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Chapter 91: Daring to Dream
Percy straightened his tie and made sure his prefect badge was on straight. This was the start of a new year, after all, and he wanted to make sure everything went right. Well, as right as it could be, considering the shambles his youngest brother had made in getting to Hogwarts at all ... by their father’s car? The embarrassment Percy had felt in learning that the car had crashed into the Whomping Willow was overwhelming. Why couldn’t Ron just do what he was supposed to do and leave it at that? Why did he have to be such a troublemaker?
At least Ginny had been Sorted into Gryffindor, he thought with satisfaction. She’d been terrified all the way in on the train, a condition which was no doubt exacerbated by Ron’s absence, and Percy had been obliged to forego his prefect duties to look after her. No one else was going to do it – Fred and George were undoubtedly making trouble somewhere that he didn’t want to know about, and Ron, who should have been doing it, hadn’t made the train. Fortunately she was now at the Gryffindor table where there were at least some people she knew, and even if Percy wasn’t sure whether leaving her in the care of Fred, George and Lee Jordan was the best idea in the world it was about the only option he had.
He nudged the fifth-year prefect next to him and told him it was time to lead the first-years to Gryffindor Tower. Really, the fact that he needed to do that was inexcusable. He hadn’t needed such a prompt when he was a fifth-year. Rolling his eyes, he casually checked the other tables to see whether the Gryffindor prefects were the only ones being directed by their elders. It appeared not: he even caught the eye of one of the Ravenclaws who was doing exactly the same thing he was.
Percy blushed a little. He’d always had a bit of a crush on Penelope Clearwater, not that he would admit it to anyone, and this little example of camaraderie from her was in truth a tiny bit embarrassing. What if she worked out he liked her? He wasn’t sure he could stand the humiliation of being turned down, which of course she would do. Penelope was beautiful, smart, and another stickler for the rules. She could have anyone.
“You right there, Perce?” Oliver Wood interrupted his thoughts. “We’re all going upstairs now – or were you planning on sleeping under the table?”
Percy blushed again and straightened his glasses. “Sorry,” he said, possibly a little too crisply. “I’m coming.” And, picking up his bag, he hurriedly followed his dorm-mates out of the Great Hall, without looking at the Ravenclaw table again.
He was sure he wasn’t imagining it. Not after the sixth time it happened, anyway. He was just starting to head back to Gryffindor Tower after completing his rounds of the castle when he would bump into Penelope, usually in some back corridor a million miles from anywhere. She would be alone and generally blush very prettily when they met, there would be a few awkward sentences, and then they’d go on their own ways. He was sure she was doing it on purpose, but he couldn’t imagine why. The seventh time, though, he couldn’t resist trying something.
“Can I, er, walk you back to Ravenclaw Tower?” he asked. The conversation was again stiff and awkward but maybe, just maybe, he thought, if they spoke a bit more it might even become a little easier.
She blushed even deeper, her red cheeks contrasting very strikingly against her dark curls. “I’d like that,” she said, sounding almost shy.
Nervously he offered her his arm and she took it gingerly, but she didn’t let go. The walk to her common room was a long one and she maintained contact the whole way.
“Why are you out on your own?” Percy couldn’t resist asking. “With students being attacked, it’s not safe.”
“I’m a prefect,” she said proudly. “It’s my job to be out.”
“But not on your own,” Percy insisted. “Tell me next time you’ve got rounds and I’ll come with you, okay? I don’t like the idea of you being hurt.”
She looked up at him. “But why not? We barely know each other.”
Percy heard himself say the words before he realised what he was doing. “Only for now.”
He found himself feeling more and more nervous as the day approached. Penelope had agreed to accompany him in his own rounds, and he had decided to ask her to go to Hogsmeade with him in a couple of weeks. He was worried that she would see it as a date ... and worried that she wouldn’t. What would he do if she said no? She had certainly indicated that she might possibly be interested in him, but he didn’t have a lot of self confidence when it came to girls. He’d never had a girlfriend before, never even sneaked a kiss, and this was something that he couldn’t exactly research any other way. He was on completely untried ground and could barely eat for shaking.
“What’s wrong?” Penelope asked as they headed down one of the hidden staircases. “You’re not like yourself tonight.”
“Why not?” he asked, barely able to get the words out.
“Something’s bothering you,” she said decisively. The stilted, awkward conversation had long since ended and they were (“were” being the decisive word) much more comfortable with each other than he had ever believed possible.
At the bottom of the stairs he hesitated, then decided to just come out with it. “Penelope, will you come to Hogsmeade with me next week?” He couldn’t bring himself to look her in the face and was instead staring at her shoes, noticing as he did how dainty they looked, how small compared to his own.
He felt a hand on his chin and realised Penelope was lifting his head, forcing him to look at her. He blushed scarlet, ruing the fact that it looked doubly bad against his red hair. Not until he saw her expression did he relax. “Percy Weasley,” she said gently, “I thought you’d never ask.”
They were still behind the tapestry that hid the staircase from the corridor outside, and he was acutely aware of how private this situation was. So private, in fact, that before he knew it he had leant down to kiss her.
He was vaguely aware of her arms around his neck, but what he was most conscious of was the fact that she seemed to be kissing him back. While not entirely unexpected, it was still a pleasant surprise, and he had no idea why he’d waited this long. If this was what it was like, he could see why so many boys he knew lost their heads over girls. What had been a mystery was now crystal clear.
“Thank you,” he whispered what seemed like hours later.
She smiled. “Whatever for?”
“For not laughing in my face,” he explained. “I wouldn’t have blamed you if you did.”
She smiled again. “Percy Weasley,” she said sternly, “you sell yourself short far too much. Even if you can’t see what a catch you are, I certainly can. And we might as well make use of some of these secret passages while we can, don’t you think?”
Percy grinned. “There are a lot more passages than this one,” he said, wrapping his arms around her and wondering again why he had never done this before. “Fred and George – my brothers – don’t realise this, but I’ve seen this map they’ve got that details all the secret passages in and out of the castle.” He paused significantly. “Did you want to check them out sometime?”
She reached up and kissed him briefly. “I think,” she said softly, “that it sounds like a wonderful idea.”