Percy has a private obsession.
Just like that, just the way his mother would say it. In that crisp no-nonsense tone Molly Weasley still used on her sons, grown or not. Over and over again he told it to himself, in the privacy of his own mind. You're a fool.
On particularly bad days it became Perceival Andrew Weasley, you're a /bloody fool./
Swearing or no, it didn't seem to help.
It was a deep voice and it never failed to startle him badly. The topmost scroll on the pile he was carrying started to slip when he jumped and he watched in a sort of horrified fascination as it tipped, hung precariously, and then gave in to gravity and tumbled towards the floor along with half a dozen of its fellows. They landed with a loud rustling crash at his feet.
Somewhere, one of the junior clerks snickered.
Face blazing, Percy hastily stooped and gathered up the armful. "Coming, Mr. Crouch!"
Coming, Mr. Crouch. Yes, Mr. Crouch. No, Mr. Crouch. Here, let me get that for you, Mr. Crouch... What the primarily smart-mouthed horde of Molly and Arthur Weasley's other sons would never know was that "Prissy" Percy could mimic himself more savagely then they ever could. Still feeling the heated rush in his cheeks, Percy tucked the slightly crumpled scrolls beneath one elbow and scurried towards the door of Crouch's office.
You're a fool.
Maybe it did help, just a little. It kept him from fidgeting as he stood there just inside the door, shoulders back, head up. It kept the scrolls in his grasp from doing a repeat performance of their swan dive towards the floor. You're a fool.
And then the man behind the heavy wooden desk looked up from the paper he was signing and it didn't help in the slightest.
Percy knew all of the rumors and all of the whispers traded around the tables when the clerks were at their lunch break. "The old bastard" was probably the nicest thing Bartemius Crouch was ever called by his subordinates out of the man's hearing, and there were quite a few worse things when the work load became heavy. "Starched" was another word frequently used, and "stuffed" a third. Even Percy, when the evening hours were stretching long into the night and the stack of scrolls on his desk seemed to be getting higher instead of smaller no matter how many complaints he answered, had been known to mutter a few less than complimentary things that might have contained the words "bastard" and "dictator" in them.
But that was only when Crouch was nowhere in sight. That was only when the man's stern, dark gaze wasn't fixed on him. Only when Percy wasn't desperately hoping the frantic pounding of his heart somewhere in the vicinity of his throat wasn't actually audible to the older man, because it was certainly loud enough to him. Only when the pit of his stomach wasn't filled with that awful fluttery feeling, like he'd swallowed a dozen snitches, and his face wasn't burning the same shade as his hair.
In short, only when he wasn't being the fool he kept accusing himself of being.
"Ah, Weasley." Crouch had a crisp way of speaking, as exact as everything else about him, from the carefully parted and combed back shock of his greying hair to the precisely creased folds of his robe. Gesturing Percy closer, he extended a scroll across the expanse of the desk. "Here."
Almost stumbling in his haste, Percy stepped forward to take the scroll, awkwardly juggling the ones he already held to be able to fumble the tie open and unroll the first inch or so. At first glance the narrow looping lines of ink made no sense at all; only on a closer look did he identify the criss crossing script as Veela. Or possibly Fae. No... no, it had to be Veela. Only Veela would write an official correspondence to the Ministry of Magic in perfume scented purple ink.
"They'll need an answer as soon as possible," Crouch told him. "It should be in the post first thing tomorrow morning."
The older man used a spiced aftershave; Percy could just catch the subtle hint of it from across the desk. He swallowed, dryly, finding his eyes caught and held by the glint of the gold wedding band on Crouch's hand. "Yes sir. I'll get on it immediately."
"Good." Just that, nothing more. No dismissal; Crouch assumed Percy knew he was dismissed, and Percy knew better then to wait around for anything else. Scroll in hand, he backed out of the office.
It was like a spell, really. A glamour of some sort. As soon as he was out of the office, out of Crouch's presence, reality returned like the brisk closing of a door. The snitches in his stomach abruptly turned into very heavy bludgers instead.
Sighing, Percy went back to his own desk, a modest affair tucked into a corner of the outer office. The scrolls he had been carrying were dumped unceremoniously onto the surface, then promptly swept back off and out of the way along with a stack of paper, a half eaten sandwich, and a used quill as he cleared a spot to work. A huge whoosh of heavy, sweet scent rose from the scroll as he unrolled it, making him sneeze; waving a hand to clear it away, he glared at the fanciful lines of script.
Percy had been an exemplary student in school with top marks and he had a decent working grasp of several languages. It was one of the reasons he'd gotten his current post. But Bartemius Crouch was fluent in over 200 languages, human and non-human, and he had a tendency to forget that others - such as his employees - weren't. Sighing again, Percy dug around beneath the stacks on his desk. It was promising to be a long night with a dictionary and "1001 Veela Verbs" close at hand as he puzzled out conjugations. Groaning quietly, Percy slipped his glasses off and rubbed at his aching eyes. They felt swollen and his choked up sinuses had long since waved a white flag of defeat before the perfume wafting up off the scroll. Sniffling in vain, he fumbled through his pockets for a handkerchief.
A glance at his watch proved it was late - quite a bit later than he had thought. Startled, Percy glanced around the quiet office. He was the only one left at his desk; the others had all gone home and the offices were dark except for the one light by him. Rubbing sourly at his eyes again, Percy slid his glasses back on and reached for his quill. Penning an appropriately official reply to the scroll was taking much longer then deciphering the original had. He was, he judged, about three quarters of the way through. Another few hours, he promised himself firmly. Just another few hours and he could go home.
He was deep in the midst of trying to decide the proper word order of a compound sentence when the sound of a door made him jump, his quill streaking a line of ink through a word. Swearing softly, he muttered the charm to erase the line, the Veela words he had strung so carefully together going right out of his head.
Footsteps made him glance up, only to jump all over again at the sight of Crouch beside his desk. The older man was looking at him, frowning slightly.
The snitches in his stomach, which had been decently asleep for hours, started to furious life again. "Sir! I... ah..."
Crouch frowned harder. "Weasley? What are you still doing here?"
"Ah... just finishing that response, sir... to the Veela, sir..." he was babbling, his voice tight and breathless, but he couldn't seem to stop. His lungs seized up altogether as Crouch leaned forward, reaching past him to pick up the scroll he had been writing.
The older man's dark eyes slid over the lines of text and Percy wondered, dimly, if the rushing in his ears might be a very bad sign indeed. But then Crouch nodded slightly, putting the parchment back on the desk, and he found he could breathe after all. "That looks fine. Weasley..." Crouch paused, frowning slightly again. "Perry, isn't it?"
All the blood was rushing to his cheeks again and his voice cracked slightly. "Percy, sir."
"Percy. Yes. Well, Percy," a heavy hand descended briefly on his shoulder, warm through the material of his shirt, the fingertips curving into the hollow of his muscle, and Percy was quite certain the fumes from the Veela scroll were at last going to overcome him and he was going to faint, right then and there, "why don't you go home. You can finish this in the morning."
"Sir?" He sounded dim and distant to his own ears and wherever all of the blood in his body had gotten to he was fairly certain it wasn't being pumped through his heart because that organ appeared to have up and gone on strike without warning.
The hand tightened for just a fleeting moment, then withdrew, the entirety of the contact so brief that Percy wondered if he might have imagined it. "In the morning, then," Crouch said politely and stepped back. A flicker of wand and the older wizard was gone, leaving Percy entirely alone in the darkened office.
Letting go a breath he hadn't been aware of holding, Percy glanced down. He was, he realized, still clutching his quill and the tip had broken off from the strength of his grip. When he set it down his fingers protested, cramped from long hours of writing. He shook his hand out, turned off the lights automatically and fumbled out his own wand to apparate home.
It wasn't until later, in the quiet of his own room, that he remembered he had left his outer robe slung over the back of his chair at work. Or his inkwell open. Or half a dozen other things he would normally have taken the time and care to see to, left unfinished or undone.
And it wasn't until he had changed and crawled into the welcome confines of his own bed, the room dark and sleepy around him, that he dared to drop a hand over the edge of the bed and grope until his fingertips touched fabric. It was there, trapped in the material of his shirt, almost overwhelmed in the lingering scent of the Veela perfume but just barely there if he held it close and breathed deep.
The sharp, musky scent of a man's spiced aftershave.
Percy closed his eyes, his hand fisting in the hapless material. "Perceival Andrew Weasley," he told himself, the whispered words snapped out bitterly, "you're a bloody damned fool."