Percy really had to quit hiding in loos, and especially not in the shower. He had turned into a prune. He just did not want to go to work. He tried to think of a happy thought as he continued getting ready, but those were hard to come by these days. It had been four months since he had seen Audrey. People were disappearing from the Ministry every day. If someone even looked at a Death Eater in the wrong way, they were being sent to Azkaban for treason. And the Death Eaters were no longer even trying to hide the fact they were Death Eaters. The Ministry was being run by people who openly supported You-Know-Who. It was the people who did NOT support You-Know-Who who had to hide their true allegiance. All Percy could do was keep his head down and not make anybody angry. He was comforted by recently seeing his dad at a distance in the hallway, so at least his dad wasn’t in Azkaban. Percy was biding his time until something happened, and maybe he could do something to help take down You-Know-Who. Maybe he could reconcile with his family. Maybe they could find it in their hearts to forgive him for being the world’s biggest prat. Maybe . . .
Percy’s life was one big maybe. He couldn’t procrastinate any longer and began his daily trudge to work. He had to survive one more day. That was his daily mantra—he had to get through the day so he’d be around when Audrey came back.
Percy really looked forward to the nebulous “someday” when You-Know-Who would be defeated, and Audrey could return, but what had been sustaining him for several months were his visits with Aunt Gussie. He really enjoyed his two meals each week at her home, and eagerly awaited the appearance of the silver vulture in his living room to announce a new episode of “Potterwatch”. Aunt Gussie had also been teaching him some dueling techniques and spells that she knew from her days as an auror. Percy was fairly pathetic at dueling. He had never even gotten a single spell through Aunt Gussie's shield, and she was over eighty! But at least he was getting some practice.
When Percy arrived at his office, he looked at his calendar and actually had a happy thought. Neville would be home from Hogwarts today for the Christmas hols. While Percy had really enjoyed spending time with Aunt Gussie, he was surprised how much he had missed Neville, the closest person he had to a friend.
Percy survived another day at the Ministry. He came home, changed clothes, petted Hermes and Twoey, made himself a sandwich, and was comfortably ensconced on his sofa with his book. He had only finished one chapter and barely begun another, when he looked up at seeing a bright silver light. There was a large, silver mimbulus mimbletonia in front of him. A mimbulus mimbletonia patronus? That was—-different, but strangely appropriate for Neville. Neville’s voice said from the plant, “Percy, come over. Potterwatch is on! Merlin, Gran’s going to be upset she missed it . . .”
Percy apparated immediately. As he arrived, he heard Lee’s voice.
“. . . evening, Listeners! Apparently, there is no longer anywhere that is sacred in the Wizarding world! First of all You-Know-Who and his Death Eaters took over the Ministry. Then they infiltrated Hogwarts. They have been swarming over England for the last several months instigating dementor activity, killing Muggles for fun, and hunting down Muggleborns with their vigilante snatcher groups, but today they boarded the Hogwarts Express and kidnapped a student.”
Percy gasped, “Not Ginny?!”
Neville choked out a quiet, “No.”
“Luna Lovegood was taken by force from the Hogwarts’ Express. Despite the heroic efforts made by her friends at great personal risk to their own safety, Luna was taken prisoner in order to be held for ransom in the hopes of silencing her father, Xenophilius Lovegood, editor of The Quibbler, and outspoken supporter of Harry Potter. Our thoughts and prayers are with Luna and Mr. Lovegood that they will be safe and reunited again soon. And to those students who tried to help, you are true Gryffindors. Luna’s capture is NOT your fault. Believe me, getting yourself killed is not going to help. Stay safe and keep the faith. This is River, signing off."
Percy just sat there stunned. He remembered Luna’s visits to The Burrow when she was a little girl to play with Ginny. Ginny had been to the Lovegood’s as well. Percy started Hogwarts when Ginny was 6, so he hadn’t seen Luna too much after that, except occasionally over the summer, or in the corridors at Hogwarts. Captured by Death Eaters . . .
Percy heard Neville make a sound and turned to look at him. It looked like Neville was trying desperately not to start sobbing.
“Neville? You tried to save her, didn’t you? You heard what Lee said, it’s not your fault.”
“I know.” Neville sniffled, then blew his nose in a handkerchief he took out of his pocket.
Percy wanted to be comforting but didn’t really know how. He put his hand on Neville’s shoulder. Neville winced in pain and twitched.
“I’m sorry! Are you hurt? What’s the matter?” Percy looked at Neville who hadn’t answered him, was still wincing, and was trying in vain to stretch his arms. Percy noticed something on Neville’s neck and said, “Is that blood?!”
“Where?” Neville turned his head to look where Percy was pointing and winced again.
“Neville, you’re hurt. Did the Death Eaters curse you when Luna escaped? What in Merlin’s name happened?”
Neville sighed deeply. “Three Death Eaters came into the compartment on the train where Luna, Ginny, and I were sitting. They each cast a stunner. One hit Luna. Ginny and I ducked in time and tried to curse back, but they avoided our spells, and they weren’t interested in a duel anyway. One of them picked up Ginny and held her, while the other hit me in the head, and I fell and hit the other side of my head on the wall. I think I lost consciousness for a minute. When I came to, Ginny was tied up, Luna was gone, and I had two bumps on my head and one hell of a headache. I spelled Ginny free, and she conjured a flannel and wet it with her wand, so I could have a lie down with a cool cloth on my head. Ginny was O.K., other than being angry about the Death Eaters taking Luna, and Gran healed me when I came home.”
Percy was worried for Luna, relieved that Ginny was all right, but still confused because he knew Neville was omitting something. “That doesn’t explain why there’s blood on your neck.”
“I didn’t bleed on Gran’s sofa did I?” Neville turned away from Percy, examining the sofa.
“Neville. There would not be blood on your neck if you weren’t hurt. Please let me help you, if you don’t want to tell your Gran about it. Between four younger siblings and helping Penelope study for her healer exams, I have picked up rather a lot of healing spells.”
Neville sighed again, but nodded. He seemed resigned and gestured for Percy to follow him. They went first into what Percy assumed was Neville’s bedroom, and then into the bathroom off of it.
“There’s dittany and essence of murtlap in the cupboard. Of course, essence of murtlap is better if it’s fresh, but this will have to do.” Neville took off his Hogwarts robes and let them drop to the floor.
Percy gasped before he could stop himself. Neville still had on his T-shirt, but his back was so bloody that it had soaked through.
“That bad, huh? This is from detention earlier today. The Carrows are getting more creative.”
Percy didn’t want to make Neville feel worse, so he stammered, “Um no, it’s not really that bad . . .”
Neville turned to look at Percy and laughed, “Percy, Mate, you are a terrible liar. Just get on with it.” Neville moved to pull off his T-shirt and winced.
Percy didn’t think anyone had ever referred to him as “Mate” before. It was rather a good feeling. He stopped Neville from removing his shirt. “If you don’t care about this T-shirt, I think it will hurt less if I just cut it off.” Neville nodded.
Percy did a cloth-severing charm on the shoulder seams. The front of Neville’s T-shirt fell to the ground, but the back was stuck on by all the blood. Percy gently pulled it off and tossed it in the bin. He had to press his lips together tightly to keep from vomiting at the sight of Neville’s back, which was so torn up, Percy couldn’t even tell where to do the charms to knit skin back together. There were going to be scars. He used his wand to wash Neville’s back, and siphon off the blood, performed a disinfectant charm, liberally applied the murtlap essence to help with the pain, and then poured on the dittany. Even though Neville’s back was smoking and had to be very painful, he didn’t even wince. Percy thought that he would have passed out in the same situation.
Neville glanced over his shoulder at his back, and said, “Thanks, Perce. That’s a lot better. I could certainly use a drink. You?”
“Yeah, sounds good.” Percy followed Neville as he went back into his room pausing to grab a clean T-shirt before heading back downstairs.