A gift for sarka! (Part 1 of 2)
Author: ??? Giftee: sarka Title: Frequent Portkey Miles (Part 1 of 2) Pairing/Characters: Percy / Neville Rating: Adult / Explicit Word Count: roughly 11000 Warnings: Brief unflattering characterization of Oliver Wood. Disclaimer: I own none of these characters, nor their world, and am not profiting in any way from writing this. Summary: Publicly spurned by a past lover, Percy focuses wholly on his career until a chance meeting sends him chasing after what might be a lost opportunity for happiness. Notes: Thank you to my wonderful betas; midnightblue88 and trubbleclef. Muggle locations described in the story with any degree of detail are real, and worth visiting.
10 July, 2004. Kumasi, Ghana.
It wasn’t the worst Ministry guesthouse Percy had ever stayed in. The thick walls, shaded verandahs, cooling charms and ceiling fans kept it tolerable without inducing a chill, although the mosquito netting over the bed in his room suggested that the deterrent charms might not be up to snuff. Fortunately the bevy of teenaged German witches had gone to wash up prior to supper, and he took full advantage of the sudden quiet to look over his notes once more.
It would have been bad enough for a Muggle to have found a magical camera, but the exposed film showing the lake monster in Lake Bosumtwi had found its way onto the internet. So far the Muggle world seemed convinced that the footage was a hoax, and the film itself had been recovered. The magical press worldwide had condemned the failure of the Ashanti Ministry to prevent this crisis, and ordinarily the issue would have ended there.
Unfortunately, the camera was still missing, and recent evidence suggested that it had not been lost by a Ghanaian, but rather by a participant in a Lovegood Mysteries of the Tropics tour. And while the lake monsters of the highlands had learned to ignore the seductive calls of an ill-tuned bagpipe, it seemed that Xenophilius might have summoned this one from the depths for his clients to photograph.
Both the loss of the camera and the luring of a magical creature to the surface were serious breaches of the law, but the forested shores of the ancient meteorite crater were dotted with villages who might have seen, or worse recorded another image of the beast. And Monday, Percy was going to have to face the Ashanti Ministry and explain that the drubbing they were taking was likely the fault of a British wizard.
Fortunately, the call to Saturday supper meant there was some time left before he would have to endure that challenge.
Seated at a table for eight, Percy did not glance up from his notes again until one of his dining companions called out his name in evident delight. Looking up to find Neville Longbottom seated across, Percy found himself filled with the same emotion.
Surrounded by teenaged German witches who chattered in nearly incomprehensible accents about carvings, textiles, and other souvenirs, Percy struggled to keep the conversation light and not to let his gaze linger too long.
Neville interrupted the update on the various Weasley siblings to ask what room Percy was staying in. Feeling a sock clad foot slide up his calf while he answered, he sputtered, “Twenty-two,” and thought to himself that it had been entirely too long since he’d seen Neville.
30 October, 2004. Hogwarts.
Percy stood before the gargoyle, attempting to guess the password to Headmistress McGonagall’s office. Unlike Headmaster Dumbledore, her passwords were not candies but virtues, and he was working his way through variations on trustworthiness as she approached from behind him and called out, “Bravery.”
The formalities of greeting were observed, followed by tea and biscuits, and an update on his family.
Finally setting aside his tea, Percy pulled a bundle of rolled parchments from his briefcase and offered them to the Headmistress.
“I was in Boston last week, as I’m sure you know, assisting in the mass obliviations following the recent problems. It was a near thing, but the American Ministry is fairly certain that we patched up any breach of the International Statute of Secrecy. I can’t imagine being so involved in the fortunes of a Muggle sporting team as to openly interfere in their finals. The perpetrators actually tried to claim they were undoing prior malicious magic, citing some curse they believe affects their red stockings. In any case, after we’d minimized the damage as much as possible there was quite a delay as the Americans attempted to organize portkeys for all the international assistance teams.”
Percy inhaled deeply, and then continued.
“My squad was quartered at the Salem Institute, and during the aftermath I had the opportunity to speak with their Principal, who proposed an exchange program between their students and your students here. While their proposal is limited in its initial scope, they seem eager to expand it into an ongoing program. I’m not certain, however, that such a program would be to the advantage of your students, given the differences in academic standards and their proposal that this exchange occur in the year preceding the NEWTs.”
As Percy paused again for breath, the Headmistress interjected, “Yes, well, such programs have occurred in the past. And I’d certainly want to review their proposal before I replied. But you didn’t come up to Hogwarts just to bring me a handful of parchment. Surely the Ministry could have spared an owl.” She looked at him inquisitively. “Was there something else you needed?”
“I was hoping to speak to Professor Longbottom,” Percy replied with uncharacteristic bluntness.
“I’m afraid he’s at Kew this weekend, assisting with a snarling sootmold outbreak in one of their greenhouses. Was there something in particular you needed him for?”
Percy suddenly wished he’d prepared as detailed an excuse for approaching Neville as he had for his need to speak with the Headmistress. “Nothing important, I was just hoping to catch him in.” Percy felt his cheeks begin to flush and stood. “Thank you for the tea, Headmistress, and for letting me impose on your weekend.” He knew as he began to turn that it would do no good, that he should have worn a collared shirt rather than the more informal jumper he was wearing, and that his neck would glow as brightly red as his face.
“You’re always welcome here,” the Headmistress concluded to his rapidly retreating back.
10 July, 2004. Kumasi, Ghana.
Lying amongst the tangled sheets of Neville’s room, as they’d discovered he had the larger bed, Percy played idly with the hair on Neville’s chest. Enjoying the sweaty aftermath, they quietly exchanged stories about their time apart.
“After that, I met Jean-Pierre. He was an assistant to the French Ambassador. Something to do with economics, but I suspect they’d brought him along mostly to be pretty at parties and functions. It was fun for a while, but there was no real spark. But enough about me, tell me about you. I don’t think I’ve seen you since you started teaching.”
“Not a big stretch, me ending up teaching Herbology, is it?”
“But what made you give up the Ministry? You and Potter were the youngest squad leaders ever.”
“It was wearing on me. I’d been working the case of a boy who’d followed his older brother into the Snatchers at sixteen and been caught up in some of the worst of it. The last few cases before that, the subjects had refused to surrender when we found them. I kept seeing the picture from that boy’s file, and I just didn’t want to do it anymore. I didn’t want to be responsible for his death.”
Neville seemed to forcibly brighten his tone before continuing. “It was around that time that Pomona owled me to say she was thinking about retiring to the country to raise flowers.”
Cooling somewhat in the breeze of the ceiling fan, Percy untangled a sheet to drag over them and asked with a grin, “So?”
“Alright. There were a couple of blokes, but the only one that really lasted was Edward Spinnet. You might know his younger sister Alicia, but he was in Ravenclaw. Anyhow, we were together for almost two years. But eventually I realized he was in love with the hero and auror.” Neville paused to jokingly flex his biceps, which Percy dutifully admired, then continued. “Anyhow, it seems he wasn’t so much interested in a teacher or a gardener.”
Percy’s hand had returned to Neville’s chest, and he began to stroke him slowly down his torso. “So, what are you doing in Ghana?”
“Last year, one of my Gran’s friends gave her a woven grass basket they’d picked up at the Camden Lock Market. For her knitting I suppose.” Neville chuckled. “Anyhow, I managed to snag it when I was helping her store away some of her winter things, and while I was watching the grass re-wove itself. I took it to Professor Flitwick, but he confirmed that it was the grass itself and not a charm on the basket.”
Neville had inched his way more upright, the hints of sleepiness in his eyes replaced by a new intensity as he described his discovery.
“It took me a while to track down the seller, and longer still to follow their chain of suppliers, but I eventually tracked it to Ghana, somewhere in the arc North-east of Tamale. I really respect Professor Sprout, but I think even she’d agree that the collection of grasses and rushes at Hogwarts leaves a lot to be desired. Finding a new magical species would really be a feather in our cap.”
Neville had continued to back up against the headboard, the sheet sliding from his chest along with Percy’s hand to lie in his lap. As Neville continued to describe the properties of the grass from the sample he’d fought free from the basket and its probable taxonomic classification using an increasingly dense tangle of botanical Latin, Percy’s stroking became less idle and Neville’s excitement more divided.
“Why don’t you finish telling me about this grass later?” As he asked, Percy pulled the sheet away and rolled himself over to lie between Neville’s legs. As he began to lick, the only answer he received was an appreciative moan.
11 July, 2004. Kumasi, Ghana.
Missing breakfast, they’d wandered through Obayifoo, surrounded by stout whitewashed buildings with thatch or tin roofs red with rust. Neville had evidently been before, and as they walked he explained that the old city dated to the colonial period, the whole of Kumasi having been put to the torch in the buildup to the Yaa Asantewaa war. Stopping a street vendor to buy a loaf of sweet bread and some hard cooked eggs, they continued their walk. Neville spoke between bites, filling in Percy on those critical bits of history that a well prepared ministry dossier should have contained.
Some of it Percy knew, of course. The same story here as elsewhere, magical kingdoms had maintained their old borders, impacted by war and colonialism but never bent to follow the laws of Britain, France, or some other power. The burning of their capitol though, the magical city lost along with the Muggle, that was the sort of thing that local elders in the magical community would be unlikely to have forgiven. Percy sighed deeply. He could be considerate, when he remembered that it was important to try.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes.” Percy shook his head. “I’d just like to travel once without having to clean up someone else’s mistakes.”
Neville laughed. “Well, there’s nothing to be done until Monday anyhow, so you may as well enjoy yourself. Are you ready to see the Muggle markets? It’s the largest open air market in Africa. Or so they say.”
Percy had allowed himself to be coaxed from the guesthouse by Neville’s tales of the vast public market, stalls crammed shoulder to shoulder like Diagon Alley but without the benefit of magic. Kejetia market sprawled across the old rail yards to more than fill the large bowl made by the city’s gentle hills.
They exited into Muggle Kumasi through Vic Baboo’s café, the mixed clientele of backpackers, tourists, street hustlers, and locals with a taste for Indian or western foods providing perfect cover for the trickle of wizards and witches passing through. A quick nod from the proprietor and a glance at the oddest table, where four young white men with identical haircuts sat in white shirts with nametags, and they were pushing through the door to the street.
Neville kept a determined pace, and Percy attempted to match him while trying not to let himself stare openly at unusual sights. They turned at the post office, continued downhill through the Muggle old city until they reached the chaos of the bus station. Here Neville paused, shook his head at a tout who mistook this for indecision, and leaned closer to speak over the roar of the tro-tros, buses, lorries, barkers, and throngs of shoppers. “If there’s time, we should head over to the zoo. They’ve this immense colony of flying foxes that nest there, large enough to damage some of the trees…”
Neville’s voice faded into the surrounding clamour as he spotted a gap in the traffic, snatched at Percy’s elbow and darted between busses.
They wandered the market for a while, Percy experiencing every bit of the sensory overload that Neville had predicted. Stalls that sold used men’s dress shirts. Stalls that sold pots, pans, and containers formed of dried gourds. Stalls that sold wax print cloth. Stalls indistinguishable from his father’s shed, hand tools sharing space with buckets of batteries and coils of odd wire. In addition to the shoppers, women walked through the market displaying their wares on their heads, bundles of axe handles, boxes of baked goods, even a bucket of live chickens. An array of smells acted as signposts at various corners, smoked and dried fish competing with peanut butter.
“They call it groundnut paste here,” Neville explained, pointing to the woman on the far side of the vat who was pounding more. Again he grasped Percy’s elbow and directed him on, peering into the corners of stalls for the woven grass baskets he sought.
They continued through the market in that fashion for the better part of an hour, Neville intermittently asking one of the market women if he was headed in the right direction. Occasionally he tugged at Percy’s elbow when he was lost in some bit of oddness, staring at a fabric printed alternately with the images of Kwame Nkrumah and the icon of a union of women electrical workers. At one point Neville had grasped him by the shoulders, stopping him just short of an open sewer, prompting applause and laughter from nearby shopkeepers.
It wasn’t long after that, during what had to be their third traverse of a lane lined by shops selling castoff western clothing, when Percy stopped again. It didn’t seem possible, but there amongst the dress shirts and accessories, he thought he’d spotted a Ravenclaw house tie. He had tilted his head and squinted when he realized that Neville had stopped trying to guide him and had simply slipped his hand into Percy’s own.
Percy pushed the shorter man’s hand away as if burned, and sputtered, “What are you doing?”
A look crossed Neville’s face then, one that Percy would only recognize hours later as pained rejection. “I was holding your hand.”
“You were what?” Percy’s voice rose rapidly in pitch and volume, and he whipped his head from side to side, looking for anyone who might recognize him as he stepped backwards. “In public?”
The look on Neville’s face now required little explanation, and Percy’s hand flew to his wand in response to the odd facial contortions of non-verbal spellcasting. He checked himself however, as he recognized the odd buzzing in his ears, the abrupt shifts as the Muggles all around them turned away or swung in their paths to offer them a wider berth. Ron had done this once when angered, an Auror’s reflex he claimed, the same as a Muggle constable insisting, “nothing to see here, move along.”
Pulling his hand from his pocket, the back of his thighs met a countertop as Neville once more grasped him by the elbow. Gently, ever so gently, he turned Percy so they were both facing the stall’s mirror.
“What do you see?”
Percy looked briefly, and then he remembered. They were both wearing the Granger girl’s Muggleflage. The enchanted bracelets were issued widely for Ministry related travel now that the war was long over, concealing the wearer behind the façade of a business traveler from a nearby land. Two black faces appeared in the mirror, one protruding from a slightly tatty suit and the other a neatly embroidered boubou, appearing for all the world to be a pair of Malian traders seeking markets further afield.
“That doesn’t matter. I don’t… I wouldn’t… In public…”
Neville interrupted Percy’s stuttering, his hands shaking but his voice rigidly controlled. “I’ll be damned if I’ll sleep with a man who’s already been outed, yet thousands of miles of home and in disguise won’t hold my hand. I’ll take an earlier portkey to Bolgatanga. Please don’t come back to the guesthouse before I’m gone.”
Neville’s spells collapsed abruptly, but not before he Disapparated with a resounding crack.
21 April, 2000. The Burrow.
Percy was compiling a list in his head. Bill had missed a portkey once. And there was the Easter when Ginny had thrown a spectacular fit and turned herself blue, hair to toes. Dad had been attacked by the snake, but that wasn’t really his fault, and Percy hadn’t been there anyhow. So one missed Christmas, the Christmas of 1996 when he had let the Minister use him to get to Harry, and today. If he wasn’t careful, he was going to surpass the twins in the number of ruined holiday meals. Although, did Good Friday really count?
It could have been worse, he supposed. At least his family already knew, and the gossip editor at the Daily Prophet seemed to have considered the number of Ministry staff in the family and had carefully sought their input prior to publication.
Harry was sitting on the sofa with Ginny, watching the owls accumulate outside and distracting Teddy and Victoire with a tiny figure on a toy broom, keeping them giggling and away from his mother who was fuming in the kitchen. George had all his brothers laughing, loudly praising Percy’s technique and imitating the photo on the cover of the Prophet.
It wasn’t the image that was the problem. Percy glanced down at the copy on the table where he was visible winding the fingers of one hand into brown hair while his other hand pulled desperately at the laces on Oliver’s Quidditch kit. It had been a phenomenal kiss, and the photographer had captured their passion well.
The problem was the commentary. Percy had learned from his father, and from Minister Shacklebolt, that the only appropriate way to discuss personal matters with the press was to offer no comment at all. Unfortunately, Oliver hadn’t learned that lesson, and he’d let the Puddlemere United press office speak for him. The results, found between the author’s repetitive use of the words unnatural and wrong, implied that Percy had seduced and perhaps even enchanted Oliver, who was otherwise a fine and upstanding straight man.
Another owl bounced off of Ron’s hasty supplement to the household wards, and Percy stood to help set the table. It was easier than trying to decide whether to scream or cry.
19 April, 2004. Department of International Magical Cooperation, London.
Percy stopped short, watching two wizards attempt to coach a floating train of file boxes in through the open door to his office. As the first wizard passed from sight, he began speaking.
“I tell you, the Owl won’t mind. You can store these here for a week or two until the reversal squad frees somebody up to un-curse the records room.”
Percy coughed softly and stifled a grin as the second wizard spun to face him, the train of boxes oscillating as his wand drifted off target.
“The Owl is here this week, Thurston,” Percy called to the first man, behind his office door. “Why don’t you see if there’s a designated storage space you can put those files for now?”
Percy let the grin show when both wizards could see him. “And that’s Special Assistant to the Minister Owl to you.”
Percy acknowledged their hasty apologies, and headed to the canteen for tea while they undid what looked like several hours work packing boxes into his office. He could have waited, or tried to work around them, but he knew himself well enough to know he would have griped. He’d rather leave them with a joke and their consciences than a memory of him fuming.
He remembered clearly when they’d started referring to him as the Owl. It was several months after Oliver. He’d started traveling just after returning to the office following Easter. They’d needed someone to speak to the Nigerians, to sort out the matter of the ex-convicts who had no trouble getting outgoing portkeys to Britain, and all sorts of problems when it came to returning. It was the peak of the Harmattan winds, and the negotiator/messenger would likely have to cool their heels for weeks in Abuja breathing red Saharan dust before their Ministry was likely to admit there was a problem. The only words that really registered were “weeks” and “away” before he’d looked up from the copy of the Prophet at the far end of the table and volunteered.
The negotiations had been a resounding success, but after a few short days in London he had gone abroad again. Brazil had been his second policy coup, although it had required more than a month of travel between the cities and the jungle. But in the end he had successfully secured new legal sources for wand wood following the Muggles declaration of Mahogany as a threatened species.
At some point he realized he was no longer running away. He was building connections abroad. He was earning the respect of people who really mattered in the Wizengamot. A handful of department heads whose crises he had resolved had asked him for advice. In spite of his actions during the early part of the war, his foolish sycophancy, and his proclivities, it was still possible he could be Minister some day.
This should have been a quick job. Portkey in to the country, lean on their Ministry export people a little, and then leave. There was no question that the “Mapinguari fur” being exported to Britain was fake. Far from being the fur of the red haired South American Yeti, collected from where it had snagged on branches or stones, most samples seemed to be standard alpaca fur, stained with berries and washed in a cocktail of cheap potions. And there could be no question that this fraud was harming the sales of legitimate Quechuan products.
Unfortunately, the official request prepared by the Minister’s office had cited misdeeds performed by the Peruvian Ministry, which also claims the Quechua name. The fallout of this bureaucratic mistake, once he had sharpened his translation charm well enough to follow the nuance, was a wonder to behold. It ranged from suddenly erected trade barriers to a flurry of ill-considered memos sent by condor and a brief flirtation with the idea of recognizing the six or so families demanding an independent Welsh ministry. Amongst the least of the consequences, his credentials had sat with a committee for more than two months now, leaving him officially unrecognized. He had largely filled his days collecting sweater patterns for his mother and composing novel excuses to use when offered a glass of coca-tea.
Having already passed the morning chatting with a few of the sweater vendors discussing their wares, the weather, and how to properly season Chinchilla, Percy had returned to the inn and was sitting at what he had begun to think of as his table. Three parchments were laid across it, two held spread by the wonderful little parchment weights he’d found in the market and the last pinned down by a pint of what he’d determined to be the most palatable local brew.
The first, the ink still damp, recounted his latest efforts to resolve the impasse and counseled against a rash response to what the Daily Prophet had evidently started describing as the Welsh Gambit. The second contained his instructions to Ms. Patil, who in his absence would need to speak with the Yemeni Ministry following Ali Bashir’s third conviction for illegal carpet importation. The last scrap of parchment, barely long enough to curl, bore a number of smudges and condensation rings testifying to the number of times Percy had recently reviewed it.
What, exactly, are you afraid of? What is the worst that could happen?
I can see the headline now: “Ministry Official, Still Bent!”
If it’s not too late, go and talk to him.
Our world is too small and life’s too short.
Percy had found the note, left under a bottle of hangover potion on his bedside table. George had evidently pried the story out of him on his last night in London that week, having taken Percy out for what he promised would be a pint or two.
It should have stung more, the way he always managed to cut through the complications and formalities of Percy’s life to identify the real issue. Especially as he always managed to find a joke or six along the way. But George’s advice was always good, even when he was taking the piss.
It was foolish of course, to assume that Longbottom was the one. A mistake to assume that somehow, based on a brief relationship seven years ago and a badly handled one night stand, they had a future. Wrong to presume he’d had his shot at happiness and lost it. But seeing Neville again had reminded him of how comfortable they were together, of the joy Percy found in their discussions of their shared and divergent interests. Spending time with Neville simply made him happy. And he couldn’t stop considering George’s note and wondering if he hadn’t done more than simply make a fool of himself in Kumasi.
13 November, 2004. Hogwarts.
Not finding Professor Longbottom in the greenhouses, or in his rooms in the staff wing, nor the Headmistress in her quarters or office, Percy had finally been directed to the hospital wing. Peering around the partition, he found headmistress McGonagall there, propped up by an improbable pile of pillows and with a Gryffindor red sling on her left arm that clashed horribly with her tartan dressing gown. Looking up from her book over the rim of her glasses, she asked, “Mr. Weasley, what a pleasant surprise, can I help you?”
“I was looking for Professor Longbottom. We at the Ministry were hoping that he could advise us on the proposed export controls on grasses and bamboos that the Japanese have recently drafted."
“He’s not here, I’m afraid.” Lifting her splinted arm briefly and grimacing as she continued, “It’s a reserve Auror training weekend. I was there myself, but the exercises have grown devilishly difficult since they started letting your brother script them. Although I have no doubt that Professor Longbottom will complete them satisfactorily.”
“Oh.” Percy’s train of thought ran abruptly off the rails. He was normally far more composed than this, even in negotiations where so much more was at stake.
“Do you have a copy of the Japanese Ministry’s proposal that you’d like to leave for him?”
“No, I’ll have…” Percy’s voice broke in a stammer. How could he have forgotten to prepare evidence to support his story? “I’ll have to owl it over later with some prepared questions.”
Once again, Percy was overcome by the Weasley curse of having one’s embarrassment made abundantly clear on one’s face.
Pretending that he heard Madame Pomfrey approaching, Percy offered again his condolences on her injury and thanked her for her time. His rush from her bedside, as sudden as his last departure from her office, occurred too rapidly for him to observe the twinkle in her eye and the upturned corners of her lips as the Headmistress wished him well.
13 June, 2005. Dubrovnik, Croatia.
Percy sat at a café on the Stradun, comfortable with the relative anonymity that accompanied his bitter espresso and his poppy seed roll. A surprising number of owls had passed back and forth before this day had come, he reflected. It had been nearly a year since the disaster in Ghana, a very lonely year that a pair of misguided one night stands had only made worse. The Gobstones scandal had been resolved without any upheld allegations against British competitors, although he had spent the better part of a month in Beijing afterwards, negotiating a shared approach to the issue of the independent Ministry in no longer separate Hong Kong. Gazing down at the smooth polished marble of the roadway, he remembered the nightmare of attempting to synchronize Christmas schedules, only to learn that Neville had taken his Grandmother on a surprise cruise holiday. He could not claim the diplomatic victories of the spring as his own, yet he had played no small part in the multinational effort to remind the Persian Ministry that, regardless of perceived provocation they would not be pushing anyone into the sea and that the Statute of Secrecy still stood. Neville, ironically, had spent spring break investigating preserved herbal materials in the Bolivian Altiplano, and had stayed in the same inn that he had patronized. Percy had considered sending a sweater. He would have simply gone there himself, but after the new export controls and illicit materials checkpoints had been established he’d been informed in no uncertain terms not to travel the highlands without escort. He’d narrowly missed Neville on a Hogsmeade weekend in May, and had been on the road consistently since.
Glancing at his watch and then the sailing schedule of the ferry, Percy stood, left what the ministry guidebook informed him was a reasonable tip, and walked towards the docks taking care to stay in the shade of the tall stone buildings. He did not plan to Apparate to the island, as although the war was more than a decade gone the authorities and the locals alike were sensitive to sudden loud sounds. On the ferry, surrounded by Muggle tourists, he struggled to maintain his composure. This time was certain to work. Headmistress McGonagall had informed him that Neville would be here for the remainder of the month, heading up a project to restore the neglected magical annex to the botanical gardens at Lokrum. Knowing where Neville would be, he’d requested his first leave in two years, briefed his assistants on ongoing issues, and made it clear he was not to be contacted for anything of less consequence than outright war. Now all he needed to do was find the right words, apologize, and not make an arse of himself again.
The tiny ferry reversed at the pier, sending a wave of diesel exhaust across her passengers who swayed in unison, grabbing out at handrails and each other to maintain their balance. Eager to leave the crowd behind him, Percy fairly leapt to the stone dock.
Glancing briefly at the bullet-scarred remains of the old Monastery boathouse, he oriented the map he’d brought from London and separated rapidly from the tourists as they spread along the rocky shore.
This was going to work.
4 December, 2004. Hogwarts.
The Headmistress ushered him into her office and firmly shut the door behind him. He’d attempted to bolt again after their brief meeting in the corridor, but she’d caught his arm, and under the pretext that she had some papers she’d like delivered to the Ministry had coaxed him into her office.
“Sit, dear boy.” A wave of her wand brought teacups and kettle zooming across the room as she directed him to a chair. “There’s nothing to be embarrassed about.”
Percy’s flush deepened as he settled into the chair.
“It’s not a surprise, you know.” Holding up one hand to forestall his interjection, she continued, “And I’m not talking about that silly flap with the Prophet. I’ve known for years. You didn’t really think that the sorting hat, after looking so deeply into your hopes and dreams, would tell us nothing about how to help guide you, did you?”
Allowing Percy to compose himself in a brief silence, she prepared the tea, a gunpowder green that must have been chosen for his tastes in contrast with her well known preference for chamomile. Oddly, he did feel more relaxed now that his not so secret desires were in the open again. Yes, his stomach was still twisting, but the desire to flee the room seemed to have fled itself.
“Of course, in all my years as head of house, I didn’t have many pupils like you. So many ended up in Hufflepuff, you know, wanting nothing more than to avoid standing out from the crowd. It takes an exceptional young man to carry a secret like you did and still win your way to Prefect and Head Boy.”
At this comment, Percy’s shoulders drew up and his chin climbed fractionally higher.
“So.” The Headmistress took a sip of her tea, considering him over the rim of her glass and her glasses at once. “I’ve a fairly good idea of why you’re looking for young Professor Longbottom. He should be on campus next weekend, if you’d like to try again.”
Basking in his first mentor’s approval, not just for whom he was but what he planned, Percy answered easily. “I’m afraid I’m leaving for China on Tuesday. Some flap about memory potions and other doping in the Gobstones Cup.”
“Well, feel free to owl me for his schedule whenever you’re free to catch him in person.” Her typically stern demeanour breaking into a wide grin, the Headmistress concluded, “I’ve read enough of your writing over the years to suspect that a letter may be rather more formal than the tone you’re hoping for.”