Percy Weasley took a sip of his tea and marked a paragraph on the draft of the new Portkey Office Regulation. It was late afternoon and most of the Ministry employees had long gone home, but he could not bring himself to do the same. Nothing but loneliness awaited him at his little flat near Downing Street, and he was already sure this was going to be one of those nights - those in which he stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep, and thought of how he had failed his family during the war, and how he kept failing them now, every time he found an excuse to refuse his mother's invitations for dinner, every time he...
'This is outrageous!! You have absolutely no idea - I'm going to file a complaint!'
Percy was startled - he wasn't expecting this kind of shouting at such a late hour - and peered out just in time to see a young man furiously exiting Ms Bagnold's office. She looked rather disgruntled and ready to give an angry retort, so Percy decided to cut in.
'What's going on here?'
The young man immediately turned on his heels, and only then Percy recognised Oliver Wood, whom he had shared a dorm with in a time that now seemed someone else's life.
'This Department,' Oliver roared, 'has no respect whatsoever for functional diversity, nor for those who-'
'Mr Wood here,' Ms Bagnold started at the same time, and she sounded almost as furious as him, 'has been charged with illegal magical alteration of a broom, which resulted in an explosion that could have severely harmed him and several bystanders. He, however, keeps insisting this is somehow the Ministry's fault.'
'Because it is!' Oliver shouted back, 'I would never have needed to perform experimental charms on that Firebolt if your Department gave a damn about those who can't ride a standard broom!'
This gave Percy pause. Oliver Wood, unable to ride a broom? Wasn't he the star keeper of Gryffindor -and captain of the team - when they were at Hogwarts?
'Okay,' he said, 'thank you, Ms Bagnold, I'll take it from here. Mr Wood, if you could calm yourself and come to my office, I'm sure we will work this out.
Ms Bagnold seemed satisfied to let the whole thing be someone else's problem, and Oliver mutely followed Percy to his desk, his eyes still flashing with anger. It was a familiar sight. At Hogwarts, Percy and Oliver hadn't really been friends, but he had certainly noticed the fiery temper of the Quidditch captain. He wondered if Oliver remembered him at all.
'So,' Percy said, offering Oliver a chair and carefully putting away his remaining paperwork, 'Please, start at the begining.'
Oliver sighed, and his anger seemed to slightly dissipate.
'In the war,' he began, and then hesitated a bit before going on firmly, 'I lost functioning of my right hand. A curse, the healers could do nothing once they arrived.' He pursed his lips, and only then did Percy notice his hand was wrapped in a black cloth, apparently stiff. 'Of course, that means I cannot longer ride a broom properly, least of all for flying professionaly, as I did before. So during the past years I, uh, I've been working on developing some alternative, because there's no way we can't get a broom adapted to be operated with one hand, am I right? But, apparently, it is harder than it sounds, especially when the government and the official institutions don't seem interested at all, and there are no resources or investigation whatsoever. Which is unbelievable, taking into account how many young wizards and witches were permanently injured in the war.'
Percy winced. Oliver, he pondered, was right. It wasn't the first time he thought the wizarding world was so eager to leave the war behind, that it also had forgotten about those who had been hurt in it. It seemed that his generation was expected to get married, have children, persue whatever dream they had before madness had taken over their world. After all, they were the ones who had survived. Surely they owed that much to the ones who had not. Surely, if Fred hadn't been killed, he would be making more of his life than Percy was. And he, Percy thought, not for the first time, he would have deserved it so much more.
Oliver misread the sudden change in Percy's expression, and some of the previous anger came back to his eyes. 'Listen, I am definitely not saying all this for you to pity me. That's the last thing I want.'
Percy blinked and collected himself. 'Of course. But do go on with your story. I take that, due to the lack of official involvement, you had no choice but to perform experimental magic by yourself.'
Oliver looked at him mildly surprised. 'Yes', and then he paused, deflating a bit, 'But, em. Last week, something went wrong.'
'Your Firebolt exploded', Percy offered after a short silence.
'Yes. Kind of,' Oliver admited grudgingly, 'But it wasn't nearly as dangerous as the lady in Broom Regulatory Control suggested. I mean, I was riding it and was hardly injured. A superficial burn, then I put off the fire and didn't even need to go to St Mungo. And no one else was harmed.'
Percy stared at him. At that moment, he could read all kind of feelings on Oliver's face. There was some embarrasment, but also determination, and defiance - Percy wondered if he realised his working hand was clenched in a fist - , and a hint of desperation. Percy thought of the boy he had met at Hogwarts, when they both were but children, unscarred, unconcerned. Flying had meant everything to Oliver back then. He had been fiercely passionate about it, even too much. It was not fair that he had been deprived of something that was so intrinsecally part of him.
And yet, Oliver wasn't giving up. He was fighting with all he got, even if it meant risking his own life and getting his Firebolt to burst into flames. Percy sighed. He, meanwhile, couldn't even bring himself to attend family dinner to make his mother happy without succumbing to self-loathing and painfully wishing, yet again, that he had died instead of Fred. Percy was the one who had never fit in the family, anyway. He was the one who had turned his back on them.
But, unfair as it might be, Percy was alive. And that, at least, meant he could help. The thought brought him a certain comfort, the kind he hadn't felt for quite a while.
'Alright, Oliver,' and he realised he had used his first name, 'First of all, you are going to pay your fine.'
Oliver opened his mouth in order to protest, but Percy stopped him.
'I am sorry, but it is either that or me having you arrested. You do realise blowing up Firebolts is not something the head of the Department of Magical Transportation can condone. Secondly,' he added hastily, before Oliver could interrupt, 'Tomorrow you're bringing your ideas and the results of your investigation so far, I'm going to write to Shacklebolt, and we'll see what can be done. If you are so willing to put yourself in harm's way in order to ride a racing broom again, it may as well be with ministerial financing'.
As you surely have noticed, English is not my first language - and this is the first fic I've ever published. So please let me know any mistakes I should correct! I'd absolutely love any kind of feedback.
Chapter 2: The Second Visit
Thank you so much to all who read/commented/bookmarked the first chapter! You made my day :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Percy didn't expect Oliver to arrive at the Ministry first hour in the morning; after all, Percy himself was one of the very few who roamed the silent halls of his Department since the very moment the gates opened, quite before his own turn started, and he was mildly aware that this wasn't the commonest or healthiest habit in the world. So, he took care of some paperwork, and then kept his promise of talking to the Minister, who was predictably receptive. The department's numbers of late were outstanding, something Percy was rather proud of, and Shacklebolt was a fair man. Percy rather liked him - he had to admit he was certainly much worthier than his predecessors -, even though he suspected the feeling was not completely mutual.
When lunchtime arrived and there was still no sign of Oliver, Percy felt a pang of disappointment. He really had believed he would help make a difference for once, but maybe Oliver hadn't thought him very trustworthy after all. Well, who could blame him?, a nasty voice said in his head. That's unfair!, protested another voice, much gentler, but quickly sushed by the first one, which added: You did fail your own family quite spectacularly.
Percy shook his head and forced himself to focus back on the pile of pergamines on his desk. Hours went by as he read the inform on the updating on the Floo Network, carefully adding some corrections in his flowery handwriting. It was already 5 pm when, after a gentle knock on the door, a familiar face peeked into his office.
'Is this a good time? I'm really sorry, I work in the mornings and couldn't make it before. I probably should have told you yesterday.'
Percy blinked at Oliver, who was smiling apologetically and carrying a quite worn-out leather briefcase. His hair was completely messed up, as if he had all but ran all the way there. A small wave of relief flooded over Percy, and the gentler voice in his head gleefuly scolded him: See? You don't always have to think the worst!
'No, don't worry, it's alright. Make yourself at home,' Percy said, and he cleared a space in his desk with a flip of his wand. 'I'll finish this up and be with you in a moment'.
Oliver beamed at him -he definitely was generous with those all-teeth smiles- and settled himself on the other side of the desk. He waited patiently as Percy read the last pages of the Floo Network inform, even though it was quite obvious that stillness didn't quite suit him.
'Okay. So, I've got good news,' Percy announced as he finally tossed aside the inform. 'I have been granted permission to allocate a small part of the Department's funds to your project, as long as you conveniently submit a written application, which I must approve. Afterwards, you should be granted access to the Ministry's investigation facilities and resources. You will also be allowed to ask for whatever equipment you need, and probably at least one more expert will be taken in to work on the project.'
Oliver stared at him in awe.
'That's... that's absolutely wonderful!
Percy frowned a bit.
'Well, as I'm sure you understand, it will take some time. You can start working as soon as you submit the application and I sign it, if everything is correct, but the... the equipment, the hiring and all that, well, it might take a little longer,' he warned.
'How longer?', Oliver asked, carefully.
'It depends on what exactly you request, but I'd say a couple of months.'
Oliver's smile grew even wider. Merlin, he was going to hurt himself. How could someone's cheeks stretch so wide?
'A couple of months is barely nothing. I thought - I thought I'd never...'. He shooked his head, still grinning. 'Well, thank you, Percy. I mean - I believe what I said yesterday, this is part of your job, but... you're the first one who bothers to do it.'
Percy blushed a bit. He liked to think he was good at his job -it was the only thing he was good at, actually-, but it wasn't that often that he heard it from someone else.
It turned out that Oliver had already written the application required -apparently, this wasn't the first time he'd asked for public funding, but he'd always been denied-, so the formalities were over soon. Percy read the form carefully: Oliver was very compelling, but he wasn't going to hand over his Department's resources if the project wasn't as serious and well-thought as he'd been made to think. After noting a couple of details and asking Oliver for clarification in some points, Percy felt satisfied.
'When did you learn all this?', he asked curiously before he could stop himself. After all, most of the charms required to building a broom were extremely advanced, and Oliver had never seemed too bothered by that sort of thing back at Hogwarts. He just liked to play Quidditch, or so Percy had thought.
'Well, after I lost my hand, I couldn't keep playing, as I did before the war. I had to leave the Puddlemore United and I... went through a rough time,' Oliver said, and there was an uncharacteristic sadness in his voice. Percy felt bad for having asked, but Oliver kept talking, more firmly now. 'My therapist helped a lot, though, and in time I understood that I couldn't concede defeat and give up on myself, least of all when I wasn't even thirty years old'.
Percy was surprised at the mention of the therapist. It wasn't something usual in the wizardling world. In fact, it was quite frowned upon, a sign of weakness, or of being so alone in the world that one needed to pay in order to be listened to. For all he knew, no one in his family had attended a therapist, apart from George, but who could blame George? And even he didn't ever talk about it, certainly not as carelessly as Oliver.
I couldn't concede defeat and give up on myself, least of all when I wasn't even thirty years old. Percy felt some discomfort in the pit of the stomach.
'My dream of being a professional Quidditch player had been taken from me', Oliver continued, apparently oblivious to Percy's inner turmoil, 'but it didn't mean I couldn't do other things related to my passion. I started training kids. That's what I do now, I'm coach to a team of children in the city, still too young to go to Hogwarts'. Now, Oliver was smiling fondly as he spoke, and Percy couldn't help to forget his unsettlement as he imagined a bunch of tiny eight-year-olds simultaneously adoring and being a bit terrified of Oliver, just like the Gryffindor team used to act. 'And some time later, I also starting doing research. I want to play again. Besides, I've found out it is rather thrilling, the functioning of a broom. It is deeply connected to the wizard's mind, or the witch's, like... it's really advanced magic, and I think if we could somehow potentiate that connection, we could ride the broom using only our minds and the weight balance of our bodies. It shouldn't be something so difficult. After all, Quidditch players do it all the time, in order to catch the quaffle with both hands, or for batting... It just can't be done for very long periods of time, or you'll lose balance and fall, and obviously you can't... do a pirouette, for example, single-handedly. But if we understood this connection between the broom and the wizard's psyche, and we learned how to better use it, there wouldn't be such limitatons'.
Then Oliver stopped and the enthusiastic gleam of his eyes was replaced by a sheepish smile.
'I'm sorry, I sometimes get a bit carried away. You surely need to go home.'
Percy looked around. Most of his co-workers had already gone home, or were saying their goodbyes and turning off the lights with a flip of their wands. He thought of his empty, silent flat, and of the dinner invitation his mother had sent a couple of hours ago, which now laid buried under a pile of documentation on Portkeys.
'Actually, I thought I'd stay a little longer', he admitted.
'You kind of labor exploit yourself', Oliver said, smiling, but he didn't reach for his briefcase.
Percy stared at him carefully.
'You can stay too, if you want', he finally said, gesturing to the part of the desk he'd cleared for Oliver before. 'Just, don't accuse me of labor exploiting you'.
I originally intended more things to happen in this chapter, but it felt too rushed, so... it turned out to be mostly set-up (sorry!). In the next one, however, Percy and Oliver will be working together, and new characters will make their appearance, so we'll get more development ;)
Chapter 3: The Little Banshee
This one comes a little late, so I apologise for that! It is a bit longer, though. Please let me know what you think -and, as always, any mistakes I should correct!
As Percy found out the following weeks, Oliver Wood was actually a great person to work with.
Before he was given a proper working space, Oliver would nonchalantly come to Percy's office and occupy what both of them had started referring to as "his side of the desk". Percy knew it should have bothered him, but for some reason it was nice. Having grown up with six siblings meant that he valued his personal space, but also that he was used to having people and noise and life all around him. When he had first moved to his own appartment, he'd enjoyed the solitude and the freedom of finally having a place for himself, but those days were long gone: in his life after the war, the absolute quietness of the place only made him anxious. In the Ministry, Oliver was surprisingly not especially noisy, but he was restless. Barely glancing up from his paperwork, Percy could see him toying with his quill, changing posture on his chair, or absent-mindedly tugging at his own hair when he was particularly absorbed in thought. Also, Oliver often asked about Percy opinion on one matter or another, even though he had honestly told him that he didn't know that much about brooms besides the legal aspects corcerning them. 'Nonsense!', Oliver had said, 'I need someone to ramble to, and you're way nicer than the lady in Broom Regulation Control'. Percy had smiled a bit at this -definitely, Oliver hadn't had the best start with poor Ms Bagnold- and had listened with genuine interest to the young man's theories on wandless magic applications on broom flight.
Having Oliver around also meant quite a change in Percy's long nights in the office. Since he hadn't quit his job as the children's team coach, Oliver usually came in the afternoon and stayed late. Percy and him often ordered takeout, and Oliver was adamant that they absolutely could not keep working while they ate, as Percy had used to, so they ended up doing late-evening breaks and chatting over dinner. It was another thing that Percy found surprisingly nice. Oliver was an easy person to spend time with -he did most of the talking, to start with, and he never gave Percy the worried glances his family usually buried him in. He did ask questions, lots of them, but at least he never pressed for an answer if Percy didn't provide one. Despite this, Percy found himself telling Oliver things, like that time he'd commented on the dark circles under his eyes:
'Bad night yesterday?'
'I had a bad dream,' Percy had answered, and almost immediately felt a bit ridiculous.
Oliver, however, had looked at him understandingly and said, in a serious voice he'd rarely used since their first conversations, 'I get some of those, too.'
'What about?', Percy had asked in a low voice.
'The war. Usually.'
'You could go home earlier, if you want', Oliver had suggested some time later that same day, before frowning a bit at himself, 'I mean, you don't need me to say, you're my boss and not the other way around, I know that, but em.'
For some reason, his rambling had made Percy smile. 'Honestly, I'd rather stay.'
And Oliver hadn't argued or told him that he worked too much, but he'd nodded again and then told him about one of the kids in his Quidditch team, who'd almost hit himself with a Bludger before Oliver vanished the damn thing just in time ('And now we're short of a Bludger, but really, this kid? He's going to be either the worst or the most terrifying Beater who ever got to Hogwarts').
Moreover, Oliver never asked about the bunch of family dinner invitations that had arrived at Percy's desk and been refused. He'd, however, frowned a bit when he'd heard Percy instruct his secretary - who was actually a scholar in practice, a smart and willful kid but also a nervous wreck most of the times- to tell his mother that he'd be working all nights that week, and that he was really sorry and would write to her soon, but she could not use the official mail of the Department to contact him. Percy had felt guilty as he said it, and half expected Oliver to call him out on his lie -he knew Percy could easily leave work early if he wanted to-, but thankfully he decided against commenting on it.
The truth was, Percy was starting to find a somehow pleasant routine in his life -he'd be too embarrassed to admit it to Oliver himself, but his constant presence and their slightly strange, incipient friendship were making him feel less lonely than he had in many years-, and he was not ready to throw it away by sinking in the emotional turmoil that family dinners always meant for him. Family dinners reminded him that he'd abandoned them all during the war, that he'd never fit in, that Fred was missing, that probably it would be much better (and definitely fairer) if Percy was the one missing, and that he'd been hurting his mother over and over by refusing to come to the previous dinners anyway. All that could wait another week, he thought. After all, Oliver was soon moving to his own office, which he would share with some renowned expert they were yet to hire, and Percy would most likely be alone with himself again. He might as well enjoy the relative happiness while it lasted.
But family, apparently, could not wait another week, or so it seemed the afternoon his youngest brother appeared and dropped a sulky toddler on his (their?) desk.
'Ron? What are you doing here? And why on Earth have you brought Rose with you?'
'Hi to you too, Perce. I, well. I need a favour.'
Percy stared at him warily.
'What kind of favour?'
'The babysitting kind,' Ron admitted. At least he had the decency of looking a bit ashamed.
'Listen, I'm taking Hermione out on a date!', Ron exclaimed, very quickly. 'And I was going to leave Rosie with Harry! But apparently he is doing field work tonight, so he can't take care of her, unless I want my daughter to be kidnapped by a Potions smuggler or something like that, and Ginny has a match, and there's no one else available... Come on, mate, you work here and I know you always stay late anyway. I mean, I could pick her up at yours if you prefer, I don't know, but please? Please?'
Percy's head was already hurting, but there was only one thing he could say, really.
'Okay. Just... don't be too late,' he sighed.
Ron beamed and proceeded to inform him of what were supposed to be basic toddler-care notions, which left Percy even more dazed than before.
When Oliver arrived to the office barely half an hour later, he was met with the sight of a terrified Percy, desperately trying to calm down a baby who was howling at the top of her lungs.
'I don't know what's happening to her!', Percy exclaimed, almost pleadingly. He knew this was far from his usually composed manners, but it was beyond him to care.
Oliver recovered from his initial shock and chuckled. Percy was almost about to start yelling at him -or crying along with little Rose, because honestly, there was not much else to do- when he spoke: 'Let me try, hand her over.'
Percy complied immediately, and stared in awe at Oliver as he softly rocked the wailing baby up and down, whispering sweet nothings at her, and it actually worked. The crying first turn into a reluctant sobbing, then stopped altogether, and suddenly the little traitor was cooing over the noise as Oliver shook his keys at her nose.
'How did you manage that?' Percy finally asked. Oliver genuinely laughed this time.
'I'm good with kids,' he shrugged. 'The ones I train are definitely older than this one, though. But you like me, don't you, little banshee?', he asked, playfully poking Rose's nose. She actually giggled.
Percy sighed. 'Little banshee indeed. I'm positive all the Department hates me right now.'
'They'll get over it,' Oliver dismissed quickly. 'I'm curious though, how did we exactly end up with a baby?'
Percy had to smile at that. 'I'm glad you're taking joint responsibility, because I have no chance of getting her to survive until his father comes to get her. She's my niece, Rose.' He sighed. 'Apparently Ron and Hermione were going on a date. Why would you need to go on a date if you're already a married couple?'
'Woah there, Mr Romanticism,' Oliver chuckled. 'Ever heard of keeping the flame alive?'
Percy was going to retort, but he was interrupted by Rose, who apparently felt ignored and let out a single, warning sob.
'Oh, no, little one, no. Not again, okay? We're going to find something fun to play, yes?' Oliver quickly offered, rocking her on his hip.
'Play,' Rose agreed.
It turned out that there were not many things to play with in their office, so somehow Rose ended up cheerfully ripping Percy's report on Side-Long Apparition Security, while she happily told them: 'Present!'.
'I think she believes it's gift wrap. Since we are, well, letting her rip it.' Oliver said, apologetically, although he was hardly to blame. 'Hey, Rosie. Maybe we'll find something else to play? This is Percy's work, okay? He'll be sad if we ruin it'.
'It's okay,' Percy said, because surely he could get it magically repaired (at least, he hoped so), and definitely, if this was the price for keeping Rose from starting to scream again, he was more than willing to pay it. Oliver smiled at him as if he'd said something endearing.
After that, they tried charming Oliver's scale model of a Firebolt so that it would fly around Rose and poke at her, which kept her delightfully squealing until she managed to catch it and started chewing on it, so they had to take it away from her. Then they had to change her diaper, which was an experience that made Percy both hate and admire Ron with all his strength, but at least it allowed them to discover that in the baby bag his brother had left there were also some of Rose's toys. Percy offered her a building set.
'Would you like to build a tower, Rosie? So that Oliver and I can do some work, yes?'
'No!' she refused. Percy frowned at her. Before Oliver arrived, she'd been trully upset, but now she seemed to enjoy being difficult.
'No work,' she clarified with glee. Oliver snorted, and they ended up helping Rose build the tower, although eventually she was engrossed enough that they could actually read a couple of pages. It didn't last very long, though, because apparently after building the tower the logical next step was demolishing it, and Rose was not quiet about it.
By the end of the evening, Rosie had fallen asleep in Oliver's arms, and Percy thought she looked actually adorable like that -no one would suspect the devastating hurricane she turned into when she was awake. He also felt an overwhelming wave of fondness towards Oliver. He'd had absolutely no reason to spend his own evening helping Percy take care of his baby niece, but he'd proven to be amazing at it.
'Maybe,' Oliver said, very quietly, 'if we're really silent and I don't move too much, we can get some work done now.'
Percy looked at the clock. He was so, so tired.
'I think I'd rather have dinner and call it a day, once Ron comes pick her. It can't be long.'
Oliver smiled at him and looked quite relieved. Percy almost felt glad to know he wasn't totally immune to Hurricane Rosie either.
They hadn't finished dinner yet -they'd ordered sushi, this time- when Ron and Hermione arrived, both looking very happy and considerably more energetic than Percy felt.
'Thank you so much, Percy!'
'We know she can be a handful, sometimes...'
'Really, thank you!'
'It's more Oliver's merit, actually...', Percy started, but he was interrupted by Ron, who'd suddenly clapped a hand to his forehead.
'Oh, I almost forgot! Mom's asked me to tell you we're having family dinner on Thursday. And you can't get away again, mate, you're going to forget our faces.'
Percy felt something unpleasant at the pit of the stomach. 'I really have a lot of work to do...'
'Oh, come on. Everyone gets nights off. You can't lock yourself up in your office like a monk all the time. And Mom is worried.'
Percy sighed as the guilt creeped over him. The silence turned uncomfortable as he thought of something to say. Even Rosie, who had woken up when her parents arrived, was silent, sleepily playing with her mother's hair.
All of a sudden, Oliver spoke.
'I could go with you, if you want. So that we could get some work done all the same? If your family is okay with it, it is.'
'Totally okay!' Ron exclaimed immediately. Hermione looked at Oliver in mild surprise, but she said nothing.
Percy, for his part, was completely perplexed. He and Oliver didn't actually work in the same thing. He had absolutely no need of taking him along if he wanted to get some work done at the Burrow, and Oliver knew it.
But he would be really relieved to have him by his side if he had to face family dinner. On the other hand...honestly, he was getting too used to count on Oliver. It couldn't be healthy, or it wouldn't be when Oliver left. But, meanwhile...
'Alright,' Percy said. 'If you really don't mind'.
Oliver smiled at him, one of those all-teeth smiles he displayed so easily.
'I don't mind at all.'
Chapter 4: We Are All a Little Broken
I know this one took quite long again (college got in the way), and I'm sorry! I think it's also quite a change of tone if compared to the third chapter, but I hope you'll like it as well :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Once the door closed behind Ron, Hermione and Rosie, Percy felt Oliver's eyes on him.
'Okay,' Oliver said softly. 'So, I think we need to have a conversation.'
Of course , Percy's cruelest inner voice sighed defeatedly, He's finally realised how fucked up you are, and he's already regretting his offer.
Apparently, Oliver could read his mind, because he added reassuringly, 'I am not regretting it. But I think you need to tell me... what to expect.'
'Percy. You know I really don't want to intrude, but... You shiver every time anyone mentions visiting your family. If you tell me what's so horrid about it, I can be prepared. I can help.'
'Oh. It's not - it isn't horrid,' Percy said, his face reddening in embarrasment.
Oliver stared at him carefully.
'They are... nice to you?'
'Nicer than I deserve'.
'What is that supposed to mean?!' Oliver snapped.
Suddenly, he looked truly angry. In a sense, Oliver's fury was much like his smiles - it took all over his face. However, unlike the smiles, Percy hated it. It was the way Oliver had looked when he had first seen in the Ministry: angry, sad, and a hint of desperate. Oliver wasn't supposed to look like that.
Percy felt he couldn't take it anymore. He just wanted to be anywhere, anywhere but there.
'Listen, you really don't have to come.'
'Percy!' Oliver shouted frustratedly.
'I am serious!' Percy shouted back.
'So am I! You're scaring me!'
Startled, Percy blinked up at Oliver. The anger in his face hadn't completely dissipated, but it was now mostly overtaken by worry. Percy felt a pang in his chest. Oliver was worried about him. He genuinely thought his family was hurting him. He thought Percy was the good guy.
He felt so, so tired.
'Listen. I will explain. Just... not here. Please?' he sighed, and forced himself to go on. 'I need a - a coffee'.
They went to a small café near Percy's appartment -and, when Oliver hold onto his arm for the Side-Along Apparition, Percy felt the most absurd wish to hide his face into his shoulder and let Oliver hug him. Honestly, I must be really tired .
Of course, he didn't.
By the time they sat, each of them sipping a smoking hot coffee, the café was almost empty and Percy assumed there was no point in postponing the inevitable.
'The truth is,' he started resignedly, 'that you have it all wrong. My family isn't at all to blame. They're really good people. Well, you know this, you have met most of them.'
'People aren't always at home the same way they are with outsiders.'
Merlin, what had he actually done for Oliver so he would blindly take his side over George, Harry or Ron's? Not to mention Charlie - Percy and Oliver hadn't been more than acquantainces at Hogwarts, but even he knew Charlie was somewhat of a childhood Quidditch hero for him.
'I know, but, well, it isn't the case. The problem is - well, me.' He sighed. 'I've always been different, I suppose. I never fit in very well to begin with. I mean, you get a bunch of kids who are social butterflies, with more than a tendency to defy authority, all of them in the Quidditch team... and you get me. I always thought they were the ones in the wrong. I mean, do not misunderstand, there are lots of things about them I still don't get. But I suppose I always thought all that effort, all that studying, all that being the boring good kid... it would pay off, you know? I thought one day I'd look at my life and be proud of where I'd got. Merlin, I was such a stuck-up kid. And when - when it all started...'
He paused for a moment. It was Voldemort's return, Oliver didn't need him to say that. But he needed to find the right words.
'They all warned me. They told me You-Know-Who was back and Fudge was an inept imbecile. They told me he'd only promoted me in order to keep tabs on our family and, through them, on Harry and Dumbledore. But I refused to believe them. I got so, so angry. I was making it, you know? I had this dream, of becoming someone, I even thought of being Minister of Magic some day. I was so proud of that promotion, and I was convinced I'd earned it. Them saying it was just me being used... well, it hurt. So I shut them out. I... I betrayed them. I even publicly condemned them for their support of the Order. I mean, I honestly thought they were wrong about everything, but still I was a traitor. And, if I'm being honest, I believed what I chose to believe. And I preferred to believe my whole family were engaged in some sort of terrorist operation than swallowing my pride and admitting my own failure.'
'You chose the right side in the end, though,' Oliver said.
'I only realised being wrong after You-Know-Who's return was public knowledge and even the Ministry accepted it. But I was still too proud -and too ashamed- to make amends with my family. So much for Gryffindor bravery'. He took a deep breath. 'After the Ministry fell to the Death Eaters, I finally understood I had to do something. But by then I was trapped. I don't know how I made it out the first purge; I come from a well-known famly of bloodtraitors, after all. I suppose they couldn't kill everyone at once. Or maybe they still believed I could be useful against my family, I wouldn't blame them. But - being there, those days, working and trying to go unnoticed in a Ministry controlled by Death Eaters, watching they murder and destroy everything and everyone and not being able to do barely a thing... It was awful. When I finally made it out, I was able to take with me some information. I gave it to someone connected to the Order, but I couldn't contact my family. The night of the Battle of Hogwarts, I was tipped off by Aberforth and I went there. I finally saw my family and I apologised to them. They forgave me and we fought side by side. I finally was in the right side of history - I finally was one of them. It was strange: we were in the middle of a horrifying battle, but I felt almost happy. I... I made a joke.' He swallowed. 'Fred laughed. He said he didn't remember me joking since... well, I'll never know. H-he was killed then. Because of me. Because I couldn't even do things right once.'
Percy felt his hand was trembling, and he tried to hid it under the table. He felt so vulnerable. He didn't even remember why he was telling Oliver all that. He only knew it was a mistake, but he didn't seem to be able to stop.
Oliver's hand covered his, stopping it for retreating further. Percy glanced up. Oliver's look was sad, stricken, but reassuring.
'Percy. It was not your fault. Many, many people died that day. It wasn't the fault of any of us. It was the Death Eaters', and only theirs.
Percy shook his head, but he didn't refuse the comfort of Oliver's hand on his.
'I could have done something, I know it. Even... even if it were shuting the fuck up, and not distracting him. But I didn't, and now... he's gone. And every time I go to my family's to dinner, I get to see his empty place in the table, and I know it's empty because of me. So I don't go, and it makes Mum sad, and I only keep making things worse. And...' He paused for a moment, and then he decided to get it all out. It was surprisingly cathartic, and after all, he'd probably already scared Oliver away. 'And the worst part is that I know I'm not even entitled to feeling like this. Not only because I betrayed them or because it was my fault, but mostly because every single person in my family has suffered way more than me. And they keep going. Bill, who was bitten by a werewolf; Ginny, who was possessed by You-Know-Who himself when she was eleven; Ron, who... and even George, Oliver, even him. They all have started their lives over, they've married and had kids, and they're building beautiful families with wonderful children like Rosie. And I, who sat in a Ministry office during most of the war, I am the one who can't seem to get past it. It's pathetic. And it kills my mother, I know it kills her, every time I see her look at me with eyes full of pity. I hurt her if I go, and I hurt her even more if I don't. And I don't know why I can't get a hold of myself once and for all.'
By the time he finally stopped talking, his mouth was dry. When he reached for the cup of coffee with his left hand, he realised the right one was still into Oliver's. It was comforting and a bit strange at the same time. They both kept quiet for a moment, before Oliver carefully spoke.
'Percy, there should be no shame in how you feel. It doesn't make you weak, it just makes you human. All of us, and that includes you, went through a war. We are all a little broken.' He seemed to doubt for a moment, and then he put his other hand -the one wrapped in black cloth- on the table. He smiled sadly. 'I myself am more than a little broken.'
Percy's chest ached. Without really thinking about it, he put his free hand over Oliver's stiff one. He immediately regretted his comforting gesture -after all, Oliver couldn't feel it-, but the other man's sad smile in return kept him in place.
'But that's just it', he went on. 'You... you lost your hand. And here you are. Full of life, and energy, and never giving up. Fighting for being able to play Quidditch again. Flashing heart-throbbing smiles all around and comforting me. I know it wasn't always like that, you've told me, and I'm absolutely not saying it was easy, but... you made it. You got your life back on track, like everyone else has. And of course you're still adjusting, because there are difficulties, and physical obstacles, but...' Percy hesitated. He really didn't know how to phrase it delicately, but he assumed it was already to late for going back. 'It's not your fault you've lost your hand. You can't avoid it. I, however... Why do I feel like this?'
Oliver's eyes opened wide.
'It's not your fault either how you feel, Percy. In fact, it would be remarkable if you didn't feel like this'. He looked at Percy in the eye. 'Listen to me. You are entitled to pain. Only once you allow yourself this you'll be able to start healing. Just because you don't have a physical wound to prove it, it doesn't mean you haven't been hurt. And every person processes sorrow, guilt and grief in their own way. No one should feel forced to measure their suffering against other people's'.
Oliver paused for a moment, apparently looking for words. Then he went on with the same soft but steady voice. His left hand held firmly onto Percy's.
'Besides, I think you're seriously overestimating everyone around you. I'd be surprised if Ginny didn't still sometimes hear Tom Riddle inside her head, if Ron didn't ever wake up screaming, if George didn't hurt every time he sees himself in the mirror. When... When I dream, I always have both hands, and every time when I wake up something breaks inside of me. Sometimes I find myself crying because I've reached out for my wand with my right hand, forgetting for a second that I've lost it. If you are pathetic, then all of us are. I definitely felt so for a long time.' Oliver stopped for a second again. 'As I told you, my psychologist had an important role in it. I know it is not very well-seen in our community, but that's just absurd. If you were willing to consider it, I believe she'd really help. But also, you need to know that you also helped a lot.'
'Me?', repetead Percy, completely lost. Oliver smiled at him.
'Of course. You've trusted me when no one else would. You've given me the hope and the resources to try and prove that I am not a broken toy. That made a difference, Percy'.
Suddenly, Oliver's smile turned into a playful grin, much more similar to the ones he would show at the office.
'Right before joining your Department, I was in a much better place than before, but I wasn't flashing heart-throbbing smiles all around.'
Somehow, it made Percy laugh. Maybe part of it was letting the tension out, but it still felt good, especially when Oliver joined him.
And long after they had said their goodbyes, in the loneliness of his appartment, Percy also cried, but it felt good too. As Oliver had said, only after he'd made peace with his own pain could he start healing.
I know you were expecting the Weasley family dinner, but I really felt Percy and Oliver needed to have this conversation before. Dinner will be in the next chapter, and I believe it will also bring some more Rosie-shaped cuteness ;)
Chapter 5: A Dawning Realization
First of all, I have to say this: I am terrible at planning ahead. Again, I honestly thought the rest of the Weasley family were going to arrive at this one. In my defense, I have half of Percy and Oliver's visit to The Burrow already written - originally, this was going to be a much longer chapter- but, as finals approach, I really have no time (and no inspiration) to finish it up properly right now. So, I thought it was best to update the first part of the chapter, and I promise I'll be back with the rest of it as soon as I get rid of my exams (in about a month or so).
I am sorry, and thank you so much for your comments on the last one! You are awesome! <3
Next morning, still drowsy after a night of short sleep, Percy walked to his office wondering what had made him open up so much. Maybe it had been Oliver's kindness, or maybe just the fact that Percy had been exhausted. Mostly, he was glad he had. Oliver's understanding words, the comforting softness of his hand over his, and even the sole fact of admitting out loud his concerns, somehow had eased the significant weight he'd been carrying on his shoulders. A small but nagging part of him was, however, terrified that his friend would now look at him with the same pity his Mum's eyes used to show.
Nothing like pity showed on Oliver's face, however, when he stormed into Percy's office only a few minutes later, sporting a wide grin.
'Good morning, Percy!'
'Good morning,' Percy replied, bewildered. 'What are you doing here? I mean... you usually don't come until the afternoon.'
'My official contract starts today, remember?', Oliver replied, somehow managing to sound amused and fondly exasperated at the same time. 'Quite a boss you are.'
'Oh'. Percy's brows jumped up. 'Of course. And that means Ms Whisp arrives today, too.'
'She does?', Oliver exclaimed excitedly.
Ophelia Whisp was the scientist who had been selected, after thoroughly examining her curriculum, to work with Oliver on his project. Her professional insight would probably be the main advantage of the Ministry's support, even more so than the equipment and financial aid; Percy knew Oliver was really looking forward to meeting her.
'Indeed', Percy said, falling back into familiar ground as he turned to rummage in his drawer. 'And as we discussed, you two have from now on the laboratory 214 at your disposition', he added, offering Oliver a set of keys and earning himself a smile.
'Thanks. Will you help me move, then?'
However, most of Oliver's stuff was scattered all over Percy's office, and it was quite difficult to concentrate on paperwork as his friend fluttered around him, filling boxes and folders and being - Percy suspected - purposefully noisy. So, of course, he ended up losing most of his morning helping Oliver.
'Technically,' Percy grumbled, 'I am your boss, not your secretary.'
'You know I don't really do technicalities, Perce,' Oliver happily replied, winking at him.
Eventually, they managed to settle everything in the lab in acceptable order, just in time for Ms Whisp's arrival. She was a serious but seemingly nice witch, a bit younger than Percy had expected, with blond hair tightly tied up in a bun. Her grip was firm when Percy shook her hand, and as soon as Oliver started filling her in with the state of his investigation, she gave him her full attention. She seems alright, Percy decided, and wished them both good luck before returning to his office.
Against all odds, he still managed to turn his day into a productive one, finally enjoying several hours without interruptions. After lunch, however, he started feeling a bit lonely. He frowned at his half-empty desk. Had it always been so big? What did he use all that space for, before Oliver?
At that time, Oliver would be usually arriving, with his easy smile, two cups of coffee and his worn-out briefcase. He would sit at his end of the desk and work in comfortable silence, save for two or three random comments. And as night came closer, his chatter would progressively increase, so Percy would eventually give in and call for a rest while they shared some dinner. Percy felt a slight sadness grow inside of him. He'd honestly miss that routine, even if he knew from the beginning it was doomed to end. On the other hand...
Trying not to give it much thought, Percy went to the break room - which he had entered a total of two times during all his years in the Ministry - and found the instant coffee maker. He hesitated for a second before grabbing three mugs.
He knocked twice at the Laboratory 214's door before entering.
'Good afternoon. I wondered if you'd be up for a coffee break?'
Both Oliver and Ms Whisp blinked at him in surprise, but while she remained slightly wary, Oliver offered him a gigantic grin.
'Definitely! Thank you so much, Percy.'
'Just not in the lab,' Percy told him. 'Prevention of occupational hazards.'
Oliver rolled his eyes, but he seemed almost fond.
'Of course, boss.'
Percy felt himself blush for no reason and wondered, for the first time, how would his friendship with Oliver look from the outside. Surely Ms Whisp would think he had absolutely no authority as head of the Department, or worse, that he was seriously playing favourites.
Or, maybe, just that you're a friendly boss. Don't fret, told him the nicest of his inner voices (which, lately, sounded a bit like Oliver sometimes).
But you are playing favourites. You're taking an employee to dinner at your family's tonight! , the meaner voice reasoned. Percy decided to ignore them both.
'And you, Ms Whisp? Are you coming?'
'I... of course. Let me file these.'
They sat in the stairs outside the building, letting the sun warm their skin. Oliver stretched happily and tasted his coffee, and immediately grimaced.
'I think you forgot the sugar,' he said.
'Oh. Right, sorry,' Percy said, and he promptly summoned the sugar bowl from the break room. Both Oliver and Ms Whisp stared at him in awe.
'Was that wandless magic, Mr Weasley?' she asked.
'... Yes?' Percy answered, confused. He knew not all wizards could do wandless magic, but it wasn't a particularly rare ability either. It was taught at Hogwarts, in fact, even if to be honest most students failed miserably at it.
'And you summoned it all the way from the break room? That's amazing, Percy!' Oliver said.
'Really, it is not. It is a pretty common skill.'
'I wouldn't say so, Mr Weasley, not at that distance', Ms Whisp intervened. 'I mean, of course most renowned witchs and wizards can do it, but such a control is rare among most people. And even more remarkable is the fact that you chose to do wandless magic when you've brought your wand with you, so you had no need for it. It shows you're really comfortable with it'.
'Well, em, thanks,' Percy started, feeling his ears redden a bit, but Ms Whisp didn't seem to pay him a lot of attention.
'I wonder...' she started.
'Mr Wood and I were talking before precisely about this,' she said. 'As his investigation so far has already proven, the functioning of a broom is deeply connected to the wizard's mind. We can alter the material and magical structure of the broom so this connection grows stronger, and that's what we're focusing at... but we suspect it would be much, much more efficient if the wizard had a high skill in wandless magic'.
'It would mean... strengthening the connection between the broom and the mind, but from both sides, not just the broom', Oliver clarified.
'It makes sense,' Percy admitted. 'How are your wandless magic skills, Oliver?'
His friend made a face.
'Rather lacking, I'm afraid.'
'But maybe... you could help, Mr Weasley? Only for some tests with the broom...'
Ms Whisp's eyes glinted eagerly, but as much as Percy respected her passion for her work, he raised his hands up.
'Very unlike Oliver, I've never been a Quidditch guy, and I can barely hold myself on a regular Nimbus using both hands. I honestly don't think I would last a minute on an experimentally altered broom with one incapacitated arm, as I assume it would be necessary for the tests to be useful. Besides, I am not the one this broom is supposed to help.' He looked at the disappointment in Ms Whisp and Oliver's faces and sighed. 'I think I can, however, help Oliver improve his wandless magic. I'm not half as good as you two seem to think, but I can teach you what I know.'
Oliver beamed immediately, but Ms Whisp frowned in skepticism.
'Are you aware how long these lessons would take? Quite more than the time you'd waste in a couple of tests,' she pointed out.
'Well, I'd be happy to help,' Percy replied.
The three of them sipped their coffees thoughtfully. Then, Oliver spoke.
'But what will happen to everyone else? I mean... Once the broom prototipe is designed and ready for distribution... I don't think most of the potential users will be proficient in wandless magic. Just regular people who've lost an arm, or a leg, or...'
Percy met his worried gaze and felt a pang of affection in his chest.
'I don't know,' he admitted. 'Maybe we should organize some courses from the Ministry. Sort of rehabilitation, I suppose. But first you need to design the broom, and then, depending on the details, I'll talk to Kingsley about the additional steps.'
Ms Whisp looked at him strangely for a moment.
'What is it?'
'Nothing, Mr Weasley... Just, Mr Wood is right about you. And you really do care.' She finished her coffee with a last sip. 'Now, if you'll both excuse me, I'll go through those files one more time. No need to hurry up, Mr Wood.'
Percy observed as she entered back the building, slightly dumbfounded. Then he turned to Oliver, who had also finished his coffee and was stretching like a cat under the sun. Percy watched the light filter through his curls. He looks gorgeous, he suddenly thought, startling himself. Damn, Percy, all this thought of unappropiate boss-employee relationships is getting to you. Stop it at once.
'What did you exactly tell her about me?'
'Only good things, I promise,' Oliver laughed. 'Besides, you brought us coffee, she is obliged to like you'. Then he grinned wickedly. 'By the way, so much for being "your boss, not your secretary".
Percy rolled his eyes and slapped down his friend's left hand, which was mimicking quotating marks in the air. The skin contact reminded him of the night before, Oliver's hand on his providing comfort. His mood shifted and his previous thoughts became louder. It is not favouritism, he told himself. He was just being nice, wasn't he? And no one in their right mind could blame him for not sharing coffee break with Ms Bagnold, honestly.
'It was friendly coffee, not... secretarly,' he said, blushing a bit.
'Oh, please keep telling yourself that.'
Despite his inner worry, Percy failed to suppress a smile.
'Well, if it is going to your head, I won't...'
Then Oliver pouted theatrically and, for a second, Percy lost track of his own words. He found himself staring at his friend's mouth before immediately snapping out of it.
'You're such a child,' he settled for saying. 'Today even more than usually.'
Oliver didn't even flinch.
'I'm happy,' he stated. 'And you like me. So, what hour are you picking me up tonight?'
Percy blinked and wondered if the whole situation had always been so improper and he'd somehow failed to notice it just until then, or if he was really becoming paranoid.
'Pick you up? Won't we just... leave from here?'
Oliver's brow furrowed.
'Well, I'd like to change.'
'Oliver, it's dinner at my family's we're talking about. And if you failed to notice it, I'm not a Malfoy.'
'Even so, I'm working in a lab and I'll probably try to fly the broom for a bit later. I don't want to go all sweaty and with my clothes stained with potions.'
'I remind you, you've got a lab coat and you should use it'.
His friend lifted an eyebrow and Percy shifted uncomfortably. Why should you care? You know he has a point.
'Alright, whatever. I'll... pick you up at 7?'
Sounds too much like a date, Percy thought. How on Earth didn't you see until now what it looks like?
Chapter 6: A Family Dinner
I'm back! I hope you'll like this one :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was short of 7:15 p.m. when Percy apparated himself and Oliver to the Burrow, trying very hard to ignore all the confusing thoughts that fought for dominance inside his head. The strongest of them was, of course, the familiar anxiety he'd long come to associate to these dinners, so mixed up with guilt that it was hard to disentangle the two of them. Underneath, there was the strange comfort of Oliver's grip on his arm -soon vanished once they completed the Apparition-, and also a certain feeling of alarm that was somehow related to his concerns of that morning (and to the fact that, when Oliver had opened his door in a very flattering shirt, neatly rolled up to the elbows, and tight black jeans, Percy's treachereous mind had immediately concluded that he looked gorgeous).
'So... ready?' Oliver asked. Both of them stared at the closed door.
As ready as I'll ever be, Percy thought.
'Yes,' he said instead, and he rang the bell.
The door opened almost right away, and suddenly his mother was wrapping him in a tight hug.
'Oh, Percy!', she exclaimed, sounding a bit tearful, 'It's been so long!'
'I know, Mum. I'm sorry. Work has been crazy lately.'
She patted his cheek with a gloomy expression in her eyes, and then turned to Oliver. Percy took his cue.
'Mum, this is Oliver Wood. We work together and he's come to help me finish some... urgent matters'. The lie burned in his tongue. 'You've probably heard of him since he was Gryffindor's captain when-'. He stopped short, swallowing the words when Fred and George played for the team. 'When we were at Hogwarts', he hastly amended. 'Oliver, this is my mother, Molly.'
Oliver offered his left hand with a pleasant smile.
'Nice to meet you, Mrs Weasley. I hope I won't intrude - we'll try to keep work talk to a minimum, I promise.'
'Oh, don't worry, dear, you don't intrude at all. Besides, I know how it is. Percy works so much'. She turned to flash a sad smile at Percy. 'You know, when Ron first told me you'd be bringing someone, it occurred to me you might had fixed things with Audrey.'
Percy looked at her, stunned, as he watched Oliver's brows jump to his hairline.
'Why would you think that? It's been years.
'I know, sweetie, I'm sorry. It's just - nevermind. Come, everyone is in the dining room. Bill and Fleur aren't coming, they're enjoying a few days in France with the kids... Also, neither is Charlie... he's almost worse than you, I think those dragons are never letting him go. Well, at least he seems happy enough in his letters...'
Percy let his mother ramble as he and Oliver followed her to the dining room. Upon entering, they were swallowed by a tide of shouting.
'No, Al! That's mine, give it back!'
'Percy! So glad to see you!'
'Kids, stop fightingnow!'
'Wood? I didn't know you worked for the Ministry now!'
'James, please, your brother is a baby-'
'But, Dad, he...'
'No buts -'
'How are things, mate?'
Percy watched Oliver take a step back, trying to reassess the room, and being startled again by a delighted squeal and a thump against his legs.
His friend's bewilderment gave way to a wide smile as he spotted little Rose, who had runned to him - and somehow managed not to trip in her faltering baby steps - and was now hugging his right leg, using it for balance. Oliver picked her up.
'Hello again, little banshee! How are you?'
'Good,' Rose said. 'Broom?', she asked hopefully.
Oliver's brow furrowed in confusion.
'I think she's referring to the broom miniature she played with. You know, the one you had in our - my office,' Percy assisted.
'Oh! I didn't bring that today, sweetheart, I'm sorry. But I'll let you play with it when you visit again, okay?'
'Okay,' she cheered.
To everyone's amusement -and light bewilderment-, Rosie refused to let go of Oliver, so he and Percy were put in childcare duty while the other adults made dinner (or rather, gravitated around Mom as she instructed them in every direction) and settled the table. Percy found himself holding little Albus Potter, who was about the same age of Rosie but much quieter, while Oliver was severely harassed by James and Rose herself. It was surprisingly nice. Percy had never considered himself especially good with children: he was always afraid he'd make them cry or accidentally let them get hurt. However, Oliver was obviously wonderful with them, and this provided a pleasant safety which allowed Percy to enjoy the playful ways of his nephews and niece. There was something sweet and reassuring about the children's world, and Percy found that the anxiety he experienced in the presence of the adults of his family had now disippated.
'Oliver plays,' Rose was explaining wisely to James, as if she were introducing him. Then she considered Percy for a moment. 'Percy helps,' she added magnanismously.
James rolled his eyes, in the endearing attitude of a five-year-old who thought himself so much older. However, he eyed Oliver with curiosity.
'Are you Uncle Percy's friend?', he finally asked, obviously searching for an explanation of his presence there.
'Yes, I am. We work together. We're trying to build a broom, you know, Rosie? A real broom'.
James' eyes lightened up.
'Do you play Quidditch?'
Oliver's smile faltered a bit, although Percy was pretty sure the children hadn't noticed.
'I used to, but right now I can't because I got hurt. That's why we're building a broom, actually. A special broom so I can fly even despite being hurt.'
'Oh,' James said, worriedly. 'You should tell Mum. She always makes it better when I get hurt'.
'Your mum plays Quidditch too, doesn't she?', Oliver deflected, smiling softly. James brightened.
'Yes!', he exclaimed, his little chest puffing proudly. 'She's very good. I'm going to play Quidditch, too. Mum and Dad gifted me a broom.' His little nose wrinkled and he admitted, 'But I don't know how to fly yet. They won't let me try alone.'
'Oh, that sounds great!', Oliver exclaimed enthusiastically, and Percy couldn't suppress a smile. He wasn't even pretending for James' sake: the excitement that washed all over his face was true. 'You know, until recently I used to work teaching children like you to fly. It's very important you don't try alone the first times, but it's really, really fun. I can tell you'll love it.'
'Can you teach me now?' James asked excitedly.
Oliver's eyes searched Percy's, doubtful. He shrugged.
'Okay,' Oliver said, 'but I'll just show you how to sit and lift it, okay? I don't want you Mum and Dad having me for dinner'.
James giggled. 'They wouldn't eat you. But Mum could turn your bogeys into bats'.
They followed the little boy to the shed next to the house, where he proudly showed them a diminute broom, which looked like a Firebolt in miniature. Percy watched Oliver's eyes shine happily as he praised the broom and instructed James. The kid was certainly gifted -it only took him two times of shouting Up! before the Firebolt jumped into his tiny hand. But no surprise there, Percy thought; he was Ginny and Harry's kid. Despite his initial claim, Oliver let him fly a circle inside the shed, but he made him stop when he started going too fast. Rose clapped, securely held into Oliver's arms.
'Me too!', she asked. Oliver kissed the top of her head.
'You need to get a bit older, Rosie. But I bet you'll be great at it, too. Do you want to give it another try, James? But slow, do we have a deal?
Percy watched them with a pang of affection in his chest, which was now starting to feel familiar. And there was something else, too, when he noticed Oliver's loud laugh and the way his forearm flexed under Rosie's weight. Percy, stop it right there.
He averted his gaze and looked at Albus. The youngest Potter was silent and a bit away from the others. Percy sat by his side.
'You don't like Quidditch so much, do you, Al?', he asked.
Albus seemed a bit sad.
'No,' he said. Percy ruffled his hair.
'I don't so much either, little one. Maybe we can find something to entertain ourselves, hm?'
He ended up fetching his old copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, ignoring the strange feeling that closed his throat when he found it in its usual place in the bookcase. He sat at the stairs with Albus on his lap and started reading out loud. The kid immediately cheered up. Percy couldn't avoid thinking that Ginny and Harry's quiet little one was quite a bit like him. I just hope you'll do better with your life than me, Al .
They were in the middle of "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" when Percy was startled by Oliver, who had turned up out of nowhere and unadvertently crouched at his side. He was now whispering right by his ear:
'You're good with kids, too.'
'I'm not,' Percy retorted honestly, as he felt his ears redden. He wasn't sure if it was due to Oliver's compliment or to his unexpected closeness.
'Go on,' Albus demanded, before shyly adding, 'Please.'
Oliver smiled at him triumphantly and winked.
Unsurprisingly in a Weasley family dinner -and with Oliver Wood at the table, no less-, the conversation of the adults revolved around Quidditch, too. Percy completely lost track in the wholehearted discussion on the Chudley Cannons' new tactics, and entertained himself by watching Oliver's vivid facial expressions -whatever the Cannons were doing, he seemed to care deeply about it- and letting Albus show him his Chocolate Frog Cards. On the other side of the table, Hermione looked equally zoned-out. They smiled, however, when Harry and James started to proudly tell the table about Ginny's last match, both of them taking turns to reenact the best shots.
'And then, then Mum dodged the Bludger... fzzzz, like this, and she threw the Quaffle and BAM! It was so cool!', James exclaimed, excitedly. Ginny petted his hair, amused. 'When I'm older, I'm going to be a great Chaser, too! Oliver said I'll be very good if I practise!'
Oliver looked at Ginny and Harry with a sheepish smile.
'He showed me his broom and I helped him trying it out. We were very safe, though.'
Harry frowned for a second, but then he waved his hand.
'It's okay, I'm sure you were careful. I just wish I'd seen his first time on a broom, though.'
'I'll show you later, Dad! And you can teach me -with the Snitch!'
'You'll need to practise more before chasing a real snitch, love.'
'But Oliver said I'm very talented for my age!
Everybody bursted out laughing, though it was kind enough not to upset James. Percy's father ruffled the kid's hair and told him something Percy didn't quite hear. He turned to smile at Oliver instead.
'You are definitely intent on bewitching all my nephews or nieces, aren't you?'
Oliver grinned back.
'Oh, no. I'm only interested in their uncle.'
Percy choke in his butterbeer. By the time he looked back at Oliver, however, he'd already engaged back in a conversation with Ron. Okay, he didn't mean it that way. It just came out wrong, Percy told himself. Either that, or he's joking, nothing else. Hold your horses, Percy. He pointedly focused on his treacle tart.
Then, he heard George clearing his throat. He glanced up and saw him exchange a look with his wife.
'Okay, family. I'd really like for Bill and Charlie to be here, but... well. Angelina and I, there is something we would like to tell you.'
When they had the table's attention, Angelina piped up.
'Well, it is - we're - I'm pregnant. We're having a baby,' she finally said, with a big grin spreading all over her face. George beamed at her.
And if the table had been noisy before, then it turned into absolute chaos. Everyone hurried to congratulate George and Angelina, hugging them and loudly expressing their best wishes. Ron clapped George's back so hard that Hermione was slightly alarmed, and even Oliver hugged Angelina enthusiastically. Percy felt slightly uneasy -collective bursts of happiness always made him feel inadequate and, as much as he despised himself for it, envious-, but he was glad to find in himself genuine joy for them. If someone deserves to be this happy, it is George. Even so, he saw his brother's eyes watering as their Mum hugged him tearfully.
'If it's a boy, we're naming him Fred,' George mumbled.
At this, their mother renewed his sobs and tightened her embrace. When she finally let go, accepting the hand Dad had offered to her, her smile was terribly bittersweet. Percy swallowed, feeling a lump in his own throat. Fred should be here. Oh, he should be here so much more than me. He should...
He felt Oliver's hand discreetly squeezing his shoulder, and turned to offer him a half-smile. I am so lucky you're here.
Fortunately, the talking got back to a happier route when the parents of the table started offering baby advice to the expecting couple. It was certainly not helpful for the seeds of envy that throbbed into Percy's chest, but it was a million times better than seeing their mother cry. He had to admit that watching her argue with Hermione was considerably better.
'Nonsense, dear. I raised seven children and never had time for such things, and they turned up just fine-'
'-mostly fine,' someone whispered teasingly. Percy saw Ginny elbowing Angelina.
'But, Molly, Malveena Wesfzane says in her books that-'
'Well, I'm just saying, enjoy it while it lasts,' Harry intervened. 'This is Teddy's first year in Hogwarts and the house feels so empty without him. Even with a five-year-old and a toddler running about.' Ginny smiled at him.
'It really is amazing,' she nodded. 'It sounds cliche, I know, but it feels like it was yesterday when he was no taller than my knee. He was the cutest thing, so tiny and with that electric blue hair. He'd change it to red when he wanted me to cuddle him, or to a black mess when he wanted Harry. He even mirrored his scar once.'
'But once he got what he wanted, he turned it back to blue, or magenta, or bright green.'
'Never one to follow the crowd, our Teddy.'
They had already told -for the eleventh time- how Harry had once fought to convince a Muggle that they had "dyed" their child's hair with natural products, and not anything that could ever damage his scalp, and Hermione was explaining the possible effects of Muggle chemicals to Percy's father -who looked both fascinated and horrified-, when the dreaded question came.
'And you, Percy? How are things?', Angelina asked.
He took a breath.
'All is fine, thank you.'
'And no special ones for you?', she went on. Her smile was genuinelly kind. Percy knew she meant well; she was just oblivious.
'No, not for me, really.'
'That's only because you don't want to,' his Mom piped up, looking at him with her eyes full of concern. Here we go. It was going too well. 'You work so much, Percy. If you could only take some time off and give yourself a chance, meet someone... I know any girl would be happy with you, dear.'
'I really don't think so, Mum,' Percy mumbled. Even looking down at his plate, he could feel Mum's worried gaze, and Dad's disapproving frown.
'Well, why don't you?', she pressed.
'Mum,' Ron muttered half-heartedly, 'Leave him be'.
Their mother's eyes slightly watered. No, please.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I know I'm annoying, I just... I want you to be happy, Percy. I really think -if you'd given a chance to that Audrey girl...'
'I -I am happy, Mum.'
She smiled at him sadly.
'Then I'm glad, love. But... do try and get out more, will you?'
It was obvious she hadn't believed him. Percy didn't blame her. He avoided his father's eyes, still judgingly fixated on him -they never talked much anymore, but Percy could always read the silent motto You are hurting your mother written all over his face- and he desperately tried to think of a different topic of conversation. Amazingly, Oliver came to his rescue:
'Hasn't Percy told you, Molly? He's made incredible advances on Apparition technique lately. He's proposing a variation on the spell that significantly reduces the odds of Splinching. It was discussed this week -Kingsley was impressed, and you know how difficult is to impress him...'
Percy blushed -but it was a good kind of blushing now. A decade ago, he would have told his family about his little triumph as soon as he'd walked through the door; today, he hadn't even thought about bringing it up, afraid of reminding them of his shameful position-climbing in the times of Fudge. He also suspected he'd bore them. But now, watching Oliver excitedly recount the bits he had told him about during their lunch breaks, Percy couldn't help but to feel a wave of fondness for his friend. And also, he found out, he felt proud. Of himself.
After having said their goodbyes, Percy and Oliver walked outside the Burrow side by side. The stars shone over the garden. It had been ages since Percy had stayed at a family dinner as long as almost everyone else.
'Just... Thank you. Really.'
Oliver smiled at him.
'It was nothing. I honestly had a good time.'
'It was. I know it sounds silly, but - you can't imagine how better it was with you being there.'
He looked at his shoes, embarrassed. If he had ever wanted not to appear too vulnerable to Oliver's eyes, that ship hand long sailed - but still, the acknowledgement had been hard to made. When he looked up, however, Oliver was beaming.
'You're welcome.' Suddenly, he snickered. 'Although, to be honest, we weren't very true to our cover. We didn't give a lot of thought to our "urgent Ministry matter", did we?'
'Well, for all they know, we might have been discussing a crisis on Portkeys while we let James fly randomly all around us'.
They walked together in silence for a few more minutes. They could have Apparated already, but Percy felt Oliver was deciding whether to say something, worrying his lower lip with a furrowed brow.
'Hey, Percy. About... what you mother said.'
Percy bit his lip.
'Oh. I know it was all a bit uncomfortable. She means well -she worries, that's all'.
'No, no. It's just - I wanted to say... I mean, you already know this, but... ' Oliver stumbled very uncharacteristically over his own words before composing himself. 'It is perfectly possible to be fully happy without, you know, a significant other or a bunch of children. Not everyone wants the same things in life, and that's okay'. He took a breath. 'And, well. You definitely don't need me to say it or anything, but I thought you might appreciate to hear it'.
Percy loooked at Oliver searchingly, feeling the strangest mixture of fondness and sorrow at his words. All of a sudden, he was striken by the image of himself and Oliver, leaving the Burrow just like Ron and Hermione had done: one of them holding a half-asleep child, the other smiling at them and carrying a colourful baby bag. He snapped out of it, his face burning.
'I appreciate it, Ollie,' he said. It was the first time he called him anything other than Oliver or Mr Wood. It felt right.
Although, he thought, the problem is I do want those things. And I'm starting to think I want them with you.
So, talk about impossibles.
So, I'm not sure if there is canon information about Fred II's birth year, but I think he should be closer to Albus or Lily's age rather than James'. I feel it would probably take more time for George and Angelina to get together and decide they were in a place good enough to have a kid.
Percy woke up to the soft pressure of a kiss on his bare shoulder. Refusing to open his eyes, he mumbled sleepily against his pillow:
'Are you leaving already?'
'Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you up. Just wanted to say goodbye.'
'Mmm. Come here.'
He turned to face Oliver and opened his arms for him. He laughed against his lips when Percy tried to deepen the kiss.
'I can't be late for work again, baby.'
'Remember to buy milk, will you?'
Percy woke up, stretching pleasantly under his sheets, before he realised what he'd been dreaming about and blushed deeply.
'Oh, great. Just what I needed,' he mumbled out loud.
A week had passed since he and Oliver had been to the Burrow for dinner, and Percy's... inappropiate feelings were only getting worse. He didn't see Oliver as much as he had when they shared his office, but they had coffee and lunch together every morning, and if he was able to spare some time, Percy gave him lessons on wandless magic. And, more often than not, when everyone started to leave the Ministry in the afternoon, Oliver came by Percy's office and talked him into leaving his paperwork and going for a drink. Sometimes, Ms Whisp -Ophelia, he was starting to call her- joined them, or even Percy's secretary in practice, Terry Denbright. The kid still tended to trip over his own feet, but didn't seem to be terrified of Percy anymore (though he hadn't still decided whether this was a good or bad thing). Other times, however, Percy and Oliver were alone, and those were the moments when ignoring his friend's twinkling eyes or his gorgeous smiles became almost impossible. But Percy wasn't going to risk their friendship by giving to the temptation.
It would be easier, though, if it were just physical attraction. He rubbed his temples and thought about his dream. In a way, he'd rather it had been a sex dream -after years on his own, not having had even a fling except his short-lived relationship with Audrey, Percy was used to those. Once, it had been the beautiful witch who'd come to get rid of a plague of pixies in the second floor; shortly after, the dark-haired man who'd sat by him on the Knight Bus. It wasn't something that concerned him. However, the domesticity of that almost innocent scene with Oliver -who'd called him baby and reminded him to buy milk-, that was something else. He wanted it to be true.
Percy got into the shower, deciding to shove away this train of thoughts. At least, he told himself, things are better now. Don't ask for more than you can get.
Percy arrived at the Ministry a bit later than intended, but still earlier than almost everyone else. He had a meeting with Hermione Granger in fifteen minutes. He sighed. His sister-in-law was the head of the Department of Mysteries and, even though she likely was the relative he felt more comfortable with (probably because their relationship was mostly professional), those meetings always caused him a headache. Percy understood the importance of secrecy in the Department of Mysteries, he did, but he didn't like approving of things he didn't have all information about.
It turned out she wanted his Department's permission to install some non-monitored Portkeys in the Space Chamber.
'But, Hermione. Non-monitored Portkeys are forbidden for a reason. And you need to know very precisely where they are going to send you. The Space Chamber... You could disappear. Be transported to nowhere. It is too dangerous for me to authorise.'
'I know that. But that's not... I can't really explain, but we've made enormous advances. A Portkey could help us to find a whole new connection between magic, space and time.'
'I still don't think it's worth endangering anyone's life.'
'Of course not. But you don't even know what I am proposing exactly. It is not as dangerous as you think, at it could be really beneficial.'
'Of course I don't know. Are you going to tell me?'
'I can't. It's the Department's policy.'
After a lot of talking -which felt a lot like bargaining-, they agreed that Hermione would give full information to Bell, the head of the Portkey Office, who'd then decide whether to authorise the petition or not, and would keep the secret from everyone else -even Percy. After begrudgingly shaking on it, both Percy and Hermione walked to the Portkey Office. However, Bell was in a meeting, and Percy found himself trying small talk:
'How is Rosie?'
'Oh, she's brilliant. She keeps asking us to let her come and visit Oliver, though. It's almost a little offending,' she said, and laughed good naturally. 'She's completely infatuated with him. Give her some years, and she'll fight you over him.'
She blinked at him.
'What...? Oh. You're not together?'
'What on Earth made you think we were?!'
'Oh, don't act so outraged with me, Percy. It's obvious you fancy each other, and then you bring him to family dinner. What was I supposed to think?'
Percy felt himself blush to the root of his hair.
'I don't know! But -you were the only one to think so!' I hope. 'That should have made you realise your imagination was getting ahead of you.'
Hermione rolled her eyes.
'Sure. In a table where almost everyone else is a Weasley, a Potter or both, forgive me for not trusting other people's emotional insight. I bet Angelina agrees with me, though.'
He didn't know what to say. Hermione's look softened.
'I am sorry if I made you feel uncomfortable. I honestly thought you were together. I won't mention it again.'
They stayed in silence for a few long minutes. Then, Percy looked up.
'Wha... What made you think we "fancy each other"?'
'Well,' she started cautiously, 'You do, don't you?'
Percy looked around. He hadn't expected to have this conversation at all, and much less in the Ministry's corridors, or with his sister-in-law. However, once he found himself in such a situation, he felt an impulse to be honest. It might as well be his only chance to do so.
'Well,' he said, looking at his feet. 'I do.'
Hermione's smile returned to her face. She pulled him a bit to the side, so they weren't in such a public spot. They sat by a large window that faced the yard. Oliver and Ms Whisp could be seen out there, trying out the broom.
'I don't really know, of course, but I'd swear he likes you, too,' Hermione said.
Percy let himself think about it. His first instinct was to deny it -how could anyone as lively, gorgeous and kind as Oliver actually like him? But, on the other hand, Percy had seen the winks and the playful smiles that his friend flashed at him, and if some of his comments had come from anyone else, he would've immediately classified them as flirty. On the other hand, that could be just Oliver's way of being friendly. And just the week before, when they'd left the Burrow, he'd told him about people who preferred to be single. Maybe Oliver was talking from experience. Or maybe not, but he just didn't like Percy, or didn't even like men.
'Sometimes I think so, too,' he admitted slowly to Hermione. 'But let's be real, it's highly unlikely.' He avoided her gaze and followed instead Oliver's shape through the window, flying low and in circles. 'And anyway, even if he did... he's the best friend I've made in ages. I... I don't really think I could handle to lose that right now. And I don't want to risk it for, what? A short-lived fling, at best?'
'Would it really be that way?'
'How else? I haven't had a lasting relationship since I was at Hogwarts.' Why am I telling her all this? Come on, Hermione has better things to do. 'And, truth be told, it wouldn't be fair to him. I already lean on him too much as a friend. He deserves,' he gestured, as his throat started to close, 'a whole person.'
Someone who doesn't need him this bad. Someone he could dump without fear of breaking him into pieces.
Hermione eyed him carefully, as if she were afraid of stepping a line.
'Well... We need to feel whole in order to share ourselves with someone else, that's true. But... Don't be so harsh on yourself, Percy.' She seemed to be looking for the right words. 'There's nothing wrong with you and your partner needing each other's support. As long as it isn't the only thing that keeps you going.'
Percy opened his mouth to reply something -probably to suggest they forgot about it and went back to knock at Bell's door- when, at the other side of the window, Oliver's broom jumped upwards, quick as lightning, and then it suddenly exploded in a cloud of smoke and blue lights. Oliver's body hit the ground with a horrific thump.
The scream burned through Percy's lungs as he automatically vanished the glass to run towards his friend, followed by Hermione. Ms Whisp was already by Oliver's side, casting charms with an alarmed look at her face.
'What happened? Is he okay?', Percy urged. Oliver whimpered something unintelligible and grasped Percy's hand.
'I don't know! The broom shouldn't have... I've called St Mungo... The fall shouldn't be a problem, but I'm worried about the magic explosion...'
'Move over!', Hermione exclaimed with authority, exctracting a jar from her purse.
She started pouring the potion through Oliver's throat and casting stabilising spells. Percy almost felt relieved -he was fully aware of Hermione's brilliance: if someone could stop his friend from getting too hurt before the healers' arrival, it was her. But Oliver's grip on his hand, so thight it hurt, kept him from paying full attention to anything else.
'Percy. Percy, I can't... I can't...', Oliver babbled, his voice full of panic.
'It's okay, it's okay,' Percy reassured him. 'The healers are coming, Hermione is helping, it's...'
'No, no... Percy, I... I can't... I can't feel my leg.' Oliver's voice broke in a million pieces. Percy had never heard a more terrifying sound. He felt cold. 'I can't, I can't... It's just like... like last...'
Percy squeezed his hand, even though he could barely feel his own fingers.
'It's not like last time, I promise,' he said. 'You're going to be okay, Ollie. You're not losing you leg. Trust me, I promise.'
He felt a lump in his throat, but he kept whispering promises -and praying for them to be true- until the healers arrived.
'Good morning, sleepyhead.'
Oliver blinked at him, confused, before he seemed to remember and his panicked gaze jumped to his leg.
'It's alright,' Percy reassured him. 'Your leg is fine,' he added, for he knew it was Oliver's main concern. 'The healers have immobilized it with a spell, but once they lift it, you'll be able to move it just like before.'
Oliver's face relaxed visibly, although he still looked uneasy. Percy imagined that losing mobility of yet another part of his body, even if temporarily, was rather terrifying for him. He rubbed his arm, trying to be reassuring. Oliver's hand slid until he grabbed Percy's, although much gentlier than he had after the fall. Now it wasn't painful -just nice, knowing Oliver would reach for his comfort so easily.
'Have you -where are the others? How long have I been here?'
'It's Friday. You've been sedated since yesterday after the fall. The healers said it was best to let you sleep. Ophelia is at the coffee machine, she came back a couple of hours ago. Terry Denbright has just arrived, too, and Hermione Granger came yesterday when they brought you. In fact, you probably owe her your leg.'
Oliver swallowed and nodded. Percy made a mental note to talk more slowly, since the effect of the sedating spells didn't seem to have quite worn off.
'And you? Have you...?'
Percy cleared his throat, a bit embarrased.
'Oh, I stayed the night,' he said, as naturally as he could. 'I was worried,' he admitted.
Oliver offered a smiled that tried to be playful, but turned out more tired than anything.
'Worried that an employee would die under your watch?'
Percy rolled his eyes.
'Thank you, though.'
They exchanged a more serious smile. Then Oliver frowned again.
'You haven't notified my parents, have you?'
'Not yet. Should we have?', Percy asked, feeling slightly guilty. Despite having showered Oliver with his own family drama, he barely knew anything about his. Only that his parents lived in Ireland, and that he was an only child.
'No, no. They... They had a really bad time when I hurt my hand. I don't want to frighten them. They would apparate here in a second to lock me up in Galway and never let me even see a broom again.'
Percy understood that -he himself felt tempted to burn all remaining Firebolts in Britain after watching Oliver fall like a dead weight, but he knew his friend well enough to realise that wouldn't help him in any way.
That was the moment when Ophelia and Terry reentered the room, followed by Hermione and a blond healer.
'Percy, Ms Granger has come back to check on Oliv- Oh! Thank Merlin, you're awake!'
Ophelia all but run to hug Oliver. Percy moved aside, making room for her -and feeeling Hermone's eyes on him as he let go of Oliver's hand.
'I'm so sorry!,' Ophelia was saying, 'I should have double-checked the broom... it was too soon to test it on the air...'
'Come on, Ophe,' Oliver replied, patting her back, 'I am as guilty as you are. And, you know, these things happen. I don't even think we did anything reckless. We were wrong, that's all.'
The healer softly cleared her throat. Everyone turned to her.
'I am glad to see you awake, Mr Wood. Are you feeling any discomfort?'
'...No, I suppose. I'm just a little dizzy. Apart from the obvious,' Oliver muttered, pointing at his leg, 'I can't, em, feel it.'
Percy repressed the urge to take back his friend's hand and comfort him again.
'Oh, that's perfectly normal,' the hearler assured him. 'The immobilising spells will wear off by themselves in a few days, a week at most. I could lift them now, but it would be an unnecessary risk. Do you have someone at home to keep an eye on you?'
'Not really. I live on my own, and my only family is in Ireland -I don't want to upset them.'
The healer nodded kindly.
'That's alright, you can stay here for a few days then.'
'What? No!', Oliver exclaimed, slightly alarmed. 'Thank you, but I am fine to go home.'
'I cannot let you go if you are going to spend four days completely unsupervised, Mr Wood. You might feel well right now, but the dizziness you are suffering will get worse in a couple of hours. And as the spells wear of, you might experience acute weakness or even fainting -it is not very likely, but in that case you should be immediately brought back to St Mungo...'
'No, listen, I... I'll assume the risk, alright? I'm sorry, and I thank you, I do, but I do not want to stay here', Oliver insisted, with an uncharacteristic hint of anxety in his voice.
'Mr Wood, I really cannot...'
Percy opened his mouth, perfectly aware that he was going to regret what he was about to say:
'You can stay with me, if you want'.
All five sets of eyes in the room jumped to him.
'I don't mind taking work home for a couple of days,' Percy added, purposedly looking at the healer and avoiding everyone else's gaze.
'You are... taking a leave?', Terry Denbright blurted, incredulous, before blushing and taking a step back. Percy ignored him for both of their sakes.
Oliver looked conflicted.
'Are you sure? I mean... It won't be so bad staying here for a couple of days.'
Maybe his friend was a really bad liar, or maybe Percy knew him too well by now, but the pain in his last sentence was evident enough to strengthen his resolve.
'Don't you worry about it. I can use a rest from the Ministry,' he said, patting Oliver's shoulder a bit awkwardly. He felt too observed - and Terry's utter shock was becoming annoying. 'When can we leave, then?'
The relief in Oliver's eyes made it all worth it.
I don't think this chapter is my best work -it took me quite a lot to write it because I couldn't set the pace right, and I'm still not completely happy with it, but I figured it would be best to post it once and for all, instead of leave you guys hanging. I hope you enjoyed it anyway!
Next chapter (or next couple of them -you already know how bad I am at planning these things) will include *a lot* more Oliver/Percy interaction, wandless magic lessons and a very necessary conversation between Percy and his Dad.
Chapter 8: Crossing Bridges
Hello again! I hope you'll enjoy this one :)
And once more, thank you for your patience!
As soon as the healers who'd helped moving Oliver to his appartment left, Percy took a deep breath and consciously locked up his worries in a corner of his mind.
Oliver, sitting on his couch, looked miserable and hadn't said anything for a while. Maybe it was due to the last potions the healers had given him -or, more likely, the reality of his injury was now coming down on him, especially after all the help he'd needed just for moving from St Mungo's.
'Hey,' Percy said, trying to sound as reassuring as possibly, 'it's all going to be fine, alright?'
Oliver nodded weakly. Percy bit his lip. He hated seeing him this shell-shocked. Oliver was usually the one with the fierce energy, the cheerful winks, the wise words. Percy wasn't sure he'd be able to step into that role now.
You will, he told himself, because that's what he needs.
He thought for a moment. The healers had made clear that he needed to keep a close eye on Oliver, at least during the first couple of days. Casting a monitor spell on him seemed like a good idea, but it might upset his friend even more, and there was already enough magic functioning around his body anyway. So, he walked into his bedroom and, taking out his wand, he turned his queen size bed into two single ones, placing them by opposite walls. McGonagall would be happy. Then, he went to the kitchen and frowned at the empty fridge. Everything was clean and tidy as in an advertisement, as if no one actually lived there -just like the rest of his place. This is so not a home. He sighed and cleared his throat.
'Well, we're going to have to settle for takeout tonight, but I promise to go to the supermarket tomorrow'. Remember to buy milk, Oliver had told him is his dreams just the morning before. 'Do you want Chinese?'
'It's okay. Really, don't go out of your way for me. I don't... I don't want to impose any more than I've already...'
It was the longest sentence Oliver had uttered in a while, but he looked completely broken. Percy crouched in front of him, resting his hands on his friend's knees.
'Hey,' he said. 'You are not imposing, Ollie. Merlin knows you've helped me lately; it was time I returned the favour.'
'What favour? You're the one who hired me when no one would have given a penny for me. And you're giving me these wandless magic lessons, and I am not...'
Percy regarded him fondly.
'Okay, listen. First of all, hiring you was not a favour, it was a responsible work decision. Secondly... let's agree we help each other because we're friends, and that's what friends do. Alright?'
He felt a bit surprised by his own words. Until he had to say them out loud for comforting Oliver, he'd never realized they applied to his own worries as well.
'... Alright,' Oliver finally replied, rewarding Percy with the tiniest smile. Then he frowned again. 'I still feel like I should tell you why... why I didn't want to stay in St Mungo, though.'
'Only if you want to.'
Oliver's eyes met his, and his left hand reached to interlace with Percy's, still resting on his knee. Even then, the gesture made Percy's stomach jump, but it was starting to feel so natural...
'It's just... Well, the truth is, I haven't been interned in a hospital since... since I lost my hand, and it was an experience that I... Not only because of the hand, not even mostly because of the hand, but...' Oliver scrunched his eyes, taking a deep breath. Percy stroke his hand with his thumb. '... everyone died. It was the aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts, there were seven of us crowded in that room, which was meant for two people, and the healers were running everywhere, and everyone was shouting or crying and, of that seven people, I was the only one who made it, just losing a hand.'
He looked back at Percy with a self-conscious smile.
'When I told you you were entitled to pain, even if others had had it worse... That was something my psychologist taught me after I told her this story, but it was a hard lesson to learn.' He sighed. 'And, well... objectively, I know there's nothing wrong with staying at St Mungo for a few days, things are totally different now, but... I am still afraid.'
Percy felt a rush of protectiveness that almost rendered him speechless. He pulled himself up for embracing Oliver, fighting the urge to kiss away the tears that were forming at his friend's eyes.
'You don't have to be afraid here,' he finally told him, still not completely aware of the words that were coming out of his mouth. 'I have your back, okay?'
They smiled at each other for a second. Oliver cleared his throat.
'How about now for a wandless magic lesson?'
Percy looked at his friend, surprised. They had just finished dinner and it was still fairly early, but he expected Oliver to be exhausted. Both of them should be, actually, although Percy wasn't really used to get much more sleep than the night before.
'I'm not sure it's a good idea. You really shouldn't overtire yourself.'
Oliver bit his lip, but he didn't argue. Percy studied his face. He did look tired, but mildly anxious too. Maybe he just wanted to postpone a bit the moment of going to bed and everything going into silence -the moment when, if he was anything like Percy, all the hardships of the day would come back to him. Or maybe you just can't say no to him anymore.
'Okay, but if you feel even the slightest bit wrong, you tell me, alright?'
Oliver's smile was still not close to his usual impossibly wide grins, but it was enough to warm Percy's heart.
'Alright, so, as I've told you before, wandless magic is all about, deep down, wanting something to happen. That's why it manifests in underage children when they're upset or in danger, and that's also why it's so difficult to control it,' he instructed. 'So, I need you to concentrate very hard, feel the magic in you, instead of channeling it through a wand, and really wishing, em, those chopsticks to come to your hand as you pronounce the spell.'
The chopsticks trembled when Oliver said Accio, but they barely moved. At the second try, though, they landed safely in his left hand.
'See? You're getting better.'
'They were literally inches from my hand.'
'Try to better control their movement now, then. Make them spin around as they go to you.'
This time, only one of the chopsticks came to its destiny as required -the other fell clinking on Oliver's plate.
'I probably should be better at this by now,' he sighed.
'Well, it's difficult to care deeply about chopsticks,' Percy admitted. 'Using it on the broom might come more easily, but you need to practise a bit more to get the basics, though.'
Oliver bended his head thoughtfully.
'So... if I tried something more... motivating, it might be easier?'
'It should help, yes, but it should be a fairly uncomplicated spell...'
Oliver seemed to think for a bit longer, before a playful smile appeared at his lips and he mouthed, 'Multicorfors'. At first, Percy thought it hadn't worked, before he looked down at his shirt and found out it had changed from grey to dark blue. He rolled his eyes.
'Really? Sabotaging my wardrobe is what motivates you?
'It's funnier than spinning chopsticks,' Oliver said, smiling cheekely. 'Besides, it's not sabotage. That colour suits you better.'
Percy couldn't help but to smile back, even as he blushed. Cheery, maybe-flirting Oliver had been gone for less than a day, and he'd already missed him.
'Okay, Madame Malkin. Try again.'
They practised for about an hour longer, during which both of their clothes changed colours several times, a cup of tea was transfigurated into something that was meant to be chocolate but looked more like dirty water, and Percy's hair somehow ended up all pointy and punk-styled. Oliver roared with laughter.
'This one was unintentional, I swear.'
Percy retaliated turning Oliver's hair pink, much to his feign horror.
'What?', he asked innocently, 'That colour suits you better.'
Oliver threw him a cushion.
'That was wandless magic?'
'That was the old reliable manual, Muggle way.'
By the time Oliver finally admitted he was too exhausted to continue, the task of returning their clothes and hairstyles to their original state fell to Percy, who did so rather efortlessly. He also decided to keep the dark blue shirt, which earned him a roguish smile from Oliver. Then, he helped him to the bed and offered one of his T-shirts to sleep in. It was the logical thing to do, since none of Oliver's things had been brought to the appartment yet, but he started to question the wisdom of the offering as soon as he saw his friend dressed only in his underpants and Percy's clothes. He quickly looked away, and when he turned back again, he was half relieved, half disappointed to find out that Oliver was already under the blankets.
Pull yourself together, Percy. You invited him here to take care of him, not to hyperventilate over him wearing your clothes like a schoolboy.
'Good night, Ollie,' he said, getting into his own bed. 'If you need anything or start feeling ill, speak out, alright?'
'Good night, Perce.'
Oliver fell asleep before Percy did, which was unsurprising -it wouldn't be unusual for his insomnia to even keep him up all night. However, he eventually drifted off, oddly soothed by Ollie's even breaths. It was a bit like home, Percy thought vaguely before losing himself to sleep, like going back to sharing room with one of his brothers, but different at the same time... just, not being lonely...
He woke up in the middle of the night to Oliver's screams.
'Oliver! Oliver, wake up, it's just a nightmare!', he exclaimed, quickly jumping off the bed for shaking him awake.
Oliver's whole body trembled forcefully in his arms as he babbled something Percy couldn't quite understand, as pale as he'd been when he'd just fallen off the broom. He didn't seem to hear Percy's words -instead, he was violently pinching his paralized leg over and over, and the lack of sensation just appeared to alterate him more. Percy held his hand with his own, forcing him to stop.
'It's okay, Ollie, it's okay. You're going to be fine, remember? I'm here. Don't do that, you're hurting yourself.'
Little by little, his friend seemed to get back to reality, and his panicked breaths became more even as Percy kept whispering soothing words in his ears. Eventually, he let go of Percy's hand and hid his face in his shoulder.
'Oh, Merlin,' he mumbled. 'I'm so sorry. This is embarrasing -I...'
'It's okay,' Percy hushed again. 'You had a nightmare. It's normal. I have plently, I should know.'
They fell in silence for a long moment, Oliver still resting his head in Percy's neck, and Percy instinctevely stroking circles on the skin of his thigh, which was already starting to bruise.
'I wish I could feel that,' Oliver finally whispered, barely audible.
Percy looked down to meet his gaze. He swallowed.
'Well,' he said, feeling his mouth dry, 'I promise to repeat it as soon as you're fine.'
Oliver let out a chuckle, his face still wet with tears. Percy kissed the top of his head and closed his eyes.
Whatever bridges we've crossed tonight, I'll deal with them tomorrow.
Chapter 9: All It Took
In this one we get breakfasts, letters, some heavy family drama and a long awaited moment.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Percy woke up to the sunlight streaming through the window, and he was momentaneously startled to find out a still asleep Oliver in his arms. As the events of the previous night flooded back to him, he blushed, unable to decide if he should be grateful to his past self or just scold him.
First of all, he hoped all of Oliver's ambiguous comments were actually flirtatious, because this time, he'd definitely flirted back.
And he'd spent the night on his bed -though, to be fair, it was technically Percy's bed and Oliver had been the first to fall asleep.
And, good Merlin, had he actually kissed his hair or had he dreamed that bit?
Okay. Forget it. You've got this. Focus. He took a deep breath.
He was tempted to stay in bed just for a bit longer -despite everything, accidentally cuddling in bed with Oliver might be the most wonderful thing he'd ever experienced-, but he eventually decided to spare himself the awkwardness of being there when his friend woke up.
Oliver grumbled adorably as Percy disentangled himself from him.
I am such a lost cause.
However, against Percy's fears, there was no awkwardness once Oliver woke up. Neither of them mentioned Ollie's breakdown the night before, and they happily shared breakfast -coffee and a miraculously found pack of cookies- as they commented The Prophet. Percy was alarmed when he found an article on Oliver's accident, signed by Rita Skeeter. Oliver, on the other hand, was unimpressed.
'She's been writing stuff about me since I joined the Puddlemere. First it was objectifying articles, then a supposed "superexclusive" when she found out Len and I were dating, quite a lot of slut-shaming after we broke up, and finally a rather horrid article after the war, on the fact that I had lost my hand -it was closer to an obituary than anything else.
'But,' Percy blinked, confused, 'that's awful. How do you take it so well?'
Oliver looked at him sheepishly.
'Well, I really didn't at first. You know my temper. I had to be physically restrained from going to The Prophet's offices and making a fuss. And something tells me they wouldn't have been so understanding as you were when I decided to go and shout at Broom Regulatory Control.'
Percy suppressed a laugh.
'They probably wouldn't.'
'So,' Oliver continued 'I decided the best I could do was to ignore Skeeter. After all, most people have no idea who I am -it's not like she's harassing me like she's done to your sister and Harry. I would sue her if I were them. I might even have done so back then, if Len hadn't talked me out of it. But nowadays, well.' He shrugged. 'This is the first article she's written about me since the "PUDDLEMERE KEEPER CRIPPLED FOR LIFE" one. It almost feels good to be back.'
'She's awful,' he said. 'Ginny and Harry did sue, but apparently the money she makes by selling those stories about them is worth more than the fines, so...'
He paused for a moment before adding, as conversationally as he managed:
'So... Who is Len?'
'Lennox Campbell, the Seeker for the Montrose Magpies. We dated for almost two years when I was playing with Puddlemere -of course, Skeeter portrayed it as a star-crossed romance between rival players. You should see her articles whenever we played against each other.'
Percy had to force himself not to grin inappropiately. So, that's a confirmation: Oliver likes men. Merlin, I never thought I'd be grateful for Skeeter's meddling ways.
'And, of course, there were the homophobic overtones -she once wrote that us beating the Magpies was me proving "who was the man in our relationship".'
Okay, no redemption for Skeeter. She's disgusting.
Along with the newspaper, several letters had arrived by post, and after rewarding the owl with the last remaining cookie, Percy and Oliver moved to the couch to browse through them. Percy couldn't help but notice they sat really close: after all that had happened, the barriers betweeen them were swiftly blurring. It made his chest feel stupidly warm -he was becoming rather touch-starved around Oliver-, but at the same time, it was utter torture, because he really, really, wanted more.
'Oh, this is for me,' Oliver said, taking an envelope with the logo of St Mungo's. He grimaced. 'Wonderful, that's my potions prescription.'
Percy sighed as he read a note from his mother, worriedly asking about his health. He was a bit surprised to find out that the next one was from Hermione.
I hope all is well with you and Oliver is already getting better. If you need anything at all, please say so; Ron and I would be happy to help. We thought about swinging by today, but I realized you probably have enough in your plate right now. Rose has made a drawing for Oliver -it doesn't look like she's getting over him any time soon- and I'm sending it along.
If you don't mind me saying so, I'm really glad you offered Oliver to stay at yours. I'm sure you'll find out that there's no shame in accepting or offering help. Also -just let me be nosey for another sentence and I'll shut up-, I'm rooting for you, you know.
Percy startled at the comment, but thankfully, Oliver had taken back the newspaper, respecting his privacy. He quickly moved on to the last paragraph.
By the way, your parents asked about you earlier. They seemed quite worried that you weren't at the Ministry. I told them you'd taken some days off and assured everything was alright, but I think they're still a bit distressed. I didn't mention Oliver - I wasn't sure if it would be okay. Maybe you should contact and reassure them.
He carefully put the letter back in the envelope before taking out what he assumed to be Rose's drawing. It was, of course, a series of random, colourful lines, and at the bottom she had undoubtedly commanded someone -probably Ron, since it wasn't Hermione's handwriting- to add "GET BETTER!" in capital letters. Percy grinned.
'Ollie, this is for you.'
His smile grew wider as he watched Oliver gush over the drawing.
'Oh Merlin, your niece is the cutest thing ever. It's unfair I don't have nieces. You should share her.'
'Oh, I'm sharing her. You're his favourite person.'
Blushing, Percy went for the last letter of the pile.
'Oh, er. This one is from Terry and Ophelia.'
It was a short, affectionate note addressed for both of them. It had clearly been written by Ophelia, and much as Hermione had, they wished for Oliver's quick recovery and offered any help needed. Terry also reassured Percy that nothing was getting out of hand in his absence, but promised to send over the daily reports if he so wanted. Along with Hermione's letter, it made Percy smile. It had been long since there had been people in his life he could call... friends, he realized.
'Ophe and Terry are lovely,' Oliver said, apparently reading his thoughts. Then he grinned mischievously. 'They'd make a nice couple, don't you think?'
Percy's eyes opened wide.
'Merlin, I would've never thought of it.'
'Don't act oblivious, Terry definitely has the hots for her. He's even more of a lost puppy when she's around.'
'... I'm not so sure that's a trait Ophe would appreciate.'
'Maybe she finds it cute. Come on, they even signed the note together! Terry and Ophelia. That's so couple-y!'
Percy rolled his eyes.
'They also addressed it to us together,' he pointed out.
'Well yes, but that doesn't count, that's because we're currently living toge-' Ollie's brow furrowed. 'Okay, I see how that might look couple-y too.'
Percy bit back a laugh. Oh, everything with Oliver was so easy and so difficult at the same time.
'I think I'm going out to the market,' he eventually anounced. 'We're oficially out of anything eatable.'
'Oh, alright. Meanwhile, I can send an owl back to Ophelia in behalf of both of us, if you want.'
Percy nodded, grateful. This way he'd only have to write back to his mother and Hermione.
He didn't like at all, however, the idea of leaving Oliver alone. He seemed to be fine, other than the tiredness, but Percy couldn't help to worry. What if he felt worse while he was away? The doctor had said he might experience fainting and need to be brought back to St Mungo's...
'I'll be back right away,' Percy finally said, awkwardly looking for words, 'but do you think I could, er... I mean, I did promise to supervise you...'
Oliver stared at him curiously for a second, before realization came down upon him. He rolled his eyes, but smiled fondly nonetheless.
'Let me guess,' he said. 'You want to put me under a monitor charm.'
'If you are okay with it?'
'I probably should point out that I am not a baby.'
'But you are kind of my patient right now.'
Oliver hid back a grin.
'Okay, you're right. You can,' he finally allowed.
Feeling relieved, Percy took out his wand. Oliver didn't even flinch as he pointed it at him and exclaimed, Periculo Monere! A bright blue light washed over him.
'You probably should get a clock like your Mother's,' Oliver teased.
'Overprotectiveness might be a Weasley trait,' Percy admitted with a smile. He doubted for a second before summoning up his courage. 'But yes, if I had one, there should be a hand for you.'
He was rewarded with one of Oliver's brightest grins before he disapparated.
Percy's shopping took a bit longer than anticipated, and he was forced to admit to himself that he didn't remember the last time he'd bought the ingredients for an actual meal. He always ate at the Ministry on work days, and usually settled for takeout or some quick pasta on the weekends. However, he wanted to offer Oliver something good, comforting - a homemade meal. Sweet Merlin. I am absolutely becoming my mother. He decided on lamb and fruit salad.
He left the market rather pleased with himself, and levitating by his side quite a number of grocery bags. They all hit the ground with a thump, however, when he arrived to his building and saw his father walking towards the front door.
'Dad?' he called out incredulously. 'Dad, what are you doing here?'
Arthur spinned around with a shocked look in his face.
'Percy! You're alright!'
Percy blinked, confused.
'Why wouldn't I be?'
'They told us you'd asked for a leave!' his father exclaimed, as if it explained everything.
Percy resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
'I did. But there's nothing to worry about -I thought Hermione had already told you?'
'She didn't give us any details. What is wrong?'
Things with his father had certainly not gone well lately, and a part of Percy warmed to the concern he could hear in Arthur's voice. However, he didn't feel like talking to him about Oliver. He didn't even understand exactly what was happening between them himself. He didn't need his father's judging glares to interfere in the matter.
'Nothing is wrong, I am fine.'
His father's expression went cold.
'Do you really enjoy making your mother worry?'
Here we go.
'I most definitely don't. But I can't help it if she worries about me taking a leave from work, even after Hermione assures her everything is fine.'
'She wrote to you. A reply wasn't that much to ask.'
Percy huffed in disbelief.
'So you don't get an answer within a few hours and you assume I'm dying in a sideway? That's absurd!'
'It is not that absurd if we're talking about a person who apparently can't even visit his family once a month because he needs to be at work.'
He was starting to lose his temper.
'Are you really telling me this?'
'Yes, I am! Because it's time you think about someone other than yourself!'
'What's that supposed to mean?'
'It means,' his father roared, now looking genuinely angry, 'that you know your mother constantly worries about you, and you can't even be bothered to answer her letters, let alone to come home and see her, and you don't care if it makes her cry every single day!'
Percy stepped back as if he'd been slapped. He felt tears forming in his eyes, but right then, he couldn't even tell if they came from sorrow or from rage. He fought them back and stared at his father furiously.
'If you are going to yell at me, at least don't be a hypocrite,' he replied sharply. 'It's not like you wanted me there.'
'What's that supposed to mean?'
Percy let out a bitter laugh.
'Come on, Dad. I - I know I should visit Mum more. But don't pretend you want me to go. You've never forgiven me for what I did before the war, and believe me, I -I understand it. I respect it. Just don't pretend otherwhise.'
'Don't try to blame me for your own bullshit, Percy. I forgave you for that ten years ago.'
'Oh, right. And then how come you can barely look at me when we talk?'
A flash of fury shone in his father's eyes.
'I wouldn't know,' he snapped. 'You barely talk to any of us.'
It was like a punch to the gut. Any of us. Percy was already an outsider. He'd known it before, of course, but it hurt so much to hear the confirmation. He turned around, ready to leave and embarrased of the tears that were now starting to run from his eyes.
His father stopped him, grabbing his shoulder. He'd surely seen the tears, because he seemed to be making a major effort to compose himself.
'Okay,' he slowly admitted. His hands were iron on Percy's shoulders, preventing him from running away again. 'Maybe I haven't fully forgiven you. But I would have, if you'd given me the chance. However, the last real conversation I had with you was a decade ago. And you seem to hate us even more than you did then.'
Percy's chest ached.
'I never hated you,' he replied. His voice broke.
'Then why do you avoid us like this? Is it...? Are you still so ashamed of me?'
Percy tried to break away from his hold, but he couldn't. The tears on his cheeks made his skin burn in embarrassment, and somehow he lost all remaining composure.
'Because -I feel guilty! All the time!' he yelled. 'And I- I'm not okay. And I want to be okay, but I can't be okay on command, and... so many times I am just not, and... it's embarrassing... and Mum cries, and I... I...' He tried to take a breath. 'I know I haven't had the life Mum would want for me, that I... work too much, and just... am purposelessly alive instead of Fred, but... I can't keep apologizing for that, or for having broken up with Audrey, or... I just can't anymore, if I am somehow going to...'
Percy stammered, out of words. Astonished, his father took a step back. He opened his mouth.
'Percy,' he said, 'I...'
However, Percy took the opportunity to pull away and shakingly grab back the forgotten bags on the floor, before disapparating into the building.
Percy pressed his back against his appartment's door and took a deep breath. He wiped away the remaining tears, composing his expression.
It's alright, Perce. It's alright.
He breathed again.
'Ollie?' he called out loud.
He walked into the kitchen just in time to see Oliver startle and drop a glass, which shattered all over the floor.
'Oh! Merlin, I'm sorry -I didn't hear you come, I'd just thought I'd make myself of some use and lay the table... I'll fix ...' Oliver chattered happily, raising his wand to repair the glass, but he stopped mid-air as he noticed Percy's expression. 'Oh. Did something happen?'
Percy looked at him. Gorgeous and perfect in his kitchen, surrounded but unscathed by tiny shining pieces of glass. He was keeping most of his weight on a crutch and his hair looked wet, as if he'd showered while Percy was out. It fell beautiful over his eyes, which were full with concern as he took a step forward.
But he couldn't finish the sentence, because then Percy kissed him.
At first, it was clumsy and hurried, and they staggered back as Oliver almost lost balance on his crutch. Percy pinned him to the wall, holding him up as he attacked his mouth. And suddenly Oliver was kissing him back.
And, man, he knew how to kiss.
Oliver kissed the same way he laughed, the same way he lived -with all his being, with a mixture of tenderness and ferocity that shouldn't even be possible. His tongue broke into Percy's mouth as his hand cupped his face, and then his fingers trailed down his spine, sending shivers all along until they settled in the small of his back, pressing their bodies together. Percy gasped for air and Oliver allowed him to breathe for a second, leaning in to nip at his neck -the crutch long forgotten on the floor, as he trusted Percy to hold him up- and then going back to swallow the moan Percy couldn't help to let out.
They were both panting when their lips finally broke apart, and Percy took half a step back, blushing. His head spinned, and for some reason he almost felt afraid of looking up - but when he did, Oliver was grinning and his eyes shone with joy. He gently pulled Percy back towards him and planted one more small kiss at the corner of his mouth.
'Oh Merlin. So much time wasted on flirting and unabashed remarks... and all it took was laying the table?'
Percy blinked, confused for a second, before bursting into laughter. When Oliver joined him, it send a vibration all over his skin.
Then Oliver's expression got more serious, as he gently touched Percy's cheek and forced him to look into his eyes.
'Is everything alright?'
'It is now,' Percy said. Then he bit his lip. 'Well, not really, but... Can I tell you about it later?' He smiled, a bit sheepishly. 'Right now, I'd like to resume what we vere doing before.'
Oliver's response was smirking and capturing back his mouth.
Aaaand we're coming closer to the end! I think there should be about two chapters left, the last one more like an epilogue.
Thank you for sticking with me, and let me know what you think so far! :)
Chapter 10: Talk to Us
First of all, I am really, really sorry for how long this one took. To be honest, it was quite a nightmare -first, I had barely any free time for writing due to the beginning of the semester, and then I accidentally deleted the entire chapter when it was almost finished...
But, anyway, it's finally here, and I hope those of you who are still following will like it! :)
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
For the second day in a row, Percy woke up in the same bed as Oliver -and this time, both of them were shirtless and wrapped up in a close embrace. Definitely an improvement, Percy thought, and a smile spread across his face as he cuddled closer to Oliver. He was still sound asleep.
Unlike the morning before, there was no rush to leave the bed. Instead, Percy found himself stroking the skin on Ollie's chest as it fell and rose peacefully. It felt a bit surreal, being allowed to do so, even as he recalled everything that'd happened the day before.
All was different since they'd kissed -Merlin, they'd kissed-, but in a way, nothing had truly changed. It was more as if the final piece of a very complex machine had finally found its place, and everything could finally work the way it had always been supposed to. Oliver had helped Percy cook lunch, and if he'd found him terribly attractive with his sleeves rolled up as he chopped vegetables... well, the only real difference was that now Percy was allowed to close the distance and peck him on the lips. And later, as Ollie dozed off on the couch due to his prescription potions, Percy could ease his own worry by softly threading his fingers through his curls.
And when night came, they'd taken their time exploring each other. It had started with a slow kiss, much more tentative than the last ones they'd shared, and soon Percy had found his hunger and his shyness placed in a complicate balance. Then Oliver had removed his shirt and trailed kisses all over his torso, all while mumbling sweet nothings at him, like you're so beautiful and do you know how much I wondered if you had freckles all over?, and Percy hadn't even known he liked that sort of thing before, but he'd never been more turned on in his life.
It was then when Percy had left his coyness behind and rolled them over, now him being the one to touch and kiss and discover, and it was almost unbelievable that the whimpering sounds Oliver made had been because of him, but they had.
They'd stopped more or less there, not wanting to take things too fast, and this time, Percy had been the first to fall asleep.
There was amusement and a bit of impatience in Oliver's tone, as if it wasn't the first time he'd requested his attention. Percy startled, stopping his fingers' motion over his chest.
'Oh? I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were awake. I was... thinking.'
'I could tell that,' he said. 'Can I ask what about?'
Ollie's smile only grew wider after Percy refused to answer, blushing a bit. Come on, right now isn't the time to start acting like a lovestruck teenager.
But, as the sleepiness and morning bliss started to fade away, Percy realized he had so many questions. Did Oliver want to go on with their... thing? What was it, anyway? Was Percy even allowed to ask that?
Oliver pressed a kiss to his lips. Well, that doesn't look like a bad sign.
'Hey, don't freak out on me,' Oliver warned, fondly. 'It has taken us long enough to get here.'
His tone was light, but Percy could hear the question in his words. Did Percy want to bail out now?
No, he didn't -and apparently Ollie didn't, either. He beamed.
'I hope you aren't implying it took us this long because of me", Percy teased, as the easy joy he'd felt when waking up fluttered back to him. 'I remind you, I was the one to make the first move.'
Oliver rolled his eyes.
'Of course you were the one to make the first move,' he said. 'I flirted shamelessly with you. You knew I liked you. I, on the other hand... I didn't even know if you were gay. After all, you seemed pretty smitten with Clearwater back at Hogwarts, and then this Audrey girl...'
'Well, I am not gay. And I did fall head over heels for Penelope, to be honest.'
Oliver blinked up at him.
'Bisexuality, meet Oliver. Oliver, meet Bisexuality. It's a wonder you two haven't been introduced before.'
Now it was Oliver's time to blush. Percy bit back a laugh.
'I'm sorry,' Oliver said, apologetic. 'Of course I didn't mean that wasn't a possibility, it's just... well, you never talked about men, and also, your mother didn't seem to even consider the scenario of you settling down with a wizard instead of a witch...'
Once again, there was a question there, Percy knew. He also knew he didn't have to answer it, and definitely Oliver wouldn't ask it of him right then, but...
'My family doesn't know,' he admitted carefully. 'The thing is, I haven't been in a lot of serious relationships -or relationships at all, for that matter- and... the only two which were actually meaningful, until now, just happened to be with women. Penelope and Audrey.' He shrugged, as casually as he managed. 'So... I never told my family I also like men. They just assumed I don't, and I went with it. Not that I thought they'd be unkind about it, it's just... in a way, it seemed like yet another thing that made me different from them. So, I suppose... it was easier not to say anything.'
They fell into silence for some minutes, as Oliver absorbed his words while softly stroking Percy's arm. Finally, he spoke.
'Is it selfish if I focus on the "until now" part?', he asked.
'I didn't mean to assume...'
'No, it's alright,' Oliver soothed, his brown eyes full of warmth. 'It feels important to me, too. I'm not very sure of where we stand yet, but... it definitely feels important.' Then he paused, and his expression turned a bit troubled. 'I need you to know, however... I mean, maybe it's soon for saying this, and I'm the one who's assuming too much now, but... I won't go back to the closet. That's something I can't do.'
Percy considered his words. Some months ago, he would've definitely ran away from such a confrontation with his family. Not to mention the possibility of something that made him feel so vulnerable being known at work. Now, however...
He'd called his father a hypocrite. They'd argued in the middle of the street and he'd all but told him about his deppressive issues. He'd refused to keep feeling guilty. He didn't even know if there was yet a relationship to save there, but anyway, it had felt right to so say some things out loud. Even if it had hurt so badly.
As for work, he was no longer the cold, detached Head of the Department of Magical Transportation. He'd shared many drinks with Terry and Ophelia, he'd told Hermione about his love life and his insecurity problems, and they all had seen him panic over Oliver's unconscious body. They already knew he was vulnerable. They'd just chosen not to step on him, but to lend him a hand.
Maybe it was time to stop trying to hide every single part of himself he felt others might not like.
They had pancakes for breakfast, and Oliver even managed to flip one of them in the air with wandless magic (his previous tries resulting in disaster). Percy laughed and kissed him, but he probably was being little talkative, because when they settled down on the couch to work for a bit, Oliver eyed him worriedly.
'...Percy?', he asked, cautious. 'About what I said before... on not going back to the closet. I don't mean to force you into anything, it's just...'
Percy shook his head, offering an apologetic smile.
'You're not forcing me into anything,' he promised. 'This is something I owe to myself rather than to anyone else. It's just... well, I'm not positive I still have a family to come out to.'
Oliver's eyes widened in surprise, but then his expression changed to one of understanding.
'Is that... about what happened yesterday?'
Percy still hadn't told him about the reasons beyond his distress the day before. Oliver had asked once more a while before going to bed, but he hadn't pressured him after he'd again refused to talk about it.
'I ran into my father yesterday. We... argued'. He flinched a bit. 'It was bad.'
As he'd done the first time Percy had opened up to him, Oliver listened intently, kindly intertwining his good hand's fingers with his. Percy told him about his father's accusations of hurting his mother, about that "any of us" that had stung so badly, and about his own final outburst right before disapparating into the building.
'You should be proud of having told your father how you feel, however,' Oliver said quietly when he finished. 'I realize it was hard, but... you needed to say it, and I think he might have needed to hear it.'
'My father? In what way?'
'Well, sometimes we hurt people we love just because we don't understand them. Or because we're so focused on whatever wrong we think they've done to us, we don't realize they're also in pain.'
'... Don't you think the same lesson could be applied to me?'
Oliver considered it.
'Not really,' he finally said. 'You are, if anything, too aware of the pain you could be causing others, especially your mother. You need to care about yourself more, not less.'
Then he smiled, and kissed Percy on the corner of the lips.
'Or I could just be babbling nonsense. I don't really know most of your family and I'm clearly biased towards you,' he teased, before going on earnestly. 'I do know one thing, however: if someone deserves to be happy, that's you, Perce.'
Percy couldn't help to smile. Oliver's words had always made him feel better, but now that they came together with kisses, they were... something else.
'I'm really glad we can keep talking like this,' he admitted. 'Even if we're, well...'
'Hooking up?' Oliver offered.
Percy hit him with a cushion.
Thank you for all your support. Oliver is feeling remarkably better, even though his leg is still paralized due to the potions. He loved Rosie's drawing, by the way -both of us are looking forward to seeing her (and you) again.
As for your "rooting for me", I feel I should tell you I have good news. Extremely good news, even, although I would like
Percy looked up from his letter, slightly startled by the sound of the doorbell. It was usually strange for him to get visits, but these days, it might as well be Ophe or Terry, wanting to check up on Oliver or to give them another load of paperwork.
'I'll get it,' Oliver offered.
Percy opened his mouth to say there was no need -after all, Oliver still had a bit of trouble walking on crutches-, but then reconsidered, knowing how much he hated being treated like he couldn't do things on his own.
'Alright,' Percy said instead, and he didn't get up as he watched Oliver move slowly to the door.
He was just out of the shower, with his beautiful curls still damp -did he even know how good he looked?- and dressed in one of Percy's jumpers, with his initial carefully stitched by his Mum. The garment might have made Percy's family issues resurface, but the truth was that it didn't. Instead, it just made Oliver look insanely hot, wearing something that was so obviously Percy's.
But when Oliver opened the door, at the other side weren't Ophe and Terry, quarrelling over nothing and maybe bringing a pie. It wasn't even Hermione, with or without Ron and an overjoyed Rosie by her side. Not even a confused neighbour who'd been locked out.
It was Arthur and Molly Weasley.
Percy watched, like in a really strange dream, as his parents and Oliver gaped at each other with mirrored looks of astonishment.
Oliver was the first one to react.
'Mr and Mrs Weasley,' he said, carefully. 'Were you looking for Percy?'
'We -yes, honey,' his mother replied, in a somewhat weird voice. 'We'd like to talk to him. Can we come in?'
The three of them turned to look at Percy, who was perfectly visible from the door, and waited for his answer.
'Sure,' he said, and suddenly his voice sounded wrong, too. 'Come in, I'll... make some tea.'
His parents had never before been to his appartment, not even when he'd moved in -things had been really awkward between at that point, although not as much as nowadays-, and they looked strangely out of place at his modern-style kitchen table.
'Do you want me to leave?' Oliver asked him, quietly enough only Percy could hear him.
Percy thought about it. He didn't really want to be left alone, but...
'Maybe some privacy is for the best,' he finally admitted.
'I'll be in your room, if you need me,' he said, gently squeezing his arm before going.
Percy sat in front of his parents at the table, each of them holding smoking cup of tea. There was an awkward silence as everyone cautiously took a sip.
'Percy,' his mother finally began. Her voice was kind, but filled with worry, as it always was when she addressed him. 'I'm sorry we came here without warning. We should have sent an owl, I know, but... we feared you wouldn't want to talk to us, and we really have something important to say.'
Percy's chest tightened with anxiety. It must be something really serious if they've come all the way here. Did something bad happen? Ginny, Ron, Charlie, George, Bill...? Or is it about the other day? They wouldn't just come and tell me I officially don't belong to the family any longer, would they?
'Percy,' his father said, 'We are sorry. We haven't been good parents to you.'
Percy blinked, bewildered.
'Of course you've been,' he argued when his voice came back. It's me who apparently can't be a very good son.
His father shook his head. He looked sad, and tired, in a way he hadn't looked in a long time.
'No, Percy, we haven't. Especially me. I'm sorry. I didn't know you felt that way, not until our argument. I thought you just avoided coming to The Burrow because you didn't like us, because you didn't like -well, me. Because you felt ashamed of me, as you used to when you were younger. And it made me angry, and it also made me feel guilty because your mother was so sad, and I... I was sad, too, but in a way, I hid behind her sadness, and that was unfair for her, too.' He took a deep breath. 'The point is... I was too selfish to realize I was wrong, and this wasn't about me. I didn't listen to you, I didn't take care of you. I just blamed and guilt-tripped you, and treated you coldly, and... I'm really, really sorry, son.'
It definitely felt like a weird dream. At any moment, Percy would wake up, he'd be late for the Ministry, and nothing of this would've ever happened. Neither Oliver waiting for him in his room, nor his parents in his kitchen telling him they were sorry.
'And I, Percy,' his mother piped up. 'I am sorry too. I hate that I made you feel guilty, that I made it all about me. I just wished to help you, to protect you, to see you happy... but I never wanted for you to feel like you had to fake happiness for my sake. Or... like you had to have a certain lifestyle to fulfill my standards.' Her eyes flickered to the door through which Oliver had left, just for a second. 'We should have said this before, Percy, and we should have said it more often. We love you -no matter if you're happy or sad, married or single, with a job or without it. We just love you.'
'We always have,' his father added quietly, 'Even when I was most furious with you, never stopped.'
'And, Perce,' his mum went on, her voice trembling as she clearly fought against the tears that were forming in her eyes, 'Never, never think you're "purposelessly alive instead of Fred".' She hiccupped. 'Fred's death b-broke me, but... my children aren't i-interchangeable...'
This was too much, Percy thought. His mother shouldn't be forced to talk about Fred. It always hurt her too much.
'Mum,' he said, taking her hand with a bit of desperation, 'We don't have to talk about this.'
'Yes, we do,' his mother insisted, squeezing his fingers. 'I would never, never think about of any of you like t-that. Not you, nor George, not Bill or Ginny - no one. After F-Fred... I've been terrified of losing another one of you.' A long tear fell down her cheek and she looked down at her hands. 'A-and, when you started... looking so m-miserable, I was afraid t-tha... and, I realize I've only made it worse, and p-probably am still now... Merlin, I'm sorry.'
Percy couldn't take it anymore. He felt tears filling up his eyes, too, but he didn't care as he walked around the table and wrapped his mother in an embrace.
'I'm the one who is sorry, Mum. I didn't mean to put you through that,' he choked out. 'Mum, listen, I promise... I promise, I'm never going to hurt myself. I didn't realize you thought that. I promise it won't happen'.
Molly tightened her hold around him, crying silently onto his shoulder, but eventually she calmed herself enough to let go and press a kiss to his cheek.
'My beautiful, beautiful boy,' she said.
His father tentatively rested his arm onto Percy's shoulder.
A part of Percy wanted to stupidly ask, as he used to do when he was a little child after an argument with his father, Are we friends now?. But another part was still hurting, and hadn't still completely let go of the judging stares Arthur had burned him with during all those years.
His father was finally the one to talk.
'Can you give us another chance?'
And in spite of all the pain, there was only one answer to that.
'Yes,' Percy said. Then, he looked at his shoes. 'But, obviously, it isn't all on you. I've made so many mistakes during those years, even if we don't count the beginning.' He winced. 'I've avoided you, I've made you worry. I've wanted to be understood but never made an effort to explain myself. So, I'm sorry, too.'
The three of them stood in silence for some minutes. Percy took a sip of his tea.
His mother had finally regained her composure, and her voice was calm and full of hope when she spoke next:
'So... we've thought we could make a deal.'
Percy eyed her carefully, but he put back his hand over hers.
'What kind of deal?'
'We don't... harass you any longer, we don't try to force you to do things you don't want. And you talk to us. In whatever terms you want, I know we can't suddenly regain all of your trust, but... You tell us if something we do bothers you, so we can act differently. You tell us how you're doing, whether it's well or not, even if it is only with a few words. If you need it, you ask for help.'
Percy considered it.
'Alright,' he said, nodding slowly.
He thought for another second before going on.
'So... maybe, we could see each other like today. Instead of in big family dinners, I mean. Maybe it could be just the three of us. Or with Ron and Hermione sometimes, or... Oliver could come if you agreed, or... well, like that. I mean... not so many people?'
He felt a bit ridiculous while saying it, as if he was a small kid asking for his parents' attention, or being afraid of big crowds.
Molly and Arthur, however, beamed at him.
It made Percy brave enough to keep on talking.
'And, also... On the subject of how I'm doing...' He fidgeted with his cup of tea. 'Oliver has been living with me for the past couple of days. It's only temporary, since he's gotten his leg hurt, but... well, I probably wouldn't be here having this very mature conversation with you if it weren't for his friendship during the past few months. He's helped me overcome more issues that one would think possible.' He took a deep breath. 'And also... we're sort of in a relationship. It's very new, and I don't know what will come of it yet, but... I wanted you to know.'
When, hour and a half later, Mr and Mrs Weasley said their goodbyes, she startled Oliver by suddenly pulling him into an embrace. She pressed her hand against the P in the jumper he still wore.
'If you come to Christmas dinner,' she promised, tearfully, 'I'll make you one of your own.'
I hope you didn't find Percy and his parents' reconciliation too fast -of course, they still have a LOT of issues to talk about, and I don't want you too think that it's "all fixed"... but, opening a door for communication is essential.
Next chapter will likely focus on Percy and Oliver's relationship, as well as on their work at the Ministry. It might be the last one, but to be honest, I'll probably add a short Epilogue to wrap up things.
So, what are you thoughts so far?
Chapter 11: Hate You
Okay, first of all, I am going to stop apologizing for how long updates take, because I am clearly useless at keeping an even pace to them. At least, we're reaching the end -only the epilogue left- and I hope you guys have been enjoying it so far! Thank you for staying with me, and also for your immensely helpful comments! They cheer me up every day <3
Also, I feel this chapter got a bit out of hand with fluff. I didn't want to make this too corny, but... *hides*
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
In the following days, Percy found out something he should really have known already: being in a relationship with Oliver meant talking a lot.
Part of it was the friendly banter he'd grown used to during the past months, peppered with the kind teasing that always ended with one of them laughing against his own will.
A definitely new thing was Oliver talking non-stop when they were in bed, all praises and little moans and pleas that made Percy blush and wish they never ever had to leave their room. His room. Damn it.
Just the day before, Oliver had conversationally called him beautiful while they were having dinner, and Percy's skin had reddened so fast -immediately remembering the situation they were in when he'd last whispered those words at him-, that Oliver had stared at him, dumbfounded at first, and then with a little smirk forming at his lips.
'You like me telling you that.'
Percy had stuttered something incoherent, and then Ollie's lips had been at his, his cocky grin pressed against his mouth.
'It's okay,' he'd said, 'I like telling you too.'
And it was ridiculous, honestly, but Percy loved it.
And then, of course, there was talking-taking. About life, work, infancy, fears, hopes, politics, family. It was such a wonderful quality of Oliver, his ability to display his own feelings, to be confident enough to unshield himself and hope for the best. Percy was really learning to do so, too, but sometimes his insecurities still got the best of him. More often than not, he'd let himself get swept up in Oliver's reflections about life, and he'd share his own, too, and it would feel strange, like being peeled and left exposed and vulnerable, but also somewhat lighter and happier. It felt nice opening up, having someone to listen to those things he had never spoken out loud before, but sometimes, afterwards, he'd lay awoke in bed, wondering if he'd shared too much, if Oliver might have been scared away.
Intelectually, he usually knew, however, that it wasn't likely to be the case, and when Oliver cuddled closer to him -even asleep Oliver seemed to always know what he needed-, Percy would allow himself to relax and finally drift off.
One of those occasions had taken place early on, when they had been talking and kissing lazily on the couch, and then Oliver mumbled against his jaw, 'I wish we'd started this sooner.'
'I am kind of glad we didn't,' Percy answered before he could stop himself.
'Oh?' Oliver said, moving away a bit. 'You didn't feel the same way in the beginning?'
There was nothing more than curiosity in his face, and once more, Percy wished he had that kind of self-confidence. He also knew he could simply say Yes, that's it and get back to kissing, but...
'No,' he admitted, looking away, 'I did feel the same way. I just... might not have been ready for this before.'
Oliver waited, knowing more words were coming, and Percy didn't know if that was a good or a bad thing.
'For example...' he started, a bit unsure. 'When Audrey and I dated, we did truly love each other, but neither of us were in a good place for a relationship. We... both carried too much pain, and we had no idea of how to manage it.' He sighed. 'It was a disaster, it hurt us both, and it didn't last.'
I probably shouldn't be talking about my ex right now. What on Earth am I even doing?
'And now?', Oliver prompted gently after a short silence. His head was lying on Percy's shoulder now, as if he knew Percy opening up was easier when they didn't have to look eye to eye, but there was still contact.
Percy cleared his throat. He had no idea why he'd started talking about this -seriously, what is wrong with me?- but now, it seemed really important.
'Now, well... Back when I met you and we started to become friends, you... You helped me much more than you think,' he admitted. 'And I had feelings for you, but I needed to heal a bit longer by myself before acting on them.' He looked at his hands. 'I think... I think the thing I was actually terrified about wasn't being rejected, but starting a relationship with you, and it going wrong, and then losing you. That was something Hermione made me realize. But then she, and Ophe, and Terry even, they also made me see... that even if I lost you, I wouldn't be truly alone, not anymore'.
He was blushing furiously, and refused to meet Oliver's gaze when he gently nuzzled at his jaw, encourgaging him to keep going.
'So, I suppose that,' he resumed, 'in order to give this a chance, I needed to feel like I could afford it going wrong. It was the only way we could start... this, on a somehow equal ground, without me being your charity case anymore. Just two people liking and helping each other.' Percy smiled, a bit embarrassed. 'That's another one of Hermione's lessons, too. And,' he concluded lamely, 'All of this is probably not something you should tell to the guy you have the hots for, but.'
Percy waited for Oliver to say something, stubbornly staring at his hands, until the silence had been so long that he was worried enough to look up.
'Ollie? I am sorry if that was too...'
And then Oliver was suddenly, fiercely, kissing him.
'First of all,' he said when they parted, slightly out of breath, 'Someone telling me they don't need me has never been so beautiful.'
'That's not wha-', Percy objected, but he was quickly sushed.
'Secondly,' Oliver went on, 'we've always been equals. In fact, if someone were to be the charity case, you should look at who is the invalid crashing at the other's appartment right now.'
'You're not an in-!'
Oliver playfully shut him down again, now with a peck on the lips.
'I know, but I admit I can use the reminder every now and then,' he said, a bit more serious. 'Third, which maybe should have been first, thank you for telling me. Really.' And then, he smirked. 'Fourth, I really have the hots for you, too.'
Percy's face burned at his own choice of words, but he kept his voice as much sarcastic as he could.
'I kind of already grasped that.'
And he smiled at Oliver's playful bit in retaliation because, once more, Oliver understood.
One morning two days later, Percy woke up to a muffled scream and found Oliver sitting up on the bed, breathing heavily.
'Ollie? Are you okay?'
Oliver nodded, and then a grin spread slowly across his face.
'Yes,' he said. 'I can... I can feel my leg again.'
Percy's stomach jolted in joy for him and he smiled, too, because he'd always known this day was coming -no longer than a week, the healer had said-, but he'd also known that, deep down, Oliver had feared it would never come.
'Can you move it?', he asked cautiously.
Ollie nodded again.
'It still feels a bit funny, but I can move it alright.'
Then, unexpectedly, he giggled. Percy arched his eyebrows at him, amused.
'It's nothing, it must be the... relief, I suppose,' Oliver said, a bit sheepishly. 'It's just I remembered... The first night I spent here, you said...'
And then Percy remembered, the first time he'd woken up to Ollie having a nightmare, trying to calm him down, and then stroking his insensitive leg, there where he had pinched himself so angrily it had bruised. I wish I could feel that, Oliver had told him, and then... I promise to repeat it as soon as you're fine, had been Percy's words.
Percy almost laughed, too. It seemed so far away, now. Instead, he smirked.
'Well,' he said, 'I'll have to make good on my word, then.'
He pressed his lips to Oliver's ankle, and then trailed slow kisses up to his knee, conscious of Oliver's half-amused, half interested look over him.
'What are you do-oh'.
Percy laughed against his inner thigh before kissing it again, and then sucked at the tender skin, enjoying it as Oliver's laugh turned into a whimper.
Of course, Oliver's recovery meant them going back to work and also, after another couple of days of stalling, him going back to his own appartment. Percy didn't want him to leave -and he had a suspicion that Ollie didn't want to go, either-, but he knew there was no good in rushing things more than they had to.
It was strange having his own appartment back to himself. At first, it felt lonely, but then Percy received a call from Ophelia asking if she could drop by later -and it wasn't even about work, she wanted to talk about Terry, of all things, and Percy had no idea when or how she had convinced herself Percy was the person to come to in such a situation- and, when it got late and he asked her if she wanted to stay for dinner, he realized he had now a full fridge.
Ophelia left, and Percy looked at his place. There were empty glasses and dirty dishes in the sink, and the Daily Prophet on the kitchen table, and a basket full of apples his mother had given him when he'd last visited -and honestly, Percy had no chance of eating them all before they rotted unless he got help. On his bedside table, when he dropped a book Hermione had lent him, he found a note by Oliver: Miss me already?
And Percy realized that, somehow along the way, his appartment had turned into a home.
Work went on more or less as it had been before, although when Percy first saw Shacklebolt, in a meeting about international travelling regulation, he sharply blurted at him:
'Thank Merlin you're back, Weasley.'
Percy had been perplex for a second, before he decided it had been a good thing.
Also, Oliver and him tried not to display their relationship in the workplace -it was unprofessional, and to be honest, Percy still wasn't a fan of the idea of dating someone who was, technically, his subordinate-, but they left the Ministry together more often than not, and soon, there were enough of Oliver's clothes back at Percy's wardrobe that, by looking at it, one would think he'd never moved out.
Barely two months later, Percy, Terry and two other members of the Department -a purple-haired witch in charge of budget, and a wizard who was supposed to take care of transportation security- gathered together in the yard for seeing the advances of Ophelia and Oliver's investigation. Percy felt his stomach turn with anxiety as he watched Oliver hop on the broom prototype, flashing them all a grin before kicking the ground and shooting off in the air.
Oliver flied, fast and free, until he was so high they could no longer hear his exhilarated laugh, and Percy was already beaming with joy when he saw the broom plummeting down towards the ground.
His vision blurred in panic -it couldn't be, it couldn't be, not again, not from so damn high- and the others' screaming went muffled in his head as he took out his wand, terrified, because he had to do something, something, but...
The broom stopped mid-air and it jolted backwards in a graceful pirouette, and before Percy could regain his breath, Oliver was standing next to him in the ground, perfectly unharmed and looking too much proud of himself.
'You did that on purpose, you crazy idiot?!', Ophelia yelled behind him -she had taken her wand out, too-, but Percy didn't even hear her.
Instead, he was already launching himself at Oliver -for a few seconds, he didn't even know if he was going to hug him or punch him. And then, of course, he was kissing him.
Oliver stumbled backwards, a bit stunned, before kissing back and smiling sheepishly.
'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to scare anyone.' He wrinkled his nose. 'Or make a scene.'
'I hate you,' Percy said, because he loved him so damn much, and he'd been half scared to death.
Oliver blinked, and then a small grin spread across his face.
'I hate you too.'
Percy blushed and moved away. He looked abashedly at their coworkers - at least, Ophe and Terry already knew- and cleared his throat.
'Em. Sorry about that. It was utterly una-'
'Don't worry about it, boss,' the purple-haired woman interrupted him, and she turned to the wizard, 'McCormack, you owe me twenty Galleons.'
Percy could already hear Skeeter's quill tearing the parchment, but somehow, he didn't care all that much.
Please feel free to leave any thoughts/corrections/requests!
Chapter 12: Epilogue
Again, I think this one went overboard with fluff, but what can I say... I love making them happy.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Percy tossed aside the pile of paperwork he'd been working on for the last hour and removed his glasses before reaching out to Oliver.
'Hey. Hey, Ollie,' he said, kindly shaking his arm. 'Time to wake up'.
Oliver patted him away.
'Already?' he complained.
'It's ten in the morning!'
'Did we really oversleep that much?'
'Well, you did.'
Ollie's burrow furrowed, taking in the pile of parchments on the nightsand. The curtains were still drawn and the lights off, except for the reading lamp on Percy's side.
(He could have chosen to work in the living room, of course, but... his workaholic tendencies had to compromise with his reluctance to leave a bed which had Oliver in it).
'You really need someone to teach you what Saturdays mornings are for. Especially on Christmas.'
'Well, you do a pretty good job of that yourself when you are not sleeping like a log,' Percy retorted.
'Cheesy,' Oliver chided, before frowning a bit. 'Or cheeky. I can't really tell. ' He yawned. 'Well, I better go shower, then. We shouldn't be late.'
He yawned again in his way to the bathroom, and Percy knew he was truly tired, but he didn't comment on it. Oliver had woken in the middle of the night after a nightmare -one of the ugliest of the few usual ones, although they had been becoming fairly less frequent over time-, and he'd been restless afterwards, even after he'd let Percy hug him and insisted himself they both went back to sleep. Percy felt powerless every time Oliver had a nightmare like this, so it had been relieving to let him sleep late in the morning.
'So,' Oliver asked when he came out of the shower, drying his curls in a small towel, 'Which shirt should I wear? The blue or the purple one?'
Percy considered it.
'Purple if you want to impress me, blue for my parents. Although for my mum, your ugliest sweater probably would be the most appreciated option.'
'You are awful,' Oliver said, rolling his eyes at him even as he started buttoning up the purple shirt.
Percy bit back a smile. He'd rather expected him to make the opposite choice.
'Oh, daring move there.'
'Well, I already got your mother wrapped around my little finger.'
Now Percy didn't even bother to hide his grin.
'I kinda am, too.'
'Kinda?' Oliver repeated, mockingly shocked. 'You see, I must raise my game.'
'Uncle Percy! Oliver!'
It had become usual to be welcomed at the Burrow by the little ones' happy squeaks. When Oliver put Rosie and Albus down and attempted to lift James, as he always did when greeting them, the boy let out a horrified cry.
'What's wrong, buddy? You are too big to picked up, now?', Oliver teased.
'That too, but -it's not that!' James exclaimed, turning to Percy, alarm written all over his big brown eyes. 'Uncle Percy, you shouldn't have brought him! Now we're going to lose the match!'
Percy burst out laughing. Oliver looked at them both, bewildered.
'The Quidditch match,' Percy clarified. 'We usually play Weasleys vs ... well, in-laws,' He blushed a bit, 'in big celebrations. But, now, James, are you telling me you don't trust Ginny to lead us to victory?'
James blinked, perplexed at first, then affronted.
'Mum is a better player than anyone,' he said, 'but Dad and Aunt Angelina are very good too. And Uncle Charlie isn't playing this year!'
'Charlie isn't playing? How so?'
'He got hurt caring for his dragons and is supposed to rest for some weeks,' James pouted, clearly unimpressed. 'Granny isn't happy about it.'
'You know,' Hermione said, 'I'd hoped I could talk to you about something today.'
Percy turned to her. Neither of them being a Quidditch fan, both had declined to take part in the match. Instead, they were taking a walk around the field, keeping only half an eye on the game. Arthur, Molly and the children were, however, watching raptly from down the hill, all of them cheering loudly. (Percy had no idea how little Fred II, barely two months old, could stay asleep despite the uproar).
'What is it?'
'Well, I...' It was weird for Hermione to struggle for words. She recovered quickly, looking at him with decision. 'I've decided to run for Minister,' she announced. 'As you know, Shacklebolt is retiring after this term, and I think... I really think I could go on with his work. Improve things. Keep mending the wounds the war left us, and building the future we fought for.'
Percy grinned. Years ago, running for Minister had been his dream -but now, he could not think of a better person for the job than Hermione.
'I'm so happy to hear that. You'll be the best Minister the magical community has know yet,' he said honestly. 'And, well. For whatever it might be worth, you have my support.'
Hermione smiled back at him.
'Thank you,' she said, 'But it is not only your support I am asking for. I would love it if you were to be part of my team.'
Percy stared at her, dumbfounded.
'Look, Percy. I know you have all these ideas about how you made bad choices before the war and thus you aren't fit to take an active position in the political field anymore. But, listen to me. They were bad choices, I agree. But you didn't make them out of hate, or magical supremacy, or any sort of unforgivable notion. You made bad choices because you were young and mistaken, and you trusted your boss. And you didn't hurt anyone. You were never a collaborationist. What is more, you corrected your mistakes on time. Without you passing information from the inside, many things could have gone way worse. In the end, you helped as much as you could, and you fought the final battle with us. So, I think it's time to let that go and look at what you've done ever since.'
Hermione slapped his forearm, without real force.
'You've worked more than anyone in the whole damn Ministery, Perce. I don't know if Shacklebolt told you, but when you were on leave, things that had always run smoothly in your Department -things we took for granted- went overboard. You know how to get things done, and you make them function, even when you're juggling more responsabilities than, to be honest, should be thurst upon one single person. Also, you treat everyone fairly. There is a reason why no one gave credit to Skeeter's articles on how you'd used your position to favour Oliver when your relationship got to the press.' She paused for breath. 'And, finally, Percy, all these years haven't turned you into a bureaucrat, in the bad sense of the word. When Oliver came to you, before you were even friends, you saw an injustice, and you took action to make things right. That's what I want from my team if I am going to run for Minister.'
Percy gaped at her, all words lost.
'So,' Hermione said, staring at him with half a smile already playing in her lips, 'I trust you with this. Will you trust me?'
In the silence, they could hear Harry and Oliver's laughter, both of them celebrating as someone -probably Angelina- scored for their team.
'Yes,' Percy said. 'Yes, I will.'
By the time most people started to say their goodbyes, Percy found Oliver spread out on the couch, under a heap of children who were way past their bedtime. He had to bit back a smile. Ollie was wearing a red jumper with an O on the chest, a promised present from Percy's mother, and the colour clashed horribly with the purple shirt underneath. His brown curls were completely dishevelled -courtesy of Rose, who, albeit sound asleep, still had a fist fiercely wrapped around one of his locks. On his other arm, Albus had also almost completely dozed off, and at his feet, James and Dominique were playing Exploding Snap.
'I hope you've cast a Muffliato on these two,' Percy teased.
'Way ahead of you,' Oliver winked. 'We should be going, shouldn't we?'
'Yes,' Percy admitted.
Oliver disentangled himself from the kids, leaving their heads safely resting on the couch and carefully opening Rosie's little hand until he got free. He ruffled James' hair.
'See you soon, Jamie. I hope you don't hold a grudge for losing the match.'
James pouted at the reminder, but then he shrugged.
'It's okay. I'm glad you came anyway. Besides, I'm not supposed to be sad when the Weasley team loses, because it makes Dad feel unsupported.'
He pronounced the last word with difficulty. Percy stiffled a laugh.
They apparated back at Percy's. When they closed the door behind them and Oliver catched a glimpse of his own reflection on the entrance mirror, he groaned.
'Oh, Merlin. I look like someone unleashed an army of Cornish pixies upon me.'
Percy thought he looked gorgeous.
'Well,' he said, 'My nephews and nieces are some dangerous tiny creatures, yes.'
He kissed Oliver with intent, slowly now they were alone. He'd been impatient to do so for a while. He felt Oliver's lips curve in a smile under his own.
'What is it?', Ollie asked.
'Nothing, just... I may have a thing for you being around kids.'
'Is that so?' he asked, playfully. His eyes glinted with mischief. 'But oh my, Perce, isn't a bit soon for us to be having this conversation?'
Percy rolled his eyes, blushing.
'I don't even know why I told you. You're obnoxious.'
'Oliver? Are you awake?'
'I kinda forgot to ask you something.'
Oliver turned around in the bed, blinking. He seemed rather inclined to hid his head under the pillow and resume sleeping.
'Can't it wait until the morning?'
'Well, yes, it can,' Percy admitted, 'But then it will probably keep me awake until then.'
'Okay, what is it?'
Suddenly, Percy found it hard to choose his words.
'Well, I... I wanted to know...'
Oliver seemed much more awake now, curious at his hesitation. He propped himself up on his elbows.
'Would you like to move in back with me?' Percy finally blurted out. 'I mean, we've been dating for almost a year now, and you spend so many time here anyway, and... well, I'd thought of giving you a pair of keys for Christmas, but you already have one, so I...'
Before he could go on further, Oliver had climbed on top of him and was kissing him, with a grin so wide that he almost couldn't do so properly.
'I'd love to, Perce.'
Percy grinned back, an easy joy fluttering up from his stomach. He returned the kiss and rolled them over, laughing happily at Oliver's surprised yelp.
'Why is it me who always has to take the risky steps in this relationship?', he teased. 'Honestly, this Gryffindor-incarnated image people seem to have of you is so unwarr-'
Oliver shut him down with a peck, chuckling against his lips.
'In this case, because you are the one who owns an inhabitable flat. And it would have been a bit weird inviting myself to live in,' he reasoned, and then grinned wickedly. 'Don't worry, I'm calling dibs on proposing.'
Percy's immediate reaction would have been to choke, but he stopped himself on time -Oliver enjoyed way too much dropping that kind of thing out of the blue all nonchalantly and making a flustered mess of him. Instead, he rolled his eyes.
'That will be if Rosie or James don't propose to you on behalf of the whole family before. It wouldn't surprise me in the slightest that they beat you to it.'
Just a few final thoughts:
Five-year-old Rose did beat Oliver to proposing, much to everyone's amusement. Oliver took, however, his chance of a risky step in their relationship -the biggest one so far- the day he arrived home with a terrified little girl in his arms and begged Percy to take her in for a few days. The girl had been abandoned in a corner next to the Puddlemere field, and in the end, she never left. When Percy and Oliver first took her to King's Cross to attend Hogwarts, ten years had passed since the day Ollie had threatened to fill a complaint against the Department of Magical Transportation, and Percy had decided to offer him a job. There is, of course, a whole other story about this girl, who in my mind is named Cassie (short from Cassandra) and came from a black wizard family. It is, however, a story I don't think I'll write -but I wanted you to know about her anyway. (Maybe it's just me being cheesy, you know. I've actually come to care a lot about these characters and their lives in the time I've been writing about them). Also, although I've read a lot on AO3, this is the first time ever I post a story, and I wasn't sure about the ratings. I ended up rating it for Teen and Up, but if you guys think I should do otherwise, please let me know. Finally, but most important of all: THANK YOU for reading and staying with me this whole journey. Every single one of the kudos you left, and especially your lovely, kind and insightful comments, made me feel so happy and want to keep going with this story. So, thank you for that, and thank you also for your patience -I know I take too long to update, and I didn't even do it at a regular pace.
But here we are, finally at the end, so... I hope you've enjoyed reading this half as much I did writing it! As always, can't wait to hear your thoughts <3 <3 <3