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Chapter 1: Percy Weasley: Prodigal
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Percy Weasley: Prodigal
A lone figure, hooded and cloaked, stood in the centre of the Hungerford footbridge, leaning on the dilapidated old railing and staring out across the river. He huddled into his cloak, ignoring the strange glances of the Muggles who passed by him. He knew he looked odd to them, but there was some comfort in the anonymity of the Muggle world, and Percy Weasley was in need of comfort.
The sky today was almost as grey as the river, and he thought as he stared at the ripples and eddies that it had been so since he'd first left the Burrow to strike out on his own, since he'd abandoned family and home and gone to the Ministry. The entire world had been grey, ever since Harry Potter had told the world he'd fought He Who Must Not Be Named and escaped.
He'd been alone, truly alone, for the first time in his life. At first the privacy in the tiny apartment had been wonderful, no one to bother him, no other voices to tell to hush up when he couldn't hear himself think, but after a while, the silence had grown oppressive. He'd begun to miss the presence of his large family around him, missed telling off Fred and George, missed Ginny poking her head in to see what he was doing, missed Ron and his stupid Chudley Cannons, missed his mum fawning over him and doing all the cooking and cleaning, and most of all he missed his father. He missed how the whole family was always eager for his father to come home, his mum's eyes lighting up and all of his siblings rushing to tell him about their day. He missed sitting in his father's study, reading while his father worked. But most of all, he missed the approval in his father's eyes, the pride when he looked at his third son. Percy had not seen that approval in his father's eyes for a long time.
Percy had not believed Harry's story. He'd known the boy for four years, but he hadn't really known him, it seemed. He'd thought Harry was trying to get attention, wanted to have everyone fawning over him, and it had angered Percy that his family believed him. How could You-Know-Who be back? How could a boy of fourteen fight him off? Why would they believe it when the Minister of Magic himself had assured everyone that it was not so? Who could believe a silly little boy and a mad old man?
But he understood now. He'd seen the evidence with his own eyes, and it was difficult to swallow. He couldn't go back, when he'd been so horribly wrong. Not after the things he'd said to his father. He kept going to work. His job was still there even now that Fudge was gone. Percy knew it was only because Scrimgeour wanted a lever to use to get to Harry Potter, that the new Minister knew that Harry was very friendly with the Weasleys and wanted a Weasley on his side, and this was proven when Scrimgeour asked him to take him to the Burrow at Christmas. His mum had cried and hugged him, but he'd felt guilty for being there under a lie; he'd not wanted to go home, not like that, he wasn't ready, and he hadn't even really wanted to bring the Minister, but he didn't feel he had a choice but to comply with the request. And then someone had flung mashed parsnip at him, and he'd stormed out, feeling unloved and unwanted. At least the Ministry still wanted him.
Percy knew he'd been used to get to Harry Potter, but he wanted the job badly. At least if he was still a Junior Undersecretary, it didn't seem that his life during the past year had been a waste. Somehow he felt less stupid for having his position, and he clung to his authority at the Ministry and continued to give his father the cold shoulder when he saw him at work. It was small comfort, but he could not swallow his pride and come home on his knees, especially after they'd shown him at Christmas that he was not wanted: he just needed more time.
But the more time passed, the harder it seemed to go home, until he didn't think there was any way to do it at all. His brother Bill was married, and he did not go, though the invitation his mother had sent him sat on his table for months. Scrimgeour was killed, and a new Minister chosen who Percy could see was working for You-Know-Who, and still Percy stayed at the Ministry. It grew darker and darker in the halls of government, and everywhere he looked Percy saw evil and destruction, his eyes opened at last, but it only made it more impossible for him to leave. He kept going to work, because he did not know what else to do. And he kept ignoring his father at work, because his father was now on a list of suspicious persons, and Percy was afraid.
He did not want them coming for him in the night, did not want to go to Azkaban, did not want to disappear without a trace, and so he kept coming to work every day and kept his head down and his mouth shut to the evil all around him, and he watched his father in awe and shame. Arthur Weasley came in to work every day with his head held high, saw the evil around him and stood against it. He spoke harshly to those he saw committing injustices, even though it put him at personal risk. He stood strong for Dumbledore's memory, and continued to press for Muggle rights in the face of a government that did not even see Muggle-born witches and wizards as human. Percy was proud of his father, and ashamed to be his son because he did not believe he could be as good and brave a man as his father was.
He'd thought he could be, once, thought that by siding with the Ministry against Dumbledore that he was doing just that. But somehow nothing had gone right after he'd left home, and the person he'd tried to be had never been real, and the person he became instead was not someone he would ever wish to be. He had cut himself off at the knees, destroyed the very roots that would have steadied him through the storms, and now he was alone, without an anchor in a sea of evil.
He pushed away from the rusted railing, turning away from the river, and blended into the crowd on the footbridge as best he could, heading home to his dingy little flat.
He began to grow more and more afraid to leave his flat at night as the year pressed on, as the entire country looked for Harry Potter, and he listened to 'Potterwatch', heard voices he knew well as Lee Jordan and Professor Lupin, and the Auror Kingsley Shacklebolt, and finally his brother Fred all told the world the truth, despite the dangers. The more deaths that were reported, the more Percy was afraid; he did not want to stay in, in case they came for him, but he did not know where to go if he went out. His father stopped coming in to work at Easter, and the rumours said the entire Weasley family had disappeared, gone into hiding. Percy felt more alone than ever.
Eventually he found himself leaving the grey wash of London and Apparating into Hogsmeade in the evenings after work, and looking up at the school, wishing he could go back to the days when he'd been carefree, though he had thought at the time that he'd had the weight of the world on his shoulders as Head Boy. How had he sunk so low from what he'd been? He didn't even recognize himself any more.
He ate dinner in the Hog's Head, a ratty and dusty pub that seemed full of criminals, but Percy thought he was sure to be left alone there: who would look for Percy Weasley in a place like this? And it was there that he met the bartender, Aberforth Dumbledore.
It began with a simple, gruff inquiry as to what he thought he was doing in a place like that. Percy hadn't meant to tell him, had meant to make a snide remark in answer, but somehow the entire story poured out of him, and he found a sympathetic ear in Aberforth, who was the black sheep of his own family.
“I know your father,” Aberforth told him gruffly a few nights after Percy had told his story. He'd been back every night, chatting with Aberforth in low voices. “Why don't you just go home, boy? Tell him you know you've been an idiot.”
Percy ducked his head as Aberforth moved away, replacing a bottle of firewhiskey to the liquor shelf; he always avoided catching a glimpse of his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. Lately he could not stand to see himself. “They already know I am. I don't know that they'll want me back.” They didn't want me at Christmas...
“Parents always want their child back,” Aberforth said, and there was something in his voice that Percy dared not disagree with.
A few nights later he was at home, hoping for a 'Potterwatch' broadcast and feeling guilty about the letter he'd once sent to Ron, when he'd said horrible things about the boy he now hoped really was The Chosen One, when a head appeared in his fire. Percy's heart leapt in terror, thinking they were coming for him at last, but then he recognized the surly bartender from the Hog's Head.
“Get to Hogsmeade, now!” Aberforth said, and disappeared.
Percy did not hesitate; he stood and Apparated straight out of his flat and into the wizarding village.
The air in Hogsmeade was thrumming with excitement, and students were fleeing down the street, away from the castle, their faces pale with terror. No one seemed to notice him, in their haste to escape they were shoving past him, and he made it to the pub with difficulty through the crowded streets.
“What's going on?” he asked as he caught sight of Aberforth in the dim light. Aberforth seemed possessed that night of the same coiled energy that his brother had always had, and Percy knew before he said it what must be happening.
“It's come, boy,” Aberforth rasped. “War. Get your wand out, now, it's time to take a stand.”
Percy could only stare. Him? Fight? But he had taken the wrong side, had shunned his family. How could he now fight?
“Are you deaf?” Aberforth said harshly. “It's time to fight, boy! Time to decide whose side you're really on!”
Percy stared at him, paralysed, and Aberforth said impatiently, “Are you a Weasley or not?” He shook his head at Percy and left the room, leaving Percy staring directly at his own reflection in the dirty mirror for the first time in months.
Percy stood frozen for a moment, his eyes fixed on his reflection. Red hair, glasses, tall and thin, he looked very much like his father, and he'd hated that when he first left, when he was desperate to show he was nothing like his father. His father would fight. No matter what else had happened, what mistakes had been made, his father knew right from wrong, had taught it to all his children, and his father would fight against evil. Percy's eyes met their twin's in the mirror, and he hoped now he could find his father in himself, and he said aloud, “I am a Weasley.”
He ran for the stairs, for the secret passageway into Hogwarts, following Aberforth.
It was a long climb to the top, he was sweaty and tired already, but he was going to fight, and he knew he was fighting on the side of good this time. He tumbled out of the door into the castle, overbalanced and fell, grabbed a chair to right himself, and as he got to his feet, he asked, “Am I too late? Has it started? I only just found out, so I -”
And then he saw them. His family. They were all standing around as if he'd interrupted them, and now were frozen in shock. His mum was clutching Ginny's arm, and Ginny was staring at him open-mouthed. His mother looked stunned, as if she'd never thought to see him there. The twins were over near Bill, and there was Fleur, the sister-in-law he'd never really met, and there... there was his father. They were all staring at him.
Suddenly Percy was faced with confessing to his family his crimes against them, and begging for their forgiveness, and he did not know how to begin.
In the horrible silence that fell as he looked at the family he'd abandoned, he heard vaguely Lupin's words about his son, but the words didn't penetrate his mind, and he said loudly, causing Lupin to fumble with the photograph he'd been holding, “I was a fool!”
Bill was giving him a stony glare, and the twins looked as if they did not feel 'fool' quite covered the enormity of his own stupidity, so Percy continued, “I was an idiot, I was a pompous prat, I was a – a-” Words failed him; he could not think of a word bad enough for what he'd been, but fortunately, his family was now there to help him out when he stumbled.
“Ministry-loving, family-disowning, power-hungry moron,” supplied Fred.
It hurt to hear, though he knew it was all true. “Yes, I was.”
“Well, you can't say fairer than that,” Fred said, and he held out a hand. Percy's heart leapt at this token of acceptance back into the family, from one of those he'd least expected it.
It was as if a dam broke: his mother threw herself at him, sobbing, shoving Fred aside to get to her lost boy. Percy knew she would forgive him, had always known his mother would forgive him, and he looked to his father. It was his father whose acceptance he craved, his father whom he had insulted the worst, about whom he'd been the most wrong.
“I'm sorry, Dad,” he said quietly, his eyes begging his father's forgiveness.
His father's eyes welled with tears, and he rushed over to wrap his arms around both his son and his wife, and Percy let out his breath in a sigh. He was home at last.
A/N: Dialogue used from Deathly Hallows pages 605-606.