A gift for juniperus! (Part 1 of 2)
Author: ??? Giftee: juniperus Title: Great Escape Pairing/Characters: Harry/Percy (mentions of Ron/Hermione, George/Angelina and Harry/Ginny) Rating: NC-17 Word Count: 13,334 Warnings: DH spoilers, and post-DH spoilers (i.e. things JKR revealed after DH). Disclaimer: The world and characters of Harry Potter are the property of J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. I own nothing and will not profit from this story. Summary: Over a year after the war, Percy still has some issues he needs to work through, and Harry seems to be just the person to help him. Notes: A big thank-you to eeyore9990 and florahart for their betaing services. Another big thank-you to emiime for this amazing ficathon, for procuring the aforementioned betas for me at the last minute and for being cool about giving out extra time. And finally, thank-you to juniperus, my giftee, for prompting me to write Harry again after not writing him for years, and for making me pair him with Percy, which I'd never done before. These two won't stop shagging in every corner of my brain now. *g*
The lift doors opened and Harry wandered in with his nose buried in a stack of memos. He turned to face forward as the doors closed and cut off the low murmur of people bustling around the Ministry. He was so preoccupied, it took a moment for him to realise there was someone in there with him, besides the lift operator. He finally glanced over to see who it was. Percy Weasley was standing on the other side of the lift, straight and stiff as a board, with a stack of folders tucked under one arm. Harry sighed at the fact that Percy refused to look at him, instead choosing to keep his face forward and eyes up, watching the numbers change.
"Good morning, Harry," Percy finally said when Harry didn't look away.
"How's your week been?"
"Good, good," Percy replied brightly. Harry wondered if Percy had heard him properly.
"Percy, we need to talk."
Percy's jaw muscles twitched. "Would you like to set up a meeting for later today?"
"Yes, as a matter of fact."
"I have a half-hour free after lunch if that works for you."
"I was thinking something a little less surrounded by co-workers."
Percy's eyes darted in Harry's direction just a little bit, but they almost immediately went back to staring up at the numbers. "Is this a business matter?"
"You know it's not. We can't go on like this. It's absolutely mad."
Percy's eyes darted down to the lift operator, whose head was at least a foot below Percy's. The operator shifted his weight from foot to foot, but otherwise kept his eyes forward, giving no indication that he was listening.
"I don't think this is an appropriate place to discuss–"
"Look, I don't know about you, but I can't work like this. I spend half my day trying to avoid bumping into you and the other half thinking up the best ways to avoid bumping into you. And it's not even like it's partially me. It's you! It's all you! If I didn't feel like you were making a big deal out of this, I wouldn't care."
The lift came to a bumpy halt and the doors opened. "Level Two," the operator announced. "Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
Harry took a step toward the door, but then turned and looked back at Percy, who was still determinedly not looking at him. "Just come and talk to me for a minute, will you?"
"Sorry, Harry, I'm a very busy man."
"This is your floor too, you know."
"No, I… missed my floor."
Harry rolled his eyes. "No, you didn't."
"Lots of things to do, Harry, must be off now." Percy finally looked down, as the lift and its numbers were now stationary, and began shuffling through his stack of folders. "After lunch, then, yes?"
"So, what, I have to keep dodging you for the next three hours then?"
"I'll see you after lunch," Percy insisted through clenched teeth.
"Going down," the operator announced, shooting Harry a stern look. Harry decided it was useless to hold up the lift any longer. He backed out and watched its doors close.
"Oi!" Ron's voice came from behind him. Harry turned to find his tall, lanky friend approaching. He was chewing a bite of the half-eaten apple in his large hand. "Where've you been? You're usually here by now."
"Yeah, sorry," Harry replied distractedly, scratching his head.
"What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing. I'm fine."
"Your schedule's been off this week."
Harry frowned. "What's that mean?"
"This entire week, you've been either late or too early for everything. And I wouldn't bet on no one else noticing."
"I'm sorry, Ron," Harry sighed, running a hand down over his face from nose to chin. "I've been forced to take some creative routes around the building."
"I've been avoiding someone."
Ron swallowed and pointed at him. "It's Genevieve down on Five, innit?"
"No, it's not Genevieve."
"'Cause she's been up here several times, sniffing around for you." Ron grinned. "Already has wedding invitations printed up, I expect."
"I know," Harry groaned. "But no, it's actually your brother."
"Percy? Oh. Say no more." Ron turned around and headed for the doors that led into Auror Headquarters. "Been avoiding him since birth."
"Ron, wait," Harry hissed and motioned frantically for Ron to come back. "It's not the usual thing with him this week. Has he been acting weird lately? Around you and your family?"
"Has he been weird?" Ron had wandered back to stand with Harry before the lift. "I'd like to know when he hasn't been weird."
"No, I mean in a different way."
"Could you be more specific?"
Harry hesitated. He glanced to his right, listening to see if anyone could be heard approaching, and then to his left, at the closed lift doors. He then looked up at Ron and said in a hushed voice, "Percy dropped by my place Monday night and… apologised to me."
The hand holding Ron's apple stopped just short of his mouth and Ron's eyebrows went up. "He apologised to you?"
"Yeah. About things he feels he's done wrong in the past or something. It was…" Harry paused and took a breath, shaking his head as he remembered Percy's visit. "It was so unlike him."
Four days earlier…
Harry opened his front door and stared in silent disbelief at the person he found on the other side. "Percy?"
"Harry," Percy nodded at him. "I hope I'm not disturbing you."
"Er, no. How've you been?"
"Very well, thank you. I'll get right to the point: I've come to discuss something with you. It's a matter of some importance to me and I didn't feel comfortable discussing it at work."
Harry couldn't imagine what this could possibly be about, but he had to admit his interest was piqued. He stepped aside and opened the door wider. "Come in."
Percy entered the flat and Harry led him to the living room. "Can I get you something?"
"I'm fine, thank you."
"Have a seat."
Percy glanced around at the living room, which was all warm browns, rich reds and rustic wooden furnishings. The men took seats facing each other on opposite sides of the coffee table.
"Let me begin by saying," Percy said, "that including you in this process was my choice."
"I feel that in order to do this properly, you need to be included. You are practically part of the family, after all."
"Thank you… What exactly are we talking about?"
"My therapist and I think that it would be–"
"Wait, whoa, time out. Your what now?"
Percy looked slightly put out. "My therapist."
Harry gaped at him. "You're in therapy?"
"Yes," Percy replied tersely. "Is that strange?"
"Well, it's… unexpected. How long's that been going on?"
"That's none of your concern."
"Course." Harry held up his hands. "Sorry. That was rude of me. Go on then. Your therapist and you think that…?"
Percy let out a sigh of irritation. "My therapist and I believe that it would be beneficial for me to sit down with certain individuals and own up to some things."
"It's been over a year since…" Percy lowered his gaze for a moment. It was only for a second, however, and he was right back to addressing Harry as though they were in a business meeting. "It's been over a year since the war, and while it was devastating, I think we all have enough distance from it now to deal with certain things."
Harry didn't respond right away. The word "war" echoed in his head and he was afraid to let Percy start speaking again. Finally he said, "No, you're right. There are a lot of things that probably need to be said."
"Precisely. I'm glad you agree." Percy reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a small, square slip of folded parchment. He unfolded it, laid it on his lap, adjusted his glasses and cleared his throat. "All right, number one–"
Harry held up a finger. "How many numbers are on that piece of paper?"
"Oh, uh…" Percy flipped the parchment over and frowned at the other side. He then looked up at Harry and said, "Sixty-two."
Harry slowly lowered his finger.
"Right then. Number one: it has recently come to my attention that I can be a bit of a know-it-all."
Harry's eyebrows went up. "I'm sorry? Recently?"
Percy opened his mouth to reply, but closed it and narrowed his eyes at Harry. "Was that a jab?"
"What? No – Well, maybe a little. But it was mostly just surprise. Honest."
"It's all right, Harry. The only person who swore she hadn't noticed is my mother, and to be honest I think she was fibbing to spare my feelings. At any rate, I've finally come to this realisation, and I just wanted to apologise if I've ever caused you to feel that you weren't being heard or that you were being talked down to."
"Oh. Well, that's nice, I guess. Er, thanks. But, um, what's that got to do with the war?"
"It's not directly connected, that's true; however, in the wake of all of that, I've begun to look at what's really important in life. Needless to say, much of what I used to think was important didn't make the cut, so to speak, and I feel the need to clear the air with some important people."
Harry nodded. He was surprised that Percy considered him important enough to be included in all this.
"Number two: it has also recently come to my attention that some of my past actions may have caused undue stress or upset to loved ones."
Harry immediately thought about Percy having turned his back on his family because of their involvement with the Order and Dumbledore, but that couldn't be what he was apologising to him, Harry, for. "Um, I'm not sure that one has anything to do with me."
"But it does. For starters, I gave more than one interview to The Daily Prophet about your… condition."
"This was, of course, back when everyone thought you were an attention-seeking unstable youth. Far from trying to dispel those rumours, I added a great deal to them and completely believed them for quite some time. I apologise for my mistake. I am very sorry."
Harry had begun frowning as Percy spoke. He remembered very vividly some of the newspaper articles about his mental state and questionable motives. He hadn't bothered to read them all and he'd always been sure that there were many more than he'd actually seen. Then he remembered something that made him look up and glare at Percy. "You tried to turn Ron against me."
"Er, yes." Percy looked down at his list. "That was number three, actually–"
"I saw the letter you wrote to him."
"Did you?" Percy fidgeted. "You weren't supposed to see that."
"Well, you should've known he'd show it to me. You called me unbalanced."
"Now, I don't remember exactly what I wrote, but–"
"You called me violent!"
"Well, that's possible, but I probably only implied that you might be–"
"'Nothing could put you in danger of losing your badge more than continued fraternization with that boy, Ron,'" Harry quoted.
"Now, Harry, you have to admit, it was important at that point that Ron be careful–"
"'You do not want to be tarred with the same brush as Potter, Ron.' I mean, who even talks like that, anyway?"
"Well, now there's no need for insults. I am attempting to apologise here."
Harry's nostrils flared as he stared at Percy. He wanted to say more, but he held his tongue for fear of what he might say. He took a breath and tried to calm himself, and only spoke when he trusted himself to do so. "I'm sorry. I appreciate you acknowledging it now."
Percy nodded. "It's all right. I understand your anger. I was only trying to look out for my brother."
Harry nodded. "I know. It wasn't easy for me to see it then, but it's obvious you love your family and only want the best for them."
Percy lowered his face. "I do," he said quietly. He gripped the edge of the seat cushion he sat on, hunched his shoulders and exhaled heavily.
"Oh, hey, Percy, I didn't mean to upset you," said Harry, sitting a bit forward in his seat.
"No, no, it's fine." Percy straightened up again and gave a little sniff. "It isn't you. It's just… sometimes I forget that it's really over."
Harry stared straight into his eyes and gave him a nod. He understood.
"Even now," Percy went on, "over a year later, I still wake up sometimes thinking…" Percy looked away and took a breath, and Harry thought he noticed Percy shiver just a bit. Harry stood up from his seat, moved around the coffee table and sat next to Percy on the loveseat. Percy, who'd been looking in that very direction, turned his face away.
"Oh, the hell with this," Percy suddenly muttered, and crumpled up the sheet of parchment, scrunching it into a tight little ball, making his knuckles turn white. He finally looked at Harry again. "I don't need a list to know that I've been an arse."
Harry's eyebrows went up again and a smile tugged at his lips. "Did… did you just say 'arse'?"
Percy stared back at him for several seconds until finally he had to look away again to hide his own smile.
"I've never heard you talk like that."
"Sometimes the situation calls for an arse, don't you think?" Percy smiled over at him. It wasn't something Harry had ever gotten used to; seeing Percy genuinely smile. The corners of his eyes crinkled up behind the small lenses of his glasses.
"Yeah," Harry agreed, smiling back at him.
"If there's something you feel needs to be addressed that I haven't mentioned, please feel free to bring it up now. I know what I think I've done, but it might all be completely different than what you've experienced with me."
Harry shook his head. "No, I think I'm good."
Percy looked unconvinced and even worried. "You're sure?"
"I am. I forgive you. Even for calling me unbalanced and violent."
Percy winced. "I’m sorry."
"It's okay." Harry laid a hand on Percy's shoulder and squeezed it. "You sure you don't want to go through the rest of your list there? I know you like lists."
Percy glanced down at the ball of paper now resting between his thigh and the arm of the loveseat. "No. My therapist would be proud of me, actually. I think I just figured out that the list was a silly idea." He looked up at Harry again. "She'd call it an epiphany or something. Do you know I calculated the approximate time it would take to discuss each and every one of the points I had written down?"
"We're still talking about you?" Harry nodded. "I believe it."
"Apologies come from the heart, not a schedule or an agenda."
"And I believe yours were genuine," Harry said honestly and smiled. "Despite the fact you were reading them off a piece of paper."
Harry let his hand fall from Percy's shoulder. "So, I guess that's it. You accomplished what you came here for?"
"Yes, I believe I did."
Percy thought about that for a moment. He shook his head and his eyebrows knitted together. "No. No, I don't think so."
"Hmph. But isn't that the point of the exercise? To unburden yourself or something like that, so you can move on?"
"But it hasn't worked?"
"Perhaps it takes a while sometimes."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe."
Percy shook his head as though to clear his mind. He then turned to Harry and smiled. "Thank you for allowing me this time to talk, at any rate. My therapist will be pleased that I've completed this step."
"You're welcome. Um, if you don't mind my asking, what happens now that this step is complete? Is there another step? Or… no, that's probably none of my business."
Percy shook his head. "No, it's all right. I don't know. She won't tell me. And to be honest, I'm not sure she knows, either. Frankly, I think she makes it up as she goes."
Harry grinned at that. "But it's helpful?"
"Yes, I believe so. In fact, I suggested to my family that they might want to give it a shot as well. After… what happened, I think we could all use a bit of therapy."
Harry nodded. He hesitated and then asked quietly, "How's George?"
Percy sighed. "As good as can be expected."
"I haven't been to see him in a long time," Harry admitted, his chest knotting with guilt. "And Ron doesn't talk about George, really. He only mentions how much things have picked up at the shop in the last few months."
"Well, on the surface, he's doing better than he was several months ago."
"On the surface," Harry echoed. It wasn't a question.
Percy gave him a knowing look. "He's thrown himself into his work. That's why the shop's doing so well now. He hardly does anything else."
Harry sat quietly, unsure what to say, or if he should say anything at all.
"When I apologised to him," Percy continued, "I told him I was I sorry he and I couldn't have been closer growing up. I told him I was sorry that I never really listened to him. I was always too busy criticising him and telling him what he ought to be doing. You know me," he said with a wave of his hand, in an almost annoyed tone. Harry knew that Percy was annoyed with himself, not him, Harry. "The irony is, I don't know if he really heard me. I think he might still be too devastated."
Harry fidgeted. He wasn't sure he should be hearing this.
"I told him I was sorry I never said…" Percy paused, lowered his face and shut his eyes.
"Percy, you don't have to tell me this stuff." Harry reached for a box of tissues on the coffee table and offered it to Percy. "It's really isn't any of my business, you know?"
Percy raised his face, sniffled with as much dignity as he could muster and took two tissues from the box with an appreciative nod at Harry. "It's been three months since I said these things to George, and he hasn't said word one to me about it since. Which is fine, of course, I don't expect him to want to have a chat about his feelings."
"But you need to talk about yours."
"Apparently. Of course, I don't expect you to want to listen to this. I'll go if you prefer."
"Er, no, it's okay. I'll listen. I… I've never seen you like this, Perce."
"Yes, well," Percy said, dabbing at his nose again, "neither have I, to be honest. It's quite interesting to me, so I can only imagine what a show it must be for you." He chuckled at that. He then took a breath, seemed to be gathering his thoughts, and then he continued. "I told George that I was sorry I never said 'I love you' to him and Fred. Can you believe that? I never said it. I think I hugged them when we were little, but I never said the words. So, I finally told George that I love him. I think…" He looked down and shrugged. "I think he was grateful in his own way. When I finally told him I was sorry that it had been me, not him, who'd… brought the body back to the family, that's when he asked me to leave."
Harry looked away, trying not to remember that day. He shook his head for several quiet seconds. "I'm so sorry, Percy."
"No, I don't deserve the apologies. George does. Fred was his."
Harry wanted to say something. He wanted to apologise again, to console the man somehow, but he couldn't think of anything that wouldn't sound small and inadequate.
"And he hasn't said a word about it since. He pretends the talk never happened." Percy looked over at Harry. "I'm sorry. I didn't intend to unload all of this on you when I came here."
"It's okay," Harry said quickly. He stared into Percy's eyes and for the first time realised how heavy they looked. Percy had always had bright, inquisitive blue eyes, like his father. Now they appeared clouded and leaden with what Harry could only imagine was a world of hurt.
"You've been a good friend to Ron throughout everything. I have to thank you for that. I'd be remiss if I didn't."
"Ohh, no, you wouldn't." Harry shook his head emphatically. "Really not necessary."
Percy looked down and began pulling at his tissues. "Life's too short, you know?"
Silence grew between them then. Harry once again felt completely useless. But Percy seemed to need something from him, otherwise why would he have felt the need to open up the way he had? Would it be rude not to hug him? This seemed a situation that called for a hug. He glanced at Percy, but he couldn't read him. Percy seemed perfectly fine, if a little sniffly, sitting there without Harry's arms around him.
But the silence was growing louder. Harry could barely stand it. One of them had to do or say something. And since he didn't know what to say, Harry leaned in, wrapped an arm around Percy and pulled him close. The following seconds that Harry had to wait for Percy's reaction were just horrible. But to Harry's relief, Percy only took a deep breath and let it out.
At least a minute went by and Percy didn't move or speak. Percy's body felt unyielding, much like Harry had expected it to; Percy had never struck Harry as much of a hugger. Percy also felt tense, as though ready to spring into action at any moment. This didn't surprise Harry either. Percy didn't seem at all interested in physical displays of support, and yet he wasn't moving away. So, Harry waited patiently, his arm draped across Percy's shoulders.
Finally, Percy found his voice, and said, "I should go."
Harry slowly disengaged. "You sure?"
"Yes. I'll be fine."
"Um…" Harry's eyes went down to where Percy's fingers were shredding his soggy tissues.
"I'm fine. Really. God, listen to my voice. I sound terrible."
"Well, you've been crying a bit," Harry pointed out unnecessarily.
"Well, I feel ridiculous. I don't cry."
"I don't. I'm sorry, I have to go." At that, Percy stood. He clutched his tissues and the balled-up sheet of parchment in one hand and headed for the door. Harry scrambled to follow him.
"Okay, but it's on record that I didn't chuck you out, right? Because I wouldn't."
"Of course." Percy stopped and turned at the door and regarded Harry with his usual business-like demeanour. "Thank you, Harry. Have a nice evening." And before Harry could say goodbye, Percy turned and slipped out the door.
* * *
Harry blinked and looked up at Ron. "Hm? What?"
"You went away for a moment there. Daydreaming or something?"
"Oh. Yeah. Sorry." Harry rubbed his forehead. "Just remembering what Percy said."
Ron waved a dimissive hand. "Forget it. It's nothing. He's done the apology thing with all of us."
"Mm," Harry grunted, but he wasn't so sure it was nothing. "Did he start avoiding you at all after the apologies?"
"Nope. Why would he?"
Harry shook his head. "No reason." He was beginning to get the distinct impression that Percy had opened up to him a lot more than he had with his family.
"I'm really surprised he included you, though," said Ron. "You're not even a Weasley; you should've been off the hook. Damn, he must really feel guilty." He took a large bite of his apple.
"Oh, he does. It was bizarre. And so unlike him."
"And not exactly an improvement, if you ask me. I think I liked him better before, when he was all stuffy and he kept his feelings to himself."
"He's been talking about his feelings a lot, huh?"
"Well, mostly everybody else's. He insists none of us are dealing with our emotions or something stupid like that. Got so bad, George threatened to use a Permanent Sticking Charm on his mouth."
"So, he's still as preachy as ever then?" Harry had been under the impression that Percy had stopped doing that, but he had to admit he was glad to hear the old Percy couldn't be suppressed quite so easily.
"Oh, yeah. It comes and goes, though." Ron grew more sombre. "There are times when he doesn't say much at all."
"Poor bastard. I really need to talk to him."
"What for? Didn't get your fill when he showed up Monday night?"
"Ron, he's not okay. And now he can barely look at me. He's been avoiding me all week."
"So, consider yourself lucky. Come on in before Shacklebolt sends out a search party."
With a sigh, Harry followed Ron into the Auror Headquarters and joined the others, but his mind kept wandering.
* * *
Harry did pay Percy a visit after lunch, but he might as well not have bothered. If Percy had had any free time available that day, it had miraculously disappeared by the time Harry arrived at his office. Percy was as busy as ever and barely had a moment to glance in Harry's direction, let alone sit down to talk with him. Harry told himself he'd simply have to forget about Percy's issues. It was clear Percy didn't want to address them again, and, Harry kept reminding himself, it was possible that this therapist of his was really helping him work things out. So, during the next couple of weeks, Harry stopped scrutinising Percy as though he was a bug under a microscope, and Percy gradually stopped avoiding Harry and began acting normally around him again. Things seemed to go back to normal as the night of Percy's visit fell further into the past. So, Harry was more than a little surprised when he attempted to leave his flat to take a bag of trash out and found Percy standing at his door one evening nearly five weeks after Percy's first visit.
When Harry opened the door, Percy wasn't facing him. Instead, he was leaning against the wall just next to Harry's door, his hands in his pockets, his eyes downcast.
"How long have you been standing there?"
Percy checked his pocket watch. "Forty-five minutes."
"You've been standing here for nearly an hour?"
"No." Percy looked up at him. "I was pacing for a good portion of that time."
Harry let him in, stepped out to dispose of the bag of trash and quickly returned. Percy was in the seat he'd occupied last time. "I take it our business from your last visit wasn't quite finished."
"I suppose not."
Harry sat next to him. "I thought you were okay."
"I am," said Percy brightly. "For the most part."
Harry stared at him sceptically. "So, you were standing at my door for forty-five minutes because you're fine."
"Why didn't you knock?"
"I was rehearsing what I wanted to say."
"And what's that?"
"I… still hadn't worked that out."
"The truth is, Harry, I'm not entirely sure why I'm back. I finished my business with you, in terms of my therapy. There's no reason for me to be here."
"And yet here you are."
The two men stared at each other for several silent seconds. Finally, Percy looked away. "This isn't like me," he said. "Just dropping in on people like this. It's rude."
Harry shrugged. "Maybe. I'm just glad I have such a pathetic social life, otherwise I might not have been here tonight."
"It's not like I would've noticed. I'm not sure I ever would've worked up the courage to knock."
Harry smiled at that. "Well, you may as well stay for dinner. Actually, you may as well give me a hand with it. Least you can do for showing up unannounced." He gave Percy a jab in the arm with his elbow and a grin and then stood up and headed for the small kitchen. Percy watched him for a moment, as though unsure if he was joking or not. He finally stood and followed.
Harry hadn't been joking. He put Percy to work helping him chop and portion out ingredients.
"Now, it was your mother who taught me how to cook this," said Harry as he began sautéing some onions. "So, if the steak ends up all dry and horrible, it's her fault, all right?"
"Mushrooms now, I think."
Percy picked up a small dish filled with sliced mushrooms and tipped them into the skillet. He grinned. "Look at that. I'm cooking."
"Didn't Mrs. Weasley ever try to teach you how?"
"Oh, she tried. But for all my studiousness and determination, I just couldn't get it. When I nearly burned down the kitchen, she finally gave up on me."
"Hmph. Perhaps I shouldn't have asked you in here. I like my home with its walls intact. You can manage a salad, though, yeah?"
"Hm, salad… Refresh my memory."
Harry grinned. Percy was trying to be funny. "Vegetables. All different kinds. Washed and chopped up real small. Then there's this oily liquid that goes on last, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there."
"Right." Percy rolled up a sleeve that had unrolled itself and set to work.
The two of them pulled together a dinner of steak and potatoes with a salad, and Harry produced a half-empty bottle of red wine. They sat down to eat, and Percy finally noticed the one flaw with Harry's flat.
"You don't have a dining table yet?"
"No," said Harry as he took his seat on the opposite side of the coffee table from Percy. "It's next on my list, though, honest."
"How did you manage to get all this together and forget the dining table?"
"All this was someone else's doing. Hermione came over one day, about six months after I'd moved in here, and started yelling at me because of my lack of furniture. She insisted we go shopping." Harry frowned. "I hate shopping."
"So, Hermione picked out all this?"
"Yeah. She's got an eye for decorating, apparently. Or at least… all this stuff seems to go together, I think." Harry glanced around his living room.
"Actually, I'm grateful Hermione's good at so many things. Ron needs someone like that. I can only hope she'll rub off on him."
Harry snorted as he suppressed a laugh and he spilled a little wine down his front. He was still trying not to start laughing as he leaned forward to set his glass down on the table.
Percy looked up at him. "What?"
"Nothing, nothing. How's the steak, by the way?"
Percy narrowed his eyes. "You were thinking something crass, weren't you?"
Harry finally let his giggles out. "I'm sorry. It's childish of me, but… rub off on him." Harry snorted again and laughed harder.
"I don't laugh at things like that, Harry," Percy said firmly, but a smile was tugging at his lips even as he said the words. For a moment, Harry stopped laughing and they watched each other, each waiting for the other to break. Finally, they both did, at the same time, their laughter filling the flat.
* * *
Two empty plates sat side-by-side on the coffee table, next to one empty wine bottle and another mostly empty one. Harry had moved over next to Percy and was just finishing up a hearty belly laugh, his arm resting casually along the backrest behind Percy.
"So, really now," said Harry in slightly slurred speech, "what brought you here tonight? You must have some idea."
Percy shook his head. "Dunno. I felt like I had something more to say or… something." He snorted and giggled. "Harry, if I haven't figured it out by now, maybe it wasn't that important." He drained his glass and leaned forward to set it down on the table. "Maybe it's 'cause you're the only person I seem to be able to have a decent conversation with lately."
"Say what? You haven't said ten words to me in the past month."
Percy settled back in his seat and looked at Harry. "I've been busy."
"Yeah, busy avoiding me."
Percy laughed and leaned closer, putting his face less than an inch from Harry's. "Does it look like I'm avoiding you now?"
Harry snickered. "Point taken."
Percy moved back again, smiling lazily at his host for an extended moment. He then looked away, his soft, wine-fuelled smile still on his lips. "The truth is I did feel better after talking to you last time I was here. I didn't immediately realise it. During the following weeks, every time I thought about sitting here talking to you, I'd sort of smile to myself."
"Well, only in private, of course."
"Of course." Harry was touched. He certainly hadn't been expecting such a confession.
"It wasn't the same with my family. I thought my conversations with them had gone well; I thought I'd felt better afterwards. But it wasn't the same at all. They're all in a type of denial. They're not denying that Fred's gone, of course, but none of them are really dealing with it. And who am I to force them to do so?"
"What makes you think they're not dealing with it?"
Percy hesitated. With a heavy sigh, he finally said, "George is dating Angelina."
"Dated Fred for a short time, yes. It's the single unhealthiest thing George could've done."
"Well, perhaps they get on well or… er…"
"Harry, please. You don't think George taking up with her has everything to do with her connection to Fred? And vice versa?"
"Yeah, I suppose that one's a little hard to ignore"
"You would think. Mother and Father think it's just smashing. They like that George has someone, for one thing."
Harry grimaced. "And what better way to honour Fred's memory than to have his ex shag his twin," he said dryly.
"Exactly! See? You get how sick it is, so why don't they?"
"They're probably just hurting too much," Harry said quietly. "If George seems happy after suffering the biggest loss of his life, this would seem like a relief to them. And on top of that, Angelina is another connection to Fred, as you mentioned. George isn't the only one grabbing onto her. They all probably are. And she to them."
Percy shook his head as he looked into Harry's eyes. "It's sick. It's sick and it's sad."
"I still see his face," Percy whispered. "That smile of his when he died, I still see it, constantly. In my dreams, when I lie awake at night, when I'm working, when I'm eating… I have this recurring dream about carrying him around with me, you know, about carrying him around at work, while running errands, just lugging his weight around everywhere I go. And I can't put him down no matter how hard I try. And the people in my dreams…" He shook his head, his eyes starting to glisten, "they pretend nothing's wrong. It's like they don't see him at all. Or don't want to."
He blinked and sent tears rolling down his cheeks. It was just about more than Harry could stand. He leaned over and wrapped both arms around Percy, squeezing him tight. Neither of them said a word for several minutes. Harry just held onto him, listening to his sniffles and whimpers and shaky breaths, feeling him tremble. If Harry hadn't been a bit intoxicated, he would've found this quite surreal. This was not the controlled, silent and extremely brief weeping Percy had done before. This was only a few steps away from full-on bawling. But Harry was quite comfortable. Percy, despite his height, fit nicely just under his armpit. He was warm and the weight of him felt nice. Harry rested his cheek against Percy's hair.
Harry wasn't sure how much time had passed with them in that position, but he suddenly realised that Percy had fallen silent. His eyes were closed and Harry couldn't tell if he was sleeping or not. With Percy's head on his shoulder, he had a view of Percy's face he'd never had before. He spent a long while examining the way Percy's pale eyelashes grazed the tops of his cheeks and the way his narrow, pointed nose slanted ever so slightly off to the left. Percy's face pressed to Harry's body like that had sent Percy's glasses slightly askew. The sight made Harry feel as though his own glasses were doing the same, and he wrinkled his nose in an attempt to correct it. Finally, he had to do something about it. Betting that Percy had fallen asleep, Harry reached up, pinched the bridge between the lenses of Percy's glasses and very slowly began to remove them.
Percy stirred and frowned and grumbled. "What're you doing?"
"I'm taking your glasses off."
"Because they're all crooked and it's driving me mad." Harry got the glasses off and set them down on the arm of the chair. When he looked down at Percy again, Percy was staring up at him. Their eyes locked. "Hi," Harry whispered.
"Hi," Percy whispered back. "I think I leaked on your shoulder."
Harry grinned. There were a few wet spots on his shirt. "That's okay."
"I've had a really nice evening."
Percy licked his lips. Harry's eyes went straight down to that little movement and lingered on the wet pink flesh. Percy didn't miss that. And suddenly their faces were even closer, their noses bumping, eyes closed, and their breath bathing each other's faces. Percy slid a hand up onto Harry's chest while Harry's hand found its way to Percy's neck and lightly gripped its front. Percy's breathing quickened and he tilted his face up even more, giving Harry's hand more room to feel him.
Harry couldn't tell who moved first. Percy gripped the front of Harry's shirt and pulled him in seemingly at the same moment as Harry's arm wrapped more tightly around Percy's shoulders and pulled him in as well. When their lips met, they were open wide, each tongue diving right in.
Somewhere in the back of Harry's mind, he was telling himself that this was wrong and could only end in misery, or at least some serious awkwardness. This was Ron's older brother. This should feel weird. But it didn't. He didn't know if it was the alcohol's fault for relaxing him so much, but this felt very right. As his hand slid from Percy's neck and the arm snaked around Percy's waist to pull him closer, Harry wondered what Percy was thinking, if he was telling himself the same things Harry was. Harry thought someone like Percy must be thinking this was wrong, but Percy was showing less and less uncertainty by the second. His hand had crept up underneath Harry's shirt to caress Harry's belly and chest, and soon he was pulling Harry on top of him.
Harry went eagerly, nestled between Percy's legs and began grinding against him. He felt Percy grab onto his arse and push up against him. For a moment, Harry stared down at him. This was a Percy he'd never seen; skin all flushed with arousal, face relaxed from pleasure. Harry's eyes darted from freckle to freckle, following a zigzagging line down to Percy's neck, and for the first time Harry noticed how elegant and inviting that skinny neck was. He dove in and latched his mouth onto it.
Percy's responses, his groaning and grunting and cursing, only encouraged Harry. Harry's kissing turned into licking and he licked all the way up from Percy's collar bone to his ear. Percy seemed to love this; he arched his neck into that lick and then reached up into Harry's hair, which he gripped and held onto all the way through the sharpest climax Harry had had in recent memory.
Finally, Harry relaxed on top of Percy and soon felt Percy go limp beneath him. He opened his eyes to look down at Percy and found him blinking around at the room. Percy reached up and back for his glasses, but they were no longer sitting on the armrest.
"We knocked them down," Harry said. He stood and bent to retrieve the glasses from the floor.
Percy sat up with a groan. "Thank you," he said, taking his glasses. He wiped the lenses on his pant leg and put them back on. He then looked sheepishly up at Harry.
"That was unexpected," Harry said.
"We shouldn't have done that," Percy said immediately.
"Perhaps not," Harry sighed and sat next to him again. "But we did, and… I dunno about you, but I've got a bit of an issue here." Harry shifted a bit, and Percy glanced over to find him adjusting his crotch. "Actually," Harry went on, "I do know about you. You came pretty hard there, didn't you?"
Percy shot him a look. "Don't flatter yourself. I just… really needed that."
Harry could see that Percy was back to his old self and that he was very embarrassed. He could barely look at Harry. "I can get your clothes cleaned for you. You can wear something of mine in the meantime."
Percy glanced sidelong at him as though unsure what to think of the offer. "I'm going to the loo," he mumbled. He stood and walked quickly away and locked himself in the bathroom.
When Percy emerged a few minutes later, Harry had cleared their dishes, glasses and bottles from the living room and was busy cleaning up in the kitchen. Percy cleared his throat as he approached, stopping in the kitchen's archway. "Do you need help?"
Harry shook his head as he pushed steak bones into the trash. "No, thanks."
Percy took another tentative step inside. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm all right." Harry turned toward the sink and began rinsing dishing. "You?"
"I don't know yet."
"My offer still stands." Harry turned the water off and turned toward Percy as he dried his hands on a dish towel.
"To what, get me out of my trousers while I lounge around in your underpants or something?"
Percy's ears began to colour. "I've already cleaned myself up with magic in the bathroom. Everything's… in order down there now."
"Yeah, me too," said Harry, sounding a bit defeated.
"But you still want me to take half my clothes off."
Harry shrugged. "Couldn't hurt."
Percy narrowed his eyes. "This wasn't a date, you know."
"Er, I know."
"It was just two friends having a nice dinner and some conversation."
"And then kissing and making out."
"That was an accident."
"That was no accident."
Percy's eyebrows went up. "So, you planned it?"
"Well, no, but–"
"It was a mistake, and the very last thing I should be doing now is taking any of my clothes off while I'm still here."
"Well, the last thing either of us should've been doing was humping on the sofa, but we did, didn't we?"
Percy's jaw tensed, but he said calmly, "It's a loveseat, not a sofa."
Harry smiled and put his towel down on the counter.
"I have to go." Percy disappeared from view as he headed for the front door. Harry followed.
"You're not going to be weird around me at work again, are you? Because constantly trying to avoid you was really getting on my nerves."
Percy bent over to get his shoes on. "If you can manage to forget what just happened, I promise I won't be 'weird', okay?" When Percy didn't get an answer, he straightened up and glared at Harry, who held up his hands.
"All right, all right. I can pretend it never happened."
Percy nodded. "Good. Thank you for dinner."
"Thank you for helping."
Percy nodded again, hesitated and then spun around and let himself out.