When the war ends, nothing else does.
It’s a funny feeling. Percy has spent months dutifully supporting the Ministry, and obeying the orders of his superiors, but when the time comes for the battle, he’s among the first to stand with the Order and raise his wand.
And it might be easy to forget it all as he flings hexes and raises shields and duels the Minister himself. It might be easy to forget the time he spent — the choices he made — before.
But then the battle ends, and as Percy moves to stand with his family and grieve over his brother, his choices catch up to him. A fellow secretary steps in front of him, and seizes him in an iron grip.
“What are you doing, Weasley?”
“My family — my brother — ”
The secretary tightens his grip. “You can’t. We have to get rid of it. The evidence.”
Percy wrenches his arm free. “My brother is dead, do you understand what — ”
“You’ll be dead too, idiot. You’re the junior secretary to the Minister himself. You think they’re going to give you a pat on the head and tell you of course you were under duress, of course you were planning to leave at any minute?”
Percy stops. He glances ahead to his family, standing around Fred’s body, mourning. He should be there. He should be standing with them.
“I...I need a moment,” he says stiffly. “My family, I — ”
“There’s no time. The Order will be sending their trusted Aurors to ransack the Ministry and collect evidence against Voldemort’s supporters and those who helped them.”
“I never helped them!”
The secretary sneers at him. “If that helps you sleeps better at night. You can stay here and wait for them to sign your death warrant, then. Might want to say goodbye to your family. Shame they’ll lose two sons.” He Disapparates, vanishing easily through the shattered wards of Hogwarts. Percy gazes at the broken magic, gathering in glittering remnants around the silent crowds. He studied those wards at Hogwarts when he was a little boy. He’d been impressed by them. Ancient wards, centuries old. They have never broken, Professor Flitwick had said fondly and with great confidence, and they will never break.
Of course, that was ten years ago.
Before the war.
The Ministry is in an uproar. Percy had expected to find silent halls and empty rooms, but it’s crowded chaos. Ministry officials are rushing through the corridors with armfuls of memos. Papers are scattering through the air like dead leaves. People are urgently rifling through their desks, shouting to their secretaries. There’s an air of intense panic.
“The lists, you dolt! The lists, the names — get rid of it, get rid of it all — ”
“Umbridge’s registers, they need to be destroyed immediately — ”
“Destroy all copies of my memo about trialing the new Magical Purity Selections Process!”
The acrid smell of smoke curls through the hallways. Burned bits of paper float through the air like grey snowflakes. The shouted spells bound and echo through the Ministry: Incendio! Incendio! Incendio!
Percy goes to his desk in a daze and pulls open the first drawer. Memos spill out, each one ready to be delivered. He’d neatly organised these papers just yesterday, so they were ready to deliver first thing in the morning. He stares down at the ledger on his desk. The quills he’d lined up so straight. The freshly-filled inkwell. He remembers doing these things yesterday and yet it feels like decades ago. After a pause, he picks up the ledger. It’s the Minister’s calendar, of sorts. Percy, always efficient and methodical, had filled out each appointment in minute detail. Ten o’clock Tuesday, tour of new processing facility. Noon, review of blueprint for Yorkshire conservation project.
“What are you doing? Don’t just stand there! The Aurors are already here!”
Percy glances up. The senior secretary is there, red-faced and huffing as he casts Incendio after Incendio. Percy gazes at him, then hesitantly collects the letters.
“For Merlin’s sake, Weasley! Heads will roll, d’you understand? Yours included!” The man lifts his wand.
“No, I’ve got it,” Percy says quickly, and swishes his wand. The letters and ledger vanish in a moment. He opens the second drawer, where the little folders are neatly stacked, and swishes his wand again. Opposite him, the secretary works feverishly, upending his drawers and setting fire to it all. Far below, down the stairwells, come calls of terror and shouts of dismay. The Aurors are storming the building.
“Weasley!” The senior secretary grasps Percy’s arm hard enough to bruise. “The wands!”
“The wands, you fool! Help me get rid of the confiscated wands!”
“We can’t destroy those,” Percy says uncertainly. “It’s a criminal offence to destroy a wand, even one of a convicted criminal — ”
“Merlin, you really are blind as a Flobberworm, aren’t you? And twice as stupid. They liked to say you were always smart but never clever. Help me destroy those damn things or they’ll trace them all back to their owners!”
“Who? The magical offenders in the processing facilities?” Percy asks blankly.
“No, you idiot. The Mudbloods. In a forest somewhere in Yorkshire, six feet under!”
Percy doesn’t move. After a moment, the senior secretary half-drags him into the abandoned filing room nearby. It’s where they keep the records, and the senior secretary grimly fires off his spells, leaving bright flames eating the papers and lists and photographs.
“Here,” he says, lifting a wooden chest. “Bottomless chest with a weightless charm. It’s too dense to burn. Take it somewhere — anywhere — toss it into a lake or ocean. Somewhere where the magical cores will quickly rot. Don’t Disapparate, they’ll trace you. Take one of the Minister’s emergency portkeys.” He fumbles in his pockets.
There’s the sound of loud footsteps, and voices calling out and shouting extinguishing spells. Percy can hardly see through the thick smoke.
“We know you’re in here, Perkins! Don’t move! Expelliarmus!”
Percy feels something cold and metal pressed into his palm, and moments later he’s breathing in cool air, crisp from a new morning, and standing on a hill tipped silver with frost. The fields stretch out before him, green and lush with spring rain. He stares down at the wooden chest in his arms. Ash coats his sleeves. There’s a long smear of soot down his wrist, and the more he stares at it, the more it seems to resemble a Dark Mark.
He looks up. There’s a small lake in the distance.
He gazes down again at the chest in his arms.
The trials seem to go on forever. Percy grows to hate the courtrooms. They always smell like stale air and paper and ink and ironed robes. People clear their throats, shifting uncomfortably. The squeak of a chair. Sometimes, someone quietly cries.
Percy comes very close to standing in the defendant’s box rather than the witness stand. The Aurors are certain he had to have known the extent of the war crimes — and even if hadn’t, ignorance is no excuse. They have photographs of him standing by the Minister’s side, applauding his speeches. Records of him delivering letters to officials who have since been proven corrupted. There is no doubt: Percy had supported Voldemort’s regime. Enabled it.
But, of course, leniency might be considered if Percy serves as a witness.
Percy does better than that. He produces all the letters, files, and the ledger he had Vanished from his desk and secretly retrieved later on. The Aurors are impressed. He is safe.
From them, at least.
Because then he has to stand as a witness. At McNair’s trial, he testifies that yes, he had seen McNair visiting the Minister’s office on several occasions. At Rook’s trial, he points out the memos he had been asked to send; memos with Rook’s signature. At Nott’s trial, he recalls several bold political statements Nott made in his presence.
They all hate him. Percy can tell. And they know him. The courts use illusion charms to protect his identity, but everyone knows. They look at him with undisguised hatred. He is a snitch, and there’s that popular saying: Snitches always get caught by the Seeker, one way or another.
He receives a few cursed letters, and poisoned gifts. Once, in Diagon Alley, he’s followed by a group of wizards who make it clear they’re simply waiting for the right moment. Percy moves out of the Burrow despite his mother’s dismay, and makes it public knowledge that he no longer lives there. The last thing he wants is his family getting attacked by proxy.
After the second incident — in which a hit-wizard tries to break into Percy’s room at the Leaky Cauldron — the Head Auror pays him a visit.
“There’s a few trials to go, Weasley,” he says matter-of-factly. “We’d prefer you to be alive when you testify. We’re moving you into our witness security program.”
Percy thinks he ought to be shocked, or anxious, or upset, but he only feels a little bit of resignation.
He hasn’t felt much since the war ended, really.
The safehouse is Muggle, which Percy didn’t expect. It’s a row of dreary flats, a little line of brown bricks and doors with scratched numbers, and a sign with a bland name: Brookside Rest or Lakeview Cottages or something like that. There’s never any lakes or brooks in places like that, of course. Just the distant roar of the motorway, and endless asphalt.
A Law Enforcement officer takes him to the safehouse. She’s dressed in Muggle clothes and stands close to him like they’re a couple. When Percy unlocks the door and steps inside, breathing in the stale air, she steps away from him and says, “Keep the illusion charms on, please. They’ll fade within an hour.”
“I hope you haven’t told anyone about your departure,” she adds with a hint of disapproval.
Percy tries not to think of his parents and their worried expressions. His siblings, still in mourning for Fred. He swallows the lump in his throat. “No. The rules stated — ”
“Ah, yes. I forget. You’ve always been very good at following rules, haven’t you? Obeying orders without thinking.”
Percy falls silent. The witch points to the kitchenette. “Muggle appliances. You’ll need to familiarise yourself with them. Memorise the documents we’ve given you. Listen up, Wheeler,” she says, and it takes Percy a moment to respond to the false name. “We went through this before, but let me emphasise it again. The British magical community is too small, too close, too connected for you to become anonymous there. You’ll need to join the Muggle world for a while. Stay in Britain while we still need you for the trials. Then, after that, you can go abroad and practise magic again.”
“Go abroad?” Percy repeats.
”It’ll be a very long time before you rejoin the British magical community. If ever.” The witch dumps a garbage bag of clothes onto the floor. “These are your new clothes. Don’t be stupid. Don’t draw attention to yourself. No cloaks, no robes, no wands. Practise writing your new name. We keep the initials and try to keep your new name similar to your old one, so if you start signing your old name, you do have a chance to catch it and correct yourself.”
Percy stares down at the bag of second-hand clothes. He doesn’t know how he’s supposed to wear cloaks or robes anyway, or cast spells. He was explicitly instructed to bring only himself, leaving all possessions behind, and they confiscated his wand the moment he signed the witness security contract.
“Do not be tempted to cast even a cleaning charm. Last month, we lost someone after they got sick of the Muggle trains and Disapparated instead.” The witch snaps her fingers loudly, making Percy jump. “We found bits of him over several counties. If someone wants you dead, they’ll find you unless you exercise all caution. And there are a lot of people who want you dead. A lot of very dangerous criminals and their families. You understand?”
The witch looks at him closely, then stands up. “Well. Stay here a month. We’ll move you after that.”
She leaves, shutting the door without a word.
The flat is small and smells like sun-warmed dust and disinfectant. Percy wishes he’d spent more time listening to his father’s excited chatter about Muggle items. He hadn’t been undertaking Muggle Studies for his exams, and therefore hadn’t been interested. He should have been interested, he thinks. He should’ve appreciated his father’s excitement for the subject, and listened to him talk.
He misses his father. He misses his mother. He misses his childhood bedroom, and practising spells with toy wands, and reading the Junior Wizard’s Encyclopaedia Set, and the gold stars he’d get for doing his chores. Percy’s my little helper, his mother used to say, and she’d defend him whenever his older brothers laughed at him and said he was a boring little know-it-all. He just wants to help, his mother would say. He just wants to feel useful.
Percy thinks about sitting at his desk in the Ministry. Delivering letters. Organising meetings. Pencilling in those neat little appointments. Ten o’clock Tuesday. Tour of processing facility.
He just wants to feel useful.
The shame hooks deep into his heart and drags it down.
The trials go on. Two years, the Aurors tell him. Two years. No magic. Assimilating into the Muggle world.
The Malfoys’ trials are saved for the last of the Death-Eaters. Percy hates those trials. It’s better when the Death Eaters are angry and bitter and glare at him. But Lucius Malfoy looks like a dead man walking, his shoulders collapsed with defeat, and he doesn’t defend his actions. Percy confirms that Lucius frequently met with the Minister, that he frequently and openly aired anti-Muggleborn sentiments, that he once tried to bribe Percy to hand over a register of Muggleborn children and their addresses. There are plenty of other witness statements about Lucius’s other crimes (and far more grievous too), but it’s hard not to feel bad somehow when Lucius Malfoy is given a life sentence in Azkaban.
Draco is the last of the family and the final Death Eater to be tried. Percy is yet again called to give evidence. A letter is produced, and he recognises it as a letter that he Vanished and later gave to the Aurors. It’s a list, sent from Umbridge to the Minister. It says, ‘List of Volunteer Student Inquisitors’. Could Percy confirm that Draco Malfoy’s name is listed?
And what were the duties of the student inquisitors?
To punish other students as they saw fit.
Is it true that Percy saw a memo, sent from Umbridge to the Minister, requesting authority for widespread use of the Cruciatus Curse in schools and other institutions?
Percy can feel the sweat prickling his skin, as though it’s him on trial. Draco Malfoy looks very small and young and afraid, sitting alone in the middle of the courtroom, his hands cuffed together.
Yes. It’s true.
They thank him for his time and send him away. He returns to the little flat in Wolverhampton without ever knowing how the trial concludes. He thinks of how he could see the little tail of the Dark Mark on Draco’s wrist, and thinks of his little brother Ron. The same age as Draco. He can’t imagine Ron with a Dark Mark.
He wonders if his family is watching the trials. He wonders what they think of him. He’s not allowed to contact them.
Two long, long years.
Do they think he’s a murderer too? He is, Percy thinks suddenly. He’s sure of it. He saw that memo. He wasn’t supposed to, but he saw it. And he’d come up with a million tidy little reasons at the time. Perhaps the use of the Cruciatus Curse in schools was meant for students to use against Death Eaters, in the event of a war. Perhaps it was meant for staff to use against possible enemies. Fred and George came home with tales, but Percy always thought they had overactive imaginations and they liked to tell fanciful stories, anyway.
Yes. Percy had always been good at that. Neat and tidy reasons. Everything in its place. Perfectly normal.
He just wants to feel useful.
Percy’s hand suddenly itches for a wand that is no longer there.
He’s visited the next day by a witch who checks his new identity documents and then gives him a dye kit.
“I’m sure you can do it yourself. Read the instructions. Did you read our booklet about Muggle dress codes?”
“New glasses.” She hands him a pair of very plain glasses with thin metal frames. Percy blinks down at them. He knows his old frames — horn-rimmed, with a tortoiseshell pattern — are somewhat distinctive, but...
”They’re very different to my old ones,” he says.
The witch pauses and looks at him. “That’s why it’s called a disguise,” she says very slowly, in a loud voice, and she makes Percy feel small and stupid and useless. “We’ll be back tonight to move you. The Malfoys are a high-profile trial, we want to make sure nobody’s traced you after your testimony.”
He dyes his hair and stands in the shower afterwards and watches the chemicals bleed from his hair and down the drain. It takes forever for the water to run clear.
When he gets out and looks at himself in the mirror, he hates it. His hair is mousy brown, and it looks all wrong. He doesn’t look like a Weasley anymore. When he puts on the jeans and blue t-shirt left for him, and then the plain spectacles, he looks like a stranger.
He stares at himself for a long time, and yet he still doesn’t see Percy Weasley.
He’s sent to the seaside, to live in Ayr. It’s a large town, busy yet nondescript, and a sizeable distance from any magical community. It’s nestled in the Scottish lowlands, hundreds of miles from Hogsmeade, and there’s no registered wizards living in the area. He lives in a two-bedroom terrace house that still has the faint smell of cigarette smoke from the last tenants. He wonders who they were, and if they were in witness security like him. Maybe they were just ordinary Muggles. Maybe it was a couple. Maybe it was a family.
He misses the smell of his mother’s perfume suddenly, even though she hasn’t worn it in years.
The Aurors advise him to get a job out of the public eye. No retail, no hospitality. This will be the long haul, they tell him. They’re still gathering evidence for a commission into Ministry corruption, and Percy will be a key witness. The commission is still at least a year away. ”This isn’t a holiday,” they tell him. “We’re not going to pay your way, not for two years.”
Percy has no skills, no experience, nothing in the Muggle world. He feels useless. He goes for long walks along the concrete piers and puts his face into the biting Scottish squalls just to feel the stinging air and sea spray. He watches the people around him. The delivery vans come and go, and the office workers hurry outside for smoke breaks. He can’t even do that; can’t do an office job despite years of training and administration experience. Can’t type on one of those fancy little Muggle machines. Can’t use a telephone. Can’t drive a car.
He jams his hands into his pockets, his hands still searching for a wand long gone.
In summer, the tourists come and go. They’re bright and cheery and sunburnt, and their optimism is almost annoying. They dive into the sea despite it being icy-cold, and pretend to enjoy it before hurriedly scurrying ashore again. They shoo the seagulls away from their chips, and wear thin clothes and say loudly, Isn’t this nice! even when they are shivering with cold. Summer never truly comes to Scotland.
One afternoon, Percy goes to the supermarket to buy another packet of hair dye. He hates watching the red roots slowly creep into his hair, knowing he’ll have to cover them up again so soon. He’s never allowed to have red hair.
He chooses brown again and goes to the counter. There’s a man in front of him, flustered and spilling coins everywhere.
“I’m sorry, I thought it was...how much? Ah. Right. The little — the round coins, is it?”
Percy picks up the coins and realises it’s a galleon. For a moment, panic seizes his heart. They’ve found him.
But when the man turns and sees Percy examining the galleon, he hurriedly snatches it from him. “Oh! That’s just — that’s a coin from, er, another country. Looks funny, doesn’t it? Anyway — ”
“Oliver Wood?” Percy says in amazement, and the man pauses and stares hard at him.
“Percy Weasley?” he says. “Merlin, I haven’t seen you in ages — ”
Percy drops the dye on the counter and flees, trying to remember what the Aurors told him about escaping possible sightings. Don’t draw attention to yourself, they said, and of course he just bolted from a shop, pushing customers out of the way. He ducks into a quiet side-court, where a curtain twitches and a man trimming a hedge pauses to glare at him suspiciously. No, no. The rules, they had the rules, and Percy just needs to make sure he follows them, and everything will be fine. Not a quiet place, somewhere busy. He goes to the end of the court and unlatches a garden gate, crossing a yard and climbing over the fence onto a busier road. Better. What next? Go to the busiest place and stay with the crowds. Do not attempt Disapparation. Do not attempt to go to a quiet or isolated location in order to perform magic.
He heads to the pier. The tourists are all there, surrounded by the squawking seagulls and screaming children. He walks slowly along the beach, his racing heart eventually calming as he picks up shells, pretending he’s just another beachcomber. There. He followed the rules, and now he’s fine. Everything is fine. After an hour, Percy turns and goes home in a roundabout way even though he knows Oliver has long since vanished.
He begins making himself a cup of tea to calm his nerves when there’s a knock on the door, and he glares at the kitchen wall where he knows it adjoins Mrs Campbell’s living room. Is she really going to make another noise complaint about him boiling his kettle?
Percy wrenches open the front door. “I hardly think,” he begins pompously, then stops.
“Fancy running into you here,” Oliver says cheerfully. “Didn’t know you lived in the area.”
“Did you follow me home?”
“What? No, of course not!” Oliver looks scandalised. “I asked the shop lady if you lived nearby, and she said ‘Oh, that sad scrawny lad? Yeah, he lives on Dalblair Court, number six — ”
Percy drags Oliver inside and slams the door shut.
Oliver blinks at him. “Er,” he says. “Anyway. Haven’t seen each other for ages, so I thought we might catch up. Though now that I’m sort of stuck in your house, thinking you’re acting quite weird, I’m rethinking my choices. So — ”
“Did you tell anyone where I am?”
“Yeah, I sent off half a dozen owls. Why?”
Percy panics for a moment; Oliver takes a step back.
“That was a joke. No, I haven’t told anyone where — ”
“You should leave,” Percy says. “I’m supposed to call the Aurors here to Obliviate you, because — ”
“Oh, are you in witness security too?” Oliver asks, all his alarm melting away. “And you got an entire terrace to yourself? Wow, that’s lucky. I got stuck in a Glasgow motel. Got a nice view of a concrete wall.”
Percy opens his mouth, then shuts it again. He tries again. “You’re in witness security?”
“Yeah. Merlin’s beard, it’s boring.”
“There’s others too? Here in Ayr?”
Oliver looks faintly guilty. “Well. Not to my knowledge. I didn’t come here to visit anyone. I’m just sick of my motel room,” he adds a little resentfully. “It’s small. And I wanted to see the seaside. So I caught the bus here, to Ayr.”
“You left your allocated area? Did you ask the Aurors first?”
Oliver looks at him blankly. “Why would I? They’d just say no. Paranoid, the lot of them. It’s a whole department of Moodys.”
Percy tries to find a reasonable response and finds himself utterly speechless. “You’re not supposed to do that,” he says at last. “It’s against the rules. And you told me your location! That’s the first rule they tell you!”
Oliver gives him a pitying look. “We’re not in school anymore, Percy. You always were one for obeying the rules, weren’t you?”
Percy suddenly thinks of the Auror witch and her expression of distaste. You’ve always been very good at following rules, haven’t you? Obeying orders without thinking.
Percy turns away, not wanting to see that same expression on Oliver’s face. “You ought to leave.”
“All right,” Oliver says easily. “Maybe I’ll come back next week, then. When you’re in a mood for receiving visitors.”
Percy gives him a sharp and angry look. “We’re not in school anymore,” he says, repeating Oliver’s words pointedly.
“What’s that mean?”
“Stop riling me up. It’s childish. You used to do that at Hogwarts. Putting my papers out of order, spilling my ink, hiding my perfect badge.”
Oliver just furrows his brow. “I wasn’t riling you up. Aren’t you lonely? I’m lonely and I’ve only been in the program for a week. I thought you might like company. We can reminisce about old times, all that rubbish.”
“It’s against the regulations. I should have called the Aurors already.”
“Yes, you said that.”
“Well, then,” Percy says stiffly, and he opens the door.
Oliver looks at him, then steps outside. He nods once. “See you later, then.”
“Bye.” Percy shuts the door and goes to the window, making sure Oliver leaves.
He should have called the Aurors, he thinks. It’s the rules.
Rules and regulations, orders and tasks. He thinks of his desk again. Staring down at it, just an hour after Voldemort’s defeat. The quills lined up. The letters, ready to send off to the corrupted officials and Voldemort’s little puppets.
He stares down at the window sill. There’s three glass candle-holders lined up neatly across it. He swipes his arm across them, bringing all three tumbling to the ground.
They shatter into pieces.
He spends the next week occupying himself with endless tasks. He gets a job as a cleaner at a commercial kitchen, and he thinks if his colleagues could see him now, they’d laugh and laugh. Percy Weasley, junior secretary to the Minister of Magic. Peter Wheeler, cleaner.
It’s honest work, he can hear his mother saying stoutly. It’s honest work, and that’s all that matters.
She always defended him.
Even when he didn’t deserve it.
That night, the tears prickle at his eyes, hot and uncomfortable, but he doesn’t let them fall.
He’s too old for tears.
Oliver visits again the next week, as he said he would. He’s always been like that, Percy thinks with annoyance. He remembers him from their Hogwarts years as being too stubborn for his own good. Oliver had always seemed the opposite of Percy. Too loud and obnoxious. Obsessed with Quidditch. Always up at five in the morning to do his training, and he’d just laugh loudly whenever Percy angrily told him off disturbing everyone else’s sleep.
But this Oliver seems a little quieter, and a little thinner, and speaks only of their Hogwarts days, and when he leaves, his footsteps are too soft, as though he’s spent too long hiding.
Percy wonders what the war did to him.
He’s too frightened to ask.
Oliver comes again the next week. It becomes like a little routine, with Oliver arriving for a cup of tea. They talk about their old times at Hogwarts, and Oliver talks too much about Quidditch, and Percy probably talks too much about their classes.
One week, Percy says abruptly, “Why are you in witness security? What did you do in the war?”
And Oliver’s face closes up. After a moment, he says lightly, “Let’s talk about other things. Better things.”
“Because I don’t want to talk about it,” Oliver snaps. “What about you, then? What did you do during the war?”
Percy looks down at his cup of tea, at the steam slowly rising from it. “I followed the rules,” he says. “And obeyed the orders.”
Oliver falls silent. Then he finishes his tea in one swift draft, and stands up. “I’d best be off,” he says, picking up his jumper.
Percy doesn’t farewell him. Oliver won’t come back, he thinks.
Which is fine.
But Oliver does come back the next week, and he doesn’t mention his last visit, and he complains about missing Quidditch, and pumpkin juice, and cauldrons. He complains about missing Reparo and Lumos and Alohomora.
“Incendio,” Percy says, staring down at his table-top, covered with cup rings and scratches. It’s secondhand. Not his. Nothing in this house is his, not even his identity. He went away, he thinks, and he left only himself behind.
“What?” Oliver glances up, pausing midway through a rant about how he never truly appreciated the gift of a well-placed heating charm until his wand was taken away.
“Incendio. The Ministry was filled with that spell. Ashes and cinders. All the papers burning in the hallways. Incendio. That’s all you could hear.”
“We had to burn all the evidence. Before the Aurors got there. Just after the battle. Just after my brother died. They made me go back to the Ministry and burn the evidence.”
“Merlin’s beard,” Oliver blurts out, his eyes wide. “And you did it? You burned it all?”
“I Vanished it. Got it back later. Gave it to the Aurors and agreed to testify against others. So I’d avoid criminal charges.” Percy still doesn’t look up at Oliver. “That’s why I’m here. In protection.”
Oliver gets up and Percy thinks he’s leaving. But he paces around for a long moment and finally stops by the window, gazing down at the street below, and then says, “Did you have access to registries?”
“They didn’t call them that. They called them Magical Offender Registries. For magic users who had misappropriated magic.” He sounds exactly like those official Ministry guidelines they sent each employee, Percy thinks with a wince. Telling them what to say if journalists wanted a statement. What to say, what to do. What to think.
“And you believed that?”
Percy drops his gaze to the table again. “Mostly,” he says at last.
“I think,” he says, and it’s a secret he kept buried for months after the war, “I think I knew. Deep down. There was too much to...ignore. Too many...signs.”
Oliver moves about restlessly again. He was never good at standing still, Percy thinks. Always had to be moving.
“Never mind,” Oliver says shortly. “That’s not important. The registries, you saw them. Do you remember any names?”
Ah. Percy follows Oliver’s gaze to the window, where a starling is hopping about on the ledge outside, searching for crumbs. “Who are you looking for?”
“My grandmother. She’s a Muggleborn. Mabel Tyrie. Last seen trying to cross the Scottish border to Carlisle. They closed the borders to Muggleborns, you see.”
“Oh. I — ”
“My aunt, Margaret Erskine. Went to the Ministry to protest the registration of all Muggleborns. Didn’t come back. My cousins, Jean McIlwrech and James Erskine, last seen in the custody of Snatchers, heading toward Yorkshire. Family friends, Janet Steill and William Angus. But you don’t need to worry about finding them. A Snatcher came forward and admitted he’d killed them both for being suspected blood traitors, and buried them in an unmarked grave somewhere in Kielder Forest Park.”
I’m sorry seems trite, and anything else woefully inadequate, so in the end Percy says, “I wish it could have been different for you.”
“No. Not me. Don’t wish for me. Wish it could have been different for them.”
Percy hesitates, then says, “Do you know anything about the Yorkshire Conservation Project?”
“The mass graves?” Oliver asks.
“The Yorkshire graves. That’s what you’re asking about, isn’t it?”
“No,” Percy says, feeling sick. “That’s not...there was a project, a conservation project, and...that’s why they chose a remote area, to clear it and grow rare plants needed for potions — ”
“The graves, Percy. Come on, you didn’t believe that rubbish, did you? Did you?”
Percy says nothing. Oliver shakes his head in disbelief.
“You were always,” he says, “the smartest person in the room. What happened to you?”
“You’d better leave,” Percy says.
“Yes, I’d better,” Oliver retorts, and he gets to his feet and grabs his coat and shuts the door behind him.
Oliver doesn’t come back for a long time. Percy goes to his work, and comes back to the terrace house. He washes his dishes. A spoon, a bowl, a fork, a plate. He thinks of his mother. He thinks of his father. His brothers, his sister. All of them, he thinks. All of them had joined the Order, even little Ginny.
He looks at himself in the mirror. His red roots are growing again.
He should cover it up, he thinks. He’s got no right to hold onto red hair and freckles and the Weasley surname. Maybe this is where he truly belongs. Mousy-haired Peter Wheeler, living in a dingy two-bedroom terrace in Ayr.
He clips his name-tag to his shirt and goes to work.
A few days later, when he’s just returned from the supermarket with bread and milk and a packet of hair dye, Oliver shows up again.
“Your family’s well,” he begins, and Percy shushes him and goes inside, juggling his house keys and shopping bags.
“You’re not supposed to discuss — ”
“Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Percy, this is your family. I saw them in London — ”
“And you came here? What if someone saw you visiting my family, and traced you here — ”
Oliver scoffs. “I told you. I bumped into them in London, after I was leaving the courtrooms. It was a chance meeting. You’re just like those Aurors, acting like a hit-wizard is about to pop out of the teapot.”
Percy scowls at him. He wonders if they’ll talk of their last visit, when it ended so coldly, but Oliver seems to have decided to move on and Percy chooses to take his cue. “Well, I hope they’re well. Tea?”
“Thanks. And they do seem well. Bill and Fleur — ”
“We’re not supposed to discuss families or intimate relationships.”
“What? Percy, nobody cares! Look, nobody followed me, nobody is outside with an Extendable Ear — ”
“It’s the rules. We’re not supposed to discuss relationships or — ”
“Your parents are well, thanks for your concern,” Oliver says loudly. “You’re an uncle now, Bill and Fleur have a daughter called — ”
Percy’s teacup explodes, sending shards bouncing across the table. Oliver stares at Percy, then closes his mouth.
“Just...please be quiet,” Percy says, his voice as taut as a wire, trying to get his magic back under control. “I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to hear how they’re all going on without me, I don’t want to know — I’m an uncle and I missed it! I missed my niece’s first week in this world, her first month — I’ve missed it all, and I’ll never get it back, and just stop telling me things! I don’t want to know! No, it’s fine, I’ve got it,” he adds, waving Oliver away as he tries to collect the shards of the teacup.
Oliver backs away and says nothing. He’ll complain, Percy thinks angrily. Bullish Oliver Wood, always with that bloody determined optimism. Chin up, Percy! No point whinging about things!
But Oliver says nothing, just stands in the corner of the kitchen and says nothing, and that’s worse somehow, because Percy thinks he’s missed that too. In a different world, Oliver would have been optimistic and brash, and he would’ve said stupid things like chin up! and laughed too loud, that same obnoxious laugh he had at Hogwarts.
But the war took that laugh, and all the rest of it too, and so Percy has missed it and will never get it back. He stares down at the shards, his vision blurring for a moment.
“I’m sorry,” Oliver says, and his voice is all soft and wrong, it should be loud, chin up! should be singing those stupid old Quidditch songs, should be edged with that obnoxious laugh, no point whinging.
It shouldn’t be a quiet and defeated apology.
“It doesn’t matter,” Percy says, and his voice is the one that’s too loud and brash.
Oliver steps forward, then says, “I want some fresh air. Don’t you?”
“No. I’m fine.”
“Come on, let’s go.”
Percy collects his coat because he’s suddenly too tired to argue about it, and follows Oliver out the door. It’s deep in autumn now, and Percy thinks of how he’s been away from his home for a year. He wonders how old his niece is, and what her name is, and what she looks like, but thinking of how much he missed is too unbearable. So he is silent.
They go to the pier and walk along it, scarves wrapped around their necks, knitted hats pulled low against the unforgiving winds of the western Scottish coastline, and they don’t speak at all until they’re sitting on the edge of the pier with the sea spray stinging their faces and the ocean grey and restless, and then Oliver talks.
He doesn’t talk of the war. He talks of his home on Skye, and how as a child he explored the rocky slopes of the mountains and dreamed of jumping from the peaks and soaring into the sky like one of the golden eagles that populated the isle. The day he got his first Quidditch broom, he says, he cried from joy and ran to the mountains, but his grandmother was too frightened and wouldn’t let him fly higher than the hills around their home.
He talks of the rocky coasts that ring his island home, and the rivers and lochs where the salmon and trout swim. He talks of the heather that blooms in summer, and the red deer that bound through the fields come dusk or dawn. He talks and talks, and Percy listens, and then they walk all the way back to the little terrace house.
“Well, I’d better go,” Oliver says, “before they find I’m missing,” and he gives a little wave and walks away.
Percy watches him vanish into the distance, and turns his key in the lock and steps inside. The air smells a little dusty and stale. He puts his key down on the kitchen counter and looks at the scuffed cream-coloured vinyl and thinks of how empty and cold the whole house suddenly feels.
But it doesn’t matter. That night, he goes to bed with the blankets piled on, and thinks hard of his childhood room with his mother’s handmade quilt tucked around him, and the twins giggling and whispering next door, and the smell of woodsmoke in the air, and his father’s out-of-tune singing as he comes up the stairs to check on each child.
Percy thinks that if he remembers, and thinks hard enough, he’ll dream of his home all through the night.
But instead, he dreams of golden eagles and leaping salmon and red deer.
He tries to remember, though he doesn’t want to. He tries, for Oliver’s sake. But nothing comes to mind, and when Oliver visits next, Percy apologises.
“I thought of all the letters and registries and lists,” he says. “All the memos I glimpsed, and the notes I transcribed. But there were so many names. I can’t remember any Mabel Tyrie, or Margaret or James Erskine, or Jean McIlwrech. I looked through all my memories, but I couldn’t find them. I’m sorry.”
“Oh,” Oliver says, and then — “Never mind.”
They go down to the shops, because Percy discovers he’s out of milk. He picks up another box of dye, and the lady behind the counter laughs at him.
“He’s a vain one!” she tells Oliver, as if it’s a private joke between them. “All the time, he’s buying the dye.”
Percy smiles thinly. The woman hands him his change.
“You’re too young for grey hairs, Peter,” she tells him.
“Yes, I know.”
They leave. Oliver says, “Peter,” slowly and with mild dislike, as if rolling an unripe strawberry around in his mouth. Then he says, “What an awful name. Doesn’t suit you in the slightest.”
“What’s yours, then?”
“Owen,” Percy says. “It sort of fits.”
They return to the terrace. Oliver nods at the box of dye. “Want help? I’m practically an expert at that stuff by now.”
“I suppose. I can never check the back properly.”
Percy changes into an old shirt already stained from the many previous dye jobs, and sits on the edge of the bath-tub. Oliver absently hums O Fight, Brave Kestrels! as he rubs the dye into Percy’s hair, and Percy feels a flicker of optimism suddenly. It’s a far cry from Oliver’s school days, when he cheerfully bellowed Quidditch songs, but it’s a start.
Perhaps Percy didn’t miss as much as he thought.
“Your hair’s really curly,” Oliver comments, tugging lightly on a handful.
“Only one in the family with curly hair,” Percy says with a touch of pride, and then he’s immediately embarrassed at himself. As if curly hair is an achievement. Bill was always the coolest one, and Charlie the most daring. The twins were the confident and outgoing ones, with countless friends. Ron was the bravest, of course — he charged off to help Harry Potter win the war without so much as a backwards glance, and destroyed one of the last Horcruxes himself. Ginny was the fiercest one; she had a fire in her that burned bright.
Percy was supposed to be the smart one.
He stares at the crumbling grout between the tiles.
“You should let the red grow,” Oliver says. “It’s nice.”
“Just for a little bit.”
Oliver doesn’t push. He would have pushed, Percy thinks. Before the war.
Before, before. He’s suddenly sick of it. Before the war, after the war. Why can’t he pick another division? Before his Hogwarts graduation. After his tenth birthday. Before Ginny was born. After he saw his first ever firework.
Oliver moves slowly, methodically, tugging Percy’s curls through his fingers and then smoothing the strands down again. It makes Percy feel drowsy. It’s been ages, he thinks, since someone touched him. Even if Oliver is wearing those awful plastic gloves that come with the dye box. When was the last time someone touched him? Fourteen months ago, maybe. When his mother embraced him for the last time.
“They miss you,” Oliver says suddenly, and Percy opens his eyes.
“Your family. They all miss you.”
Percy doesn’t reply.
After another five minutes, Oliver stops. “Done,” he says, but he leaves his hands where they are, just for a moment, tangled in Percy’s hair, until Percy says, “All right,” and shifts, and then Oliver lifts his hands.
Percy wants him to hum O Fight, Brave Kestrels! again, but he doesn’t.
The next time Oliver visits, Percy tells him about the wands. The chest, stacked full, and the portkey, and the fields smelling like a clean morning. Oliver listens, then he reaches out and grabs Percy’s hand so tightly that Percy thinks his fingers might all snap, one by one.
“I didn’t understand at the time,” Percy says. “We were confiscating wands off magical offenders, I was told. But now...if this Yorkshire information is true, then...” He trails off. “The wands ought to be returned to their rightful owners. The dead deserve their dignity. And the magical cores — ”
“Can be traced back to their owners! I don’t think you understand, Percy. We can finally know!”
Percy doesn’t understand. “They’re dead. Every owner. The wands were taken from the dead. I’m sorry,” he says, unable to look up.
But Oliver only tightens his grip; Percy winces. “But we’ll know. I can finally know if my grandmother is dead. My aunt, my cousins, my friends. I can mourn them. I can say goodbye. You don’t know how important goodbye is, not until you’re not allowed to say it.”
Percy looks up. Oliver is actually smiling at him. “I had orders,” he says, “to submerge the chest in water. So the wand cores would rot away.”
Oliver’s expression dims for a moment before realisation fully sets in; then it collapses completely into horror. “You didn’t, though,” he says. “You ended up in the fields, you said.”
“There was a nearby lake.”
Oliver opens his mouth, and closes it. He looks away.
“I follow orders,” Percy says. “I’m good at doing that.”
“It’s — it’s okay,” Oliver says, still staring fixedly at a crack in the wall. “It’s — ”
“But sometimes,” Percy says. “I think for myself. See, I’ve been trying to learn from my mistakes.”
Oliver lifts his gaze.
An Auror shows up to interview him; she can barely contain her excitement, and she tells him how grateful they all are. He gives her the coordinates.
He hears nothing, which is frustrating. He can’t listening to the Wizarding Wireless or read The Daily Prophet. Oliver vanishes again for a month.The magical world goes on without him. His family goes on without him. Oliver goes on without him.
Percy becomes restless for a while. He spends his evenings pacing the house, looking at each tiny crack in the wall, each mark on the cream carpet, each condensation stain on the windows. As if he’s looking for a memory, but there are none. The crockery is secondhand, bought from a charity shop. The pictures on the wall are bland watercolours that were already there when he moved in. Even his clothes were given to him, bundled up in a plastic rubbish bag, by an impatient Auror. His hair isn’t his. His name isn’t his.
One night he suddenly thinks maybe he’ll forget his name. He might hear it on the street and not turn his head. He might see it on an envelope and shrug and throw it away.
He goes to the mirror and looks, looks, looks for the faintest hint of red at his roots, and his freckles, and he says aloud, “Weasley.” It’s been so long since he said it, but he’s relieved that it doesn’t feel strange to say it. Anyway, he can’t forget it, he thinks. Because Oliver says it all the time, even though he’s not supposed to. Percy, he says carelessly, Percy, and he laughs when Percy crossly tells him he’s supposed to say Peter.
There’s a knock at the door and Percy rushes to it, nearly falling over himself, and pulls it open.
“Oh,” he says, “Mrs Campbell.”
“There’s loud music,” she says suspiciously, peering over his shoulder. “I certainly hope you’re not having a party in there, Mr Wheeler. The noise regulations state that — “
“No, Mrs Campbell. I think it’s coming from number ten.”
She gives him another look, then turns and leaves, shuffling off his front step. Percy stands for a moment, breathing in the damp night air, then closes the door.
Eighteen months, he thinks. He’s been hiding now for eighteen months.
He feels exhausted suddenly, like he could sleep forever.
December arrives. A faint dusting of snow tries desperately to hold onto the wet and windy shores of Ayr. People string fairy lights in their windows and wear festive scarves and hang wreaths on their doors.
It should evoke good memories, but on Christmas Eve all he can think about is the Burrow, and how everyone will be there without him, and his mother will only set the table for five children. So he tries to think of other things. He thinks of Hogwarts, of the candles floating in the corridors and the garlands of holly, and the smell of fresh pine as Hagrid dragged the huge Christmas tree into the Great Hall.
But soon enough he starts thinking of the bodies lining the Great Hall, and the acrid stink of curses and hexes, and the sound his mother made when she saw Fred’s body.
A knock at the door rouses Percy from his thoughts. Mrs Campbell again, he thinks, severely squashing the hope that rises.
But it is Oliver, red-cheeked with cold, a scarf pulled up high around his mouth and nose, so all Percy can see are his cheekbones and dark eyes crinkling into a smile.
“Look! I managed it,” Oliver says cheerfully, holding up his arms as if in triumph.
“To visit. For Christmas. Merlin, haven’t you even got a tree? Even a tiny one? They’re selling little ones down at the corner. Small enough to put on a shelf.”
“Waste of money.”
Oliver unwinds his scarf. “Och, well. Aren’t you a bundle of festive joy? Here.”
Percy accepts the bottle of firewhiskey and tries to be polite and normal about it, and he’s cross with himself when he gets a lump in his throat. Over firewhiskey, of all things, which he hardly ever drank! But the magical world seems so far away now, and sometimes — in the deep dark of night — he still reaches for a wand that isn’t there. Just the familiar label on the bottle is enough for a twinge of homesickness.
He looks up, and offers a terse smile. “Perfectly. I was just remembering, that’s all.”
Percy turns away. “Hogwarts,” he says, busying himself with the bottle. He hasn’t got suitable glasses, only a couple of scratched tumblers, and he’s annoyed about it. Everything should be done properly. He glares at the tumblers as he puts ice into them. “How it used to be. At Christmas.”
“Quidditch practice was always a pain. The team never shut up about practising in the snow. Bloody whingers, the lot of them.”
“Whingers? If I recall correctly — ”
“Oh, that one incident — ”
“ — when you demanded everyone train during a blizzard — ”
“It wasn’t a blizzard. Just a bit of heavy snow, and wind — ”
Percy’s smiling as he pours the drinks. “Angelina’s hair froze solid. It snapped off afterwards.”
Oliver waves a hand dismissively. “Look, nobody got frostbite.”
“They threatened to mutiny.”
“See? Whingers.” Oliver lifts his cup.
Percy’s still smiling. He takes a sip of his drink and the taste is so familiar that he has to busy himself peeling the label from the bottle. “How did you find this, anyway? You’re not supposed to engage with the magical community in any capacity.”
Oliver shrugs. “Oh, come on. They just mean you shouldn’t go wandering down Diagon Alley chatting to everyone you see.”
“Maybe for you,” Percy says a little sharply.
Oliver looks at him, then nods once. “Yes,” he says. “I testified against a Snatcher who had a few violent friends, so they’ve put me in time-out for a few months.” He gestures vaguely around him. “You, though...you were right at the heart of it. Can’t imagine all the evidence the Aurors have managed to wring from you.”
Percy doesn’t say anything. It’s the first time Oliver’s ever spoken of the war, and Percy’s half-afraid of somehow ruining the moment like he always does, trampling over the conversation with what his siblings always called — with a roll of their eyes — his sanctimony and pomp.
“They’re finding the owners, you know,” Oliver says suddenly. “Of those wands. They’re tracing them all back to the owners. Ollivander knows all of them, he’s got records of who he sold those wands to...it’s been a huge breakthrough. The papers talked about it for weeks.”
“Did they find your wands? The people you’re looking for, I mean. Your aunt, and cousins, and grandmother — ”
“Not yet. But they’re still tracing all the wands. There were hundreds inside that chest.”
“Oh,” Percy says, and Oliver looks at him searchingly.
“Aren’t you proud? That was you. They couldn’t name you, of course — it would just be another target on your back — but it’s helping thousands of people find closure.”
“Proud? Of what? Of not doing something that I was supposed to do? That’s all I did,” Percy adds, taking a swift drink of the firewhiskey. “I did nothing.”
Oliver says nothing. Night has fallen now, and Percy gets up to close the curtains. He can see the twinkling lights of his neighbours. The silhouette of a Christmas tree.
“Lumos,” Oliver says, and then he makes an annoyed noise and gets up to flick the light switch. “Haven’t even got my wand and I still do it. Six months. Old habits die hard, I suppose.”
“You get used to it,” Percy lies, thinking of how his hand still itches sometimes. His body knows something is missing. The rush of magic, the tingle of a charm, the sharp smell of a freshly-fired spell.
“Eighteen months now.” Percy returns to the table. “The Ministry wants me to wait until the inquiry is completed, and all corrupted officials sentenced.”
Oliver looks down at his empty glass. “I dream of Skye most nights,” he says, apropos of nothing. “The nights when I used to sneak out with my broom. When the skies were clear as glass, and I flew so high I could circle mountain peaks and see all the dark rivers and roads.”
“I wish I could see it,” Percy says.
Oliver glances up and offers a fleeting smile laced with sadness, then sets his glass down. “I’d better go. Before the last train leaves.”
He collects his scarf and coat, and goes to the door, and Percy tries to think of reasons Oliver might stay longer but can’t think of anything.
Oliver hesitates on the doorstep, then says, “You know, there isn’t anything wrong with doing nothing.”
“There isn’t anything right about it, either.”
“My grandmother had a saying. I’m reminded of it now.”
“Sometimes, just to walk away,” Oliver says, “is to overcome.”
Percy watches him leave, vanishing into the snow-dusted darkness.
New Year’s Eve arrives. It’s been nearly two years since the Battle of Hogwarts, and the century is coming to an end. This eve is a big one, Percy thinks, a special one. The Muggles are out in full force, singing songs and waving cheerful banners. The air is filled with nervous excitement, though there’s no reasoning behind it, Percy supposes. This New Year should be no different to any other. It’s just another orbital period. Just one more rotation around the sun. It only has meaning because humans assigned it one.
Oliver would be rolling his eyes about now, Percy thinks, and handing him a firecracker and telling him to just have fun for once.
Percy does go down to the pier, where excited Muggles are gathered to watch the fireworks display. He’s not a complete killjoy; he’s not going to sit in his kitchen and stare at the wall while the fireworks whistle and pop and the people cheer.
He watches the fireworks and doesn’t even think about it — always smart but never clever — not until he hears the sizzling noises, the long whistles, the explosions, all red and green and gold, and he freezes in place, his heart racing in terror, and he’s overcome with such fear and dread that for a moment he cannot move at all. Explosions of colour, people jostling him — Crucio! — the pain eating him like flames — the screams, the falling bodies, the sudden silence.
Time to collect the dead.
Percy shoves his trembling hands back into his pockets. There’s nothing but smoke hanging in the skies now. The applause and cheers have fallen into the murmur of voices and rustle of clothing as the crowd trickles away. Percy waits. He doesn’t want to push through the crowd, doesn’t want to feel the press of bodies.
Then he goes home, and locks his door behind him, and goes to bed, and he expects he’ll cry.
But he doesn’t. He stares, dry-eyed, into darkness until sleep comes.
Oliver returns in February, in high spirits. The Aurors haven’t detected any interest in his whereabouts. They’ll lift his protection measures soon, though they’ve suggested he keeps a low profile.
“I’ll go back to Skye,” Oliver says as they walk to the supermarket. Percy needs dye again. He’s needed it since early January, but for reasons he absolutely refuses to examine, he’s put it off until now. “To my home. I’ll see my parents again. My friends.”
“I’m happy for you,” Percy says, and he is.
“I’ll use magic again. I’ll be able to fly. First thing I’m doing is grabbing my broom and going for a fly.”
Percy hasn’t been on a broom for so long that for a moment he panics. He’ll have forgotten, he thinks. He’ll have to learn how to fly again. He tells Oliver that. He says it lightly, as a joke, but he’s never been good at telling jokes (the twins always rolled their eyes and said it was downright pathetic) and Oliver doesn’t laugh anyway.
“Of course you’ll remember,” he says, and he stops walking so suddenly that Percy bumps into him. “Of course you’ll remember, Percy. Don’t ever think you won’t.”
And his hands are on Percy’s shoulders and he speaks so compellingly, with that same fierceness that saw him become such an accomplished Quidditch captain, that for a moment Percy can’t help but believe him.
Then Oliver drops his hands, and says, “Come on,” and steps through the supermarket doors.
But afterwards, when Percy is sitting on the edge of the bath-tub and carefully memorising the way Oliver’s carding dye-covered fingers through his hair, Oliver says, “You should come to Skye. When this is all over. And we can fly.”
“All right,” Percy says.
That night, he dreams of the mountains again, the snowy peaks lit gold by dawn, and the deer bounding over emerald fields, and when he wakes he finds himself reaching out to the empty spot beside him.
Oliver comes back the next week, bringing a bag full of presents: Chocolate Frogs and Acid Pops, Bertie Botts’ Beans and Fizzing Whizzbees. He even brings a flask of pumpkin juice, and they set it all out on Percy’s faded Laminex table as though they’re two kids sitting in the Great Hall again. They reminisce about the old days as though the old days were decades ago instead of a mere handful of years, and Oliver does a (quite good, really) impersonation of Percy walking the halls on prefect duty, chest puffed with self-importance and righteousness, and Percy protests.
“I didn’t act like that — ”
“You did.” Oliver’s smiling.
“Well, who doesn’t like having a bit of responsibility?”
He just wants to feel useful . His mother’s soft voice, defending him from his exasperated siblings, and suddenly Percy’s smile fades and he busies himself rearranging the Chocolate Frog cards. Making them perfectly straight and even. He thinks of his desk, the quills lined up. The letters ready to be sent away.
“Whatever happened to that Malfoy boy?” Percy asks abruptly, and Oliver looks surprised.
“House arrest, I think. Community service. Outraged a lot of people. They wanted a much harsher sentence.”
Percy’s indignant. “Why? He was a child. Same age as my little brother, Ron. It wouldn’t have been right, sending him to Azkaban.”
Oliver shrugs. “They say he cast the Cruciatus Curse. Got the Dark Mark. Helped Voldemort track down Muggleborns.”
“He was a child,” Percy repeats. “And his father was a fanatic. Didn’t stand a chance.”
Oliver looks at him curiously. “Are you glad, then, that he got a lighter sentence?”
“It wasn’t a lighter sentence. It was the sentence he deserved.”
Oliver slowly shreds a sweets wrapper, then says, “I don’t understand how you can forgive a Death Eater but not yourself.”
Percy sets his mouth in a thin line and says, “Did they ever find your grandmother’s wand?”
Let’s not talk about the war. Let’s talk about other things. Better things.
Oliver looks at him, then lets the shredded wrappers fall from his hands like confetti. “Not yet. They’ve found my aunt’s wand, though. And those of my cousins and friends.”
Oliver gets up and paces the kitchen. He’ll say he’s leaving in a minute, Percy thinks. He gets restless like that. Doesn’t like standing still. “Remember Colin Creevey?”
“Yes. Sort of.”
“I carried him to the Great Hall. Afterwards. He was light as a feather. Like death had made him even smaller.”
Percy says nothing.
“I keep thinking,” Oliver says. “Keep wondering. If things would have been different. If I’d arrived sooner to the battle, or fought harder somehow. I spent most of the war hiding with my parents. My mother’s a Halfblood and we were all terrified. We’d heard the rumours of Snatchers roaming the towns. Saw our Muggleborn friends and neighbours leaving to go to London, to sign the register, and never coming back.” Oliver keeps pacing, to the little kitchen window overlooking the rain-grey pavement, and then back to the table again. “I passed along information to the Order sometimes. Doesn’t seem like much, though, looking back.”
“You came to the battle, though,” Percy says. “When you heard the call, you came.”
Oliver shrugs. “Still doesn’t seem like much.”
Percy looks at him in disbelief, but Oliver isn’t looking at him. He’s staring out the window again, at the raindrops racing down the pane. “So small,” Oliver murmurs to himself. “His body was so small.”
Percy drops his gaze to the table. He remembers seeing Colin’s body in the Great Hall. People had been horrified. Why was he even here? He’s a child. He shouldn’t have been here, they’d whispered.
Percy can guess, though.
He just wanted to feel useful.
Oliver leaves. Percy hovers helplessly in the doorway, wanting badly to ask Oliver to stay, but unable to form the words. He watches Oliver vanish into the rain, and only steps inside when he notices Mrs Campbell opening her own door, probably to lecture him about the single weed struggling through the concrete by his front step.
Inside, he cleans up. He picks up the shredded wrappers and puts them in the bin, and rinses out the tumblers, and wipes down the table. Until it’s all gone, he thinks. Until Oliver has disappeared completely.
He stares down at the shiny table. The kitchen counters. The cream-coloured walls. Outside, the rain comes down. A car horn sounds in the distance.
Percy thinks of home. Woodsmoke and a stew over the kitchen fire. His mother washing potatoes. His father whistling to the Wizarding Wireless. His brothers, his sister. The niece Percy has never met.
He sits alone at the table, his hands resting on the speckled laminex, and the rain comes down and doesn’t stop.
Percy gives his final statements in May, two years after the battle. He puts the memories in vials and gives them to the Auror. They don’t want him to appear at the courts. His low profile has worked. The anger of others has faded, and they’ve turned their attention to other targets. Why risk refreshing their memories now?
“You’ve done a very good job,” the witch tells him. She’s sitting in his kitchen, a cup of coffee in one hand, patiently waiting for Percy to finish pouring the memories into the vials. “That’s the best thing you could have done. Taken the program seriously. Some people are too impatient, and foolhardy. They ruin it all with something stupid like a letter home, or a quick visit to a friend.”
The witch gives him a sympathetic smile. “You’ll be home soon. Not long now.”
“And my wand...?”
“Of course. You’ll have magic back too. You’ve done a wonderful job of this Muggle living.” She gives the microwave an approving look.
“Bet you can hardly wait to see your family.”
Percy offers the witch a wan smile. “That’s the last memory.”
“Oh! Done already? Well, thank you, Mr Wheeler.” She winks when she says his alias, as though it’s a fun secret between them.
“Will I be released from the program this year?” Percy asks stiffly. “Only nobody seems quite sure...”
“Can’t give an exact date,” the witch says cheerily. “Let’s see how the inquiry goes. If we can’t detect any renewed interest in you, then we’ll start the process of downgrading your security. You won’t ever be truly released from the program. But things will be less restrictive.” She smiles at him. “But so far, so good. It seems they’ve all forgotten you.”
“All forgotten me,” Percy echoes, then schools his expression into a polite smile. “I see.”
“Well, thanks for the coffee.” The witch holds out her hand.
Percy hesitates, then hands back the wand she lent him. It’s a spare one, plain and made of agreeable cedar. It’s the first time he’s touched a wand in two years, and for a moment he’d looked at it and thought it was nothing. Just a little stick. And the thought had frightened him. As if he was forgetting everything about his old life.
The witch leaves, and Percy is alone again.
He waits, but the Aurors don’t come back.
May becomes June, then July. Summer comes and goes. The tourists come and go. Everything and everyone seems to be moving.
On a summer day that’s too warm for Scotland, he lays on the cool linoleum in his kitchen and stares at the ceiling and thinks of Skye. He’s never been there, yet he can picture it all so clearly. Summer would have set the fields ablaze with colours. Purple heather and wild violets, sunshine-yellow buttercups and meadowsweet as white and fluffy as clouds. The dark spruces and pines in the valleys, towering tall, shady and cool. The mountain ferns, the moss creeping over ancient stones, the wild thyme dotting the hills and rocky outcrops.
Summer fades into a sullen autumn. Rain lashes the streets of Ayr. Percy walks along the pier, wrapped up in a coat, watching the waves lash the land, and he walks along the wet grey shoreline. The gulls fight against the sea squalls. The tourists have all gone, retreating to cosier places and familiar spaces.
Oliver won’t come back, Percy thinks suddenly.
In the middle of autumn, an Auror shows up, smiling at Percy, and it takes Percy just a moment. Then —
“Been way too long,” Harry says, grinning and stepping forward to offer a one-armed hug and a pat on the back.
“You’re an Auror?” He’s a kid, Percy thinks, just a little kid.
“Yeah. Well, trainee Auror. Done all the theory stuff and a bit of practice. Took two years, but here I am. How have you been?”
“All right.” Percy doesn’t know what to do with his hands. Harry keeps casually waving his wand about like it’s an extension of his arm.
“Yeah? Can’t have been much fun, stuck here for months on end. But — well, that’s why I’m here. We’re stepping down security.”
Harry waits expectantly. After a moment, his grin fades. “Your mum’s ecstatic,” he says after a beat. “Cried when we told her.”
“Oh,” Percy says again.
Harry waits a moment longer, then frowns and coughs. “Oh. Well...maybe it’s a bit much right now. Lot to take in. We’ll talk about the little details, then. You can have your wand back, that’s the first thing.” He waits again, as if expecting tears of joy. When Percy doesn’t reply, he shifts about in his seat and says, “Right. And you’re now free to move to a location of your choosing, though we highly recommend avoiding high-risk areas. Magical communities, London, places you frequented before.”
Before. Percy stares down at his cup of tea. The steam slowly rises from it.
“It’s best to meet your family or friends in a secondary location, rather than visiting the family home or having them visit your home. Erm, let’s see, what else...” Harry turns the pages of the booklet in front of him. “Well, you get the gist of it. We can let our guard down a bit. Just don’t get a bit too excited and run down Diagon Alley shouting your real name.”
Harry smiles uncertainly, then says, “Well. Welcome back, then.”
Percy suddenly feels bad for him, and musters up a polite smile. “Yes. As you said, it’s quite a lot to...adjust to. I’ll be perfectly fine.”
Harry looks relieved. “Good. We’ll catch up later then. Good timing, isn’t it? Just in time for Christmas at the Burrow.”
“I’m not supposed to visit the family home.”
Harry blinks at him. “I’m sure you can make an exception for Christmas. It’s Christmas.”
“I’ll leave the booklet here,” Harry says, “In case you need it. Please don’t leave it lying around, they hate it when people do that. Keep it hidden.”
Percy nods, and thanks him, and Harry brightens again and says he’s looking forward to Christmas, and he picks up a cloak by the door and puts it on, vanishing beneath it. Percy opens the door, under the pretence of leaving the house for a walk, and allows Harry to quickly hurry out.
He goes to the corner shop and buys a carton of milk. The woman behind the counter grins at him as she counts his change.
“No hair dye, Peter? Your roots are showing again. You know, you ought to keep it natural. Such a lovely red.”
“Perhaps I will.” He accepts his change and leaves. As he approaches his house, he sees a figure waiting by the door, and he rushes forward, nearly tripping on the footpath.
But it’s only Mrs Campbell, looking dourly at him. “You’ve got a weed, Mr Wheeler.”
“Yes, I’ll get round to it.”
“It does look a bit untidy, that’s all. Makes the whole row of terraces look a bit scruffy.”
“It’s a very small weed, Mrs Campbell.”
“Well, I noticed it.”
Percy opens his gate, leans down, and rips the weed from the concrete. He holds it aloft for a moment; the soil falls away from the pale roots. “There you go.”
Mrs Campbell gives a nod of satisfaction. “Could have done that weeks ago, Mr Wheeler. Didn’t hardly take a second, did it?” She sets off down the street, her shopping bag tucked over one arm.
Percy waits, then throws the weed into her yard and goes inside.
He stares down at the table. Harry’s left everything in a little heap on the table, and Percy slowly straightens them. The booklet. A thin book entitled Living the Muggle Way , which was already given to Percy when he entered the program. Percy’s wand, sealed in a plastic evidence bag. A large map, folded clumsily and accompanied by a list entitled High Risk Areas: What You Need to Know. Percy refolds the map properly and sets it down beside the other items. Everything in its place.
He just wants to feel useful.
Percy takes his wand from the plastic bag. Fir wood. Ten and a quarter inches. Dragon heartstring core. He’d memorised the details the moment his mother had purchased it, and he’d proudly spouted the facts to every passerby. Back when he was eleven, and too excited about things, and thought he was going to be the best wizard Hogwarts had ever seen. When he thought books would make him clever.
Always smart, never clever.
Percy holds his wand aloft. His mind is blank for a long moment before he finally finds a spell. Lumos, he thinks. The first spell he ever learned. He’ll cast it now.
But he stands there, holding his wand, and says nothing, and finds himself frozen to the spot like he was on New Year’s Eve during the fireworks.
He lowers his wand.
His parents contact him and arrange to meet him by the Welsh-Scottish border in a little inn. His whole family arrives, full of joy, and it makes Percy freeze up again, like the fireworks, but he doesn’t know why. It’s supposed to be a happy moment. Why can’t he act properly, and laugh and smile with them?
Bill’s face has healed, he notices. Nobody mentions the scars. His mother has much more grey hair, but nobody mentions that either.
Victoire is there, and Percy should be overjoyed to see her, but his heart only sinks when she looks at him shyly and hides behind her mother’s dress.
“Oh, she’ll be all right,” Fleur says cheerfully. “She just doesn’t like strangers, that’s all.”
“Oh,” Percy says.
Charlie is chatty and cheerful as always. He’s got a terrific burn all down his left arm and good-naturedly accepts all the teasing about it.
“Dragon keeper, he calls himself, but can’t even dodge a baby Welsh,” George says, smiling, and Charlie laughs.
For some reason, it still unsettles Percy to see George by himself, without a grinning Fred beside him. He’s not used to it, even though he’s known for nearly three years that Fred will never walk beside George again.
Ginny’s got an engagement ring on her finger, which shocks Percy. He still thinks of her as his baby sister. Last time he saw her, she had only just turned seventeen.
“Harry and I wanted to get married,” she tells Percy. “But we waited. For you. It wouldn’t be right, I thought, without the whole family there.”
Percy looks down at his drink. “You shouldn’t have waited,” he says, but too quietly for anyone to hear, and Ginny’s turned her attention elsewhere anyway.
They all sound so happy, Percy thinks. Happy to hear his voice. Happy to speak to him. And it’s funny, but the more he thinks about how happy they all are, the more awful he feels. The more they talk, the less he says. The louder they get, the quieter he falls.
He watches them eat and drink and laugh, and he thinks of all those months ago when Oliver was sitting there smiling and unpacking all those little souvenirs of the magical world. Chocolate Frogs in chipped bowls, pumpkin juice in plastic tumblers.
When this is all over, you can come to Skye.
But that feels like a very long time ago.
Later, when he returns to his terrace house, he sits alone in his kitchen.
He should move, he thinks. Do something. He feels like he’s supposed to move. Like everyone’s expecting him to leap up, finally free from the shackles of the protection program, and seize a new life.
But he feels frozen in place again, too frightened to move.
He stays in the terrace house in Ayr and pulls out the weeds before Mrs Campbell complains, and he vacuums the house once a week, and goes to his work and comes home, and decalcifies the kettle and dusts the window sills and scrubs the tea stains from the counter.
He doesn’t like carrying his wand on him. It’s too annoying. It doesn’t fit in the pockets on his Muggle clothes, and buying a discreet holster like the Aurors wear seems utterly pathetic, like he’s trying to feel like a super wizard in one of Ron’s stupid action comics.
So he puts it in an empty mug where he puts his pens and pencils, next to the little notepad by the phone.
He doesn’t pick it up again.
Percy’s invited to the Burrow for Christmas. His mother asks him to stay for the whole of December. “You can move into your old room,” she tells him. “I know you’re supposed to be keeping a low profile. But just stay a while. It will be like before.”
Percy’s sick of thinking about before.
The first day of December arrives and Percy is still in his terrace house, and his wand is still sitting in the chipped mug, and the weed is still trying to struggle through the concrete no matter how many times Percy yanks it out. He goes to work and comes home, and as he walks along the street he can see the little lights being strung up across windows, and his neighbours putting the wreaths on their doors, and the air is cold enough to feel the distant threat of snow.
And then he sees someone waiting on his doorstep.
Percy rushes forward, and he knows he’s making a fool of himself, but he couldn’t care. Oliver’s laughing at him, cheeks red with cold, a bag slung over his shoulder.
“Been waiting an age, I’m frozen solid. Come on, let me in.”
“Where did you go?” Percy asks. “You vanished.”
Oliver pulls a face as he steps through the doorway and takes off his coat. “They caught me travelling here to see you.”
“They found out?”
Oliver waves a hand dismissively. “They thought I was making my way farther north to visit family in Skye. Pitched a fit and relocated me to a flat in Penzance.”
“Penzance? In Cornwall?”
“Yeah. A thousand kilometres away. Case manager was a total bastard about it. Said I’d compromised the program and wouldn’t downgrade my security until today.”
“Oh,” Percy says, and he feels stupid somehow. For thinking, deep down, that there must be some dramatic and terrible reason Oliver had stopped visiting. All those nights he spent staring at the ceiling, sleepless with worry. Thinking that perhaps some great harm had befallen Oliver, some tragedy. And suddenly, he feels utterly foolish. Percy’s never been one to believe in silly fairytales. Why start now? “Well,” he says briskly, “do you want a cup of tea?”
They go to the kitchen. Oliver is happy, speaking fondly of his home in Skye. He speaks of being free at last from the program, and going home. He’s on his way back now, apparently. Packed his bags as soon as he heard.
“I thought I’d stop by on the way home,” Oliver says. “Just to see you.” He hesitates. “My offer still stands, you know. When they let you go wherever you want — and you can travel freely, and you’ll have your wand and everything — you can come stay with me. In Skye. For as long as you want.”
Percy pauses, then says, “They did downgrade me.”
He readies himself for it, as though bracing for a storm; Oliver will smile, and chat excitedly, and congratulate him, and it will all feel so suffocating, like it did when he saw his family again.
But Oliver only tilts his head and looks at Percy quizzically, and says, “But you’re still here.”
Oliver considers that. “Have you seen your family?”
“Yes.” He should sound happy, Percy thinks, but he only sounds tired, and he stares miserably at the table.
Oliver thinks about that too. Then he reaches out a hand and tugs lightly on a lock of hair curling over Percy’s forehead, and smiles, and says, “The red’s coming through again,” and Percy’s heart misses a beat.
And instead of saying what he was planning on saying — what he should say, about how he really did miss his family, and he knows he should be happy, and he’s sorry — he says, “There’s another box dye under the sink. I’ve been meaning to do it.”
Oliver shrugs. “Well. Suppose you’ll want help, then.”
They go to the bathroom, and Percy sits on the edge of the bathtub and stares at the crumbling grout, and says, “Tell me about Skye.”
So Oliver does. He speaks of the beds of wild heather, and the rivers flashing silver with trout, and the afternoon sunlight that sets the mountains in bronze. Percy listens to him speak and forgets what he’s doing; he sits motionless in his little bathroom, staring unseeingly at the cream-coloured tiles as the dye seeps into his hair.
And afterwards, they say their farewells, and Oliver disappears into the December dusk. Percy stands in the doorway and watches him leave, feeling the icy rain — just a tiny change away from being snow — speckle his skin.
Then he gives a little shiver, and goes inside and shuts the door.
He goes to the Burrow for Christmas, from a sense of duty more than love of family, and he hates himself for that. He wants to feel happy. He wants to be like them again. He hates his mousy brown hair and stupid new spectacles. He hates the name Peter Wheeler. He’s a Weasley, he thinks. As though if he says it enough times, it will become true again.
His mother has put fresh linen on the bed in his old room, and heated the sheets with a warming spell, and even put his threadbare teddy bear on the pillows.
“I thought he was long gone,” Percy says, picking up the bear.
“Old Softie?” his mother says indignantly. “I couldn’t possibly throw him out!”
“I don’t think I’ve even thought about him since I was five or six.”
“Yes, well.” She reaches out and pats Softie’s well-patched ear. “I kept him more for me than you. You kids grow up so fast, and I like to keep reminders of you. Before everything happened.”
Before again, Percy thinks. Before, before.
Percy listens to her footsteps fade down the stairs. He sets Softie down on the bed and looks around.
He hasn’t stepped foot in this room for a very long time, and now he looks at it and hates it. So self-important, he thinks contemptuously. Not a Quidditch poster in sight. He always prided himself on that. He wasn’t like the others, Ron and George and all the rest, chasing after anything that moved fast or made loud noises. No Quidditch posters, no toy dragons. No stupid prank items or silly games or even a deck of self-shuffling cards. No; teenage Percy had decided he was a serious person, a smart person. His bedroom walls are covered with astronomy posters listing the exact distances between celestial bodies, and neat diagrams of spells, and a long list of all the Ministers of Magic. They’re all spaced exactly apart. Percy had used a levelling spell to make sure the posters were even, and the twins had seen him doing that and laughed for ages.
His desk is clean and equally precise. An inkwell (not a spilled drop in sight), quills lined up, a fresh sheet of parchment ready to be written upon. Percy had always done that — set up his desk so letters were ready to send to friends he didn’t have. Next to it, there’s a polished prefect badge, and a Head Boy one. So proud, he thinks with a flash of anger, of stupid little titles and stupid little jobs. He sweeps his arm across the desk, sending the items tumbling and the ink splashing.
Percy goes to his bed and sits on the edge of it, and stares at the ink slowly soaking into the rug.
He goes back to his terrace house. His mother cries when he leaves.
“But you can stay with us, Percy, you can stay,” she says tearfully, until Percy can’t stand it and wants to clap his own hands over his ears. But instead, he explains that the Aurors have advised him not to spend too much time in the family home, and he’ll arrange another visit.
Arthur is the one who gently nudges Molly away from Percy.
“Let him go, Mollywobbles. We’ll see him again soon,” he says, and then he lowers his voice and touches Percy’s shoulder and says, “You know you’re always welcome here, Percy. Always. No matter what you might think about the past. Always welcome.”
Percy looks into his father’s earnest expression, and somehow it’s worse than his mother’s crying.
Percy has learned his lesson from the previous year, and he skips the New Year fireworks. He spends the night in his house instead, with the radio turned up and playing loud music to help cover up the whistles and bangs of the fireworks.
When he wakes the next morning, he lays in bed and listens to the distant traffic and stares up at the white ceiling and wonders why he’s still here. Still frozen in place. Will he celebrate the next New Year in this terrace? The next? The next?
There’s a knock at the door. It’s Oliver; Percy knows by now. The way he always knocks three times, never in a pattern. Always different intervals. The opposite of Percy, who always knocks twice, exact and measured and orderly.
He goes to the door and opens it, and Oliver does that smile, the one that makes his eyes crinkle up in delight, and he says, “I’ll put the coffee on.”
“Thanks.” Percy is suddenly aware of his rumpled pyjamas; he runs a hand through his sleep-tousled hair.
Oliver makes good coffee, at least, and they sit at the table together to drink their respective cups. Oliver asks about his family.
“They’re all well. Ginny’s marrying Harry in the summer.”
“Harry! Now there was a good Seeker,” Oliver says forlornly. “What a waste.”
“No, he saved the world and then became the youngest Auror ever.”
Oliver looks at him blankly. “What a waste,” he repeats.
Percy laughs. He doesn’t mean to, and he can’t help it; the laugh is snatched right out of his lungs, and Oliver looks bemused.
“What? What’s the joke? He was the best Seeker we’d seen in decades, and the bloody idiot doesn’t even play professional level — ”
“Stop, stop,” Percy says, laughing too hard to get the words out properly.
“ — total numpty, he was a good Seeker but zero commitment — ”
“There was a war, Oliver.”
“No excuse to skip practice,” Oliver says firmly, and Percy’s freshly-collected composure crumbles again. “What? What? I don’t care if you’re the saviour of the entire bloody planet, show up on time and stop losing your wrist-guards.”
Percy eventually manages to calm down long enough to put the kettle on. They settle in for a cup of tea, and Oliver says he’ll have to go soon, before the last ferry leaves for Skye.
“Does it snow there?” Percy asks, and Oliver brightens. Of course it snows, he tells Percy, and Percy makes him describe everything. The mountains capped with white, the lakes freezing over. The fields and hills with their blankets of pristine snow.
“Maybe by spring, you’ll be able to visit,” Oliver says. “When everything thaws, and the white wagtails return.”
“Maybe,” Percy says, and finishes his tea.
In February, he gets an unexpected visitor: his father shows up on his doorstep, looking a little uneasy in the Muggle suburbs of windworn Ayr.
“Dad?” Percy asks, surprised, as he opens his door.
“I know we’re not supposed to show up here,” Arthur says, removing his illusion charm, and there’s a big bang from the kitchen.
“The toaster,” Percy says. “Please try not to use too much magic.”
“You must find it difficult, then. Living here as a wizard.”
Percy says nothing. After a moment, his father speaks again.
“Your mother’s keen to see you again.”
“I know,” Percy says, and he inwardly winces. Why can’t he be a good son, loving and kind and normal? “I mean...I miss her too.”
But his father doesn’t rebuke him. Instead, he goes to the kitchen, settles into one of the vinyl-covered chairs, and says, “Do you remember what your mother used to always say about you?”
“I take things too seriously.”
“What? No, it’s — ”
“My arms are unnaturally long and it’s very exhausting knitting my Christmas jumpers.”
“No, the other thing — ”
“You can tell I’m a middle child.”
Arthur looks a bit defeated. “She said that you like to feel useful.”
“Even when you were a little boy,” Arthur says. “You loved to help your mother around the house. Waving your toy wand and pretending to cast spells. Bossing your siblings around. When I came home from work, you’d tell me you’d been working all day too. You carried around a tiny bag filled with crayons and paper. You always had to be doing something. Feeling important.” Arthur pauses, then says slowly, “The thing is, sometimes, when we’re standing still, it feels like we’re doing nothing. That nothing important is happening.”
“I was doing nothing. I was sitting around in a house for nearly three years — ”
“You testified against war criminals, Percy. You had to go into hiding for three years. You missed the birth of your niece. You missed Christmases, and birthdays. You gave up your family for three years. You gave up magic. You had to stand still for three years. That’s not doing nothing. In fact, it’s the most important thing you could have done.”
Percy stares down at the table, tracing a cup-ring left there from Oliver’s last visit.
Sometimes, just to walk away is to overcome.
“I’m sorry,” he says quietly to the table.
“You don’t need to apologise to me, Percy. Or anyone else.”
Percy looks up at last, almost fearful of what he might see, but there’s no anger in his father’s face. Instead, Arthur only looks sad.
“I know things seem like they’ll never change now,” he says, “but give it time. Give yourself time.”
Percy doesn’t ask how Arthur knows this, or why he knows it’s what Percy needs to hear, because he remembers it’s the one thing he’s got in common with his father.
They’ve both been in a war.
Arthur is right. Things don’t change right away. Percy stays in his terrace house for a little while longer, and Oliver visits a little while longer, and everything seems to go on like usual.
But then every time Percy sees his family, he feels just a little lighter, and he begins smiling when he sees them smile and feeling as though he’s a Weasley again — he always was, he thinks, and he always will be, regardless of his name or hair colour — and on a blustery spring day, the moody winds of Ayr bring Oliver to Percy’s door again.
“Best season for flying,” Oliver tells Percy. “Weather’s so unpredictable. Makes things interesting.”
“I don’t think a lot of Quidditch players share that view.”
“Because they’re — ”
“Whingers,” Percy finishes, and Oliver grins at him.
“Exactly. The lot of them. And — is that your wand?”
Percy glances at the pencil cup. “It’s been there ages, Oliver.”
“Well, it sort of blends in, doesn’t it?” Oliver reaches across the table and takes the wand from the cup. “It’s dusty.”
“Can’t use magic in here. Electronics don’t like it.”
“You could take it outside. Sneak down to the pier, casting a Summoning charm on a pebble or something.”
Oliver pauses, then puts the wand down. “You can cast a spell,” he says, “just for the joy of it. Not for any use. I mean, look at flying. Not really useful, is it? But — ”
“It is useful,” Percy says.
“Well, to get from one point to another, I suppose. But — ”
“No, I meant...” Percy trails off, then tries again. “It makes you happy. That’s useful.”
“Oh,” Oliver says, and then he pauses and says, “Well, what makes you happy, then?”
And Percy knows he’s talking about magic, and spells, and wanting Percy to suggest something to cast, but all he can think of is a single unrelated answer, so he says it. “You.”
Oliver stares at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, then says, “Oh,” and ducks his head to study his cup of tea, but Percy can see the pink flush in his cheeks anyway.
And Percy is suddenly restless for magic again, and reaches for his wand. “I always liked that modified version of Lumos,” he says. “The spell that creates hundreds of twinkling lights. It’s traditionally cast on Christmas trees.”
Oliver looks up, still a little pink and looking too pleased with himself. “Well, let’s do it, then.”
“It’s not Christmas,” Percy says.
“We’ll pretend it is. We’ll find a tree. Oh! Let’s decorate that weed by your front step, the one that always got your watcher angry.”
“Watcher. The Magical Law Enforcement officer they assigned you.”
Percy looks at him blankly. “Are you talking about Mrs Campbell?”
“Yes. Bloody annoying, having to sneak past her. Took her job seriously. Wait — you didn’t know?”
Percy opens and closes his mouth while Oliver laughs so hard he cries.
Later on, Percy sits on the edge of the bathtub while Oliver dyes his hair, and he thinks maybe he will stay here forever. Here, in his little terrace house, with the cream walls and Laminex table, and Oliver will visit once a week for coffee.
He closes his eyes as Oliver hums O Fight, Brave Kestrels! and dreams.
On the first day of June, three years and nearly one month after the battle, Percy goes down to the pier, where he once stood frozen to the spot.
That’s the tricky thing about standing still, he thinks. Learning how to step forward again.
He feels the weight of his wand in his sleeve again, familiar and welcoming as an old friend. Someone who didn’t mind waiting for him to move.
The sea is grey and choppy and cold, and the sky overcast, but it’s the first day of summer.
And Percy is going to step forward.
Oliver is waiting for him at the terrace house, standing on the doorstep with his hands in his coat pockets, and he laughs when he sees Percy.
“What’s this?” he asks, pointing to the weed. It’s covered in twinkling lights.
“Do you like it?”
“It’s terrible,” Oliver says happily. “Come on, unlock the door before it rains. Where’s the dye?”
“The dye. I assume you were at the supermarket, buying another box. Come on, then, let’s get it done.”
“I’m thinking about growing it out, actually,” Percy says.
Percy unlocks the door and steps inside. This familiar old house, he thinks, and he ought to hold a grudge. Perhaps he once did. Perhaps he once resented the cream walls and white tiles and crumbling grout, and the Laminex table with the one uneven leg. But now he looks at it all and can’t help but feel grateful. It tided him over. It kept him safe. Out of sight.
“Well,” Percy says. “I’m ready.”
“To go to Skye, of course. To see your home. And your family. And you.”
Oliver looks blankly at him for a moment and then his face crinkles up in one of those smiles, and he puts his head back and laughs, and Percy thinks it was inevitable, really. Of course he was going to fall in love with him. There was never any question about it. Same as he’s going to inhale the next breath of air, and move his foot to take the next step forward. It’s as natural as simply living.
Oliver holds out both his hands. “Ready?”
Percy takes his hand, interlocking their fingers, and draws Oliver closer as they tumble through space together, Disapparating in a moment and leaving Ayr far behind them. They arrive in a crumpled heap together on the shores of a rocky beach, the mountains rising up before them, and Oliver is still trying to stand up when Percy kisses him, and he’s breathless and tastes of the crisp morning air.
“Give me a moment, give me a moment, I wasn’t ready,” Oliver says, disentangling himself so he can stand up properly, and then he laughs at Percy’s expression and kisses him back.
They stay on the shoreline for a while, stealing kisses from each other until the air bites too cold and the sea creeps over their shoes.
Then they turn and walk away together, and neither of them look back.