Author's note: So, uh, HEY, I updated this fic a few weeks ago after a hiatus of like 8 years, and apparently there are still people reading???! My god, whoever you are out there, I love you. I well and truly love you, those reviews on chapter 10 made me want to cry happy tears. I am committed to finishing Percy and Audrey's story and hope you will consider sticking with me and them! You amazing people, you. <3
Just a note if you read chapter 10 before today (1/26/20) -- I went back and made a few revisions to it, nothing major, but just fine tuned a few things I wasn't happy with.
FYI, this fic is also posted at AO3, FFN, and HPFT, if you read on any of those other sites (because I'm never sure what will happen with this site again, although I am glad it's back up! I appreciate reviews, as always, here or those other places according to your preference.
And now, more Percy and more Audrey!
“Why on earth should you be sneaking about as if you’re the one who’s done anything wrong?” asked Vivian on Tuesday morning as I prepared to go to work, timing it so I was sure to miss Percy’s arrival.
“I don’t even know what I would say to him -- ow!” I exclaimed, poking myself in the eye with my mascara.
“I’ve got some words you can borrow.”
“That’s not helpful, Vivian.” I rubbed my eye furiously. “I’m not even sure I didn’t entirely overreact.”
“Nonsense! You’ve got to assert your dominance early on.”
“Sure,” I muttered, beginning anew with the offending mascara, “that’s what I was doing. Asserting dominance.”
Every time I thought of our argument, it made me angry. It seemed like the stupidest conversation I’d ever had in my life. So many words and yet we said absolutely nothing. Still, I wondered whether I’d been completely fair to him.
I resolved that I couldn’t decide that until he came out and said whatever he meant to say. But as soon as I thought that, I felt like a hypocrite. I myself was not known for my directness.
On the other hand, I didn’t hint at regretting what we were doing and then leave him hanging. What on earth could he possibly have to tell me? And hadn’t he had plenty of time to go about it? I thought back to the weeks — months! — we’d spent together, lingering over pints or glasses of wine for hours at a time, our conversations drifting to the most unimportant and inane things because neither of us had wanted to part and go home.
Wouldn’t that have been a good time to slip it in? Well, Audrey, in all fairness, I should warn you about something before I go making you fall in love with my orange hair and my glasses and the way I look at you.
I grew indignant again as I thought back to the regret he’d seemed to express over how we’d spent our weekend together. As much as I appreciated being treated like a lady, I certainly didn’t need to be patronized. I was twenty-three years old and I’d shag whomever I damn well pleased —
“Of course you will, dearest,” my sister said supportively as she passed by the bathroom. I hadn’t realized I’d actually been muttering to myself.
I looked at my uneven mascara in the mirror, feeling dissatisfied and completely out of sorts, before giving up and Flooing to work.
Monday had been mercifully quiet in the office. Noah had been gone that day, which cut the office banter fully in half. I’d left work right after Madeleine, a full half hour early; Lionel had given me a thumbs-up.
“How was the match?” Noah asked me upon his return this Tuesday morning.
“The Quidditch match, didn’t you go?”
“Oh.” Saturday felt like a week ago. “I was a bit bored, to be honest.” I slammed closed the drawer I’d been searching through, a good deal harder than I meant to.
There’s a good reason wise people — wiser than I, for sure — tell you not to date at work. It was impossible to avoid him for long.
At lunchtime I stood waiting for the lift. When it opened, I was greeted by the sight of Percy and the redheaded Auror whom I now knew to be his brother.
“I’ve...forgotten something,” I faltered, backing away even as Percy started to open his mouth. “Sorry.” And I headed back to my office. As the door closed again, his brother muttered something I didn’t quite catch, but I distinctly heard Percy’s irritable response.
“Shut it, Ron.”
On Wednesday I left halfway through my ordinary lunchtime and headed to Diagon Alley to do some research into the exploding wand situation personally, as our written requests to the wandmakers had gone unanswered. That was likely to keep me out of the office for the rest of the day, which was fine with me.
My first stop was Ollivander’s. The old Mr. Ollivander was quite feeble these days, and the shop was mainly run by his son, whom I’d never met. It was August, but fortunately the shop was not yet overrun with students preparing for the school year. I expected there would be a mad dash in the last couple of weeks of the month.
The younger Ollivander had a round, pleasant face, though he seemed prone to excessive sweating. He waved me inside with a welcoming smile.
“Hello, young lady! What can I do for you?” As he spoke he pulled out his measuring tape, and I put my hand up.
“Oh, no — thank you.” I displayed my wand. “Beech, dragon heartstring, good as it ever was. Mr. Ollivander —”
“Please, Mr. Ollivander is my father. Call me Gerry.”
“Um. Gerry —”
“Is that one of ours?”
“Yes indeed. Thirteen years ago.”
“Well, surely your children are too young for wands still.”
“Oh, surely,” I replied, amused. “No, that’s not why I’m here, either.” I briefly explained the exploding unicorn hair wands and that I was researching the sources.
“Ah. I think you’ll want to try Swynn’s, then. I think you’ll find our wands have no such problems. And, you know, unicorn hair provides the most consistent magic, so it’s even more unlikely —”
“Mr. — Gerry,” I corrected myself, “I hate to be a bother. But some of the reports we’ve had do indicate some of your wands were involved. The oldest purchase we know of being seven years ago.”
His brow furrowed in cautious concern. “I see…”
“I’m not here to cast aspersions on your fine wandmaking,” I assured him. “My family’s bought Ollivander’s wands for at least five generations. I’m only here because without help from you — and from Mr. Swynn — we’ll have no way of finding the pattern. We can hardly recall every single wand with a core of unicorn tail.”
“No…” He pondered, but his kind face was wary. “Well, I’ll have to speak to my father. We’ve never been called on to discuss our trade secrets.”
I nodded. “I think that’s a start, at least. I would appreciate it.” There was not much else I could do. We didn’t exactly have a way to compel Ollivander to provide information to us, not without escalating it to the Wizengamot, perhaps, and even then, it wouldn’t be easy. Wandmakers enjoyed an almost untouchable status, and forcing them to turn over their sources and secrets was almost without precedent, as far as I was aware.
I could hear Percy’s voice in my head giving his opinion on that subject, almost as clearly as if he were standing next to me, and I sighed and tried to push it out of my mind.
Swynn’s was at the opposite end of the alley, and as I strolled, I passed a bright storefront I was sure I must have seen dozens of times in recent years and just never really registered: Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. I understood a little better what Percy had meant by a lack of anonymity. If I could hardly get away from his name, he certainly couldn’t.
As I passed by, I peered into the window of the shop and saw a scene of utter chaos. Kids ran to and fro, and two shop clerks about sixteen years old looked fit to lose their minds. Business was good, clearly.
Swynn’s had opened their Diagon Alley branch two years previously, to much controversy and the chagrin of Ollivander’s loyalists. I’d never been inside. It was smaller than Ollivander’s, but brighter. I was greeted by a team of two women, which was a pleasant surprise. Wandmaking had been male-dominated for centuries.
I was greeted first by the dark-haired one with dark eye makeup, Mona, much in the same way Gerry Ollivander had greeted me. I again displayed my wand to assure them I would not be shelling out Galleons today for a new product.
“Beech,” the taller one with light brown hair and large hoop earrings repeated after my description of my wand. Her name was Ina.
“Partners well with elm.”
That caught me off guard. “Pardon?”
“Your partner,” she said. “Your beau. They’ll have a wand of elm, I’d stake my month’s earnings on it.”
Wandlore as matchmaking. Oh, ladies, this was not a good look for our gender.
“Ah.” I shrugged. “Well, I don’t have one of those.”
Mona muttered something about Ina putting her foot in her mouth again.
I indulged my curiosity on the subject, if only because I was completely baffled. “So, what if one is ‘partnered’ with a Muggle? How does that factor?” My old boyfriend Bobby Price had been a Muggle, and if I recalled correctly, Nev Baker’s wand had been made of willow, whatever in the world that was supposed to mean.
Ina seemed miffed by the question.
“It’s a guideline,” Mona responded on her behalf, “and it’s an area that’s still being studied.”
“Hmm,” I replied noncommittally.
Mona and Ina Swynn were hardly more receptive to my plea for information than Ollivander was. They said they’d speak to their parents and that I should write them in a week or so, and use an official Ministry seal. Despite the credentials I’d shown them, I honestly think they suspected me of being some kind of spy.
On Friday, I arrived a full hour earlier than anyone in Equipment Control or Improper Use was typically known to. While I was lagging from my abrupt shift to the earlier morning hours I was keeping, I had to admit it was wonderful to be able to work there in silence, with a clear mind. Almost clear, anyway.
At half past seven I heard the lift chime in the distance and a pair of shoes making their way down the deserted corridor. I knew it was him before he appeared.
He stood in the doorway, his work robes slung over one arm and his other hand in the pocket of his trousers. He wore a waistcoat, which like everything else on him was impeccably tailored to his long, lean figure. My stars, but he looked dashing, and I was annoyed with myself for thinking so.
Unable to muster any sort of comment or greeting I’d be happy with, I shook my head slowly and looked down.
He walked to my desk solemnly, pulling up a chair adjacent to mine and sitting.
I glanced up. The circles under his eyes were more pronounced than usual. “If you’re free after work, I’d like to explain myself. Fully.” His voice was stiff but not rude.
I allowed myself to engage. “When will you be off?”
“Whenever you’d like.”
I hesitated. The time would drag slowly. “Three thirty?”
He nodded and made no protest. “Half past three it is. Thank you.” And without any further spectacle, he was gone.
Percy was a nervous wreck that afternoon when I accompanied him to his flat where we could speak privately. He seemed to be trying to affect composure but could not or would not look directly at me, and his eyebrows appeared to have been permanently knit together. I supposed the sleep deprivation -- which seemed plain to me when I again noted the circles under his eyes and the paleness in his face -- did not help. Distractedly, he asked me if I’d like anything to drink as he undid his very top shirt button and pushed up his sleeves. I declined and took a seat on the sofa, hoping he would take a hint because he was driving me mad, and not in a good way.
He did sit, and he bowed his head, contemplating his clasped hands for a moment, before he finally began; and when he did, though his speech was halting, his demeanor became calmer, as if the act of speaking had opened a pressure valve.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “for what happened last weekend. I realize how that looked. Sounded. I wasn’t thinking.
“You know, when we were walking in Whaley Bridge that day, after dinner? You said something, you said that I have no obligation to you. I don’t — well, I don’t know what you meant by it, exactly, but at the very least, I think I owe you the truth. I have no idea where you stand on this… us… but I care for you, very much.”
No idea where I stood?
He held up a hand, but not unkindly. “Please. I’m afraid I’ll make a mess of this as it is.
“I’ve had no intention — ever — of messing you around. And if any part of you sees a… sees this going anywhere, with me…” His cheeks colored. “Then I think you ought to have honesty from me. So you can decide. If you still want anything to do with me.”
I was dumbfounded. “I don’t understand. Do you tell this dark secret, whatever it is, to everyone you date?”
He made a rueful expression that could almost be a smile. “I think you might be assuming I’ve been out with more women than I actually have. But… no. I wouldn’t tell everything to someone I didn’t feel I could…”
I waited with bated breath for the missing word. But he simply shook it away uncertainly and asked, “Do you understand?”
“I don’t know. Why didn’t you just say all this before?”
“I wasn’t sure when I should, or could. Thought I’d have some more time. It’s not easy, and I wasn’t sure you’d still have me. I’m not proud of myself for it. And then we, well, got closer. More serious.” His face flushed pinker. “I think we did, anyway. I don’t regret it, not a second, I swear to you. Please don’t think that. But in retrospect, I felt very guilty, as if I’d misled you. I realized, quite suddenly, that there were things I couldn’t keep from you any longer.”
Where his gaze had previously been flicking about in the space between us, he now locked eyes with me and added very softly, “I don’t want to lie to you, Audrey. Not even by omission. Not even if it’s something you wouldn’t have known to ask about.”
“And I gather you’re going to tell me these things… now?”
He drew a long breath and let it out just as slowly. “Yeah.”
We sat, opposite ends of the sofa, me watching quietly and he mainly staring at his shoes, as he recounted everything beginning when he was eighteen. He removed his glasses and covered his eyes with one hand as he spoke of his catastrophic fight with his parents. His voice faltered as he recalled the coup, the Muggleborn trials, how he was in too deep before it all happened. How he believed himself responsible for many innocent deaths, even if indirectly. Simply by doing the paperwork.
“You couldn’t have known before it happened,” I offered, referring to the coup, though I was still working uneasily through this information. “And once it had, what were you to do?”
“I shouldn’t have tolerated it from the beginning. I should have seen the signs.” He interlaced his fingers, hands twisting fretfully, before speaking again in an abrupt tone. “Did you know I’ve been pardoned?”
“Sorry?” I hadn’t thought it possible to be any more surprised, but I was.
“You heard me right. Pardoned.” Despite the softness of his voice, he said it with an emphatic bitterness. “Like a common criminal. They said it was only a formality, to foreclose any future questions. Said it had to be done for everyone in a similar position to me. But that’s never made it any easier to swallow.”
My voice cracked as I responded, “I’ve never -- nobody has ever said -- ”
“No. They wouldn’t. It’s like an unspoken agreement. There are a few of us, and whatever else everyone there thinks of us -- of me -- and I know what else they think of me, by the way -- everyone seems to have arrived at this understanding, that it’s something we don’t speak of.” He sighed. “It’s held against me, of course, it always will be. Why do you think I can’t get back into I.M.C.? But as far as gossip goes, miraculously it’s an untouchable subject. Those who were there during the war remember what it was like, and those who weren’t… well, they learn the unwritten code quickly enough, if it comes up.
“I should have done more,” he continued after a few moments had passed in silence. “To this day I’m not sure what I should have done, but I should have done something. I was afraid. More afraid than I would like to admit to you.”
“And you were alone that whole time?”
He shrugged. “I made a friend -- well, I don’t know that he would call me a friend -- a contact, I suppose. In Hogsmeade. He’s the one who alerted me when the Battle began.”
“You went,” I pointed out. He merely nodded.
Very slowly, he removed his glasses with one hand and bit absently on one of the temple tips, working up to what he said next. When he did say it, it was hardly more than a whisper.
“I was there when Fred died. I was right next to him.”
I felt my heart stop.
He was gazing at his coffee table but looked as if he could see right through it, through the floor and down to the street below.
“I was awful to him. Our whole lives. I was an absolute tosspot. To put it mildly.”
“Why?” was all I could think to ask, rather stupidly.
Almost unwillingly, he met my eyes, his expression stricken as if he realized the insufficiency of what he said next. “He annoyed me.”
There are times when you can actually hear a person’s heart breaking, even when they haven’t made a sound. I think that if Percy were one for crying, he would have done it then. Perhaps he’d done his crying years ago and had no more tears to give. Perhaps he’d never cried in his life.
I felt foolish. We’d grown so close, so natural, so easy with one another in fairly short order that I could almost have convinced myself I’d known him for years, not months. I’d believed I understood the inner workings of his mind, his likes and dislikes, his moods -- and I’d observed with satisfaction the way he often deferred to me when gently challenged, only confirming my beliefs that much more.
But he was right: there were a lot of things about Percy Weasley I had not known.
We seemed to have reached the end of what he had to tell me. I felt as though I should say something, but everything I could think of felt absurd. What could ever be enough in response to what he had shared with me?
“I’m sorry,” I whispered at last. And then: “Thank you for telling me.”
He nodded, his glasses now returned to their proper position atop his nose. His usually perfect posture was nowhere to be seen; he looked crumpled, exhausted.
“I think… I think I need some time myself now,” I admitted.
He nodded again. “Yes. I thought you might.”
This was certainly my cue to leave, but I hardly knew how to go about it. Did I kiss him goodbye -- hug him, even? Would that be irresponsible of me? It seemed unfair, somehow, though whether it was more unfair to him or to myself, I didn’t know. We were back to square one, stuck in the damn lift, cordial on opposite sides of an invisible barrier.
I rose and walked uncertainly to the fireplace, reaching for the Floo powder. He joined me there, propping one arm on the mantle, watching me with an expression I could not quite read. Then he reached out and took my free hand and simply held it for a moment.
A self-deprecating grimace crossed his face, the very one I’d seen him make on occasion when there was no one else around but me. “I think I’d give anything to have something perfect to say right about now.”
“I won’t tell anyone.”
He almost smiled.
I looked at our joined hands and realized there was a significant part of me that did not want to let go. And that, I supposed as I broke away and Flooed home, had to mean something.
So, in the real world, at least in the US (and from what little I know of UK law, it's similar there as well), when someone is pardoned it actually means they have previously been charged and convicted of something but subsequently the punishment is set aside as an act of executive power.
I've used the term "pardon" differently here, considering we know the Ministry operates very differently from the Muggle government, and plays fast and loose with a lot of things like legal procedures. So I think it stands to reason that certain terms would have a different meaning in the wizarding world.
As I've used it here, it basically means that Percy's actions during Deathly Hallows (in working for the Death Eater-controlled Ministry) were assessed, scrutinized to some extent, there was some sort of process and hearing, possibly some people spoke on his behalf, and ultimately it was determined that he may have done the alleged actions but he had a justification for doing so (basically duress). So it's sort of a similar concept to justifiable homicide -- you killed the guy, but you had a legally valid reason to.
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