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Irrational by RonsGirlFriday

Format: Novel
Chapters: 21
Word Count: 101,143
Status: WIP

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Contains profanity, Scenes of a mild sexual nature

Genres: Romance
Characters: Percy, OC, OtherCanon
Pairings:

First Published: 08/13/2009
Last Chapter: 05/06/2021
Last Updated: 05/06/2021

Summary:

Gorgeous banner by my bestie aurevoir <3

 


Most people seem to judge him -- but Audrey doesn't.

Most people seem not to see her -- but Percy does.

 

(Percy/Audrey)

 

Golden Snitches Winner 2010: Most Romantic Fic & Smexiest Character (Percy)

Golden Snitches Runner-Up 2009: Best Minor Character (Audrey)

HPFT Nargles Winner 2020: Best Multichapter

HPFT FROGS Finalist 2020: Best Romance and Best Family

 



Chapter 14: Love and Laughter

 

“Maybe we should just stay here today,” remarked Percy when Sunday morning came around.

 

I was presently using his stomach as a pillow and felt tempted to agree, but someone needed to be the voice of reason.

 

“It’s your birthday, you can’t miss your own party.”

 

“Hardly seems reasonable.”

 

I looked up at him. “Come on, it can’t be that bad.”

 

“You’ll give them so much more credit after you meet them.”

 

“Will everyone be there? Well, except for Charlie, I suppose?” Percy had previously told me that his brother Charlie was working with dragons in China.

 

“I had thought so, but Bill and Fleur are on holiday in Mauritius. Bill’s very upset he won’t be there to meet you, by the way, but he said it was already planned. I’m sorry, as well. I think you’ll like him when you do meet him. And I know he’ll like you.”

 

“What about Charlie?” I had always got the impression that Percy cared a great deal about his elder brothers’ opinions especially.

 

Percy made a show of placing his fingers against my neck as if to feel for a pulse. Apparently satisfied after a couple seconds of this, he said, “Yes, you’d like Charlie.”

 

Laughing, I swatted his hand away. “No, would he like me?”

 

“Of course, he would. And, just so you know, whenever you do meet him, he’ll flirt shamelessly with you just to try to annoy me.”

 

That was interesting. I couldn’t resist. “Would it annoy you?” I asked coyly.

 

A moment’s silence followed, during which he appeared to be thinking. Finally, he said, “I’m certain there’s a correct answer to be given here, but I don’t know which it is, so I’m keeping my mouth shut.”

 

“Oh, you will do nicely,” I flirted. Then we did not leave the bed for nearly another hour.

 

When the time to go finally rolled around and we stood before Percy’s fireplace, it was my turn to hesitate.

 

“You’re sure this dress is all right?” I’d spent far more time than I’d care to admit to anyone picking it out the previous day. Vivian had watched patiently -- or at least done a very good job pretending -- as I’d tried on nearly the entire contents of my wardrobe to find something modest but not fussy, casual but not frumpy, presentable but not pretentious.

 

“It’s perfect,” he assured me, kissing my hand. “You’re perfect.”

 

The first thing I heard after we stepped into the cozy, bright, slightly cluttered sitting room of his parents’ home, was the pleasant mezzo voice of a young woman: “Let’s see who’s here now!”

 

I recognized Percy’s sister Ginny from her photos as she entered the room carrying a little girl with plaited strawberry blonde hair who couldn’t have been much older than two.

 

“Oh, it’s Uncle Percy! Yes, it is! And he’s got a friend with him, let’s go say hi! Come here, you,” she added to Percy, and he obliged by leaning over so she could peck him on the cheek. “Here, Victoire, say hi. My arms are killing me. She’s got this thing about wanting to be held all the time.” With that, she unceremoniously passed the little girl off to Percy, shook out her arms a bit, then turned to me and extended her hand with a vibrant smile. “You must be Audrey! I’ve heard so much about you! I’m Ginny, I’ll be the normal one.”

 

The child named Victoire had taken this all in stride and threw her arms about Percy’s neck. “Hello,” he said with an awkward smile, patting her on the head. “When did you get so big?” He then pried her gently off of him and set her on the ground. I suppressed a laugh as I said hello to Ginny and wished her a happy belated birthday.

 

Ginny let out a little snort as she noticed Percy’s uncertainty at how to entertain a toddler. “Well, that was short-lived.”

 

“I see this is not meant to be an easy afternoon for me,” he remarked.

 

“You have no idea. Ron and George have had weeks to prepare.”

 

“But wait.” He glanced down at his niece. “I thought Bill and Fleur were in Mauritius.”

 

“They are.” Ginny tucked her long red hair behind her ear. “How romantic is a holiday supposed to be with a toddler? Celebrating their anniversary,” she explained to me before directing her comments once again to Percy. “And especially if Bill takes that job in Peru, they won’t exactly be able to drop her with Mum whenever they want time alone, so I suppose this could be their last chance for a while. Anyway, come in, Mum’s been asking after you.”

 

“Mum’s been -- ” Percy looked at his watch. “I’m two minutes early.”

 

“Yes, and?” Ginny rolled her eyes and explained to me in a confidential tone, “Percy’s the favorite, you ought to know.”

 

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous,” he scoffed. “Favorite’s obviously Bill, isn’t it?”

 

“Well, Bill’s on holiday, so you’ll have to do.” She started leading the way out of the room. “Audrey, let’s get you a drink. Or five.”

 

Percy looked somewhat helplessly down at Victoire, who was tugging at the leg of his jeans. “Uh, Gin?”

 

Ginny glanced over her shoulder with a little smile. “Oh, good lord. She doesn’t bite. Much.”

 

He attempted first to appeal to Victoire’s sense of reason. “Can’t move without my leg, you know.” The little girl just stared up at him as if that were not at all her problem. Then he extended his hand to her. “Compromise?”

 

But that, apparently, was unsatisfactory, and she held up her little arms in response and commanded politely, “Up, please.”

 

With a laugh, Percy relented, picking her up again and commenting, “You’ve made short work of me, haven’t you?”

 

His obvious awkwardness notwithstanding, to my eyes it was not at all an unpleasant image. Hoping my face wasn’t betraying my absurd thoughts, I accepted his outstretched hand as he shifted Victoire into one arm, and allowed him to lead me through to what served as a kitchen and a dining room. A woman with fading copper hair looked up from the act of squeezing a platter of food onto the already full table.

 

“Hi, Mum.”

 

“Percy, dear, there you are!” She wrapped him in an earnest hug, kissing his cheek, and when she let go, her eyes flicked between him and me expectantly. I drew a breath.

 

I supposed I had no good reason to be worried -- Percy had done nothing but speak well of his parents and how welcoming they were, and had assured me they’d love me -- but I was still a bundle of nerves. There’s nothing quite like the swift, appraising look a woman can give you when she’s trying to decide whether you’re fit for her son, and Mrs. Weasley -- though her face was kind -- was certainly giving it to me then. The last time I’d received this look was from the Baker family matriarch, whom I was fairly certain had decided the answer to that question in the negative (Nev’s family having been far more well-to-do than mine).

 

“Mum,” he said, putting his hand on the small of my back, “this is Audrey.”

 

“Hello,” I began in a voice smaller than I wished, “it’s so nice to meet you. Thank you for having me.”

 

“Molly,” she said by way of introduction, taking my proffered hand in her warm one. “It’s lovely to meet you, dear. You’re very welcome. I’ve heard so many nice things about you.”

 

I threw Percy a look. “Oh, you’ve been exaggerating.”

 

“I don’t exaggerate.” He glanced towards the door that led to the garden behind the house. “Dad!” He waved. Then he turned his attention back to his sister, imploring, “Ginny, can you…” He motioned with his eyes to Victoire.

 

“Oh, fine.” Plucking her niece from Percy’s arms, she stage-whispered, “Uncle George has sweeties. But you have to keep bothering him until he gives them to you.” When Victoire ran, wide-eyed, out the door to the garden, Ginny turned to me and asked, “Beer or wine?”

 

“Oh -- wine, I think. Thank you.” But I was distracted by the arrival of Percy’s father.

 

Once we’d been introduced -- Mr. Weasley protesting that I must call him Arthur -- Percy offered, “Audrey’s dad worked for the Ministry, as well. Same time as you.”

 

“Oh, really? What’s his name?”

 

“Jack Greene,” I replied. “He was a Hit Wizard.”

 

Arthur appeared to think for a moment. “Tall, sturdy chap?”

 

“Huge,” muttered Percy with some chagrin, and I suppressed a laugh.

 

“Blond,” continued Arthur. “Geordie?”

 

Dad had, in fact, grown up near Newcastle.

 

“That’s right!” I said, accepting a glass of wine from Ginny. “Though, not quite so blond anymore, more gray.”

 

“Well, aren’t we all?” replied Arthur pleasantly, passing a hand over his own hair, which, like his wife’s, was actually threatening to turn strawberry blond -- a lovely characteristic of aging red hair, in my opinion. “I do remember Jack, wonderful man. His partner for many years, in the 70’s and 80’s, I believe, was…” He trailed off, thinking, before turning to his wife. “Molly. Jack Greene. Hit Wizard. His partner, was it Malcolm…?”

 

“I think you’d mentioned him running ‘round with Benwick, dear. Broderick’s brother.”

 

“Yes! Benwick. Benwick Bode.”

 

“That does sound familiar,” I agreed. “I have heard him talk of Mr. Bode.”

 

“Marvelous,” he said earnestly. “Jack Greene’s daughter. How funny these things turn out. Your dad’s a very amusing man. Never did get much work done when he was around. What’s he doing now?”

 

I told them about Dad’s nursery business, which then led to a conversation about what Mum and Vivian did, until I noticed Mrs. Weasley clearing an empty plate from the table and sending it to the kitchen sink for washing.

 

“Oh, Mrs. Weasley, I’m sorry, what can I do to help? You seem to be doing so much.”

 

“Please, dear, ‘Molly’ will do. And thank you, but nothing, I’m almost finished anyway. And as a matter of fact -- Arthur, you should allow Percy to go introduce her to George and Angelina. They’re outside,” she added, looking to Percy. “We’re still waiting for Ron and Hermione. And Harry.”

 

Percy threw Ginny a questioning look, to which she responded, “Harry and Ron worked until about five in the morning. Doing God knows what. I told Harry to come along whenever he wakes up.” With that, she picked up a plate of mini sausage rolls and led the way through the door to the garden, where a couple were seated at one end of a long table, talking and observing Victoire as she sang to herself and scavenged for tiny flowers in the grass.

 

As we approached, the young man -- also, of course, a redhead -- threw his arms out wide. “H.B.!” he called with a Cheshire cat grin.

 

I glanced at Percy, who simply shook his head and said, “Just something stupid.”

 

George and Angelina rose to greet us. George, clad in a striped rugby shirt with the sleeves pushed up to the elbow, was much shorter and stockier than Percy, and his wife Angelina was quite tall, with the unmistakable physique of an athlete.

 

Once the introductions were made and everyone sat, Angelina said to me, “I understand you work for the Ministry as well?”

 

Responding in the affirmative, I explained that I worked for Magical Equipment Control, nothing too exciting, when Percy offered, “She’s being modest. Have you read about the exploding wand situation?”

 

“I have. It’s completely bizarre. Are you working on that?” Angelina asked me.

 

“I am, yes, and that is interesting, actually, but I’m afraid it’s the exception to the rule in M.E.C. Most of the time it’s evaluating, you know, new products and imports, making sure they’re up to spec before they go on the market -- everything from cauldrons to telescopes. And then we also receive the product complaints if they do fail.”

 

“Cauldron thickness and so forth,” observed George. He had an interesting manner about him, easygoing and charismatic as Percy had described him, but with something shrewd and mischievous in his tone as well.

 

“Yes, exactly, sometimes,” I replied, and crinkles formed at the corners of George’s eyes as he glanced at Percy, who was sitting next to me.

 

“That’s so funny, actually, because when Percy here was seventeen -- ” He was stopped short by a light whack on his upper arm from Angelina, and he threw her a look reminiscent of a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

 

“Oh, I don’t think I can let that one go,” I said keenly. “When Percy was seventeen, what?”

 

But it was Percy who responded, rather than George. “When Percy was seventeen, he had a big mouth and talked about all sorts of poncy, uninteresting things.” Arms crossed easily, he asked George, “Does that sound accurate?”

 

“Yeah, but it’s so much more colorful when I say it.” George grabbed a couple of sausage rolls and popped one into his mouth as Angelina inquired further into the exploding wand situation.

 

As the conversation continued, turning eventually from my work to the subject of Ginny’s and Angelina’s recent Quidditch matches -- Angelina, I learned, also played professionally, for Falmouth -- Percy rested his arm on the back of my chair, playing with my hair absently. Victoire, who’d been amusing herself with chasing gnomes and tumbling about in the grass, finally decided to join our group, sidling up between Angelina and me, as Angelina was concluding a lively rant about another team’s Beaters.

 

“Hello,” I said when I noticed her there.

 

Victoire managed a shy “Hi” as she picked a piece of grass out of her disheveled hair.

 

“Oh, your plait’s come undone,” I noticed quietly, so as not to interrupt Ginny’s response to Angelina; Victoire’s bobble was clinging to a few strands of hair, threatening to fall off. “Would you like me to fix it for you?” When she nodded, I allowed her to stand in front of my chair as I ran my fingers through her soft hair to sort out any tangles and bits of grass. Percy’s fingers had paused in their attention to my own hair.

 

When I’d finished plaiting Victoire’s hair, I patted her on the arm. “All finished.” Percy silently took my hand as Victoire turned her attention to trying to grab Angelina’s wand; finding herself thwarted in that endeavor, she skipped around the table and clambered onto George’s lap.

 

“She likes you, I see,” I commented to George during a break in the conversation. He was obligingly entertaining his niece by conjuring wispy figures of animals from his wand. Victoire giggled and grasped at them as they ran to and fro on the table top.

 

“Yes, but don’t say that too loudly,” he replied, peering around in the direction of the house as if to check for anybody coming. He looked at Percy and Ginny. “Mum’s been relentless. And it’s only going to get worse if this lot move to Peru.” He gestured to Victoire as he said it.

 

“What are you talking about?” asked Percy.

 

“Oh, you know, apparently when you get married -- and nobody told me this, by the way -- when you get married, Mum takes that as her cue to start inquiring into your bedroom activities -- ”

 

“Oh, Jesus, really.” Percy placed his face in his free hand, a note of horror in his voice, as Ginny let out a bewildered laugh.

 

“Well,” George let out a good-natured laugh of his own, “let’s leave him out of this, all right, Mum’s bad enough.”

 

“Should have known better than to ask,” Percy lamented into his hand.

 

“George, stop trying to make it into something crass.” Angelina rolled her eyes but seemed to be repressing a smile.

 

“What?” he challenged. “That’s exactly what it is. Try to tell me that’s not exactly what’s going on when Mum asks us when we’re having kids. I swear. She’s so concerned about it. You’d think we were humanity’s last hope.” He was shaking with mirth.

 

“What a terrible thought,” remarked Ginny.

 

“It’s seriously every week,” continued George. With that, he affected a falsetto imitation of his mother. “When are you having kids? Now? How about tomorrow? No? Well, how about the day after? And then you say, ‘Hey, Mum, let’s cool it,’ and a week later she’s back at it: All right, how about now? Are you having kids today?” He placed his hands over Victoire’s ears, continuing seamlessly, “Are you shagging right this second? I’m about to give her our schedule so she’ll shut up.”

 

Percy looked to be screaming internally, staring daggers at his brother. But I did not have it in myself to find George off-putting. And having a mum who tended to be a little too much in one’s personal life at times was something I could relate to.

 

“Well,” I offered, “at least your mum waited until you were married to start bothering you about kids. I think my mum was willing to forego that step entirely for my sister and me. Wouldn’t have put it past her to trot us out in the lonely hearts column -- you know,” I explained, “they’re personal advertisements in Muggle newspapers, people looking for someone to date or whatnot.”

 

George raised his eyebrows. “Hang on. You mean to tell me you could have specially ordered someone and instead you wound up with him?” He grinned at Percy.

 

“It’s a funny story, really,” I mused. “He followed me home one day and I thought he was cute and decided to keep him.”

 

Though flushed, Percy wore a look that I could almost have described as smug.

 

 

 

A short while later, I had excused myself for the loo and asked everyone whether I could get them anything while I was up. When I’d finished up in the house and meant to return to the garden, I saw that Percy’s brother Ron had arrived with someone I assumed must be Hermione, though she looked different than I’d seen her around the Ministry. At work she wore her hair sleek, businesslike, polished. Intimidating, somehow. But that day, her hair was a mass of frizzy waves. I could hardly blame her for not wanting to waste weekend hours on exhausting beauty rituals.

 

Ron’s eyes met mine in a silent, awkward acknowledgment of the fact that we knew each other but didn’t exactly know each other.

 

I extended my hand. “I’m sorry, we’ve seen each other so many times but never said hello. Audrey.”

 

“Hi. Ron,” he replied, shaking my hand. Though not unkind, his manner was short, lacking George’s charisma or Percy’s polish. He inclined his head towards Hermione, but she stepped forward eagerly and introduced herself.

 

“I’m Hermione. I’ve heard so much about you.”

 

“Oh, dear. I don’t think I like having so much to live up to.”

 

She waved this away. “Percy’s told me everything you’re working on. We should talk!”

 

“Oh, yes, he’s told me about you, as well. Not that he really needed to; you’ve made quite a name for yourself.”

 

She blushed a bit. “Which years were you at Hogwarts? I’m sure I must have seen you -- ”

 

“I wasn’t; my sister and I were homeschooled. My mum managed our Muggle secondary education, and my Nan, my dad’s mum, managed our magical education.”

 

Percy’s dad was next to us at that moment, as his mum was now saying something to Ron, and I’d begun directing my comments to both Arthur and Hermione.

 

“Which year would you have started at Hogwarts, had you gone?” asked Arthur. “The year you turned eleven.”

 

“Would have been...1989.”

 

“Oh, wonderful, same as the twins. So, how was it at your house growing up? Did your family mainly use magic, or Muggle technology, or both?”

 

“A good mix of both, I’d say. I suppose we could have done away with a lot of Muggle appliances, but I think Mum would have felt odd about it. And my mum’s a better cook than my dad, so if we’d relied entirely on magic I think we all would’ve starved.”

 

“Well, I think that’s wonderful. I’ve always thought there was really such an appalling lack of knowledge or interest in Muggle technology in our community, but it’s always been that way. Maybe your generation will be the one to change it finally.”

 

I had a very pleasant conversation with him about Muggle life, until Percy popped into the house. “Oh, there you are.”

 

“Sorry, we were just talking.”

 

“Not at all. Here -- ” He took the empty wine glass I’d been twisting in my hand and went to fill it.

 

As Percy was procuring more drinks for us, Ron sneaked up behind him and reached past him to grab a drink for himself. With his other hand, he flicked Percy’s shirt collar. “Missed the very top button there, H.B.”

 

Percy swatted Ron’s hand away. “Get out of it.” But his hand moved in an automatic fashion to his collar and began fastening the button -- until he glanced down, as if surprised to find his fingers acting of their own accord, and undid the button again with an exasperated sigh.

 

“Well,” ventured Molly, “I suppose we should go ahead with lunch, and poor Harry can join us when he gets here.” She went to call the others inside.

 

“‘Poor Harry.’” Ron rolled his eyes. “If he’s not here in an hour, I’m going over to wake him up. With George’s fireworks.”

Percy and I were the first to sit down outside with our lunch, and he threw me a long, knowing sort of glance before raising his eyes skyward, his lips pursed in a familiar way. I knew that look.

 

"I can tell you want to say something, so spit it out."

 

Sighing resignedly, he gave me a wry little smile. "He's gone and done it, hasn't he? My dad. Talked to you about plugs.”

 

“Absolutely, he did. But I was surprised he didn’t know about laptop computer chargers. I told him I’d show him one the next time I see him.”

 

He stared at me for a moment, one of those occasions when I couldn’t actually work out what he was thinking, but it must have been something good because he leaned over and kissed me.

 

“Oi, trying to eat,” protested Ron as he arrived and took a seat across from us.

 

 

 

After most everyone had finished eating lunch, Percy joined me in insistently helping to clear the table and start the dishes, until Molly practically ordered him to make me stop doing any work. When we’d rejoined the group outside, Ginny was heatedly responding to something as George suppressed laughter.

 

“ -- If I get one more anonymous delivery of socks, I swear. I know it’s you or Charlie sending them.”

 

Ron snickered, and George must have noticed the confused look on my face, because he leaned towards me and explained in a stage whisper, “Talking about the wedding. Ginny’s got cold feet.”

 

“Shove off! My feet are perfectly warm -- ”

 

“Because of the socks,” offered Ron, who was pestering Hermione by picking up sections of her hair, holding them aloft before allowing the strands to float back down and rest lightly atop the fluffy mass that was the rest of it.

 

“-- it’s just this wedding’s going to be a press nightmare, neither of us wants that.”

 

“You know,” said Arthur thoughtfully, “you should evade legions of prying eyes.” He wore a knowing smile as he leaned back in his chair, staring up at the sky.

 

Ginny threw him a look that I was fairly certain I’d given my own dad two hundred times over the course of my life. “What are you on about, Dad?” Arthur just laced his fingers behind his head and looked sure of himself.

 

Comprehension dawned on Percy’s face. “I think Dad’s right,” he said. “You should edit lots of personal essays.”

 

“Exactly,” replied Arthur. “Encourage leaving out people entirely.”

 

Percy laughed, but Ginny did not look amused at whatever this game was.

 

“Oh, I see,” said Angelina. “Yes. Ginny, educate lorikeets on practical economics. Could be a good idea.”

 

Ron’s brow furrowed. “Are you all spelling out ‘elope’?”

 

All at once, George groaned, Angelina clapped her palm to her forehead, and Percy muttered, “Subtle as a Bludger…”

 

But the most pronounced response came from Molly, whom I, with my back to the house, had not realized was anywhere nearby.

 

“Nobody is eloping!” she chided, stalking up to us and pointing an accusing finger at each of her children. “Hear me? Nobody!” Ron held up his hands as though he were on the wrong end of an armed robbery.

 

“But you and Dad -- ” began Percy reasonably, until some look or action by his mum, which I did not see at that moment, prompted him to conclude that thought with, “Nevermind,” and close his mouth smartly. Arthur was still staring blithely up at the sky.

 

Apparently satisfied that nobody would be running off and getting married unceremoniously anytime soon, Molly informed Ginny that Harry had just arrived, and Ginny followed her mum back to the house.

 

Ron looked thoughtful. “So, if Harry does e-l-o-p-e -- ”

 

“You know Mum can spell, right?” interjected Percy.

 

Ron ignored him. “-- does he still get a stag do?” He looked to George, across whose face crept a wicked grin, paying no heed to Hermione’s “Oh, honestly...”

 

“I don’t see why not,” replied George. “We should ask the expert, though.” At that, both he and Ron turned their heads to stare at Percy. “Have you anything to say about stag parties?”

 

I could not miss the lovely color that crept over Percy’s face at that moment. Arthur seemed to consider this his cue to leave the group, taking Victoire with him.

 

To my amusement, however, Percy replied with a sly little smile, “I do not.” Then, leaning over to me, he added, “Don’t listen to a thing they say about George’s stag do, it’s all lies.”

 

“The hell it is!” countered George gleefully.

 

“And by the way,” Percy continued, “now you’re just getting lazy about it, aren’t you? Picking the low-hanging fruit.”

 

“You are the low-hanging fruit,” returned Ron.

 

“Oh, sorry, H.B.” George feigned amazement, an exaggerated tone to his voice. “Didn’t know you’d earned a NEWT in the fine art of Taking the Piss.”

 

A look of delighted astonishment on Percy’s face gave way to a very good chuckle, and everyone else started snickering as well, until it became one of those moments of contagious laughter where nobody within earshot stood a chance.

 

“Well, how many does that make, eleven?” ventured Angelina.

 

“Eleven?” Percy stopped chuckling long enough to answer. “Don’t insult me. Makes thirteen, thank you.”

 

George groaned.

 

Astonished and distracted, I couldn’t help myself. “Do you mean to tell me you got twelve NEWTs? How did I not know that? I didn’t even know that was possible.”

 

“Wait, wait.” George was beside himself now. “He didn’t lead with that?!”

 

“Oh, stop it,” protested Percy.

 

George buried his face in his hand with an infectious, high-pitched giggle ending in a snort, which only made it worse for everyone.

 

“What’s going on?” Harry Potter approached us, looking bemused.

 

“Talking about Percy’s thirteenth NEWT,” managed George, now pink in the face from laughter.

 

“Brilliant,” said Harry, clearly too late to join this particular party. “What’s this Ginny’s saying about you lot talking about eloping?”

 

Nobody is eloping!” ordered Molly from some distance, causing Percy, Ron, and George to utterly lose it. I could not recall having seen Percy laugh so hard in all the time I’d known him.

 

Harry seemed not to be terribly fazed by this, and he turned to me as I stifled my giggles and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Harry.”

 

“Audrey. Nice to meet you.”

 

“You, too. I’m going to get something to eat, and then maybe this’ll be funnier when I come back.”

 

“I wouldn’t count on it,” said Angelina, fanning herself with her hand.

 

“Hey,” added George, “don’t say the E-word to Mum unless you want the cake thrown at you.”

 

Percy looked up. “Hey, that’s my cake. I definitely don’t want it thrown at anyone, thanks.”

 

The cake, as it turned out, did not get launched at Harry or at anyone else, and a good thing, too, because it was as delicious as the company. The afternoon passed in comfort and ease -- barring a little meltdown by Victoire when she became overtired -- and while I could see what Percy had meant about his family’s ability to be overwhelming at times, I found myself in no hurry to leave them. When Harry and Ginny were the first to say their goodbyes, I realized that the time had passed much more quickly than I ever could have anticipated.

 

“Ron, don’t forget,” called Harry, as if by afterthought, as he and Ginny began making their way to the house, “midnight.”

 

Ron let out a frustrated groan and replied, “If we have to spend one more night chasing this guy, I’m killing him or I’m killing you.” Harry waved this away with his hand, and I noticed Ron turn to Hermione and mouth, Sorry, followed by a look that made me avert my eyes for fear I was intruding on a very personal silent conversation. A moment later, Ron announced that they, too, were leaving, claiming he needed a few hours of beauty sleep.

 

“It doesn’t seem to be working, mate,” responded George.

 

“It’s not working because of Harry’s midnight missions. I was gorgeous when I was eleven.”

 

“I heard that,” shouted Harry before disappearing into the house.

 

As Ginny had done only moments before, Hermione gave me an enthusiastic hug. “You must call me,” she said; she and I had exchanged phone numbers that afternoon. “Or stop by at work anytime. And the next time Ginny and I do something, I’ll let you know.”

 

“That would be nice.”

 

Grinning, Hermione flung her arms around Percy while I accepted a careful, awkward hug from Ron.

 

“So,” ventured George when it was just the three of us in the garden, his parents and Angelina having stepped into the house earlier, “how long did it take Dad to start talking about plugs?”

 

Percy pondered his watch. “About an hour, maybe.”

 

Tsk. Losing his touch.”

 

“Yep. But get this, she told him about other plugs he doesn’t have yet.”

 

“Oh, no. Have to decide whether that cuts in your favor or against you,” George said to me with a wink.

 

“I’m afraid I also told him what I gave you for your birthday,” I mentioned to Percy. “So if he bothers you about that, it’s my fault.”

 

“What’d you give him?” asked George with a keen look.

 

I explained that I’d given him (as a belated gift) a few CD’s of Muggle artists Percy had grown to enjoy after time spent at my place listening to my radio or my own collection -- and, of course, something to play them on. In particular, Percy was absolutely enamored of my Coldplay album -- so it was perfect timing that they’d released their second album earlier that very same week.

 

George raised his eyebrows. “She’s got you listening to Muggle music?”

 

“It’s way better than our music, have you heard it?”

 

“What, do I live under a rock?” Then George addressed me once again, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “Well, it’s settled. Anything happens between the two of you, we’re keeping you and getting rid of him.” With that, he slapped Percy on the arm and offered me a hug. “I’d better not keep Angie waiting. See you later, H.B. Let me know if you hear from Bill, yeah?”

 

As I watched George disappear into the house, I felt Percy’s eyes on me, and when I looked up at him the air between us felt impossibly thin.

 

Unnecessarily, as there was nobody around, he leaned over and murmured close to my ear, “That’s not the only glowing review you received today.” When he pulled back, he was looking at me in that way again, the one that made my heart feel fit to burst.

 

“Shall we say goodbye to my mum and dad and then...” He shrugged. “Had enough of me for one solid weekend?”

 

I shook my head. The truth was quite the opposite, and it was becoming ever more difficult not to come out and say so. But I continued to hesitate, because it was not something to be taken lightly, and it was definitely not something that could be taken back. I hesitated because he hadn’t said it, either -- and whether it was because he didn’t feel it or because he had the good sense to know it was still too early, I had no idea. I hesitated for fear of looking foolish.

 

The fact of the matter was, it was getting harder and harder not to tell him that I loved him, when he seemed to be giving me so many reasons to.

 


 



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