Percy was still fast asleep when I awoke the next morning, even earlier than I usually did. The powers that be, perhaps, granting me a precious moment to wipe drool from my cheek and smooth my hair. My inner troll would have to wait until another day to reveal herself.
Percy’s hair was a right magnificent mess, which I think was more my doing than the pillow’s.
I have been known, on occasion, to take pride in my work.
Deciding to take this opportunity to brush my teeth, I pulled on my robe and headed for the bathroom. But now that I was properly awake, I heard Vivian’s voice in the kitchen. Was she talking to herself? Perhaps she was upset. I slipped out of my bedroom and, distracted from my initial goal, walked toward Vivian, who I could now see was on the phone.
“On Tuesday,” she was saying, “and I don’t work tomorrow, so hopefully I’ll get back on a normal sleeping schedule -- what?” She let out a sound of exasperation. “Mum, you’re just going to gossip with her at church later -- Mum, seriously, if you put me on hold, I will hang up on you -- ugh!” Obviously Mum did put her on hold, because Vivi mimed banging the phone against the wall before placing her hand over the mouthpiece and grinning at me.
“Look at you,” she whispered. “Number one Quidditch fan, are we?”
“What are you talking about?” I muttered back.
“You’ve got that stupid look on your face.”
“I haven’t got a stupid look on my face.”
“Oh, I’m the one looking at it, and it’s definitely stupid.”
“You’re stupid,” I replied lamely. “Why’s Mum on the phone at this hour?”
“I called her. Don’t change the subject.”
“Well, now she’s going to think it’s all right to call this early,” I complained. I picked at a loose thread on the sleeve of my robe.
“No, she won’t.”
I looked at her in disbelief. “Have you met Mum?”
Vivian shrugged. “I only had to tell her something about work. He’s still here, isn’t he? That pullover hanging off the back of the sofa doesn’t seem quite your size.”
“Ha ha. Yes, he is,” I responded, still whispering. I picked up Percy‘s glasses, which Vivian had been kind enough to place on a shelf. “So do me a favor and try not to be yourself.” This only made her smile more widely.
Then her eyes shifted to a spot over my shoulder, and she raised her eyebrows pointedly at me before turning away and searching vaguely through the kitchen cupboard, the phone still to her ear, in her best effort to pretend she wasn’t there. Bless her, Vivi could actually be discreet when necessary.
Percy, still looking sleepy, had emerged from the bedroom in his jeans and now terribly wrinkled shirt. I held out his glasses. “These are yours,” I said, stupidly stating what was rather obvious.
“Thanks.” He smiled and put them on, planting a slow kiss on my forehead. “Good morning,” he whispered. “Don’t stay away too long.” He looked rather shy as soon as he said it, then disappeared in the direction of the bathroom. I turned back to Vivi, suppressing a grin.
Vivi looked at me and let out a laugh.
“You,” she mouthed. She made an exaggerated, grotesquely silly face and pointed at me. “Stupid face.”
“I do not.”
She laughed harder, then abruptly turned her attention back to the phone. “Nothing, Mum, just something funny on the telly… Oh, I think it’s that stupid program Dad likes to watch… I don’t know, that one with the bloke with the stupid hair and the stupid ties…” She listened for a couple of moments. “No, Audrey’s asleep… I’m sure she did, you’ll have to ask her about it later. Hey, Mum, I’ve got to get some sleep, I’ll talk to you later, alright?… Okay, yeah, real quick, then… Hi, Dad.”
This phone call could last years. I went to fetch my toothbrush, seeing that the loo was once again vacant.
“Thanks, Dad,” I heard Vivi saying after I’d finished brushing my teeth. “I’ll talk to you later, it’s past my bedtime now… Okay, love you, too, Dad. Bye.”
“What’s going on?” I asked as she hung up the phone and slammed it onto its receiver dramatically.
“Oh, finally got assigned to work with the kids, and got back on a normal schedule.”
“Oh, that’s --”
“--not what you should be concerned about right now because you have more important things going on?” she interrupted. “I agree. Don’t know why you’re still out here, actually.”
“Well done, Vivi.”
She shrugged. “Just goes to show you can achieve anything by being a pain in someone’s arse long enough.”
“Oh, that’s how it’s done, is it?”
We were interrupted by the ringing of the phone.
“I told you!” I exclaimed. “There’ll be no stopping her now.”
Vivian picked up the phone. “Hello. Hi, Mum… Okay… Okay… Okay, Mum, I’ll tell her… Okay, love you… Bye.” She hung up. “Mum wants to know if you’d like to have Sunday dinner tonight, and if you’ll bring your boyfriend. You know she’s beside herself not having met him.”
I groaned. “Mum needs a hobby. And I’m sorry, I’m not subjecting him to Mum being a busybody and Dad being…ugh…himself…” And all his science projects of questionable legality. “Not this early in the scheme of things, anyway.”
Vivian looked at me like I was daft. “You’ve been seeing him for about three months.”
“No, no, that’s not true.”
“Oh, fine, you’ve been talking about him for three months.”
“Shh! He’s in there, you know.”
“Yes. I seriously don’t know why you’re still out here.”
I sighed in response, and as I turned on my heel I heard Vivi add lightly, almost as if to herself, “Anyway, I doubt it will matter how psychotic Mum and Dad act.”
“Oh, how do you gather?” I asked over my shoulder.
“Because he had a stupid look on his face, too.”
I ignored her and closed the bedroom door behind me, my face burning. “Sorry about that,” I sighed vaguely, satisfied that Percy didn’t seem to have heard anything too embarrassing.
“You know,” said Percy, toying with the loose ends of the belt on my robe, “I don’t have flatmates.”
“Oh, well, good for you.”
He smiled and removed his glasses, placing them on a shelf. “And I don’t have a telephone,” he added in a cheeky manner.
“Nobody likes a person who brags.” I cocked my head and paused for a moment, deciding. “Well, since you’re in such a good mood, I don’t suppose you’d like to put up with having dinner with my family tonight.” Before he could say a word I rushed to add, “It’s quite last minute, I understand if you— ”
“I think dinner is one of the three most important meals of the day,” he replied with mock seriousness.
Hours later, he seemed to have come to his senses and realized just as well as I did that this was going to be a disaster. He stood staring at the face of my parents’ house like it was a puzzle to be worked out. He’d barely said a word in the past hour.
“Come on,” I said, taking him by the hand and leading him to the front door. “Dinner is one of the three most important meals of the day,” I reminded him.
“Of all the clever things I say, that’s the one you remember.”
I squeezed his hand and led him through the front door and into the house. I could hear the sounds of laughter coming from the living room.
“Mum? Dad?” I called.
“Sweet pea!” answered Dad at the same time as Mum’s “Darling!” from the kitchen.
Dad got there to greet us first, giving me a hug and a kiss before shaking hands with Percy. Mum popped out of the kitchen for a moment, drying her hands on a towel, to say hello.
“Your sister and Michael are in the living room,” Dad said to me, “but first…” He turned his attention back to Percy. “I’ve got a question to ask you.”
Percy, who actually stood slightly taller than Dad, looked like he was going to throw up.
“Oh, Dad, seriously, nobody’s impressed,” Vivian commented from the other room.
Dad ignored her. “What do you think about the increase in free agents in the British and Irish League?” he asked Percy.
“I -- sorry?”
I suppressed a laugh at the look on Percy’s face.
“I’m hoping we can get a voice of reason in here.” Dad put a hand on Percy’s shoulder and started leading him into the living room. “I’ve been talking about it with Michael, and he can sometimes be what you might call…delusional.”
Michael let out a good-natured groan.
Percy glanced at me, as if he wanted me to clue him in to Dad’s opinion on the subject so he could give the correct response. I could only shrug uselessly. I didn’t even understand Dad’s question.
Vivian had a quick introduction with Percy, mercifully pretending she had not already encountered him in his disheveled state at seven that morning, then excused herself and followed me to the dining room, where she opened a bottle of wine and poured a glass for each of us. “I think they’re going to be fast friends. Dad’s in there pouring him a drink. I’m just glad it gave me a reason to get out of there. I just spent the past fifteen minutes pretending to be interested in how Quidditch teams choose their players.”
“What exactly do you and Michael talk about when you’re together?”
She shrugged. “Michael talks about Quidditch. I watch Michael talk about Quidditch.”
“Oh, Vivi, that’s rather unhealthy, don’t you think?”
She handed me a stack of dishes in response, and we went to work setting the table, moving in sync the way we had done since we were four and seven.
“She’s a phenomenal Chaser,” Dad was saying to Percy when Vivian and I rejoined them, Mum having shooed us from the kitchen and told us to enjoy our fellas. Save them from Dad, more like.
Percy’s face glowed with pride, and I presumed they must have been speaking of his sister. “She is.”
He went automatically to place his arm around my waist, but then froze, arm floating about as if he weren’t sure what to do with it. I took his hand and placed his arm about my shoulders, lacing my fingers with his. Dad looked amused.
Dad and I would have words.
When Percy excused himself ten minutes later I looked at Percy’s glass, then at Dad. “Take it slow, Dad.” Dad believed in persuasion rather than force. I knew his game.
Dad chuckled. “He’s fine, sweet pea.”
I pointed, as formidably as I could. “I’m watching you.” I hesitated, dropping my voice after ensuring Vivi and Michael were occupied and out of hearing range. “I like this one.”
“Well…” Dad contemplated the depths of his own whiskey glass. “He’s a bit uptight…”
I sighed and opened my mouth to interject, but Dad cut me off, holding up one hand.
“He’s got absurd thoughts about Quidditch…”
I waited, staring.
“But. He is polite, and he comes from a good family. So.”
“‘He’s polite and comes from a good family,’” I repeated. “Seriously. That’s what you’ve got.”
“Well, now that you mention it, he is rather dreamy.”
“Oh my god, Dad.”
When dinner was ready, I pulled Percy back, stalling before we followed everyone else into the dining room.
“Is he being fair to you? I hope he’s not prying.” Another thought struck me. “Oh god, he hasn’t started talking about football, has he?” Dad may have been a Quidditch fanatic deep in his bones, but retirement and being married to a Muggle had afforded him plenty of opportunity to develop an appreciation for Muggle pastimes.
“I’ll tell you a secret.” In sharp contrast to my fretting, Percy looked entirely at ease by now. He was very clearly not drunk, not anywhere close, but his eyes shone a little brighter with perhaps two glasses of whiskey and his usual half-smile conveyed a rare self-confidence as he leaned over and boasted playfully to me, “Parents really like me.”
When we sat for dinner, he pulled out my chair for me. Mum went fully starry-eyed and stayed that way.
It was Mum’s turn now to direct the conversation, though I wasn’t quite as concerned with her as with Dad. Mum rarely found it in her heart to disapprove of anyone. Mum had also become quite vocal with my sister and me these days about her desire for grandchildren, and I think she’d decided she was willing to accept any candidate who wasn’t raised by wolves.
Mum had never ceased to marvel at the details of Wizarding society, nor missed an opportunity to learn about the lives of its citizens whenever she met one. After pronouncing praises upon Percy’s mum for having raised seven children, she asked with keen interest what each of his siblings did now.
My heart skipped. I hadn’t told them. I should have said something, to prevent them putting him on the spot.
Percy handled the question with aplomb, as if he had rehearsed his answer. He buried the reference to Fred in the middle, his eyes flicking downward only for a moment as he said it before proceeding with the rest of the list.
“...George and Fred went into business together -- Fred, ah, passed. Four years ago in May. Ron’s an Auror, Mr. Greene will know all about that. And my sister is the best Chaser in the British and Irish League, but I suppose I’m biased.” He smiled modestly.
“Oh, my dear.” Mum patted Percy’s arm for a moment but elected not to dwell or pry any further. “They all sound lovely.”
“Dreadful time, that, dreadful time” was Dad’s contribution. He had, no doubt, done the math. He nodded bracingly before skewering a piece of potato and moving the conversation along. “Has your dad retired from Ministry service?”
“Excellent. I’m glad to hear it. He deserves it.”
Dinner continued without incident, and when it came time to leave -- hugs and kisses having been exchanged and Dad having stated emphatically that he was very much looking forward to seeing Percy again and resuming their Quidditch debate -- Percy and I decided to take a walk, taking advantage of the warm summer night.
Percy had his hands in his pockets, and I linked one arm through his. He was quiet and seemed preoccupied, though I wondered whether that was simply the effect of having spent the past few hours having to be personable. I understood that, at least.
“Sickle for your thoughts?”
“Oh, surely they’re worth more than that.” He looked down as we walked, nudging pebbles out of the way with his toes.
“Your family is lovely,” he finally spoke.
He looked at me oddly. “No ‘but.’ I enjoyed them.”
“I have to apologize.” I couldn’t hold it in. “I should have told Mum and Dad not to ask about -- ”
He shook his head. “Audrey…” He appeared to gather his thoughts before continuing. “It’s going to come up. It does come up. I haven’t enjoyed any semblance of anonymity for years. You know, my sister is engaged to Harry Potter, my brother is well known to be his right-hand man, and somehow that dolt has a reputation as a war hero -- ” He glanced at me out of the corner of his eye, clarifying, “My brother is the dolt, not Harry. George’s personal worth by now rivals the wealth of Gringotts. Point is...people know these things. They know when they hear my name, put two and two together. I could hardly hide it. And I should talk about him. It would be wrong not to.”
He was silent again for a moment before adding, “I know I should tell you more about it. It’s just not...pleasant.”
“I don’t think ‘should’ has any place in it. You’ve no obligation to me.”
His brow furrowed and he put his arm around me. After a distance, we slowed.
“It’s getting late,” he said. “Would you like to come home with me?”
Percy’s living space was practically spartan. He’d told me once he had one set of dishes, and I believed it. A half-drunk cup of cold tea, I suspected from the morning before, sat on the coffee table next to the Prophet.
“Hasn’t got as much personality as yours, I’m afraid.” He gave a tiny but naughty-looking smile and I knew he was recalling Vivi’s book collection.
A framed photo sat on a shelf, one of the few on display. In it, an older couple danced happily, dressed as if for a special occasion. The man looked familiar somehow. “Who are they?”
He glanced over his shoulder, in the act of filling two glasses with water. “My parents,” he said. “That was my brother’s wedding. Bill, I mean.”
“Ah!” I pointed to his dad. “You look just like him.”
Percy grimaced, ran his hand across his hairline, and made a sound like hrmm.
I gasped gleefully as my eye caught upon another photo, a black and white group picture. “Is this you? You’re so -- what’s that you’re wearing? Is that a fez?”
“I suppose I deserve this, don’t I?”
I squeezed his hand as I admired the picture. “Look at how young you are! You’re adorable.”
“Seventeen-year-old me is pleased to hear it.” He took the photograph and examined it. “This was in Egypt. Which explains the headwear. We all look ridiculous, but…” He shrugged. “It’s the last picture we took of everyone together.”
Nearly a decade ago. I took his meaning. “Oh. That’s a shame.”
“Yeah.” He looked pensive once again, as he had on our walk. “Yeah, it is.”
And here we were again.
“I’ve managed to bring this weekend to a fantastic close, haven’t I?”
“Well, it’s not quite over yet.” Having returned the photograph to its place, he drew me to him by my waist and with his other hand tucked my hair behind my ear. Sometimes I thought blokes only picked these things up in Muggle films; but Percy had come up in a magical family, so who knows -- maybe it was innate.
“You don’t know how long I’ve been wanting to do this,” he whispered in my ear, and I decided this could not be something that had been taught; he was too wonderfully earnest about it.
Affecting nonchalance, I took his wrist and checked his watch. It was interesting, his watch -- old-fashioned, possibly an heirloom, well-maintained but not expensive, even bordering on shabby; in stark contrast to everything else he wore, which always seemed pristine and impeccably tailored.
“Four hours?” I teased after noting the time. “Because I seem to remember this afternoon -- ”
He cut me off with a kiss, which was perfectly fine by me; but while it was nice, I noticed he seemed to have reverted to the same Percy who’d kissed me by the Floo gates in June, cautious and uncertain -- not the one who’d pinned down my arms while he nipped at my neck the night before. Variety may be the spice of life, but I felt as though he wasn’t really there with me.
My suspicion was confirmed when, some time later, I began to lift his shirt and he pressed my hands away.
“I’m sorry.” He pulled back and shook his head.
I froze in confusion. “What’s wrong?” A pause followed, during which he looked to be warring with himself. “Have I done something?”
“No, of course not.”
I waited, but he didn’t elaborate. “Well...what is it?”
He drew a breath and dropped onto his sofa. Puzzled, and feeling an unspecified fear rising within me, I followed his lead and perched next to him.
“I think that,” he began, trailing off as he stared at the floor and ran his hand through his hair and over his neck. “I think… I haven’t been fair to you.” He said the second part quickly, as if against his own will, and dropped off once again. It was agitating. One can’t just say something like that and leave it.
“What do you mean?” My mind was beginning to race.
He was now passing his hand over his mouth as he continued to avoid my eyes. We had entered the realm of Deep In Thought Percy, but I was still struggling to catch up.
“I’m afraid if you don’t explain I’m going to have to assume the worst.” I meant it to be a joke, but it fell flat.
Never in a million years could I describe precisely the look he gave me then, apologetic, fearful, resigned. I got the distinct impression that he knew exactly what he wanted to say but wasn’t at all happy about it. An awful thought struck me then, because what else could possibly be worth this sort of grief?
“Oh, my god. Are… are you... married?”
“What? No!” He gave an astonished laugh but was otherwise unhelpful.
I didn’t like that it seemed to have fallen on me to fill the silence, but I couldn’t help doing so. Searching, I happened upon another possibility that I also didn’t like but seemed rational, and therefore all the more plausible.
“It’s been too much, hasn’t it?” I offered, feeling resigned that this must be the issue. “Too soon.”
“No!” He said it rather more sharply than I would have liked.
“Well, I’m out of questions, so perhaps you can help.” I said it much more passively than I mean to. I placed my hands in my lap, waiting patiently because I could think of nothing else to do. If we had to die of old age here waiting for someone else to speak next, then so be it.
“I’m… not sure how to put it.”
“Well, I wish you’d thought about that before -- ”
“I didn’t plan this, Audrey!” I saw shades of the impatient man I’d met the very first day.
Vivian would have been gone by now, were she in my place. Or she’d be yelling.
I stayed, inspecting my bracelet.
“I’m sorry,” he said again. He kept his distance from me, slender fingers steepled against his lips whenever he paused. “You’ve done nothing. You’re...extraordinary. This weekend has been the best… You’re extraordinary,” he repeated.
I thought about arguing that he certainly wasn’t acting like it, but I held my tongue.
“There are things I haven’t told you. About myself. And I’ve met your family now and -- I wanted to, believe me,” he added when he looked at my dispirited face. “I just… I’ve gone about everything so backwards. And last night… I didn’t intend to take advantage of you or…”
I didn’t know which I’d been expecting less: the fact that he’d said that, or how offended I felt. “It’s 2002, Percy, how naive do you actually think I am? I don’t need a reason to — ” I stopped myself short, feeling my face grow hot.
The look on his face was almost as if I’d slapped him. “No. Obviously not. Nor do I.” His tone was barbed. “But if you want the same things from me that I want from you... and I don’t know, maybe you don’t.” He still had a look about him like he’d been struck. “But I think I ought to have told you. Before we became more…”
“Involved,” I finished. He nodded, and after a moment I ventured to confirm, “You’re not married?”
Nonplussed, he allowed himself a feeble laugh. “Never. Cross my heart.”
“What, then? Have you killed someone?” It was meant flippantly.
That caught him off guard, but he answered in absolute seriousness: “Well. Yes. But that’s not what I meant.” Seeing the look on my face, he added, “In the Battle, Audrey, not for fun.”
“Oh.” After another pause, I continued, “So what is it?”
“It’s difficult. I don’t ever talk about it. And it’s late and I don’t think right now is the time to unravel it.”
“When is the time?”
He looked at me uselessly.
“What am I meant to do in the meantime?”
He ignored the question. “I’m trying to do the right thing. I wasn’t expecting the things that have happened, not so quickly. I didn’t go over there with the intention of — ”
Embarrassment overtook me, the thought that this was my prize for putting myself out there as I’d done.
“I see. This is my fault.” I stood and fetched my purse. “You were perfectly proper, and most unwilling.”
He also rose. “That’s not fair! You know I wanted to make… you know I was happy to be with you.” His voice had dropped to an unnecessary stage whisper and his face was almost uniformly pink. Under any other circumstances I might have found the awkward modesty endearing.
“I’ve never had anyone angrily tell me he enjoyed spending the night with me. This has been nice.” I could feel tears beginning to surface, in that way they do where you know they won’t be stopped no matter how the situation may resolve itself.
He intercepted me as I reached for the Floo powder above the fireplace. “Wait. Please.” He took a breath and released it slowly. “This wasn’t at all how this should have gone. I should have done better. I’m sorry.”
“It’s late,” I said. But more than that, I needed to escape; I was not keen to cry in front of him.
“I’ve hurt you,” he observed, the flush still lingering in his nose and cheeks.
“I never wanted to. Please just give me some time and I’ll explain myself.”
I barely got the words out. “Take all you need.” Then I Flooed home, stepping into my own flat just as the tears broke loose.
Vivian was digging into a second piece of pie she’d brought home after dinner. She paused with her fork halfway to her mouth.
“What did he do? I’ll kill him.”
I merely shook my head and managed, “Goodnight, Viv.” Then I retired to my room, shutting the door behind me, and did not sleep.
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