.:: now ::.
"P-Percy? Percy Weasley?"
Percy jerked in surprise at the unexpected sound of Neville's voice, his heart racing so fast that he could almost hear its pounding. He hadn't even heard the other man approaching, which said a lot for his state of mind. The greenhouse doors had never opened quietly, most likely to make it difficult on students attempting to sneak in after dark, yet he hadn't even noticed them creaking open.
It felt as if everything around him was broken. His world was hidden in shadows and falling apart at the seams. His life, his family . . . it was all spiraling out of his control. He was still asking himself the same questions he had been for the past year. (It should have been him, not Fred. Why had it not been him?)
Nothing made sense to him now. (He didn't belong at the Ministry anymore. Maybe he never had.) He'd been wrong for so long; maybe he still was, in a way. Otherwise, he wouldn't be hiding, avoiding the memorial service outside when he knew that his family needed him to be out there with them.
"Percy, what's wrong?"
(Why was Neville Longbottom, of all people, staring at him that way? He was a hero, by any definition of the word. Heroes had nothing to do with people like Percy.)
Percy reached up and pulled his glasses off his face. He closed his eyes as he leaned against the wall, trying to calm his breathing. The last thing he needed was to burst into hysterical laughter when he tried to speak. After a few more seconds had passed he opened his mouth to reply, to lie like he had every time someone had asked him that for the past year, to say that nothing was wrong, nothing was ever wrong . . .
. . . and then Neville gently touched his arm.
Percy gasped as he wrenched his arm away, his eyes flying open. He felt his eyeglasses slip from his suddenly loosened grip. They shattered as they hit the rock floor, the sound echoing in his ears like the crack of someone apparating.
(When had everything started to fall apart?)
.:: then ::.
"Oi!" Ron snapped, throwing a piece of toast at Bill's head. "Just because the two of you are trying to have kids doesn't mean you can practice at the table."
Bill instantly jerked away from Fleur; everyone sitting around the table laughed as his face turned almost as red as his hair. Fleur simply smiled, primly taking a bite out of a muffin and acting for all the world as if she hadn't been thoroughly kissing her husband in front of them mere seconds earlier.
Beside Ron, Charlie cleared his throat. "In that case," he said, pointedly glancing at something under the table that was out of Percy's line of sight, "maybe you should move your hand before someone starts making accusations about you and Hermione."
Percy managed a weak chuckle as Ron jerked his hand out from under the table, blushing even more than Bill. Hermione didn't seem to be very far behind him.
He was playing the same role as everyone else, acting as if everything was fine even though nothing was. Forcing himself to keep smiling, Percy let his gaze drift around the table. Despite the laughter that rang throughout the Burrow's kitchen, he couldn't help but notice that no one's smiles seemed to make it to their eyes.
(No one dared glance at the clock that was quietly ticking away nearby, one of its hands still in the same place it had been for an entire year.)
"The memorial service starts in a little while," Arthur pointed out as the laughter died down, his face carefully neutral. "We'll need to leave soon if we want to make it in time."
The room was suddenly silent.
.:: remember ::.
During his time at the Ministry during Voldemort's reign, there had been one simple rule to follow if you weren't a Death Eater: "If you want to survive, do not draw attention to yourself."
Calliope Williams had been the first to whisper that unspoken rule to Percy. He had thought she was insane then, buying into rumors that had no foundation. It had been obvious that something had happened, but there was no proof that Death Eaters were involved. If You-Know-Who had managed to gain control of the Ministry, wouldn't there have been signs?
Looking back, Percy couldn't imagine how he had ever been so naive. (How could he not have guessed?)
Despite his skepticism, he had taken Calliope's words to heart. For the first time, he had stopped trying to push his way upward and simply been satisfied to remain where he was. Even though she would never know it, she had probably saved his life.
He hadn't seen Calliope since she had whispered her hurried warning to him. She had disappeared the next day, along with dozens of others. Percy had never found out what had happened to them; he could only hope that it hadn't been as bad as in the nightmares that still woke up him almost every night, even after two years.
Calliope's warning outlived her by almost ten months. Percy had done his part to make sure it was spread to those who needed to hear it.
(He sometimes wondered why he had never disappeared like so many others had.)
.:: now ::.
For a moment, neither of them said anything.
"Damn," Percy finally muttered. He leaned down and picked up his glasses, squinting at the broken lenses as he straightened back up. Then he reached into his robes to find his wand.
Neville shot Percy a sheepish look. At least, that's what it looked like to Percy; his vision was blurred enough to make it difficult to tell. "Sorry," Neville said, something in his voice that Percy couldn't quite define. "I honestly didn't mean to startle you. Let me fix those for you."
(It wasn't his glasses that needed fixing. Not just his glasses, at least.)
Percy was careful not to meet his gaze. "It's fine," he said, pulling out his wand. "I can repair them myself."
"No, really," Neville said, reaching and snatching the glasses from Percy's fingers. He quickly brought his wand up and waved it over them. "Oculus Amplio."
Percy's glasses suddenly started smoking.
(It was supposed to be Reparo, not Amplio.) Percy grimaced; apparently Neville's magical abilities hadn't improved much over the years. The last thing he needed right now was to have to replace another pair of glasses.
Two seconds later, the smoke dissipated as suddenly as it had appeared. Neville made a pleased sound before handing the glasses back to Percy. The lenses were whole again, at least.
"Well?" Neville asked, barely keeping his smile in check.
Reluctantly, Percy put his glasses back on his face. Then he blinked in surprise; if nothing else, his vision was better now than it had been earlier.
As if he could read Percy's mind, Neville grinned hesitantly at him. "I learned a few things during my Seventh Year."
.:: then ::.
Percy sighed as Minister Shacklebolt finished speaking, clapping politely with the rest of the crowd. He hoped that the Minister's speech had helped bring closure to some of the people gathered at Hogwarts for the ceremony, even if it had sounded like nothing more than meaningless noise to him.
The crowd around him started to move as people began making their way to the parts of the memorial that held special interest to them. Percy reached up to push his glasses up his nose a little before letting his gaze drift over the small portion of the Hogwarts' grounds that had been set aside for the ceremony.
He had to admit that the memorial itself was quite a feat. The physical part of it was quite small, nothing more than a glowing sphere resting on a pedestal. That made it all the more impressive when it was activated, creating walls of names floating in mid-air.
(It was a list of the dead.)
The rumor was that its permanent home would be somewhere in Diagon Alley, but for the time being it was going to remain at Hogwarts. There wouldn't have been enough room anywhere else; Percy hadn't seen so many wizards and witches gathered in one place since the ill-fated World Cup of 1994.
Percy kept his gaze moving until he caught sight of his family. Most of them were gathered on the far side of the memorial, their attention focused on the list of names. He started to make his way toward them. Then he froze.
They were gathered around George. His hands were clenched into fists as he stared at a name directly level with his eyes, a lost expression on his face. Percy couldn't read the letters from where he was standing, but he knew what they said.
Guilt rushed through him, despite the more clinical part of his brain reminding him that there was nothing he could have done. Percy quickly turned away and started walking in the other direction. It might hurt his parents' feelings if they saw him, but he hoped they would understand. He just wasn't ready.
Out of the corner of his eye, Percy saw another flash of red hair. He paused, surprised, before turning slightly to see which one of his family it was. He had expected everyone to be together, gathered around Fred's name.
Ginny was standing away from the memorial, a resigned look in her eyes as she stared at Harry Potter. He was kneeling in front of a portion of the memorial, gently tracing a name with his finger. Percy wasn't quite certain how to interpret the expression on the younger man's face.
After a few seconds, Ginny met Percy's gaze. She smiled sadly and shrugged before turning away and heading in the direction of the rest of their family. A moment later, Harry stood up, brushed off his knees, and started after her.
(Everyone has lost someone.)
Curious despite himself, Percy made his way over to the portion of the memorial where Harry had been kneeling. He wasn't quite sure whose name he had been expecting to find, but it most certainly had not been the one that was there.
.:: remember ::.
After the first few months, Percy had listened to the stories that people whispered in the corridors. Many had been absolutely preposterous, such as the long, convoluted rumor that Harry Potter and You-Know-Who were in actuality the same person thanks to the use of a Time-Turner. Others had been difficult to believe at the time, including the report that Harry and several of his friends from Hogwarts were supposedly trying to find a way to bring down the Dark Lord.
And still others had been much too easy for Percy to find true.
The fact that many of the older students at Hogwarts were supposedly making life as difficult as possible for the Death Eaters in charge of the school had fallen under that category. Especially after the first time Ginny's name had been mentioned.
(He hadn't been surprised to hear that his little sister wasn't simply sitting still and letting things happen. That didn't mean he hadn't worried.)
Most of the time, Percy doubted that the stories he heard were anything more than fiction. The rumors were too outrageous, too impossible to believe, too . . . full of hope. It didn't seem possible to him that anyone could still be clinging to the chance that things could go back to normal, least of all a handful of children who were in the middle of You-Know-Who's stronghold.
But sometimes he had to wonder.
(It made him feel like even more of a fool. His family had seen the truth. These children had seen the truth. Everyone had seen what was happening but him. Or maybe he had simply been lying to himself.)
.:: now ::.
"What are you doing in the greenhouse?" Neville asked, frowning. He glanced around the room, as if he was trying to see if there was anyone else there.
Percy managed a weak smile and shrugged. "I could ask you the same question."
To his surprise, Neville chuckled. "You have a point," he agreed, nodding. He walked over to one of the bare tables sitting nearby, useful during classes but otherwise purposeless, and sat down on top of it. "I'm hiding. This was always my escape when I was at Hogwarts."
"You too?" Percy asked softly. He hesitated a moment before making his way over to the table and sitting down beside Neville. (A voice in his head that sounded suspiciously like Professor Sprout yelled for him to stand up before he broke the table; he tried to ignore it.)
"Yep," Neville agreed, nodding. "The memorial is a lot to take in. I knew that a lot of people died, but seeing their names there, all together . . ."
He trailed off.
The two of them sat there in comfortable silence. After a few seconds had passed, Percy took the time to really take a look at the younger man. Neville had been unofficially working with the Ministry quite a bit the past year, helping pick up the pieces left over from the war, but, while Percy had spoken to him from time to time, he had never really taken the time to look at him.
Percy had known Neville fairly well during his final three years at Hogwarts, when he had been a Prefect and then Head Boy. It had been his job take care of the younger students, but there had been some that needed more help than others. Sometimes it had seemed as if five seconds couldn't pass without Neville showing up, usually requesting the password that would let him through the portrait hole.
The man sitting beside him barely even resembled that boy.
"We all have regrets, you know," Neville said suddenly. "Things we wish we'd done differently."
Percy let out a dry chuckle. "I expect some of us have more regrets than others."
Neville leaned forward, forcing Percy to meet his gaze. "I think you'd be surprised," he replied seriously. "What if I had done something differently? What if I had spoken out when I had the chance? What if I kept quiet? What if this, what if that . . ."
"What if?" Percy repeated. His vision blurred slightly, and he quickly closed his eyes for a moment and tried to will away the tears that he felt forming. "What if I hadn't been an idiot?"
For a moment, Neville didn't say anything. "What if I hadn't been a coward?" he asked softly.
Percy opened his eyes, blinking to clear his vision. "I think that's a question I should be asking," he said, trying to keep his voice light, "not you."
Neville kept his gaze focused on Percy's face, leaning forward slightly before he answered. "You'd be surprised."
The next thing Percy knew, Neville kissed him.
It was a brief kiss, barely more than a peck on the lips. Neville pulled away almost as quickly as he'd leaned forward, no longer meeting Percy's gaze. He kept his eyes focused on the ground, leaving the next move up the Percy.
Percy kissed him back.
(Maybe it was time to change.)