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Twenty-nine

Chapter Text

ooOoo

THE STORY OF A LIFE

Leading to a moment of eavesdropping

ooOoo

 

“A cup of tea, Weasley? I don’t think we have had the opportunity to talk.”

Don’t drink the tea a voice said, while Sertorius McAllister smiled at Percy.

The tea.

         The TEA.

Don’t drink it.

There is something in the tea.

 

Percy supposed that there had been silence while he was a baby and before the twins were born. Bill and Charlie were in the house, too young to go to Hogwarts yet, but they weren’t that noisy. Well, Charlie did have a lot of accidents involving fire and brooms and Bill kept poking the ghoul and they developed their magic powers very quickly. Maybe it had never been quiet but it certainly was much noisier once the twins learned to walk. Raucous, even.

Hogwarts was also full of noise. Even in his bedroom or in the library Percy could hear people humming and laughing and running around not even trying to be quiet. He got tired of asking people to keep it down and it was so bad that sometimes he could hear people talking, whispering, laughing, but when he got out of his seat to go hush them he found that there was nobody around and that his mind had made it up.

He learned to ignore them, the real noises and the phantom noises that his brain was making up – no doubt because it was used to hearing so many of them. Percy was thirteen and he could hear doors creaking and slamming, feet darting quickly across the room, people calling and muttering and giggling, and he had learned to ignore it all. He was thirteen and two months and he had learned to cast muffliato by himself. He couldn’t understand why they didn’t teach it earlier. The noise went down and it was wonderful, but some of the whispers and giggles and footsteps remained and Percy had to wrestle with the ugly idea that he might not be casting the spell right. He didn’t like that. Percy was a good wizard and a good student and he didn’t like the notion that he might be doing something wrong.

But he must have been doing something wrong because he still heard the noises.

Then Percy was fifteen and a Prefect and he was studying for the OWLs and all his teachers said that he was talented and a good student and expected him to get Outstanding grades in all twelve subjects. Each and every one of Percy’s spells were flawless and yet he still didn’t cast muffliato right and he still heard noise. He had even swallowed down his pride and asked Professor Flitwick to correct his casting of muffliato for he knew he was doing something wrong, but Flitwick said there was nothing wrong with his muffliato and that he was performing at NEWT level.

In the quiet of the night – when everything was still and there was only the soft breaths of his three roommates and the softer rustle of the blankets – then Percy had to admit, scared and tired, that all the noise, the whispers and the giggles and the steps and the knocks on the door, everything, was all in his head.

And he didn’t know what to do, he didn’t know. He didn’t know what to think. He was terrified, just terrified, of what people would say. It wasn’t okay, hearing noises and voices that lived only in your head.

It wasn’t okay.

People made fun of Uncle Bilius for being a bit eccentric, and everybody said the Lovegoods were mad and Percy was so scared.

Gryffindor won the House Cup that year. Percy got Outstanding in all twelve OWLs and he wasn’t insane.

It got even worse the next year when the voices became louder. Sometimes they were just offering suggestions and running commentary, sometimes he could hear people speak, loud and clear, when they quite obviously hadn’t opened their mouths. Sometimes their words were innocent enough but many times they were gross and nasty.

The worst was when he heard something talk who had no business speaking, even in the wizarding world. The first time he heard his old pet Scabbers say he wished he could have a cold butterbeer, Percy almost dropped all of his books in shock. He managed to conceal his agitation and he quickly left the common room and sought refuge in the Aviary where the screeches of the owls drowned out everything else.

He gave Scabbers to Ron, who would treat him well. Hermes the owl screeched very loudly – which was distracting and annoying, but he only screeched. Percy learned to tune that out and stay away from his old rat.

By the end of Percy’s seventh year Ron had gotten rid of Scabbers (thank Merlin) and Percy had passed all twelve NEWTs with the highest marks (although it wasn’t that impressive because Bill also had twelve NEWTs). He was very good at keeping a neutral face, even if the twins said he looked constipated, and no one suspected a thing. The voices could get as rude as they wanted, he was unflappable.

He got a job in the Ministry, which was impressive. People didn’t just get a position of prestige right after Hogwarts. Mum was happy and all the voices saying the family could have congratulated him a bit more and showed more pride could shut up about it.

Percy was very good at his job. He was precise and efficient and knowledgeable and he had the invaluable ability to anticipate his boss’ wishes. Almost as if he could see the future or read minds. Although how was he supposed to have known that his boss had been under the imperius curse? Besides, there was no proof that had been the case. But people were trying to blame Percy for not noticing and he was really scared that if they kept asking questions he would slip and they would find something else.

People said Harry was crazy. They wrote about him in The Prophet and they encouraged the rumours and the jokes and it scared Percy, it scared him a lot. He was nineteen.

He cried the day they proved that Harry was saying the truth all along. He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or heartbroken. If Harry was telling the truth, then Percy was the only one, the only one who –

It scared him, that feeling of loneliness. The voices were scared, too. And the people. Voldemort was back and everybody was scared.

Percy went through that year in a daze, like a man crossing a swamp made of noise and fear. He thought about killing himself exactly twice and he dropped the thought quickly. Percy was very much a Gryffindor and no one would ever know it. How the air and the water tasted of fear; how all Percy could hear was the panic. Not panicked voices, those were fainter. He was hearing Panic itself.

Sometimes he wished he could go home. He hadn’t seen his family in too long and he had made some stupid choices that pulled him away.

But… it was easier, you know? It was easier to keep going as he was. It was easier not to know whether the voices were right when they said his family wouldn’t take him back. That his family would say they hadn’t missed him. Percy wasn’t fun like the rest of his siblings; maybe it was better this way.

Dumbledore’s death brought a change. There was way more fear in the air and the voices grew louder. Percy started to distinguish between them a bit. They were young and old, familiar and strange. The young voices came from farther away and they were so afraid that they smelled bad, like acrid sweat. Some were so afraid that they became cruel just so they would have something hard to cower behind.

The old voices were closer and stronger even if the young voices were usually louder. The old voices were nothing more than loud whispers, but they were angry and raw and they knew Percy better. Sometimes Percy couldn’t distinguish between the old voices and his own thoughts.

Percy hated the noise in his head, he hated that there was never a moment of quiet, he hated that the voices followed him all day and taunted him before he fell asleep. He hated it all and – as already said – he had thought about ending it all twice. The noise was going to kill him eventually. The voices said that no one would miss him.

But this year, while everyone was scared and people were dying, they saved his life.

ooOoo

Sertorius McAllister was a handsome middle-aged white man. He smelled of soap and cologne and his eyes were blue. He was offering Percy a cup of tea and a smile.

Death! a young and an old voice said at once.

Deathdeathdeathdeathdeathdeath.

He is death.death.death.death.death.death.

                   (There is something in the tea)

                                                                           Death.

Sertorius dropped a warm and friendly hand on Percy’s back, right between his shoulders. He smiled a nice smile, teeth not too white but clean and very even. Sertorius worked in the new Minister’s cabinet and Percy couldn’t say no to his offer. Sertorius was very impressed with Percy’s work. (“Thank you.”) Percy was a very talented young man. (“Too generous. Thank you.”) Sertorius saw a bright future for Percy and wanted to know him better. Maybe they could work together more (“…”), include Percy in projects with more responsibility. (“Thank you.”) Did Percy take his tea with sugar or milk?

                            The tea.

Do not drink the tea.

                                               Tea. Black tea. He is black. He is tar. Under the mask. 

He is death.                                       Hollow. Hollow.

                   He wants you to drink the tea.            Drink. Eat. Death.

Look at how he asked…

                   You know what he is.

                            We know what he is.

Percy asked for milk and sugar and took the cup with both hands and smiled that clumsy artificial smile that the twins always mocked. The fake smile that looked so natural that everyone thought it was Percy’s actual smile.

“Thank you,” he said and took the cup to his lips with both hands still wrapped around it. Sertorius was looking at him closely. When Percy’s throat moved as he swallowed, the man blinked.

Percy’s life was full of noise and perhaps because of that, to compensate, Percy had learned to be quiet. He didn’t need to speak to cast a charm and he didn’t need his wand to evanesco a drink. Of course, wandless, he couldn’t empty the whole cup, but he wasn’t pretending to drink the whole cup.

Truth. Now he will tell the truth.

         This is good.

No, it’s not. But he is happy. He is pleased.

Sertorius certainly looked even more agreeable than before. He sat with his elbows on his knees, leaning forward as if he were really interested in whatever Percy had to say. He was both fatherly and seductive. He was sure that Percy’s best was yet to come and he hoped that nothing would be a hindrance to his career.

When at last he asked after Percy’s family, the voices rose in a tumult like the twins on a birthday or the Gryffindor common room after they had won a Quidditch game.

VER.IT.A.SER.UM.

         That bastard!      (Veritaserum)—VERITASERUM!

I told you not to trust the tea.

         The tea!                          He is Death.

He asks.                                  Mask. He wears a mask.

Later Percy would feel a bit sad at how easily the words had come to his mouth. He had nothing to do with his family. He was very embarrassed by them. They had very different ideas. He hoped his younger brothers could be re-educated, with time.

He hadn’t drunk the tea, but even if he had, most of what Percy said was true. Percy didn’t know where his family was.

He could guess, because they were his family and he knew them. Ron would be with Harry, Bill with his new wife in a house warded with many charms (maybe even fidelius), the others would be divided between Muriel’s and Bilius’. But Percy said he had no idea where they could be hiding and Sertorius had to believe him because he had seen Percy drink the tea.

It wasn’t the first time the voices had told Percy something useful or interesting.

The voices had told Percy about how the Minister knew he was under the imperius curse and found it quite pleasant. They had told him that someone was going to break into Wizengamot Administration Services and steal a list with names and addresses so the children of muggle women and wizards could pass as pure-bloods. They had told him that Dolores Umbridge felt an almost orgasmic pleasure when she scared and humiliated people and they also told him, snickering, that she was mortally afraid her half-blood status would be discovered by the WPIA.

The WPIA was the Wizarding Purity Intelligence Agency and supposedly it did not exist. The Ministry had created the Muggle-Born Registration Commission to identify and arrest muggle-borns so there was no need for another department. But the head of the Registration Commission was scared of them and the voices in Percy’s head were quite adamant that the WPIA was real; and that they weren’t focused on muggles so much as they were on gathering intelligence and blackmail material on everyone regardless of blood purity.

Of course Percy realised that he shouldn’t make decisions based solely on what the voices in his head said. But they were right, weren’t they? Sure, he also didn’t have any proof that Sertorius’ tea had had anything added to it, but his questions had been very suspicious.

The voices said that Sertorius didn’t work for the WPIA; he just wanted to learn where the rest of the Weasleys were because he was a plain old Death Eater who wanted to kill blood traitors. The WPIA was different. It didn’t want to kill, but to control.

Percy thought it was very discerning on the voices’ part.

ooOoo

It was in December of that year that Percy met Alan. Alan had beautiful green eyes. That was what Percy noticed first. They were fully green, not even a bit of hazel in them, and when Percy looked at them he felt a pull in his chest and his stomach. They were the kind of eyes that yanked and dragged you towards their owner.

Alan also had brown hair, nice skin and an even nicer smile. Percy noticed all of this second. He was a very beautiful man and he was smiling warmly and apologizing to Percy for bumping into him when he got on the lift as Percy got out. Percy accepted his excuses mechanically and for once he couldn’t hear what the voices had to say because there was a loud hum and a beating in his ears drowning everything else out. Who could think that a simple colour would have the ability to drown out sound? Alan’s green was deafening.

The next time he came across Alan they bumped into each other again, only this time Alan was also carrying a mug of tea that he dumped all over Percy. He blushed with embarrassment and apologised profusely and Percy had to accept Alan’s offer to buy him a tea so he would stop saying sorry. Alan admired the way Percy got rid of the stain in his clothes, not only the wet spot but the brown colour too, with just a flick of his wand. Percy didn’t say that he had learned it from his mother, that they couldn’t afford to get new clothes often and their mum had stressed the importance of caring for the ones they had because they would have to pass them to their younger brothers. He had never liked talking about his family’s poverty and nowadays he never spoke of his family at all.

Instead he smiled and said something trite and silly about how he cared about the pulchritude of his professional appearance and about his wand technique. Something stupid. But Alan smiled and averted his eyes, those incredible green eyes with the pulling effect, before looking back at Percy and saying that he was sure that he would like to see more of Percy’s wand technique.

The voices said… a lot, a lot of things and very loudly. Percy had to wait until that night. After he and Alan had finished their drinks and gone their own ways and Percy had gone back to work and finished his day and gone home. He had to wait until then, when he could sit back and let the voices each say their piece and sort them out in groups.

He saw Alan twice more. Once in a corridor at the Ministry and the other waiting in line to buy their lunch. They sat together, their hands brushed, and this time Percy didn’t have any doubts about the intent in Alan’s eyes.

Percy hadn’t gone home for Christmas the year before, or the one before that, but this was the year he actually wished he could, the year his family had to go into hiding. He was lonely and aching and he accepted Alan’s offer to have dinner with a group of friends who were too busy and rich and pretty to even think of spending the holidays away from the city. They were a merry crowd who seemed unaware that there was a terrible war developing. Percy ate and drank and laughed with them and afterwards let Alan kiss him, softly and sweetly, on the balcony of the hotel room they had rented for the party.

He felt his heart go soft and melt like a spoonful of butter when Alan took his hand and smiled at him trying to look impish and naughty and looking instead incredibly sweet. His eyes made Percy think of velvet and moss and a soft plush place in the shade.

Alan kissed Percy’s hand and pulled him along; said goodbye to the host of the party (a blonde witch in a pretty dress who had been drunk for the last two hours); and took Percy to the fireplace. They kissed again, softly, softly. Percy’s head was a bit dizzy from the alcohol and Alan was being so soft and caring. They flooed to Percy’s place and Alan made love to him right there, on the floor before his fireplace, and it was very hot and very sweet.

Percy lost his virginity on Christmas Day at the age of twenty-one. He thought it was a nice date and time, easy to remember.

They talked a bit. Alan asked after the maps of constellations that hung on the walls and Percy said that beyond the Astronomy and Arithmancy and even Divination that required studying stars, he just liked looking at them. He showed Alan his second and third favourite constellations and talked a bit about the myths they were supposed to represent and then Alan began kissing his neck, closing his eyes as if he couldn’t get enough of Percy’s taste and smell, and they made love again, this time in Percy’s bed.

It had been a very enjoyable evening. Percy had also had a truly pleasant night. He closed his eyes, simple blue eyes, nothing like the enchanted green of Alan’s, and exhaled with satisfaction.

He didn’t hear Alan cast muffliato and get out of the bed. Of course, after all he had drunk and two rounds of sex, Percy should have been fast asleep. Alan probably shouldn’t have had to worry about making any noise. Still, he was very quiet, which Percy appreciated. People were often so careless with the noise they made.

It was unnecessary, though. Percy wasn’t asleep and Alan wasn’t going to find anything incriminating in the apartment.

He was very thorough, which Percy also appreciated because he liked efficiency and effectiveness. It might even be a kink for him. Alan went through the whole apartment methodically, checking every drawer and nook and cranny and jar of cookies and underwear drawer.

He found nothing because Percy had made sure there would be nothing of value to find long before he even met Alan, right after Sertorius and his suspicious conversation over tea. He had checked again the third time he saw Alan, when they met in a corridor in the Ministry and Alan’s warm hand casually rested for a second on Percy’s elbow. Percy had dedicated two full evenings and half the weekend to making sure that they couldn’t find a single thing linking him to his family, not a letter or a photograph or any kind of gift or memento. He had gotten rid of or hidden most of them months ago, when Thicknesse first stepped into the Atrium of the Ministry.

The voices had rattled a pretty syncopated rhythm, telling Percy of the awful reach of the WPIA, its touch stretching over everyone and everything. They also spoke about all the horrible things that would befall Percy the day he was arrested, he of the muggle-friendly family. Percy ignored the second voice and focused on the first and expanded the extent of his own search.

He made sure that there was nothing of his time at Hogwarts. Nothing that could suggest that he had ever interacted with another human being during those seven years. No photo or letters from Penelope, no notes from Oliver and Kyle, no birthday card from the other Prefects. Percy had taken it all out and he wasn’t so much protecting himself as he was protecting them. Born to a well-known blood-traitor family as he was, interacting with a muggle-born or half-blood during his school years would hardly be a damning charge for Percy when the surname Weasley hadn’t been enough to arrest him. Yet Percy erased them from his life, burned every trace, and thus made sure their names wouldn’t come up in any investigation, not through him at least. He wouldn’t be the one to bring attention to those names and make someone go, “We have nothing on Weasley, but what about them?”

And because Percy was Percy, because not only he had passed twelve NEWTs but he had gotten Outstanding grades on all of them, because he was brilliant and cursed with intelligence, he made an extra effort and took care of the details. He took out the box in which he kept his diaries and went through them page by page, entry by entry, erasing names.

That wasn’t enough. Don’t think for a second that was enough. The absence of evidence can be just as suspicious as its presence. He had once seen his mum searching the twins’ pockets and when nothing of relevance was found, she had started a full and thorough search of the house certain that they were hiding something. The search had yielded quite a lot of firecrackers and a dirty magazine.  

His mum would have made such a good Auror! Although Percy was pretty sure the magazine had been Charlie’s.

So Percy brewed some tea and took a quill and added a few entries. “Received letter from Mother. Sent back unopened.” “Write letter announcing severance of all ties & request they do the same.” “Deny Scrimgeour’s petition re: contact with family.

It looked cold and fanatical, but Percy knew he had the face and wardrobe to pull that look off. The cold and fanatical acolyte. It was probably the horn-rimmed glasses.

Alan returned to bed almost three hours later, having found nothing. Percy was still awake, quietly pretending to be asleep. He had discovered something without moving from his bed.

It wasn’t about Alan. He knew, had known for a while. Even if the voices hadn’t told him that Alan was a spy sent to gather incriminating info on Percy, the time and manner of Alan’s approach would have still aroused suspicion. He was too beautiful and suave, too charmed by Percy.

No, it was the fact that Alan had cast muffliato and Percy hadn’t heard him get out of bed. He hadn’t heard the rumple of the duvet or his steps across the floor, he hadn’t heard the soft murmur of drawers opening or the susurrus of pages turning. He hadn’t heard Alan’s breath or heartbeat or when Alan got cold and hunted down a robe to put on while he continued his search.

He hadn’t heard any of it and yet he had known every single thing that Alan was doing. It was late and it was quiet, quieter still with the muting charm in place.

It couldn’t be denied. That was it. It couldn’t be denied that Alan had cast muffliatio and Percy could not hear his movement and yet he could hear everything else. How mad was that? Percy could hear the familiar voices whispering in his ears with the softness of a flannel blanket. It was very mad, they said. Percy was mad. Percy could not hear sounds but he could hear voices and intentions and that was madness. 

He realised now that in the raucous turmoil that was his head, some of the voices were voices but some of them were… something else. Maybe he had suspected it before, but this was confirmation of a sort.

He didn’t hear Alan move, he was sure of that, but he heard Alan’s actions and intentions, he heard him noting the places he had to look first. He heard him look at Percy and think that he was arrogant and stupid but not insufferable. Percy was so eager to please and easy enough on the eyes that Alan found his assignment quite bearable. Depending on what Alan found Percy might be arrested and executed before the New Year or it might turn into a long surveillance. After all, given Percy’s position in the Ministry he had access to a lot of sensitive information. Even if he had nothing useful now he might come across it in the future. You never knew when someone was going to defect to the Order or when someone might try to contact Percy with something important.

Percy heard all of that and he heard Alan go through his things and form an image of the person Percy was pretending to be. At times Alan was cold and cruel and it hurt terribly to be thought of in that way. At times he was oddly kind and appreciative. Mostly he was detached and assessing like a scientist who only cares about getting a result without any preference for a particular one.

Alan returned to bed and slid close to Percy so Percy stopped pretending to be asleep and fell asleep for real.

He woke up late. Alan was already up and half dressed. Tea was ready and there were eggs in the pan. Percy thought that this was very nice and that he liked it. He was feeling languid and mellow, and even though his head was full of noise he didn’t feel the usual pressure to keep it down.

Alan kissed him softly on the lips and Percy saw him considering whether he ought to have sex with Percy again or not. Percy was a bit sore and his muscles were aching in a funny way so, although he had enjoyed it very much, he smiled and sat down for breakfast and made a small show of being shy and prudish when the sun was out.

Alan said he had some business to attend to, which was true because he had to redact and send his report on Percy, so he kissed him quickly and left. Percy could feel for a while the warmth of Alan’s hands where he had last touched him.

Then it was just a matter of waiting to see if Percy passed the test. He was calm about it because not only did he know there was a test, he was also pretty sure that he would know if he had failed it with enough time to do something about it. It would be the first time in his life that Percy failed any sort of exam, so of course it would be a life or death situation.

He kept his wand with him at all times.

ooOoo

It was the morning of the 27th of December. Everybody was focused on their work and actively avoiding any thoughts of friends and family, which made for an interesting energy. Percy had a cup of tea by his side (Earl Grey; today felt like something bitter and classic) and he was cleaning his glasses with a cloth. There was almost a meditative state around the room and so he was able to examine his thoughts and the sounds in his mind.

There was a soft sound of silver bells. Very faint, hardly disruptive.

There were the old voices, offering commentary about how Percy’s family was likely dead and he was just sitting here in the Ministry, but for the most part they were taking a back seat while Percy thought.

And there were the young voices, only now Percy could see they were not voices. They looked like voices, but they were not, they were something different, something in disguise. They were ragged and tattered and quick and intense, like thoughts that had fallen through the barriers of a mind.

It was a very interesting discovery.

All I say, said one of the actual proper old voices, is that I’m very glad that at least the boy is getting sex.

Oh, come on! That was another old voice, or maybe it was Percy’s thoughts.

He is making the best of a bad situation, said the first voice reasonably, and it did have a point. Cassidy over there was also under surveillance. (Percy was starting to think, who wasn’t?) Poor Cassidy, he knew that he was under surveillance and was terrified about it. Percy had experience with fear and with hiding a part of yourself from the world, so he could sympathize. It was a particularly exhausting kind of fear.

There was an owl cleaning its feathers and hooting softly right next to Percy. Well, no, there wasn’t, but Percy could hear it. It was annoying, it made him worry about feathers and bird’s feces getting on the report he was working on.

ooOoo

Alan came back to him on New Year’s Eve. Percy was deemed to be beyond reproach and useful to the New Government (the “New” was actually capitalised), but at risk of being seduced, blackmailed or coerced by his old relations. The fact that he had let Alan in was proof enough that he could be compromised, so Alan would be kept around to stop any others from getting too close and gaining undue influence over Percy. This would provide an additional point of view on Thicknesse and The Court would like that.

Percy didn’t know who or what “The Court” was. He supposed it was Voldemort’s inner circle. The ones with the ultimate power to decide.  

He worried a bit that Alan might want to make a proper relationship out of it, because Percy wasn’t ready for that and had little idea of what to do. He had let Alan in because he figured that it was better to give them what they wanted and let them spy on him than to keep fighting it. They would get what they wanted eventually; it would be better if Percy could control at least part of it. The higher he built his walls the harder they would push against them, and Percy wasn’t sure he had the strength and ability to repel them indefinitely. Being with Alan was nice and soft and easy. He liked easy.

That was what he said to himself, to the voices. That he was being clever and practical. But the voices could be very honest and unforgiving so he had to admit that he was also doing it because he was lonely, because he was aching, because even if he was very aware of his talents Percy didn’t have a high opinion of himself. He wasn’t sure if it was because he didn’t deserve them or because he was that repulsive, but he knew he didn’t get nice things often so Percy wasn’t going to turn them away just because they were fake.

He didn’t mind having Alan around, not at all, but having him close all the time could make things difficult. Fortunately, Alan contented himself with lunches and dinners and spending at least three nights a week at Percy’s. He didn’t press for more and he didn’t move in with Percy because, as it turned out, he was also carrying on a secret affair with somebody else, someone married and with children, which Percy found quite shocking.

Percy got a few snippets of Alan and the other man that made him gasp and squirm and think that he should improve his performance in bed because, wow, Percy must seem very boring. Of course, of course he had yet another thing to feel self-conscious about and of course he wanted to make a good impression on the man paid to spy on him.

Percy tried to practice by himself, to be more elegant, to fumble less. Percy had just learned to accept a dick inside of him, to not flinch in pain and even find pleasure in it. He thought he was doing all right given the timeframe and he liked sleeping with Alan, but it seemed to him that he should be doing much more than that. There were things like plugs and clamps and restraints and being on your knees while someone slapped you and made you say humiliating filth. It seemed to Percy that he must be unbearably boring and that he had to step up his game.

Later he thought that no, he wasn’t going to change anything. In fact he might even feel a bit sorry for Alan and the requirements of that other assignment.

There was this one time, around February. It was sunny and extremely cold. Percy didn’t know what had happened, only that Alan’s mind kept going back to it and that he was distraught. Even though Alan was here, kissing Percy with a pretty mouth full of lies, his mind was far away and Percy couldn’t help feeling sorry for him. Perhaps he just sympathised with having to hide your own distress, but Percy didn’t think it mattered. Whatever the origin of his feelings, what mattered was that he felt them; Alan was upset and he was sorry for him.

The voices had something to say about Percy showing sympathy to the WPIA spy. In any case, Percy stepped back and smiled and said he felt like having chocolate milk and he prepared two mugs and told Alan about his sixth favourite constellation while they drank the hot beverage. He put an arm around Alan’s shoulders and rested his head in the crook of his neck, content to be just like that. Percy could feel something like a gust of wind coming from Alan, hate and love and relief all together in Alan’s chest.

Percy thought that being kind to the people you liked was easy and of little worth. What was interesting and moral and valuable was showing kindness to your enemies.

I can’t believe you, said one of the old voices.

Percy also thought it was a pity that the WPIA were investing so much in spying on him when he really couldn’t do much one way or another. His apartment was too small to be holding secret meetings and, although his job carried a lot of responsibility, if he were to do something outside the script it would be noticed immediately. So, really, other than waiting to see if someone attempted to contact him and arresting that person, it was all for nothing.

ooOoo

Not to say that Percy had quietly accepted his role in Thicknesse’s government. But he was not so stupid as to try and forge papers or steal documents or any of the other stupid things people had done in an attempt to fight against the new government (Percy capitalised it in reports but refused to do it in his thoughts.) That kind of thing was easily noticed and stopped and it often started a bigger investigation and made things worse for everyone. You altered the documents for one person and even if you weren’t caught that person would be, and then they and their entire social circle would be sent to interrogation and a new and more complex design would be put in place to make forging harder.

People had eventually realised it. Nowadays there was only open rebellion, fighting and hiding; intel gathering (which involved contacting people close to Dumbledore and was extremely risky); and obtuseness. Losing papers, delaying things, misfiling. But obtuseness could also put you on the spot. Being too bad at your job, even if it wasn’t politically motivated, could get you a harsh punishment. Look at Diggle.

Percy didn’t know where he would go if he decided to drop everything and embrace the open fight. He certainly wasn’t about to start spying and sending information to the Order, he’d known that even before he knew for sure that they were watching him closely. And he was too good at his job to suddenly become a blundering fool.

That was what had hurt so much, two years before. When he was promoted from the Department of International Magical Cooperation to Junior Assistant to the Minister and his father had said that it was a ruse to keep tabs on Dumbledore. As if it were unthinkable that Percy could earn such a promotion for his talent, as if the only thing of merit in Percy was his connection to his family and to Dumbledore.

His father had probably been right, but so had Percy. They could have demoted him when Fudge stepped down, they could have sent him away when Thicknesse took over from Scrimgeour and Percy became a vulnerable employee. But they didn’t, they hadn’t, because Percival Weasley was very good at his job.

So he couldn’t suddenly turn clumsy, you see. In his case, any mistake would be a symbol of open rebellion and a declaration of guilt because Percival Weasley just didn’t make mistakes, ever.

He couldn’t go rogue, he couldn’t spy and he could not botch things, but he could do something else. People lacked imagination and a proper respect for the rules. All their thoughts of rebellion involved some rule-breaking when in fact rules had to be respected.

That had always hurt too. How people acted as if Percy were the one in the wrong for wanting to do things right. Like that time Bill told him to shut up already with the legislation on cauldron bottoms, as if it were silly and unimportant.

A cauldron without the adequate thickness could leak copper particles and contaminate the brew. Bill had taken Potions to the NEWT level, he should know that the presence of copper or iron in acid-based potions could have fatal consequences.

But Bill acted as if it were silly and unimportant and the voices in Percy’s head kept repeating his words for days, telling Percy again and again that he might be right but nobody cared because nobody liked him. He was boring and a nuisance and people didn’t want to listen to him.

They were terrible, the voices, they had quite a character.

There was a point to this. Rules. They were important, they were useful, and people tended to be against them and not bother thinking why they had been put in place. His first year in the Department of International Cooperation, with the Quidditch World Cup and the Triwizard Tournament, had been highly educational. Percy hadn’t questioned his promotion because after that year he had become one of the most knowledgeable persons on regulation in the Ministry. He might not be an expert in every field, but he knew plenty about all of them and he knew where to look for a specific rule, or statute, or canon, and he understood what they meant. If you were drafting a new law, Percy was the person who could tell you where it would fall, what rules would complement it and which ones would clash and who were the experts that could tell you more.

Percy was becoming even more of a stickler for the rules this year. From the outside he looked just like a punctilious and stiff government worker, a dedicated employee who verged on the fanatical. You would need a very good understanding of public administration and a lot of time and patience to realise that his fastidiousness and attention to detail was becoming counterproductive. Percy had been so, so, delicate in his meticulousness that you could stand right behind him and wouldn’t see that because of him, because of the rules he kept extracting and applying, marking someone as a mudblood was taking thrice as long as it should.

Thrice as long was, in many cases, enough time for word to get around and escape before arrest.

Because Percy was thorough and strict, the Wizengamot processes – bogus as they were – were going at a snail’s pace. He had also stalled all international relations and in a few months of diligent work he hoped to strike at the budget hard enough that the government would collapse by itself in less than thirty-two months if they hadn’t managed to stop Voldemort by then. Collapse was a strong word. It made Percy think of the actual Ministry building crumbling down – which wouldn’t happen, at least not immediately, they had good charm casters working there. But collapse it would and Percy wasn’t completely certain that once the government fell they would be able to put it back.

Harry better hurry, then.

Hasten.

What?

         Make haste. Harry better make haste.

         Get a move. Wake up and get to it.

Harry and the others better get to stopping Voldemort before Percy annihilated the New Government and left only ashes and debt behind.

ooOoo

Percy was doing all this and he heard voices in his head and he hadn’t seen or talked to his family in months. Going home to someone who welcomed him with hot kisses and open arms was really nice, even if it was a deception.

He and Alan were together for six nice hot months. They were together under false pretences but the warm feeling was real and Percy cherished it despite its hollow origin. Percy was working to weaken the foundations of the government and any wrong move could mean his doom, but as long as he didn’t make any mistakes he would see success. The noise in his head was as loud as always and fearful and hateful, but it was manageable and now he knew how to sort the voices better.  Like the potioneer who can tell one poison from another at a glance. Like those times in class when Professor Snape would know a brew was wrong just from the rolls of steam rising from the cauldron. Percy picked the small, viscous voices that had fallen into his mind like a gardener picking the slugs off the plants and he threw them outside with the same distaste. Some voices were rooted deep in his brain, growing taller and stronger everyday, and Percy couldn’t shake them loose. But he could take the slugs and squash the buzzes All in all, it wasn’t the worst time of Percy’s life. The year working with Fudge had been harder, and the really hard years were yet to come.

ooOoo

The incident at Malfoy Manor was kept secret, but that didn’t stop the voices from telling Percy about it. The details were fuzzy but Percy got the fundamentals, which were:

1) Harry was alive, thank Merlin. Percy didn’t have very high hopes for him, to be honest, and he was glad that he had gotten so far. Harry had a tendency towards unkemptness that Percy found exasperating, but he was nice enough and Percy felt for him, if only because he understood how utterly lonely Harry must have felt that year the Ministry went after him.  

2) Hermione was alive, might have been hurt but not severely. Hermione was smart and responsible and neat and Percy approved of her wholeheartedly. The world needed more people like her.

3) After months in the dark, they had resurfaced making a scene. This meant that more things could happen and Percy should prepare.

Of course he had also heard that Ron was with them, but it barely registered in his mind because, well – it was quite absurd, but he just hadn’t considered that something bad might happen to Ron. Ron was Ron. He was tall, skinny, far from reaching his full potential either because he didn’t care or didn’t know his own talent. He was Percy’s baby brother and it simply didn’t occur to him that Ron might get hurt. Bill, yes, because Bill tended to draw attention to himself, and Charlie of course, he worked with dragons. But he didn’t think that anything bad could ever befall his younger siblings.

The voices all agreed: Something is going to happen.

Move.                    Where to? No, don’t move.

         Call.            No, no. Silence.                         Alan.

Risk.           Do something.        Keep going. Don’t bring attention.

But, call?               No!

They didn’t agree on anything else.

That night he had dinner out with Alan and then they went back to his apartment and they made love in his bed, very slowly and gently. Percy supposed that might be the wrong term. Alan didn’t love him, even if he was really good at pretending, and Percy didn’t love him either, although he was quite fond of him. His green eyes still had that enchanting quality that pulled at something inside of Percy’s chest. It wasn’t love but it wasn’t shagging or fucking either. That made it sound too dirty and casual and this was not it.

Percy’s easy acceptance of such a peculiar amorous situation made a lot of sense because Percy knew that he didn’t deserve more or better. He was not like the others. He wasn’t well. He was unbalanced, as much as it pained him to recognise it even in the intimacy of his own head. He was crooked so he should have things that were also a bit wrong. Who would have thought? Brilliant student, serious, responsible, but he was the odd one out of the family. The perfect son was the one hiding the biggest cracks. The joker and prankster siblings were having more success, at least until they had to go into hiding.

Percy and Alan were lying together in a sweet embrace under Percy’s cosy duvet, warm and languid. The afterglow still ran through him and Percy felt very at ease, all things considered. Then Alan sighed and began to carefully roll away. He checked Percy’s breathing surreptitiously to see if he was asleep (he was not, he never was). Apparently he wanted to go through Percy’s mail.

I think you should be more upset about this.

         I don’t know. Alan is a professional.              I like Alan.

Green.

You should not be okay with this.        This is bad. Bad!

         You are bad.

Alan waited thirty minutes and Percy was almost truly asleep when at last he got out of bed. It was the sudden rush of alert thoughts and voices coming from Alan that made Percy stir. It was like someone poking a pile of rocks with a stick; the old voices came tumbling down in disarray. They half-heartedly reminded Percy that he was not like others, he was unlikable, crooked, broken, how bad and broken to accept this, to sleep with his enemy, spread his legs for him, such a shame, shame of the family. Albus Dumbledore also had a weird and unlikable brother he never talked about. Percy was just like him and like Uncle Bilius. The family embarrassment. Shame.

There was also a quick flash of Fred and George with long beards, growing up to be wise and powerful and slightly odd, like Dumbledore, while Percy would be the odd one. The one they pretended to love only because he was family, the one they pretended not to be embarrassed about. That was Percy. Also Alan wasn’t finding anything of use in Percy’s mail, as expected.

But wait, the brother.

Aberforth.

                   Nobody likes him. They mock him.

                   They will mock you.

Alan doesn’t like you.      Aberforth.              There is movement.

Harry Potter.

Percy could make contact with Aberforth Dumbledore.

A weird rejected brother, like Percy. He could make contact with him without risking either of them. He might even bring Alan with him. Call it “an adventure,” as it would probably be if they ate something in that pub.

ooOoo

Alan said that he had a cold and that even though he had taken Pepperup potion he was feeling a bit off. He wanted to spend the next couple of days in bed and he would stay in his own flat so he wouldn’t pass it on to Percy.

The truth was that Alan didn’t feel like going with Percy to Hogsmeade (he hadn’t even mentioned The Hog’s Head yet) and he had to check on his other lover, the married one who, unlike Percy, had a lot of interesting things worth noticing and also some very perverse desires.

(Percy thought that it might be someone in the Department of Magical Transportation skimming money or accepting bribes, but he was far from certain.)

So Percy went to Hogsmeade alone and saw that the town was full to the brim with people with secrets. People under imperius, people who would later claim to be imperiused but were perfectly in control of their actions, people governed by fear just as tightly as if it were the control curse, and also a surprisingly high number of Dumbledore loyalists. They were all spying on each other and stepping on each other’s toes and getting very little of value, because they could hardly move to do anything without three spies following them.

It wasn’t difficult to make contact with Aberforth. They even got to have a conversation, brief but very illuminating and comforting. Afterwards Percy felt giddy with excitement, as if this was the first risky thing he’d ever done, as if he were carrying something very valuable in his chest. He thought it might have less to do with making contact with an Order member and more with the fact that Aberforth, strange as he was, was standing his ground and being useful. Maybe people would talk less about him from now on. Merlin knew that there were others that deserved way more criticism. Mundungus Fletcher came to mind. The late Alastor Moody, too.

Percy bought some chocolates and sent them to Alan with a feel-better note like a naïve and besotted fool should do. Alan had been very careful not to mention where he lived so Percy couldn’t drop by unexpectedly, only send him letters via owl.

He had dinner and went to bed alone. The next day he cleaned the house, darned some socks and cleaned and mended the collars and cuffs of his work robes. He didn’t utter a word. At midday he got an owl from Alan thanking him for the chocolates, saying that Percy was a doll and that he missed him and would see him on Tuesday. Since Alan wasn’t there in person the note felt very nice and very real. That was what Percy thought, this must be how it feels for normal people. He kept thumbing the note until the corner got dog-eared and even then Percy decided to keep it inside a book, a memory of something that never was.

He listened to the radio. He read a bit of a book (Goblin Trade Agreements). Alan thought that Percy’s taste in books was nauseatingly boring and he always groaned inwardly when he saw the title of whatever Percy was reading. The book was a bit dull and dry but Percy needed to know if Gringotts would bail out the government after Percy had bankrupted it.

He went to bed, again alone. The next day, he went to work.

Percy went through the motions quietly and meekly. He had been keeping things stored in his chest (or rather, in his head) for a long while. He knew how the dance went.

He saw his father from afar, coming from a corridor where he had no business being in the first place. He saw Rockwood seeing him. Today Arthur Weasley was still a pure-blood and able to take risks, but soon that wouldn’t be enough.

ooOoo

Alan and he made love (not shagged, not fucked, not screwed) for the last time on a Tuesday. It wasn’t as good as the first few times. It had become a bit dull and mechanical. Alan didn’t undress completely because there was something on his back that he was hiding from Percy. It might be something as simple as a few scratches but Percy suspected it was flogging marks. Afterwards Percy told him about the different kinds of snowflakes, the ones that looked like the pictures and the ones that were round. He didn’t feel like talking about stars and constellations but he didn’t want to simply thank Alan and turn around.

Their last kiss was on a Thursday and it took Percy by surprise because there was something thoughtless and natural in it.

Percy got a feel for what was happening long before Aberforth’s message reached him. He thought that many people felt it because there was a sense of urgency and anticipation in the air. He looked at the owl flying away wondering how it could even fly when the air was full of tension and voices and silver streams.

Aberforth had only sent an empty envelope, as agreed. No note with explanations or directions so Percy decided that he would go to Hogsmeade and see how it went from there.

Only, Alan was standing between him and the door, looking ill and frazzled. Alan had instructions on what to do if Percy ever made a sudden move or tried to defect, but those instructions were feeling very outdated after everyone had seen a freaking dragon fly out of Gringotts with Harry Potter riding on his back. Those instructions were from back when Voldemort looked invincible and there was very little opposition, weak and disorganised.

“Alan, take your wand and run,” Percy said calmly. He thought that this should be more dramatic and that it should take place somewhere else, not in his living room with its walls decorated with constellations. “Nobody will look for you now. You can get at least a full day, maybe two.”

How very green his eyes were. How soft and sweet. They were nothing like Harry’s eyes, Harry’s shone like gemstones whereas in Alan’s eyes there was something mute and lush that spoke of vegetation. His eyes were staring at Percy and trembling like the leaves of a weeping willow in spring.

He didn’t say Goodbye or Thank you. He simply grabbed his wand tighter and left. Percy waited until he heard the pop of apparition on the street before closing the door of his apartment, going down the stairs, and doing the same.

ooOoo

Percy didn’t remember much of that day, fortunately. He remembered how loud the explosion had been and he remembered that afterwards there was silence. He didn’t hear the screams or the curses or the sizzle of spells flying by. He didn’t hear the cries.

He didn’t hear the voices.

Yes, even the voices, old and young, the voices and the thoughts that dropped out of people’s minds and leaked into Percy’s, even those were quiet.

It was absolute and perfect silence, unlike anything Percy had ever heard before. That’s what Percy experienced when his younger brother died. The complete absence of a sense to mirror the emptiness he felt in his chest.

Sound returned later that evening. It had probably come back earlier because Percy had dueled and fought and run and helped Kingsley Shacklebolt organise the arrest and detainment of fallen Death Eaters. He must have been able to hear to do all that, but it didn’t register. It was only now, sitting on a cold stone bench and holding a ham sandwich of unknown origin in his hands, that he noticed the noise returning. The crack of a fire nearby, the calls for help in the improvised mediward, the cries, the voices of those around him.

The voices that were thoughts bumping into him.

The voices in his mind.

You have killed your brother.

You killed Fred.

It’s your fault.

ooOoo

The evening after they buried Fred Percy sent his resignation letter to Kingsley. Even though Percy had been a Junior Assistant to Fudge, Scrimgeour and Thicknesse, he knew he wasn’t good enough for Shacklebolt.

He added a list of things they had to undo so the Ministry would run smoothly. The financial matters were particularly important because they were slow to arise but they tended to build momentum and Percy still had no idea if Gringotts would bail them out. Goblin culture was complicated. Also, even though Percy had nothing to do with it, he told them to look into the transport system, especially the Knight Bus. It made no sense that it had to be hailed with a wand. If you had a wand you should be able to travel freely by apparating, so the only users of the bus at the moment were underage wizards and people who had splinched and were too afraid to try apparition again. If they substituted the wand raising for any other method of calling, then the bus would become available to squibs and goblins. This would increase revenue in addition to offering better service.

Kingsley came to see him a week later. It wasn’t unusual to find people from the Ministry and the Order coming and going from the Burrow, which had become the default place to meet and drop messages. Percy’s presence was more unusual, even now, but his mother was broken and dazed so Percy had been going there every day to help with the household.

He slept in his apartment, though. It was the only place where he could sleep. He couldn’t even go near his old bed in the Burrow.

“I admit I might have dozed off a bit,” Kingsley said. Percy’s resignation letter might have turned into a twelve-foot rant on the Ministry’s structure. “But I like the Knight Bus proposal and it seems you know how to implement it, so go for it.”

That was a behemoth of a task. It was one thing to identify a need and figure out the basics of what to do, and another thing to see it done. Kingsley had failed to mention that the former Head of the Department of Transportation had turned up dead. They had put a quiet and mousy man with lots of seniority in his place as a sort of emergency replacement, but the poor man, Titus Titanicus, was lost and overwhelmed. Percy would be the Vice-Head of the department and the de facto Head.

Percy started to laugh. Percy’s brother was dead and it was Percy’s fault and the voices kept telling him so and he was broken and could hear voices in his mind. Yet here was the new and shiny Minister of Magic offering Percy a job. Percy could hear himself laughing hysterically but, despite giving Kingsley a good glimpse of the madness he had inside, Kingsley chose not to see it and Percy still got the job.

ooOoo

There was only one voice who had something different to say. The others all agreed, it was Percy’s fault.

If you hadn’t returned.

         If you had gone somewhere else.

If you had closed your mouth. Why did you have to speak? Nobody likes you, why did you have to make a joke? You tried to be funny and popular and you got Fred killed.

                   He was laughing.

                                               You distracted him.

It’s your fault.

         You shouldn’t have come back.

                                      If you hadn’t left.

It’s your fault.

There was the one voice saying it was not, but it was very faint and probably lying. For the most part the voices were honest with Percy, but sometimes they didn’t know everything or they outright lied, like this one.

It was the spell. It was the explosion. It wasn’t you.

It’s your fault.

It’s your fault. It’s your fault.                                            You did this.

It’s your fault. It’s your fault. It’s your fault.             You killed him.

It’s your fault. It’s your fault It’s your fault. It’s your fault.            You spoke.  

It’s your fault. It’s your fault It’s your fault. It’s your fault. It’s your fault.          Fred.

That wasn’t the worst part. No matter the horrible things the voices said, Percy tended to agree with them. In any case, they were his voices, they were inside his head and belonged to him. He could deal with them.

It was the voices from outside, the younger ones.

I can only ever have six children, Percy heard, coming from his mother’s direction while she swept a floor that had already been swept that morning.

He came back just as Fred left, his father thought, lips pressed tightly and eyes shining as he took an empty cup of tea to the sink.

It’s as if we couldn’t have everyone. Percy came back so Fred had to leave.

He wasn’t sure who thought that one. Maybe everyone did. He did. It felt like some sick barter and Percy wished he could reverse it. Maybe if Percy left, if Percy died, they could all have Fred back.

Percy might have killed himself then. He thought a lot about it and he would have done it in a second. He had even chosen the method and cleaned his apartment.

If he didn’t do it, it was because whenever he was determined enough to take the step the voices reminded him in a mocking tone that his death would solve nothing, his death wouldn’t bring Fred back. He was that useless.

That, and Percy didn’t think that his mother could take it. She wouldn’t mourn him as much as Fred, he was sure of that, but it might be the final strain and it would all be Percy’s fault.

Life had become intolerable and he wasn’t allowed to leave. But maybe that was right. He should do his penance. 

ooOoo

Percy was just coming down from the attic. The resident ghoul had picked up on the desolate air of the house, the shared grief, and it had begun howling and rattling the rafters at all times so Percy had gone up and gotten him to shut up. Mostly he had used charmed lights but Percy also thought that it helped to show it the pain he had inside. He wasn’t sure if it was pity or intimidation but it had worked and the ghoul went quiet.

Bill could probably have done it because Bill had a NEWT level in DADA, and Ron, on account of him sharing a bedroom with Harry Potter and fighting brilliantly in the war, but it was midmorning and neither of them was there. Percy was, so he had done it and now he was coming down thinking he might get a cup of tea before he left. He was feeling particularly hollow today.

It was… Sunday. Probably Sunday given how many people were in the house. Why the Ministry couldn’t speak directly with Hogwarts, he didn’t know, but it seemed that everyone was still using the Burrow as a midway, a place to leave messages and documents for others to read and pick up. To be fair, Hogwarts was pretty damaged and the Ministry was in quite a disarray too. The Burrow looked unstable but it wasn’t missing significant chunks of the structure and there were always a lot of sandwiches available. Molly had turned to cooking and, although she sometimes made sandwiches with nothing inside or forgot to put ham in the ham and mustard sandwich, they were good and tasty. People always took one with them. Percy would, too, if he could manage to be hungry.

So that might be why people were gathering in the Burrow.

He didn’t care. He was going to get his tea and leave.

“Oh, here is Percy,” said…

It was a bit hard nowadays, to know where the voices were coming from or if they were speaking aloud or not –

…said Hestia Jones. “Percy knows him, don’t you Percy? Alan Blackburn?”

“Mmh?” said Percy in the dullest and deadest of tones. He should have gone home right away and gotten his tea there. “Has he been arrested?”

“No, we don’t know where he is, actually,” said Sturgis Podmore, who had a long scroll sitting on his knees and was clutching another one, just as long. He and Diggle were in charge of all the paperwork in the Auror Department and Percy had serious doubts about their record-keeping ability. “And he is not a priority. We were just saying that you know him.”

“I have made his acquaintance but I wouldn’t say that I know him very well,” Percy said calmly and truthfully, but not honestly. Or maybe the other way around. He wasn’t lying but he wasn’t saying the truth, much like Hestia and Sturgis.

“But… you know him,” Hestia said in a way that made Percy think that the mention of Alan’s name hadn’t been as innocent and casual as they had made it seem. However, Elphias Dodge in the corner looked as uninterested as always, and so did Horace Slughorn. “There are some reports that you spent a lot of time together.” Hestia looked down quickly at some of the papers on her knees. Maybe those were the reports she was talking about, the secret files on Percival Ignatius Weasley, devoted employee who turned rogue after all.

“Yes,” Percy said neutrally, perhaps a bit of a questioning note in his voice because he didn’t know where they wanted to get with this. He wanted tea and to spend the rest of the day without talking to people, looking at a print of a constellation in his apartment.

“He… he was a spy, you know,” his father said at last. He was standing casually by the fireplace. Percy had cleaned it yesterday and refilled the floo powder jar.  

It seemed that it was Arthur Weasley’s job to tell his son when someone was using or deceiving him. As if his promotion with Fudge hadn’t been enough. They should really have made someone else tell Percy this.

“You-Know-Who didn’t trust non-Death Eaters,” Hestia added as if that would lighten it. As if being found untrustworthy by a dictatorial state were offensive and Percy ought to be upset by the revelation that he had been spied upon.  

“Ah, yes,” Percy said lightly, because it was light to him. “The WPIA had everyone from the Minister to two levels down under surveillance.”

He noticed that there was a bit of surprise and a bit of disappointment that he already knew and wasn’t shocked by what should have been obvious even without the voices whispering him clues. There was also a wave of amusement coming from Ginny, the rascal. How she enjoyed seeing people flustered and confused.

But, really, Thicknesse had had three agents close and ready to apply pressure on him and he had been compliant and imperiused. Of course everyone else had been under close surveillance. The offense, if anything, was not being spied on. It meant you were unthreatening and unimportant.  

Like Podmore.  

Nothing else came of it, except a short interview with Kingsley and another Auror (couldn’t remember her name. Nose-Face, was all the voices could supply) about the surveillance and pressure on the Cabinet. Percy grew a bit nervous when they asked him how he knew, but he managed to shrug it off and they didn’t press him on it. They were more interested on what he knew and comparing the reports they had found with his testimony. The WPIA had filed reports on everyone and everything to the point of ineffectual paranoia. Percy had never thought there could be something as too much information.

But that was it. No more questions about him or Alan or their relationship. All they wanted to know was how trustworthy the WPIA reports were when they said someone was loyal.

Not very, considering Percy’s own file.

That was pretty much it – well, that, and the way Ron reacted. Ron, who had just arrived to the Burrow when the Alan conversation took place. Something interesting happened with him. The only way Percy could explain it was that it felt as if a button or a lever inside Ron had been pressed and a bright and circling light inside Ron’s head had turned on. Not even Ron could express it coherently. He just knew that something lit up and he had no idea of what or why.

Ron was not the most observant person and Hermione had often accused him of being emotionally deaf (Ginny agreed). So it was all the more surprising that he had noticed something.

and

and then

Ron came to Percy a few days later, when Percy was in the kitchen doing the dishes. These days if Percy was at the Burrow he was always doing something. He couldn’t stand being there chore-less. The good part of this was that he had managed to fix the little window on the stairs that had been stuck for as long as he remembered.

“Soooooo,” said Ron, unsubtly leaning against the counter. And he wanted to be an Auror? He better practice his spell work because they would see him coming from miles away.

Ron crossed his arms over his chest and immediately uncrossed them so he could card his fingers through his hair. He had gotten it cut recently, it had been longer during the battle. “Your friend,” he said at last. “Alex.”

At least there was no meaningful intonation to the world “friend,” so kudos to him.

“Alan, you mean?” Percy said. He didn’t have that many friends and he was too tired to pretend he didn’t know what Ron meant. “What about him?”

“You knew he was spying on you.”

Percy might have said “me and many others” or “why else would someone like him approach me?” or even, “I am crazier than Uncle Bilius and Mr Lovegood put together, but the madness has its advantages.”

But he only said, “Yes.”

Ron stood there, enthralled by the dishcloth wiping the inside of the glasses. Percy paid him no mind and started to work on the mugs. They were brewing and consuming amazing quantities of tea lately. Percy checked the mugs one by one, carefully removing any tea stains with his wand.

“It must have been lonely,” Ron said softly.

“The war was lonely for everyone.”

“Yes, well.” Ron said nothing else, but he stood there until Percy was done and after that he helped put everything back in the cabinets.

ooOoo

Ron announced to Percy that from now on they would be having dinner together every last Tuesday of the month. He said it with such firmness that Percy didn’t have the heart to say anything other than yes.

There was something. Something that Ron had noticed and that bothered him.

The voices said that if Ron, who was notoriously obtuse about this kind of thing, had noticed… Ron, who wrote to their mother in a panic on the twenty-third of December because his friend Harry didn’t expect to get any presents for Christmas, the twenty-third and not a day sooner. If he had noticed something about Percy, then the others must have noticed it sooner but they were doing nothing about it because Percy didn’t deserve it (Unlikeable) and they didn’t care.

Nobody likes you.

Percy was very firm when telling the voices to shut it. Ron was being observant and sensitive for once and Percy wasn’t about to let some disembodied voices ruin it. They could drive him to the verge of despair only to pull him back all they wanted, but they were not messing with Ron.

Besides, it wouldn’t last long. Ron had entered the Auror Academy and their training was notoriously hard and intense. He also had friends and a girlfriend. Ron had been trying to learn to play an instrument (any kind of instrument) since he was six and he still couldn’t get a two-note tune out. It wouldn’t last long. They would meet twice and then something would come up and Ron would have to cancel and he would have forgotten about his resolution inside six months.

He was right. Percy was often right. He was used to it.

They had dinner three times. The fourth month, Ron wrote to postpone and never got to reschedule. The fifth time he simply forgot. This was not a problem. Percy had never expected more of Ron. The problem was that life was still intolerable and Percy still wanted to kill himself, but the voices had changed their tune.

What about Ron? they said.

         What about Ron?             Ron.                      Ronald.

Ron.            What about Ron?             His nose is long.

If Percy were to put an end to it and end his miserable life, Ron would think about what he had noticed and what he had missed. He would think of the postponed dinner that never happened and of the cancelled one he had forgotten about and it would gut him.

How could Percy be so selfish?

There was also the matter that Titus Titanicus was a hapless moron of amazing proportions and that the rest of the department seemed to have been dementor kissed. If Percy left they would never get the Knight Bus changes done. Never. Never mind that he had explained it to Kingsley and that he had a detailed and comprehensive plan, it would just never get done. It might not be a big thing, changing the mode of hailing, but for certain people it would be very big.

So Percy didn’t try to kill himself, not right away as he wanted. It was five months after Fred’s death already and it was too close to Christmas now and it was just rude to ruin everyone’s holidays like that. So he pushed it until February. He could hold on until February. He could die then. It was a stupid month in any case.

ooOoo

Christmas was terrible.

Fred wasn’t there. It was the first Christmas with Percy present in three years.

Nobody wants you here.

         Nobody cares.       

Charlie came, which was nice because he couldn’t make the trip often and it was too much trouble for a mere week. He came, and it was nice, and it didn’t help at all. In fact, neither Charlie nor Percy should have come. If they weren’t there then it wouldn’t have been so obvious that Fred was gone.

Percy thought that he wouldn’t attend the next year and he simultaneously received a cheer and a slap from the voices in his mind.

By the twenty-first of January Percy had a solid design and an implementation plan ready so his Knight Bus project could be carried to term without him there. They would only have to read the memo and follow the steps. It was very simple. He had made diagrams and everything. Anyone could do it.

But why would they?

         Nobody cares.        Nobody cares about you.

                                      Nobody cares about it.

                   They will just throw it in a drawer and forget.

Coward!

What?

You keep thinking of leaving, of dying. Coward!

The squibs won’t get their bus because of you.

Almost as if on cue, Ron dropped by his office at the end of January. His hair had grown a little bit and he had shadows under his eyes. He said that training was crazy and was eating his life and would Percy help him? He needed Percy to help him.

Percy couldn’t say anything other than “yes.” It wasn’t until three years later that he realised that Ron probably knew.

What Ron said was that he was very tired and very busy and that he needed to get his life in order and manage his schedule better or he would have no life worth of that name. And here came Percy’s part, how he could help: Don’t let Ron cancel plans ever again. Please. Could he do that? Not accepting Ron’s excuses, not being understanding. Ron needed to prioritise and learn how to have a life in addition to Auror training. He really needed these monthly dinners, please don’t let him forget about them.

Percy agreed to everything while inside he was thinking, “Ugh.” Now he really couldn’t kill himself.

Amazingly, Ron didn’t miss a dinner ever again. In the following months and years Ron arrived tired and sleepy, dirty, injured (twice), worried, angry, and once covered in soot from head to toe. They met in pubs and restaurants and, when Ron was really tired, at Percy’s apartment for something easy and casual. But he was always there, no matter what. Thrice he was so tired he fell asleep on Percy’s couch.

In that year Percy finished the Knight Bus project. The bus could now be hailed with the traditional wand call or by saying “Department of Magical Transportation: (Your name), bus call.” There was much debate and criticism of the changes and the formal and stilted way of calling. They wrote letters to The Prophet and included it in a satirical cartoon. But eventually the novelty wore off, people forgot they were outraged if they ever really were and the Knight Bus tripled its revenue – something unexpected even by Percy’s most optimistic calculations. It was a very popular choice of transportation for foreign visitors who couldn’t apparate to a place they didn’t know.

The one-year anniversary of Fred’s death came and went. After Percy endured that date for the third time, he decided he wasn’t going to kill himself after all.

He didn’t stop blaming himself.

The dinners were good for Ron too. They might have pulled Percy back from the brink, but they also helped Ron. Maybe he had been honest when he told Percy that he needed them. Percy was there to listen to Ron’s woes as he trained to become an Auror, as he fought more and more with Hermione and feared losing her friendship above all else, as he fought with Harry who was an idiot but would always be Ron’s friend.

Percy knew that Ron would break up with Hermione before Ron himself, and was there for him with hot and greasy fish and chips. He and Hermione made up and tried again three months later. They would break up twice more and the third time would be permanent.

Percy was there with good food and a listening ear for Ron. He was there, once a month, once a month. He was there the day Ron almost didn’t arrive, the day Ron was very lucky and things got too close. It was remarkable that Ron still made it to dinner because if he’d ever had a good excuse to cancel it was that night, sitting in front of Percy with his hair shiny and plastered to his head with manticore spit and blood. It might be that he didn’t want to cancel, that he really needed Percy that night. Percy was there to hear from Ron that he was going to try something quieter, help George around the shop. Even if the twins’ – even if George’s inventions leaned toward the explosive, at least there was no risk of being nearly swallowed alive by a monster.

This was around the time of Ron and Hermione’s second break-up. The Knight Bus project had long since been completed and Percy was starting to write his proposal for the Expansion of the Floo Network. The Knight Bus was good, but having access to the floo would be even better. Not just squibs but also muggle parents of wizards and witches who couldn’t ride the Knight Bus at all and would benefit from a more direct access to the wizarding districts.

(And he just knew there was going to be crazy, rabid opposition. Fierce, angry, mad, but Percy would try anyway because he could see that it would be good.)

Anyway, it was around that time when Percy noticed something about the voices. The voices lied. The old voices that tormented him, they lied. Not always. Some days they could be supportive and some days they said the truths that Percy needed to hear. But they couldn’t always be trusted. Percy had thought that they said the truth more often than not, but he was beginning to revise that thought. Ron would not be better off if Percy disappeared. Ron didn’t hate spending time with him. The voices that said so were lying.

That wasn’t all.

The young voices, the thoughts leaking from other people, they lied too. When Ginny looked at him and thought that she would rather have Fred alive, when she almost wished that Percy had died instead, it didn’t have to be true. She might think it, but it was a lie. Just like the old voices were lying to Percy, her thoughts might be lying to her. Just as it was a lie when Mum had a similar thought, or when Dad mused that maybe Percy didn’t have as much potential as they used to think, since he didn’t have a girlfriend or boyfriend, barely any friends, and he was still a Vice-Head in the irrelevant Department of Transportation.

It made things better. It told Percy that maybe everyone was at least a little bit mad and he was just particularly sensitive to it.

ooOoo

Percy was twenty-nine and he was alive. He had saved money so he could buy the flat where he was living, he worked in the Department of Magical Transportation and still had Titus Titanicus as his boss. He didn’t have a partner but he wasn’t looking for one either. It was a life, headed nowhere as all lives are. Perhaps his was slightly different and more interesting because he had gone through a war, although he didn’t see any combat, and because there was always noise around him.

Sometimes he wished he heard music. It would be more pleasant than the voices and the occasional steps and the bells and the giggles and the metal dragging over stone and the flap of wings. But by now he had gotten used to it and, frankly, it could be much worse. There had been a time, when… well, you know, when it happened, when Fred… Afterwards the voices had been angry and full of hate, but nowadays they were pretty mellow, if a bit sarcastic. They were fine. Percy was fine.

He was alive, he could hear voices and he was in the Ministry Atrium that early morning in November. That cold Tuesday morning when Percy heard what no one else could.

Word was going around the Ministry that they had found and arrested the person responsible for the murder of Wenzel Corridan. They were bringing him in right this minute to the holding cells in the Wizengamot. 

Percy didn’t particularly care. He didn’t care about the murder, the victim or the murderer. Percy was a person of order and murder was a disruption. He didn’t care.

Until he did. Perhaps because Percy was a bit of a romantic even if he was very much the sceptic. He liked to believe that other people could have lives like in the books, that things could be good for them, that there could be harmony in the world. Not him, because he was terribly twisted and broken, but others, they could have that. He was a sceptic with the soul of an idealist and even though he repeated to himself that he didn’t care about the world, the truth was that he did.

He cared. When Percy heard about the murderer being Oliver, Oliver Wood, he was struck with this gut-clenching feeling of denial, his stomach and his throat closing and all the voices in his head rising in a unanimous No! that felt like a punch to the base of his head. It was Oliver, but it couldn’t be, all the voices agreed. Oliver Wood, Hogwarts roommate, Quidditch player and team Captain the last four years of school. Handsome and devastatingly nice. It would have been much easier to dislike Oliver for all his virtues, for being handsome and athletic and talented, if he weren’t so damned nice to everyone.

They had arrested him and the buzz was that they had some very good evidence against him. They had arrested him and half the Ministry had gone up to the Atrium to see him dragged to the holding cells. They had arrested him and all around there was shock and that morbid pleasure that murder cases produce, that hungry curiosity.

Percy was short of breath. The shock had seized his stomach and was pressing down hard, not letting go. Oliver! Percy was feeling dizzy. The place was crowded and excited. It was like holding a box with a swarm of bees and a cloud of flies inside and sticking your head in said box. It was a loud buzz with different notes and variations and Percy was hearing every one of them. Not just a buzz but dozens of different hums and drones talking, talking, talking.

Is that him? I can’t believe it! Death. Kill him! Should be kissed by a dementor. Reminds me of that traitor. War. So surprised. That death Eater chasing me. He is a Quidditch player, isn’t he? I wish I were that famous. He was handsome like him. The man who tried to kill me. Kill him! I wonder if the trial will be public? They should have killed the lot of them after the war. He is a god player. That coward! I would never had thought. Kill, kill, kill. I want to see his execution, dementor kiss is too good for him. I have to get the paper and see what they say. Edna is going to be so jealous when I tell her I saw him. He reminds me of that boy. I was so scared in that forest. I hope he suffers. Oh, wait till I tell the boys. Death!

And a laugh. Laughter.

Percy was hearing laugher.

He couldn’t tell its origin. Usually he could tell who thought what if he stood close or if he knew most of the people around. It was impossible, in the crowded Atrium of the Ministry, to even tell who was speaking let alone who might be laughing internally. Laughing like, like, oh, how to describe a laugh? Laughing like a knife under a tap of water, like a glass of champagne falling to the floor and breaking.

He couldn’t find the source but he still tried because the world was going crazy, Oliver had been accused of a murder, and someone was laughing. He couldn’t. The place was loud and swarming and Percy couldn’t find it. There was bile in his mouth and he had to swallow it back. People had horrible thoughts when there was a murder case.

Death. So Surprised. Hope he is punished. HA! Murder. Wonder how it feels. I want to kill too. Fly. Broom. Azkaban. Ha! So dark. So cold. Handsome like him. HA! I had to kill him or he would have killed me. HaHAha! Kiss is too good. Harsher. Lash him. Haha! Pain. Make him pay. Make them pay. HA!

Percy pushed his way through the crowd, pale and sweaty. He got a very brief glimpse of the wizards taking Oliver down to the holding cells, just a glimpse before someone with wider shoulders pushed his way before Percy. There was an uproar of people thinking about punishments for murder and about murder itself, about pain and torture and killing and being killed and Percy had to get his handkerchief out and spit into it.

The laughter was gone. Like the reflection of the sun on the crystal beads of a bracelet, it had shone right into Percy’s eyes and then disappeared with a quick flick of a wrist. No one was laughing and it seemed that there had never been any laughter, that it was yet another layer of madness from Percy’s mind.

Except…

Except for one, two, two thoughts, two minds. Moving sinuously through the crowd like eels until they reached Percy. Two different people who were certain, absolutely certain, that Oliver Wood didn’t do it.

It wasn’t Percy’s shocked reaction, it wasn’t the wish that it weren’t true because Oliver was so nice, the horror of hearing about it and instinctive denial. It was absolute certainty, hard and glossy, that Oliver was an innocent man.

Oliver was preceeded by the Head Patroller, two Magical Law Enforcement officials at his side.

Two people were certain Oliver didn’t do it and they were saying nothing. Someone had seen him in cuffs and had laughed.

And no one else could possibly know about it, only Percy.