Bill asks him for drinks—The Leaky at 6, that's at very least drinks—and Percy has a moment where he thinks maybe this is Bill seeing sense, just one of his brothers extending a hand.
"Have you seen Percy?"
"In the corner. I suppose you'll be wanting a drink?"
"Not now. I'm taking Fleur out for dinner later. We'll stop here after and drink then."
He should have known better. Sod it, he does. Because whatever's behind the invitation, it's obligation to blood.
Percy remembers idolising his older brothers growing up. He doesn't play favourites anymore.
He's not exactly spoiled for choice.
It's Bill's big news. Engaged to his Veela, which the whole of England well knows because that's the sort of news that spreads. Can't get complicated policy decisions explained and understood in anything less than three education campaigns and a slew of Prophet blurbs but ask the average wand-on-the-streets who's shagging who and they know it by heart within hours.
Evidently, Bill's under the impression Percy somehow hasn't heard. Might be he's been out of the country long enough to forget how fast gossip spreads, how often it's true.
Percy asks about Gringotts by way of small talk and Bill rambles a bit, on about the trouble of adopting new safety rules, and when he catches himself, he asks about Penny.
Definitely been away too long, then. Percy wonders if it's a sign his information's that out-of-date or if it's just that his family's valued him that low. He suspects it's both, that Bill could go on for hours about Charlie's love life.
Bill takes a moment to sort himself out. Percy works with politicians all the time; Bill's embarrassingly easy to read by comparison. Percy can't even look at him anymore.
"I proposed to Fleur two nights ago," Bill says like yes, he does honestly think that's news and Percy does his best to seem surprised. He'd rip into anyone at work who pulled this with old news but as Bill's his brother and not political at all, Percy lets it slide. Then Bill feels compelled to tell him Fleur said yes.
Like there's the slightest chance they'd be having this sit-down had she said no.
Percy pats Bill's arm and works up a smile and tells him that's brilliant because it is. He can't begrudge his big brother whatever happiness he's found.
When Bill says, "Yes, it is," he looks so much like Ron Percy nearly chokes.
He needs a moment at the bar. It's nothing, a quick slip of glad-handing instinct, to lay out terms for his escape. "This demands a drink."
"No, I couldn't," Bill says and that's less Ron baffled and happy on the Quidditch pitch, more Fred being obstinate just because. Bill's face shifts, stubborn-memory-fond. Percy wonders if this is how he looks when he thinks back. Growing up Weasley's not easy to overlook.
As Tom pours the Firewhisky shots, he asks if Percy's all right. All he can do is nod and ask Tom to put them on his account.
He toasts the happy couple and knocks back his shot. Bill takes a small, awkward sip. It feels distinctly like a two-fingered salute.
The hell the others haven't dragged Bill out yet to get him pissed.
Then Bill tells him when the wedding's meant to be and if Bill can't even take a toast with him, Percy's not sure there's an invitation implied and there's no pretending that doesn't sting. He stares out the window until he's pulled himself back to form and finds an appropriately non-committal phrase. Leaves them both the polite out, should the invitation not arrive.
Bill takes that as reason to run full-tilt at the dragon in the room. "Try? Surely you can put aside your differences with Dad for two minutes to be at my wedding."
Percy's not the one who can't get through the social niceties of a celebratory shot. He's also not the one dragging Dad and politics into the mix. Recent experience suggests there's no separating politics from family anymore and for all he's hoped someday they might take an interest in his, he didn't ever mean this.
He can't quite hide his disgust. At least when it comes up at work, everyone understands the stakes. All his family's got, apparently, is crackpot ideology and a simplistic allegiance to a polarised world view.
"My difference with Dad?" Like they're arguing over curfew. Like Percy's the only person in the Wizarding World who thinks the Order's gone too far. Like it hasn't been the most hotly debated topic most of their lives, how to handle the Dark Lord's threat to public safety. "It's not just him."
That's a painfully simplistic view of things, so he's compelled to confirm that Bill knows this isn't minor, isn't scuffling over pranks at Hogwarts with the twins. "When will the lot of you realise that running around playing freedom-fighter behind the Ministry's back is not a way to win a war?" Basic policymaking, this, cutting the Social Contract off at the knees. A state maintains authority granted by its citizenry through free and fair elections in exchange for the provision of public goods, the protections of law. Nothing in there about breakaway groups declaring themselves laws unto themselves. "The existence of the Order is undoing all the good the Ministry is doing."
He can think of 14 Goblin rebellions that prove his case.
"What good?" Bill fires up, Weasley temper on the rise. Percy's handled worse; Percy was Prefect and Head Boy to the twins. "Fudge lied about the situation for a year. He misled the people and his cronies tried to take over Hogwarts. If Fudge had the Aurors hunting You-Know-Who before the Azkaban breakout then maybe we wouldn't have had to add Bellatrix Lestrange and Dementors to the country's worries."
Percy wonders meanly if Bill can name the top five national concerns that aren't You-Know-Who. He's obviously unfamiliar with the potential consequences of hasty action and a police state.
"Yes, Fudge made a mistake—" Bill interrupts him, hysteria high, a ripped-from-the-headlines kneejerk response. Percy stares him down, calm and clear. He's learned to wrangle that Weasley temper to engage in reasoned debates, a skill none of the rest of his family seems to have. "—but Fudge has been replaced. And yet you all still insist on acting outside the law."
"It was a lot more than a mistake," Bill spits. "It was a bloody cover-up."
Conspiracy theories, now? It's a bloody checklist of reactionary partisan tripe, which is infuriating enough without the implied legitimisation of an extremist group. Percy forces himself to swallow his first response—reason is key—and tries to explain the necessity of a strong social contract to enact the rule of law in words Bill might understand. Clearly, these very simple concepts escape him just now but Bill's always been bright. Percy holds out hope.
"What Britain needs to survive another war is a strong government. You vigilantes are fracturing the country." Nothing, not one single thing to say Bill's heard his point. If anything, it looks like Bill's merely waiting to speak and yeah, that's Weasley temper straight through. "We can't have Aurors taking orders from Dumbledore and Scrimgeour or it will be chaos. Nobody will know what they are doing and who they are taking orders for and You-Know-Who will just be able to pick us all off in the meantime." Protections of law and protections from them. "What you, Mum and especially Dad are doing is idiotic and irresponsible."
It's not like the Order's going to take the economy or civil liberties into account.
"Who do you think won the first war?" Bill asks, belligerent. "It wasn't the Ministry." Then Bill invokes Dumbledore, who's just shy off running a personality cult by every definition Percy's ever found and that, that's enough to crack Percy's calm.
"No. No." He waves that assertion off because it's so wrong, it's actually offensive to his ears. The Order's so deep in thrall to Dumbledore, they conveniently forget their own historical revisions in his defence and how can they actually expect to be taken seriously as a legitimised authority if they can't be bothered keeping to their own interpretation of the facts? "According to you lot, it was Harry Potter who won the first war. Not only are you destroying the only real hope we have—" and Merlin, that burns "—but you are putting all your faith in a teenager." He waits for Bill to acknowledge the absurdity in that. Nothing. Still. He says slowly, carefully so it is pristinely clear, "To defeat the greatest threat that we have ever seen, you are all relying on a child and luck."
"That's more than the Ministry is doing," Bill counters, right off, and he's got a full head of steam behind him like volume makes him right. "Even now everything is in the open, you're not doing anything more than sending out useless pamphlets."
It's tip of his tongue to say yes, public awareness campaigns don't tend to run as smooth as word of who's shagging who. He only holds it back because it's spite, an ad hominem attack, and he knows better than those. Don't prove anything, do they, except that he can be an arse, too.
"We're doing our best. Our wheels may move slower but that's because we have to make sure everyone is safe." Civil liberties, he thinks bleakly, protection from law. "Make sure everyone's interests are protected." Economy, education, access to health care, reasonable tax burden and all. "Which is more than you can say."
"You are spending too much time pandering to only certain interests," Bill says like he knows, like he has any idea how governance works. "I bet the interests of people like werewolves aren't being protected and it's not slow, Percy. It can't be slow when nothing is moving, it's stationary. This is the real world and while you run around getting approval, nothing is getting done and You-Know-Who is just getting stronger."
Percy doesn't ask how long Bill's given a toss about werewolves—obvious enough—or how Bill would handle the balance between the reasonable expectation of civil liberties against the need to protect the public from werewolves run wild. Yes, the rules are archaic and yes, Percy thinks they should change because he falls on the side of civil liberties himself but it's not so easy as a flick of the wand to make a just law. These things take time if they're to be done right and doing them wrong just makes things worse and he's still choking on that much when Bill, of all people, throws out that real world crack and that's it, gloves off.
He slams his fist down. Doesn't remember until he hears the thunk of it that he's still holding his glass. "What the fuck do you know about the real world? You've spent the last five years with your head in a tomb and then you come back and preach to me about what this country needs to do?" His gut twists, dismay and disgust. "This is my area, Bill. Not yours."
You wouldn't ask Ron about dragons, he thinks, and you don't ask Fred about chess. Why's it different because it's me?
Political opinions are like arseholes; everyone's got one and most of them stink. This, though, it's not just differing points on the political compass. It's why he can't assume he'll have an invitation to watch Bill marry his Fleur, why he can't speak to his father anymore.
It's being called lickarse all his life and being scorned, ignored, when he disagrees with their groupthink. That it's over politics, of all things, is just one more twist of the curse.
So much hangs on what Bill says next, whether there's some indication he understands on any level, whether he's even the slightest bit interested in Percy's point of view, that when Bill says, "This is going nowhere," patently resigned, Percy thanks Merlin he's at least got good people around him at work.
Clearly, being Weasley isn't enough anymore.
In light of that, Percy feels obligated to point out one more home truth. "And what makes you any different from him? A small group of loyal followers who operate above the law and in secret?" His voice lowers in deference to where they are. Things this ugly, cutting his big brother down, shouldn't be punted about a pub. "How is Dumbledore any different from You-Know-Who?"
"Because he's Dumbledore," Bill snaps and when Percy waits for the rest of it, whatever facts Bill plans to trot out in his master's defence, nothing comes.
It must be lovely to see everything so black-and-white, to just accept what he's told without feeling any need for critical thought, to never give a toss about implications and consequence and the like. It must be, his whole family's done it, but Percy can't see the appeal.
He's rather fond of thinking for himself.
"I'll take my imperfect Ministry over another potential tyrant any day of the week, thank you very much."
Bill looks at him like Percy's something out of Care of Magical Creatures, terrifying and toxic and in need of putting down. Filth he can't quite scrape off his shoe.
"Fuck you," Bill whispers and gets up, steps back, moves to leave, and when Bill stops, turns back, Percy has a horrible flash of hope he might actually address something, any point at all. "Goodbye, Percy," he says, final as death and yeah, that's enough.
Percy wishes him a long and happy marriage in return. He won't hold his breath for an invitation but he can't take back what he's said.
Doesn't think he would do, even if he could.
Bill shuffles off and Tom tries to stop him for what Percy imagines are a few well-meant words and Percy sits there toying with his empty glass, thinking about change and hope and choice, balance and history and the absolute necessity of the rule of law.
Tom brings him another, a double at least, and Percy just nods until Tom's left him in peace.
Percy's heard questions most of his life about how he of all people could Sort Gryffindor and not Ravenclaw. Truth is, he's wondered himself. Maybe, he thinks, it's that it takes courage to disagree.