Rating: PG-13, juuuuuust skirting R. Mainly because I use the f-word once or twice. SCANDAL.
Word Count: .....25,421
Characters/Pairing: Percy/Harry, onstage Bill/Fleur, offstage R/Hr, Remus/Tonks
Warnings: uh. ...monster fic whut ate my brain? HBP Compliant, OBHWF Error 404, m/m kissage, gropage, hot and steamy het action (GLAH not really), a few instances of ALLCAPS HARRY. One owl may have been harmed in the making of this fic. Also I accidentally bonked my cat on the head with the laptop. Fic of Doom and Destruction! (except not really that either.) Not angst, not fluff, somewhere in between.
Author's Notes: Sincerest apologies to anasuede and fiona_fawkes for fudging the deadline by, uh. A month? I lose at ficathons. Sincerest apologies to emiime for possibly not giving you what you wanted at all. However, I did include glasses, freckles, wanking, voyeurism, secretly!gay!Percy, secrets, and confusion, so maybe it's not all bad?
Thanks to my entire friends list, for putting up with me wailing about how I was never going to finish this.
Soundtrack listing and link at the end of the fic. It's like a treat you get at the end of a really boring lesson! Making fic MULTIMEDIA, hoyeah!
Summary: One should know better than to involve oneself in Weasley Family Skirmishes, even as a messenger. It always ends badly. ...Or really well, depending on your perspective. Cameos by: Mad-Eye Moody, Mundungus Fletcher, Phineas Nigellus Black, the Delacour Family, and Pig.
The candlelight guttered above their heads, stirred by a thin breeze from the open window near Ron's bed. Harry blinked drowsily (the heat was making them all lazy) at the maps Hermione had shoved into his lap - the miniscule text seemed to swim for a moment before he remembered to focus.
....Wait, she was talking again. Harry tore his gaze away from the maps and trained it blearily on her. "...done it before," her voice floated into his head, "but just in case, you should memorise alternate escape routes and potential traps - "
"Escape routes? Merlin, what exactly're you imagining here?" Ron broke in, mouth quirking as he tried not to grin at her.
"A nest of Death Eaters in St John's Wood, of course," Harry contributed, smirking as Herm folded her arms over the chest of her pyjama top and glared at them both.
"It's not a good idea to just waltz into these situations blindly, Harry, you know you need to take every precaution, especially now - "
"He's not waltzing in blind, Herm - "
"Just alone," Harry interjected, grinning at the ferocity of Hermione's sudden blush.
"Stupid wards," she muttered sheepishly, dropping her gaze, eyes darting over to Ron and back again. Ron assumed the same goofy grin he'd been wearing for the past two days, and tugged the bedcovers in around Hermione's legs a bit more securely. Harry pretended (as he had been, intermittently, for the past two days) that he'd just been struck blind.
"So," he began again, once Ron had stopped rearranging the duvet solicitously and Hermione's ankles were safely covered, "Apparate in, make the drop, and the Portkey - " he pulled the charmed bottlecap out of his pocket " - is set for half past. Port back to my bedroom, try not to fall over when I land."
"You forgot 'let Hermione know the instant you've got back'," Hermione muttered, trying not to sound amused.
"'To keep her from making the rest of us go spare along with her'," Ron added helpfully, squawking at her retaliatory poke in the ribs. Harry snorted, slid his glasses more securely onto the bridge of his nose, and shoved off the little bed, sending it squeaking as he rummaged underneath for his trainers and tied them on. Tucking his wand and a folded envelope inside his jacket sleeve, Harry turned to face the other two and shrugged.
"I'll come and tell you what happened when I've got back," he said, feeling almost unnaturally calm. Hermione bit her lip and nodded.
"Just be careful, Harry."
He flashed a grin. "I always am," he said, and Disapparated with a pop.
Still new enough at Apparation that he felt a little disorientated whenever he arrived at his destination, Harry squinted and waited for his stomach to stop roiling, and quickly took in his surroundings. To his left: a wall of floor-to-ceiling inlaid bookshelves, full to bursting, a small metal-and-glass dining room table (more books stacked open on its surface, along with an empty butterbeer bottle full of narcissi) and a doorway showing a slip of a genuinely tiny kitchen in the next room. To his right: an uncomfortable-looking futon, an ancient-looking radio, bare walls and another doorframe, this one opening into a hallway leading back.
And, in the hallway, a thoroughly shocked-looking Percy Weasley.
"Hi," Harry thought to say, once his head had stopped spinning. He realised then that he had landed standing on the coffee table, and stepped down carefully, trying not to lose his balance.
"...What - " Percy began, then stopped to gape again. "Harry?"
"Was it the scar that gave it away?" Harry muttered, mainly for his own benefit as he reached into his sleeve, once his feet were both firmly on the floor. It was his turn to look startled as Percy quickly hunched behind the other side of the doorframe - at least, until he realised that Apparating uninvited into someone's flat and promptly indicating that one had something up his sleeve probably wasn't the most innocent-looking behaviour in the world. The thought gave Harry pause, and he tried to think of something comforting to say. "...If I were here to attack you, the wall wouldn't be much of an obstacle," he heard himself pointing out. Well, THAT worked. There was a brief silence.
"Apparating into the middle of a room would be, however," came the familiar snooty voice. Seconds later, Percy appeared in the doorway again, seeming to accept the idea that his unexpected guest might not be homicidal. Gaze still wary, he edged into the room. "Did my father send you?" he asked, and Harry was delighted by the novelty of hearing Percy Weasley sounding a little unsure.
"No." Percy's shoulders slumped a little, with relief. Harry grinned. "It was your mother." He decided to ignore the swift intake of breath that caused, and started towards the kitchen, pressing his advantage. The Portkey wouldn't activate for another seven minutes, and he and Percy had a lot of catching up to do. "D'you have anything to drink?"
"Tea'd be good. I'll just start the kettle," he said, grabbing it off the smallest ring of the cooker and filling it with water with a quick charm, setting it back on to heat. Percy'd ventured as far as the doorway to the kitchen now, and Harry raised his eyebrows at him when he turned around. "You have tea, don't you?"
"Yes, I - no, wait," Percy spat, frowning. "What are you doing here?"
"Making tea," Harry replied, smiling maddeningly.
"...Why are you here making tea?"
"Because I doubt you keep any pumpkin juice."
Percy's eyes narrowed behind his eyeglasses. "Potter, if this is some sort of elaborate prank, I'd appreciate it if you'd just...explode my kettle or turn my stove into a parakeet or whatever it is you're on orders from my brothers to do, I am busy."
"Cauldron bottoms in Pakistan still not thick enough, Perce? Where're the teabags?" Harry asked, opening the nearest cupboard in search.
Making a moue of distinct displeasure, Percy gestured to a space behind Harry. "There are tea leaves in the cupboard above the toaster, second shelf," he replied automatically, then seemed to hate himself for it, frown deepening. "And don't call me Perce."
"Thanks. All right," Harry said, dragging the tin down, taking the kettle off the heat as it began to whistle. "How'd you set Apparation wards against only the members of your family?" he asked, Accio-ing a mug.
Percy blinked. "It wasn't just the members of my family. It's a modified Unplottable," he explained, opening the door of the refrigerator and handing Harry a carton of milk just as he held out a hand to ask for it, taking a mug down for himself as well.
"Really? Who else, then?" Harry asked, pouring tea into Percy's mug smoothly, after he'd finished with his own. "Sugar?"
"No, thank you. ...Well, Death Eaters, of course. You-Know-Who. Oliver Wood."
"No, where d'you keep the sugar? ...Oliver Wood? Why?"
Percy snorted, and poured a bit of milk into his mug before he put the container back into the the fridge. "I take it you've never been beset by a hysterical Quidditch obsessive at three in the morning, demanding to know when the Ministry will reinstate public matches? ...Oh, smallest jar, on the sideboard next to your elbow."
"Not as such, no. Thanks." Harry opened the jar and took a few spoonfuls, stirring contemplatively. "It affected Herm too."
Percy paused, mid-sip. "...Really." He sounded amused.
"Yeah. She can't figure out why," Harry grinned.
Percy rolled his eyes, and smiled a little too. "Quite a mystery."
Taking a long sip of his tea, Harry set it on the counter and stared down at the mug for a moment. "Yeah. What time is it?"
"Nearly half past. You haven't told me what you're really doing here, you know," Percy remembered suddenly, and immediately after remembered that he should probably also be feeling nervous and sort of annoyed. He took another sip of tea.
"Oh." Harry remembered to remember, as well. "Bill's marrying Fleur Delacour next weekend. Your mum didn't trust an owl with the invitation, and nobody else could deliver it to you, so she asked me to do it." He reached into his sleeve for the slightly-mangled envelope, and slid it onto the workspace, near Percy's elbow. "You might not want to bring the Minister as your date, this time." He took another gulp of tea and set the mug down, ignoring the way Percy was turning a little grey as he stared at the envelope, and reached into his pocket, closing his fist around the bottlecap. "Thanks for the tea," he said, and smirked at Percy's dumbfounded expression just as he felt a tugging at his navel.
For his part, Percy couldn't help staring at the vacant space a few seconds more, after Harry had vanished. He set his mug down. "...What on earth?" he muttered, thoroughly confused and more than a little unhappy about it. His fingertips brushed the edge of the rumpled envelope and he gave it a wary glance, as if he expected it to combust (which, knowing the twins, it could have easily done). Finally, taking it up, he put the mugs into the sink and wandered back into his bedroom to try and make sense of what had just happened. He expected it would take some time.
(17th July - Thursday)
...As I'm sure you can now understand, I'm particularly loath to remove the wards to my flat because they do not just involve relatives. Since you don't seem to have any qualms playing the messenger, I wondered if you'd consider reprising your role this Thursday evening, at approximately the same time as before? Please don't RSVP by the delivery owl; it's from the MoM and will return there once it's given you this note. I'll take your arrival, or failure to do so, as answer enough.
If it's a requirement, I do still have tea.
Harry frowned and folded the small strip of parchment back into its original form, and shoved it into the back pocket of his jeans. Below him, over the pitch behind the Burrow, just barely still on Weasley land, Ron and one of the twins were escalating an argument over whether or not Ron had just cobbed Bill. Tuning out Ron's threats of using a beater's bat to turn Fred into a stickpuppet, Harry instead focused on the cramped, neat handwriting on the message that had arrived the morning before, and wondered just what the hell Percy was planning. The scar on his forehead had set up a steady, niggling, itching sort of burn - he rubbed it idly and tried not to think about how the number of people he could go to for advice about it were dwindling. Instead, he tried to plan for worst-case scenarios.
Probably an ambush by the Minister himself. Or an impromptu press conference. ...Or being taken in as a war criminal. Harry scowled and slapped away what he thought was a mosquito (it was actually the Snitch) as he mulled the potential calamities over.
He was going to go, of course. He couldn't resist the secrecy, or the possibility of finding out just what had prompted last week's foray into tea-related surreality. He'd shown the note to Ron and Hermione (the latter had insisted on running a series of Disambiguation charms on it until it was pronounced clear of Misinterpretation hexes), but, admittedly, had decided to omit the odder details of his visit with Percy (Percy anticipating that he'd need the milk and Harry commandeering the kettle, and the actual conversation, above all) when he'd recounted the experience to them later on the night it had happened.
Ron and Hermione had seemed to reverse roles: now that she was confident Percy wasn't a Death Eater or an immediate risk of a trap, Hermione approved Harry's plan to indulge Percy's request, without much worry. Ron, however, was still in a snit with Harry about it - he'd become convinced Percy had only contacted Harry again because of the possibility of exploiting his relationship with the rest of the Weasley family to gain information on the Order.
Harry didn't actually recognise the irony in this until Hermione quietly brought it to his attention, later.
Fifteen feet below him, Fred turned Ron's nose into a tomato (Foul No. 1435-D) and Ron hexed half the bristles off of Fred's new Cleansweep (Foul No. 552-I), sending him into a brief tailspin. Harry rolled his eyes and scanned the makeshift pitch, and then swept towards the treeline and down, catching the Snitch easily (possibly because it had originally been Arthur Weasley's father's and was twelve versions away from World Cup regulations, now).
A quarter of a pitch-length behind him, Ginny - the opposing Seeker - adjusted the straps of her sleeveless top (Harry tried not to roll his eyes at that, as well) and shot him a brief glare as he didn't stop once he'd caught it. Harry tossed the now-motionless Snitch to Charlie, who snagged it easily, and continued in his arc back towards the Burrow, away from Ron and both of the twins, who were engaging in their daily brawl on the lawn of the pitch, away from Ginny and the petulant sighs she kept giving as she sat beside him during meals, and back towards sense.
And a looming appointment with the Prodigal Weasley.
A hot shower that nearly emptied the Burrow's water well and a brief, fitful nap helped Harry shake off most of his bad mood. He checked in with Hermione (she had been researching the location of Hufflepuff's cup since they'd all got back from school), who didn't even look up from the book she was devouring. She just waved him away with an order to bring her those notes she'd taken when they'd raided Grimmauld Place's library earlier in the week, and a few of those chocolate biscuits Mrs Weasley'd made a few days ago - if the twins hadn't already demolished them. Harry obediently trotted down to the kitchen, swiping the last of the biscuits and a glass of water before he ventured upstairs, towards the bedroom Hermione and Ginny had been sharing all summer. He knocked softly on the open door before he entered, and wondered idly if all girls' bedrooms had the same particular scent combination of talc, synthetic raspberries, and aloe as he wandered inside.
The notes were conveniently stuck in a book on the very top of a stack on Hermione's side of the vanity (Hermione's side had books, a toothbrush, a hairbrush, and clear lip balm, as opposed to Ginny's more usual collection of mostly-empty makeup containers and dried-up bottles of nail varnish and dust) - Harry lunged to grab them and make his escape, and was nearly, nearly successful. He was halfway out the door when he heard Ginny's voice, determinedly cheerful: "Is she even sleeping, this summer?"
He exhaled, and turned back around, leaning against the doorjamb. "If she is, she's making sure to keep it secret," he responded, giving her a small, tight smile, feeling like a prize git for it almost immediately after. Ginny moved over to perch on the edge of her bed, and tried not to look visibly hurt when Harry cut his gaze away. "We may have to stage an intervention."
"Or hide the Pepper-Up," Ginny offered.
He snorted and smiled, glancing back at her, feeling a strange tightness in his chest as he took in the careful optimism in her expression, her easiness, the way her hair fell over her shoulders. "All right?" he heard himself asking, gruffly, and somehow had the presence of mind to be horrified at the presumption of the question.
To her credit, Ginny just chuckled and quirked an eyebrow. "What, did you expect me to waste away for pining? Go on, Harry, I've got a very pressing engagement with a romance novel and I can't have you distracting me."
Relieved, Harry grinned and nodded. "Okay. I'll tell Hermione you're asking about her. ...Thanks, Gin."
"I'm a saint. Close the door behind you," she added, with a mischievous grin of her own, one that made Harry's cheeks flame once he'd caught on. He scurried out of the room (not noticing how Ginny's smile faded once his back had turned) and shut the door, and trudged back up towards the attic.
Hermione thanked him for the food and the notes, and managed to tear herself away from the book she'd been going over, sitting back in the deskchair, giving Harry a searching look as he flopped onto his bed. He shoved a biscuit into his mouth whole, and grinned a little at the disgusted face she gave him as he chewed noisily. "You look tired," she observed carefully.
Harry swallowed. "So do you."
"How's the..." she gestured towards her own forehead. Harry shrugged a shoulder.
"Same as ever," he replied, noncommittally.
Harry shook his head. Hermione sighed, a little relieved sound, and pulled the book back onto her lap. "I've traced the cup through to 1987, it just vanishes after that. You wouldn't happen to know the origins of a...'Society for the Preservation of English Wizarding Heritage', would you?"
"Can't say that I do."
"Neither does anyone, apparently. D'you know where Ron is? He was supposed to help me take these books back to Grimmauld Place later on, I think I may have to try to find that bookshop down Knockturn after all. Professor Lupin said he'd take me," she murmured, mostly to herself.
"The last time I saw Ron, George had managed to hit him with a Jelly-Legs curse on the pitch," Harry offered, chuckling as Hermione rolled her eyes.
"Honestly. Is he still sulking at you?" Harry shrugged, which Hermione knew from previous experience meant "yes," and she shook her head, muttering something about teaspoons and the emotional maturity of blueberry scones. "Are you nervous about tonight?" she asked, raising her eyebrows up into her (unruly even by Hermione-standards) hair.
"What, the Percy thing? No," Harry lied, and began wondering exactly why that was a lie.
"Good. There's nothing to worry about, you know. I've almost got the Portkey ready for you again, and if the Minister or anyone is there, you can just refuse to answer them if they ask questions. Though I can't actually think why Percy would want to risk something like that, he must know you wouldn't play along if he did. He's not stupid," she said, lapsing back into her inner-monologue voice.
"Just an arse," Harry supplied, earning a sharp look from her.
"You snapped at Ron when he said someone was using you just to get to the Order. Imagine what it must've been like for him, being told the same by his father."
Brought up short, Harry gave Hermione an incredulous look. "Are you actually defending what he did?"
"Of course not," she scoffed, slamming the book shut, sending tendrils of dust into the air between them. "Though I think you don't realise how lucky you've been with them all - the twins certainly act more brotherly towards you than they ever did towards Percy. How would you feel if they suddenly closed rank and left you outside?"
"The twins?" Harry asked, flabbergasted, trying to keep up.
"Not just the twins," Hermione muttered, and Harry suddenly recalled the hurt in her expression when she'd received the tiny Easter Egg from Mrs Weasley during the Krum Saga of fourth year.
"Well." She huffed and pulled her hair up into a messy knot on top of her head, somehow securing it all with her wand in a way that seemed to defy the laws of gravity and geometry. "I'm just lucky I'm not french," she mumbled, going back to her research, frowning slightly.
"Yeah, so're we," Harry offered, conciliatory, trying to think of what to say to repair the situation. She seemed cheered by his reply. "...D'you want some help?" he asked.
"Ooh, yes, would you mind going through that stack there" - she gestured to a six-inch-deep pile of notes and essays - "and looking for any reference to wizarding relatives of Bourbon-Parmas or Habsburgs?"
He'd just had to ask... Sighing quietly, Harry tugged the stack of notepaper over into his lap, settled back against his pillow, and began to read.
Once the room stopped spinning, Harry noticed that it was much tidier than the last time he'd seen it - better lit, too. The coffee table seemed bigger without books piled on top of it, he noticed as he stepped off and wiped two dusty footprints off its surface. There was, thankfully, no sign of Scrimgeour or any other Ministry workers - in fact, the only signs of life in the flat were the heavy, comforting smell of what was undoubtedly Mrs. Weasley's Signature Spaghetti Sauce, and the sound of water running in the kitchen. Shrugging off his jacket and leaving it on the futon, sticking his wand in his back pocket (Moody would've had a field day), Harry ventured towards the kitchen to investigate.
Obviously unaware of Harry's arrival, Percy was hunched over the kitchen sink, sleeves rolled to his elbows as he spelled dishes clean and ran them under the faucet, then blasted them dry. Despite himself, Harry was pleased - at the Dursleys, he'd always had to wash the dishes (even though Aunt Petunia had been the first housewife on Privet Drive to have an automated dishwasher), so it was something of a treat for him to see someone else having to do them, for once.
"Isn't that a little unnecessary?" he asked, effectively announcing his presence. Startled, Percy nearly dropped the wineglass he'd been rinsing, and quickly glanced over his shoulder, looking a little relieved when he saw that it was, actually, Harry behind him.
"I don't like waterspots, and Mrs. Skower's tends to leave a soapy taste in one's food if the dishes aren't rinsed well," he explained, subjecting the wineglass to an intense drying charm, reaching to set it in an open cupboard. He closed the cupboard door and shut off the water and turned to face Harry, brushing a few errant slips of red hair off his forehead, wiping his hands fastidiously on a tea towel. "I, er." Colouring slightly, Percy gave a funny little shrug and gently pushed past, into the living room, heading towards the bookshelf opposite. "Thank you for coming. The owl didn't create any problems for you, I hope."
"No more than any other owl you've sent," Harry replied, and was a bit surprised at himself at the reply. So was Percy, apparently: he'd flinched at the barb the second after it came, but then squared his shoulders against it, seeming to resign himself to the inevitability of a confrontation.
"Ron showed you that, then."
"Yeah, despite my bad influence on him," Harry nodded, not relenting. He leant against the kitchen doorpost and folded his arms, perversely enjoying the embarrassed blush that had crept over his former prefect's cheeks. "Hope I'm not going the 'Fred and George route'."
"Yes, well, I think we all hope that," Percy said tartly, reaching to the top shelf, pulling down a tastefully-wrapped parcel and setting it on the coffee table. Setting his jaw, he met Harry's eyes for the first time that night. "I'm sorry if you were hurt by what I wrote, but it was based on my own observations and on a sincere desire to look after the wellbeing of my younger brother. Which, I recognise now, was probably a lost cause years before I sent that letter." He paused and folded his own arms, ducking his head. "My intentions were good, in any case."
"Oh good, I hear there's a road in hell that needs paving," was Harry's flippant reply.
Gaze guarded and cold, Percy stared at him for a few uncomfortable seconds before he decided not to respond. "I won't take up much more of your time, I - "
"Christmas was Scrimgeour's idea, wasn't it?" Harry interrupted, wanting to know, suddenly.
Percy paused, then nodded. "He indicated a desire to meet my family, it wouldn't have been prudent to disapp - "
"Did you tell him I was going to be there?" Harry demanded. Percy glared.
"No, I didn't. It certainly wasn't the way I'd intended to spend my Christmas; what incentive would I have had to mention you to him? Why on earth would I have chosen to put myself in a situ - "
"I don't know, Perce, maybe the 'Chosen One' thing was a factor. He seemed rather interested in having me pose as the Ministry's mascot when I saw him last. You were there, you remember. That party we had for the Headmaster last day of term? Centaurs and mermaids? Actually," he continued, gathering steam, enjoying Percy's nervous look, "I can't believe Scrimgeour even showed up, I'll bet he only did just to make sure Dumbledore was d - "
"You aren't the only person who ever respected the Headmaster, Potter," Percy interrupted stiffly, back ramrod-straight. Harry sneered.
"Are you saying the Minister did, then? Had a funny way of showing it, didn't he, opposing him on ev - "
"Because, of course, it was never Dumbledore who opposed the Minister - "
"Well, he should have LISTENED, SHOULDN'T he, Fudge never did and look where it got HIM - "
"Perhaps DUMBLEDORE should have listened," Percy interrupted, voice raising a little, two bright red spots appearing on his cheeks, "instead of issuing ultimatums he had no right to give and being DIVISIVE, look where that got HIM - "
"DUMBLEDORE LISTENED TO EVERYONE. THAT'S WHAT KILLED HIM, HE TRUSTED PEOPLE HE SHOULDN'T HAVE. HE LISTENED TO PEOPLE WHEN THE MINISTRY WOULDN'T," Harry shouted, losing his composure entirely at the perceived slight, going an angry red, "AND I THINK IT'S PRETTY RICH OF YOU TO PREACH ABOUT SOMEONE NOT LISTENING - "
"WELL, I THINK THAT'S THE POT CALLING THE CAULDRON BLACK, ACTUALLY, AS YOU NEVER SEEMED TO CARE MUCH FOR LISTENING TO OTHERS' ADVICE YOURSELF," Percy actually shouted back, the shock of which startled Harry into silence, since he'd never heard Percy raise his voice except for in a few Head Boy quiet-please situations. "EVEN THOUGH MOST OF US DON'T HAVE YOUR KNACK FOR HEROICS AND PUBLIC RELATIONS, THAT DOESN'T MEAN WE DON'T STILL TRY. YOU - " Percy seemed to finally notice the volume of his voice, and stopped abruptly, looking a little ashamed. He took in a deep breath and frowned, pressing his lips together tight. There was a tense pause. "...I didn't ask you to come here to argue." He reached for the gift-wrapped box he'd previously placed on the and brought it over to the dining table, setting it down nearer to where Harry was standing. "I hoped you'd do me a favour and put this with the other gifts for Fleur and my brother on Saturday."
Harry couldn't help it; he quirked an eyebrow at Percy, giving him a blatant "Are you kidding me?" look. Percy returned the look evenly. "I'd appreciate it. ...Also, a little discretion regarding its origins, especially around the twins, would probably be a good idea. Part of the contents are fragile," he said, in a voice near neutral.
"You aren't even coming to your brother's wedding?" Harry asked, not bothering to keep his tone as neutral. Percy shrugged a shoulder, apparently unconcerned.
"If anyone asks, tell them it was the last part of the gift," he replied sarcastically, walking back over to the futon and perching on the edge of it, elbows on his knees. "You're free to refuse, you know. If it bothers you." Harry scowled at him and picked up the box, tucking it a little roughly under his elbow. Percy winced as the bow on top was mangled, but nodded. "Thank you."
"It had better be something good," Harry grumbled, going through his pockets til he found his Portkey (a short gum wrapper chain) and closed his hand around it, squeezing to set it. He paused, trying to think of a good parting shot. "...He wasn't the only one who was divisive, you know," he muttered, a moment later, frowning.
From the futon, Percy glanced up at him, over the tops of his glasses. "You aren't the only one who's mourned him," he countered quietly, leaving Harry speechless as the Portkey activated two seconds later.
Back at the Burrow, Harry stuffed the box in his Hogwarts trunk under an old jumper, and tried not to dwell on how unsettling it was not to have the last word of the exchange, as he quietly got ready for bed. Ron was already snoring softly in the next bed, mumbling indistinctly, and the thick, stuffy air in the tiny attic bedroom was slowly being cut through by a cool wind from the open window. Fidgeting underneath his borrowed bedcovers, Harry replayed the scene between himself and Percy and tortured himself for another half hour or so, imagining witty retorts and insults he could have used, remembering the hardness in the other's voice when he was pushed too far.
Sighing, Harry scowled and threw an arm over his eyes, flopping back onto his bed, trying to will himself to drop off to sleep. Entirely of its own accord, his right hand, he noticed, kept drifting toward the drawstring of his pyjamas bottoms. Harry paused (stress relief, it'll help you sleep), and glanced over at Ron (still sound asleep), and quickly reached to the bedside table for his wand, casting a silencing spell and burrowing down under the covers, biting his lip as he curled onto his side.
(19th July - Saturday)
Predictably, Molly Weasley was the person who cried the most during the wedding ceremony between her oldest son and Phle - ahem, Fleur. Fleur's mother cried a little as well, but given her sour expression during the reception (Fleur and Bill had decided to forget a lavish ceremony and reception in favour of a small party on the Burrow's lawn; the lasting effects of Bill's injuries from Greyback were still serious enough that Apparation was out of the question), her tears hadn't been borne of joy, as Molly's (ostensibly) had been.
For his part, Harry went through the entire day feeling more than a little underwhelmed. There were a few shining, memorable moments: Fleur's voice was firm and happy during the mercifully short ceremony; a strategically-timed blast of wind had blown the skirt of Hermione's "bridesmaid" dress around her waist as she walked first down the aisle of seats (Harry had grinned at seeing Mrs. Weasley giving Fred and George what-for about that after everything was over). Tonks had shown up twenty minutes late (with Professor Lupin in tow, both grinning sheepishly), her hair a garish pink.
The reception itself was more of an Order get-together than anything else; the Delacours and a few foreign-looking hangers-on kept well on the fringe of the crowd mingling in Arthur's haphazard gardens. Fleur was talking nineteen to the dozen and looking more beautiful than any one woman had right to, even on her wedding day; Bill had a glazed sort of grin on his face (one strangely reminiscent of the one Ron had worn whenever Harry or Hermione had mentioned The Wards).
It was a good day, there was no denying it. Harry told himself this repeatedly as he sat and watched the rest of the guests from his vantage point near the overgrown rhododendron. Bill and Fleur were obviously happy (even though Fleur's mother had been rather unsubtly horrified by the scars Bill still bore on his arms and face); Gabrielle and Ginny had found common ground in discussing the latest trends in dress robes; and Ron and Hermione had...well, vanished after the ceremony was over, but Harry suspected he really didn't want to try to find them and risk succeeding.
A good day. Harry frowned and plucked a bloom off a branch swatting his forehead, and unconsciously shredded it, watching groups form and disperse, watching Fred and George spike the punch (again, Merlin, at the rate they'd been going there was probably more spike than punch in the bowl). He watched the two of them exchange grins and sneak off to offer another cup to Professor Lupin (who was already a little unsteady), and felt a sudden twist of ...loneliness in his chest as he realised that this would probably grow into something of a routine for him in the years to come: invitations to celebrations that were never his own, always recognising the happiness of others.
For a moment, Harry felt the same sort of unreasonable jealousy he'd felt years ago when he'd watched Aunt Petunia and Uncle Dursley praise Dudley for a rare passing mark on a science exam - they'd all known he'd only got it by cheating off the boy in front of him, they'd all known Dudley couldn't tell a mitochondrion from his own third chin, but the three of them had nonetheless celebrated their collective achievement - by ordering Harry to weed the flowerbeds while they went out for ice cream. Demented, yes, and sad, but they'd all belonged together, like he'd never belonged with anyone.
Especially now that the Worst-Kept Secret in Hogwarts was threatening to go legit. ...Where were Ron and Hermione? Pushing himself to his feet, dumping the remains of the bloom on the ground next to his chair, Harry took a few steps towards the Burrow, determined to find them - even if it meant the sort of embarrassment that would take years of therapy to repair.
Well, there's that plan, dashed. Harry gritted his teeth and gave Fred a rictus grin, wincing as a heavy arm was slung around his shoulders. The twin staggered a little (he'd obviously been drinking the punch), but managed to right himself. "Besfriend. Well, Ron's. Not mine. Thass Gred. ...Forge. Thingy. But close!" He poked Harry in the chest, for clarification.
"Er...yes!" Harry said encouragingly, trying to extricate himself before he was pulled over onto the lawn. Well into the overly-physically-familiar stage of drunkenness, Fred chuckled a little at the boy's attempts, and lurched them both towards the rest of the crowd, where Bill and Fleur had been opening the (modest) wedding presents. "Foun' im! Hiding, what. Like a...blurry...garden gnome."
Bill looked relieved at the distraction. "Harry! Fred, stop molesting Harry - "
"No, you stop molesting Harry. ...wait..."
" - and get him some cake. Come on, Potter, which gift's yours? If it's not the best, I'll tell Mum to make you sleep outside for the rest of the summer," Bill threatened cheerfully. Harry gave the guests a nervous smile (gah, the Delacours seemed intrigued once they heard the name "Potter," and Fleur's mum was giving him a beady look and pushing Gabrielle forward a little).
"What? Wizards give gifts to the bride and groom at weddings? Wow, you lot are weird," he replied, to indulgent titters. "Muggles just throw rice."
"Really?" Arthur asked, sounding far too interested, immediately grimacing as his wife gently ground the heel of her shoe down on his toes.
"S'just being modest, our ickle Harry!" George hiccuped, in much the same state as Fred, toasting Harry with an empty glass where he was, propped up against a tree trunk. "Sawim stealing down earlier with the big one on th'corner, there, near whassername," he said, gesturing towards the edge of the table near Mrs. Delacour. More specifically, towards Percy's gift.
Oh, bloody buggering bollocking hell. Harry quickly widened his eyes and shook his head, arranging his right hand into the universal symbol of a bottle and bringing it to his lips, tilting his head back in the equally-universal symbol for "Your brother is an unreliable alcoholic, do not believe a thing he says, and I would think twice before leaving him alone with my new wife, if I were you."
"I am not an unreliable calholol...halcolololic...drunk," George slurred drunkenly (and tried not to leer at Fleur so obviously). "Blurry sawim."
"'E is being shy," Fleur decided, giving Harry a smile that would've sent Ron into the sort of mental state in which Accioing brains sounded like a good idea. "Open ze gift, Bill, I want to see," she ordered. Despite himself, Harry was a little interested to see what he - sorry, Percy - had got the bride and groom. Happily resigned to the prospect of a life spent attending Fleur's whims, Bill shrugged and used his good hand to undo the bow (still pretty crumpled; the couple of days spent under Harry's bed hadn't helped its appearance any) and the wrapping paper - he let her take over when it came to prising open the box.
Finally tearing the box open, Fleur gasped. Harry had a wild moment of panic that Percy had decided to use the opportunity to cut himself off entirely from his family and had packed in a shrunken head - however, the bride's gleeful squeak a few seconds later relieved his fears somewhat. "Ohhhhh, Harry, c'est magnifique! C'est si beau! Alors, cheri - look!" She held up what appeared to be a very thin set of towels, which Harry realised a few seconds later were actually sheets. "Egyptian cotton, pour mon cher...merde," she breathed, eyeing the thread count on the packaging. Bill glanced in the box and burst into laughter, reaching in and pulling out a windchime, apparently spelled to tinkle out "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," if the few opening bars were any indication. He peered at the central figures for a moment, before grinning in recognition.
"French hens," he said, holding the present up, handing it to his mother to inspect, who handed it to Mrs. Delacour to admire. "Bloody hell, Harry," he murmured, impressed.
"I'll say," Harry agreed, then realised that might sound a bit weird, and went pink. Beaming, Fleur insisted on leaving her seat and coming to kiss him on both cheeks, burbling her thanks some more (Harry was a little disappointed Ron hadn't been around to see that). "...No, really," he protested feebly, "really, it wasn't me, I was just the messenger - "
"Yur right, who'd we know who could afford - Merlin, three thousand thread count sh - OW!" George squawked as his mother pinched him (Molly had turned a mortified red at the comment - and, more specifically, at Mrs. Delacour's Significant Look over at her husband because of it). Rubbing his arm and pouting, he handed the gifts over to her, almost missing a piece of parchment (a receipt?) that fluttered out of the folds of fabric, onto the ground. He gripped a nearby chair for support as he bent over and picked it up, plopping it onto the top of the stack of gifts in Mrs. Weasley's lap without a thought. Mrs. Weasley glanced down at it, and promptly turned as white as the sheets she was holding as she recognised the signature. Harry froze, instinctively realising he was caught.
"Percy?" she squeaked, painfully.
"...It's bribery, is what it is!" Fred was still insisting, loudly (and a lot less drunkenly), fifteen minutes after chaos broke out. "Trying to bloody wriggle his way back into everyone's good graces without apologising, well, I'm not having it," he growled.
"He's your brother," Molly said tremulously (Professor Lupin had performed a minor miracle a few minutes earlier by having the presence of mind to conjure her a cup of tea).
"Yeah, he decided to stop being that the day he walked out," Fred shot back, red as his hair with anger. "Chose the bloody Ministry over us."
Despite himself, Harry raised an eyebrow, stunned at the twin's words. "Yeah, can't imagine why he would've done, given all the brotherly affection you showed him," he found himself saying. Various assortments of Weasleys looked shocked. Cheeks burning (where the hell had THAT come from?), Harry shrugged a shoulder. "How's it bribery, again?"
Fred tried again. "Trying to make us all like him!" He scowled, and kicked a nearby tree trunk. "Bloody...git, no, Bill, you should send the gifts back," he decided.
"Like he sent back Mum's jumper!" George chimed in. Molly's lip wobbled.
"Least he deserves!" Fred declared.
"Eef I recall correctly," Fleur's high voice cut through the twins' ranting, "zey're not your gifts to be making decisions for. And I like my French hens," she said, tilting her chin commandingly. "Zey will look lovely above my flowerbox. Et ze issue of my bedcovers is not a public discussion!"
"It was a cowardly thing to do, though, not bringing them himself," Bill said quietly, frowning as he thought. He glanced up at Harry. "Did he ask, or did you offer?"
"Oh, er. He asked," Harry said. It seemed to decide Bill, who glanced over at Fleur. Fleur recognised something in the look, and stamped her tiny foot, breaking into a scowl.
"Non, Bill, sont nous," she started arguing before Bill quickly excused them and guided them a little way away from the rest of the guests (who were eavesdropping shamelessly). "....unreasonable? es TU famille c'est...non, NON..." Fleur burst into another stream of unintelligible French, cowing Bill slightly (Mr and Mrs Delacour were having to hide their mouths behind their hands). Spitting a final insult that made Bill snort, Fleur flounced back over to the other guests, colour high. "Bon. We 'ave reached a...compromise," she said, treating the word as a vulgarity, shooting Bill an evil look as he came to join her. "Ze linens will be returned. ...But I'm keeping my hens, un point, c'est tout."
"Don't think I would've been allowed into the bed to enjoy them anyway," Bill joked sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. "...So, er. That's settled? ...Dad, would you mind - "
"I don't know where his office is, anymore," Arthur said quietly, already anticipating the question (his first addition to the discussion; he'd been sitting quietly near Molly, unobtrusively holding her hand). He gave his eldest son a small, apologetic smile. "I don't have security clearance for that level, in any case."
Bill frowned and nodded. "...Well." His eyes darted over towards Harry. Harry raised both eyebrows, and glanced around, and suddenly realised that a lot of people were glancing in his direction, not just Bill.
"...Oh, you've got to be joking," he sighed.
Harry sighed again, a few minutes later, as the original box containing the sheets, the receipt, and a piece of wedding cake (Mrs. Weasley had sneaked it in, with a whispered request not to let the twins know) was thrust into his hands. Fred and George tried to sneak a few untested beta versions of their latest creations in with the rest of the things, but a sharp words from Arthur froze them.
"Right, well," Harry said, not sure what etiquette was called for in the admittedly bizarre situation. "Sorry about the mix-up. See you in a bit."
" - Harry!" Mrs. Weasley couldn't seem to help herself, and took half a step forward, giving him a watery sort of smile. "Tell him we, er - said hello?"
Harry nodded, gave her a small smile back (and hid a familiar twinge of envy, at the concern in her voice). "I will," he said and Disapparated.
He hadn't counted on Apparating into a darkened flat, however, and stumbled as he arrived, nearly falling off the edge of the coffee table. Squinting into the blackness, Harry tried to will his eyes to adjust to the absence of light, and finally went for his wand, uttering a soft "lumos" and squinting again at the sudden flare of light. He hopped off the coffee table and went over to switch on a table lamp beside the futon. Merlin, it wasn't even half-past nine yet, where was he?
"Percy?" he called softly, ducking his head into the unlit kitchen. There wasn't anyone there (if there had been, they'd've been hard-pressed to find a way of going unseen), so he came back out into the main room and frowned, the giftbox still tucked securely under his arm. He glanced over at the doorpost leading into the hallway, and decided to go exploring the uncharted territory. Maybe he's gone out.
"...Percy?" he called again, still quiet, holding his illuminated wand in front of him as he moved slowly down the hallway. He toed open a door to his left and turned on the lightswitch, spilling light onto the fixtures of the flat's bathroom, but no Percy. Cursing quietly, Harry shrugged and moved farther down, leaving the bathroom light on as he came to the next door. It was closed, so he knocked twice before he opened it. "Perce?" Great, ANOTHER darkened room.
He stepped inside and fumbled on the wall near the door for another lightswitch, but was interrupted in his search by the unmistakeable sharp pressure of a wandtip on his throat. "Shit," he breathed.
"Lumos," another voice said, and the whole room was suddenly lit. Harry immediately flicked his eyes over to see the owner of the wand, and was evidently just as surprised as Percy was, as they both took in their situation. "Harry?" The wand immediately came down (but not before Harry'd noticed that the hand holding it had been shaking just a little). "What on earth are you..."
Harry was still too busy gaping at the idea that he'd just been nearly killed by Percy Weasley (and, it has to be said, gaping a little at the dark blue - coordinating - pyjamas the other man was wearing - he suspected them of having been subjected to one or two Pressing charms as well) to notice right away that the sentence hadn't actually ended. "Were you in bed?" he asked, suddenly finding his voice again.
When he didn't receive an answer, he realised that Percy was still staring, puzzled and frowning, at the box under his arm. "Oh. ...Yeah, er - "
" - But there wasn't anything that said it was from me!" Percy protested, anticipating the explanation, voice squeaking embarrassingly on the last word. Harry winced.
"There was a receipt folded into the sheets," he said. "Your mum and the twins saw it."
Percy's shoulders slumped, and he nodded. "Ah. Well, that explains it." He paused, ears and cheeks reddening slowly, and nodded again. He shifted from one foot to the other uncomfortably. "Thankyou for trying, at any rate."
"...Your mum put in a piece of the cake," Harry offered, not sure what to do (and rather despising most of the Weasley family for volunteering him for this job). Percy snorted. "...Oh, and Fleur's keeping her windchimes, she likes them," he added.
"Really?" The note of wistfulness in Percy Weasley's voice was too weird for Harry to process, so he ignored it, or tried to. "I did hope she would," Percy murmured. "Oh, well. I'm sorry to have involved you in all of this."
"Yeah, well, you should be," Harry frowned, exasperated with the lot of them, exasperated even more with the way Percy flinched then.
"I shouldn't have asked," the other man - boy, actually; Harry realised that seeing Percy without his glasses on made him look more like his actual age than perpetually middle-aged like he usually did - agreed. "It was an imposition, and I apologise." They both stared at their feet for a moment, unsure what to do. "...I, ah. Don't suppose you'd consider a set of cotton sheets a just reward for your attempt?" Percy asked, in an attempt at jocularity. "Never used."
Harry smiled faintly. "You don't want them?"
A quirk of an eyebrow, and Percy gestured behind him. "Well, my bed's too small. I, er. Anticipated a bedsize meant for a couple to share, not..." Harry glanced around Percy's shoulder at the tiny bed running along the opposite wall, and wondered idly why that should make them both blush. "Well."
Percy cleared his throat. "Well, if that's all, I - "
"Your mum says to say hello," Harry interrupted, remembering his promise to Mrs. Weasley suddenly. Underneath his blush, Percy's skin paled, leaving him an interesting mottled colour.
"Oh. Er - hello to her, too." He fidgeted again, and set the box down on the edge of the bed, tracing a finger over where the edges were bent from Fleur's attempts to pry it open. He swallowed, with some difficulty. Harry fidgeted as well.
"...Look, why can't you just - "
"Thank you for bringing the parcel back, Harry," Percy interrupted, voice firmer than it had been seconds before, jaw set tight. "I'm sorry for putting you in the middle of...tensions in my family. Rest assured it won't happen again. And now, if it's all right with you, I'd really like to get back to bed; I have an early morning tomorrow at work."
Wrong-footed, Harry couldn't think of a timely response, and merely nodded. "Good," Percy said, and steered him back towards the main room. "I can connect the hearth to the Floo Network long enough for you to return h - to the Burrow, if you don't have a Portkey," he offered, and Harry nodded again.
Something occurred to him as Percy was setting up the connection. "Wait. Tomorrow's Sunday," he said, raising both eyebrows.
"Well done. Have your learnt your months already, too?" Percy muttered quietly, finishing the connection and stepping back from the (spotless) fireplace. Harry flushed, not expecting the stab, and scowled.
"You have an early morning on a Sunday?" he asked pointedly.
"Yes. And?" Percy asked, just as pointedly handing over a flowerpot with Floo Powder in. Harry took a pinch and handed it back.
"Nevermind." He rolled his eyes as he approached the hearth. "Bye, then."
"Goodbye, Harry," Percy said, ducking his head in a tiny bow. He paused, and seemed to struggle for a moment with something. "...Tell Bill congratulations?" he asked, raising his eyebrows. Harry couldn't help looking a little incredulous at first, but the guarded nervousness in the other boy's eyes decided him.
"All right. Night, Perce," he said, and threw the dust into the fireplace, and was gone two seconds later.
Percy waited for a moment or two before he meticulously swept the dust away, turned out the lights, and returned to his bedroom. The gift box was still on his bed; sighing, Percy decided to finally open it. The cake, he threw away - he'd never developped much of a sweet tooth, to his mother's dismay. He threw away the wretched receipt, and had determined to stow the linens on a shelf in his closet til he forgot them. When he took them out of the box, however, he noticed the faint, achingly familiar scent of the lilac perfume his mother'd always saved for special occasions, lingering on the fabric.
....The last time he'd smelled that, it had been the day she'd fetched them all from Nine and Three-Quarters Station, the day he'd left school. He'd started at the Ministry the next week.
Knowing it was a bad idea, Percy nonetheless set the box on the floor beside his bed and lifted the fabric til it nearly touched his cheek. It was still cool, a little damp from the humidity of the Burrow's lawn. He rested his forehead against the sheets for a moment, and tried not to remember anything else. The scent would fade from them soon enough, he knew. They wouldn't always be such a shock to him, the sense-memories.
Still, though, it took a few moments of desperate fighting, of visible tension in his shoulders, before Percy entirely regained his control. Eventually settling, sighing quietly, Percy put the sheets down on the floor beside his bed, and turned out the light.
Warmth, the comforting solid press of arms on his back as he was held close, tight to the body under his. Harry sighed out, into another mouth soft and sweetened from kisses; felt hot breath and condensation on his own cheek, quickening as he dragged his already-tingling lips down -
Against that deep blue, the pale line of skin was made even starker - freckles seemed dark, foreign little flecks that he wanted to lick and lick and lick until they rubbed off and he left only milk-white in his wake, until his mouth called heat to the surface and he saw that white flush red -
like the hair spreading out on the pillow, like the kiss-swollen lips mewling and parting, panting around the words of his name; until the straight long lines of him curled (toes and fingers and hands and legs) around him and he arched into Harry's touch -
whimpering and flushed and raw and shuddering every time Harry mouthed his name into his own skin, naming him, claiming him -
Harry woke up gasping, sweating, throat on fire. On the bed beside his own, Ron snored and shifted in his sleep, but didn't wake.
Shivering as a burst of cool air from the window hit his damp skin, Harry rubbed his arm. And shivered again, this time not from the cold.
"Shit," he whispered, fervently, into the darkness.