awkwardly. "It's just that I remembered," the werewolf continued uncertainly, "that you would be staying late. I thought I might bring you some dinner."

In his other hand, which had been partially hidden by the door, Lupin held a sack of take-away. "Curry," he explained, stepping into the office.

"Curry?" Percy asked almost eagerly. He loved curry. Lupin nodded, noticing that Percy's expression changed, for the better, and took it as a sign of invitation—which, Percy reflected, it was.

Lupin set the food out and perched himself yet again in the chair opposite Percy's desk. "Thank you," Percy said, delighted. "You really shouldn't have—"

"Nonsense," Lupin waved him off. "I might not have much, but I can certainly afford the occasional curry, and anyway, I'm hoping that the book shop will change things."

"When will you open?" Percy asked, forgetting that his mouth was full of food. He promptly blushed and covered his mouth. "Sorry," he said, once he'd swallowed.

Lupin looked amused. "It's fine." He pulled two butterbeers from the sack and then continued, "It'll open just in time for the Christmas rush, I think."

"I wish there had been a book shop in Hogsmeade when I was at school."

"Me too," Lupin nodded. He took a bite of his own food. "And Harry's been a lot of help as well. He's a good lad—eccentric at times—but still a good lad. I was worried that I would have to close up shop for the full moon, but he and Hermione offered to run it then. A big relief, I can tell you, since the first weekend after I plan to open is a full moon."

"Hogsmeade weekend?" Percy asked, barely remembering to swallow this time. Lupin was chattier than he would have expected, and not only that, but it was making Percy want to be chatty as well. That was never good when you were eating.

"Yes," Lupin answered ironically. "The last one before the Christmas holidays—it would have been a shame to miss it."

Percy nodded. "Have you started ordering any stock yet?"

Lupin perked up considerably. "I just got my first order of muggle books in today—I was too eager to wait for the business permit, I admit," he added sheepishly. "I found a collection of them at a warehouse in London; bought them extremely cheap. You wouldn't believe the conversion rate for galleons."

"Really?" Percy said. "Have you read any of them?"

If Percy thought Lupin was chatty, he should have known better than to ask him a question about books he'd read. Lupin was an absolute fanatic about literature of any kind, and Percy found himself listening intently as he relayed tales of all the muggle books he'd come across at one point or another.

Lupin was waxing poetically about a book regarding a son and his relationship with his mother when there was a rustling, whooshing sound to his left. He almost didn't notice it, so caught up was he in the tale of the mother's subtle, almost natural, manipulations. The sound came again, and Percy reluctantly looked up.

In the fireplace, an owl was flapping its wings in the flame, waiting for Percy to allow admittance into the Ministry. "Approved," he said quickly.

The owl gave him a look as if to say it had taken him jolly well long enough, and soared out of the fireplace, landing with a smattering of soot on his desk. He held his hand out for the letter, but the owl looked at him sternly and pointedly proffered its other leg.

After he'd signed for the package—purposefully not using his 'fancy signature' just because Mullins had offended him earlier—the owl stuck it's beak into a small pouch around it's neck, scooped out a bit of floo powder and flew back into the fireplace, spitting the powder into the flames. It disappeared, and Percy turned back to his desk to find that the curry was long gone and it was past midnight.

"I should be going," Lupin said, standing.

Percy waved his wand to vanish the mess and stood as well. He'd never before been disappointed to see someone leave, but indeed, he'd been enjoying their talk. "Thank you for coming; you didn't have to," he said again.

Lupin smiled over his shoulder on his way to the door. "No trouble at all. I enjoyed it. Goodnight."

"Me too," Percy said, but Lupin was already gone, the door was already shut behind him and the office was suddenly very dark in his absence. He flooed back to his flat that night because he didn't think he could walk through the Ministry, as dark as it was, even though he'd done it hundreds of times before.

-x-

Percy was having a very bad Tuesday when he received a letter, just as winter was rolling in. The envelope and stationary were a matching cream colour sealed with a wolf guarding a book in red wax. Quite fancy, Percy thought. He was very near to pulling his hair out, and even though he didn't recognize the seal, he was delighted to have any sort of distraction from Mr Mullins' constant picking.

Pushing his glasses up his nose, Percy slipped his finger under the seal and unfolded the letter.


27 November
Percy,

I know that you're a very busy man, but I really appreciated all of your help the other day, so I would like to invite you over to see the new shop. Let's call it a pre-grand opening, for friends and family. Unfortunately, as I have no family, there won't be any of them there. I invited Harry as well, but he has Auror business and won't be able to attend.

It won't be much, but I thought you might like to see what all of your help has accomplished. The shop will be ready for business next week, so if you have time today, pop over. I'll be there all day.

The shop is called 'Mowgli Books'. Harry named it. He won't tell me where he got the name, but he and Hermione snicker about it a fair bit. I assume it's from some form of Muggle literature.

Remus

 

Percy looked at his watch, saw that it was a quarter 'til Insanity, and decided that he deserved a lunch break.

-x-

 

Percy remembered this place. It was the shabby, vacant shop next to the post office that had always been such an eyesore to him when he travelled to Hogsmeade. From Hogwarts, he had been forced to pass directly past it both coming and going. It was the perfect spot for enticing young readers on their way in to buy sweets.

The outside had been repainted a quirky blue with white shutters, and a little wooden sign flapping back and forth above the door, declared 'Mowgli Books' in fanciful writing. Percy adjusted his scarf and shook the snow out of his hair, stepping inside the shop thoughtfully. It was amazing, he thought; even better inside. 

All around him it was warm, and books were stacked meticulously on the obviously hand-made wooden shelves, which Percy might have found tacky if it weren't for Lupin's pleasant, pixilated personality. But as it was, the handmade quality of every surface, every bench and every nook only added to the atmosphere. Off to the side, there was a pleasant reading nook filled with downy chairs and the floo-access fireplace.

"Percy! You came!" Professor Lupin's voice called from somewhere behind him. Percy turned and smiled, still a bit overwhelmed by how lovely the shop was. 

"It's brilliant," he said.

Professor Lupin beamed and looked around the shop fondly. "I know," he said, dusting off his hands and reaching one out to shake Percy's. "I've always wanted a book shop. It's remarkable that I finally have one."

He paused, gave Percy another strange smile and said, "Can I show you around?"

Percy nodded eagerly, and followed Lupin through all of the aisles, listening as Lupin read out such titles as Children's Literature, Textbooks, Quidditch, Self-Improvement, Mind Magics, Home and Garden—

"Raised by wolves," Remus suddenly laughed as they came to the Muggle Classics section. "That's where it came from. This boy, Mowgli, was raised by wolves in the jungle. Cheeky brat," he added fondly, no doubt speaking of Potter.

"Really?" Percy asked with interest. "I was unaware that non-magical wolves were able to do such things."

"Oh, they're not," Lupin said. "Muggles are fanciful people—they don't know that magic's real, but they like to think it is anyway—always coming up with animals that can talk and do wondrous things—oh, here it is," he added.

Lupin pulled a thick, hard-cover book from the shelf and handed it to Percy. "It's called The Jungle Book—it's a collection of stories. I read it just last night and thought it was lovely. I want you to have it."

"Oh—I couldn't possibly," Percy said quickly. He tried to hand the book back to Lupin, but the shop-owner was having none of it.

"As thanks, for all your help," Lupin said, gently closing Percy's fingers around it. Percy swallowed and looked down at the book again. It was used—well-loved and well-worn—like most of the other muggle books in the section.

"This is the book Potter got the name from?" he asked, unsure of what else to say.

Lupin nodded, smiling wryly. "Indeed. Let me know what you think of it." Percy could only nod his thanks, but it seemed to be enough for Lupin. He continued, "I've converted one of the old storerooms into a flat; would you like to see?"

"Of course," Percy said, finding his voice again. He followed Lupin mechanically through the aisles, feeling very strange. The only gifts he had ever received were jumpers and sweets from his parents. And he had always loved books—the feeling of being given one was ineffable.

"It's not much," Lupin was talking again, "but it's…well, I suppose it's Home now." The way he said the word was almost reverent, Percy noted—as if Lupin had never before given the name to the place where he lived. Percy wondered, for a moment, if that were true.

"But it's got a kitchenette," Lupin continued, pointing to the left, "and a toilet through that door." He shrugged and waved at the other side of the flat where a bed, wardrobe, table and reading nook were set up by the fireplace. "The rest I kind of just crammed in here."

"I like it," Percy said slowly. True, it was small and a bit cramped, but it was nothing like the Burrow with frivolous things lying about. It was minimalist, and yet, still…cosy. Definitely a place where the word 'home' fit.

Suddenly, Percy felt very awkward in the room. His fingers flexed and shook around the book he was still holding and his heart-rate sped up slightly. He had to get out of there—he needed to—"I have to go, Mr Lupin," he said, checking his watch to give his excuse some weight. "I need to get back to work."

Strange that Lupin seemed a bit disappointed to hear it. "Oh, well I'm glad you've come by. I hope you'll stop by again when we're open. It was lovely having you."

"It's a wonderful shop," Percy said. "I'm sure you'll find me in here from time to time, Mr Lupin."

"Remus," Lupin gently chided. "Surely we're friends by now. Friends call each other by their first names."

Did they? Percy wondered. He had never known that—never had the opportunity to know it, as it were. "Remus, then," he said hesitantly. He worried that it would feel disrespectful—maybe blasphemous—coming from his mouth, but it didn't, and the shaking, which had lessened slightly, returned fully.

"Thank you—for the tour—and the book…Remus," he said quickly, backing out of the room. Remus smiled at him from the middle of the flat—almost within arms' reach of both the bed and the kitchen—and watched him let himself out.

"You're welcome," Remus said, and then Percy closed the door to the shop behind him, and felt the stinging onslaught of winter hit him full in the face.

-x-

Two weeks passed, and Percy was still suffering from his symptoms—symptoms of what, he didn't know, but he did know that he constantly shook with anxiety every time he saw his father or heard Remus' name mentioned. Remus was mentioned quite a bit more than Percy would have ever expected. Or liked.

The new book shop in Hogsmeade was an instant success. Children were writing home to their parents exclaiming about all the muggle books they had never heard of before and all of the back-issues of Quidditch publications that Mr Lupin carried—used, of course. It seemed that Quality Quidditch only stocked current issues.

But the problem with all of that was that the parents were coming to work and chatting about how wonderful it was that their children were reading and 'wasn't that Mr Lupin a fine fellow, finding a way to interest the kids without sweets and pranks?' Not a day went by where Percy didn't hear something or other about Remus' shop.

Even from his father; especially from his father, who found the Muggle Classics section within moments of visiting the shop for the first time.

Percy sighed, decided that he wasn't going to get any work done that day—or any day at all until all the hullabaloo died down—and pulled out the book Remus had given him.

By lunch time, he was almost half-way finished with the huge book of stories, and he had to admit that the three stories revolving around the boy, Mowgli, who had been raised by wolves, were his favourite. Unfortunately, he was hungry, and he had been craving curry every day since the night Lupin brought him some.

He stepped out of his office, glad that Mr Mullins had taken a three week sabbatical—on account of either his sister or mother-in-law's tragic death in a house fire or a bad reaction to peanuts—and strolled out of the Ministry. 

It wasn't until he actually made it to the curry shop that Percy reckoned Lupin might like some too, and it was the least he could do, anyway, since Lupin had brought him some before. So Percy picked up two curries, a couple of muggle soda drinks, and apparated to Hogsmeade from a deserted alley.

Even though it wasn't the weekend, the town was full of witches and wizards trying to get their Christmas shopping done early. He made it through the crowded street easily enough, not even noticed by most of the frantic shoppers, and smiled to himself as he eased the door open at Remus' shop.

The smile quickly vanished when he noticed what was happening. 

It seemed that he wouldn't be having a nice quiet lunch with his new friend after all; the shop was absolutely crammed full of people, and Remus, behind the register was looking rather harried, if still pleasant.

"I'll be with you in just a moment, Mrs Gillywood," Remus was shouting over the den of noise. "Let me just finish up with this young lad's purchases." The lad in question was about six or seven and absolutely loaded down with various muggle literatures. He looked quite pleased with himself as Remus rang him up.

Percy wound his way through the crowd to the register and gave Remus a little wave when he looked up long enough to notice him.

"Percy," Remus said with a smile. "Bit busy…give me a moment and I'll be with you, alright?"

Percy opened his mouth to respond, but Mrs Gillywood beat him to it.

"Mr Lupin, I'm on a tight schedule here," she said, tapping her wrist in emphasis. Remus gave her an apologetic smile—just like him: apologizing for things he couldn't help. "These books won't find themselves," she added.

"What was it you were looking for?" Percy asked.

Gillywood looked him up and down, finally deciding that he was at least partially worthy of her attention. "My grandson has his heart set on a series of muggle sy-ants fiction, or something or another."

"Science fiction?" Percy offered.

Mrs Gillywood gave him a hard stare.

"What's the series called?" Percy asked quickly.

"Disc World," Mrs Gillywood said, voice clipped.

"Oh!" Percy said, turning quickly. He looked over his shoulder and said, "Those are over here," and made his way quickly through the crowds. He had seen the books several weeks ago when Remus showed him around the shop.

"Alpha by author," Percy explained when Mrs Gillwood caught up. She was a good bit faster than Percy would have expected. "Under P…Here you go." He pointed to a row devoted entirely to that author and clarified, "All of these books are from the Discworld series. A bit like a mini-series. Not necessarily prequels and sequels, so you can pick and chose."

Mrs Gillywood looked at him sharply for several seconds and then declared, "Thank you, young man. You've been a tremendous help." She then emphasized this by choosing ten books from the series at random and shoving her way back to the counter.

Percy followed her, hoping to find a nice out-of-the-way place to wait for Remus' crowd to diminish, but was stopped by a hand on his shoulder. 

"Do you work here, young man?" a balding wizard asked. "I'm looking for a replacement copy of Advanced Arithmancy: Numbers Don't Lie for my nephew," he added before Percy could answer. "And my wife wants that new that new Lockhart book, So You've Been Badly Obliviated, Now What? –Where would I find those?"

And that was how Percy, three hours later, found himself slumping against the counter. Mrs Hunchpunch had dragged him around for nearly twenty minutes, looking for obscure book after obscure book, and Percy sighed as he watched the door shut behind her. The bookshop was empty.

"Thank you," Remus said tiredly as he shut the cash drawer. "It's been like that all week. Honestly, I wasn't expecting so much business. I reckon I'll have to hire an assistant." He gave a great sigh, leaned against the counter next to Percy, and added, "What's this, then?"

Percy, exhausted, rolled his head to see what Remus was gesturing at. "Oh! The curry. I brought curry for lunch…thought you might like some."

"Really?" Remus asked enthusiastically. "You didn't have to do that."

Percy shrugged. "It's probably cold by now." And indeed, the curry was cold, but he was hungrier than he had been in a long time, and Remus appeared to be so as well. They dug in heartily, making small talk, until Percy realized that three hours had actually past since he left for lunch.

"Mr Mullins is going to kill me!" he exclaimed.

"Isn't he taking time off for the death of his squib niece? I heard she was in a muggle rehabilitation centre for substance overdose."

Percy wondered how Mullins got away with all of it.

"No, his sister's mother-in-law was poisoned with peanuts on a muggle cruise and drowned," he explained.

"Terrible business," Remus said, trying to hide his smile.

And Percy couldn't help it: he laughed. "Just terrible," he agreed, still laughing. 

It was once they both sobered of their snickering that the awkward silence settled in. Remus was looking at Percy with such a peculiar expression that he could feel the perfunctory shivers starting to set in and hoped that he wasn't about to have an attack of anxiety—it was only that these shivers felt so different from the ones he experienced around his family.

"Are you going to spend time with your family next Tuesday?" Remus asked after clearing his throat.

Next Tuesday? Percy wondered. What was—"Christmas," he said flatly. "I really don't think I'd be welcome," he added, wondering why he felt the need to explain.

Remus frowned. "I'm sure that you would be."

Percy shook his head. "No—I can tell. Ron and Ginny and the twins especially won't like it. And I'm sure my mother's gotten over it by now. I haven't spent Christmas with them in four years."

Remus hummed. "Well, I think you should give it a bit of thought. Merlin knows if I had a family of my own, I'd be spending it with them—" he trailed off, seemingly embarrassed by his confession, and Percy felt himself blush, not knowing why.

Percy cleared his throat. "I should be going," he said, standing. "Thanks for lunch."

"You bought it," Remus said, bewildered.

"Oh—I meant, well…thanks for having lunch with me?" Percy blushed again. Stupid, Percy, stupid! What had he been thinking?

But Remus only grinned, and what a grin it was. "Anytime, Percy. Bye."

"Bye…Remus," Percy said, and he grinned, too.

As he was walking out the door, Percy realised that he today had been the most enjoyable day he'd had in years.

-x-

It was a week later, on Christmas Eve, that Percy was stopped by the lifts on his way home. It was Mullins, carrying a stack of files and looking ruffled who grabbed him by the shoulder and gave him a pleading look. 

"Weatherby," Mullins begged, watery eyes pleading. "These files are due on Boxing Day and my mother's in hospital. I simply don't have time to finish them. Could you?"

Percy twisted his lips sardonically. "No…sir."

Mullins was taken aback. His moustache twitched. "What?"

"I can't," Percy said firmly. "That report wasn't assigned to me and I have plans. I'm sorry," he added.

The stack of files shifted in Mullins' arms. "Weatherby," Mullins said, a bit more sharply, "this is a very important report, and the Minister needs it on his desk in two days. It is imperative that it be completed, and as you have no family—"

That caused an odd sort of stirring in Percy's stomach and his irritation morphed quickly into anger. "I have a family," Percy said caustically. "The Weasley family. My name's Weasley not Weatherby—as in Arthur Weasley's third son." 

Mullins laughed sharply and shifted the files in his arms again to free up a hand. He patted Percy on the shoulder patronisingly and chuckled again. "Even better! The stack on top needs to be delivered to Arthur tonight. You'll already know where to go!"

With that, the files were transferred into Percy's unprepared hands, and Mullins was gone. As Percy stooped to gather up all the scattered papers from the floor, he realised that it had been over four years since he had been to the Burrow.

-x-

The house was lit up like a Christmas tree, which was probably appropriate, but to Percy—who hadn't even bothered to put garland on his mantle the past four years—it seemed gaudy. Overdone. He hated it.

It had started snowing again some time before he left the Ministry, and he was loathe to stand out in the cold any longer than he had to. Percy sighed and trudged up to the door.

"Hello?" he called. He could hear Celestina Warbeck's annual Christmas concert on the wireless and the sounds of one huge family all excitedly laughing and talking inside. No one responded. "Hello?" he tried again.

Percy frowned and wrapped his cloak tighter around himself. His hair was getting wet from the snow and he certainly didn't need to catch cold now. It was a busy time of year at the Ministry: he couldn't afford to take a sick day.

Quietly, he tested the door, found it unlocked—typical: everyone was so complacent in these post-war days—and slipped inside. The house smelled just as he remembered the last time he had been there for Christmas: sickeningly sweet from mulled wine and apple cider with an undertone of…wool.

He grimaced as he walked through the entry hall, ducking his head under the suspicious gazes of his brothers and sister in photos, and turning away from the hopeful looks in the pictures of his mother. Just seeing the family photos was twisting something strange in his belly and making him want to stay—making him wish, with a small part of himself, that he was still really part of this family and not some estranged red-headed step-child type of person. Being back at the Burrow felt…warm.

He hoped that maybe he could just make it to the kitchen, leave the papers for his father on the table, and get out before anyone noticed. Everyone seemed to be in the family room.

Percy shut his eyes briefly. His parents had been constantly asking him over for dinner since he was transferred to Magical Creatures. They had invited him for Christmas. He would be welcome—maybe he could stay for a little while. 

It didn't really matter that neither of his parents really knew him or that his siblings didn't really like him. They didn't have to like him—he was family: they loved him, unconditionally. He thought so, anyway. And his parents had seven children: there was no way that they could remember his favourite foods and the ones he hated, was there? Or even his ambitions or desires?

Maybe he could even floo Remus and see if he would like to join them: his family liked Remus; he would certainly be welcome too. Percy smiled to himself and forgot about his wet clothes and wet hair. His mother would have something warm for him to wear anyway—even if it was something old of Bill's or Charlie's.

The kitchen was empty, as he had expected, and Percy carefully set the files Mullins said his father needed on the table, making sure they were all in order, and looked around. The kitchen was just as cluttered as he remembered it, but even though he liked everything neat, tidy and minimal, it felt like home. 

He hadn't brought any gifts with him, but that was okay. Everyone would understand. Percy felt amazing: he was home and when he stepped into the family room, everyone would go quiet for a moment, and then his mother would jump up excitedly and hug him until he couldn't breathe anymore. 

His father would clap him on the back, and while Ron, Ginny and the twins might purse their lips and stare at him quietly, he was sure he would at least get a friendly smile from Bill and Charlie.

Just as he was about to greet his family, the kitchen door opened. Percy faltered, suddenly unsure all over again. And then Potter stepped in, (saying something unfortunate and every one of the Weasleys that followed him in laughed because they all shared the same, droll sort of sense of humour and they reckoned it was pretty witty) followed by Fred, George, Hermione, Ron and Ginny. They all had huge, laughing smiles on their faces, and they were bantering back and forth as they marched in, until Potter saw him, and stopped. 

"What are you doing here?" Fred said, not entirely unkindly, but certainly not as pleasantly as Percy would have liked. He had no idea what to say.

Percy opened his mouth ineffectually.

"Percy?" Ron asked, shocked. "What the bloody hell?"

"If you've just come to say something awful to Mum," Ginny broke in angrily.

"I haven't!" Percy said quickly. George snorted, and he ignored him. "Honestly," he continued, gesturing to the stack of papers on the kitchen table. "Mr Mullins from the Department of Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures asked me to drop these files by for Dad, and—"

"So you were, what," Fred interrupted, waving his hand around, "going to steal a pot or two on your way out?"

"No!" Percy said indignantly. Honestly, that wasn't even logical. "I was about to—"

"Flat still a bit empty?" George asked. "Need some more cookware?"

"Of course not," Percy said, confused. "My flat's fine."

"So you just want to rub it in that you're making all sorts of money at the Ministry, do you?" Ron asked. "Humiliate Dad?"

"What? No! Ron, that's not it at all, I—"

"Let him talk," Potter said very quietly. He looked over at him quickly, surprised that he had gotten into this at all, but thankful just the same—it was just so out of character for Potter though, and—

"I just wanted to say hello," Percy pleaded in the following silence. "To Mum and Dad."

"What's going on in there?" his mother called from the other room. Everyone turned to look at the door that led into the family room and then back to Percy. 

"Nothing, Mum!" Ginny yelled over her shoulder.

"Please," Percy repeated. Hermione's eyes fell to the floor and Ginny was looking at him in a peculiar way. Fred and George, who Percy wouldn't be surprised to find out were having a mental conversation, seemed to decide that it was alright, and stepped back away from the door. Ron stared at him, going through every moment he had ever considered a betrayal on Percy's part and checking them off in his head. He was the last to step aside, but he did just the same, and that meant a lot to Percy.

Nodding once in thanks, Percy took a deep breath and opened the door. The smell of cloves and cinnamon hit his nose and he realised that his mother and father, along with Bill, Fleur and Charlie, were drinking Molly's famous mulled wine. Percy remembered being allowed to have some when he turned sixteen—he'd tried every year since moving out to make his own, but it never came out like Mum's did.

Celestina Warbeck crooned on the radio and his mum giggled to something his father had whispered in her ear. Percy cleared his throat roughly.

"Sweet Merlin," Bill said—his face was still scarred, but judging by the bump on Fleur's belly, she didn't seem to mind. He was standing by now, and before Percy even realised it, his oldest brother was crushing him with the first hug he'd had in years.

"Percy?" his mum screeched, somewhere in all of the dizziness Percy was feeling. "Percy!" Thousands of arms wound their way around Percy's body and he wouldn't have known whose were whose if he wasn't able to remember the rustic musky smell of Charlie, or his dad's clean aftershave or the horrid apple-cinnamon smell that overwhelmed his mum and reminded him of all the foods he hated but of all the smells he loved.

He was pushed down onto the thousand-times-repaired sofa, squished between his mother and the armrest. His father sat on the other side of her, leaning over to catch every word said and standing out in stark contrast to the lime green patches on the couch—which had never been much of a good colour for redheads.

"Oh, Percy," Mum said, dabbing her eyes. "I've missed—we've missed you so much. Oh, I've got presents for you for the last four years; I knew—I just knew--you'd come back someday soon, and now you're here!"

She looked up momentarily and Percy saw that everyone else had come in from the kitchen and was watching them from the doorway. "Ron, bring Percy his presents. will you?"

"Oh—Mum," Percy said, suddenly horrified, "I didn't bring any presents."

She gave him one of those heartbreaking smiles—"You're present enough." And then Ron was there with four garishly wrapped boxes. The first three were jumpers, as usual, but as he unwrapped everything in chronological order, he noticed that with every passing year, the jumpers became more desperately complex. More time spent on each of them with every passing year. More detail added. More flourish in the 'P' on the front. Percy felt his throat close up.

"This one is for this year," his father said, still leaning over his mum and handing him the last box. Percy tried to smile, but in truth, he wasn't sure if he would be able to handle it if this jumper was cashmere or something equally expensive and desperate.

It wasn't. It wasn't a jumper at all. He looked up, and everyone was looking back at him—even Potter, who had a sad smile on his face—and Hermione, who was looking quite excited. Ron sat next to Ginny on the floor, face blank, but at least he wasn't scowling.

"I found it at Remus' shop," his father babbled happily, uncertainly. "And with my promotion to Magical Creatures this year, we were able to afford it...since we know how much you love to read. Ron helped pick it out, and your mum thought it was perfect, so we skipped the jumper this year—"

Percy didn't know how to feel about that. It was a small muggle book with two bears on the front—a baby bear and an androgynous parent bear. Stuck between laughter, indignation and curiosity, Percy opened it to the front page.

I am your parent;
you are my child. 
I am your quiet place; 
you are my wild.

Percy turned the page.

I am your water wings;
you are my deep.
I am your open arms;
you are my running leap.

And turned. 

I am your dinner; 
you are my chocolate cake. 
I am your bedtime; 
you are my wide awake.

And turned, and he had read so quickly, he found himself at the end of the book. On the last page, he felt himself shaking—a completely different kind of shaking from what he was used to. Percy realised that he was crying, and he certainly hadn't cried since he was a little boy in wet nappies.

I am your lullaby;
you are my peekaboo.
I am your good-night kiss;
you are my 
I love you.

Suddenly, Percy became acutely aware of the reality of his family, and that was that they didn't understand a damned thing about him—especially when it came to what he liked to eat—but that didn't matter to them because they still understood him completely. 

"I have to go," Percy said, standing abruptly. He scanned the room frantically: Bill and Fleur smiled softly at him; Charlie was quiet, like usual; Potter and Hermione looked uncomfortable, but Ron looked sad, and so did Ginny and so did the twins and—

So did his mother, who looked like she was about to cry again, but his father looked proud of him, and he reckoned that, maybe, his father understood him the most after all.

"Happy Christmas, Percy," Arthur said.

Percy gathered his presents reverently, paying special attention to the book to make sure he didn't bend any of the pages, and he was almost to the door when—

"Thank you for bringing the files by, Percy." That was his father again.

"What?" Percy asked, taken aback. "I didn't tell you about the files."

"I know," his father said softly. And that was the last thing Percy heard before rushing out the door into the freezing snow and wondering where the hell he'd left his scarf. Percy closed his eyes tightly, ignored the snow landing on his face like those atom bombs he read about in Muggle Studies, and disapparated.

-x-

Remus lived in the small, one room flat—the one that used to be a storage room behind the bookshop but now stored nothing, save for Remus' bed, an icebox, a couple well-worn armchairs and Remus himself. There was a fireplace against one wall because it was a wizard-made building and every wizard-made building had a fireplace unless zoning ordinances were particularly contrary, so it didn't say much that there was one.

And Remus was sitting in a chintz chair—but the chintz had embroidered blood dripping from all the thorny flowers and Percy suspected it had been salvaged from Grimmauld Place—with his feet curled under his thighs, a muggle book in his hand and a look on his face as he stared into the fire that said, quite clearly: "It's Christmas, you know, but this is all the same to me."

Percy's belly clenched painfully at the thought and he did his best to stomach the gnawing feeling that chewed through his midsection as he looked around the room. In that moment—the bit before Remus looked up from his book, smiled widely and offered Percy tea—Percy realised that Remus was the ultimate allegory for nothing and everything and that if Einstein had been round right then, he would have put more stock in paradoxes.

There was a tiny Christmas tree, sparsely decorated with a bit of tinsel and fairy lights, twinkling across the room. It smelled like pine and mulled wine, but no apple cider. Remus didn't like apples either, and it wasn't the Burrow, but it was warm and clean and Percy realised that he liked this place, too.

"Hi," he said awkwardly. Remus looked up from his book and smiled at him. Percy adjusted his glasses because he was feeling fidgety.

"Hello, Percy," he said, marking his page and standing up to shake his hand. "I wasn't expecting to see you today."

Percy ignored that, his eye once again catching on the tiny little Christmas tree in the corner. "Have you eaten?" he asked quickly. "I could get some things from the flat and make something. It won't be turkey and dressing or Yorkshire puddings, but I think I've got potatoes and chicken," he added.

Remus laughed. "I've got left-over curry in the ice-box," he said, motioning to the little kitchen.

Percy loved curry. "I went to see my family," he said instead, not looking at Remus and talking very quickly. "And it wasn't so bad, really—Ron and Ginny and the twins were a little unsure at first but then—and Mr Mullins tricked me into going; I think my father set it up—he wouldn't do th—but then my mother was so happy to see me and—it's just been so long since I've seen her, only—only, I didn't get a jumper this year:"

He paused, realizing that nothing he'd said had made much sense. No matter because—carefully, shaking, Percy pulled the book from within his cloak and held it out to Remus. "They bought me this; from your shop, you know—did you know?"

Remus looked at the book, a small smile forming on his lips. "You know all of my muggle books are used, don't you?"

"Of course," Percy said, but what did that have to do with—

"My mother was a muggle," Remus continued. "She read this book to me when I was young."

That was such a strange thing to hear—that the book Percy received for Christmas had once been Remus' when he was a child. It felt like something important to Percy, and Percy had always—usually—been good at judging when things were important or—he was shaking and—

He kissed him (because it seemed like the right thing to do right then and who was Percy to deny his instincts?) and Remus staggered back, shocked, but Percy followed him, wrapping his arms tightly around his waist.

And eventually, Remus reckoned that he figured out what was going on because he opened his mouth slightly for Percy's tongue to find its way in, and that's when Percy figured out what all those shy looks had been about. The book dropped to the floor.

Percy hadn't kissed anyone since Harry, but before that only Penelope Clearwater in seventh year, but that had only been the one time because Ginny had walked in on him and he'd felt so ashamed that—what the devil was he doing?

Percy pulled back and ran. The book remained on the floor.

-x-

The first day of the year was a Tuesday, and the only two people in the Ministry were Percy and his father. Which Percy hadn't expected one bit when he decided that he needed to get away from his flat that morning.

"Everyone was pleased to see you last week," Arthur said, walking behind him. Percy stood still and motionless, feeling caged and liberated all at once. He turned around.

"Thank you for the presents," Percy said, voice hoarse. He couldn't bring himself to tell him that the one he'd liked most, the book that he would have loved to have had as a child, was probably still sitting on the floor in Remus' tiny flat because he was too frightened to go back and—

His father smiled and glanced up, looking so much wiser in that moment than in any other time Percy had ever seen him. "I know," Arthur started slowly, still looking at the ceiling, "that sometimes you don't think that we understand you, and that sometimes you feel like you're just another Weasley to everyone else, but—"

He paused and gave Percy one of those smiles he used to give him when he was reading him bedtime stories.

"But, Percy, you don't have to understand someone to love them. It's been four years since we've really seen you," he continued, hands in his pocket, "and every one of us would love nothing more than the opportunity to get to know you better. You grew up so much faster than the others, and your mother and I didn't have time to catch up with you.

"You don't have to visit every other day if it doesn’t fit your schedule, but if your flat ever feels too empty…just remember that the Burrow never is."

Then, he stepped forward, gave Percy a tight hug, which Percy was too stunned not to return, and walked away.

"Don't you have work to do here today?" Percy shouted—he never shouted—after him. Arthur paused, turning.

"No," he said. "I just knew you would be here today." He stopped, thinking, then added, "Isn't there anywhere else you'd rather be?"

And then he was gone. Percy stared at the spot where his father had been, still feeling the strange sensations of being hugged and had only one thought: "You know me too well, Dad."

His glasses slipped down his nose and Percy reached to adjust them, but when the office around him came back into focus, he wished it hadn't. He hated this place; hated it because his father hadn't wanted him to work there to begin with—had always said that he should just get a bit of work experience there and then move on to something he loved, something that was worthy of him, and then Percy had fought back and said that Mr Crouch was offering a wonderful oppor—

Mr Crouch wasn't around anymore, but Percy was, and that just didn't make any sense at all. 

Mr Mullins' office door was open. Percy grabbed a sheet of parchment from his desk and went inside.

-x-

Mowgli Books was closed for the day, but Percy bypassed the door and flooed straight into Remus' flat in the back. He didn't think he would mind because they were friends, after all, and friends—

Were not supposed to floo in unannounced, Percy remembered from his business etiquette seminar, because they might floo into situations like this where—

"Percy!" Remus squeaked, trying to cover himself up. He was just stepping out of the shower, steam billowing into the room behind him.

"Sorry!" Percy yelped. Stupid, Percy, stupid! He hurried to look elsewhere while Remus scrambled for cover, but his eyes kept drifting back to his naked form—scarred and scratched but the muscles were taut, undulating as he moved and—Percy's eyes flickered back guiltily over and over.

He started shaking like he had that first time and the second and third time he'd seen Remus, but this time is was so bad his entire body trembled from head to toe. Wet hair plastered to his forehead, towel ripped and showing bits of skin every time he turned—Percy whimpered.

"What?" Remus said, turning. He had shorts on now at least.

Percy's throat closed up. He had been so stupid last time he saw Remus, but he wasn't sure if he'd been stupid for kissing him or for running away afterwards. He should apologize, but—no. Percy had never been an apology type of person.

"I'm not sorry," he said instead. Remus looked at him, uncomprehending. "For kissing you last week. I'm not sorry."

Remus stuttered, blushing a lovely shade of pink and looking away. 

"In fact," Percy continued, tone professional, "I want to do it again." So he did, and this time Remus didn't stagger back at all except to pull Percy on the bed with him. And that was the beauty of small flats, Percy realised right then, because they had just been standing by the fireplace and now they were on the bed.

He landed roughly on top of the werewolf, images of him and Potter doing similar things flashing through his mind but not nearly as wonderful as what he was feeling right now—Remus' lips were on his again, nipping and biting in a desperate animalistic way that Potter had not tried, but Percy liked a hell of a lot.

He was fully hard, his body pressing into Remus' and his fingers trailing up and down his scarred chest. Remus' hands gripped his waist, pulling him down even further and Percy moaned. Remus was just as hard as he was.

"I've wanted you for so long," Remus growled, suddenly flipping them over. Percy gasped as his back hit the bed. Remus' eyes were glowing wildly in the firelight and it was possibly the hottest thing he'd ever seen. He couldn't help it: he moaned, loudly—which was not his thing at all, but—he had to stop thinking

"Yeah?" Percy asked, voice breathless.

Remus didn't answer him: he just snarled again and slowly unbuttoned Percy's white shirt, bending his head to bite one of Percy's nipples once it was off. Percy arched up off the bed, not making a sound because he'd suddenly lost his voice.

Then a tongue was trailing down his stomach, interspersed with tiny, nipping bites and Percy's cock was so hard he thought he might die. His belly clenched in arousal and anticipation as the buttons on his trousers—the expensive ones Stop thinking!—were ripped away.

But Remus wasted no time. Percy was still thinking when he felt hot breath ghost across his cock. He stopped thinking right then, eyes automatically darting down to watch as Remus' tongue slipped out and lapped once all the way up his shaft.

"Oh god," Percy whimpered. "Don't stop."

Remus chuckled lowly, and didn't stop. Somehow, from somewhere, he pulled his wand and accio'd a bottle of lube from the bathroom. It landed with a smack in his outstretched hand just as his lips closed all the way around Percy's cock.

Percy moaned again, arching and writhing on the bed, unable to stop himself while Remus continued to work his cock like a professional. His legs were spread and his knees pushed up: Percy complied easily, knowing exactly what was coming next and so eager for it he thought he might burst.

A well lubricated finger slipped inside him, curling up and finding Percy's prostate on its second try. And that's when Percy screamed for the first time: he was unable to do anything but lay there writhing and rock himself back and forth on Remus' finger as Remus licked and sucked his cock, tongue slipping into the slit and teasing him every few strokes. Remus added a second finger, then a third, and then Percy couldn't wait any longer.

"Now," he huffed.

Remus scrambled up, applied a liberal amount of lube to his own cock and bent over Percy, breathing heavily. "You sure?" he asked. His voice was rough and throaty and the sexiest thing Percy had ever heard in his life.

Percy nodded quickly. "God, yes."

Remus chuckled again, and stared at him with those glowing eyes as he positioned himself above Percy. He eased in slowly, watching Percy's face for a reaction, but Percy was beyond ready, and had never been a very patient person to begin with.

He pushed himself down on Remus's cock, loving the sharp intake of breath from the man above him, and threw his head back. Remus' cock was heavy and thick inside him and as he slowly withdrew and pushed back in, Percy moaned loudly.

Remus gained confidence quickly enough, and soon he was pounding into Percy fast, head bent down and breath huffing out of his lungs with every single thrust. Percy pulled his legs up and wrapped them around Remus' waist for a better angle and Remus whimpered, thrusting even faster.

"Oh, god," he moaned. Percy couldn't agree more. He was so close already.

He remembered his own neglected cock and slithered his hand down to wrap around it. The sight of it made Remus moan again. He sped up even more, groaning when Percy's thumb pressed against his slit, spreading the pre-come all over his cock before pumping himself quickly.

"So hot," Remus grunted. Percy moaned, speeding up. 

"Oh, god, I'm going to—"

"Come for me," Remus growled, thrusting into him hard and fast.

Percy jerked himself quickly two more times and then arched off the bed, head thrown back as he shot thick spurts of hot white come all over himself and Remus. The sight of it was all that Remus could handle, and he pumped into Percy one more time before stilling and emptying himself inside him.

Remus collapsed on top of Percy, even wetter than he was before, breathing heavily. After several moments, he rolled off to lay on his side, pulling Percy up against him.

"I need a job," Percy said some minutes later. He'd never been very good at pillow talk.

"I'm sorry, what?" Remus said awkwardly. He sounded dazed, and Percy had to admit he still felt a little dazed himself. That had been amazing. "I thought I just heard you say you needed a job."

Percy sighed and unwrapped himself from Remus so he could roll over and face him. "I did," he said. "I quit the Ministry."

Remus' eyebrows arched up in amusement. "So you had sex with me to secure a position?"

Percy laughed, which didn't happen often, but when it did, was usually due to something Remus had said. "No," he said, blushing. "But I wouldn't mind working here." He couldn't help the hopefulness that floated into his voice.

Remus sat up and put his hand on Percy's sweaty forehead, frowning in mock concern. "Are you feeling well?"

Percy thought of all the symptoms he'd been experiencing lately. They were suspiciously gone now. "I'm fine," Percy said. "I think I've just begun to understand myself."

Fin.