When Percy was seven-years-old, he dreamed of dragons.
It was Charlie's fault. He was the one who was obsessed with dragons, who spent every waking moment of the day talking about them, spouting off trivia he'd heard and telling stories that he'd read about them to his younger brothers. Percy's nights were filled with flapping wings, flashes of fire, and the wind rushing past him as he flew on the back of a creature with scales that shone like gold and silver.
Percy cried for hours the day Bill told him that he'd never be able to have a dragon for a pet.
"Maybe you'll work with dragons when you get older," Charlie told him. Then he glanced around, as if he was making certain their mother wasn't around, before lowering his voice. "That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to work on a dragon reserve when I grow up."
Percy nodded, but it didn't really make things better. He didn't want to work with dragons. He wanted one of his own. There was a difference.
Still, there was one lesson that he took to heart from that experience: don't tell other people your dreams, at least not the ones buried deep. If you did, they could take them away.
He didn't know how much that realization would shape his life until it was too late.
Percy stared down at the letter he'd received from Charlie. He'd been vague, no doubt trying to allow himself plausible deniability, but Percy was good at reading between the lines. And there had been a lot of rumors flying around Hogwarts in the aftermath of that mess, with all those First Years caught out after curfew. It wasn't difficult to put two and two together to get four.
Why hadn't they come to him? He was a Prefect, for Merlin's sake. If it had been Hagrid who had the dragon – and while Charlie hadn't named any names, it had still been fairly clear just who those children had been trying to help – he was certain the Professor McGonagall could have come up with some way of resolving it quietly if he'd told her. Percy remembered that situation with the Abraxan back when he was a Second Year with perfect clarify, after all.
Damn it, he could have helped if they had just said something to him.
And if there was a little voice in the back of his head that asked him rather emphatically if he would have helped because it was the right thing to do or because it would have given him the chance to actually see a dragon up-close, well, that was no one's concern but his own.
He'd already been honored that Mr. Crouch had asked him to attend the First Task at Hogwarts, but that emotion had shifted to something else entirely the moment he had realized just what that task involved. He had always wanted to see a dragon in person, but it had just never been possible. The fact that he was being given that chance, well, it meant more than he had ever expected. Even if the circumstances were less than ideal, he wouldn't have traded the experience for the world.
He already thought the world of his new boss. That moment merely cemented it for him. Even if Mr. Crouch didn't know what it meant to Percy to get to see dragons in person, he'd still been the one to make it possible. That's all it took to gain every bit of loyalty Percy had in him.
Later, Percy realized that it had been entirely intentional, a calculated plan by a madman who had read him like a book. He'd taken the first steps into the dragon's den that day without even knowing it, and it would over three years later before he understood just where he'd ended up and how treacherous the path out of it would be.
It had taken him too long to escape the den of dragons that the Ministry had become, and by the time he did there was no getting back the years he'd lost. As he watched Fred fall to the floor in front of him, the life going out of his younger brother's eyes even as his final laugh echoed in Percy's ears, he realized just what the cost of his dreams had been.
The young boy who listened to stories of dragons with stars in his eyes had never realized that flying too high would eventually end in falling back to the earth.
Percy felt weightless as the world crumbled under his feet. He knew that he was going to hit the ground eventually. The only question was when.
He'd always seen the beauty in dragons. He'd never let himself see the monstrous side. Maybe he would have, if he'd spent more time looking in mirrors.
Nothing happened. Percy hadn't expected that it would. No matter how many times he'd tried over the years, he'd never managed to cast a patronus. It was one of his many failings.
But he'd had to try.
Percy glanced at George, slumped on the ground with his eyes tightly closed and his face deathly pale as the dementors brought his worst memory back to the forefront. There wasn't a doubt in Percy's mind exactly what his younger brother was seeing just then. It was the same memory playing in his own head. But then, Percy was used to it. There hadn't been a night over the past two years where he hadn't watched that scene play out in his dreams over and over again, after all.
Then Percy blinked. Because, for just a moment, he thought that he saw a mirror image standing over George. No, not a mirror. Almost, but not quite. There was a roundness to the face that George had lost a year or so earlier, a hint of childhood still clinging to an almost adult body.
And the figure had both ears.
Percy's breath caught in his throat, and his gaze darted back down to George before moving upwards again. The image was gone as if it had never been there. Maybe it hadn't. Maybe it had just been his mind playing tricks on him, the dementors' presence bringing things to the forefront of his mind that he tried not to think about when he was awake
But what if it hadn't just been his imagination?
In his memories, Fred threw his head back and laughed. For the first time since the Battle of Hogwarts, it didn't sound like a curse. He'd died as he'd lived, with a smile on his face and a laugh on his lips. Percy closed his eyes, and he took a moment to simply breathe. Then he opened them again, looking out at the quickly approaching dementors.
There was a blinding flash of light as, for the first time, the spell worked. Percy felt the corners of his mouth turn upward, unable to stop himself from smiling.
And the dementors turned and fled as Percy's patronus flew at them, pure white flames shooting from its mouth as the dragon let out a silent roar.