Excerpt from Professor D.K. Luderm's groundbreaking study, Fantastic Beasts and Muggle Myths: A Story of Synergy:
"Perhaps the most intriguing of the Fantastic Beasts is the creature known to Wizarding kind as the reticula. Recognizable by their silvery-gray skin, protruding black on black eyes, thin limbs and disproportionately large heads, the reticula are entirely nocturnal, travel in small, non-familial packs and require the presence of a non-magical human to mate and breed.
Sadly, much of the knowledge potentially available through Muggle accounts of these encounters is useless. Most Muggles lucky enough to witness such an event are left severely traumatized and attribute their memories to abduction by extra-terrestrial entities.
Though the presence of magic inhibits the reproductive drive of the reticula, it seems to have a calming effect on the recently hatched squalls. Unfortunately, the tendency of the adult reticula to devour any magical creature in its vicinity requires a speedy and complete relocation of the nest..."
Percy could feel the weight of over three dozen pairs of staring eyes on him as he entered the Great Hall. It had been months since he'd been in the company of so many wizards and it only took a few seconds for him to remember why he had quickly grown to love his relative isolation in Windermere. He'd found that Muggle tourists and sheep didn't care if you had supposedly betrayed your entire family to the Dark Lord. The whispers started before he was even half way through the room and keeping his head up became a challenge. He knew what people were saying about him; it was the same wherever he went in the Wizarding world.
Oh, look. There goes the Weasley boy...No, no, the one who turned his back on his family for the Ministry. Yes, that one.
He had been following orders, damn it. Even if most of the world would never know, he knew exactly what he had accomplished by working in the Ministry the past four years. So what if he hadn't been allowed to tell his family in the beginning and they now refused to even hear his name? So what if the new Ministry had thanked him for his efforts and 'generously' offered him the choice between extremely early retirement and a transfer to America? So what if he had developed an unexpected understanding of Professor Snape?
Percy passed the Gryffindor alumni table and the murmuring swelled as his younger siblings and their assorted partners, excluding Hermione, pointedly ignored him. That didn't hurt, though. No, he had his whole life to grow used to such reactionary and immature behavior from the twins and Ron. What did hurt was the same deliberate unconcern from his parents and older brothers further down the table. He had to resist the urge to grit his teeth at their lack of acknowledgement, but he refused to let them see how much their disdain still hurt him. Squaring his shoulders, he headed for the far end of the Gryffindor table, not really surprised to find a good two meters of space open up around what was once the only free seat.
He didn't know why he had even agreed to attend this weekend - most likely because Minerva had asked. She had taken over both Hogwarts and the Order after Headmaster Dumbledore's death the year before and Percy found himself responding to her with as much loyalty and affection as he ever did for her predecessor. That didn't mean, though, that he had to enjoy himself the next two and a half days. It wasn't that he didn't want to help clear Hogwarts of the reticula infestation; he was just so very tired of pretending his family's rejection of him didn't matter. He was still under orders, though. Dumbledore, and later McGonagall, had been quite clear that he was not to tell anyone of his subversive activities within Ministry until given express permission to do so.
"Mr. Weasley." The crowd hushed in anticipation of the Headmaster taking the supposedly traitorous Weasley to task in their first public meeting in years.
"Professor." Percy turned and waited for McGonagall to finish her appraisal of him. Now that he didn't have to keep up appearances at the Ministry, Percy knew he wasn't taking proper care of himself. He could see her mouth tighten slightly as she noticed his obvious pallor and weight loss. It was not exactly second nature for her but she had done her best in the past four years to care for him as his mother would have.
Though she expressed her concern quite differently.
"You look terrible, my boy." She smiled slightly and brushed her fingers against his cheek before turning and sweeping back towards the Head Table. "Come. You'll be eating with me."
"Was that really wise, Professor?" Percy picked at his lunch, the ruckus at the Gryffindor table making him anxious. Hermione was very obviously lecturing the entire Weasley clan, his parents included. As Percy watched, she threw up her hands in frustration and stomped across the Hall to sit with Neville and Draco at the table populated by Inter-House couples.
"Stop fussing, Percy. One of the reasons I wanted you here this weekend is that I am finally able to give you leave to tell your family everything."
Percy shrugged. He had thought quite a bit about what to do with his family once he was no longer constrained by instructions from the Order. "I don't think it matters, Professor."
"You don't think they'll believe me?"
"No, they'll believe you. They're obviously only going to take me back at your word. There were plenty of hints as to what I was doing, but they all chose to ignore them. They accepted the Malfoys as double agents with hardly a protest, but me doing the same thing never occurred to them. No one chose to believe in me."
She hmmphed into her teacup. "You're wrong about no one believing in you, but you do have a point about your blasted family. You'd think after all the wrong-headed conclusions they've jumped to in the past several years they'd have learned their lesson by now."
"They're Gryffindors, Minerva. What more do you expect?" Professor Snape settled in on the other side of Percy.
"I hardly think your opinion of Gryffindor mental agility is unbiased, Severus."
"Mental agility? Unless it involves plotting the fastest way to throw oneself heedlessly into harm's way, I have yet, in all my years, to see any display of mental agility from a Gryffindor."
McGonagall glared at Snape for a moment before turning back to Percy. "Does anyone suspect you've been playing a deeper game?"
Percy glanced around the Hall before turning his attention back to picking at his dinner. "I've caught Neville giving me some sympathetic looks, so he probably suspects something and, if he knows, then Draco knows." He made a face at that most unlikely pairing. "They're playing it close to their chests, though. Hermione must realize; there's not a lot that escapes her. Why she's dating Ron I'll never guess."
"That is a question that has boggled greater minds than yours, Mr. Weasley." Snape mockingly tipped his teacup towards Harry and Ron in acknowledgment of the dirty looks they were sending towards both him and Percy. Snape eyed Percy's mostly untouched plate. "Eat, boy. You're going to make yourself ill and we don't have time for any foolishness this weekend if you're going to assist me to root out those damnable creatures."
Eleven years of experience with that tone of voice told Percy his grand plan to avoid his family like the plague and skulk about in the shadows had just died an untimely death. He fought the urge to huff and pout like a twelve year old girl, but some of his petulance came through in his tone. "As my loving family can attest, I'm an adult, Severus, and can make my own decisions regarding my diet."
Snape merely stared at Percy, leaving McGonagall to glare at him from over the top of her spectacles, "It's not Severus' fault your family and friends are being remarkably thick about this entire affair, don't blame him."
Percy nodded once in contrition, "Sorry, Professor."
McGonagall set her teacup down heavily. "I'm sorry too, Percy, and I know Albus was as well, but it was the only way." McGonagall dropped her gaze briefly. "Don't fret, though. You have more friends than you realize."
Percy rolled his eyes. He knew he was not an easy man to like, let alone love, and this masquerade had also cost him the only people outside of his family to ever truly care about him: Penelope and Oliver. His ill-fated romance with Penelope had blossomed into what Percy thought was an abiding friendship. He had planned to explain his supposed stance to Penelope in such a way that she'd be able to accept him without knowing the truth behind his actions. Unfortunately, his mother had contacted her before he had the chance and Penelope quietly, but firmly, broke off their friendship.
Oliver's defection had hurt more. While Penelope had been a lover turned friend, Oliver had been his best friend turned lover. In the weeks surrounding the Tri-Wizard Tournament, before everything began falling apart, Percy had been thrilled to discover his desire for a more intimate relationship with Oliver was not at all one-sided.
Until the day Oliver was simply gone. If it hadn't been for Quidditch reporting, Percy would have been afraid something dreadful had happened to him. As it was, Percy tried to tell himself Oliver also had a role to play in Dumbledore's master plan, but he could never quite make himself believe it.
"Who? You know I've never been one to make friends easily and the twins and Ron have spit enough venom about me that even acquaintances are hard to come by these days."
McGonagall simply smiled in a manner a bit too reminiscent of her predecessor.
"What have you done?"
Her eyes began to twinkle.
"Minerva, I'm begging you -" Whatever Percy was going to plead for was lost in the confusion as a set of tall windows at the far end of the Hall crashed open and a broomstick shot through. The rider circled the Hall once before landing lightly behind the Head Table and stepping up behind McGonagall.
It was Oliver.
The past few years had been good to him. He looked tan and fit as he greeted the Headmistress and surveyed the crowd in the Hall.
"I trust you have a good reason for your rather dramatic entrance, Mr. Wood?" McGonagall looked as if she couldn't decide whether to laugh or shout.
"I could finally do it without losing a million points for Gryffindor?" Oliver smiled charmingly at the fuming Professor Snape.
Percy slid out of chair, trying to make his escape before his brothers converged on the Head Table to welcome Oliver. He doubted even McGonagall and Snape's presence would deter any comments and he found he wasn't in the mood to be abused. Before he could move more than half a step, though, he was pulled into strong arms and held tightly.
"I've missed you, Perce."
Damp breath whispered over his ear and Percy felt the fluttering, joyous desire he had spent years trying to forget start in his belly. A part of him wanted to wriggle out of the embrace and lash out at Oliver for abandoning him, even if it had been at the behest of Dumbledore, but it had been so very long since anyone but McGonagall had touched him with anything resembling affection that he couldn't help but melt into the larger man's embrace. He tentatively slid his arms around Oliver's waist and, when he wasn't rebuffed or released, he locked his arms around the other man. "Oliver."
"I'm sorry you've had such a rough time of it. When I went to ask him what was going on with you, Dumbledore made me promise I wouldn't get involved, but I couldn't watch you go through that and he had to send me away. It's been the longest three years of my life."
Oliver whispered his confession as quickly as possible and it was all too much for Percy. He started to shake in earnest, the stress of the past years finally catching up with him. The only thing remotely holding him together was his absolute refusal to fall apart in front of his brothers. "Get me out of here, please?"
The quiet words tore at Oliver. This tired, fractured man wasn't the Percy he remembered. The very fact he was unable to hide his emotions spoke volumes about how hard he'd been pushing himself and how hurt he was by his family's actions. Though he'd been forced to stay away from Percy until now, he had been able to pester the occasional bit of information out of Dumbledore, then McGonagall, during his infrequent check-ins, so he had a general idea of what Percy had gone through. He truly hadn't expected things to be this bad, though.
Percy huddled closer to him, as if he could hide from the world inside Oliver, and tucked his head under Oliver's chin. Oliver held him more securely and barely restrained himself from growling at the encroaching hoard of Weasleys. Careful to keep Percy tucked against his chest, he turned to address the Headmistress and found he had to swallow several times before he was able to speak. "Could you get us out of here, please?"
"Of course, Mr. Wood. Please meet us outside the Greenhouses in two and a half hours. I'll take this opportunity to have a little talk with the Weasleys." McGonagall's steely look was the last thing Oliver saw before a rushing wind of color deposited both him and Percy, prone, onto the sofa in the Head Boy's quarters.
Percy tensed even further as they thumped down on the sofa and he pressed his face into Oliver's neck. "They're gone?"
"Yes, they're gone." Oliver started to shift Percy's weight to take pressure off of his knees, but regretted moving when the other man clung to him desperately.
"You didn't want to leave?" His voice was barely a whisper of sound, but Oliver heard.
"It was the last thing I wanted, Percy." He hugged the smaller man and hauled him up into a better position. "And I've been playing like shite for ages, too, thanks to missing you."
That shocked a small laugh out of Percy and some of the horrible tension drained away, leaving him a trembling weight on Oliver's chest. A much too insubstantial weight.
"Merlin, Percy, what have you done to yourself?" Oliver slid his hands down Percy's back and around his sides, trying not to count the obvious protrusions of vertebrae and ribs.
Percy seemed to be ignoring his fussing, but that was okay with Oliver as long as they were together. He forced himself to relax and changed his worried prodding to a gentle massage. Eventually Percy stopped trembling and rewarded him with a deep sigh and nearly two meters of boneless Weasley sprawled on top of him.
It seemed like forever since Oliver had held Percy like this. Having to break off their previous relationship the way he had nearly killed Oliver. They had only been together officially for a short time, but Oliver knew Mage-Bonding had been on both of their minds. The idea of being bound forever, magic to magic, to Percy was a little frightening, but definitely what he wanted. The time they spent apart only strengthened his desire for the other man. Now he just had to find out if Percy still felt the same way.
He wasn't terribly worried, though. After less than an hour spent together, he could feel his magic and Percy's re-attuning to each other. It was a blissful sensation, one that he had sorely missed and, if his constant hum of contentment was any indication, one Percy had as well.
Oliver wasn't sure how long they cuddled on the sofa, but Percy was the first to break the comfortable silence. "McGonagall is going to tell them, isn't she?"
"I think so. She looked rather fierce when she sent us here."
Percy lifted his head from Oliver's shoulder and for a moment he looked every inch the arrogant young man who had first lived in this room. "It's going to be embarrassing tonight, then. You might want to keep your distance."
"Are you mad?" Oliver pushed Percy backwards until he could sit up. "I've not spent the last three years traipsing all over the bloody world just to get shunted off to the side because your family is likely to cause a scene."
"Really?" Just like that Head Boy Percy was gone and in his place was the weary man with whom Oliver was quickly becoming familiar.
"Really." Oliver pulled him back into his arms and shifted until Percy was sprawled underneath him on the sofa.
Oliver nuzzled against Percy's cheek, tracking a random path between freckles, and thought about touching the man he considered his mate. When they first became involved, it had surprised him how tactile Percy was when they were alone. In public, Percy was the same self-contained, slightly aloof man he'd always been, but in private he was in near constant contact; brushing against him in the kitchen, napping with his head in Oliver's lap, reading reports with his feet tucked under his thigh.
And then there was the sex. Though he greatly desired Percy and had almost since he was old enough to know what desire was, Oliver hadn't been entirely sure how sex with Percy would be. He had thought the other man might be too controlled, to tightly wound to truly enjoy the physical intimacy, but he had been wrong. He had never considered how Percy's intensity and attention to detail would carry over into the bedroom. And the kitchen. And, on one memorable occasion, the Puddlemere locker room.
Percy shifted beneath him, settling deeper into the cushions of the sofa and bringing his knees up to cradle Oliver's hips. It had been much, much too long since Oliver had felt the particular mix of lean muscle and fine bone that said Percy to him. He had missed everything while he was away; the animal comfort of curling up together in a pile of blankets on a rainy Saturday morning, the way Percy's orgasm always seemed to take him by surprise, the soft murmur he made as he edited reports in his dreams.
There was a small part of him, the perpetually teenaged part that still thought playing Quidditch as a career was the best thing in the world, that couldn't believe they'd been alone together for nearly an hour and they hadn't done anything more than hold each other. For the most part, though, he knew they had both needed a moment to simply reconnect more than they needed anything else. And now that moment had passed.
Oliver rocked gently against the body under his. "It's been a very long three years, Percy."
"Three years? You haven't..." Percy's voice trailed off and he made a vague gesture behind Oliver's head.
"Of course not!" He stopped moving as he realized that, for Percy, his forced departure must have seemed like complete abandonment. There wouldn't have been anything preventing Percy from getting involved with someone else. "But I understand if you - I mean, you thought I was really gone, right?"
Percy looked confused for a moment before tensing underneath Oliver. "No! I mean, yes, I thought you were gone, but I didn't - I never - It just didn't seem right."
Oliver started moving again, rocking his hips gently against Percy's as he dropped his head down for a kiss that quickly consumed them. He knew he had no real right to the possessive joy that crept through his chest at that, but he couldn't help it. Percy was his, damn it, just as much as he was Percy's and it was time they made sure the rest of the world knew it.
When Oliver drew back, Percy knew he was flushed and panting. He twisted his hands in the back of his robes and tried to draw him back down, but the larger man resisted. "Is something wrong?"
"Do you - I mean, would you -" Oliver stopped talking and closed his eyes as he took a deep breath and exhaled sharply. "Do you know the Mage-Binding charm?"
Percy felt the bottom drop out of his stomach. He knew the charm, of course, but he'd never really let himself consider the possibility of ever using it, let alone with Oliver. Successfully performing the charm required a level of trust and commitment very few wizards wanted to share with another and even fewer could lay claim to. Though it hurt him to admit it, it was entirely possible Oliver didn't truly know what he was asking.
"Oliver, I don't think you don't understand -" A quick kiss cut off the rest of his sentence and Oliver pushed up on his hands so that he was looking down at Percy.
"The Mage-Binding charm was developed in 916 by Josephathus the Thinker. When performed correctly, a permanent connection is formed between the casters that combines their magic completely and results in an empathic bond. In order to make sure the charm was never abused, Josephathus crafted it so that only those with purest of motives, the truest of loves, and the deepest of commitments can successfully perform the charm.
"So, I'm asking you, Percy, do you know the charm?"
Never taking his eyes from Oliver's, Percy freed his wand from its sleeve compartment with a flick of his wrist and held it at the ready off to the side. Oliver slowly sat back until he was kneeling on the sofa. He withdrew his own wand and grasped Percy's left hand in his, pulling until he was upright, then on his knees as well. Leaving their hands entwined between them, Percy slowed his breathing until it was in concert with Oliver's.
If either man had been able to look away from the other, they would have seen their magic slowly growing visible in the room around them, mossy green and sky blue pulsating in time, but still markedly separate. As if on cue, their eyes drifted closed and the secretly familiar words of the charm sliced through the magic thickening the air, reweaving gossamer strands of power and life until there was no room for 'Oliver' and 'Percy' in the wake of OliverandPercy.
As the spell finished, the space between them became unbearable. Unthinkingly, they each shuffled forward until they were leaning against each other, supporting the other's weight as their new bond settled into place. The lonely places inside of each of them, the cold and dark places they feared showing, were gently surrounded and shown the matching place in the other. It was light and joy and love and, though they knew it wouldn't always be this simple, they were complete.
Nearly everyone was gathered outside the greenhouses, waiting on the few remaining stragglers, when they felt it. It was a benign shockwave of love and magic that brought the most sensitive among them to their knees.
Goodness, that was fast work, Mr. Wood. The Headmaster regained her feet with Arthur's help and took stock of her downed companions. Draco was supporting a wildly grinning Neville and a speculative Bill was dusting off his pants and offering Severus a hand up.
"Bloody Gryffindors. They couldn't wait two days, could they?" He stumbled a little as he gained his feet and unconsciously leaned into Bill's supporting hand. "No, they had to make themselves into a giant target for those revolting little creatures."
"Professor, was that…" Hermione's voice trailed off as if she were afraid to voice the rest of her question.
"Indeed it was, Ms. Granger." McGonagall finished straightening her robes and smiled as Hermione squealed and wrapped her arms around a very confused Ron's neck. For the most part confusion still reigned, but the Headmaster knew it would all be cleared up as soon as Percy and Oliver appeared.
Another small shockwave rolled over the group, leaving most of them blushing and shifting uncomfortably.
If Percy and Oliver ever appeared, that is.