Chapter 3 : III
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--Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Percy had gotten used to the way he was being treated at work, almost to the point of complacency. His prepackaged responses to everything were easier to deliver, simply because he’d recited them so often - this disturbed him even though there was no sincerity in them.
This also meant that, despite his fear, he was getting somewhat careless in his responses. His “yes, sirs” and “no, sirs” were delivered in the same manner as a man might say to his wife, “You look fine, dear,” without actually looking at what she was wearing. Still, they didn't seem to go out of their way anymore to torment him, except on those days when there was a possible Harry Potter sighting or when Percy’s boss was just in a superbly bad mood. Perhaps they figured they had him well enough under thumb by this point.
That didn’t mean, however, that they had completely given up hope looking for his weak spots.
Percy was caught completely off guard one afternoon when Yaxley, storming down the hallway in a temper, suddenly wheeled about, grabbed Percy by the front of his robes, and slammed him up against the wall.
“Hey - ” Percy protested, cut short as the back of his head hit the wall with an audible thud. Recovering from the shock, he spit out, “What?” He may have been scared out of his wits, but he was now just about as thoroughly pissed off as he’d ever felt in his life.
“We’re going to be honest with each other, Weasley,” said Yaxley in a voice that made Percy think “be honest with each other” must mean breaking Percy’s fingers one at a time.
“What are you talking ab-” Percy tried to pry Yaxley’s hands off of him and as a reward got his head smacked smartly against the wall again.
“Your youngest brother was caught in the company of Harry Potter last night.”
“What’s that got to do with me?” Percy demanded before he had even registered Yaxley’s words. Caught? What did he mean by caught? Nothing good, certainly. Percy could hardly contain his panic, nor his anger.
“Don’t play with me, Weasley, and don’t lie to me.”
“I don’t know anything about it!” Percy snapped, both confused and affronted.
“If I were you, I’d watch my tone.”
Percy bit the inside of his cheek and tried to breathe normally, wondering whether it was too late at this point to force his usual blank expression back onto his face. Yaxley watched him carefully. At last, Percy spoke again.
“I’ve…” Percy tried to make his voice calm and placating, but he probably just sounded irritated. “I’ve told you, sir - ”
“I don’t believe you.”
Well, then. There was nothing Percy could really say. What he wanted to do was to challenge Yaxley, ask him why he didn’t just do Percy in right there and be done with it. But if they’d allowed him to live this long, he’d be stupid to argue with it. So he remained silent.
After a moment of quiet consideration, Yaxley continued his interrogation. “Your parents’ house is no longer connected to the Floo Network. Can’t even find the blessed gate number anymore. The address has gone completely missing.” He held up a sheet of parchment in front of Percy’s face - it was a list of people with corresponding addresses and Floo gate numbers, but next to his parents’ names, where the location and gate number should have been listed, there were grayish smudges, like the ink had been blurred until the entries were unrecognizable - even more oddly, on closer inspection, it didn’t look like smudged ink at all, but an aberration on the parchment itself. The same phenomenon had happened with Bill’s, and Aunt Muriel’s. “Why do you suppose that is?”
Percy’s heart sank. He’d seen that happen before, and he knew what it meant. He stood mute.
“Come on. Smart boy like you, can’t work out what would be causing this? Fidelius Charm, maybe?”
“Possible, sir,” he said quietly. In fact, it was almost certain. The only thing, aside from someone very skilled at tampering with official documents, that would cause those locations to just go completely missing. Yaxley could have been toying with him, but Percy got the feeling that this was not a trick.
And even though Percy would not have dared to go home anyway, this realization deflated whatever remaining hope he’d held onto, because it removed the possibility completely.
He couldn’t go home even if he tried.
He knew Yaxley could see the stunned look on his face, but he hardly cared. It was probably the only thing that could keep him alive at this point, because it confirmed, once and for all, that Percy was not in contact with his family.
Of course, it probably also confirmed that Percy wished he were in contact with his family.
Having been satisfied now that Percy was completely alone and all the more harmless because of it, the regime was fairly content to leave him alone most days, except whenever someone found it amusing to make casual conversation about what was going to happen to his family. The worst part was that now, if something finally did happen to them, Percy would have no way of really knowing. Even Aberforth couldn’t help.
The day after his confrontation with Yaxley, Percy found himself sitting in Yaxley’s office, doing a fairly good job of drowning out his boss’s horrific ruminations about how the entire Weasley family was going to pay the price, until the comment about Ginny caught his full attention. She’d been causing trouble at school, Yaxley averred, but thankfully they had proper discipline at that school now, and he was happy to report that his sources told him you could hardly recognize her pretty face anymore.
Percy stood abruptly and left the office without even being dismissed. Yaxley only laughed as if he’d just heard a very good joke about a Quidditch referee, goblin, and hag walking into a bar. Percy barely held the tears at bay until reaching his own office and slamming the door.
He left work that day at precisely four-thirty - a record early departure for him - and went straight to Aberforth’s.
“This is not a good time for you to be here, boy,” grumbled Aberforth, drawing all the curtains closed.
Percy ignored the comment. “What’s going on with my sister?”
“I don’t rightly know. Haven’t seen her lately.”
Percy felt like crying again, and Aberforth regarded him warily.
“I’m not sure what you’re after exactly.”
“They told me…” He trailed off and shook his head. “Just - what do you mean you haven’t seen her?” He said it more aggressively than he meant to.
Aberforth shrugged. “I haven’t seen her. Seen some of the other kids. I don’t know, boy. Maybe she went home for the Easter holidays. I’m sorry.” But of course, there was no way to confirm that.
Percy didn’t have any response. He just turned and headed for the door, as defeated as he could handle for one day.
“I wish I knew, boy, I really do” called Aberforth in what was almost a sympathetic tone.
Percy’s feelings of utter defeat turned to restlessness and frustration in the few weeks that followed. He noticed that his father had stopped showing up at work. Some days Percy thought he might stop going, too. Just sit at home until someone showed up to end it. But then he considered the idea that they might just let him sit there for days or weeks, feeling like he wanted to crawl out of his own skin. The nights he spent sitting there in silence were bad enough without spending all day that way. And as much as he hated to admit it, the Ministry was once again his best source of information. So he kept going, leaving each day as early as he possibly could, and trying to find things to occupy his time in the evenings, though he’d lost patience with nearly everything - books, music, refolding all of his clothes.
A quarter of the way through a crossword puzzle late one night, Percy just about lost his damn mind, ripping the puzzle into twenty pieces.
“Whatever the problem is, I hardly think it’s the puzzle’s fault,” said a voice from the fireplace, scaring Percy so much he swore something excellent and threw himself off the sofa and onto the floor, covering his head, whatever good that was supposed to do.
“I find that language unnecessary,” said Aberforth’s voice.
Percy peered wild-eyed over the top of the sofa at the old man’s head sitting in the fireplace.
“What is wrong with you, are you insane?” He looked around in a panic, expecting Death Eaters to appear through the walls. “They’re watching the Floo Network!”
“Nobody’s watching anything, boy,” said Aberforth. “They’re all headed this way.”
“Everyone.” As if that answered anything. “This is it. They’ll be here soon. Everyone’s inside the castle preparing the defenses. If you‘d like to make yourself useful, now would be the time to do it.”
“The - they’re at - they’re going to the castle? To Hogwarts? To fight?” A thought struck Percy. “Are the children out??”
“What do I look like, someone’s nanny?” And with that, Aberforth’s head disappeared.
“Bleeding useless…” Percy put his pullover on backwards, tried put his shoes on the wrong feet, grabbed his wand and a cloak, and practically fell headfirst into his fireplace, somehow winding up safely in Aberforth’s bar.
“Nice of you to join the party.” Without anything further, Aberforth pulled at a painting that hung over the fireplace, swinging it away from the wall to reveal a dark passage of indeterminate depth. “This’ll get you there - they don’t know about it.”
Percy blinked, still recovering from his shock from moments ago and trying to process all of this information. “Hello and nice to see you, too,” he said pointedly. “What, you barely talk to me for three weeks, and all of a sudden it’s, Hello, Percy, why don’t you pop over and crawl into this dodgy tunnel?” Receiving no response, he stared dubiously into the dim passageway. “Has this been inspected lately?”
Aberforth scoffed. “Boy, my bar hasn’t been inspected in over twenty years. You think this rabbit hole has?”
“You know you’re supposed to - ”
“My God, you’re irritating. Fine, try your luck walking up to the main gates. See if I care.”
Percy looked again into the darkness, doubt and fear overcoming him, wondering what he had meant by coming here without sparing a thought for what he was getting into. He took a step back.
Aberforth was drumming his fingers on a table impatiently. “Well, man up or don’t, boy, but don’t just stand around looking simple.”
Percy shot him a resentful look and pulled himself into the passageway. Straightening his cloak and dusting himself off, he turned around and began in a dignified manner, “You know, you are the most unpleasant - ”
The door slammed in Percy’s face, and he was left in near blackness.
Percy trudged through the tunnel, beginning to panic when it seemed there was no end in sight, unable to see what lay in the darkness just outside the reach of his wandlight, trying not to think about what sort of things were crawling around in there with him. He began running as fast as he could without tripping; in the end, he hit a solid wall, barely catching himself as he was knocked backward. He could hear voices now, through the wall, which was made of wood, not dirt or stone, and he pushed at it until it gave way, sending him sprawling on the ground.
When he lifted himself from the ground and looked around him, he froze, his initial words faltering. With nearly every member of his family staring at him in shock, Percy couldn’t decide whether he wanted to throw up, run away, or sink into the ground.
But as unpleasant as the situation was, it was followed by the biggest feeling of relief he had ever experienced as his apology burst forth, finally freed from its chains.
And while he had always thought he would never be able to look any of them in the eye again, he found that he could when Fred extended his hand, almost as if his brother’s act had given him permission. Looking at his sister, he noticed with a breath of relief that her face, though a bit scarred, was still wonderfully intact.
His mother hugged him for what, under normal circumstances, would have been an uncomfortable length of time and would have caused any normal twenty-one year-old boy to protest, Mum, get off me already! But Percy was simply happy that she still wanted to hug him, and, considering the current situation, he wondered how many more opportunities he would have to do this.
And then he was being swept upstairs, Fred and George on one side, and Bill and his wife on the other. As he glanced back to see if his parents were following, his eyes made contact with Harry’s. The expression there was unreadable.
It occurred to Percy that he hadn’t even stopped to shake Harry’s hand or say - well, what exactly could he have said? What would have been good enough? What would ever be good enough?
I’m sorry. I thought you were just a boy. Just a man like the rest of us.
It may have been true, but it would not have been helpful.
So Percy just nodded in acknowledgement of everything. It was an apology but not a request for an excuse. Harry nodded, too, almost imperceptibly, and with that understanding, however ambiguous, Percy turned to his brothers again.
Though they certainly had a lot of catching up to do, conversation was thin; they had other things to think about now. Fred and George soon ran off to take care of the school’s secret entrances, and Percy stood about silently, sticking close to Bill and Fleur as everyone steeled themselves for an attack.
So this was it. Percy hardly knew what to expect, though he knew enough to know he would be lucky to see the next morning. He also knew that someone like him really did not belong here. He was a kid. He was underweight, if you listened to his mother. He worked in a bleeding office.
He was a dead man.
Percy wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready for pain, and he wasn’t ready for terror - but that wasn’t all. Percy was not ready to be judged.
“Hey, Bill,” he said at ten-to-midnight.
Bill looked over. “Yeah, Perce.”
Percy couldn’t actually look his brother in the face as he asked quietly, “What… What do you suppose really happens when you die?”
It wasn’t a very dignified question, but if there was anyone he could ask, it was Bill. A long time ago, Percy used to believe Bill knew everything. Sometimes he still believed it.
A long pause followed, and Percy noticed that Fleur was looking away, graciously pretending not to hear this conversation.
Bill could have told him to shove off and quit being so selfish for a change - that the time for self pity and cowardice was past.
Instead, Bill put his hand on Percy’s shoulder. “We’ll talk about it later, mate. Okay?”
Bill’s meaning was loud and clear: There was going to be a later.
Percy couldn’t bring himself to believe it. Even after the battle had begun and he found himself repeatedly within an inch of his life but still emerging each time intact and relatively unscathed. It was, he knew, sheer luck - or something - that had caused him to hold on this long. What was “this long,” anyway? It felt like hours, but in reality it couldn’t have been more than half an hour.
Percy was woefully out of his element, which was a more dignified way of saying he didn’t know what in the hell he was doing. There was little time to spare for thinking - his only option was to act, react, and put his trust in something greater than himself, because if one thing was certain, it was that Percy was not in control here. Each of his moves seemed barely in the nick of time. On those occasions when he wasn’t as alert as he ought to have been, someone was, miraculously, always there to watch his back.
In those rare moments when he had an opportunity to catch his breath and assess the situation, he felt more overwhelmed than when he was in the thick of things. He was tired. He was scared. He was running out of faith. He expected the worst at each moment.
But he’d taken it for granted that it would be him, inexperienced and undeserving as he was. That would have been fair, and it would have been just.
Percy’s problem was that he never could think outside the box. There were other ways to punish a person.
The wall came tumbling down, and Percy with it. Ears ringing, he brought a hand to his temple and found blood. He found his glasses - barely useful anymore, cracked and mangled as they were - pulled himself to his feet and placed his hands on his knees to steady himself. Everything hurt.
“Oh my God,” he heard Fred say in a voice full of dread.
No, not Fred. The voice was lower than Fred’s.
Ron stood ten feet away, staring at the ground, where red hair and a blue shirt were just visible over a pile of rubble. Percy dove across the scattered pieces of stone.
It was like being hit in the stomach.
The tears came the moment Percy picked up his brother’s hand and felt how limp it was. He took Fred’s shoulder and shook and shook, but Fred’s hand never gripped Percy’s back. Ron had sunk to his knees and was just staring.
Next thing he knew, he was shielding Fred’s body from the curses flying in through the hole in the side of the castle, where the wall had been blasted away. He looked around at the wreckage, up at what remained of the ceiling, out at the night sky and the jets of light soaring in at them, and he was afraid. They were in the middle of something massive, and Percy was so, so small. There was nothing he could do. He was sure he would die there.
Harry and Ron finally brought him to his senses, and he wiped his face on his sleeve, though it did nothing to stop the tears from flowing, and helped carry Fred to a safe spot.
The other boys seemed to have left, but Percy could not. He held Fred’s hand in both of his. He was trying so hard to understand how they’d gotten here.
It only seemed right to say something. But Percy didn’t know any prayers for the departed, having never had to use them before. So he said the only one that popped into his mind, which he still remembered by heart, despite a sore lack of use.
“Hail Mary, full of grace…”
He got halfway through it and suddenly found it difficult to get the words out. He forced one word at a time in between sobs and deep breaths.
“…Pray for - for - for us - ” And then his voice didn’t work anymore.
“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, amen,” finished a low, tense voice behind him.
Percy turned and saw Ron standing there, staring not at Percy nor Fred, but at the ground next to them, looking like he was trying desperately to hold it together. He had a hard expression on his face, which was red and blotchy with exertion, grief, and anger. His voice sounded flat, almost emotionless, but Percy knew there was rage bubbling just under the surface.
Hermione, eyes full of tears, took Ron by the arm as Ron swore and kicked violently at a broken piece of stone on the floor. The stone went skidding across the corridor and struck the wall on the opposite side.
As Ron released his anger, Percy latched onto it, using it like a rope to pull himself out of the morass of helplessness that threatened to consume him.
Percy wiped his eyes and let go of his brother’s hand.
Percy killed two people that night. It wasn’t satisfying, and he wasn’t proud of it. But could it have been any other way? It was necessary, though it didn’t even come close to sufficient.
In the calm after the madness, he turned a corner and bumped into Fred, letting out a shocked stream of profanities.
“Percy, it’s me! George. It’s just me,” said George, hands up. He grabbed at Percy’s arms to calm him down. Bill and Fleur weren’t far behind him. “You seen Fred? Ginny’s with Mum and Dad in the Great Hall, we have no clue where Ron is, but we reckon he’s with Harry…”
Percy could do nothing but look at George in a useless sort of way as he concentrated on breathing evenly. Blood was smeared across George’s nose and cheek, and part of his hair was singed.
“Percy. Helloooooo?” George waved his hand in front of Percy’s face.
Bill spoke up. “Percy, if you’ll walk with Fleur back to the Hall, I’ll go with George to look for Fred. He’s probably - ”
“Fred…” Percy tried to get it out, but his chest felt constricted. He gaped for a moment like a fish out of water, and fought the urge to be sick. After looking at the ground for a moment, he tried again.
“Fred… uh…” He took a few short, shallow breaths, and finally could do nothing more than shake his head sadly and look at Bill in worthless apology.
It was Fleur who caught on first, gasping and bringing her hand to her mouth.
Bill looked away. “Jesus.”
George looked around at them carefully, finally fixing his eyes back on Percy. He looked like he was waiting for Percy to clear up some horrible misunderstanding.
Percy shrank to about three feet tall and avoided his brother’s eyes.
In disbelief, George let out a humorless laugh.
“Are you kidding me?” he demanded in a low, shaking voice, and Percy got the feeling that George would like to hit him in the face.
“George…” started Percy, backing up instinctively.
“Are you kidding me?!” George yelled, and Percy never did find out whether George actually wanted to hit him in the face, because Bill grabbed the back of George’s shirt.
And Percy felt Fred die again.
And again when Bill started crying when Percy led him to Fred’s body.
And again when he witnessed his mother’s devastated reaction.
The images in his mind were as clear as any photographs ever were, his family’s cries so piercing it seemed they lodged deep in his brain where he would never be able to get them out. He slid down a wall in the Great Hall until he was seated on the hard stone floor, removed his glasses so that the entire room became a blur, and lost himself in the mingled voices and cries of grief until they became nothing but a vague buzzing in his ears. He sat, suspended in the chaos, trying as hard as he could not to think about anything.
When a silent figure sat next to him, putting its hand on Percy’s knee, Percy knew without looking that it was his father. Percy let out a steady breath and nodded vaguely, though he hardly even knew what he meant by it.
A/N: No, 'tis not the end - one more chapter to go.