Audrey was very nervous. She wasn’t nervous about being alone in a man’s flat with him, as it was impossible to imagine that Percy had any intention of taking advantage of her. She wasn’t even nervous that her father was going to find out that she wasn’t at Sally-Anne’s and come hunt them down, because why would he suddenly be suspicious of her millionth or so evening at her best friend’s house?
No, Audrey was nervous that the food wasn’t going to be good.
She’d spent days planning the menu and had maybe gone a bit overboard. Three appetizers, three types of bread, four curries, rice, dessert, and a multitude of homemade chutneys was definitely too much food for two people. But Audrey had never made dinner for a person she fancied before and she hadn’t wanted to accidentally not make the perfect thing!
“Thank you for letting me take over your kitchen,” she said, stirring the chicken tikka and glancing at Percy sheepishly. “I swear I’ll leave it as clean and neat as I found it.”
“Thank you for making me dinner,” Percy responded, meeting Audrey's eyes when she looked away from her cooking. It was more use than his kitchen had seen in the past week, which was as much a commentary on the plentitude of this meal as it was on Percy’s disinclination to cook more than the most simple dishes. Seeing this spread, with multiple pots and pans on the stove and delicious smells coming from every last one of them, was almost like being back in the Burrow again.
Though an obvious difference was that at the Burrow he would be tasked with something; despite not inheriting his mother’s talents in the kitchen, Percy was more than capable of chopping onions or stirring a sauce so that it doesn’t burn.
“Are you sure there’s nothing I can help with?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Audrey said, nodding firmly and shooting him a smile. “If I let you help then I won’t be doing a very good job at thanking you, will I?”
She paused for a moment, feeling suddenly flooded with nerves and added hurriedly, “I swear it isn’t because I don’t trust you to help or anything. I’m sure you’d be a wonderful helper. You’re very good at everything.”
Percy felt a flush creeping into his cheeks at the compliment, though of course it wasn't true. Even if it were possible for one person to be good at everything, Percy knew that he was far from perfect. But Audrey's tone was so sincere that Percy felt certain her words were the nicest thing anyone had said to him in a long time.
“Well, if you don't need my help with dinner, I'll start setting the table.”
“Oh, thank you, that would be lovely,” Audrey said, smiling at him again before turning her attention back to the stove. She hoped, rather meanly, that he was only setting the table for two. She hadn’t realized Charlie was staying with Percy when she’d proposed this plan. The older Weasley seemed to be making himself scarce, however.
Pushing the thought aside, she focused her attention on the skillet she’d prepared for the naan. Each piece of bread needed to be cooked individually and flipped at just the right moment when it was bubbled and blackened but not burned.
Unfortunately she was focusing so hard that she didn’t notice that the daal needed stirring before it stuck to the bottom of its pot.
Percy was indeed setting the table for two, and with his best china — he thought the plates ought to befit Audrey's cooking. Of course, "best" is a relative term, and technically they probably weren't fancy enough to be called "china," but they were nice enough.
He returned to the cupboards to fetch some glasses. As he reached over the stove, he noticed that among the smell of curry and spices was a smoky undertone that hadn't been there before.
“Er, is this…” Percy wasn’t sure how to politely point out that the soup was burning, but something had to be done about it.
“Oh!” Audrey turned off the heat on the naan with a wave of her wand and quickly moved to try and save the daal. Stupid, stupid, stupid. She’d been an expert at the balancing act of cooking a dozen different things at once since she was a kid and tonight of all nights, when she so much wanted to impress Percy, she managed to screw up something so basic!
She groaned as the blackened bits of curry came up from the bottom as she stirred. “Oh Helga. I’ve ruined it. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I just wanted to do something nice for you and now I’ve ruined it. I ruin everything these days.”
She felt so flustered and mortified that she wouldn’t be surprised if she burst into tears.
“Of course you haven’t ruined everything.” Percy gestured to the rest of the food, all of which remained unharmed. “So we won’t eat daal tonight. There’s still plenty of food for the two of us.” The logic was clear in Percy’s brain, but he thought it might not be enough to comfort Audrey. Surely she too realized that they didn’t need the daal, but she still seemed rather upset.
He reached out to put a hand on Audrey’s shoulder, hoping that it was the right thing to do. He wasn’t very good with emotions, but he tried. “You haven’t ruined anything.”
“I know there is plenty of food,” she said, rubbing at her forehead in distress. “I know there is. But I planned the meal so carefully and I just wanted everything to be perfect for you and, and… I just wish I hadn’t messed it up because now you probably think I’m a complete nutter!”
“Audrey,” Percy said softly, “Of course I don’t think you’re a nutter. But…” He surreptitiously checked whether there was anything else on the stove that might burn during this conversation. The last thing they needed right now was another mishap.
“Nothing in life is perfect.” Not your boss. Not your government. Not even your family, but you had to do your best to forgive them for it, and hope that they would do their best to forgive you. “Nothing is perfect. But some things come close, and speaking as someone who’s tasted your cooking on more than one occasion, I’m certain that this dinner is one of them. You could pour all of your effort into making it perfect, but if you do that, you’ll just lose yourself along the way. Trust me. The best you can do is hold tight to the good parts and throw away the bad ones.”
Percy got out his wand to Vanish the daal, but he hesitated. Audrey should be the one to do it. If she hadn’t wanted him to help prepare the meal, it wasn’t his business to help with this.
“Do you think you can do that?”
Audrey felt a small smile creep onto her face. There was something very comforting about Percy’s words, his reassurance that the meal wasn’t ruined, and his gentle hand on her shoulder. In a world that now, all too often, caused her unfamiliar and bewildering anxiety, Percy made her feel steady and almost… strong.
“Yes, I think I can,” she said, before pulling out her own wand and vanishing the daal herself. And then, before she could second guess the desire, she pushed herself up onto her toes and brushed her lips over his very softly.
If pressed, Percy would have said that he'd never thought about kissing Audrey — and that would have been true enough. Even now, in this moment, Percy still wasn't thinking about it. If he was, he might have been thinking about the fact that she was Andrew's little sister, or he might have even realized that this was the reason she'd wanted tonight to be perfect.
He didn't think about kissing her back; he just did it. And, as if responding to his own advice to hold tight to the good parts, he moved his arm from Audrey's shoulder to her back, pulling her closer.
Audrey was doing some holding tight of her own as her arms slipped up around Percy's neck and kissed him more firmly without any real conscious thought. She didn't wonder if maybe he ought to push her away because she'd done so many horrible things in the past year. Nor did she compare this moment to any kiss Tali had ever given her. All she spared a thought for was how happy and light she felt right here in this moment and how nice it was to feel that way again.
Percy didn't know how long they stood like that, intertwined in the middle of his kitchen, but eventually a loud grumble from his stomach made him aware of the passage of time. He chuckled as he pulled away, trying not to be embarrassed.
"Do you think we ought to eat this meal you've prepared before we continue?" he asked. On the surface it was about food, but the real question was in the implication. Do you even want to kiss me again?, Percy was asking, and at the same time he was saying, I want to kiss you again.
"That's probably a good idea," Audrey conceded, ducking her head as she smiled and blushed. Reaching down, she found one of his hands and weaved their fingers together. "I wouldn't want the food to get cold. Even though I don't think anything could spoil this evening now."
She squeezed his hand reassuringly. Yes, she wanted to kiss him again. And again and again. She had every intention of holding very tight to this good thing and not let it slip through her fingers if she could help it.