Half seven on the morning of his Council hearings found Percy standing before his closet holding two navy and burgundy ties, apparently comparing them. I’d awoken early and was attempting to capture a few more minutes of sleep, until I looked again and realized that he was, in fact, glaring at them.
Nothing in his closet deserved to be scowled at in such a cynical manner. It had quickly become apparent to me that his attire was the only thing Percy seemed to spend money on.
“What’s wrong?” I yawned.
He glanced at me over his shoulder. “Morning. Nothing, go back to sleep.”
“Mmm.” I burrowed back into my pillow but then opened one eye to catch him select the one on the left; I watched surreptitiously as he tied it about his neck before walking out of the bedroom.
Not thirty seconds later, my eyes flew open once more when he strode back into the room.
“Disaster…” he muttered, looking in the mirror as he loosened the knot.
Now I propped myself up on one elbow. “What are you doing?”
“Hmm?” He still seemed to be speaking more to himself. “Oh, this one’s blue with red. The other’s red with blue…”
“Oh.” I peeled back the covers as he withdrew the red-with-blue tie from his closet and eyed it skeptically. “Which robes?”
He plucked demonstratively at the sleeve of a set of slate blue robes hanging there. I liked those ones on him.
“Good choice.” As he hadn’t made any movements to actually put the tie on, I slid out of bed and took it from his hand, meeting no resistance. “Come here.”
“What are you doing?”
“What are you doing?” I returned.
When he shook his head and fidgeted a bit, I slid the tie around his collar, murmuring, “Stand still, won’t you?”
Hands resting on his hips, he did grow quite still as I ensured the ends were the right lengths; the only sound I heard was breathing as I did him up, biting my lip a bit as I went across, around, over, through, and when I glanced up I saw his eyes were locked on me.
I finished the knot and slid it up to his collar. “Now you’re set, I think.”
A sound of dissent escaped him as he lifted one hand to regard his watch and then me… watch… me — but this time with raised eyebrows.
“Whatever that look’s about,” I said, “wipe it off your face immediately.”
“I don’t think I will, thanks.”
“Thought you had things to do before your hearings.” However, I did not step back.
He remained stock still, hands at his hips again, his voice low. “In all fairness, who’s going to say anything?”
“Well, when you’re in charge, you’ve got to set the example.” I threw him a haughty look as I reached for his slate blue robes.
“Oh, say that again?”
“What, set the example?”
“The bit before it.”
“That you’re in charge?”
His eyes crinkled at the corners. “Oh, yeah, that’s doing it. Say it again, will you?”
Then he laughed as I thrust his robes into his arms, before standing on my toes to kiss him, whispering, “Get lost, please.”
I left for work half an hour after Percy and already had a stack of post waiting for me — replies we’d solicited from any and all witches and wizards who’d purchased unicorn hair wands in the past decade and who would like them replaced — the best we could do at present, it seemed, without mandatorily recalling all of them. Whatever we ordered surrendered would have to be replaced free of charge, and currently Swynn and Ollivander were contending they should only bear the cost of those wands they identified as compromised based on their records. Madeleine’s idea was that if we threatened to hold them responsible for the cost of replacing every single unicorn hair wand in use they might ultimately bend and be willing to provide information that would narrow it down; so far they weren’t falling for the bluff.
I’d just finished opening a letter from a Ms. Anemone Hirschfield of Dorset (with a wand of unicorn tail and poplar, eight and a half inches, sold by Ollivander in 1996), when a memo fluttered in and delivered itself neatly atop the pile in my inbox.
Are you free around lunch? I have some notes for you!
I penned a quick reply and then buried myself in parchmentwork again for the better part of an hour before anything interrupted me. The office was uncharacteristically — and blissfully — quiet that morning.
Halfway through a letter from Mr. Grimm Decklebury of Appleby-in-Westmorland, about his son Sylvester’s wand (unicorn tail and vine, ten inches, sold by Swynn in 2000), someone caught my attention.
Robbie Saunderson was in the corridor, peering through the doorway, making what I believe he thought was a furtive gesture for me to come speak to him. I glanced around, catching the eye of Noah, who upturned his palms with a blithe, if not somewhat intrigued, expression. Madeleine threw an irritated glance at Robbie before raising her eyebrows at me as if it was me who had summoned him there in the first place. Setting down my quill, I joined him in the corridor, guiding him a little further away from the door.
“Robbie, hi, what’s wrong?” Him looking worried wasn’t exactly out of the ordinary, but him seeking me out in this manner was.
“It’s, erm — ah — Percy, well — ” He gestured with his hands in a hopeless manner and seemed to be using his eyes to try to convey what his words could not in that moment.
I sighed apologetically. “Oh, what’s he done?”
“No, no, he — in the courtroom, he — well, he had an… an episode?”
That took me aback. “Sorry?”
“You know, like… like he couldn’t breathe?”
“Well, except he could — ”
Robbie was a dear, but in this moment I could understand why he drove Percy absolutely mad sometimes.
“Robbie, what is going on?”
“Just — come on.”
Bewildered though I was, I didn’t speak again until we were in the lift descending to Level Ten. “Robbie, what on earth — ”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.” His hands fidgeted and fluttered helplessly at his sides. “It was weird…”
“Well, I hope someone sent for help? Before you came all the way — ”
“Well, no, he’s fine now, I just thought…” He averted his eyes. “I dunno, I thought you should be there, I thought…” He now looked like he was going to be sick.
“It’s all right. Let’s just…” I brought my hand to my forehead for a moment, trying to think. “Okay, what happened?”
“I don’t know, we were about to start one of the hearings and he looked like he was taken ill, all of a sudden, fanning himself like it was fifty degrees in there; and then he excused himself from the courtroom and went out into the corridor like… like he couldn’t draw a proper breath, you know? Told me off and said he was fine, but he didn’t look it…”
When we reached Level Ten we hurried along the corridor to Courtroom Six, Robbie leading the way and me shuffling as fast as I dared in my shoes on the slick floors. But once there, instead of entering the courtroom, Robbie directed me to a small interview room just across the way. I knocked briefly before letting myself in.
Percy was sat in a chair, elbows on his knees, head in his hands, his glasses resting on a table next to him. His work robes were in a heap on the floor, his shirt sleeves pushed up haphazardly, and when he lifted his head I saw his shirt was unbuttoned halfway, revealing his undershirt, his tie hanging undone around his neck.
His look of confusion upon seeing me lasted a nanosecond, quickly replaced by unmistakable fury.
“Saunderson!” He was staring daggers at the both of us, and I resisted the urge to take a step back. “What the hell were you thinking?”
“Don’t yell at Robbie!” I insisted, and Percy responded with a pugnacious look, though he also looked, well, wretched. His face was somehow both flushed and pale at the same time, his eyes were suspiciously wet, and sweat glistened at his hairline. In his hand he clutched what looked like a balled up handkerchief.
But aside from his exhausted presentation, he seemed not to be in any immediate distress, so I allowed myself a moment to turn to Robbie and murmur, behind the cover of the partially-opened door, “It’s all right, you can leave us. You did right, don’t worry.”
“Tell the Council I’ll be ten minutes,” added Percy in a voice designed to make himself understood; he was staring at the wall instead of me when I glanced back at him before returning my attention to his assistant in the corridor.
“Robbie,” I whispered. He’d already begun to head back to the courtroom and spun on his heel at my address. “Make it twenty.”
Then before he had a chance to argue, I left a fretful Robbie in the corridor and joined Percy in the tiny room, closing the door behind me.
He was staring now at the floor, running his hand through his hair. “He shouldn’t have brought you down here.” His voice was hard.
I pulled up an empty chair and took a seat beside him, hands in my lap. “And why not? What’s happened to you?”
He shook his head. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”
It seemed it would be rather unhelpful of me in that moment, to point out that he was not, in fact, fine.
I’d decided to give it a few minutes before trying again — as he was still pointedly avoiding looking at me but also wasn’t throwing me out — when the door opened again, preceded by a perfunctory rap. Percy flushed anew when Hermione’s head popped through the doorway.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded in dismay.
I was about to chastise him for speaking to her that way, when she beat me to a response.
“Hmm,” she mused, apparently not at all put off by his reaction, “you know, I think those might have been the first words a Weasley ever said to me. How funny.” She stepped into the room and shut the door behind her. “How are you?”
“Oh, brilliant,” he muttered darkly. “How did you even…”
“I’m always down here,” she said, as though that explained everything. Percy let out a huff and muttered something to himself.
“Percy, you needn’t be ashamed of it,” she said with a manner that fell somewhere between reassurance and frustration. Percy stared at the floor again, head in his hands, blowing out long, slow breaths.
“It’s a panic attack,” Hermione explained, looking to me. “That’s what they call it. It’s supposed to feel like having a heart attack. You know Ginny gets them, too,” she added to Percy, though it didn’t seem to make him feel any better.
“Anyway,” she concluded, receiving no response, “I just wanted to see that you were all right. Is there anything I can do?”
“Yes,” said Percy sullenly, “get on the wireless, I think there might be three people in Lancashire who don’t know about it yet.”
“I’m sure everybody understands. You’re under stress as it is, and when you think about the things down here that you — ”
“Sorry,” he snapped, “did you say you were here to help?”
Hermione’s face was a cool mask. “Well, since you seem to be back to yourself and in good hands, I’ll leave you to it.” Then, as Percy went back to staring resolutely at the floor, Hermione mouthed something to me and made a vague sort of gesture that I decided to interpret as her asking me to come see her later.
Several moments passed in silence, and I was quite certain that Percy must have memorized the terrain of the marbled tile floor by now. Robbie’s good intentions notwithstanding, it did not seem that my presence was helpful, nor welcome.
“I’m sorry,” I said at last. “Please don’t be embarrassed. If you really are okay now, I’ll leave you be, if you like.”
I’d placed my hand on his knee briefly, and I removed it and stood to leave, when suddenly he caught hold of it. His own hand was cold and clammy, and his eyes met mine regretfully.
Looking for all the world as though it pained him to say it, he offered, “I didn’t want you to see me like this.”
“Why?” I took a seat once more.
He pulled a face. “You know why.”
Then he dabbed at his forehead a few times with the handkerchief he was still holding, before stowing it in his pocket.
“This has happened before,” I inferred, having noticed that neither Percy nor Hermione had seemed surprised about it. “How many times?”
“I don’t know. Ten, maybe. But there hasn’t been one for four years,” he added hurriedly, as if he thought some reassurance was necessary.
“Do you know why they — why it comes on?”
He shrugged. “The first one was in my Seventh Year. I was studying for NEWTs. There was one the following year, I think, maybe one the year after, I don’t remember exactly. A few during the… well, you know, ninety-seven, ninety-eight, thereabouts. And for a while following the battle. And… nothing since, not like this. I thought they’d gone away…” He grimaced, rubbing at his eyes.
At some point during this, I’d begun stroking his hair right above his ear. “What made it all stop before? Back then?”
He stiffened. “I, erm… I saw someone — you know, managed it — thought I had it sorted…”
“And do everyone else know this happens to you?”
“They certainly do now,” he said irritably, casting a look at the closed door.
“No, I mean your family.”
A heavy silence filled the air before I asked, “Is there anything I can do?”
He shook his head, his hands twisting together in agitation, before reaching for his watch which had also been cast off onto the table. He exhaled a sigh when he regarded the time, rising finally from his seat, and I stood with him.
“Do you have to go back in? Can you postpone it?”
“No.” He fastened the watch around his wrist.
“Can you ask someone else to handle it?”
“No.” His glasses were next, and he fixed me with a look of contrition. “Sorry, I just — I can’t very well go avoiding the entire of Level Ten for the rest of my life, can I?”
He sighed again and looked down at himself, muttering distractedly, “Christ, I’m a mess, though…”
“Come here.” Even as I said it I stepped towards him and began buttoning up his shirt; he didn’t stop me, and when I’d finished I moved onto his sleeves, rolling them back down, buttoning them up, letting my hands linger on each of his for a moment.
“What you said just now…” I began. “And you said you haven’t had one for four years… Have you not been on this level in all that time? Has it got something to do with that? The last time you were down here…?”
“Was under completely different circumstances, yes,” he finished, fixing the bits of his shirt that were coming untucked from his trousers.
I hesitated, thinking to myself as I smoothed his shirt as best I could.
“Whatever it is, you can ask,” he said, sounding resigned, if a bit apprehensive.
It seemed easier for both of us that I keep us busy, and I began adjusting the tie about his collar until the ends were right.
“Which thing were you thinking about?” I managed at last. “The… the Muggleborn trials? Or… your own hearing after?”
“Well, why do one when you can do both.”
If he was going for sarcastic, it didn’t succeed in masking the bitterness in his voice, and I halted in the process of doing his tie and looked up at him.
Apparently assessing the expression on my face, he gave me a look of chagrin and utter disappointment.
“See. This is the last thing I wanted, you tiptoeing around me because I’m — because I’m broken.”
I gave no immediate response, instead abandoning his tie for the moment being and retrieving his robes from the floor and dusting them off.
“I’ve no intention of tiptoeing around you,” I offered finally, handing over his robes. “I think everyone else has got that covered well enough.”
When he cocked an eyebrow at me, I added, “And if you don’t believe me, then I’ll start by demanding that you not accuse yourself of being broken. I don’t like it.”
His mouth twitched as he started to draw the slate blue robes around him. “Anything else while you’re being bossy and not tiptoeing around me?”
“Yes. Apologize to Robbie, please.”
Now both ginger eyebrows went up, and I hastened to add, “And Hermione.”
He looked more dubious about the second bit than the first, but after something of a stunned pause he inquired, “Do you need to be there when I do it, or do you trust me?”
“Of course, I trust you.”
He did not break eye contact. “Done.”
“Thank you. Chin up, please.” I gave it a little tap to guide him even as I said it and went back to his tie.
“This one was a good choice,” I commented, sliding up the knot.
“It is, isn’t it?” He buttoned his robes and smoothed them and his hair before glancing himself over once more. “Will I do?”
I made sure he noticed me giving him an appraising look. “Well, I’d shag you.”
The earlier flush that had begun to recede from his face started to spread across it once more as he reached for the doorknob, a reluctant smile on his face, and with his other hand he pointed to his tie.
“It’s because of the red with blue, isn’t it?”
“Yes. That’s exactly it.”
Perching myself on the edge of the table, I stayed back until he’d gone — a process that involved him taking half a step out the door, before pausing at the threshold, taking a few silent breaths, then holding his head up and striding purposefully down the corridor. I waited until his footsteps had disappeared into Courtroom Six and the heavy door thudded shut behind him, before making my way back to the lifts and to Level Four.
Hermione’s office door was open, and I knocked at the threshold to announce my presence. Her face brightened when she looked up.
“Now a good time?”
“Yes, yes, sit down, I’ve got your draft here, I’ve just got a few suggestions if you’d like to talk about it.”
She shuffled through the contents of a stack of parchment atop a low cabinet behind her desk.
“Percy all right, I take it?” she asked lightly.
“Seems to be.”
A lull followed until Hermione located what she was after and extracted it from the middle of the stack, commenting, “It’s genetic, you know.”
It seemed a curious thing to say.
“What, the panic attacks?”
Turning her chair back around to face me again, she held out my draft with a wry smile.
In the middle of the night, I woke to discover an empty space next to me where something ginger should have been, and a bit of light filtering in through the slightly ajar door. I found him on the sofa, apparently working at a book of crossword puzzles.
“Sorry, I couldn’t sleep.”
“That’s all right.” I hesitated. “Would you prefer to be alone?”
He didn’t answer right away, and I took the opportunity to come around behind him and drape my arms over his shoulders. I noticed that he wasn’t completing the crosswords at all, but was scribbling lines and shapes and patterns in an absent sort of way.
“Afraid I’m not much of one for talking right now,” he cautioned finally, but he didn’t object when I squeezed in behind him, fixing my arms around his torso and my bare legs around his waist.
“Just as well, I was sleeping anyway.”
My cheek found his shoulder and my fingers his hair, and I traced my hands up and down his neck and arms until he allowed himself to lean back against me, the book of puzzles falling closed in his lap.
Neither of us spoke again until he caught himself starting to fall asleep and suggested we go back to bed.
In the meantime, I allowed the silence to be enough, when words were bound to be insufficient.
A/N: When I first started writing this fic in 2009, I think I had a faulty belief that it was canon that all the different MoM departments have uniform color robes, because of the fact that we know the Wizengamot wear plum and maintenance wear blue. So I wrote the beginning chapters with a detail of each of the departments having their own color and standard issued robes. This side of 10 years, I don't love that I did that.
So there's a bit of... retconning of that detail, I suppose? in this chapter. I intend to go back to earlier chapters to revise those bits at some point. Just wanted to explain in case anyone caught that.
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