The pop of apparition surprises him, and Percy turns on his heel, wand out. “You’re early,” he snaps.
Severus Snape brushes ash from his sleeve and gives Percy a low-level glare. “It happens when people attempt to set fire to me. Twenty-seven apples seem a lot for a pie.”
“Obviously you’ve been making them completely wrong,” Percy replies, and presses his palm to the doorframe that connects the front room to the sitting room. The shielding spells drop, and he invites Severus further into the apartment with a wave of his hand. “I was making dinner. Would you care for a drink?”
“No. I have to be elsewhere shortly.” Severus reaches into his robe and pulls out a Chocolate Frog card. He hands it to Percy. “The latest.”
Percy taps the card with his wand, and it transfigures into a single piece of parchment. He reads the information quickly. He taps his wand to the parchment, and it flashes for a moment before crumbling to ash. “What time?” He asks Severus and hands him a wrapped sandwich from the refrigerator.
“Midnight,” Severus tells him. He tucks the sandwich into his robe. “Supplies?”
“I’m stocked, thank you.”
“I’ll go then.”
Percy walks Severus back to the front room and watches him disapparate. “Good luck,” he says only after Severus has gone. He walks back into the kitchen and makes up a plate for dinner.
Two minutes before midnight, Percy hears another pop in the front room. He walks out from the kitchen and raises his eyebrows at Oliver Wood. “Well,” he says in greeting.
Oliver takes a step back at the sight of Percy. He narrows his eyes. “Parsnip candy is a terrible idea,” he says. His wand is pointed at the middle of Percy’s chest.
“All I have are lemon drops,” Percy replies. He tucks his wand into his belt and holds up his hand as Oliver moves to cross the threshold into the sitting room. “You’ll get a nasty shock,” he says and presses his right hand against the doorjamb. “Now,” he tells Oliver.
Oliver walks into the sitting room and turns around to watch the shielding spells snap back into place. “Very nice,” he says with a nod. He looks at Percy again. “Your idea?”
“Partially,” Percy admits. He looks Oliver up and down, noting the slight shabbiness to his sweater and the mud on the cuffs of his jeans. “Bathroom’s through the middle room and on the left. There’s a pair of pajamas on the sink; you can size them as you need them, and the towels are tucked in the nook next to the toilet.”
Oliver blinks, then grins. “A real live hot shower?”
“And dinner, if you’ve had none.” Percy smiles a little at the tired joy that settles onto Oliver’s face. “Pot roast,” he tells him, just to watch Oliver’s grin widen.
“That sounds…” Oliver shakes his head. “Safehouse, hot shower, pot roast, and Percy Weasley looking comfortable. I must be dreaming.”
Percy glances down at himself, wondering how he looks “comfortable”. “No dream, I assure you. Simply three days of rest and a brush-up. The information I received said you needed a quick refresher on some Muggle habits.”
Oliver cocks his head. “How much should I tell you?”
“Decide after you eat,” Percy instructs. “I’ve found most people say entirely too much on an empty stomach.”
“I’m going to shower first,” Oliver says and turns on his heel to walk to the bathroom. He pauses at the doorway that connects the sitting room to the middle room. “Is this one going to shock me?”
“No,” Percy replies. “Only this door,” he gestures to the first doorway, “is constantly shielded.” Percy shakes his head in amusement as Oliver puts one foot over the threshold gingerly. “Honestly,” he mutters.
Oliver glances over his shoulder. “Hey, I’ve spent—” He snaps his mouth shut at the stern look Percy gives him. “Shower, food, and then conversation?”
“I find that’s usually the best course of action,” Percy agrees.
Oliver’s eyes narrow. “How long have you been doing this?”
“Long enough,” Percy says and meets Oliver’s measuring look with the blandest face he can make.
“Hmm,” Oliver murmurs and walks to the bathroom.
Percy rolls his shoulders and breathes out slowly. He listens to Oliver start the water in the bathroom, and then he walks into the kitchen to get a plate from the cupboard. The microwave dings, and Percy opens the door to see Minerva’s face hovering in the interior. “Minerva,” Percy greets with a nod.
“Percy,” Minerva replies, her voice wavers as her face ripples for a moment. “Wood has arrived?”
“Directly on-time,” Percy tells her. “How much can I know?”
“As much as you care to hear, as always.” Minerva’s face ripples again. “I’ll send Wood’s next assignment in three days.”
“I’ll get his Muggle lessons refreshed,” Percy says. “And make sure he gets some sleep.”
“He’ll need fresh clothes. I’ll have the money sent in the morning.”
“My budget is—”
“Ridiculously under control, I’m certain, but those funds are for your household expenses to keep up your cover,” Minerva interrupts. “The funds I am sending tomorrow are to be spent solely on Wood’s new wardrobe. Not one bit of your personal funds should be used for this. Do you understand?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Percy tells her, scuffing his foot against the kitchen floor. “My apologies, Minerva.”
“I appreciate your continued attempts to help even more,” Minerva says, the twinkle in eye clear even through the rippling. “I’ll leave you to it.”
Percy closes the microwave door as Minerva’s face blurs out. He dishes pot roast and vegetables onto a plate for Oliver and looks over when Oliver pads into the kitchen, shirtless and still drying his hair.
“I can’t tell you how good that felt,” Oliver says, his smile widening when Percy holds out the plate. “Or how good this is going to taste.”
“Thank you,” Percy replies. He gestures towards the middle room. “You can sit at the table. Do you want something to drink?”
“What do you have?”
“Milk, juice, water, tea, and a small arsenal of necessary libations.” Percy says the last as he opens the cupboard above the sink and shows Oliver the collection of alcoholic options.
Oliver blinks at the liquor supply. “I don’t know that I—”
“Three days off,” Percy interrupts. “You’re allowed a drink or two for services rendered.”
Oliver laughs, starting low in his chest. “Percy Weasley, I never would have thought.”
Percy chuckles. “Neither would I. Whiskey? Vodka? Tequila?”
“Do you have orange juice?”
“Screwdriver or Tequila Sunrise?”
Oliver laughs again. “Bartender’s choice, I suppose.”
Percy listens to him walk into the middle room and settle at the table while he mixes a screwdriver for Oliver and a Tequila Sunrise for himself. He carries them both to the table and sits across from Oliver. Oliver’s already halfway through his dinner, and Percy takes a moment to look him over carefully. He looks thinner than Percy remembers him being in school, and there’s a bright pink scar crossing his collarbone. “I spoke with Minerva,” he tells Oliver once Oliver pushes his plate away.
“You have a Floo here?” Oliver asks, craning his neck to see into the sitting room.
“Hermione rigged something similar with the microwave,” Percy explains. “If you need to reach a member of the Order, open the door and press the ‘popcorn’ button twice.”
Oliver blinks. “You are not serious.”
Percy grins. “I very much am.”
“Spend six straight months finding information and running messages…” Oliver mutters and trails off. He shakes his head. “How long have you been here?”
“Nearly nine months,” Percy replies. “How long have you been spying?”
“Almost a year.” Oliver leans his chin on his fist and sips his drink. He closes his eyes and sighs. “That’s really good.”
“As was dinner.”
“Thank you,” Percy replies again.
“Is this what you do?” Oliver asks, looking at his empty plate. “You feed and water field agents for the Order?”
“Close enough,” Percy says with a nod. “I also perform some minor healing and prepare potions as necessary.”
“Last I’d heard, you’d been sacked from the Ministry for insubordination,” Oliver tells him with his eyebrows raised. “Rumor mill says you hexed the Minster of the Treasury and set half your documents aflame.”
“Oh, good,” Percy deadpans, “that’s still sticking.”
Oliver narrows his eyes. “There’s not a drop of truth in any of that, is there?”
Percy crosses his arms. “Is there?”
“No,” Oliver says after a pause. “Maybe not,” he amends after a moment. He shrugs when Percy gives him a questioning look. “Last I knew you, we were seventeen, and it was a very different world out there.”
“Yes, it was,” Percy agrees. He takes a sip of his drink and leans forward in his chair. “All the dramatics went down precisely as you heard them.”
“But it was just dramatics,” Oliver says slowly. He nods to himself and looks away from Percy. “It’s ridiculously perfect,” he says quietly. “Half the school always figured you’d crack under your own pressure one day.”
“And that makes the story believable.”
Oliver throws himself against the back of his chair and tucks his hands behind his head. “And then Minerva threw you here.”
“I offered,” Percy corrects. He stares at the rivulets of grenadine that are slowly trailing to the bottom of his glass. “I waited too long to be useful as a spy in the Ministry, and after the Death Eaters came to the Burrow…” He looks at Oliver and shrugs. “There are only so many administrative positions one can get in a time of war.”
The smile drops from Oliver’s face. “They attacked the Burrow?”
“Everyone’s in one piece,” Percy assures him. “We nearly lost Fred, but some quick work by Mum and Bill got the curse off him. He doesn’t even have a scar.”
“Course not,” Oliver says with a grin. “Then you’d be able to tell him and George apart.”
Percy chuckles. “I suppose so.”
Oliver yawns and covers his mouth. “Sorry,” he apologizes. “You’re not uninteresting—”
“I don’t even want to know how long you’ve been awake,” Percy cuts in. “Come on, I’ll show you where to sleep.” He leads Oliver past the kitchen to the back room. “It’s charmed,” he says at Oliver’s wide-eyed stare. “Any Muggle looking in would only see enough space for a double-sized bed.”
Oliver looks down the row at the fourteen beds that are lined up on one wall. “Nice trick. This one yours?”
“Yes,” Percy says proudly. “It took a bit of doing, but it’s proved incredibly useful.”
“This is amazing, Perce,” Oliver says sincerely. He grips Percy’s shoulder and gives it a shake. “Really. All of this. I’ve been in and out of safehouses since I started spying, and yours is the best.”
“Thanks,” Percy says, not quite able to make eye contact. He flinches when his shoulder jerks in Oliver’s hand.
“You all right?” Oliver asks, moving his hand away slowly.
“Repeated jelly-arm and Crucio,” Percy explains, tucking his arm in tight against his stomach. “During the attack at the Burrow, it was a favorite combination of a few of them. The jelly-arm makes your muscles wobble—”
“And that lets the Crucio tighten everything tighter,” Oliver finishes. “I’ve seen it a few times myself. There’s a potion for it that stops the tremors.”
“I’ve taken it today,” Percy tells him. “And yesterday and everyday since I saw the first healer. The potion isn’t strong enough to keep it under control all of the time.”
“Damn,” Oliver mutters. “Is that why you’re here running this place?” he asks.
Percy shrugs and grips his left hand around his right arm as it jerks again. “I like it here,” he says truthfully. “The results of my work are obvious, and I’ve never had the talent for lying that spying takes.”
“You’ve always had a knack for paperwork, though.”
“I have.” Percy nudges Oliver when he yawns again. “To bed. You’re no good for training if you’re mostly asleep tomorrow.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Oliver grouses and picks a bed halfway down the row. “Night, Percy.”
“Good night, Oliver.”
Percy wakes up the next morning to rhythmic grunting. He rolls over in his bed—the one closest to the door—and watches Oliver do push-ups.
“Good morning,” Percy says as he sits up. He yawns and stretches, grimacing when his right arm spasms again.
“Thirty-morning…thirty-three,” Oliver responds.
Percy showers and dresses in khaki pants and a gray T-shirt. When he walks back into the bedroom to make his bed, Oliver has moved on to sit-ups. “Do you have a preference for breakfast?” He asks as he snaps out the wrinkles in his top sheet.
“What…nineteen…are my options…twenty.”
“Cold cereal,” Percy grins at the face Oliver pulls. “Too much like rations?”
“Eggs, bacon, toast, and fruit?” Percy offers.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
“Thirty-two…please,” Oliver says with a smile.
Percy finishes making his bed and leaves Oliver to transfigure a bedside table into a chin-up bar. He froths eggs in a bowl, adds some cheese, and is carefully laying out bacon in a second pan when Oliver walks out of the back room. “You need another shower,” Percy tells him.
“After breakfast.” Oliver watches Percy put toast in the toaster and raises his eyebrows when Percy uses a knife to slice strawberries. “Full Muggle, then?”
“The less magic I use outside of necessity, the better hidden this place can be,” Percy explains. He shakes his head at Oliver’s sudden blanching. “One chin-up bar won’t blow the wards.”
“It can’t help.” Oliver steps aside to let Percy open the refrigerator. “How’d you get like this?” He asks after a moment. “You’re so…relaxed, and you run a fair chance of someone blowing your head to bits if something slips.”
Percy pauses, hand on the orange juice, and turns his head to look at Oliver. “There’s a war on,” he says seriously. “There’s nothing to be done about that, but I can do something about this place and how I run it.”
Oliver shakes his head. “Definitely not the Percy I remember.” His smile makes it a compliment.
“I remember Oliver Wood being obsessed with Quidditch,” Percy tells him. “I wouldn’t have given you credit to have the talents needed for spying.”
“It’s just a different kind of strategy,” Oliver replies. “Except it’s seven blokes or more trying to knock my head off for real, and there’s no good way to keep score.”
“You’ve made it a year running about keeping your head on. That’s a pretty good score.”
Oliver grins. “Suppose so.” He watches Percy adjust the heat on the stove. “For the record,” he says when Percy reaches for glasses, “you weren’t so bad when you were Percy at Hogwarts.”
Percy turns his head, but he knows the blush shows on the back of his neck. “Thank you,” he says quietly.
“You’re welcome.” Oliver steps forward and takes the glass Percy hands to him. “So, what’s my agenda today?”
“You’ll have to tell me. Minerva’s cleared you to inform me of anything you need. She says your next assignment is coming in three days, but I assume you have some idea of what that assignment is if you need training.”
“I got hold of some information a couple of weeks ago that told us You Know—Voldemort,” Oliver corrects with a grimace, “is starting to use Muggles as part of his army.”
Percy pauses in transferring the eggs to plates. “Muggles? For what purpose?”
“There’s some fad called ‘alternative’,” Oliver explains. “Dean Thomas—you remember?” Oliver waits for Percy’s nod. “He says it’s where Muggles with no problems pretend like they want them. Voldemort’s started allowing Muggle-borns to join up with him—” Oliver breaks into a laugh at the shock on Percy’s face. “Haven’t heard that yet, have you?”
Percy blinks a few times. “It hasn’t come through,” he says after he swallows. “That goes against his entire—”
“Wand fodder,” Oliver interrupts. “If Muggle-borns want to run in first, it saves a few Purebloods from possible death.” Oliver jumps a little when Percy slams the glasses onto the counter.
“Sorry,” Percy says after a moment. “It makes the same sort of sense as everything else.”
“Yeah,” Oliver’s face drops at the implication. He runs a hand over his hair and sighs heavily. “These kids, the ones in the fad, Voldemort is going to convince them that he’ll teach them magic—that anyone can learn it—and when they show up, they’ll throw Imperius over all of them.”
“And send them into the Muggle areas for the dirty work.”
Percy smiles a little at Oliver’s surprised look. “I’ve no talent for spying, but I’ve always been very good at logic puzzles.”
“The logic of this is a bit sick,” Oliver mutters and takes the plate Percy hands him.
“What do you know about alternative?” Percy asks as they settle at the table.
“I have a few descriptions, and Dean showed me some pictures, but I don’t have any in-depth research.” Oliver raises his eyebrows when Percy smiles. “And we’re back in your territory, aren’t we?”
“I do a bit more than feeding and watering,” Percy tells him.
Oliver swallows a bite of bacon and spears a strawberry slice. “You’re pretty good at the first two.”
Percy concentrates on carefully cutting his bacon. “Thank you,” he mumbles.
“There it is,” Oliver says quietly.
Percy looks up from his bacon. “What?”
“I was…” Oliver clears his throat and taps his fork on his plate. “Sorry. I’m just a little surprised at how…un-you…you are.”
“Have I really changed so much?” Percy’s eyebrows furrow, and he looks down again.
Oliver stares at his plate and tries to figure out how to explain it. “We were seventeen,” he says after a moment. “And maybe the Percy I remember isn’t quite correct, but he was never as relaxed as you.”
“The Oliver I remember wasn’t nearly as serious,” Percy replies. He looks up and meets Oliver’s eyes. “Maturity,” he says and pulls a face; crossing his eyes and sticking out his tongue.
Oliver laughs. “That, I remember. I can’t believe no one ever caught you out making faces. Fred and George couldn’t get away with anything—”
“They got away with plenty,” Percy interrupts.
“But not nearly as much as you.”
“Because I actually used the decorum I was taught as a child.” Percy shakes his head at the memories.
“Do they have any idea what you used to pull in our room?”
“If I told them, they’d never take me seriously.”
Oliver takes a bite of bacon and watches Percy eat a piece of strawberry. “They’re high-up in the Order,” he says conversationally. “So are Bill and Charlie and Ginny. Ron’s not listed, but I assume there’s a good reason for that.”
“There is,” Percy confirms. “You’re ranked near the twins, you know.”
“So they tell me.” Oliver shrugs at Percy’s surprised look. “I don’t have a concept of it. I’m out there, and then I’m in a safehouse. And then I’m out again.”
“Speaking of,” Percy says, “we still need to get you prepared to go again. Finish your breakfast; I’m going to start researching.” He takes his plate into the sitting room and sets it in the middle of the coffee table. He hears Oliver chuckle when he pulls a laptop from under the couch. “You know what this is, I suppose?”
“I’m surprised you do.” Oliver looks at his plate, eyes the state of the carpet, and carries his breakfast into the sitting room so he can sit next to Percy. He looks over Percy’s shoulder as he opens an Internet browser. “Be honest; your dad’s Muggle craziness finally came in handy, didn’t it?”
Percy straightens his glasses on his nose and looks at Oliver in his peripheral vision. “Perhaps,” he admits. “But if he asks, I had to go through extensive training that I don’t have time to teach him.”
“You should feel bad.”
“You didn’t have to grow up around dismantled toasters,” Percy responds, but the serious look falls off his face when a picture finishes loading on his computer. “Oh, Merlin.”
“Bad news?” Oliver asks, leaning in closer.
“Not for me,” Percy replies. “But I hope you’re very good at dressing like a complete spanner.”
“I’ve done—you are joking,” Oliver’s mouth hangs open as he stares at the picture. “He’s wearing glitter.”
“And so will you,” Percy says brusquely. He meets Oliver’s shocked look with a stern glare. “You’re a spy. This is what you do.”
Oliver groans. “There’s a limit—”
“There is not,” Percy interrupts. “Members of the Order must be willing to do anything necessary to procure information and bring forth the end of Voldemort.”
“I’ve read the oath, too,” Oliver snaps, “but I’m allowed to not want to look like a wanker.”
“But you will,” Percy says flatly.
“Yes, sir, Prefect Percy,” Oliver replies.
Percy’s shoulders stiffen. “If that—”
“Joking,” Oliver says, holding up a hand. “Really,” he adds when Percy gives him a look.
“I spend a great deal of time explaining to people what they’ve promised to do,” Percy says sharply. “I can’t take the chance that someone is joking or not willing to follow through. It’s all too important.”
Oliver doesn’t say anything for a long moment. “I’m in, Percy. I’ve been in, and I’m staying in. I just didn’t expect my duties to require,” he points at the computer screen, “that.”
Percy rolls his shoulders to drop the tension. “My apologies.”
“Me, too,” Oliver says. “Just know that even if I’m squawking, I’m still in all the way.”
“I’ll remember,” Percy tells him. He sticks the last piece of bacon between his teeth and hands Oliver his plate. “I can finish the research if you’ll do the washing up.”
“On it,” Oliver says and stands up from the couch.
Oliver’s orders show up in the freezer bright and early on the third day. Percy hands them to him and watches him read. “Any good news?” He asks when Oliver sets the scroll aflame.
“Then don’t tell me anything.” Percy follows Oliver to the sitting room and reaches around him to press his hand to the doorjamb. “Off you go then,” he says, his gaze just over Oliver’s left shoulder.
Oliver runs his hand through his spiked-up hair and adjusts the leather bracelet on his wrist. “I look like a complete cunt, don’t I?”
Percy knows Oliver’s trying to lighten the mood. “I like the bracelet,” he says. He tilts his head. “You’ve got places to be.”
“It was good to see you,” Oliver says as he walks into the front room. “Any messages for anyone I might see?”
“Tell my parents I’m fine,” Percy requests. He holds up a hand in a wave and watches Oliver apparate away. “Good luck,” he mutters to the empty room.
Minerva usually doesn’t send Percy names. It’s safer if all anyone ever finds are vague bits of information. She does tell him when she’s sending the twins. “They’re family,” she’d said when Percy had objected the first time, “and I think we can agree that a welcoming face is never a bad thing.”
Fred and George apparate in an hour later than Minerva’s report said to expect them. Percy is pacing the sitting room when he hears the pop, and he whirls on his heel to yell at them, wand up in case it’s a trick. They look exhausted, and there’s blood under George’s left ear. Percy has to stop himself from immediately dropping the shielding spells.
“I saw a lass with hair of brass as she sat on the grass,” Fred says, his arm tight around George’s side. His wand is pointed directly at Percy’s head.
“Poetry isn’t supposed to rhyme,” Percy replies and presses his hand to the doorjamb. He hurries to George’s other side and helps Fred carry him to the back room. “You’re late.”
“Sorry. Explosions. You know how they are.”
“Were you successful?” Percy doesn’t have to look over to know that Fred is grinning.
“Of course. We’re brilliant.”
Percy almost tells Fred he doesn’t look it, but it’s not an insult worth using. “What happened to George?”
“Got clocked on the head with a rock. He snapped a Death Eater’s wand, and the man was none too happy.”
“Any magic in the rock?”
“Nope.” Fred takes all of George’s weight to lay him on the bed second-closest to the door of the back room.
“I have to check him for concussion. Wet a cloth in the sink and bring juice.” Percy sits next to George as Fred bustles in the kitchen. He slaps George lightly until George opens his eyes. “Were you hexed?” Percy asks.
“Rock,” George mutters. He leans his head into Percy’s hand. “Big rock.”
Fred walks back into the room and hands Percy the cool cloth. He sits on the other side of George and gets him to sip the juice while Percy cleans the blood from under George’s ear. The cut is shallow, and the blood is mostly dried. Percy presses his wand against George’s temple and feels a weight come off his chest when the tip glows white. “No concussion,” he says quietly. “And the cut is minor.”
“Told you,” Fred tells George triumphantly, but Percy can see his hands shaking.
“You both need a shower,” he says as he stands. “And a hot meal, most likely.”
“You sound like Mum,” Fred teases. “Going to check behind our ears for dirt?”
“Found enough behind your ears tonight.” Percy holds up the cloth. “So shower, eat, and then to bed.”
“Okay,” George says quietly, and Percy knows he must be completely exhausted and sore not to tease him. “Our report—”
“You leave tomorrow at two. I’ll get you up early for the details.” Percy crosses his arms and taps his foot until they get up and walk into the bathroom. He gathers their clothes while they shower and throws them into the washer, trying to ignore the muck on the knees and elbows. They were on the ground at some point, the clothes tell him, and he wonders how close they came this time.
Fred and George report the facts in a subdued tone that tells Percy it was even worse than he’d pictured. If they have a good run, the reports take hours, as they veer into stories and jokes. If they have a bad run, it’s a matter of minutes, and the report for their latest attempts takes only twelve. Percy makes them tea with honey and pretends not to notice them curling around him like parentheses when he sits on the couch to read.
“Do you need anything before you go?” He asks at half-past one.
“We’re full up,” George tells him. “We’ll pick up rations at base before we’re out again.”
Percy wants to ask where they’re going, but he knows they won’t tell. Nearly everyone else gives him at least some detail, but the twins simply read their orders, set them on fire, and change the subject.
“No socks need darning? You don’t need more healing salve or energy potions?”
“We’re covered,” Fred says. “But aren’t you just a polite young man to ask with such concern. Really, George, have you ever met a nicer boy?”
“I could just pinch his cheeks,” George replies.
They’re still heckling Percy when they apparate, and he sighs heavily once they’re gone. “Good luck.”
Draco Malfoy shows up, moves the microwave to the counter, transfigures the microwave cart into a fireplace, and spends four days making potions. Percy makes stew and bakes bread and puts Draco’s preferred tea on the counter with a large mug and an empty bowl.
“Help yourself,” he instructs Draco, and spends the days reading books about Muggle history and patching the holes in the clothes people leave behind.
“Weasley,” Draco says with a nod as he leaves.
“Malfoy,” Percy responds and watches him apparate. “Good luck.”
“I have to shop for supplies,” Percy tells Minerva one morning. “I’ve got enough for another three days, but I wanted to give you warning in case you need to redirect anyone.”
“I only have one scheduled in for you for the next three days. Tomorrow, mid-afternoon.”
“I’ll shop after the arrival, then,” Percy says.
“Are you well?” Minerva asks. She asks every few weeks. Percy has come to realize she only asks when she knows he’s alone.
“Fine,” he answers, as he always does.
“And your arm?”
“No extra trouble,” Percy assures her.
His new charge is Justin Finch-Fletchley. He’s been in before, and his hands are in his pockets when Percy walks into the sitting room from the kitchen. “I was going to Rome,” Justin says, “but I think I took a wrong turn.”
“Always turn left,” Percy replies and presses his hand to the doorjamb. “You should have your wand out until you’re certain I’m trustworthy,” Percy tells him. He tells him every time.
Justin shrugs. “If you’d switched sides, you wouldn’t wait for me to open my mouth.”
“Having your wand out is common sense,” Percy says. “You’re putting yourself at a very high risk by being so casual.”
“I knew I was coming here,” Justin tells him. “I was giving information to Minerva right before I apparated here, so I knew it was going to be you.”
“It doesn’t matter. Until you hear the word, your wand stays out.”
“All right,” Justin says, waving a hand in a casual dismissal that makes Percy wonder how much longer it will be before Justin’s name shows up on the daily scroll of the missing.
“I have to buy supplies,” he says rather than lecture. Justin has never listened to any of Percy’s warnings about protecting himself. “You’ll have to come with.”
Oliver shows up again as Percy’s half-past eleven on a Tuesday morning. His wand is out, but a grin breaks across his face at the sight of Percy. “I saw the stars from London Tower,” he says.
“But the moon was down in the river,” Percy replies. He drops the shielding spell and looks Oliver over for damage. He’s wearing black boots, black jeans, a belt with silver studs, a navy blue shirt with white, curly line art, and three leather bracelets on his left wrist. There’s glitter in his hair and his eyes are rimmed with liner. “You look tired,” Percy tells him.
Oliver rubs at his eyes, smearing eyeliner across his cheek. “I look ridiculous.”
Percy smiles a little. “A bit, yes.” He grimaces when Oliver scratches his scalp and glitter falls onto the carpet. “Shower’s still to the left.”
“Thank Merlin.” Oliver stops outside the bathroom door and cranes his neck to see Percy. “I spoke with Minerva a week ago. She says I can give my information to you if you want to hear it.”
There’s a heaviness in Oliver’s tone that almost makes Percy refuse. He’s not required to hear where they’ve been, but it helps Minerva and the others if they can get clear, concise reports on a first try. It’s why he puts up with the meandering versions Fred and George sometimes give him. “After your shower. I was planning sandwiches for lunch.”
“Ham if you’ve got it,” Oliver says as he closes the bathroom door.
Percy makes ham sandwiches and opens a bag of crisps. He listens to Oliver mutter to himself in the shower and hunts up a pair of plain blue jeans and a red T-shirt that he thinks are about Oliver’s size. “Clothes by the door!” He yells as he sets them down.
Oliver comes out of the bathroom in the jeans and T-shirt and smiles when Percy hands him his plate. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome.” Percy watches Oliver take a bite of his sandwich. “Does anyone eat out there?” He asks before he can stop himself.
“Hmm?” Oliver asks around another bite of his sandwich.
“No one’s ever come in on the first day and eaten slowly,” Percy explains. “I’ve been wondering if there’s some issue with the rations of which I’m not aware.”
“No,” Oliver says around another bite. He chews, swallows, and wipes at the edge of his mouth with the back of his hand. “The rations are filling, but they taste like old socks.”
“Flattering,” Percy says, biting into a crisp. “My culinary skills are less terrible than the taste of old socks.”
“They’re slightly more than that.” Oliver tosses the last bite of sandwich into his mouth.
“Thank my mother if you see her. It’s all her recipes.”
“Do you see her often?” Oliver makes a face after he asks. “Sorry. That’s probably not my business.”
“I don’t see her,” Percy answers. “Nor the rest of the family.”
“None of them?”
“No,” Percy says, making sure to look Oliver in the eyes. Telling Oliver he sees the twins regularly puts the twins at risk if Oliver gets captured. “There are messages occasionally, from other people who come here.”
“My parents are hidden somewhere,” Oliver tells him quietly. “The Order placed them somewhere in case I’m ever captured.”
“Do you get to talk to them?”
“I get updates,” Oliver says and rubs his hand across his mouth. “Think I’ll make a cup of tea,” he half-mutters and turns away from Percy.
Percy breathes in slowly through his nose and watches Oliver open cupboards. “The tea cups are hung over the sink,” he says quietly and shares a knowing smile when Oliver looks at him, embarrassed. He steps around Oliver and walks into the sitting room to pick up a pad of paper and a Quick-Quotes Quill. He sits at the dining table and waits for Oliver to join him. “Start whenever you want. I’ll ask questions for any information I think requires more detail.”
“Okay,” Oliver says with a nod. He breathes in and out a few times before nodding at Percy. Percy taps the Quick-Quotes Quill, and it stands up straight, the edge of the plume quivering in readiness.
“Is that thing reliable?” Oliver asks, eyeing the quill as it scratches across the paper.
Percy holds up the paper. The incredibly precise handwriting reads, ‘Is that thing reliable?’. “I recal—” Percy plucks the quill off the table as it tries to write into the tabletop. “I recalibrated it myself.”
“I knew I recognized the handwriting.” Oliver’s smile slides into a serious expression when Percy resets the quill. He breathes slowly again and starts talking. It’s names, dates, and locations for nearly an hour. Oliver gives detailed descriptions of all the houses, apartments, and clubs he’s seen, and he’s starting descriptions of the Muggles he’s been talking to when Percy holds up a hand.
“Pause,” Percy says, and the quill falls over like it’s fainting. Percy stands up and takes Oliver’s tea cup. “More?”
“Please,” Oliver says and rests his head in his hands. “You haven’t asked any questions.”
“You haven’t required any,” Percy explains as he pours hot water from the kettle and pulls a tea bag from one of the boxes in the cupboard. “I think it’s your Quidditch experience.”
“Huh?” Oliver looks confused when Percy hands him his tea.
“You always knew who was where on the Quidditch pitch. You’ve retained your eye for detail.”
“Thank you,” Oliver says and stirs his tea. “The next part is going to be a bit rough,” he admits as Percy takes his seat again. “The people I met, it’s painful…do you remember Ian?”
Percy thinks for a moment. “Ian McCormick?” Oliver’s nod brings up a memory for Percy. “He was in our year. He left…third year?”
“Halfway through. He was one of the reserve Beaters for Gryffindor his second and third year.”
“I don’t recall why he left.”
“Homesickness,” Oliver tells him. “We were friends, a little. He told me during practice once that he and his parents didn’t really talk, but that he wanted to be near them anyway. I thought it was strange, you know, that you’d want to be near people you didn’t get along with.”
“I had a falling out with the family when I left Hogwarts,” Percy says. “I understand it a little.”
“The twins mentioned it to me.” Oliver sips his tea. “I almost didn’t believe it.”
“Neither did I.” Percy looks away from Oliver’s slightly pained smile.
Oliver taps his fingers against his tea cup, and they sit in a slightly awkward silence for a few seconds. “These people remind me of Ian. Something’s wrong, down deep, and all they really want is to go home. Ian could go home but they…can’t. So they dress like idiots and listen to terrible music and act like they’re too cool for everything.”
Percy thinks of the way he used put so much energy into legislation about cauldron bottoms and wishes he’d gotten a cup of tea for himself. “So they’re turning to the unknown.”
“The darker the better,” Oliver confirms. “I don’t know…” He shakes his head. “I can’t give myself away. I have to pretend like I want to go with them, and I’m…” Oliver sips his tea and stares into his cup. “I’m scared,” he says so quietly that Percy almost doesn’t hear him. “I’m fairly certain they’re all going to die, and they won’t even know it wasn’t their choice.”
Percy watches the way Oliver’s hands clench around his tea cup. He looks at the Quick-Quotes Quill, and then at Oliver’s face. He looks relaxed, but his shoulders are rolled forward. “Do you remember,” Percy asks slowly, “sixth year during Christmas break?”
Oliver looks up from his tea cup, eyebrows raising. “Which part?”
“The part we didn’t talk about later,” Percy says. His right arm twitches, and he tucks it close to his side. “If you were interested, I mean.”
Oliver blinks. He swallows. “Is this a…regular service you provide?”
Percy can feel the blush rushing over his cheeks. “No,” he snaps. “I just—” He presses his lips together. “It’s very hard to sit and listen when people tell me what’s happening,” he says after a moment, staring at the individual feathers on the quill. “I get reports, but they’re very…dry. It’s names and locations and estimated times for people showing up here to get some rest. And you’re my—we were friends. Fairly casual, obviously, as our pastimes were so different at school, but we were friends, and I think we’re friends now—”
“Yes,” Oliver interrupts and stands up. He takes the two steps to stand in front of Percy’s chair and shoves his hands in his pockets. “Sorry,” he says when Percy doesn’t look at him. “I didn’t mean to imply…I was surprised, is all.” He touches his foot to Percy’s, and Percy finally looks up at him. “Yes,” Oliver repeats.
“All right,” Percy says and makes himself stand up.
There’s a long, quiet moment where they just look at each other. Percy realizes Oliver has a faint scar over his left eyebrow that he doesn’t remember at the same time Oliver leans down and kisses him.
“Oh,” Percy breathes out, and grabs hold of Oliver’s T-shirt as he presses up to deepen the kiss. Oliver tugs at Percy’s T-shirt, and Percy allows himself to be pulled from the middle room, through the kitchen, and into the back room. Oliver pushes him onto a bed, straddles his hips, and smiles down at Percy as he leans forward to place his hands on either side of Percy’s head.
“Thank you,” Oliver says quietly, and then it’s just sensation.
“You have a report to finish,” Percy mutters later, his right arm and left cheek pressed against Oliver’s shoulder blade.
“Yeah,” Oliver breathes out. He turns on his side and looks at Percy. An embarrassed smile slides across his face. “Um…I might have bitten you,” he says, not quite able to meet Percy’s eyes.
Percy looks down at himself. There are half a dozen places on his chest and stomach that are slightly red and welted. “So you did.” He looks at Oliver and shrugs. “It’ll all be under my clothes.”
“You…” Oliver shakes his head and flops onto his back. “You’re so relaxed. For you, I mean. It’s weird.”
Oliver turns his head and grins. “Yeah, it’s a good weird.”
“Well, I suppose I’ll take it, then.” Percy makes himself sit up and swing his legs over the side of the bed. “Report,” he says without looking at Oliver. “The sooner the better.”
“I know.” Oliver heaves a sigh and stares at the ceiling. “Give me five minutes?”
“Four,” Percy replies, and stands up from the bed. “Four-and-a-half if you’ll make us both tea.”
“Deal,” Oliver agrees.
Oliver leaves the next morning, hair re-spiked and all his jewelry back in place. “Thanks for everything,” he says to Percy as he steps into the front room.
“Be careful,” Percy responds.
“Maybe I’ll see you soon.” Oliver’s smile is forced as he apparates away.
“Good luck,” Percy mutters and walks to the back room to strip the beds.
Seamus Finnigan apparates in when Percy’s expecting no one. “Tomorrow, four o’clock, three,” he says, and then he’s gone again.
It bothers Percy to get arrival information so tersely. If someone delivers it like Seamus just has, it means everything’s going sideways. He clenches his fist when his right arm shakes and spends an hour flipping through cookbooks trying to decide what to make for the next arrivals.
Severus shows up at four o’clock exactly, gives the password, and has only crossed the threshold into the sitting room when the twins apparate in. Percy wants to ask if they’ve all been working together, but he offers them dinner instead.
They’re ahead of him as they walk into the kitchen, and Percy gets a crawling feeling up the back of his neck right before he hears another pop. He spins on his heel, sees a dozen hooded people, and slams the side of his fist against the doorjamb of the middle room. All the door shields shimmer into place as the Death Eaters bombard the front room doorway with hexes and charms.
“Go!” Percy shouts as he turns around. He’s not surprised to see no sign of Severus. The twins are standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the doorway of the kitchen, and Percy shoves at them as he hears the front room shielding spells crack. “I said go!”
“We—” Fred and George start in unison.
“It’s an order!”
Percy grabs them both by the neck of their T-shirts and disapparates them as a group. They nearly fall onto Severus when they apparate into the front room of another safehouse.
“Mr. Weasly,” Severus greets, “if you could.” He waves a hand at the doorjamb connecting the front room to the sitting room.
Percy roughly lets go of the twins and presses his hand to the doorjamb. The shielding spells drop, and Severus gives him a nod as he walks by.
“Wait,” Fred says as he looks around. “I think we’ve been here before.”
George turns in a slow circle. “I think we just came from here.”
“And you’re damned lucky you did,” Percy snaps, whirling to face them. “When I give you an order, you follow it! There’s no protecting me! There’s no waiting to fight! When a safehouse is compromised, all field agents are required to disapparate immediately!”
“But we—” George starts.
“No!” Percy yells. “You do not argue with me when I give you a direct order!”
“We wanted to help!” Fred yells in response. “So sorry we didn’t want you dead!” His voice breaks on the last word.
“Yeah, we’re bastards,” George adds angrily.
Percy breathes in hard through his nose. “I have a responsibility,” he says, his voice quieter, but still sharp. “And you’re part of it. Everyone that shows up, they’re my responsibility, and for this to work, for all those people to stay safe, all of you have to listen to me. Even the two of you.”
Fred and George look at one another, then at Percy. “Sorry,” Fred mumbles.
“Yeah, sorry,” George echoes.
“You have to listen,” Percy repeats. “Everyone is at risk when you don’t. Not just me, and not just you.”
“Okay.” George holds up a hand. “We get it. We’re sorry. We’ll listen.”
“But, seriously,” Fred says, “didn’t we just leave this place?”
Percy pinches the bridge of his nose. “Yes and no,” he says after a brief internal debate about whether or not to smack Fred on the back of the head. “It’s a bit of trickery put together by Hermione and some others. I’m not explaining it to you. I have to figure out how this happened.”
“We really are sorry,” Fred says as Percy walks through the sitting room. “But you’re our brother.”
It makes Percy pause. “And you’re mine. And I’m older.”
“You outrank us,” Fred says. “Got it.”
The answers aren’t there, Percy finds out. It doesn’t matter how much he and Severus yell through the microwave. No one has an explanation for how they were found. Severus mutters under his breath as he brews gallons of Pepper-Up on a transfigured bit of counter. The twins play Muggle cards at the table, and Percy remakes the chicken and vegetables he’d had in the oven at the other house.
Bill and Lupin show up as Percy is pulling the chicken from the oven, and they comb over the wards, checking for anything out of the ordinary.
“How?” Fred asks as he watches them run their wands around the edges of a closet. “This is a different safehouse, right?”
“Yes,” Percy says, “but the magic here is an exact duplicate of the magic there. If someone’s added something, it will show up here.”
Fred blinks. He looks at George. George blinks. “How does that work?” George asks.
“Magic,” Percy deadpans.
“Nothing,” Lupin says four hours later when they’ve finished combing the backroom. “Everything is perfectly in place.”
“Too perfectly?” Percy asks as he clutches at his tea cup.
“No,” Bill answers. “Nothing’s been sabotaged. Nothing’s been rearranged. However they found you, it wasn’t through a tracking spell or anything related.”
“Damnit,” Percy mutters and sips his tea. His arm jerks a little, but he manages not to spill on himself.
“Did you take your potion?” Bill asks.
“Yes, but it’s been a touch stressful today, if you’ll recall,” Percy snaps.
“Easy,” Bill says casually. “You know I didn’t mean it like that.”
“And the twins tried to stay with me,” Percy continues. “And didn’t listen when I ordered them out.”
“Of course not,” Lupin says, “they’re you’re brothers.”
“They’re high-ranking members of the Order, and they’re needed for important advancements in this war,” Percy counters. “And they should bloody well listen to me when I tell them to leave.”
“They’re still your brothers,” Lupin says calmly.
Percy gives Bill an exasperated look, and Bill shrugs. “They are,” he adds. “Hell, Percy, the only reason I’m not tackling you into a hug is because I don’t want to embarrass you.”
“I think I’ll step into the sitting room,” Lupin says, trying to hold back a smile.
“Bill—” Percy tries to say, but he’s pulled into the threatened hug.
“I’ll listen if you tell me to run,” Bill tells him. “So shut up and let me hug my little brother, all right?”
Percy doesn’t argue.