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Harry Potter and the Really Round-About Way of Finding a Horcrux

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Harry Potter and the Really Round-About Way of Finding a Horcrux

(9th July 1997 - Wednesday)

The candlelight guttered above their heads, stirred by a thin breeze from the open window near Ron's bed. Harry blinked drowsily (the heat was making them all lazy) at the maps Hermione had shoved into his lap - the miniscule text seemed to swim for a moment before he remembered to focus.

...Wait, she was talking again. Harry tore his gaze away from the maps and trained it blearily on her. "...done it before," her voice floated into his head, "but just in case, you should memorise alternate escape routes and potential traps - "

"Escape routes? Merlin, what exactly're you imagining here?" Ron broke in, mouth quirking as he tried not to grin at her.

"A nest of Death Eaters in St John's Wood, of course," Harry contributed, smirking as Herm folded her arms over the chest of her pyjama top and glared at them both.

"It's not a good idea to just waltz into these situations blindly, Harry, you know you need to take every precaution, especially now - "

"He's not waltzing in blind, Herm - "

"Just alone," Harry interjected, grinning at the ferocity of Hermione's sudden blush.

"Stupid wards," she muttered sheepishly, dropping her gaze, eyes darting over to Ron and back again. Ron assumed the same goofy grin he'd been wearing for the past two days, and tugged the bedcovers in around Hermione's legs a bit more securely. Harry pretended (as he had been, intermittently, for the past two days) that he'd just been struck blind.

"So," he began again, once Ron had stopped rearranging the duvet solicitously and Hermione's ankles were safely covered, "Apparate in, make the drop, and the Portkey - " he pulled the charmed bottlecap out of his pocket " - is set for half past. Port back to my bedroom, try not to fall over when I land."

"You forgot 'let Hermione know the instant you've got back'," Hermione muttered, trying not to sound amused.

"'To keep her from making the rest of us go spare along with her'," Ron added helpfully, squawking at her retaliatory poke in the ribs. Harry snorted, slid his glasses more securely onto the bridge of his nose, and shoved off the little bed, sending it squeaking as he rummaged underneath for his trainers and tied them on. Tucking his wand and a folded envelope inside his jacket sleeve, Harry turned to face the other two and shrugged.

"I'll come and tell you what happened when I've got back," he said, feeling almost unnaturally calm. Hermione bit her lip and nodded.

"Just be careful, Harry."

He flashed a grin. "I always am," he said, and Disapparated with a pop.

***

Still new enough at Apparation that he felt a little disorientated whenever he arrived at his destination, Harry squinted and waited for his stomach to stop roiling, and quickly took in his surroundings. To his left: a wall of floor-to-ceiling inlaid bookshelves, full to bursting, a small metal-and-glass dining room table (more books stacked open on its surface, along with an empty butterbeer bottle full of narcissi) and a doorway showing a slip of a genuinely tiny kitchen in the next room. To his right: an uncomfortable-looking futon, an ancient-looking radio, bare walls and another doorframe, this one opening into a hallway leading back.

And, in the hallway, a thoroughly shocked-looking Percy Weasley.

"Hi," Harry thought to say, once his head had stopped spinning. He realised then that he had landed standing on the coffee table, and stepped down carefully, trying not to lose his balance.

"...What - " Percy began, then stopped to gape again. "Harry?"

"Was it the scar that gave it away?" Harry muttered, mainly for his own benefit as he reached into his sleeve, once his feet were both firmly on the floor. It was his turn to look startled as Percy quickly hunched behind the other side of the doorframe - at least, until he realised that Apparating uninvited into someone's flat and promptly indicating that one had something up his sleeve probably wasn't the most innocent-looking behaviour in the world. The thought gave Harry pause, and he tried to think of something comforting to say. "...If I were here to attack you, the wall wouldn't be much of an obstacle," he heard himself pointing out. Well, THAT worked. There was a brief silence.

"Apparating into the middle of a room would be, however," came the familiar snooty voice. Seconds later, Percy appeared in the doorway again, seeming to accept the idea that his unexpected guest might not be homicidal. Gaze still wary, he edged into the room. "Did my father send you?" he asked, and Harry was delighted by the novelty of hearing Percy Weasley sounding a little unsure.

"No." Percy's shoulders slumped a little, with relief. Harry grinned. "It was your mother." He decided to ignore the swift intake of breath that caused, and started towards the kitchen, pressing his advantage. The Portkey wouldn't activate for another seven minutes, and he and Percy had a lot of catching up to do. "D'you have anything to drink?"

"...I, er."

"Tea'd be good. I'll just start the kettle," he said, grabbing it off the smallest ring of the cooker and filling it with water with a quick charm, setting it back on to heat. Percy'd ventured as far as the doorway to the kitchen now, and Harry raised his eyebrows at him when he turned around. "You have tea, don't you?"

"Yes, I - no, wait," Percy spat, frowning. "What are you doing here?"

"Making tea," Harry replied, smiling maddeningly.

"...Why are you here making tea?"

"Because I doubt you keep any pumpkin juice."

Percy's eyes narrowed behind his eyeglasses. "Potter, if this is some sort of elaborate prank, I'd appreciate it if you'd just...explode my kettle or turn my stove into a parakeet or whatever it is you're on orders from my brothers to do, I am busy."

"Cauldron bottoms in Pakistan still not thick enough, Perce? Where're the teabags?" Harry asked, opening the nearest cupboard in search.

Making a moue of distinct displeasure, Percy gestured to a space behind Harry. "There are tea leaves in the cupboard above the toaster, second shelf," he replied automatically, then seemed to hate himself for it, frown deepening. "And don't call me Perce."

"Thanks. All right," Harry said, dragging the tin down, taking the kettle off the heat as it began to whistle. "How'd you set Apparation wards against only the members of your family?" he asked, Accio-ing a mug.

Percy blinked. "It wasn't just the members of my family. It's a modified Unplottable," he explained, opening the door of the refrigerator and handing Harry a carton of milk just as he held out a hand to ask for it, taking a mug down for himself as well.

"Really? Who else, then?" Harry asked, pouring tea into Percy's mug smoothly, after he'd finished with his own. "Sugar?"

"No, thank you. ...Well, Death Eaters, of course. You-Know-Who. Oliver Wood."

"No, where d'you keep the sugar? ...Oliver Wood? Why?"

Percy snorted, and poured a bit of milk into his mug before he put the container back into the the fridge. "I take it you've never been beset by a hysterical Quidditch obsessive at three in the morning, demanding to know when the Ministry will reinstate public matches? ...Oh, smallest jar, on the sideboard next to your elbow."

"Not as such, no. Thanks." Harry opened the jar and took a few spoonfuls, stirring contemplatively. "It affected Herm too."

Percy paused, mid-sip. "...Really." He sounded amused.

"Yeah. She can't figure out why," Harry grinned.

Percy rolled his eyes, and smiled a little too. "Quite a mystery."

Taking a long sip of his tea, Harry set it on the counter and stared down at the mug for a moment. "Yeah. What time is it?"

"Nearly half past. You haven't told me what you're really doing here, you know," Percy remembered suddenly, and immediately after remembered that he should probably also be feeling nervous and sort of annoyed. He took another sip of tea.

"Oh." Harry remembered to remember, as well. "Bill's marrying Fleur Delacour next weekend. Your mum didn't trust an owl with the invitation, and nobody else could deliver it to you, so she asked me to do it." He reached into his sleeve for the slightly-mangled envelope, and slid it onto the workspace, near Percy's elbow. "You might not want to bring the Minister as your date, this time." He took another gulp of tea and set the mug down, ignoring the way Percy was turning a little grey as he stared at the envelope, and reached into his pocket, closing his fist around the bottlecap. "Thanks for the tea," he said, and smirked at Percy's dumbfounded expression just as he felt a tugging at his navel.

For his part, Percy couldn't help staring at the vacant space a few seconds more, after Harry had vanished. He set his mug down. "...What on earth?" he muttered, thoroughly confused and more than a little unhappy about it. His fingertips brushed the edge of the rumpled envelope and he gave it a wary glance, as if he expected it to combust (which, knowing the twins, it could have easily done). Finally, taking it up, he put the mugs into the sink and wandered back into his bedroom to try and make sense of what had just happened. He expected it would take some time.

***

 


(17th July - Thursday)

...As I'm sure you can now understand, I'm particularly loath to remove the wards to my flat because they do not just involve relatives. Since you don't seem to have any qualms playing the messenger, I wondered if you'd consider reprising your role this Thursday evening, at approximately the same time as before? Please don't RSVP by the delivery owl; it's from the MoM and will return there once it's given you this note. I'll take your arrival, or failure to do so, as answer enough.

If it's a requirement, I do still have tea.

P.I.W.

Harry frowned and folded the small strip of parchment back into its original form, and shoved it into the back pocket of his jeans. Below him, over the pitch behind the Burrow, just barely still on Weasley land, Ron and one of the twins were escalating an argument over whether or not Ron had just cobbed Bill. Tuning out Ron's threats of using a beater's bat to turn Fred into a stickpuppet, Harry instead focused on the cramped, neat handwriting on the message that had arrived the morning before, and wondered just what the hell Percy was planning. The scar on his forehead had set up a steady, niggling, itching sort of burn - he rubbed it idly and tried not to think about how the number of people he could go to for advice about it were dwindling. Instead, he tried to plan for worst-case scenarios.

Probably an ambush by the Minister himself. Or an impromptu press conference. ...Or being taken in as a war criminal. Harry scowled and slapped away what he thought was a mosquito (it was actually the Snitch) as he mulled the potential calamities over.

He was going to go, of course. He couldn't resist the secrecy, or the possibility of finding out just what had prompted last week's foray into tea-related surreality. He'd shown the note to Ron and Hermione (the latter had insisted on running a series of Disambiguation charms on it until it was pronounced clear of Misinterpretation hexes), but, admittedly, had decided to omit the odder details of his visit with Percy (Percy anticipating that he'd need the milk and Harry commandeering the kettle, and the actual conversation, above all) when he'd recounted the experience to them later on the night it had happened.

Ron and Hermione had seemed to reverse roles: now that she was confident Percy wasn't a Death Eater or an immediate risk of a trap, Hermione approved Harry's plan to indulge Percy's request, without much worry. Ron, however, was still in a snit with Harry about it - he'd become convinced Percy had only contacted Harry again because of the possibility of exploiting his relationship with the rest of the Weasley family to gain information on the Order.

Harry didn't actually recognise the irony in this until Hermione quietly brought it to his attention, later.

Fifteen feet below him, Fred turned Ron's nose into a tomato (Foul No. 1435-D) and Ron hexed half the bristles off of Fred's new Cleansweep (Foul No. 552-I), sending him into a brief tailspin. Harry rolled his eyes and scanned the makeshift pitch, and then swept towards the treeline and down, catching the Snitch easily (possibly because it had originally been Arthur Weasley's father's and was twelve versions away from World Cup regulations, now).

A quarter of a pitch-length behind him, Ginny - the opposing Seeker - adjusted the straps of her sleeveless top (Harry tried not to roll his eyes at that, as well) and shot him a brief glare as he didn't stop once he'd caught it. Harry tossed the now-motionless Snitch to Charlie, who snagged it easily, and continued in his arc back towards the Burrow, away from Ron and both of the twins, who were engaging in their daily brawl on the lawn of the pitch, away from Ginny and the petulant sighs she kept giving as she sat beside him during meals, and back towards sense.

And a looming appointment with the Prodigal Weasley.

A hot shower that nearly emptied the Burrow's water well and a brief, fitful nap helped Harry shake off most of his bad mood. He checked in with Hermione (she had been researching the location of Hufflepuff's cup since they'd all got back from school), who didn't even look up from the book she was devouring. She just waved him away with an order to bring her those notes she'd taken when they'd raided Grimmauld Place's library earlier in the week, and a few of those chocolate biscuits Mrs Weasley'd made a few days ago - if the twins hadn't already demolished them. Harry obediently trotted down to the kitchen, swiping the last of the biscuits and a glass of water before he ventured upstairs, towards the bedroom Hermione and Ginny had been sharing all summer. He knocked softly on the open door before he entered, and wondered idly if all girls' bedrooms had the same particular scent combination of talc, synthetic raspberries, and aloe as he wandered inside.

The notes were conveniently stuck in a book on the very top of a stack on Hermione's side of the vanity (Hermione's side had books, a toothbrush, a hairbrush, and clear lip balm, as opposed to Ginny's more usual collection of mostly-empty makeup containers and dried-up bottles of nail varnish and dust) - Harry lunged to grab them and make his escape, and was nearly, nearly successful. He was halfway out the door when he heard Ginny's voice, determinedly cheerful: "Is she even sleeping, this summer?"

He exhaled, and turned back around, leaning against the doorjamb. "If she is, she's making sure to keep it secret," he responded, giving her a small, tight smile, feeling like a prize git for it almost immediately after. Ginny moved over to perch on the edge of her bed, and tried not to look visibly hurt when Harry cut his gaze away. "We may have to stage an intervention."

"Or hide the Pepper-Up," Ginny offered.

He snorted and smiled, glancing back at her, feeling a strange tightness in his chest as he took in the careful optimism in her expression, her easiness, the way her hair fell over her shoulders. "All right?" he heard himself asking, gruffly, and somehow had the presence of mind to be horrified at the presumption of the question.

To her credit, Ginny just chuckled and quirked an eyebrow. "What, did you expect me to waste away for pining? Go on, Harry, I've got a very pressing engagement with a romance novel and I can't have you distracting me."

Relieved, Harry grinned and nodded. "Okay. I'll tell Hermione you're asking about her. ...Thanks, Gin."

"I'm a saint. Close the door behind you," she added, with a mischievous grin of her own, one that made Harry's cheeks flame once he'd caught on. He scurried out of the room (not noticing how Ginny's smile faded once his back had turned) and shut the door, and trudged back up towards the attic.

Hermione thanked him for the food and the notes, and managed to tear herself away from the book she'd been going over, sitting back in the deskchair, giving Harry a searching look as he flopped onto his bed. He shoved a biscuit into his mouth whole, and grinned a little at the disgusted face she gave him as he chewed noisily. "You look tired," she observed carefully.

Harry swallowed. "So do you."

"How's the..." she gestured towards her own forehead. Harry shrugged a shoulder.

"Same as ever," he replied, noncommittally.

"Dreams?"

Harry shook his head. Hermione sighed, a little relieved sound, and pulled the book back onto her lap. "I've traced the cup through to 1987, it just vanishes after that. You wouldn't happen to know the origins of a...'Society for the Preservation of English Wizarding Heritage', would you?"

"Can't say that I do."

"Neither does anyone, apparently. D'you know where Ron is? He was supposed to help me take these books back to Grimmauld Place later on, I think I may have to try to find that bookshop down Knockturn after all. Professor Lupin said he'd take me," she murmured, mostly to herself.

"The last time I saw Ron, George had managed to hit him with a Jelly-Legs curse on the pitch," Harry offered, chuckling as Hermione rolled her eyes.

"Honestly. Is he still sulking at you?" Harry shrugged, which Hermione knew from previous experience meant "yes," and she shook her head, muttering something about teaspoons and the emotional maturity of blueberry scones. "Are you nervous about tonight?" she asked, raising her eyebrows up into her (unruly even by Hermione-standards) hair.

"What, the Percy thing? No," Harry lied, and began wondering exactly why that was a lie.

"Good. There's nothing to worry about, you know. I've almost got the Portkey ready for you again, and if the Minister or anyone is there, you can just refuse to answer them if they ask questions. Though I can't actually think why Percy would want to risk something like that, he must know you wouldn't play along if he did. He's not stupid," she said, lapsing back into her inner-monologue voice.

"Just an arse," Harry supplied, earning a sharp look from her.

"You snapped at Ron when he said someone was using you just to get to the Order. Imagine what it must've been like for him, being told the same by his father."

Brought up short, Harry gave Hermione an incredulous look. "Are you actually defending what he did?"

"Of course not," she scoffed, slamming the book shut, sending tendrils of dust into the air between them. "Though I think you don't realise how lucky you've been with them all - the twins certainly act more brotherly towards you than they ever did towards Percy. How would you feel if they suddenly closed rank and left you outside?"

"The twins?" Harry asked, flabbergasted, trying to keep up.

"Not just the twins," Hermione muttered, and Harry suddenly recalled the hurt in her expression when she'd received the tiny Easter Egg from Mrs Weasley during the Krum Saga of fourth year.

"Sorry, Herm."

"Well." She huffed and pulled her hair up into a messy knot on top of her head, somehow securing it all with her wand in a way that seemed to defy the laws of gravity and geometry. "I'm just lucky I'm not french," she mumbled, going back to her research, frowning slightly.

"Yeah, so're we," Harry offered, conciliatory, trying to think of what to say to repair the situation. She seemed cheered by his reply. "...D'you want some help?" he asked.

"Ooh, yes, would you mind going through that stack there" - she gestured to a six-inch-deep pile of notes and essays - "and looking for any reference to wizarding relatives of Bourbon-Parmas or Habsburgs?"

He'd just had to ask... Sighing quietly, Harry tugged the stack of notepaper over into his lap, settled back against his pillow, and began to read.

***

Once the room stopped spinning, Harry noticed that it was much tidier than the last time he'd seen it - better lit, too. The coffee table seemed bigger without books piled on top of it, he noticed as he stepped off and wiped two dusty footprints off its surface. There was, thankfully, no sign of Scrimgeour or any other Ministry workers - in fact, the only signs of life in the flat were the heavy, comforting smell of what was undoubtedly Mrs. Weasley's Signature Spaghetti Sauce, and the sound of water running in the kitchen. Shrugging off his jacket and leaving it on the futon, sticking his wand in his back pocket (Moody would've had a field day), Harry ventured towards the kitchen to investigate.

Obviously unaware of Harry's arrival, Percy was hunched over the kitchen sink, sleeves rolled to his elbows as he spelled dishes clean and ran them under the faucet, then blasted them dry. Despite himself, Harry was pleased - at the Dursleys, he'd always had to wash the dishes (even though Aunt Petunia had been the first housewife on Privet Drive to have an automated dishwasher), so it was something of a treat for him to see someone else having to do them, for once.

Still...

"Isn't that a little unnecessary?" he asked, effectively announcing his presence. Startled, Percy nearly dropped the wineglass he'd been rinsing, and quickly glanced over his shoulder, looking a little relieved when he saw that it was, actually, Harry behind him.

"I don't like waterspots, and Mrs. Skower's tends to leave a soapy taste in one's food if the dishes aren't rinsed well," he explained, subjecting the wineglass to an intense drying charm, reaching to set it in an open cupboard. He closed the cupboard door and shut off the water and turned to face Harry, brushing a few errant slips of red hair off his forehead, wiping his hands fastidiously on a tea towel. "I, er." Colouring slightly, Percy gave a funny little shrug and gently pushed past, into the living room, heading towards the bookshelf opposite. "Thank you for coming. The owl didn't create any problems for you, I hope."

"No more than any other owl you've sent," Harry replied, and was a bit surprised at himself at the reply. So was Percy, apparently: he'd flinched at the barb the second after it came, but then squared his shoulders against it, seeming to resign himself to the inevitability of a confrontation.

"Ron showed you that, then."

"Yeah, despite my bad influence on him," Harry nodded, not relenting. He leant against the kitchen doorpost and folded his arms, perversely enjoying the embarrassed blush that had crept over his former prefect's cheeks. "Hope I'm not going the 'Fred and George route'."

"Yes, well, I think we all hope that," Percy said tartly, reaching to the top shelf, pulling down a tastefully-wrapped parcel and setting it on the coffee table. Setting his jaw, he met Harry's eyes for the first time that night. "I'm sorry if you were hurt by what I wrote, but it was based on my own observations and on a sincere desire to look after the wellbeing of my younger brother. Which, I recognise now, was probably a lost cause years before I sent that letter." He paused and folded his own arms, ducking his head. "My intentions were good, in any case."

"Oh good, I hear there's a road in hell that needs paving," was Harry's flippant reply.

Gaze guarded and cold, Percy stared at him for a few uncomfortable seconds before he decided not to respond. "I won't take up much more of your time, I - "

"Christmas was Scrimgeour's idea, wasn't it?" Harry interrupted, wanting to know, suddenly.

Percy paused, then nodded. "He indicated a desire to meet my family, it wouldn't have been prudent to disapp - "

"Did you tell him I was going to be there?" Harry demanded. Percy glared.

"No, I didn't. It certainly wasn't the way I'd intended to spend my Christmas; what incentive would I have had to mention you to him? Why on earth would I have chosen to put myself in a situ - "

"I don't know, Perce, maybe the 'Chosen One' thing was a factor. He seemed rather interested in having me pose as the Ministry's mascot when I saw him last. You were there, you remember. That party we had for the Headmaster last day of term? Centaurs and mermaids? Actually," he continued, gathering steam, enjoying Percy's nervous look, "I can't believe Scrimgeour even showed up, I'll bet he only did just to make sure Dumbledore was d - "

"You aren't the only person who ever respected the Headmaster, Potter," Percy interrupted stiffly, back ramrod-straight. Harry sneered.

"Are you saying the Minister did, then? Had a funny way of showing it, didn't he, opposing him on ev - "

"Because, of course, it was never Dumbledore who opposed the Minister - "

"Well, he should have LISTENED, SHOULDN'T he, Fudge never did and look where it got HIM - "

"Perhaps DUMBLEDORE should have listened," Percy interrupted, voice raising a little, two bright red spots appearing on his cheeks, "instead of issuing ultimatums he had no right to give and being DIVISIVE, look where that got HIM - "

"DUMBLEDORE LISTENED TO EVERYONE. THAT'S WHAT KILLED HIM, HE TRUSTED PEOPLE HE SHOULDN'T HAVE. HE LISTENED TO PEOPLE WHEN THE MINISTRY WOULDN'T," Harry shouted, losing his composure entirely at the perceived slight, going an angry red, "AND I THINK IT'S PRETTY RICH OF YOU TO PREACH ABOUT SOMEONE NOT LISTENING - "

"WELL, I THINK THAT'S THE POT CALLING THE CAULDRON BLACK, ACTUALLY, AS YOU NEVER SEEMED TO CARE MUCH FOR LISTENING TO OTHERS' ADVICE YOURSELF," Percy actually shouted back, the shock of which startled Harry into silence, since he'd never heard Percy raise his voice except for in a few Head Boy quiet-please situations. "EVEN THOUGH MOST OF US DON'T HAVE YOUR KNACK FOR HEROICS AND PUBLIC RELATIONS, THAT DOESN'T MEAN WE DON'T STILL TRY. YOU - " Percy seemed to finally notice the volume of his voice, and stopped abruptly, looking a little ashamed. He took in a deep breath and frowned, pressing his lips together tight. There was a tense pause. "...I didn't ask you to come here to argue." He reached for the gift-wrapped box he'd previously placed on the and brought it over to the dining table, setting it down nearer to where Harry was standing. "I hoped you'd do me a favour and put this with the other gifts for Fleur and my brother on Saturday."

Harry couldn't help it; he quirked an eyebrow at Percy, giving him a blatant "Are you kidding me?" look. Percy returned the look evenly. "I'd appreciate it. ...Also, a little discretion regarding its origins, especially around the twins, would probably be a good idea. Part of the contents are fragile," he said, in a voice near neutral.

"You aren't even coming to your brother's wedding?" Harry asked, not bothering to keep his tone as neutral. Percy shrugged a shoulder, apparently unconcerned.

"If anyone asks, tell them it was the last part of the gift," he replied sarcastically, walking back over to the futon and perching on the edge of it, elbows on his knees. "You're free to refuse, you know. If it bothers you." Harry scowled at him and picked up the box, tucking it a little roughly under his elbow. Percy winced as the bow on top was mangled, but nodded. "Thank you."

"It had better be something good," Harry grumbled, going through his pockets til he found his Portkey (a short gum wrapper chain) and closed his hand around it, squeezing to set it. He paused, trying to think of a good parting shot. "...He wasn't the only one who was divisive, you know," he muttered, a moment later, frowning.

From the futon, Percy glanced up at him, over the tops of his glasses. "You aren't the only one who's mourned him," he countered quietly, leaving Harry speechless as the Portkey activated two seconds later.

Back at the Burrow, Harry stuffed the box in his Hogwarts trunk under an old jumper, and tried not to dwell on how unsettling it was not to have the last word of the exchange, as he quietly got ready for bed. Ron was already snoring softly in the next bed, mumbling indistinctly, and the thick, stuffy air in the tiny attic bedroom was slowly being cut through by a cool wind from the open window. Fidgeting underneath his borrowed bedcovers, Harry replayed the scene between himself and Percy and tortured himself for another half hour or so, imagining witty retorts and insults he could have used, remembering the hardness in the other's voice when he was pushed too far.

Stupid Percy.

Sighing, Harry scowled and threw an arm over his eyes, flopping back onto his bed, trying to will himself to drop off to sleep. Entirely of its own accord, his right hand, he noticed, kept drifting toward the drawstring of his pyjamas bottoms. Harry paused (stress relief, it'll help you sleep), and glanced over at Ron (still sound asleep), and quickly reached to the bedside table for his wand, casting a silencing spell and burrowing down under the covers, biting his lip as he curled onto his side.

***

 


(19th July - Saturday)

Predictably, Molly Weasley was the person who cried the most during the wedding ceremony between her oldest son and Phle - ahem, Fleur. Fleur's mother cried a little as well, but given her sour expression during the reception (Fleur and Bill had decided to forget a lavish ceremony and reception in favour of a small party on the Burrow's lawn; the lasting effects of Bill's injuries from Greyback were still serious enough that Apparation was out of the question), her tears hadn't been borne of joy, as Molly's (ostensibly) had been.

For his part, Harry went through the entire day feeling more than a little underwhelmed. There were a few shining, memorable moments: Fleur's voice was firm and happy during the mercifully short ceremony; a strategically-timed blast of wind had blown the skirt of Hermione's "bridesmaid" dress around her waist as she walked first down the aisle of seats (Harry had grinned at seeing Mrs. Weasley giving Fred and George what-for about that after everything was over). Tonks had shown up twenty minutes late (with Professor Lupin in tow, both grinning sheepishly), her hair a garish pink.

The reception itself was more of an Order get-together than anything else; the Delacours and a few foreign-looking hangers-on kept well on the fringe of the crowd mingling in Arthur's haphazard gardens. Fleur was talking nineteen to the dozen and looking more beautiful than any one woman had right to, even on her wedding day; Bill had a glazed sort of grin on his face (one strangely reminiscent of the one Ron had worn whenever Harry or Hermione had mentioned The Wards).

It was a good day, there was no denying it. Harry told himself this repeatedly as he sat and watched the rest of the guests from his vantage point near the overgrown rhododendron. Bill and Fleur were obviously happy (even though Fleur's mother had been rather unsubtly horrified by the scars Bill still bore on his arms and face); Gabrielle and Ginny had found common ground in discussing the latest trends in dress robes; and Ron and Hermione had...well, vanished after the ceremony was over, but Harry suspected he really didn't want to try to find them and risk succeeding.

A good day. Harry frowned and plucked a bloom off a branch swatting his forehead, and unconsciously shredded it, watching groups form and disperse, watching Fred and George spike the punch (again, Merlin, at the rate they'd been going there was probably more spike than punch in the bowl). He watched the two of them exchange grins and sneak off to offer another cup to Professor Lupin (who was already a little unsteady), and felt a sudden twist of ...loneliness in his chest as he realised that this would probably grow into something of a routine for him in the years to come: invitations to celebrations that were never his own, always recognising the happiness of others.

For a moment, Harry felt the same sort of unreasonable jealousy he'd felt years ago when he'd watched Aunt Petunia and Uncle Dursley praise Dudley for a rare passing mark on a science exam - they'd all known he'd only got it by cheating off the boy in front of him, they'd all known Dudley couldn't tell a mitochondrion from his own third chin, but the three of them had nonetheless celebrated their collective achievement - by ordering Harry to weed the flowerbeds while they went out for ice cream. Demented, yes, and sad, but they'd all belonged together, like he'd never belonged with anyone.

Especially now that the Worst-Kept Secret in Hogwarts was threatening to go legit. ...Where were Ron and Hermione? Pushing himself to his feet, dumping the remains of the bloom on the ground next to his chair, Harry took a few steps towards the Burrow, determined to find them - even if it meant the sort of embarrassment that would take years of therapy to repair.

"'Arry!"

Well, there's that plan, dashed. Harry gritted his teeth and gave Fred a rictus grin, wincing as a heavy arm was slung around his shoulders. The twin staggered a little (he'd obviously been drinking the punch), but managed to right himself. "Besfriend. Well, Ron's. Not mine. Thass Gred. ...Forge. Thingy. But close!" He poked Harry in the chest, for clarification.

"Er...yes!" Harry said encouragingly, trying to extricate himself before he was pulled over onto the lawn. Well into the overly-physically-familiar stage of drunkenness, Fred chuckled a little at the boy's attempts, and lurched them both towards the rest of the crowd, where Bill and Fleur had been opening the (modest) wedding presents. "Foun' im! Hiding, what. Like a...blurry...garden gnome."

Bill looked relieved at the distraction. "Harry! Fred, stop molesting Harry - "

"No, you stop molesting Harry. ...wait..."

" - and get him some cake. Come on, Potter, which gift's yours? If it's not the best, I'll tell Mum to make you sleep outside for the rest of the summer," Bill threatened cheerfully. Harry gave the guests a nervous smile (gah, the Delacours seemed intrigued once they heard the name "Potter," and Fleur's mum was giving him a beady look and pushing Gabrielle forward a little).

"What? Wizards give gifts to the bride and groom at weddings? Wow, you lot are weird," he replied, to indulgent titters. "Muggles just throw rice."

"Really?" Arthur asked, sounding far too interested, immediately grimacing as his wife gently ground the heel of her shoe down on his toes.

"S'just being modest, our ickle Harry!" George hiccuped, in much the same state as Fred, toasting Harry with an empty glass where he was, propped up against a tree trunk. "Sawim stealing down earlier with the big one on th'corner, there, near whassername," he said, gesturing towards the edge of the table near Mrs. Delacour. More specifically, towards Percy's gift.

Oh, bloody buggering bollocking hell. Harry quickly widened his eyes and shook his head, arranging his right hand into the universal symbol of a bottle and bringing it to his lips, tilting his head back in the equally-universal symbol for "Your brother is an unreliable alcoholic, do not believe a thing he says, and I would think twice before leaving him alone with my new wife, if I were you."

"I am not an unreliable calholol...halcolololic...drunk," George slurred drunkenly (and tried not to leer at Fleur so obviously). "Blurry sawim."

"'E is being shy," Fleur decided, giving Harry a smile that would've sent Ron into the sort of mental state in which Accioing brains sounded like a good idea. "Open ze gift, Bill, I want to see," she ordered. Despite himself, Harry was a little interested to see what he - sorry, Percy - had got the bride and groom. Happily resigned to the prospect of a life spent attending Fleur's whims, Bill shrugged and used his good hand to undo the bow (still pretty crumpled; the couple of days spent under Harry's bed hadn't helped its appearance any) and the wrapping paper - he let her take over when it came to prising open the box.

Finally tearing the box open, Fleur gasped. Harry had a wild moment of panic that Percy had decided to use the opportunity to cut himself off entirely from his family and had packed in a shrunken head - however, the bride's gleeful squeak a few seconds later relieved his fears somewhat. "Ohhhhh, Harry, c'est magnifique! C'est si beau! Alors, cheri - look!" She held up what appeared to be a very thin set of towels, which Harry realised a few seconds later were actually sheets. "Egyptian cotton, pour mon cher...merde," she breathed, eyeing the thread count on the packaging. Bill glanced in the box and burst into laughter, reaching in and pulling out a windchime, apparently spelled to tinkle out "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," if the few opening bars were any indication. He peered at the central figures for a moment, before grinning in recognition.

"French hens," he said, holding the present up, handing it to his mother to inspect, who handed it to Mrs. Delacour to admire. "Bloody hell, Harry," he murmured, impressed.

"I'll say," Harry agreed, then realised that might sound a bit weird, and went pink. Beaming, Fleur insisted on leaving her seat and coming to kiss him on both cheeks, burbling her thanks some more (Harry was a little disappointed Ron hadn't been around to see that). "...No, really," he protested feebly, "really, it wasn't me, I was just the messenger - "

"Yur right, who'd we know who could afford - Merlin, three thousand thread count sh - OW!" George squawked as his mother pinched him (Molly had turned a mortified red at the comment - and, more specifically, at Mrs. Delacour's Significant Look over at her husband because of it). Rubbing his arm and pouting, he handed the gifts over to her, almost missing a piece of parchment (a receipt?) that fluttered out of the folds of fabric, onto the ground. He gripped a nearby chair for support as he bent over and picked it up, plopping it onto the top of the stack of gifts in Mrs. Weasley's lap without a thought. Mrs. Weasley glanced down at it, and promptly turned as white as the sheets she was holding as she recognised the signature. Harry froze, instinctively realising he was caught.

"Percy?" she squeaked, painfully.

***

"...It's bribery, is what it is!" Fred was still insisting, loudly (and a lot less drunkenly), fifteen minutes after chaos broke out. "Trying to bloody wriggle his way back into everyone's good graces without apologising, well, I'm not having it," he growled.

"He's your brother," Molly said tremulously (Professor Lupin had performed a minor miracle a few minutes earlier by having the presence of mind to conjure her a cup of tea).

"Yeah, he decided to stop being that the day he walked out," Fred shot back, red as his hair with anger. "Chose the bloody Ministry over us."

Despite himself, Harry raised an eyebrow, stunned at the twin's words. "Yeah, can't imagine why he would've done, given all the brotherly affection you showed him," he found himself saying. Various assortments of Weasleys looked shocked. Cheeks burning (where the hell had THAT come from?), Harry shrugged a shoulder. "How's it bribery, again?"

Fred tried again. "Trying to make us all like him!" He scowled, and kicked a nearby tree trunk. "Bloody...git, no, Bill, you should send the gifts back," he decided.

"Like he sent back Mum's jumper!" George chimed in. Molly's lip wobbled.

"Least he deserves!" Fred declared.

"Eef I recall correctly," Fleur's high voice cut through the twins' ranting, "zey're not your gifts to be making decisions for. And I like my French hens," she said, tilting her chin commandingly. "Zey will look lovely above my flowerbox. Et ze issue of my bedcovers is not a public discussion!"

"It was a cowardly thing to do, though, not bringing them himself," Bill said quietly, frowning as he thought. He glanced up at Harry. "Did he ask, or did you offer?"

"Oh, er. He asked," Harry said. It seemed to decide Bill, who glanced over at Fleur. Fleur recognised something in the look, and stamped her tiny foot, breaking into a scowl.

"Non, Bill, sont nous," she started arguing before Bill quickly excused them and guided them a little way away from the rest of the guests (who were eavesdropping shamelessly). "....unreasonable? es TU famille c'est...non, NON..." Fleur burst into another stream of unintelligible French, cowing Bill slightly (Mr and Mrs Delacour were having to hide their mouths behind their hands). Spitting a final insult that made Bill snort, Fleur flounced back over to the other guests, colour high. "Bon. We 'ave reached a...compromise," she said, treating the word as a vulgarity, shooting Bill an evil look as he came to join her. "Ze linens will be returned. ...But I'm keeping my hens, un point, c'est tout."

"Don't think I would've been allowed into the bed to enjoy them anyway," Bill joked sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "...So, er. That's settled? ...Dad, would you mind - "

"I don't know where his office is, anymore," Arthur said quietly, already anticipating the question (his first addition to the discussion; he'd been sitting quietly near Molly, unobtrusively holding her hand). He gave his eldest son a small, apologetic smile. "I don't have security clearance for that level, in any case."

Bill frowned and nodded. "...Well." His eyes darted over towards Harry. Harry raised both eyebrows, and glanced around, and suddenly realised that a lot of people were glancing in his direction, not just Bill.

"...Oh, you've got to be joking," he sighed.

He wasn't.

Harry sighed again, a few minutes later, as the original box containing the sheets, the receipt, and a piece of wedding cake (Mrs. Weasley had sneaked it in, with a whispered request not to let the twins know) was thrust into his hands. Fred and George tried to sneak a few untested beta versions of their latest creations in with the rest of the things, but a sharp words from Arthur froze them.

"Right, well," Harry said, not sure what etiquette was called for in the admittedly bizarre situation. "Sorry about the mix-up. See you in a bit."

" - Harry!" Mrs. Weasley couldn't seem to help herself, and took half a step forward, giving him a watery sort of smile. "Tell him we, er - said hello?"

Harry nodded, gave her a small smile back (and hid a familiar twinge of envy, at the concern in her voice). "I will," he said and Disapparated.

He hadn't counted on Apparating into a darkened flat, however, and stumbled as he arrived, nearly falling off the edge of the coffee table. Squinting into the blackness, Harry tried to will his eyes to adjust to the absence of light, and finally went for his wand, uttering a soft "lumos" and squinting again at the sudden flare of light. He hopped off the coffee table and went over to switch on a table lamp beside the futon. Merlin, it wasn't even half-past nine yet, where was he?

"Percy?" he called softly, ducking his head into the unlit kitchen. There wasn't anyone there (if there had been, they'd've been hard-pressed to find a way of going unseen), so he came back out into the main room and frowned, the giftbox still tucked securely under his arm. He glanced over at the doorpost leading into the hallway, and decided to go exploring the uncharted territory. Maybe he's gone out.

"...Percy?" he called again, still quiet, holding his illuminated wand in front of him as he moved slowly down the hallway. He toed open a door to his left and turned on the lightswitch, spilling light onto the fixtures of the flat's bathroom, but no Percy. Cursing quietly, Harry shrugged and moved farther down, leaving the bathroom light on as he came to the next door. It was closed, so he knocked twice before he opened it. "Perce?" Great, ANOTHER darkened room.

He stepped inside and fumbled on the wall near the door for another lightswitch, but was interrupted in his search by the unmistakeable sharp pressure of a wandtip on his throat. "Shit," he breathed.

"Lumos," another voice said, and the whole room was suddenly lit. Harry immediately flicked his eyes over to see the owner of the wand, and was evidently just as surprised as Percy was, as they both took in their situation. "Harry?" The wand immediately came down (but not before Harry'd noticed that the hand holding it had been shaking just a little). "What on earth are you..."

Harry was still too busy gaping at the idea that he'd just been nearly killed by Percy Weasley (and, it has to be said, gaping a little at the dark blue - coordinating - pyjamas the other man was wearing - he suspected them of having been subjected to one or two Pressing charms as well) to notice right away that the sentence hadn't actually ended. "Were you in bed?" he asked, suddenly finding his voice again.

When he didn't receive an answer, he realised that Percy was still staring, puzzled and frowning, at the box under his arm. "Oh. ...Yeah, er - "

" - But there wasn't anything that said it was from me!" Percy protested, anticipating the explanation, voice squeaking embarrassingly on the last word. Harry winced.

"There was a receipt folded into the sheets," he said. "Your mum and the twins saw it."

Percy's shoulders slumped, and he nodded. "Ah. Well, that explains it." He paused, ears and cheeks reddening slowly, and nodded again. He shifted from one foot to the other uncomfortably. "Thankyou for trying, at any rate."

"...Your mum put in a piece of the cake," Harry offered, not sure what to do (and rather despising most of the Weasley family for volunteering him for this job). Percy snorted. "...Oh, and Fleur's keeping her windchimes, she likes them," he added.

"Really?" The note of wistfulness in Percy Weasley's voice was too weird for Harry to process, so he ignored it, or tried to. "I did hope she would," Percy murmured. "Oh, well. I'm sorry to have involved you in all of this."

"Yeah, well, you should be," Harry frowned, exasperated with the lot of them, exasperated even more with the way Percy flinched then.

"I shouldn't have asked," the other man - boy, actually; Harry realised that seeing Percy without his glasses on made him look more like his actual age than perpetually middle-aged like he usually did - agreed. "It was an imposition, and I apologise." They both stared at their feet for a moment, unsure what to do. "...I, ah. Don't suppose you'd consider a set of cotton sheets a just reward for your attempt?" Percy asked, in an attempt at jocularity. "Never used."

Harry smiled faintly. "You don't want them?"

A quirk of an eyebrow, and Percy gestured behind him. "Well, my bed's too small. I, er. Anticipated a bedsize meant for a couple to share, not..." Harry glanced around Percy's shoulder at the tiny bed running along the opposite wall, and wondered idly why that should make them both blush. "Well."

"Right, yeah."

Percy cleared his throat. "Well, if that's all, I - "

"Your mum says to say hello," Harry interrupted, remembering his promise to Mrs. Weasley suddenly. Underneath his blush, Percy's skin paled, leaving him an interesting mottled colour.

"Oh. Er - hello to her, too." He fidgeted again, and set the box down on the edge of the bed, tracing a finger over where the edges were bent from Fleur's attempts to pry it open. He swallowed, with some difficulty. Harry fidgeted as well.

"...Look, why can't you just - "

"Thank you for bringing the parcel back, Harry," Percy interrupted, voice firmer than it had been seconds before, jaw set tight. "I'm sorry for putting you in the middle of...tensions in my family. Rest assured it won't happen again. And now, if it's all right with you, I'd really like to get back to bed; I have an early morning tomorrow at work."

Wrong-footed, Harry couldn't think of a timely response, and merely nodded. "Good," Percy said, and steered him back towards the main room. "I can connect the hearth to the Floo Network long enough for you to return h - to the Burrow, if you don't have a Portkey," he offered, and Harry nodded again.

Something occurred to him as Percy was setting up the connection. "Wait. Tomorrow's Sunday," he said, raising both eyebrows.

"Well done. Have your learnt your months already, too?" Percy muttered quietly, finishing the connection and stepping back from the (spotless) fireplace. Harry flushed, not expecting the stab, and scowled.

"You have an early morning on a Sunday?" he asked pointedly.

"Yes. And?" Percy asked, just as pointedly handing over a flowerpot with Floo Powder in. Harry took a pinch and handed it back.

"Nevermind." He rolled his eyes as he approached the hearth. "Bye, then."

"Goodbye, Harry," Percy said, ducking his head in a tiny bow. He paused, and seemed to struggle for a moment with something. "...Tell Bill congratulations?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. Harry couldn't help looking a little incredulous at first, but the guarded nervousness in the other boy's eyes decided him.

"All right. Night, Perce," he said, and threw the dust into the fireplace, and was gone two seconds later.

Percy waited for a moment or two before he meticulously swept the dust away, turned out the lights, and returned to his bedroom. The gift box was still on his bed; sighing, Percy decided to finally open it. The cake, he threw away - he'd never developped much of a sweet tooth, to his mother's dismay. He threw away the wretched receipt, and had determined to stow the linens on a shelf in his closet til he forgot them. When he took them out of the box, however, he noticed the faint, achingly familiar scent of the lilac perfume his mother'd always saved for special occasions, lingering on the fabric.

...The last time he'd smelled that, it had been the day she'd fetched them all from Nine and Three-Quarters Station, the day he'd left school. He'd started at the Ministry the next week.

Knowing it was a bad idea, Percy nonetheless set the box on the floor beside his bed and lifted the fabric til it nearly touched his cheek. It was still cool, a little damp from the humidity of the Burrow's lawn. He rested his forehead against the sheets for a moment, and tried not to remember anything else. The scent would fade from them soon enough, he knew. They wouldn't always be such a shock to him, the sense-memories.

Still, though, it took a few moments of desperate fighting, of visible tension in his shoulders, before Percy entirely regained his control. Eventually settling, sighing quietly, Percy put the sheets down on the floor beside his bed, and turned out the light.

***

Warmth, the comforting solid press of arms on his back as he was held close, tight to the body under his. Harry sighed out, into another mouth soft and sweetened from kisses; felt hot breath and condensation on his own cheek, quickening as he dragged his already-tingling lips down -

Against that deep blue, the pale line of skin was made even starker - freckles seemed dark, foreign little flecks that he wanted to lick and lick and lick until they rubbed off and he left only milk-white in his wake, until his mouth called heat to the surface and he saw that white flush red -

like the hair spreading out on the pillow, like the kiss-swollen lips mewling and parting, panting around the words of his name; until the straight long lines of him curled (toes and fingers and hands and legs) around him and he arched into Harry's touch -

whimpering and flushed and raw and shuddering every time Harry mouthed his name into his own skin, naming him, claiming him -

"Percy."

 

Harry woke up gasping, sweating, throat on fire. On the bed beside his own, Ron snored and shifted in his sleep, but didn't wake.

Shivering as a burst of cool air from the window hit his damp skin, Harry rubbed his arm. And shivered again, this time not from the cold.

"Shit," he whispered, fervently, into the darkness.

***

(20th July - Sunday)
Not good. Very very not good. Possible plot by Voldemort? Should've learnt Occlumency from Snape when I had the chance - still want to kill him a lot. Greasy hook-nosed murdering bastard. Should look into that.

Though if it was Lord Voldemort, would've been more along the lines of death and blood and gore, surely, and not...

Anyway, what would a mad dark wizard have to gain by planting homoerotic - SHIT NO NOT homoerotic, just...oh, fuck, really fucking sexy sex dreams about Percy bloody Weasley in my brain?

...Diversion? Mad plan to have me embarrass myself in front of Ron who will surely attack me if he thinks I have designs on every one of his family members and he might be next? Eurgh, no.

Oh, fuck, Ron will kill me if I try anything. Which I do not want to do. Because I am not queer, I have already reached my quota of membership in unfortunate minority groups, I do not need to add gay to that list.

...Moot point anyway, since Percy had that girlfriend at school.

Obviously straight.

...Chuh.

 

Harry bit his lip and tried not to look guilty of anything as he and Ron helped Hermione go over her notes for the seventeenth time. He skimmed over words without comprehending, trying to keep his mind on the mission or what they might have for lunch, or the times he kissed Cho, or the times he'd kissed Ginny.

Definitely not the time he'd kissed Ginny's older brother.

...Because that hadn't, according to Harry's (sometimes admittedly loose) grip on reality, actually happened.

...And he'd certainly never wanted it to.

Harry winced as the monster in his chest made a very pathetic, hopeful-sounding squeak as he thought too long about how he would go about removing another boy's glasses while they kissed. Think about something else. Breasts. Hermione's right there, she's got a pair, look at th - no, Ron will kill. Fleur, maybe. ...No, husband's a quarter-werewolf or something, just asking for tr -

"Harry?"

He glanced up, and was startled to notice Ron and Hermione both peering at him curiously. "You all right?" Ron asked, apparently repeating himself. Hermione gave him a bafflingly sympathetic look.

"Is it your scar again?" she asked, hushed.

"N...um," Harry said vaguely, considering his answer before he committed himself to it. "...It's not too bad," he murmured, biting his lip and rubbing the barely-raised ridge on his forehead.

"You just looked worried," Ron shrugged, glancing over at Hermione with a told-you-so smile.

Harry shrugged as well. "S'fine," he said shortly.

"You could take a break, if you wanted," Hermione suggested, making Ron splutter with indignation since he hadn't been offered a break for the past six hours. Grinning crookedly, Harry shoved himself up out of his chair, and stretched onto the balls of his feet.

"Think I might, actually." A plan had begun to formulate, in his mind - he wasn't about to let the opportunity to expand on it pass by. "...Ron, d'you mind if I borrow Pig? Hedwig's too noticeable, and it's for a short trip," he explained briefly. Hermione looked interested enough to ask questions, but Ron just shrugged and nodded.

"Yeah, sure. With any luck, he won't come b - OW, woman!" Ron squawked, as Hermione poked him with the point of her quill. He gave Harry a dark look. "Think you had the right idea, mate. Run before one of them manages to catch you," he muttered, but completely undermined his words in the next moment by grinning at the blush that had crept over Hermione's face.

Harry was grateful for Hermione's blush, since it'd distracted both her and Ron from noticing his own. Face still hot, he retreated hastily up to the attic bedroom, found a spare bit of parchment and a quill with a mostly-intact nib, and began to write.

Four frustrated attempts later, he surveyed his letter with satisfaction.

Percy:

All right?

Harry Potter

Cheered by the note (brevity being the soul of wit), Harry rolled the bit of parchment, sealed it, and moved towards the window, where Hedwig's and Pig's cages were kept. Hedwig was already shooting him a beady look, and he could barely make himself return her gaze. "Sorry," he murmured, feeling guilty, "Just you'll stand out too much with this one, I need to get Pig to send it."

She gave him a haughty hoot and swivelled her head to stare at the wall.

"...I'll let you out once he's gone," Harry offered as he fought to keep Pig still long enough to attach the note to his leg. Managing, finally, he wasn't able to entirely squelch his urge to throw Pig out the window instead of just letting him fly off; fortunately, the tiny owl spread his wings and flapped off before he could ricochet off any trees.

Opening Hedwig's cage, Harry had to spend another ten minutes abasing himself before she'd look at him again, and as she hopped over to the windowsill and launched off as well for a leisurely fly, he wondered where on earth he'd manage to get the rats he'd promised her.

If only Scabbers were still here, he thought, viciously. Sighing, he flopped down onto his messy bed, pulled the covers halfway over himself, and drifted off, wondering if he'd get a response.

He did, nearly three hours later. Pig dropped in through the open attic window and plopped directly onto Harry's chest, startling him out of the surprisingly deep sleep he'd fallen into. Reaching for his glasses on the bedside table, Harry peered at the little owl, who looked cheerful and mercifully tired-out. Pig submitted more easily to having the parchment taken off his leg this time, and flew over towards his cage, immediately fluffing himself up and hunkering down for a well-deserved rest once he got inside. Percy's reply (why was he nervous about that?) still in his hand, Harry got up and went over to close the cage door, and then returned, flopping down onto his bed again as he tore the seal open.

Harry Potter -

Fine, thankyou. Busy. Apologies if my behaviour last night was cause for alarm; I didn't intend it as such. I hope the evening improved once you returned home.

Incidentally, what on earth is this owl being fed? I had to hit it with an Immobilisation Hex just to get the letter; it's destroyed one of my paperweights. I thought you had a snow owl.

PW

Relieved that he'd not been told outright to bugger off, Harry read over the note two more times and considered his options. Sending Hedwig was a potential suicide mission, and therefore out of the question; Pig would never make it to London and back twice in one day; and he suspected that Ottery St. Catchpole lacked any shops that could cater to a wizarding mailing system.

He'd have to wait til tomorrow, to send a reply. Disappointed, Harry sat up and folded the note carefully, and shoved it into the back pocket of his jeans. Something about the sharp, careless accuracy of Percy's handwriting made him want more of it, more words to read and analyse. For not the first time that day, Harry genuinely wondered if he might be going mad.

Shrugging the thought off, Harry replaced it with a growing sense of anticipation for the next morning. He checked on Pig once more and wandered out of the bedroom, heading downstairs to find Ron and Hermione and help them in their quest to save the world. Again.

***

(21st July - Monday)
PW:

Yeah, I have a snow owl. Her name is Hedwig. Seems pretty obvious that if YOU can remember what my owl looks like, other unsavoury types might do as well. Don't want her turned into a pillow anytime soon. This is Pig, he doesn't bite. I've heard that the Ministry has owls its employees can use, might want to look into that. Sorry about the paperweight - was it ugly at least?

Your behaviour wasn't alarming. I just wondered.

HJP, TBWL, TCO

 

HJP (what does the J stand for?) -

1. I'm completely fine. As previously mentioned.
2. I'm also apparently "unsavoury."
3. Yes, the paperweight was very ugly.
4. Please take notice how well-behaved the Ministry owl returning this message is (a short finite incantatem will remv the Immobilisation Hex on Pig; I'd recommend putting him in his cage beforehand). Who trained the bird? Woefully lax.
5. "TBWL" is going to prove interesting when listed on your CV.

PIW

 

PIW:

You didn't seem completely fine. About unsavoury: dunno. Think it might be the glasses.
See, Pig did you a favour. And he's Ron's bird, so it might explain a lot. Don't think he was trained, he was a present from Sirius Black.
I was thinking of making that the header, actually.

Harry

ps - James

 

Harry -

I was fine. I am fine, and while it's very kind of you to want to make certain, it's unnecessary. I had wondered if my plan would end up backfiring; the twins' and my mother's reaction to their discovery wasn't exactly a shock to me. I regret that I involved you in the matter, but it's closed, and I should have known better than to try it. Again, I'm sorry. Please, don't worry about it anymore.

My glasses are perfectly serviceable, and not at all unsavoury.

Yes, Ron being his (her?) owner does explain a lot.

Re: TBWL: It would certainly be an attention-getter.

PW

 

Percy:

All right. Fleur got pretty hacked off with Bill when he said they'd return the sheets, if it helps at all.

Harry

***

 


(22nd July - Tuesday)
Harry -

Oddly enough, knowing that does help. A bit.

...Did Fleur happen to sprout wings?

PW

 

Percy:

Nah, no wings. Just a beak.

Looked a lot like Snape, actually.

Though I don't think Snape could fill the front of those dress robes quite the same.

TBWL

***
Percy attempted to cover a snort of laughter with a cough. From the other side of the office door, he heard Minister Scrimgeour pause in his firecall with the Minister for France. "Everything all right, Weasley?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. Wouldn't mind fetching me a cup of coffee, would you?"

He smothered a sigh, and closed the file he'd been working through, as he stood. "Of course not, sir," he called, walking in the direction of the canteen, carefully folding a small piece of parchment in his hand and slipping it into his pocket.

***

 


(23rd July - Wednesday)
TBWL -

One never knows. Professor Snape did always wear very high collars. And many layers.

Percy

 

Percy:

You get to explain to Hermione and Ron and Ginny why I choked on my toast this morning.

Harry

 

Harry -

Choking on toast sounds like a personal problem to me.

It won't do; I can't in good conscience send another hapless owl all the way to the Burrow to deliver a one-sentence message. I'm not exactly sure what good filling up the rest of this scrap of parchment is going to do, however, other than assuage my guilty conscience and bore you to tears.

The cake was nice. I'm assuming my mother made it...? She taught all of us how to make things like beans on toast and pasta before we received our Hogwarts letters - she said she'd had enough of her brothers casually "dropping by" during mealtimes that she wanted to spare Ginny the same fate. Which was ironic, as Ginny was the worst cook of all of us. Don't tell her I told you that, please.

I do wish the Ministry canteen would invest in decent tea.

Oh, look, I've run out of room! Heartbreaking.

Percy

***

 


(24th July - Thursday)
Percy:

What's wrong with the Ministry's tea? Does it come in teabags? Is it not hand-picked by free-trade sherpas? Is it not packed loosely enough?

Only teasing. My aunt never bothered much with tea leaves. Of course, this may have been due to the fact that my cousin would have either attempted to eat them or smoke them if they weren't in a recognisable bag form.

The twins were actually allowed in the kitchen for purposes other than meals? When did that rule change? They won't go near it, now.

I'll try to make my notes longer too, I guess. Is it as hot in the city as it is here? We're all dying. Ginny says her freckles are melting off and Hermione's hair looks like the Flutterby bush on the front lawn. Think Ron's glad he has an excuse not to de-gnome the garden for your mum anymore.

Harry

 

Harry -

Actually, overly-loosely-packed tea leaves are exposed to more air and oxidise more quickly, which can negatively affect their flavour. And yes, it comes in teabags. Which makes the tea taste like paper and not like actual tea.

Also don't be ridiculous, sherpas are located in the more mountainous regions of India. Hardly any tea crops there.

Aha. Think the twins were banished from further lessons and the kitchen altogether, after the Noodle Incident of '89. Don't ask about this one. Trust me.

Yes, it is very hot here in the city. Luckily, the Ministry buildings are temperature-controlled. And I do manage to keep several cooling charms at home. Last night it actually got a bit chilly, I had to go search out another blanket.

Enjoy the attic!

Percy

 

Percy:

Coming to spend the night, then

Right, I am hijacking your bed

possibly with you in

So. Oxidisation rates of tea leaves. Sherpas in mountainous regions. Noodle incidents. All very interesting. Didn't find the remarks about cooling charms and temperature-controlled environments interesting or unfair at all.

If you come home and your flat has been overtaken by heat-exhausted and bad-tempered forces, do not be surprised. You've brought it on yourself.

Harry

 

Harry -

Sherpas are a proud and noble race. Noodle Incidents v top secret. Re: threats of invasion: remain undaunted. Exhausted, bad-tempered forces would be easi would surely hmmm would be easily overpowered. I have not yet begun to fight.

Percy

p.s. - as far as I know, the cooling charms I had set in my bedroom at the Burrow are still in working condition. If the lot of you are so miserable, why haven't you researched to find a way to better the situation?

***
The problem with cooling charms was that one had to effectively imagine being cool for the charm to begin working. He and Ron had tried them on the attic bedroom at the beginning of the summer, but had both complained so extensively about the already-oppressive heat that they found themselves unable to think about any sort of weather but the present oven-like conditions. Hermione had refused to take pity on them (mostly because of the ill-timed crack Ron had made about camping out in the girls' bedroom for three weeks out of every month).

It was really offensively Percy, Harry reflected as he stood on the unfamiliar landing that kept the doors to Percy's and Charlie's bedrooms, to have the foresight to begin casting cooling charms in late May when everyone else was enjoying spring. And to rub everyone's (translation: his) nose in it now that they were miserable.

"Like the ant and the fucking grasshopper," he mumbled, hand on the doorknob. Except the ant didn't offer to share the benefits with the grasshopper, did he?

Harry grumbled and shook the niggling voice of reason out of his head. Even as late at night as it was, the Burrow was still hot and humid, and he'd laid awake and sweating on his bed until Ron had begun snoring. Every step down the staircase had been a nightmare - he'd been sure the squeaks of the planks would wake the whole household. He still wasn't entirely sure what the little late-night adventure was supposed to accomplish - Percy might have been bluffing, or the charms might be gone. Still, though, the offer had been made, and Harry was never one to back down from an opportunity to do something without thinking it through.

He took his wand out and whispered an unnecessary alohomora, and turned the doorknob. The door creaked, so he winced and held it motionless for a long moment - or, at least, until he was relatively certain no Weasleys were going to come bounding down the staircase and begin asking questions. Sliding a hand inside the room, he fumbled for the lightswitch, and slipped inside as the light turned on.

The first thing he registered, as his eyes shut tight in the sudden brightness of the room, was how easy it was to breathe when the air wasn't body-temperature. Slowly, squinting, he cracked his eyes open enough to take in the rest of the room, shivering a little as the sheen of sweat on his body evaporated under the still-operating cooling charms.

It was tiny, for one thing. Harry's first thought was of the cupboard in which he'd spent the first decade of his life: Percy's bedroom was about half the size of Ron's, only big enough to contain a desk and chair, and a bed whose ends hit both walls. Harry shut the door gently behind himself as he looked over the rows of makeshift bookshelves fixed precariously above the bed - mostly empty, now, except for old NEWT-level Herbology and Ancient Runes texts that neither the twins nor Ron had needed.

There was a square four-paned window between the bed and the deskchair; it overlooked the Weasley's backyard and the trees beyond and, past that, the few winking lights left shining in Ottery St. Catchpole. There was nearly no moon at all - just a silver slip that was almost lost in the treetops, so that it seemed an extension of the town.

Harry set his wand down on the windowsill as he looked out, and perched on the edge of a lumpy mattress, suddenly a little nervous of his unfamiliar surroundings. The surface of the desk had a thin layer of dust on it; he reached over (he didn't have to get off the bed to do so) and wrote his name in it, in big loopy letters, so that it took up most of the free space. A few moving photographs and newspaper clippings were still stuck to the walls, but there was nothing indicative of the boy who'd occupied the room for nearly two decades - the thought made Harry inexplicably sad. Exhaling, he reached behind himself and began to turn down the covers, delighting in the coolness of the sheets, not minding the dampness that had got into everything since summer had hit.

"Nox," he whispered, giving another all-over shiver as he scooted down under the blankets, closing his eyes and taking off his glasses. He felt his hand over to the windowsill to set the frames down and sighed, nestling in, privately revelling in how not everything smelled like old socks, like in the attic bedroom. He turned a little, propping onto his side, and lazily opened his eyes again to take one more glance around - and sucked in a startled breath.

On the close walls and relatively low ceilings of the room, glittering in the darkness, were a few scattered groups of carefully-placed bright dots, like immobilised fireflies. Harry squinted at a cluster of them before he realised that they were in approximately the same formation as the Ursa Minor constellation. His eyes travelled over to the next group, which he quickly identified as Orion; and as he moved his gaze around the room and slowly identified more of the clusters as the constellations he'd lazily gone over during Astronomy, he imagined Percy, holed up in his room for hours, painstakingly reconstructing the star formations on his walls and then using them as a revision tool at night.

"...You are so weird," he muttered as he closed his eyes (he'd finally found Canis Major after ten minutes of searching, which made him simultaneously pleased and a little heartsick), but a few moments later, Harry fell asleep smiling.

***

(25th July - Friday)
Percy:

Ron and I have tried cooling charms, but they haven't worked. Hermione won't help because Ron demonstrated his powers of tact and communicative skills in her direction and she still hasn't forgiven him. Or me, by association. Thanks for telling me about your room. I might've taken that as an invitation of sorts, hope you're not offended. How did you not keep hitting your head on the doorframe?

I liked the constellations.

Harry

***
Percy returned home from work that evening via the Ministry Floo after almost four hours of overtime - he'd finished finalising the plans for a conference firecall with the Wizengamot and had had to wait nearly three hours for a signature from the last member. Frustrated and tired, he shucked off his Ministry robes and loosened his necktie as he strode through to the kitchen. Everything seemed too complicated for him to want to make the effort of cooking, and he was too exhausted to venture out, so he eventually settled on a sandwich. He ate while halfheartedly listening to the WWN inside the tiny kitchen, making sure to sweep crumbs into the sink.

The half-read book on the coffee table held a little appeal, but as he came back into the living room and slumped onto the uncomfortable wingback chair, Percy decided not to bother. Instead he pushed himself out of the chair and ventured back in the hallway, towards his bedroom, resigning himself to defeat and another early night in.

Hermes gave him a disgruntled hoot and a glare as the light was turned on in the room, and Percy clucked and apologised, immediately coming to check on his food and water and condition. Since the weather was holding (they were predicting thunderstorms for tomorrow afternoon, but not before), Percy carefully moved the cage nearer to the window, and eventually managed to shove the panes up. "Don't go too far, it's not safe," he admonished the owl, who seemed to roll his eyes in return. "I mean it. And no associating with pigeons. One never knows where they've been."

Giving another exasperated hoot, Hermes ducked his head and hopped out of the cage and onto the sill and was off, soaring above the lights and cars and the higher-storied buildings surrounding Percy's own. Percy watched him for a few peaceful minutes before he got back to the task at hand.

Closing the curtains (but leaving the window open; he didn't very well want his owl smacking into a pane of glass, he'd seen it happen to Oliver's poor bird half a dozen times during school - no wonder the thing flew sideways), Percy methodically removed his workclothes, folding them neatly and placing them in the hamper near the bathroom door. He began to turn to go back to the dresser to find some sleep clothes, when a scrap of folded parchment that had evidently fallen out of one of his pockets caught his eye. He recognised it after a second, and frowned as he bent forward to pick it off the floor. Harry's handwriting was slightly visible through the pores of the parchment, dark and thick and wholly confusing. Percy'd spent most of the workday fretting about how to answer it, and had yet to make anything resembling a decision on it.

...He was reading too much into the situation, of course; the idea of Harry Potter consciously writing anything at all suggestive to him was entirely laughable. The boy was just being inexplicably, disturbingly friendly. Which would indicate that he, Percy Weasley, needed to hurry up and return to reality.

That he was still a bit proud of the idea that Harry Potter had accepted an invitation to his bed, even though that bed was at least one hundred miles away and certainly not being occupied by his person while the invitation was issued, indicated that Percy's return to reality would not be happening in the very near future.

He frowned, and refused to let himself open the note and read it again, choosing instead to set it on his dresser and select the first pyjama bottoms and shirt he could find, regardless of whether or not they matched. Setting his glasses on the dresser's surface beside the note, Percy pulled the sleep clothes on, and tried not to let his stomach twist with that familiar combination of nausea and anxiety again.

...If it had just been the boy's status, an easily explainable sort of hero-worship that had made him so proud...

Percy's frown turned fierce, and he shook his hair into his eyes and finished dressing. A quick walk around the flat to check the wards and locks on the door, and to turn off the lights in the kitchen, distracted him for a few more minutes - as did cleaning his teeth and pulling the curtains back for Hermes when he returned. He flicked his wand toward the lightswitch as he drew the covers back, and fidgeted underneath the blankets of his bed, trying to get comfortable, trying to keep his mind blank.

It didn't work.

Percy frowned and rubbed his forehead. "Ridiculous," he murmured, to nothing in particular, as he threw an arm over his eyes and tried desperately not to think about green eyes or shoulders he hadn't remembered being that broad or the breath-catching cruel curve to a smirk that shouldn't have been that attractive. He'd known Harry as the Boy Who Lived at school, and that had been bad enough: the sweet naturally pensive expression, the surprise in his smiles and laughter, the absolute confidence in himself during Quidditch had all combined to give Percy more than one private attack of excruciating guilt and shame while he should have been patrolling hallways or concentrating on his schoolwork.

However, Harry as the Chosen One, the boy morphing into a man, was proving even more destructive to Percy's equilibrium. His almost entire removal from anything to do first-hand with Harry Potter had helped more than anything else, in his recovery, and the idea that he should have been so shaken by two ten-minute visits from the boy and a handful of casual notes was unspeakable. He was unspeakable.

As was even the thought of Harry in his childhood bed.

Percy twisted in the bedsheets and tried to untangle his legs as he cast around for another topic to think about, anything but Harry sodding Potter nestled between the familiar lumps of his old mattress, with dark hair curled on the pillow, framing his face.

...Or the long line of his body underneath the blankets, hipbone and shoulder creating rolling waves, troughing on the taper of his waist. Pink, bitten lips parted and slack with sleep, breath heavy and even in his thin chest. He'd probably have borrowed an old t-shirt from Ron, one stretched in the neck from use, so the end of a collarbone would be visible, a sharp line in the shadows. Smudgy dark lashes fanned on his cheeks and - oh, Percy had never seen him without his glasses -

Gasping, Percy forced his eyes open and shuddered softly, trying to stop the progression, beginning to recognise the fruitlessness of it. He bit his lip, toes curling in the sheets as he put up one last fight and then gave way, making one small broken noise as he shuffled farther under the covers and slid both hands under a few more layers of cloth.

 

Fifteen minutes later, flushed as much from embarrassment as from exertion, Percy reached for his wand to cast a few cleaning spells. Hermes hadn't returned, but his eyelids were growing heavy, and he'd have another long day at work tomorrow. The mental clarity in the aftermath of what had been...really a very powerful climax had given Percy what he felt was a solid plan of action for his, ahem, recurring problem. One which he would be able to implement first thing in the morning. ...Which would come a lot faster if he would just go ahead and fall asleep, he reasoned, as he drifted off into unconsciousness.

***

(26th July - Saturday)
...While I do appreciate the apparently genuine concern that's prompted you to continue this correspondence, I have to question its (frankly baffling) presence in our lives, and its origins. If any member of my family, or if any of their associates have requested that you attempt to keep some line of communication open with me/the Ministry, please say. I know you dislike me. Given my past behaviour, I can understand why.

I was wrong in my letter to Ron. I apologise for what I said about you. That shouldn't be taken as a blanket statement: I don't agree with my family's politics, and I'm not sorry for leaving as I did. However, the Harry Potter I knew in school didn't much corroborate with the Harry Potter that the Fudge administration tried to depict, and I should have supported the one I had known from Hogwarts.

Thank you for humouring my family and delivering their invitation, and for humouring me and attempting to deliver my gift. Please feel free not to humour me anymore.

Percy Weasley

p.s. - I accidentally overheard a comment from Miss Tonks in the Ministry canteen today. I suppose any request to look after Ginny would be superfluous, at this point - you've already done a better job of that than any of her brothers ever managed. I'm very glad for the two of you. - PW

p.p.s. - I'm glad you liked the constellations. Thank you. - PW

 

Unable to account for his bad mood (well, able to account for it, but unwilling), Harry slammed into the kitchen, startling Ron and Hermione and Ginny, who had gathered around the small table. Scowling, he gave them an abrupt wave as he opened the door to the ancient modified icebox and pulled out a bottle of pumpkin juice. He dropped into an empty chair beside Ginny.

"...Hi," Hermione attempted, looking a little nervous. Harry grunted what was, ostensibly, a greeting back. "Erm. Ron and Ginny and I were thinking about going to Diagon Alley sometime next week, for a change of scenery. Would you like to come?"

"Yeah, sounds great," Harry said sarcastically, slouching in his chair, folding his arms. "I'll owl Voldemort - oh, come off it, Ron, s'just a name - and let him know, in case he wants to arrange a greeting party to meet us there."

"That would be a shame," Ginny muttered, before taking a sip from her glass of juice. On the other side of Harry, Ron choked a little on the biscuit he was munching, and had to rush for water, eyes watering with a mixture of merriment and oxygen deprivation. Harry's frown deepened; the monster in his chest had been rumbling for a good quarter of an hour (ever since he'd read the Letter) and he had no idea what to do about it.

Especially since the bloody thing had decided without his permission to take a liking to a male. Moreover, a male who happened to be related to his first genuine ex-girlfriend. ...And his best friend. And who was currently estranged from them both.

And who, apparently, wanted nothing to do with him.

Harry growled. The other three sitting around the table exchanged worried looks. "I'm going back upstairs," he decided, shoving himself away from the table abruptly, wheeling to his feet. "Going stir-crazy here," he muttered. The fact that he could hear how sulky that made him sound only made him angrier.

"Hey, 're you saying you want to get out? Maybe to Diagon Alley? Maybe sometime next week? Great idea, Harry," Ron exclaimed, breaking into an infuriating grin. "Can we go too?"

Harry scowled, and invited Ron to go a few other choice places he could think of, and tilted his chin as Ron's face went red with embarrassment and anger. "Yeah? Maybe I will, be a bloody relief to get away from you for a bit," Ron shot back, eyes widening a little as he leaned back in his chair and awaited the fallout.

Harry glanced over at Hermione and Ginny, and sneered when he saw them leaning closer to Ron. "Don't bother. I'm not staying here," he decided suddenly, hit with an impulse. He began walking towards the staircase, determined to start packing. Finally get some peace and quiet, won't have to put up with Ron's snoring, and I can get whatever books we need from the library...

"Harry!" Hermione called after, finally finding her voice (she'd already shot a glare at Ron). "It's not safe, you know you c - "

"Yeah, actually I can. Sirius left me an entire house. If everyone around me's going to keep dying, might as well make use of what they leave behind," he snapped at her, whirling around to take the stairs two at a time, leaving her behind on the landing.

***

(27th July, Sunday)
After the sweaty, obligatory cheerfulness and utter lack of privacy that was life at the Burrow, Number 12 Grimmauld Place seemed a paradise for Harry's woebegot teenage soul. The halls echoed (the ones that weren't filled with Mrs. Black's shrieks, that is), the rooms were quiet and empty, and Harry had made sure to get rid of Kreacher by forcing him to take an extended holiday.

Mostly doxy-free, the drawing room on the second floor became Harry's immediate refuge. He'd taken his trunk up to Sirius's old bedroom (the one he and Ron had occupied two years before), and had been relieved to find that there weren't many reminders of his godfather in the place at all. Mrs. Black had, apparently, done a good job of erasing signs of her eldest son's existence before he'd completed the job for her a year ago. His previous night's sleep had been better than he'd expected, given the situation, and he'd woken up that morning grumpy, hungry, and itching to look over the house that had been bequeathed to him.

His survey of the rooms had been about as depressing as he'd expected - Sirius's mother had apparently invented new shades of black when she exhausted all decorating possibilities with the others. Pausing in front of the Black Family Tree, Harry rubbed his finger over the familiar char-mark where Sirius's name had been, and frowned. "You would've helped me with this," he said accusingly. "...Well, no, you'd probably have laughed and then teased me about it," he amended, "but then you would've helped."

He sighed, frustrated against the unfairness of it, and rested his forehead against the tapestry for a moment. He went a little cross-eyed as he tried to keep the charred bit in focus, but as he leaned back, his eyes began to wander outward. He snorted, quietly, at some of the names (poor Sirius's brother; Abelard was a really unfortunate middle name, even by this family's standards).

Intrigued by a few familiar surnames (ew, Parkinsons), Harry began to study the connections between Sirius's family and the rest of the wizarding world. He'd actually managed to find a few Weasleys a few centuries earlier (the tree automatically moved names up in the leaves to make room for the newest generation) when he became aware of noises coming from outside the room.

Probably just Kreacher, he told himself, still reaching in his back pocket for his wand as he moved towards the drawing room doors. He could definitely hear footsteps in the hall now, coming down towards him - they stopped, apparently just in front of the library door. Heart pounding a little unevenly in his ears, Harry waited, wand raised.

Then, from outside the door: "Merlin's trousers, Potter, either put it away or charge! No sense in wait-and-see in an ambush situation!"

Harry sagged with relief, and grinned a little bit as the door swung open, revealing the owner of the familiar gruff voice. Moody's magical eye swivelled wildly in its socket as he leaned on his good leg a bit. "Now, if you've finished, you might consider making your betters a pot of tea," he said, almost cheerfully for Mad-Eye standards, as he lurched out of the doorway of the library and towards Grimmauld Place's kitchens. Shrugging, Harry pocketed his wand ("ROBES pocket, Potter, remember! You'll sit sideways and people'll think you've got the wind!" Moody shouted, evidently watching him with the magical eye) and fell into step behind the ex-Auror. Moody contented himself with calling Harry useless, but he somehow managed to do so without malice, so Harry thought he might live.

 

"Too close for comfort, then, Potter?" Moody asked affably enough, once they both had cups of tea and were seated in the cramped house-elf chairs around the low table in the kitchens. Harry gave him a confused look, and then made a disgusted face as he tried to sip his tea. "S'the anti-poison charms. Tend to make the taste a little...off," Moody explained, shrugging a bony shoulder and taking a long swig. "...With your friends, I meant."

"Oh." Harry paused as he considered the question, then nodded. "Yeah, something like that." He smiled carefully. "Not much chance for privacy. Don't know how they all made it through intact." But they DIDN'T, did they? Not ALL. Harry frowned and shook his head clear of the thought, and glanced up, shrugging sheepishly as he caught Moody watching him with a thoughtful expression on what was left of his face. Harry shifted uncomfortably.

"What's got you spooked, boy?" Moody asked abruptly, training the eye on him, focusing so intently Harry was a little afraid the old man could see through his clothes and skin to the ribs and heart underneath.

"Nothing!" Harry said, too quickly. He winced and tried to recover. "Only a massive case of cabin fever." A possible escape suddenly occurred to him, so he continued quickly. "Things with Ginny were awkward." He shifted and hoped the ploy worked, uncomfortable with how...human Moody was being.

"The girl? Thought you two got on well enough," Mad-Eye observed, obviously out of the Order of the Phoenix gossip chain. He sighed, and regretted letting Molly harangue him earlier that afternoon into checking in on the boy and making sure he was still alive. Harry sighed, and regretted saying anything. "Small case of hero-worship, of course, but it's to be expected when you're her brother's b - "

"Actually," Harry cut in, backing away from the frown Mad-Eye shot him at being interrupted, "yeah, we got on all right. ...And then we got on really well. And now we're back to getting on all right, again," he said, vaguely, hoping that the old man would take a hint.

The eye Moody had been born with twinkled strangely. "Ah. Well. Define 'really well' in this context - nothing specific," he said, a small trace of a smirk twisting his lips.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief, and chuckled. "Not well enough for Ron to kill me, but well enough for him to consider it."

"Aha." Moody snorted. "Students never change, then, Albus was right about that. Throwing each other over left right and centre, Merlin knows when the lot of you'd have time to get any real schoolwork done - "

"I didn't 'throw her over'!" Harry replied hotly, blushing. "It was mutual."

"This sort of thing's never mutual, lad," Mad-Eye replied easily, taking a long sip of tea before he continued. "There's one person who says it's a good idea and then there's the other person who has to go along with it or look like an arse for getting summarily binned. Which were you?"

"...Um."

Moody smirked. "Thought so." He shrugged and slouched back in his chair as much as he was able, propping two heavy, well-worn boots on the table's surface. "Getting your practice in for the real heroics, I'd wager." He chuckled and drained the rest of his cup, then refilled it with a tap of his wand. "Setting up for the passionate reunion over You-Know-Who's ashes, eh? Ah, romance."

Harry gave the old man a suspicious glance. He'd never seen Moody enjoying himself so much; it was a bit disconcerting. "...Not likely," he muttered, going even redder, rubbing an arm uncomfortably.

"Never say never. Only you've got to remember to keep them in line," the old man advised, gesturing with the cup, which sloshed tea down his hand. Mad-Eye didn't seem to notice. "Not be overbearing, but you don't want to go 'round being henpecked. Look at old Arthur. Nothing but respect for Molly, o'course, but - "

"No, really, I don't think it'll be an issue," Harry said, desperate to get on another subject. He wondered vaguely if his face could get any hotter, and if it might spontaneously combust if it did. ...The idea was worryingly comforting.

"We-ell, but she'll've been raised in that atmosphere," Moody contested, ruminating on the subject and finding it more interesting (especially since he'd been the latest victim of Molly Weasley's Unquestionable Female Intuition). "Firm grip. Constant vigilance! ...And so on," he said, gesturing again, cursing as more hot tea spattered over his hand. "Anyway, best thing for you both, far too young to be - "

"My mum and dad were young, too," Harry countered, frowning. "Anyway, I don't think - "

"Well, there're exceptions to every rule. If your mum and dad hadn't got married, they'd've probably killed each other. Or everyone else," Mad-Eye chuckled. Harry paused as he tried to think of a reply, caught entirely off-guard by the comment, and by the sting of loneliness it caused deep in his chest.

"They loved each other, though," he said, the statement nearly a question. Moody seemed to pick up on it, and nodded.

"Aye. Never seen two people so devoted. Lived in each other's pockets, they did; they could finish each other's sentences. Seeing them make lunch or wash dishes," he reminisced fondly, turning thoughtful, "was like...watching a ballet." He shrugged a hunched shoulder. "Tremendous rows, all the same. Think they liked 'em. Making up gave them something to do." Mad-Eye gazed past Harry's shoulder, into the kitchen beyond, and seemed to lose himself for a moment before he snapped back to present day. Abashed, he cleared his throat gruffly, took another sip of tea. "Anyway."

Harry nodded, his throat threatening to close. He took a gulp of tea as well, and coughed as it burned on the way down, relieved at the distraction.

"That'll be you," Moody offered, guessing the boy's thoughts. Harry glanced up, and the wary carefulness in the old man's eyes made him suddenly snort with laughter at the ridiculousness of his situation. Moody bristled.

"Sorry. Thanks, yeah."

"With you and your girl, I mean."

"No, I know, just. Thanks, okay." Harry bit his lip to keep from grinning. It didn't work.

"What!" Mad-Eye grumbled, nonplussed at the reaction. "Sweet merciful Zeus, you try showing a bit of compassion and it comes back and bites you square in the ar - "

"A week ago I had a dream about Ginny's brother," Harry interrupted, desperate to stop the conversation. He immediately crimsoned once he'd stopped, but met Moody's gaze evenly all the same.

Moody gaped, but stopped talking, at least for a moment. "...er." He took his boots off the table, set them down with a clunk. "...Think you might be chasing the wind, there, that Granger chippie's got a pretty tight hold on his w - "

"Not that one," Harry interrupted, horrified. "Oh, hell. Forget it, it was a stupid thing to say."

"No, no." Moody paused, contemplative. He shrugged. "Actually, it makes sense, now that I think about it."

Harry glanced up from his teacup, looking about as indignant as he felt. "What d'you mean, makes sense?"

"We-ell. Hear-tell you kept a pretty close eye on Diggory during the Triwizard Tournament. Minerva thought it was sweet. And, by all accounts, the boy wasn't a pain to look at, even if he was thick as a wooden post," Mad-Eye shrugged. Harry squawked in outrage.

"That was because he didn't know about the dragons!" he yelped, scowling as Mad-Eye gave him an amused look. He didn't know whether to be more offended that the senior members of the Order of the Phoenix had been speculating about his lovelife for years, or for the slight against Cedric's intelligence. "Anyway, he wasn't stupid! And it wasn't like that!"

"Sure, and invitations to the Prefects' Bathrooms are pure and innocent," Mad-Eye teased. "That made Mona's year, when she heard." Harry was, by this point, nearly incandescent with embarrassment. "Nevermind, boy, I wasn't born yesterday. So, which one of the twins is it? Don't fault you your taste, m'just worried you won't make it out of the experience alive, frankly."

It was Harry's turn to gape. "...What?" he spluttered. "Neither!"

"Hmm. Well, you're too late for Bill, and he's a known ladykiller anyway, Molly's been turning a deaf ear to those rumours for near a decade. Charlie? Haven't seen him lately."

"No! Look, just. M'tired, thanks for the tea, think I'll go to my - "

"Well, you're fast running out of options, m'boy!" Moody interrupted, enjoying the guessing game. "If it's not Charlie or the twins, and if it's not Ron, then - " Mad-Eye's smile slowly vanished, and he gave Harry a traumatised look as he finally caught on. Harry didn't think it was humanly possible, but his face went redder. "The Ministry brat?"

"...He's not a brat," Harry found himself saying. For God's sake, where's Voldemort and a well-aimed Avada Kedavra when you need them?

Mad-Eye's nonmagical eye twitched. "...Huh." He considered Harry for a moment, then reached into his coat pocket. Harry flinched, wondering if he was about to be castrated or killed, then sagged with relief as Moody pulled out a small flask. He tipped a generous amount of firewhiskey into their tea. Harry took a cautious sip and was surprised to find the taste improved. "Think you'd best tell me how you got into this mess," Moody said, not unkindly.

Harry paused, then did.

 

There was one thing about Mad-Eye Moody, Harry decided four hours later, as he was staggering in what he sincerely hoped was the direction of Sirius's old bedroom: you could count on him to make you see the hilarity in any given situation. Even impending destruction.

After Harry's confession, the evening had quickly degenerated into a circular pattern of Mad-Eye cheerfully insulting Harry, telling stories about catching Death Eaters or the old Order Members (Harry'd had no idea Ron's uncles were so cool), and tapping their cups full of more tea-and-firewhiskey.

When Dung had shown up halfway through, things had just got worse. After Harry'd hit the unfortunate man with half a dozen effective Bat Bogey hexes, and after Mad-Eye had calmed them both down and refused to remove the hexes, opting instead to let them run their course since Dung deserved them, the three of them started trading stories about Hogwarts, pranks they'd been in on. Harry told them about the twins' dramatic exit from school the year before, until both men fell silent with appreciation.

And then - there'd been more tea. And firewhiskey. And stories. Around his seventh cup, Harry forewent any more refills and held onto the table for dear life, refusing to leave and let any of the stories (Merlin, Moody'd been a hellion during his schoolyears) pass him by. Once Moody and Dung started in on the snatches of filthy old tavern songs they could remember, however, Harry quickly decided he'd had enough and excused himself, if only to get away from Moody's unsteady bass.

Relieved to find Hedwig's cage and his Hogwarts trunk in the first bedroom he stumbled into, Harry barely managed to remove his glasses before he fell, face-first, into the nearest bed. He didn't even mind the clouds of dust that flew up from the impact; the pillow was soft and cool, and the mattress was beautifully free of any lumps, and he was snoring in seconds, sleeping the sleep of the just, emotionally exhausted, and entirely drunk.

***

(28th July - Monday)
"Idiot boy," a thin, somewhat familiar voice hissed above his head. Harry rolled over and cracked an eye open, and whimpered at the sunlight streaming through the drapes directly onto his face. His head was pounding. "Having a good morning, are we?"

"Shut up," he muttered at the painting directly across from the bed, glaring up at Phineas Nigellus's smug expression as he tried, and failed, to sit up. "...Ow."

"Serves you right. Carousing til all hours, some of us like our sleep, you know."

"You're a painting," Harry grumbled, finally managing to prop himself up. He grabbed his glasses from the bedside table and slipped them on, and squinted at the portrait til it came into focus.

"Am I? Really? Fascinating, I'd never have noticed. Please, continue astounding me with your keen observational skills," the man in the frame drawled, smirking at Harry in a disagreeable way.

"You have a big nose," Harry countered, and immediately found the retort lacking a certain je ne sais quoi.

"Well spotted. You snore."

"I do not!"

The former Headmaster raised a thin eyebrow. "You've heard yourself sleeping, then?"

"...Leave me alone, I have a headache."

"There's Pepper-Up in the bedside table. It might be out of date," the man in the portrait offered. Harry gave him a suspicious look, but crawled over towards the end of the bed and opened the table drawer and pulled out a bottle, surprised.

"Still good," he murmured, and unscrewed the cap, and took a swig, grimacing as the potion took hold. His head did feel a little better, though, so he shot a glance up at the painting. "Thanks."

"I am benevolence incarnate," Phineas Nigellus said flippantly. "You're here alone this time, yes? None of the other horrible children?"

"No, just one horrible child," Harry drawled back, regaining some of his powers of sarcasm, feeling better about himself.

"That's still one too many," the painting retorted.

"My heart's breaking for you," Harry said, rolling his eyes. "Going to make me leave?"

"No-oo. Though I had considered that if I assisted you more than the other buffoons who showed here last night, it might speed the day of your departure," the man in the painting said vaguely. "Which, I will cheerfully admit, is quite a motivation."

Harry just glowered up at him. "...I'm sorry, I must've misheard. It sounded like you were offering to help me."

Phineas Nigellus smirked, and slouched back in his seat, smoothing a hand over his goatee. "You've developed an interest in your best friend's elder brother, correct?"

Harry gaped. "You were eavesdropping?"

"Slytherin. Also portrait. It's not as if I have many other things to do." The man waved the question away, after that, fixing a disturbingly intense black gaze on Harry. "You have, though, am I right?"

"...Well, yeah. You must've heard enough to know you're right," Harry replied acidly.

Phineas shrugged, unconcerned. "Well. Does he return your interest?"

Harry made a face. "You're not going to tell people about this, are you?"

"Who would I tell? The number of our mutual acquaintance is dwindling at an alarming rate," the man said, words clipped, one eyebrow raised. "I'm not going to tell, you stupid boy. Now, does he?"

"No," Harry spat, and folded his arms, feeling more foolish than he had, even, last night. "He had a girlfriend during school."

"Hm. Well, so did you, from what I heard. He was your prefect?"

"Yeah. Head Boy, too."

"Oho." The former Headmaster began to smirk. "Interested in leadership and his studies, then? Let me guess, he revised every night, while he wasn't patrolling?"

Harry suddenly found a hidden cache of memories of Percy as a fixture at the small table in the corner of the Gryffindor Common Room, poring over a stack of books and notes, bellowing at the twins and Lee Jordan whenever they got too rowdy. "...Yeah, guess you could say that."

"Close friends?"

"...Huh? Were we...?"

"No, halfwit, did he have any?"

Harry paused, tried to think. "Not really. Not that I knew of."

"This 'girlfriend'. Bookish Ravenclaw, correct?"

Another suspicious look. "Yeah. How d'you - "

Phineas Nigellus waved his hand and rolled his eyes. "Please. After twenty years of being subjected day in and day out to students' crises, one notices patterns in their behaviour. So. He kept mostly to himself, had no close friends, had a Ravenclaw girlfriend, and focused almost solely on his exam results and pleasing his professors?"

"...Yeah."

"Hmm. And how have you kept in contact?"

"Letters, mostly. I know how to Apparate to his flat," Harry said, and tried not to blush.

The man in the painting smirked. "Indeed." He took a deep breath and stood, pacing the few steps he could while remaining within his frame. "You'll write to him again - "

"No, he says he doesn't want me to - " Harry interrupted, before he was silenced himself by a sharp glare from Sirius's ancestor.

"You'll write to him again, with my help, and we'll discern your chances of success by his reply," Phineas Nigellus said, giving him a small, utterly secure smile. Harry's brow furrowed.

"He's not going to just say whether or not he's a p - whether or not he'd like me," Harry recovered, biting his lip.

"I know that," the man said, dragging the tips of two long fingers along the back of his chair, inspecting them for dust, apparently unconcerned. "You will ask him about his relationship status. There are at least two phrases that could guarantee your success, if they're used."

"...What phrases?" Harry asked, before he could stop himself. The smirk on the old man's face was infuriating.

"You'll have to wait." Another quirk of an eyebrow. "I am never wrong."

"How d'you know so much about all this?" Harry asked again, suspicious of the uncharacteristic offers of help. "Practice on your students?" he drawled, and rather hated the way that made him sound like a Malfoy.

The thin brushstrokes of the man's lips curled on the ends. "Go get some parchment and his last letter, I want to hear precisely what he wrote."

Despite his better judgement, Harry obeyed.

***

(29th July - Tuesday)
Percy:

Hi, sorry it's taken me so long to write back. I'm not staying at the Burrow for a bit, but if you want to reply to this, you can still send your response there. Hermione will get it to me. She won't let anyone else get to it first, so don't worry.

I'm not trying to spy on you or the Ministry, and nobody asked me to keep writing. Think they'd say it's a lost cause, actually. I'm not really sure why I'm still writing these letters, except that it's sort of nice and normal-feeling to have a conversation that doesn't have anything to do with what's been happening, even if it's by owl. Thought you might feel the same. Guess I was wrong.

Look, if you don't want to write back to me, then don't. Thanks for writing when you did. And for letting me borrow your room. It was nice.

Thanks for the well-wishes, but they're after the fact. Ginny and I aren't dating anymore. That's not why I left the Burrow. Sorry about that. How are you and Penelope doing? I forgot about that until you said about the Ginny thing. Hope you're doing better than me, haha.

How's Umbridge these days? Still twitchy if someone taps their quill at a canter?

I don't dislike you.

Harry

***

(30th July - Wednesday)
The anxious anticipation of the morning had, eventually, dulled into a sort of painful resignation for Harry as he waited for any sort of news from the Burrow, or from Hermione. In a fit of self-pity, he'd ventured up towards the attic and spent most of the afternoon there, where Sirius had spent most of the last year of his life with Buckbeak. The old mattress on the floor in one corner had been made to look presentable, probably by Professor Lupin in the first days after Sirius's death. Harry almost wanted to go and rumple the blankets, shove them into something messy and natural and more fitting the man who'd slept on them.

A small stack of books had been allowed to remain next to the bed. Harry thumbed through the first of them idly, and glanced at their spines, and wondered where on earth Sirius had managed to get books written by Muggle authors. He tucked the smallest volume into his jacket pocket before he left as the sun was beginning to sink past the buildings, forming vague notions about reading it later on, wondering if it'd make him feel closer to the book's previous owner. After he came back downstairs, however, he found himself itching to do something more productive with his day, needing the distraction. He headed towards the study, intent on finding something worthwhile to do for a few hours, before he could get away with going to bed.

 

"...Hullo? Harry?"

Pausing in his attempts to get rid of the last of a tenacious group of doxies in the study curtains, Harry wandered out towards the main hall. He was startled to see a smiling Arthur Weasley there, and broke into a similar smile.

"Hello!" He waved, then remembered Mrs. Black's portrait, and winced. She didn't start wailing, however, so the two of them beat a hasty retreat into the kitchen, where Arthur shucked off his Ministry cloak and handed Harry a rumpled envelope. "Hermione asked me to bring this, when she found out I was going to drop by. Oh, and - " he pulled out a larger parcel, oddly-shaped, and put it into Harry's outstretched arm. Harry very nearly overbalanced at the weight of it. "Molly wanted to make sure you were eating," the older man said, with a sheepish grin.

"Thanks," Harry squeaked as he hefted the parcel onto the sideboard. He peered interestedly at Hermione's envelope, heart just beginning to hammer as he noticed that it might be big enough for another envelope to be settled inside.

"So," Arthur began awkwardly. Harry looked up again, and was horrified to see that the man was dropping down in a chair, getting comfortable. Possibly for a nice long chat. He glanced longingly back down at the envelope again. "Heard you and Moody and Dung had quite a night."

"Hmm? Oh, yeah. They're all right. No dustbins hexed or anything," Harry said, halfheartedly trying to suss the real reason for why Ron's dad had brought that particular foray into senselessness up. An enigmatic chuckle from the man didn't shed any light on the subject.

"Good, good."

There was a tense pause. A few seconds later, Mr. Weasley conjured himself a cup of tea, and remarkably didn't seem to hear Harry's loud mental wail. He took a leisurely sip, and gave Harry a small fatherly smile as he set the cup back down in the saucer. "...Listen, ah, Harry," he began, concentrating his gaze on the weathered surface of the table. "Surely you know that I think of you as...as a son." He paused, and gave the boy a searching look.

"Er. Thanks?" Harry hazarded. He was rewarded with a relieved smile, and responded with one of his own.

"Well. You're one of the family, proved that more than once," Arthur said, picking up a bit of steam, clearing his throat. "That said, ah. If. Well, I know you're at a very awkward point in your life, probably feeling very...er, confused - "

Oh. God.

" - and with no one to talk to, I imagine these things can fester in your mind, so of course. As...as I think of you as a son, you can, er, of course, think of me as...er, as...ah - "

"Did Moody tell you what I told him?"

Arthur looked wary. "Alastor would never betray something told to him in confidence, Har - "

"About me liking, er..."

"Other wizards?"

Harry nodded, deeply relieved that Moody hadn't decided to be more specific. "Yeah."

Now Arthur just looked relieved. "...Er. Well, he might've said something to that effect. ...Only to me, not to a whole slew of - "

"Well, from what he told me, seemed everyone was just biding their time and waiting for me to be let on the secret," Harry muttered mutinously. "Look, you don't need to worry. It's weird, and I certainly didn't expect it, but it's probably slightly less important than the Order figuring out a way to kill Voldemo - oh, sorry - You-Know-Who and me not getting killed in the process. I'll figure it out," he said, more confidently than he felt.

The small bit of admiration in Mr. Weasley's face was something of a shock. "...You know, Molly had a brother who was. Decent chap. Had rather the same outlook, actually."

"Yeah? What happened to him?"

"Oh, killed by Death Eaters, very nasty," Arthur replied, shaking his head, not noticing the way Harry blanched. "Began to wonder if Molly'd pull through."

"...Huh."

"Anyway! Glad to hear you're all right with it," Mr. Weasley said, finishing his tea, quickly vanishing the cup and saucer as he stood. "You're not planning on spending the rest of the summer here, are you?"

"No, I'd probably end up like Kreacher, wanting my head mounted on the wall, if I did," Harry replied, standing as well. "Thanks, Mr. Weasley."

"Anytime," Arthur said, shaking Harry's hand, giving him an awkward sideways hug and another relieved grin. "Goodness, that wasn't so painful, was it? Hah. Never thought I'd have to give that speech, and here you gave most of it for me!"

Harry began to grin, but paused in the process. "...You never thought? Really? ...Ever? ...For any of your sons?" he asked, trying to keep any sort of hope or incredulity out of his voice.

"...Nope!" came the bright answer. "Ah well. First time for everything. I'll tell Molly and the girls you're doing all right," said Mr. Weasley, putting his Ministry bowler back onto his head as he made his way towards the door. "And don't worry, Harry. Mum's the word. Wouldn't want to drag you out of the cupboard before you're ready!"

"Actually, I think that's clo - " Harry began, but the door shut before he could finish. He stood there for a moment, in the hallway, puzzling over the bizarre conversation. Then he remembered Hermione's envelope and the possible contents, and sprinted back to the kitchen, then up to Sirius's old bedroom to learn his fate.

He threw himself onto the bed as he ripped open the envelope - a note from Hermione was the first thing that escaped the package, so he dutifully unfolded it to read the contents.

Harry,

Mrs. Weasley's been trying to teach me how to make her spaghetti sauce for the past two days. I can see why Ginny resorted to sabotaging her own cooking attempts; if I have to spend one more hot day inside a kitchen near a boiling-hot cooker, I'll go mad.

I'm enclosing a list of books I want you to look for, while you're there. I think we're beginning to close in on Helga's cup, actually! I didn't want to say anything, but I think our chances of finding it before summer ends are quite good. That should cheer you up, I hope.

I'm not going to lecture about the owl I received this morning. I hope you know what you're doing, Harry, because I certainly don't.

Ron will kill you if you try anything.

Love,
Hermione

 

Harry smiled and rolled his eyes at the characteristic response, cringed at the long list of books Hermione had attached to the note, and then dove for the other envelope, inwardly cheering at the MoM seal on the back of it before he broke it and hastily scrabbled to unfold the parchment.

"Oi, hey! Nigellus! Wake up!" he called as he fumbled with the letter. On the wall opposite, the man in the portrait cracked an eye open and grumbled sleepily. "Got a response, wake up, you said you'd tell me if I had a chance!" Harry reminded him needlessly, ignoring how his hands had gone cold as he began to skim over the opening.

"All ri-ight, all right, I'm awake. For heaven's sake, read it aloud, boy, I'm not a Seer," the man said petulantly, sitting up and beginning to look interested despite himself.

Harry nodded and cleared his throat, and was proud of the way his voice was almost entirely normal as he began to read. "Dear Harry - hey, he's never written that before!"

"Well, then, it must be true love. Continue, idiot."

Harry spared the man a second-long glare, then went back to reading the letter. "I should apologise for what must have been a rather insulting display of paranoia, in my last letter - I hope you'll understand that I didn't mean it as any sort of personal attack. The strains on my relationship with my family inform my actions, however - you've witnessed how keenly they feel a responsibility to protect 'their own', and frankly, Harry, you're more a member of the Weasley family than I am, and you have been for some time.

I'm sorry things didn't work with Ginny; I suppose it won't come as news to you that she'd liked you for a long while. My own forays into the same arena have proved equally disastrous - Penelope and I broke up the summer after we left Hogwarts. I admit that it was cowardly of me not to say something at the time; more than I dreaded the twins' and my mother's reactions, though, I dreaded all the questions that would need answering - "

"One," Phineas Nigellus interrupted. Harry paused, and glanced up at him.

"Huh? Wait, where?" He searched back over the sentence he'd just been reading, ignoring the portrait's snort.

"Go on, boy."

"...Fine. - all the questions that would need answering once the proverbial dust had settled.

Luckily, it was an amicable parting. I still consider Penelope a friend, though I haven't heard much from her lately. Our schedules are both very hectic. Hindsight being 20/20, I can see where we failed; she was really too good for me - "

"Two."

Harry's heart leapt, but he otherwise didn't acknowledge the second interruption. " - at times I think she knew me better than I knew myself - "

"Merlin, three. No one ever suspected he was a shirtlifter? Really?" Phineas Nigellus asked incredulously, leaning back in his chair.

"D'you mind?" Harry asked, giving him a frustrated glance. "Only I've still got a bit of a letter to read, unless you've finished being a Gay Diviner."

"Well, yes, he's obviously a poof, but continue. He sounds like he may have a modicum of intelligence, though; I'm beginning to wonder if that means he'd be clever enough to turn you down."

"Fuck you, I'm a catch," Harry muttered, glaring up at the man when he snorted again. He turned his attention back to the rest of the letter. "...than I knew myself. Since then, there have been no prospects that lasted for more than a date or two. Just as well, considering the present political and social turmoil. We can't all have a whirlwind courtship and marriage like Bill and Fleur (and, for that matter, my own parents). I suppose some of us are meant to be alone.

Goodness, I'm sorry to drone on. I hope you're staying somewhere nice (and safe, though I suppose I don't need to emphasise the importance of that to you, of all people). You don't need to thank me for the room. I've enjoyed the letters as well, even though a few of the Ministry owls flatly refuse to take my memos anymore.

Percy

Harry stared at the handwriting on the parchment for a moment before he folded it along the original creases and stuck it carefully back in its envelope. Above him, Phineas Nigellus was oddly silent. Putting the envelope into his other jacket pocket, Harry raised his eyes and his eyebrows, waiting for the former Headmaster's final verdict.

"Well." The old man gave him a scrutinising look, then sniffed. "Try to do something with your hair, before you go over."

***
The monster in Harry's chest had somehow turned into a class of animal whose defence against a predator was to play dead. He'd tried on a button-down shirt, decided it made him look like a ponce and shrugged out of it, then considered that this might be a situation wherein that could play to his favour, and had tried it on again. Then Phineas Nigellus had insulted him a few times and made him feel ridiculous.

So, he was still in his jeans and trainers and jacket, hair slightly tamer and teeth cleaned (and doing that had made Harry blush and feel presumptuous, but better to be safe than sorry), and he'd wondered about needing to show up with a gift for a few minutes, before Phineas Nigellus had insulted him again. And then he'd made a really unsubtle allusion to the possibility of Harry being so grateful for his help that he'd bring the elusive Percy back to his bedroom in particular, and the idea of a portrait having a libido had finally shocked Harry into action.

Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, he tried to will away the nervousness coiling in the pit of his stomach, and focused instead on red hair and glasses and freckles.

 

And found himself, a moment later, on Percy Weasley's bed.

...Which wouldn't have been a problem, except Percy Weasley was not in it.

Confused (but inexpressibly grateful that he hadn't landed on the coffee table again), Harry sat up and winced as the bedsprings creaked, and waited until his eyes had adjusted to the darkness of the room before he slid off the bed and tried to pick his way across to the bedroom door. Outside, in the hallway, light was spilling out of a gap in the bathroom doorway, enough for Harry to navigate. He could hear music playing faintly (it didn't sound like the Weird Sisters - Harry was less than surprised), coming from the living room, and the smell of fried apples was still thick in the air.

The combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, and light jazz was somehow very comforting, and Harry felt the tension in his chest and muscles ease as he moved closer to the living room, creeping up, not wanting to scare Percy before he'd even seen him. There was also an absence of noise coming from the kitchen, he noted as he reached the end of the hallway, which was a good sign, meant that Percy wasn't still washing up or anyth -

Oh. My. GOD.

Finally past the doorway of the living room, Harry was suddenly shocked into motion- and speechlessness at the unexpected image of Percy Weasley being thoroughly snogged. By someone - a MALE someone - who was definitely not him.

Dumbfounded, Harry could only watch for a moment, finding the sight of long, thin fingers moving through dark hair as arresting as they had been in his daydreams. The guy - whoever he was, which was not important, since he was about to become very very DEAD - had managed to press Percy back into the corner of the futon, so that only red hair and sprawled limbs were really visible from Harry's point of view, in the dim light of the living room.

...And, er. The occasional writhe from underneath the guy. Huh. ...And oh shit, a flash of stomach, he'd got Percy's shirt untucked. Harry shuddered as he gave his first real consideration to thumbing over another boy's nipples, and had to clench his jaw against a whimper when he watched Percy have essentially the same reaction.

And the noises, holy hell - it really wasn't fair of Percy to have such an effect on Harry's prick without even touching it -

"What the HELL?" Harry found himself shouting a few seconds later, more at the unfairness of the situation than at the surprise, now, though it was gratifying to see how quickly the two sprung apart on the futon. Not as gratifying as watching Percy try to shove his shirt back down, but a close second.

"...Harry Potter?" the guy (bastard bastard BASTARD I will KILL YOU WITH MY WAND) hazarded, looking confused. Harry squinted, then looked just as quizzically back.

"Davies?"

"...Yeah. Wow, Merlin, s'been years!" Roger Davies laughed, shifting back onto the futon, seemingly relieved that he hadn't just been caught nearly in flagrante by a roving Death Eater (or worse, a Prophet reporter). "...What're you doing in the hallway?" he asked, tilting his head curiously.

Harry blushed, and glanced over at Percy at the same time Roger did. Percy blushed as well, and fidgeted, and tried to wipe all traces of saliva off his mouth. Shaking his head (that should not have been arousing), Harry forced himself to refocus. "...Nevermind that, what're you doing on the futon?" he asked accusingly, glaring.

"Oh. Well. ...Y'know," Roger said sheepishly.

"Actually," Percy piped up, finally finding his voice and giving Harry a glare, "I'd like to know what you're doing here. As, the last I checked, this was my flat and my futon."

"Um," Harry gulped, shrinking away from the glare a little. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the crumpled envelope he'd received earlier that evening. "Got your letter. ...Thought I might just...pop by. See how you were."

"And this constituted you Apparating into my hallway," Percy said, a little incredulous.

"No! Your bedroom!" Harry scoffed. Roger choked a little, drawing both glares in his direction.

"Don't mind me," he said hastily. "Sorry to have been a cause for contention. ...er." He shifted forward, resting his elbows on his knees, giving Harry an apologetic look. "Listen, mate, I'm really sorry, if I'd known I would never have - "

"Known what?" Percy squawked, running a hand through his own hair, trying to untangle it.

"Well, about you and Potter," Roger said logically. He turned back to Harry, looking mournful. "Really. No idea."

Harry paused a few seconds to consider the situation. He glanced over at Percy, who looked as close to murderous as Harry had ever seen him. It was actually rather a good look, which probably helped the decision-making process more than it should've. "S'all right," he told Davies, shrugging a shoulder as he sauntered casually into the room. "Won't hold it against you. Would you mind, though, if...?" He gave the older boy a winning smile. "Guess I'd better get things sorted here."

"...WHAT?" Percy spluttered.

"Yeah, sure!" Davies said, relieved not to have got into the middle of what promised to be a huge domestic. He stood quickly, and came over and actually shook Harry's hand before he fetched his coat from the dining table. Behind them, Percy was still gaping like a goldfish. "...How'd the Ravenclaws do last year in Quidditch?" he asked awkwardly, as he shoved his arms through coat sleeves.

"Oh, erm. Not bad."

"Yeah? Chang captain?"

"Yeah, she was really - "

"Weren't we on a date?" Percy asked, voice moving from a completely-pissed-off octave to one that indicated total confusion. Again, Roger looked sheepish.

"Oh. Yeah, thanks for dinner, Peter - "

"Percy," Percy squawked.

"Sorry, yeah. It was great. And the, er." The older boy coloured.

"Snogging?" Harry supplied helpfully, enjoying his role in the proceedings.

"Yeah, that was good, too," Roger admitted as Harry opened the door for him.

"Flattered," Percy muttered drily, folding his arms and crossing in his legs in a way that made Harry wonder just how they'd all missed that he was gay.

Roger gave Harry a hopeful smile at the door, and a once-over unsubtle enough that it made his cheeks burn. "...If things don't work out," he muttered hopefully, rummaging in a pocket and producing a business card, "that's my...personal Floo."

He'd only been gay for about a week, but Harry thought that propositioning a man who had just caught you on a date with what looked to be his boyfriend was a bit beyond the pale. Still, though, Roger was obviously waiting for an answer. "...Er," Harry said succinctly, and nodded. "Yeah, thanks. Sure." No way in hell. He noticed, as he was closing the door, that Roger's glasses were actually a lot like his, which was equal parts disturbing and encouraging. He locked the door behind him, just in case Percy had a queue of other potentials lined up out front, and turned to face him.

An extremely awkward silence filled the room, for a very long moment. Near the door, Harry shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

"Hi," he tried, hopeful. In response, Percy glared. It was the sort of glare that could peel wallpaper and cleave flesh from bone.

Harry thought it was really bloody hot.

"...Did you have apples for dessert?" he tried again, trying to be as inoffensive as possible.

"What in GOD'S NAME are you doing here?" Percy finally exploded, the force of his outburst sending him to his feet. "Other than destroying my already pathetic attempts at a social life and my productivity at work, and running off my date, which you barged in on - uninvited, I hardly need add - "

"Oh, that's nice, he couldn't even remember your name!" Harry shot back. "I did you a favour!"

"Well, he MIGHT'VE done, it was only our first date!"

"Yeah, he might've actually got the last name down too, by your wedding - er, commitment...thing - hell, I dunno," Harry grumbled, frustrated, "anyway, the point is, it's ROGER DAVIES."

"That's not a point, that's his name."

"Aha, which you know."

"...THAT'S not a point EITHER."

Harry scowled. "Could you be more bloody-minded? The point is he's a git who takes Veela to Yule Balls and he called you Peter and he came onto me and gave me his business card - which, by the way, I don't think is proper etiquette for the situation - "

"He did?" Percy froze in place, pausing in the track he was pacing on the living room floor, looking so disappointed that it felt like a bludger to Harry's gut. The tension in the room abruptly shifted, leaving both of them a little uneasy. Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair, trying halfheartedly to untangle the dark waves.

"Yeah. Sorry," he said awkwardly, wind effectively taken out of his sails.

Percy nodded, and occupied the next few seconds by taking his glasses off and cleaning them with the edge of his untucked shirt. He looked embarrassed again, which made Harry halfheartedly wish that he'd punched Roger when he'd had the chance. "...Oh, don't be," Percy sighed. "I knew he wasn't particularly interested." He put the glasses back on, and gave Harry a wry little smile. He folded his arms again, shoulders up around his ears. "...Don't tell my family, please."

The request seemed to galvanise something critical inside Harry that had previously been uncertain - for whatever reason, he found himself walking forward, towards the coffee table where Percy was still hovering, ignoring the wary look the other boy was giving him.

It was probably the resignation he heard in Percy's voice, actually, that had done it. He'd felt the same halfhearted acceptance-because-fighting-it-is-a-lost-cause in his own responses to the massive amounts of crap he'd been handed in his life for the past...ever. Life with the Dursleys; and then Cedric, and then Sirius, and then Dumbledore: sometimes, he'd learned, things were well and truly shit and nobody deserved it but nobody could do a damned thing about it. Except carry on.

"So...what'll you do now?" Harry found himself asking, needing to hear his answer.

Percy frowned and gave him an "I'm only humouring you because I think you may be unstable" look. "...Well, I imagine I'll wash the dishes and tidy up in the living room - "

"What'll you do tomorrow?" Harry interrupted. Percy snorted, but otherwise didn't seem to mind the bad manners - he tilted his head and thought for a moment, before answering.

"Avoid Roger Davies, if at all possible," he said with a slight smile. "Go to work, write memos, most likely argue with a reporter or two about the Minister's future press conference dates. ...Come home and eat leftover pot roast."

"Try again," Harry translated for him, pleased. Percy gave him a small, almost winsome smile and ducked his head.

"Essentially, yes."

Harry's chest tightened and he stepped forward, finally close enough and brave enough to do what he'd been longing to: hands light and nervous, he brought them up high enough to slide quickly around Percy's waist and hook on his back, and he tugged the older boy into a hug, forehead just resting next to his open collar. He sighed at the way Percy gave a small gasp at the unexpected contact, and closed his eyes when he felt, a moment later, a hand ghosting over his own shoulder.

It took a couple of minutes before Percy would let his hand do anything more than barely skim over Harry's shirtsleeves and hair. The way the older boy tensed when Harry muttered a neutral "Hey," was enough to make him tug Percy a little closer; he'd somehow grown protective in the last 120-odd seconds.

"Hmm?" Percy murmured, and it sounded to Harry like his eyes were closed, too. Harry opened his own to check and see. He was wrong, actually, but the slightly glazed look in dark eyes (huh, his eyes are brown) above him was equally gratifying.

"Try again," Harry repeated, grinning crookedly, squeezing his arms a little. Percy's eyes focused behind his glasses, and he gave Harry a extremely puzzled look for a moment before he caught on. Then he snorted (and blushed a little), and broke into an amused smirk.

"Oh, very smooth, Potter," he teased, tapering two fingertips down Harry's spine, smirk widening a little at the shiver the boy gave. "Try what again? ...The pot roast? The apple crisp? A different selection of music, perhaps?"

Green eyes narrowing, Harry tried to frown at him, and found he couldn't. "You could do that, yeah. Or." He blushed a bit, and paused, and tried to make the pause Meaningful as he rocked up, onto the balls of his feet. "...Promise I'll get your name right," he mumbled, raising both his eyebrows, a hopeful tilt to his chin.

"Oh, well, how can I ref - " Percy began, but was mercifully interrupted when Harry craned up, and kissed him.

There was still the faint taste of apple on his lips, warm and dry and chapped from being gnawed, so Harry couldn't help darting his tongue out to lick there, in the corners of his mouth, searching after more of it. The tiny noise he felt coming from Percy's mouth before he heard it made him stay there, teasing little flicks, coaxing the older boy to give in, give up, and just enjoy. "C'mon, Perce," he mumbled, and was answered by a brief flash of tongue on his lower lip that made him shiver, and then Percy was pulling away, which was not allowed, especially not after the tongue thing - Harry felt hands on the back of his neck, fingers sliding through the soft hair just behind his ears, and shuddered. He could feel Percy's chuckle in his own breastbone, and was momentarily confused when those fingers both slid over his ears and past until he realised Percy was taking off his glasses for him, fingertips careful on his cheeks and the bridge of his nose as the frames were removed.

"...They really are very green, aren't they," Percy murmured a few seconds later, in a wondering sort of voice. Squinting at his blurred form, Harry reached up and felt for the rims of the older boy's glasses to reciprocate, but Percy seemed to anticipate him, and took them off as well, holding both pairs in his hand. Harry kept his hand as it was, though, cupped to Percy's cheek, stroking over the smooth skin, and felt him swallow through the palm. He helped pull him forward the second he realised Percy was leaning in, and groaned quietly when their lips met again. ...And again, and again, wetter and hotter and more certain this time, heat spreading between them both (shit, he could feel the blush seep into Percy's cheeks) and finally igniting. There were suddenly hands in his hair again (their glasses had clattered onto the coffee table), fingers sliding through the tangles, sending goosebumps down his arms, and Harry couldn't help it - he wanted so badly that he grabbed a handful of the back of Percy's shirt and untucked it, conscious only of the fact when he managed to slide his hand under the shirt, over heated skin, conscious of how the older boy arched into him.

Percy couldn't quite muffle a moan or keep himself from clutching Harry closer, pulling him up and into a tighter embrace, the line of their bodies flush against each other as he closed teeth gently on the younger boy's lower lip and sucked. Harry's hands clenched, twisting the inside of Percy's shirt, warping the fabric of it as he realised that that was Percy Weasley's cock twitching interestedly against his hip, and then he felt the slick-hot slide of a tongue along his and forgot to think entirely, opting instead to writhe against him and whine, in a way that would've normally been embarrassing except it made Percy gasp and rock against him too. "...fuck," he heard Percy whisper, and somehow that was the hottest thing that had happened yet, hearing that prim voice turn ragged and shadowed and obscene with need.

"Bed," Harry ordered, pulling away, backing up the command with a sucking bite to the skin just below Percy's jaw, one that made him tilt his head back and keen (Harry felt lightheaded). When he pulled himself up a second later, Percy gave him a glassy look (mouth bruised-looking and wet and swollen, skin reddening where Harry'd bit), licked his lips (god), and nodded. Harry didn't need more of an answer - he was pulling Percy towards the corridor and the bedroom before the other boy could change his mind.

***

(a respectable amount of time later)
Percy's breathing had mostly evened and Harry's eyelids had closed and grown heavy, when the bedsprings shifted and squeaked. Even though he was mostly asleep, Harry still shivered as he registered the ghost-light application of fingertips to his collarbones, his shoulder, his cheekbones. He was pulled closer to consciousness by that touch extending to the infamous scar on his forehead, curious, hesitant.

"Does it hurt?" he heard Percy ask, as if from far away. He shook his head, eyes slitting open to look up at him, give the other boy a tired smile. Percy gave him a small smile back, then just looked solemn as he checked Harry over, making sure he was safe. Harry had nearly closed his eyes again and relaxed down into the mattress when he felt lips pressed to the scar, and shivered again. "Sorry," Percy whispered, immediately drawing away. Harry reached for him, pulled him back in, forced himself up onto his side to give them more room. The side of Percy's torso was warm on his palm, and he eventually settled his hand on his hip, scooting closer so that their noses were almost touching. "...You'll stay, won't you?"

Well, THAT explains the antsiness. Harry opened his eyes again, blinking hard once to focus them, and gave Percy a smile, nestling in. "Yeah. If it's all right, I mean." Percy's returned smile was bright, even in the darkness of the room, and he settled down onto the bed beside him, arranging the covers more comfortably over them both.

A few minutes later: "...Harry?"

"Mmmh?" Harry cracked an eye open.

Percy traced whorls over Harry's outside shoulder, pleasantly distracting, concentrating hard on the skin there. He bit his lip, and glanced up. "What happened last year, at the Ministry?" he mumbled, abashed at his own bad timing, but not enough to put off the question. Harry opened both eyes and squinted at him.

"D'you really want to know?"

Percy nodded. Harry did too then, and sighed, and pulled him closer, entangling their legs as he tried to wake up and think of where to begin. "Well. ...You remember Scabbers, don't you?"

***

(31st July - Thursday)
Muggle London was near enough that it woke Harry that morning: he started awake at an ambulance's wail a few streets over and groaned as he opened his eyes to sunlight filtered through the curtains. He rolled back over and went to sleep - or tried to, except the bed he was currently occupying was tiny, so instead he yelped and scrambled to hold the other edge before he fell off entirely. Righting himself, he flumped back into the pillows, and frowned as he tried to figure out why he was alone between the sheets. "Perce?"

No answer. Hmmmm.

"Er. ...Percy?" Harry called, sitting up in the bed and beginning to slide out, prompting another yelp as he realised he was naked. After a few minutes (he'd had to lie back down and reminisce on how he'd come to be naked, which did leave him feeling more cheerful, even if it exacerbated his need to find the other boy right this minute), he'd managed to wrap one of the bedsheets around him in a toga-ish way (he vaguely remembered a wandless Banishing charm and wasn't exactly sure where his clothes were) and went in search of Percy. Or breakfast. Or Percy and breakfast. He shuffled into the bathroom for a quick detour, and rummaged for a spare toothbrush before he eventually gave up and used Percy's, hoping he wouldn't mind. Then, tripping over the folds of the sheets and making a quick grab for the knot before it came loose entirely, Harry made his way down the corridor and into the living room. "Oi, Per - hey!" he beamed, waddling happily to the dining table and, more specifically, the redhead sitting at it in his dressing gown, calmly reading the Prophet. Percy glanced up and snorted.

"What on earth are you wearing?"

"A sheet," Harry answered, without missing a beat, sliding into the seat beside him. "Sorry I slept so late. Don't you have work?"

"Oh, I told the Minister he might have to do without me today," Percy said breezily, not looking up from the article he was reading, taking a sip of his tea. Harry quirked an eyebrow, not buying it.

"You're going in at lunch, aren't you?"

Percy glanced up and gave him a guilty smile. Harry returned it tenfold (apparently sex was an amazing moodlifter; he suspected it of having magical properties. ...Which deserved extensive, nay, exhaustive research). "We-ell, I can't just skive off entirely, what if something happens and they need me there?"

"No, don't worry. Need to be getting back sometime soon anyway, somebody might've missed me."

"Ah." Percy nodded, expression shuttering faintly. He took another sip of tea.

"...I could come by later on this evening," Harry offered, and revelled in the quick beam Percy shot his way, before the older boy remembered himself.

"That'd be nice," he replied, demure. Harry couldn't help but let out a snort of laughter, both at the answer and at Percy's attempt to be annoyed. Folding his newspaper carefully, Percy set it down on the table, and leaned over to kiss his cheek lightly, smelling of aftershave and mint. "Wait here, I'll get you breakfast," he ordered, standing and heading towards the kitchen. More than happy to be waited on, Harry grabbed for the Prophet and then slouched in his seat, skimming over the headlines before he searched for the Sport pages for international developments. He was immersed in an article about a deadly rivalry between Quodpot leagues in the States when he glanced up and realised Percy was setting plates on the table in front of him. Haphazardly folding the newspaper down to see, Harry peered over the edge of it, and grinned - there were eggs and bacon and fried tomatoes, but there was also a separate plate with an unwrapped pumpkin pasty on it, with a tealight on top.

"Hang on, how'd you know?" he demanded, grin widening as Percy slipped back down into his seat and lit the candle with his wand. Percy stretched over and unfolded the Prophet in Harry's hands and turned to the Society 1A page, where the main headline blazed "BOY WHO LIVED COMES OF AGE." Breaking into laughter, Harry skimmed the article and groaned about the old photo they'd used, and then set the newspaper on the floor beside him, pulling Percy back in for a kiss.

"All right, blow out your candle before it sets the tablecloth on fire," Percy demanded when they'd broken apart. "And make a wish." Shrugging a shoulder, giving him a sidelong grin, Harry followed orders and laughed again when he accidentally blew wax onto the pasty. He grabbed a piece of bacon and took a bite, scooting his chair closer to Percy's.

"Thanks, Perce," he said, giving the older boy's shoulder a nudge. Percy nudged back, smirking a bit himself, and reached for his tea.

"Of course. ...So long as you don't go soppy and make me ask you what your wish was and reply that 'it's already come true'," he warned, calmly taking a sip from his cup.

"Nah. I wished for Voldemort to swallow his own tongue and die," Harry responded honestly, prompting ringing laughter from the boy beside him. He'd finished his bacon and just started on his eggs by the time Percy was done with his tea. Standing, Percy took his cup and the tealight back into the kitchen, and leaned against the doorway, watching Harry eat for a moment. Nonplussed, Harry raised his eyebrows at him. "What?"

"Nothing. Happy birthday," Percy replied, giving him a smile that was startling in its fondness. Harry beamed.

"Yeah, it has been."

Blushing a bit, Percy ducked his head and grinned, combing a hand through his hair as he began to move towards the doorway. Harry stared, unabashedly watching him move, and grinned as Percy caught him. ...And blushed as, a few seconds later, Percy raised an eyebrow at him and began undoing the knot to his dressing gown, letting it slide off his shoulders just as he disappeared down the hallway.

A minute later, Harry heard the shower turn on. He poked his fork at his eggs, and watched the yolk jiggle, and definitely did not think about flushed-pink skin.

...Another minute later, he had abandoned them.

***

(that evening, over dinner)
"Are you all right?"

"Hmm? Yeah."

"You've been very quiet."

"...Trying to help Hermione with some research, that's all. It's not going well."

"Ohhh. I'm sorry."

"It's all right."

"...Would you like some more tea?"

"No, thanks. Want me to help with the washing up?"

"No, of course not. ...Can I help, at all, with the research?"

"Not unless you can tell us what the 'Society for the Preservation of English Wizarding Heritage' is and where it is."

"...Er, well."

"Yeah, thought not."

"...No, it's not that. It's only that...that Society has been disbanded for nearly 15 years."

"...What?"

"Mm, yes. Actually, it wasn't so much 'disbanded' as it was...'frozen, seized and liquidated by the Ministry for suspected affiliation with You-Know-Who and trading in classified dark magical artefacts'. I believe Abraxas and Lucius Malfoy were both implicated in the scandal, though they must've managed to grease a few palms somewhere to escape being charged. I don't think it ever even made the papers."

"........."

"Hmm?"

"...Where're all the artefacts now?"

"Oh, well, the dangerous ones are somewhere in the Department of Mysteries, I think. Most of them are in the wizarding wing of the British Museum."

"There's a wizarding wing to the British Museum?"

"Mhm. Terribly dull, actually. Disorganised, too. Ugh."

"...Will you take me there?"

"What?"

"For my birthday."

"...Er. Well, all ri-ight, if you really want t - mmph!"