Molly always liked to be the first one awake in the house. It came with great privileges: peace and quiet being the first and most important among them.
In the weeks since the battle, however, that quiet had grown undesirable and eerie. Habit alone now drove Molly to rise in the early hours of the morning. Habit, and the grief that threatened to overtake her every time she sat still.
She crept down the stairs as though she were guilty of something, dreading the entire time that she would wake someone, tear her children from one of the few respites left to them.
Molly nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw Percy sitting at the kitchen table, staring at nothing in particular but looking rigid about the shoulders. He’d come back to stay with them after the war, though this was the first time she’d found him sitting there so early.
"I couldn't sleep.” Percy’s voice was hoarse. “I’m sorry, I hadn’t realized it was...well, I’ll go up, anyway—”
He’d been there before, Molly realized. Perhaps he’d sat there every night since coming home, sneaking back upstairs before she herself awoke so she wouldn’t see, so he wouldn’t disturb the household rituals he still felt estranged from.
It couldn’t go on like this forever. It simply couldn’t.
"—no, no, stay!” she insisted, and Percy halted in the doorway. “Stay. I'll put the kettle on."
Reluctantly, his limbs looking uncomfortably angular, Percy sat back down at the table. Molly, suddenly flustered, began her morning work, hoping that somehow it would assist in moving things along.
"Can I help?" Percy asked, and though he wasn’t particularly loud, Molly started at the sound of his voice cutting through the heavy quiet that had settled over the kitchen.
At first, she waved a hand as though to dismiss the question, but thought better of it and instead began looking around the kitchen wildly for something—anything.
"Well...if you'd like…” she said slowly, still stalling, before landing on the two shelf spice rack tucked in the corner under the cabinet where she kept plates. Charlie had rummaged through it the other day in a sincere but misguided attempt to make supper while Molly had been resting, and now the entire thing was in a state.
“Your brother was trying to help, but he got all the spices out of order,” she said, gesturing towards the rack. Even at a distance, one could tell it had been restocked haphazardly, arranged according to the taste of a young man who kept only salt and pepper handy and ordered out when he wanted anything more indulgent.
Percy shot up and grabbed the rack, his fingers closing sharply around it as he settled back into his seat at the table.
“You remember—?” Molly began, though she could see from the look on his face that Percy did.
“Blue lids in the back, green in front. Alphabetically, left to right. The small ones go on the ends wherever they fit. All except salt and pepper, which go front right,” Percy said, a grin playing in his face as his fingers began to shuffle the spices about as though it were a puzzle.
Molly smiled. There were worse things in the world to be than someone who found joy in setting things in order.
“Good,” she murmured. “And what if we have some music…”
With flick of her wand, the record player that normally lived in the sitting room was in the center of the kitchen table. In another instant, the brassy opening notes of Celestina Warbeck’s “Come Scry About Me,” started playing.
“This one used to be your favorite, when you were small,” she said, as though there were any chance Percy had forgotten how he’d performed the tune over and over again as child, only encouraged in his showmanship by Bill and Charlie’s good natured peals of laughter—how he’d loved their attention when it came his way...
And with Celestina playing and the hushed, echoey stirrings of the early morning kitchen, it nearly felt like nothing had ever changed.
Percy’s strained voice broke the spell.
"Yes, dear?" Molly asked, trying not to think anything of it.
"I missed you."
Molly turned around so quickly she almost fell over, and though Percy looked as though he wanted to say something else, the words caught in his throat before he could manage it, and he ducked his head down.
"Oh, Percy..." she sobbed, striding over to embrace him. Percy held her almost as tight as she held him, and she had the feeling he was steeling himself, trying to find a way to speak the words that had been lost before.
Sure enough, as he pulled away, the words tumbled out, gracelessly but with an sincerity only Percy’s voice could capture.
"You deserved better, and I'm sorry. You gave me everything, and I treated it like...like..."
As he scrambled for the words, Molly took his hand in her own, sitting down beside him.
"You did what you needed to do,” she said, interrupting his search. “To grow and make your own mistakes and find your way. You can only live your life, not anyone else’s."
Percy shook his head, his eyes like fire. “I should never have—”
“—no. Of course not.” Molly cupped his cheek in her hand. “But being wrong is an important thing to get used to.”
Percy blushed, but there was something lighter about his countenance as well. He’d made a mess of things—everyone knew it—and yet once that fact was accepted, what power did it have? He could sit in the kitchen as always, with his mother. Everyone—almost everyone—would come down for breakfast soon, and there they’d be: a family, just like always.
“Don’t you think too hard on it all,” Molly murmured, trying to capture the lightness in his eyes before it faded back into guilt. “Not anymore. It’s done what good it can do, and you don’t need the rest.”
Arthur expected to see Percy at the first meeting of critical staff—he’d left the house before Arthur, muttering about something important he had to get to right away. Kingsley himself had indicated to Arthur that he was impressed by Percy’s tenacity and quick thinking during the Ministry take-over.
“You’ll pardon me for saying this, but I’d had quite a different measure of him,” Kingsley said lightly. “I remember wondering why Scrimgeour kept him on...I see it, now. There’s something solid there. Really solid.”
Yet, Percy was notably absent from the long, overfilled table—which, Arthur noted, was mostly stocked with people the Ministry had failed to pay much attention to until now.
“Of course,” Kingsley was telling Faye Parsnick—the new appointee for heading Magical Law Enforcement, “I expect you’ll be working more closely with Percy Weasley when he starts. He’ll be overseeing departmental transitions and reporting to me—”
“Percy Weasley?” Roger Elkton—who worked in the Spirits Division and whom Arthur had always rather liked—sneered.
“Did you have a point?” Kingsley asked, cool as anything. Roger had the sense to look a little abashed, but continued nonetheless.
“It’s just... look, the fellow’s nice enough. But he’s a kid, isn’t he? Gets papers and tea and all that, doesn’t he? I wouldn’t trust him with that, hardly, given the track his bosses have gone. Bit of a bad luck charm, wouldn’t you say?”
Roger gave a kind of throaty laugh; no one joined in, though several at the table looked as if they’d very much like to leave.
“Three offices in so many years,” Roger continued. “I’m not sure it exactly inspires confid—”
“Four,” Kingsley interrupted.
"Mr. Weasley has worked in four offices, by my count. The latest of which, I needn't remind you, was a puppet administration, run by Death Eaters."
Roger’s eyes narrowed. "Are you suggesting he’s somehow responsible for getting rid of You-Know-Who? I think we’d have—”
"He had more to do with it than you think. Files going missing...assignments being lost...and this morning, boxes of records on the previous administration, most of them held illegally...copied, stolen, saved from a fireplace...there’s two dozen treason trials that can be opened from his documentation alone.”
Kingsley looked down at the papers in front of him before continuing. “This is to say nothing of the fact that he was there on the night of Lord Voldemort’s defeat, fighting alongside myself. But of course I don’t expect you to know anything about that.”
Roger turned red.
“So where is he, then?” he grumbled.
Here, just for a moment, Kingsley fumbled for an answer. Clearly Percy’s absence had taken him by surprise as well.
“Mr. Weasley has suffered a great personal loss—”
“—most of us in this room have. Arthur’s here, isn’t he?”
It was not until that moment Arthur realized he’d now spent a great deal of time being woefully silent while Roger lambasted his son. That a whole room full of people had seen him remain woefully silent.
He hadn’t meant to be...it was only because he was tired, he was grieving…
...and out of practice, he thought, his stomach twisting.
Over the past several years, Arthur had taken the greatest care not to speak of Percy at all, if he could help it, especially at work. They were estranged, and even that was hardly anyone else’s business.
It hadn’t occurred to Arthur that silence was easy to fill with almost anything, and most people neither knew nor cared for the parameters of the truth.
“I’ll thank you not to use me as a bludgeon against my son,” Arthur said sharply, though he was more irritated with himself than Roger.
“Sorry,” Roger murmured, and to his credit, he seemed to mean it. “Only...well, I was just wondering, is all. It’s not up to me, is it?”
And that had been the last word on the subject, until after the meeting when Kingsley pulled Arthur aside.
“You should go home, too,” he said, and Arthur didn’t feel up for pretending to argue.
Molly was knitting when he came home, her eyes red but her hands steady. He kissed her cheek and pressed his forehead to her temple, as if together they might find solid ground.
“Percy come home?” he said, pulling away. Molly nodded, wiping her eyes.
“He did—just over an hour ago,” she said. “He’s outside. Arthur…”
Even a few hours before, he might have been insulted by the look of concern on Molly’s face. But his encounter with Roger had humbled him, had pushed away the illusion that silence had made the suffering only his to bear.
“...I know,” he replied, before heading out the door to find his son.
Percy sat under one of the trees, frowning slightly over a piece of parchment. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, and Arthur remembered—with a surge of fondness—how eager Percy had been when buying his first pair as a child.
“It’s just me and Daddy who has them,” he’d said, over and over again, with such pride that Arthur had half worried Percy would have his heart broken if one of the younger ones began to squint.
Percy wanted them just like his, and it didn’t matter that the twins thought they were funny looking and bulky. If they were good enough for his father, they were certainly good enough for Percy.
That’s how it had always been with Percy, who was the only child who never teased him about his collections, never rolled his eyes when he brought up work or old Perkins. On the contrary, Percy begged to go to the office with him, counted it as a privilege and reward. Even when Percy had started working himself, he had hurried after Arthur so they could leave at the same time.
It had been as though every game of pretend had come true for him, and he—Arthur—was still a major player.
And then it had been different, all of a sudden and in the worst way. He still didn’t understand how, not really. But he could very nearly feel, somewhere inside of him, what it had been like to be Percy. And he could admit to himself that he wouldn’t have liked being on the other side of the table any better.
"Bit hot, isn't it?" he said as Percy looked up. Percy gave a shrug as his father sat down beside him.
"It's too quiet in the house."
"There's something I never thought I’d hear you say,” Arthur laughed. Percy gave a sort of smile, and silence fell over the scene. Something else that rarely happened with Percy.
“Kingsley told me he was impressed by what you'd managed to collect,” Arthur said finally. “Two dozen trials that wouldn't have happened otherwise, he says.”
"You always said that last time people walked away, and I wanted to make sure that didn't happen,” Percy said. “None of us should ever be able to walk away from what happened."
He seemed so grown-up, Arthur thought. Not the pretend sort of grown-up he’d been a few years ago, but a real man, with purpose and a center.
“Well, as I said: Kingsley think very highly of you.”
Percy shook his head. “Anyone can keep records straight or divert a few messages...”
“Almost no one else did,” Arthur interrupted. “You realize that?”
Percy’s face fell, and Arthur felt sure he’d said entirely the wrong thing.
“I worked with them. All of them, for years,” Percy exclaimed. “And they didn’t care, as long as they got paid. I was foolish and ignorant and selfish, I know that...but they had a statue up, for Merlin’s sake. Still, everyone went about their business, as though it amounted to nothing.”
“For most of them, it did,” Arthur murmured.
“I didn’t know what to do, what would help—“
“You did the right thing,” Arthur said, knowing now what he needed to tell him. “You did what you could, and you did it with care and courage. That’s all anyone can ask of anyone else in this world. It’s certainly all I’ve ever wanted to see my children doing.”
Percy didn’t reply, though Arthur could see he was pleased by the affirmation.
“You’ll do well under Kingsley,” Arthur continued.
Percy turned sharply to Arthur and stared at him.
“You think so?” he said, his voice strained. And now he looked like a child again.
“You have a chance to do what you’ve always wanted, and you earned it. Don’t look to me for permission,” Arthur replied with a smile. “Though I meant what I said —I think you’ll do well.”
Percy nodded, eyes shining.