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Learning To Let Go

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The world is silent.

As Percy lies on the ground, he suddenly has the funny notion it might be holding its breath. It amuses him for half a second before he realises it may well be. Somewhere, he knows, a momentous battle is happening. He knows this because for the first time in weeks, Malfoy Manor is empty. Empty save for the wreckage that is himself. He isn’t sure he counts as a living being anymore. If he does, it won’t be long until he doesn’t anymore.

He can’t feel anything. Not his arms, awkwardly bent, not his legs, stretched stiffly, not his back, smashed possibly beyond recovery. Sometimes, not even his thoughts, numbed by the pain of endless rounds of the Cruciatus Curse. It is perhaps why he feels so calm. Pain has become a foreign concept and his mind works only well enough to feed him strange ideas occasionally.

He isn’t even sure how much time passes between two thoughts. It could be minutes. It could be hours. It could even be weeks. He wouldn’t know. He doesn’t know how long he has been in the Manor for. He knows only that however long he has been here, he will only stay as long as his soul still clings to his body.

What remains of it anyway.

His thoughts flicker back to the battle. Perhaps it will end the war. No, perhaps the war has already ended. He might have been smiling, but he can’t feel his face either. He supposes, one day, in the far future people might remember this day, this battle. They might even toast to it. To the heroes. They will not toast to him. They will not even remember his name.

He supposes one day, people will live in peace. There will be weddings and children and birthday parties. There will be friends meeting for drinks at the pub after work. There will be Ministry evening parties, formal until the punch takes effect. There will be family gatherings at the Burrow.

And he will not be a part of it.

Suddenly the silence crackles and shatters. Thumps and voices, cheerful at first until they come closer. And suddenly, a yell. It’s a woman’s voice. She sounds panicked. Closer and closer. Until, he feels. A hand on his cheek, warm and trembling and a warm liquid dropping on his skin.

“Oh no.” he hears. “Oh no.”

He doesn’t see much. He lost his glasses in the first hours he spent in the Manor and he can hardly see his own hands without them. But he thinks he knows this person. Something in her soft lament is familiar.

“Oh dear.” the litany continues. “Oh no.”

He tries to squint with mild success and fixes his eyes on a white blur.

“I won’t be part of it, will I?” he asks the blur, the whisper of his voice wistful as he closes his eyes.

One day, he thinks, there will be weddings and children and birthday parties. There will be Christmases and family gatherings at the Burrow. There will be Ministry does and friends meeting at the pub to discuss the latest Quidditch match. And he wants to imagine himself amongst them. He wants to see himself, straight back and soft smile, standing in their midst and toasting alongside them.

One day, he thinks as warm tears roll down his icy check, one day he may be strong enough to let go.

***

When he wakes up, Madam Pomfrey fusses over him. She helps him sit in bed, feeds him Potions and broth, ruffles his hair and slips new glasses on his nose.

“We couldn’t find your old ones.” she tells him tearfully.

He doesn’t know what he is doing here. He doesn’t really understand the meaning of the empty Hospital Wing of a half-destroyed Hogwarts. So he asks. About the battle, about the injured, about the dead, about the heroes. And finally, he dares ask about his family. Not his family. They have not been his since the day he left, since the day they took his face of Molly’s clock, since the day he stopped using the name Weasley. But they were once and Merlin knows he loves them, loves them through the pain, loves them despite it.

He remembers the day – a week after his public announcement that he was disowning his family – when he had realised his family had disowned him. He could still feel the anguish as keenly as he had felt it that day. Yes, he had been the one to disown them first, but while a child could disown his parents, it had no legal or magical repercussions. It was only when a parent disowned a child that it meant something.

He had thought at the time that they would know he was only protecting himself. He had never been the type to do meaningless things. They knew that. Surely, they knew at least that. But they hadn’t and a week later his last name had disappeared from every formal document. He had realised as he was filling a form in his office. The name Weasley had vanished as he was writing it and no matter how many times he traced the letters they would not remain. For a moment, he had not let himself understand, but he was smart and he knew every Ministry law by heart, there was no way he wouldn’t have known.

When he asks about the Weasleys as if enquiring about neighbours, Madam Pomfrey sits on a chair next to his bed and takes his hand in hers and very slowly, very carefully, she tells him everything. She tells him Fred is dead and Percy slept through his funeral, she says they are all grieving and she had not dared tell them about him. Not when she didn’t know if he would get better or not.

She hesitates, but then she tells him in a small voice they haven’t been looking for him. He thinks he expected it and it doesn’t hurt as much as it probably should. It doesn’t hurt at all actually because he’s just sitting there, his jaw slack and mouth open, and the world is going on without him and he’s not sure what he’s doing here.

He’s been sleeping for the last three weeks Pomfrey tells him, and in that time, most of the damage is healed. His left leg was badly cursed, though, and she wasn’t able to fix it fully. He will have a limp for the rest of his life. Depending on how bad it is, he might need a cane.

He stays silent, so she continues listing everything that had gone wrong during his stay in the Manor and he listens and barely understands.

“Okay.” he says eventually. “Okay.” he says again when she asks him to rest and leaves the room.

He remembers the day he realised his family had disowned him. He was sitting at his desk watching his name vanish repeatedly and felt his prickle with tears. He had swallowed the overwhelming sadness. He couldn’t afford to cry in front of Madam Umbridge and Minister Thicknesse. So he had only gone back to his forms, filling one after another with maddening focus. When had gone home that night, he had been too tired to cry.

When Pomfrey finally releases him, she does with many cautions. He nods at all of them, takes his cane and, leaning heavily on it, he goes to work. Nobody asks where he’s been, they all look relieved that the Junior Secretary is back and nothing else seems to matter. Soon, he’s behind his old desk, filing mounds of papers that no one knows what to do with.

His hand moves automatically across the pages, tracing the sharp loops of his signature before his other firmly applies the Ministry’s official stamp. The movements, long ingrained in his body, feel smooth and calming. There is no shaking, no limp, no excruciating pain, only the diminishing pile of papers that may not seem like much but are changing everything everywhere in Britain. 

The war has ended. The Ministry is rebuilding itself and he is part of it. There are no weddings, birthday parties or toasts yet, but he will not be part of those, anyway. He will be at his desk, rebuilding the world with a quill, paper and a flourish.

***

It’s several hours later that the Minister finds him. He has known Kingsley Shacklebolt for a while. As a high-ranking auror, the wizard was often called to the Minister’s office and assigned his missions directly. Kingsley Shacklebolt has known Percy for a while. Every time he came to the Minister’s office, he first went to the Junior Secretary’s desk to announce his presence. But today Kingsley Shacklebolt is Minister, and he doesn’t seem to recognise Percy.

“Should you be here?” the Minister asks softly, eyes shining with an emotion Percy cannot quite place.

“Where else should I be?” Percy asks rhetorically and goes back to his paperwork.

In the days that follow, Shacklebolt, Kingsley he insists, is everywhere. He is at Percy’s elbow when he stands up, he is at Percy’s desk in the evening to take him home, whatever home means these days, he is there at noon to force Percy to eat lunch. Percy thinks it’s ridiculous. The man has a country to run and yet somehow finds the time to be there mothering him. Percy has never been mothered in his entire life and doesn’t intend to start now.

When he tells Kingsley exactly that, the Minister drops his head back and laughs.

“I’m just being a friend Percy.”

“Why?” Percy hisses, straightening his battered spine pinning the Minister with a savage glare. “Because I need it?”

He hates people assuming he needs friends to get through life. He has none unless you count his mutual tolerance with Oliver Wood, and he has been doing fine without them.

“No.” Kingsley answers kindly. “Because I need it.”

Percy deflates and when he looks at the Minister again, he sees something new.

Six weeks later, the Ministry is functioning almost normally and Percy and Kingsley go for a drink at the pub. They lift their glasses to the victory, the heroes and the dead. And they toast to themselves, because if Wizarding Britain ever knows peace again, they will have had an essential role in it.

***

It comes out on a Tuesday. Now that the Ministry is running normally, the various departments have had time to go through the war documents. The Purge files are especially long to go through and it is because of them that all is revealed. There are too many rejected profiles. Names upon names were cleared from charges of impure blood when a simple background check would have revealed they are in fact muggle-born or half-bloods. All of them are forged. All of them have Percy’s signature on it.  And it doesn’t take long for the Minister to guess the perpetrator.

“It was you.” he says as he holds on such forged document. “You were the Redeemer.”

It’s not a question, so Percy doesn’t answer. He doesn’t even blink. He goes back to his paperwork. It is the only thing that has never betrayed him.

The next morning the story is in the Prophet, his sour face on the front page with a catchy title exposing his ‘heroic acts’ and describing in morbid detail the weeks he spent in Malfoy Manor being tortured for Voldermort’s entertainment. He doesn’t know where they got the information on his stay there and he would rather not know.

Percy finds a copy of the Daily Prophet on his desk and promptly burns it under the incredulous gaze of his secretary. He presses his lips at her and sternly instructs her to get back to work. They hardly have time for such inane gossip.

He goes to complain about the article to the Minister and finds him with Harry Potter. The boy he knew has become a war-wary adult, with shadows under his eyes and a gaze that sees too much. He squirms as the green eyes linger on the leg he favours, then flick to the one he doesn’t. The stare drifts to his cane before slowly making its way up his torso. It is unnerving how it feels like he can see every single scar under Percy’s shirt. Finally, the piercing gaze stops on his face and suddenly Percy is staring into a mirror. The shadows, the scars and the pain are all reflected in those green eyes, so much darker than he remembers them. He nods curtly at the man, a gesture of recognition and respect, and Harry smiles at him slowly and carefully, as if afraid the kindness will break him.

Then Percy turns on the Minister and proceeds to complain. Kingsley laughs, smiles, and pins an Order of Merlin First Class medal on his breast pocket. Percy slams the door as he leaves.

A few days later, they have the Ministry After-War Party and Harry Potter is invited as a special guest. For the first time since he was a child, Percy has fun.

***

The day he gets round to calling Draco to his office to thank him for his help in smuggling the victims of the Purge out of Britain, is the day he runs into Arthur in the elevator. The man he once called his father looks shocked to see him. He pales when his gaze lands on Percy’s cane and turns green when he glimpses the hideous scar that reaches up his neck and isn’t quite covered by Percy’s collar. Percy pretends indifference but inside, his heart is hammering with hope.

Perhaps, he thinks as he steps out of the elevator, they will talk now. Perhaps he will get an owl from Arthur soon. Perhaps they will invite him for dinner. Perhaps he will have a family again.

But none of this happens.

Kingsley meets with Draco, shakes his hand and pins an Order of Merlin medal on his robes because he’s taken to doing that lately. Then he offers Draco a job. The blond smiles a little warily and tells them he plans to do a mastery in Potions. Only, he adds with a bitter tone, he still needs to find a Master willing to take an ex-Death Eater as an apprentice.

Kingsley smiles that fatherly smile at him and the next day, the Prophet recounts Draco’s actions during the war. Percy doesn’t know what Draco looked like when he saw the article but a few days later they received a clipped note from the wizard to tell them he has found an apprenticeship in Scandinavia. The letter is curt and Percy thinks Draco might not have appreciated the publicity. He scolds Kingsley for his lack of tact and then praises him for his masterful use of the media.

Kingsley smiles and invites him for dinner with his family, because they are best friends, and Percy is on the verge of apoplexy.

Meeting Kingsley’s large family turns out to be not as traumatic as he had thought after all and ends with an unconditional invitation to attend all family gatherings in the future. Linda, Kingsley’s mother, even offers to adopt him so he will no longer be plagued with the lack of a family name.  

Kingsley does not look convinced that is the right solution. The Minister has not given up on Percy making up with the Weasleys yet. He suggests Percy might change his name. It would be simple enough. He does not say ‘because I’m Minister’ but Percy hears it nonetheless and gives him a disapproving stare.

It is not a bad idea, though, especially since it has become inconvenient to have only a first name, so Percy sets out to change his name. He decides on Westley as it is close enough to Weasley that he will respond to it. Linda who has not given up on creating family ties with her son’s best friend brings him her family tree one day and offers he chooses a name on it. A great name for a great wizard, she says and smiles that knowing smile that looks a lot like her son’s.

Together, they decide on Saint-Agne after one of Linda’s great uncle who was a great French Minister. The next morning he the Ministry has officially registered him as Percival Ignatius Westley-Saint-Agne and Linda is there with him to celebrate the change.

There will be family gatherings at the Burrow and he will not be part of them, but he will never be alone and that is enough.

***

He and Kingsley celebrate the victory’s second anniversary by handing in their resignation. Minister Bones is now in office and they are both tired of the Ministry. Kingsley opens a bookshop in Diagon Alley and Percy becomes the Charms teacher in the newly re-opened Hogwarts. Minerva is glad to see him join the ranks of teachers willing to restart the school. Many of the former members of staff have retired or moved on with their lives and it has been a struggle to find wizards and witches willing to replace them.

He becomes Head of Gryffindor as Neville Longbottom who has returned as a Herbology teacher has proved willing to be Head of Hufflepuff as his predecessor was.

On Percy’s first day as a teacher, he greets the new members of his house with a strict set of rules. He expects the best from them he tells them and does. Soon, the students know him as the strictest teacher in Hogwarts and many Gryffindor are chagrined because he is even more demanding with the students of his own house. They expected preferential treatment, but Percy’s ideal of a favour is to push every single one of them to achieve their potential, whatever that might be.

He supposes they must learn to see that little by little, because although his limping gait instils more fear in the students than Mrs Norris, they do not appear to dislike him.

Draco joins in as the Potions Master the year after, having finished his mastery. That same year Percy becomes Deputy Headmaster. Minerva grows tired and although she has the determination to see Hogwarts great once again, she is thinking of retirement and wishes to train a successor. If she is to be believed Percy who practically ran a ministry by himself at age eighteen is the best candidate for the position.

For the first time in a long while, he celebrates his birthday. He does so with Kingsley and his family, Draco and Harry joining in the party halfway.

***

He never gets better. The limp is only the outward sign of his creaking joints and the terrible stiffness in his limbs that refuses to go away. Sometimes, his hands shake so badly that he has to forgo marking essays himself and calls a house-elf to act as a scribe. Often, he wakes drenched in his own sweat, mouth open in a silent scream and all he can do is grab the nearest pile of unmarked work and set quill to paper. The sensation of the quill in his hand as he scratches words of red ink on parchment is the only thing that will calm him.

After Harry Potter joins the staff as the Defense Against the Dark, Percy gains a fellow insomniac and the two of them often meet up to patrol the corridors in the dead of the night. They talk little but they both know their reasons for being out of bed are the same.

It is a night in autumn, five years since the war, that Harry fails to join him on a nocturne patrol. He tentatively goes to knock on the wizard’s door but receiving no reply, surmises that the professor’s sleeping arrangements must have changed. Harry confirms his thoughts the next morning by appearing at breakfast alongside Draco. He smiles, happy for them and grabs his cane to start his slow ascent towards his classroom.

A Gryffindor student sees him struggle to climb the stairs and helpfully grabs his elbow to help him along. He gives the student a tired smile and warm thanks and is about to award him point but the boy grins and runs down the stairs towards the Great Hall.

Percy does not try to know who they are, but he knows there are students in Hogwarts who bear names he once redeemed. Titus Quill is one.

***

Two years later Percival Westley-Saint-Agne is proclaimed youngest Headmaster of Hogwarts in history, hero of the war, and figures amongst the greatest wizards of the age. All according to the Prophet. Percy finds the article on his desk one morning and promptly burns it under the delighted gaze of the Boy-Who-Lived-To-Tell-The-Tale. He gives the man a stern gaze and tells him to stop fooling around. The students are arriving the next day and they hardly have time for such inane gossip.

The man who is no longer a boy, grins like he did when he was thirteen and still somewhat innocent, and tells him he’s invited to dinner at the Burrow. The Weasleys consider Harry an honorary member of their clan and since they told him to bring his boyfriend of two years to dinner, he figures he might as well ask his great friend Percy along. If only so Draco will feel better about the whole thing.

Percy glares, but it is more out of nervousness than anger.

When he follows Harry inside the Burrow, the Weasleys greet him with respect mixed with regret. He answers with stiff formality. He has trouble reconciling this family with the one he grew up in. When he was a boy, Percy was often forgotten in a corner. Ron and Ginny had liked him well enough when they were too young to pick up their toys by themselves, but when they grew up, the foolhardy twins seemed much more interesting than their bookish older brother and they had been happy to leave him behind. As a teen he had been a topic of mockery. Not one day passed without Percy falling victim to the twins' pranks, gleeful smiles on their faces as they witnessed the results of their latest invention. They never appeared to care if the invention in question had side-effects. They often did.

As an adult, Percy had been disowned and now it is almost a relief. He watches these people who give him the best chair and a stool to prop up his bad leg, who hand him the extra slice of cake as if is natural, who no longer seem to remember that he was once a son and a brother in this house and realise that they do not know him at all. They look at him like they expected someone else.

He smiles and accepts the cake genially, suddenly ecstatic. He is Percival Ignatius Westley-Saint-Agne, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Order of Merlin First Class, War Hero and he has finally learnt to let go.