Percy Weasley came uninvited to the final battle, terrified but determined.
As a child he had been the odd one out, he had grown up to be a man that didn't quite fit. Sure, Ron might have felt the undeniable pressure of his older brother's successes, but Percy was the joke. He was the proverbial baby left underneath the mulberry bush. It took more than shared hair colour and freckles to make you feel like you belonged. By the time he was five Percy had known something was wrong, the twins were already as thick as thieves and spent their days covered in some substance or other, typically mud or jam, communicating in what had almost become their own language. His two older brothers, while not having shared a womb, were as close as the two that had. Bill and Charlie spent their time constructing fantastical adventures that they played out together in their shared imagination in the fields surrounding the Burrow.
But Percy didn't like his clothes getting dirty, and he didn't know how to have boisterous exploits or plot schemes. He couldn't climb trees, and he didn't like to lie to his mother. So when his brothers asked him to play, Percy pretended not to want to, as he got older he would say that their games were 'silly' and instead of joining in he would sit by himself, away from all of the fun, safe from them discovering he was different. Or so he thought. Eventually, they stopped asking. The worst part was that he only had himself to blame.
Percy just wanted to belong, to be someone's best… anything, to be the first choice.
He wanted to matter.
Percy squared his shoulders as the tips of the castle turrets, familiar as the crooked house he grew up in, came into view. He had been tipped off by Aberforth Dumbledore that it was happening today. After receiving the communication, Percy had immediately made his way to the imposing castle gates, frightened, not only of the forces at Voldemort's disposal but also of his reception from the side of the light.
He had known in his heart that he had been in the wrong for several months. It wasn't a sudden revelation. The list of what Percy wasn't was lengthy, but he knew he was intelligent and perceptive. In some way, he felt he had always known the decisions he made might not have been the right ones, but once he had broken from his family, there didn't seem to be any way back. His job had been all he had left, all that was his. Percy was well aware it was nothing position, even when he had first gotten it. It was worse as the months had rolled on, as their world had grown darker he had known why they wanted to keep him there, why he wasn't already dead. They wanted information, Percy supposed he could at least be proud of himself there, he had never betrayed a secret, no matter how inconsequential it may have seemed.
Percy tried to focus on the job he had and shut out the rest, he thought he might have even been doing some good, even if he knew he didn't have the respect of his superiors, or his peers, but the lack of respect from those around him was hardly a new experience.
One argument with his dad and his whole family had turned their backs on him. Percy shook his head, it wasn't all them, the disagreement had left him bitter, and he had done nothing to mend the broken fences, though he maintained that he hadn't gone out of his way to make things worse either, apart from the Christmas gift. Percy was still holding onto a lot of guilt for sending back the chunky knit sweater his mum had made for him. At the time he had received it he couldn't help viewing it as an empty gesture, hastily stuck in the post with no note. He had assumed it was being sent solely so they could say they had sent it, it had arrived late enough, too late for him to be able to send anything in return. In spite of the fact that his family's gifts had not only having been purchased but were also wrapped and neatly placed against the wall of his living room. He hadn't brought a tree; there hadn't seemed to be a point.
Percy wondered as he trudged through the open gates. If he would ever be able to make it up to her, his mother, if only she knew how many times he had wished he could have asked for it back. She would never know how many days after leaving the office, deathly afraid, to sit in his flat alone, had he had pulled on an old homemade jumper purely for the comfort it provided and wished things were better.
In the beginning, the first days after the fallout, Percy was ashamed to say now that he had been relieved. He knew that it was wrong to think that way, but even though he cared about his family, he often felt crushed by them as well. As the days passed, the little feeling of reprieve mushroomed into a blanketing solace. No more apologising for caring about his job, or being fastidious about his appearance. No more enduring the kindly meant barbs from his mother; 'If only you could be more like Fred or George, I'm sure you would be happier if you were more carefree'. 'If you could only find a vocation like Bill or Charlie, I'm sure you would be happier if you found something more worthwhile to pursue'. No more enduring the censure of his siblings or the gentle ambition shaming of his father.
Percy had felt the loss though. It may have been masked for a little while, but it was always there, lingering beneath the surface. He may not have always felt like he belonged with them, but they were his family, the only one he had, he loved them. Percy was not as family orientated as his younger siblings, they were all only too happy to show up for roasts on Sunday's, and let Molly run their lives. He had played along to once, but he was older now, and he needed to run his own, or at least he had been eager to do so, back when he still had one.
They were happy enough for Bill and Charlie to be independent, no one ever questioned them. 'Apart from the earring or the hair' Bill would say exasperatedly, 'apart from the fact I live so far away' Charlie would grumble, and Percy would have to bite the inside of his mouth, until blisters formed on the inside of his cheeks, to stop himself from screaming at them. At least she likes who you are! If only his defects could have been solved by a change of aesthetic or proximity.
And so Percy had arrived at the school, his first ever refuge, scared of rejection, but knowing that he had to help, in whatever way he would be allowed. He needed people to know for certain that his allegiances, whatever the strains, would always be with his family. His much-maligned stance had never been a moral one, at the time he made it, his decision to continue working at the Ministry had been wholly political. He hadn't seen the dangerous forces at work because he hadn't wanted to look. He had finally achieved something for himself, and he didn't want to peer underneath the surface only to discover how hollow the crown truly was.
But eventually, he could no longer hide from the reality that was evident all around him. By the time Percy had faced the truth of the Death Eater control at the Ministry, he had been too scared to leave.
Percy made it inside the familiar castle walls and found his family, as distinctive and copious as the Weasley's were they could never be difficult to find, no matter how much his feet instinctively dragged. Despite his trepidation, he had spoken to them and had been embraced back into the fold. He wasn't silly enough to think this was the end of the matter. Percy was sure he would have to discuss his moral failings in great detail later, but for now, all was well, or as well as it could be while standing perilously on the cusp of a battle.
And then Fred had fallen. It had all happened so quickly; they had just shared a laugh, something that hadn't happened with one of his brothers for years, then before Percy could comprehend it, the wall came down.
He had battled fiercely after that, as rage of an intensity he had never experienced coursed through his veins. The steadfast grip with which he held the rule book was thrown off as he launched grey curse after grey curse, no longer caring about the state of his soul when this was over.
At the end of the battle, they were silently crowded around Fred's broken form while two competing thoughts ran around Percy's head fighting for dominance; it was over, and Fred was dead. Neither was in any way comprehensible.
Percy moved to stand with his family, around the back of Ron, who was being rocked slightly by Harry's hand on his shoulder, Harry who was also comforting a sobbing Ginny. No one excluded Percy from the circle of grief, no one pointed out his deficiencies, and no one said it should be him lying there instead, but his mind yelled it over and over, in their voices, and in his own.
While they didn't block him, at least not intentionally, Percy couldn't help but notice that there was no real place for him either, he stood back slightly, observing how they all slotted around each other unconsciously. He had never been one for comfortably fitting in. He remained there for a while, locked in grief and uncertainty.
Where did he go from here?
Hermione Granger came to the final battle tired, worn, and deathly afraid. The seemingly endless months on the run had taken everything she had, mentally and physically. Given everything she had already endured she found it somewhat pathetic that she wanted to cower away from the pitying glances of her former classmates, their concern making her even more self-aware.
Hermione forced down her bitterness at their hesitant enquiries over her health. They were only trying to be kind, she told herself. No, she wasn't alright, she was almost starved, and still recovering from horrific torture. If that wasn't enough whenever she got a moment she was filled with panic worrying about the future ramifications of breaking into a Goblin run institution.
For as much as she had been desperate to end it all, Hermione had been dreading this fight. She had never been much of duellist, so far she had gotten by with luck and academics. The few skirmishes she had been involved in had not ended well for her, and she was apprehensive she wouldn't survive the day.
But Hermione had done what she had to do, she had buried her fear and squared her shoulders, running once more into the jaws of death at Harry's side. The battle had been gruesome, bloody, and when it was all over Hermione watched in a state of numb disbelief as Voldemort's body crumpled to the floor. The moment was staggeringly anti-climactic. All of this… All of the pain and suffering they had endured and the unstoppable Dark Lord fell to the ground like any other man. Somehow against all the odds they had done it, the Horcruxes were destroyed, and Voldemort was gone, for good this time, but the cost had been so very, very high.
Hermione added the image of a lifeless Harry being carried by a sobbing Hagrid to a list of tableaus she would be carrying with her for the rest of her days, as prominent as the scars she now carried on her torso and arms. Hermione had hoped, prayed and worked towards these last hours in growing intensity since she was eleven, fighting to save Harry, fighting to make the world accept her. She had expected to share in the outpouring of relief and jubilation that she could see in the bright faces of pockets of people all over the Great Hall. She had even dreamed about it, had clutched the thought of the expected relief falling on her like gentle rain close to her chest at the darkest times. But the feeling never came. All Hermione could register was the numb sensation that had begun months before giving way, though instead of exaltation, all she had within her was panic.
She had been shelving so much hurt over the last two years, every time some new devastation had arisen she would pack it up in a tiny box and archive it in her mind to deal with later. Hermione feared it was finally later.
She walked through the dust covered rubble in the Great Hall; her eyes fixed on the blank ceiling. Hermione didn't know why the elaborate charm wasn't working; maybe the castle was sentient enough to know that now was not the time for the sun to shine down on them.
It was over.
Hermione's aimless steps faltered as she walked passed Remus and Tonks, their prone forms lying side by side on makeshift cots, their fingers reaching towards each other even in death. They had not deserved this. Remus had been fighting against the world his whole life, and now he had lost his, just when there was finally the possibility that he would have been given a chance to live it.
Grief slid to despair when Hermione saw the last body in the line of horrors. Fred was lying flat on the floor, cold and pale with the ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. George's anguished cries cut through her, making her stomach roll, and bile surge in her throat. Harry moved to stand between Ron and Ginny seamlessly slotting into the circle of bereavement, instinctively knowing his place. Hermione stilled, she didn't know what to do, or where to go. She didn't want to break up the loop and had no idea how to offer comfort best, instead, she moved to stand behind Harry silently.
Harry laid a firm hand on Ron's shoulder and Hermione's fingers reflectively twisted before she took a small step back, wrapping her arms around herself. Where Ron had always rebelled against the perception of being in Harry's shadow, Hermione had relished it, she liked not being seen, and she excelled in offering practical if at times unemotional support. That was ending now, Harry and Ginny clung to one another, with an intensity that bordered on desperation. That was what Harry needed, what he really needed, he wouldn't need her support anymore. There were no more runes to translate.
The gentle revelation made her take another step back, suddenly feeling as if she were intruding. Hermione had once thought that her relationship with Ron would strengthen and morph into something more, but now she knew in her very bones that wasn't the case. He had kissed her in the chamber earlier, a moment that should have been filled with so much passion, ignited by years of suppressed feeling, and spurred on by the very real possibility of immediate death, but the fervour never came. The kiss that she had been waiting years for was empty. Ron had known it too; she had seen it on his face as he moved away, his eyes almost too wide, clear confusion transforming into something that looked nearly apologetic.
Hermione looked back to Harry; her friend held Ginny firmly as the little redhead's world fell apart. Ron would never be her anchor in the storms of life, and she would never be his. They loved each other, but it wasn't enough, it wasn't the right kind. Their love was rooted in friendship, but it was competitive and combative, their love could bring out the worst in each other. Hermione had experienced her fill with fighting; she needed understanding, desire and security.
Hermione looked around the tattered hall at a loss; she had been there the whole way through, this had been as much her war as it had been Harry's right from the beginning, but now? The goal was complete; there were no battles left to fight, no more books to read, and no equations to be solved.
As her eyes fell back on the mourning Weasley's, she noticed Percy shuffling in next to her, awkward and stoic in the face of his brother's death. She was almost taken aback by his reserve until she saw his eyes, the haunted look they held was almost too painful to observe, and Hermione had to look away lest the tears that had been streaming down her cheeks unchecked gave way to sobs. She couldn't break, not yet, not here.
Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione regarded the smudged sleeve of Percy's ripped button down shirt and bruised fingers, she was glad that he had made it back. She remembered how mad at him she had been the night of the Quidditch World Cup Final. How stupid such an argument seemed in the face of all that had happened since she supposed the depth of her feeling at the time was because she had been disappointed in him.
Hermione had always been a straight laced kind of girl, regulation uniforms, homework submitted on time, and a good healthy, at least in her opinion, respect for the rules. When she had first come to Hogwarts Percy had quickly become the poster boy for her entire professional ethos, he valued education, and people that took learning seriously, he was studious and well-mannered, and he had ambition. When he had broken with his family it had been a blow to Hermione, not that she had ever said anything about it, it hadn't been her business. Nothing was more important to her than fam... Hermione's chest constricted as she thought of them, her mum and dad, she supposed she had no family anymore.
Maybe he had noticed her distress, or maybe he was just in need of comfort himself, but as Hermione raised a hand to her rib cage and willed herself to breathe Percy looked down at her and placed one of his large, soft hands through her free one. She closed her eyes and intertwined her fingers with his, before offering him a watery smile as her mind drifted back to her relative orphan like status.
Where did she go from here?
Percy had never given much consideration to what he would do when the war ended. Life as a government official was all he had ever aspired to, and while the idea of a return to the Ministry did not fill him with the same sense of restless need as it would have in days gone by, the thought of anything else was entirely unconscionable. Percy didn't want to admit to himself that he was scared of going back, but he was, the Ministry during the war had been a truly terrifying place to be. The sacred walls of power that he had dreamed of walking down since before he could remember had been blemished, permanently. Their imagined sheen being scrubbed away as his eyes were opened to what lurked beneath.
But his scruples were for nought; any hesitation was purely wool gathering, he simply wasn't qualified for anything else.
Percy spent a few weeks at the Burrow, doing what he could to cement the newly healed rift between himself and his family, and being close by for when they buried Fred. He forced himself to remain after they had committed his younger brother to the earth though it had taken a strength he hadn't known he had within him. As he walked around the wake, mindlessly offering plates of food that no one wanted, Percy felt more of an imposter than ever before. He only allowed himself to return to his flat, and to work, when he could honestly say that he wasn't running.
The clean-up following the last battle and Voldemort's defeat was a monumental task and one that Percy threw himself into wholeheartedly. He would regret his actions, or lack thereof, in the lead up to open war for the rest of his life, but that didn't change who he was. He was curt, officious, and a great believer in things being run properly.
Kingsley Shacklebolt became temporary Minister for Magic in the void that had been created in their government. It had been intended to be an interim solution while they sorted out both the physical and judicial mess that had been created. However, whatever the eventual plan had been, Kingsley was popular, fair, and charismatic, in short, just the type of wizard that the populous needed to lead them out of the rubble. Very soon after he had first taken office Kingsley was officially elected as Minister, and the scrub down of magical government began in earnest.
Outside of the known and marked Death Eaters, there were a vast number of employees from the corridors of power whose actions needed to be reviewed. Some had directly taken orders from Voldemort, or his inner circle, some had provided funds to his cause, and some had exploited the upheaval to settle old scores. The investigations were swift; the evidence was plentiful. Not many had thought to hide their actions, for a long time Voldemort's' victory had seemed inevitable. The punishments given out ranging from time in Azkaban to dismissal, relocation or demotion.
Percy had been incredibly nervous in his first meeting with the new Minister, he had never raised his wand in aggression during that time, but due to the nature of his work in the last year he had been privy to enough illuminating material for them to know he had seen demonstrable evidence of what Voldemort had been up to, and he hadn't fought against them.
Percy had breathed a sigh of relief, one that he knew he would curse himself as a coward for later when Kingsley informed him they had received word from Aberforth Dumbledore. The landlord had apparently kept a detailed record of the intelligence Percy had passed on to him, with the hope that it would reach the Order. He took some heart in discovering that the small details he had been able to send, had been relied upon to save lives.
They were not looking to assign specific roles yet, the dust had not yet truly settled, but Percy had a mind for organisation, and so he was asked to join the committee that would be tasked with overseeing the removal of corrupt policies implemented in the last year and reforming the Wizengamot. Many bodies like the Muggle-Born Registration Commission could be disbanded immediately, but ensuring that the ratified laws that had allowed their inception were repealed, and establishing that all of those affected by them had been visited and compensated by the Ministry would take time.
Percy accepted immediately, and his life became a series of meetings and formal apologies at work, mirrored by regular meetings and apologies at home while he continued to try to make amends for his transgressions. The routine of his existence did not hold the same appeal as it once had before Percy would have been focused on his job as his sole source of gratification, but it had been exposed as a weak, hollow fulfilment.
At the end of every fifteen hour day, Percy would return home to his small flat and stare at one of the many unpersonalised white walls and attempt to sum up the required energy to eat something before going to bed and repeating the process all over again.
Was this all there would ever be to his existence?
After the battle, Hermione travelled to Australia by Muggle methods. Months of apparating all over the country, a few nasty splinches, and flying on the back of an enraged, blind dragon, had made the idea of a plane seem slightly romantic. Ron and Harry remaining dutifully by her side. Hermione had protested at first, had said they didn't need to come, and Harry had reminded her that the three of them had pledged to see through whatever was coming until the end and that the end hadn't been when Voldemort had fallen, things needed to be put right.
They were with her when she discovered that the memory charm she performed was not reversible. She had been warned by Professor McGonagall, and yet that warning had not prepared her for the reality of her parents not coming back with her. Harry had carried her to bed that night after they had consumed three bottles of Muggle wine between them. Hermione's body was not adjusted to alcohol, having spent her youth fighting evil or studying instead of exploring the usual adolescent pursuits of getting drunk at parties and chasing boys, the alcohol had taken down her defences, she cried so much she shook.
They had all climbed into bed together that night, as they had while on the run, seeking comfort from each other's presence. Hermione was aware, somewhere in her wine-addled mind, that this was a goodbye to that time, she didn't have the energy to feel sad about it, it was just how it would be from now on.
The trio returned home, or back to England at least, and as part of the Ministry's PR campaign to assure the general populace that all was well, she received an Order of Merlin and a hefty sum, enough for her to get herself a place when she wanted. Molly had insisted that she stay at the Burrow, but Harry had demanded she move into Grimmauld Place with him. Hermione preferred the second option, much as she loved the Weasleys, being raised as an only child she at times found the noise and chaos that surrounded the well-meaning family of redheads a little overwhelming.
So she moved with Harry and relished in the all-consuming task of getting the ancestral House of Black up to a liveable condition, any remaining hours were dedicated to trying to determine what to do next. Harry and Ron had both accepted eased entry into the Auror training program, but Hermione had turned the offer down. With her dreams, and even at times even her waking moments, filled with images from the past she could find no appeal at all in going off to look for more danger. Her friends had been disappointed with her choice but not surprised.
When a letter arrived from Headmistress McGonagall, asking if she would like to return to take her N.E.W.T.s Hermione accepted quickly, grateful to have somewhere to go, and some purpose to aim for.
She watched as Ginny received her Hogwarts letter the next day and her eyes fell to the shiny gold Head Girl badge that clattered to the table top. Hermione was numb. Harry asked later if she was upset and she didn't have an answer. In a way, Hermione supposed she was, but it was muted as if the pain was not her own but only sympathy for the suffering of a dear friend. She felt terrible for fifteen-year-old Hermione Granger, who had started her fifth year with a gleaming prefect badge affixed to her robes, already planning the kind of Head Girl she would be. But today's Hermione? Now that she was nineteen none of that seemed to matter much anymore. Hermione had enough of titles after her name; war hero, the brain of the golden trio, brightest witch of her age, each more meaningless than the last. She had plastered her face with the best smile she could manage and congratulated her friend earnestly, if a little crisply, about her achievement.
Hermione had existed the rest of the summer, flying under the radar as much as possible and holding onto the hope of escape that Hogwarts could provide. Only when she arrived back at the castle in September, she began to wonder if she had made a mistake. Everything was so different, in all of her anxiety in the build up to the first day of term Hermione hadn't once anticipated how out of place, how old she would feel at the school. Since the night of the Death Eater break-in in her sixth year, the familiar halls no longer vibrated with the warmth and security she had once steadfastly associated with her once second home.
She had no home, first or second anymore.
Ginny and Luna were there, and that provided some small comfort, though without Harry and Ron to chide along, or a Dark Lord to vanquish, Hermione felt more rudderless than ever.
She committed her mind to obtaining the grades that she deserved and watched the months tick by, oscillating between the ratcheting anticipation as she edged towards finally fishing her education and the looming dread of having to find some other occupation to fill her life when this was over.
Was this all there would ever be to her existence?
A month before the end of her final term, Hermione received a note requesting that she visit the headmistress for a 'careers discussion'. She supposed that as a new Head of Gryffindor House had yet to be appointed, the headmistress still had to oversee these meetings. She was conscious again of that other Hermione, her former self, who lingered in the recesses of her mind, the girl who would have run into the office, almost too determined. The girl who would have bounced in her seat with nervous energy resolved to tell her most respected teacher all the careers that she had considered and impatiently waited as she was told which one her professor believed would suit her best.
Hermione was keenly aware of the disappointment she was to that memory, and the failure she had been all year. She had seen it in her teacher's eyes, could almost hear their confused mutterings, 'we all had such high hopes for her, such a pity'. She had heard something murmured about her once, as she walked passed the staffroom. Hermione couldn't identify which teacher it was that lamented with sadness that she had 'let her light dim' and she didn't want to know. The casual right off had stung. She had worked impossibly hard that year to ensure she had never fallen behind, she had maintained the same grades she had achieved before the Horcrux hunt, top of the class above the board and yet they still weren't happy. Academic prowess it seemed was not her issue. Hermione could not obscure the level of detachment she had for classes that was what unsettled them. Her hand no longer shot into the air to answer questions, she no longer submitted reams and reams of parchment extra, she was still a bright girl, she knew that much, and she wasn't cutting corners, but her heart wasn't in it anymore.
The students were disappointed too, Hermione supposed there was some thin celebrity status in her possession now, but she couldn't bring herself to act as they wanted. She didn't want to sit around at lunchtime to regale them with stories of the now fabled year on the run. They wanted to hear about the quest for glory, the adventure, the battles, the freedom of life on the edge. All Hermione could remember was being cold, hungry and afraid, passing her time cataloguing the growing imperfections on her tiny form.
People wanted to see battle scars, to see where she had been burnt by a dragon or blemished by cursed gold, without any deeper understanding of the ridiculousness of such notions they viewed them as badges of honour. Hermione wondered what the general reaction would be if she rolled back her sleeves and shoved her inferiority in their faces. She could show them a real battle scar, one that would be with her for the rest of her days. She would never do it; she didn't want their ill-informed pity stacked on top of her own self-loathing.
At the requested time Hermione dutifully, if a little reluctantly, walked down the halls to what had been Dumbledore's office, she sat down and held her tea absently as the stern woman went through Hermione's academic record and aptitude, before talking about specific careers. Auror, Curse-Breaker, Ministry Worker, Healer, professor, the list went on and on, and Hermione felt more despondent with each new role that came up for discussion.
She left the meeting an hour later and ambled towards the Black Lake to gain some peace looking out at the water. The truth was Hermione didn't know what to do, and the feeling was one she found incredibly disconcerting. She had always been ruled by future planning, having been that way since she declared to her parents that she would like to work in a government office at six years old. Those plans had to be adjusted when she found out she was a witch, but only an inch or two to the left, as she reimagined her life working successfully within the Ministry of magic.
It wasn't what she wanted now. The war had made Hermione understand what her blood status meant in the real world, the world outside Hogwarts walls. People would say that everything was fine now that the homicidal maniac and his followers were dead, and that was true for the most part, but the prejudice remained. Sure, she was no longer on the run, no longer fighting off hexes or cursed blades but what endured was just as dangerous. It was whispered in coffee shops, it was backhanded compliments about how well she had done, considering her background.
Would people accept advice from a Muggle-born Healer? Would they be concerned about their blood touching in case they could catch her impurity? Would the masses feel protected by a Muggle-born Auror?
Hermione's aim for years had simply been to do some good in the world, how could she do that in a world that didn't want her help?
She needed advice from someone she respected and trusted, someone that could help her get some much-needed direction. After a long time staring out at the lake in quiet contemplation Hermione retrieved some parchment and writing materials from her bag.
She began to pen a letter.
The all-consuming political review of Wizarding Britain had taken the best part of a year. While there was still, as ever, much to be done, the bulk of the 'putting right' had now been completed and in a few months they would be able to look to the future, and the reorganisation stage would begin. As Kingsley had said right at the beginning of their efforts, there was no point in redecorating a condemned house; they had to level the structure to the ground first. In practice that had meant things had to get a hell of a lot more ugly before they started to look even marginally better.
It had been hard work, but they were almost at the point of getting things running again. The next step was appointing the Department Heads, beginning a massive recruitment drive that would be needed to fill in the many holes that were left from those that had been removed.
Percy returned to his small office, following the weekly lunch meeting he had set up with Ron in the Ministry canteen. The boys were nearing the end of their accelerated training year, and despite looking faintly bruised and a bit dazed from morning drills, Percy was sure his youngest brother had never looked happier. He hated himself for the resentment that swelled within him.
Of all of his siblings Percy had always felt the most affinity with Ron, they were not similar, far from it, in fact, they were opposites, but he recognised that like himself, his younger brother had not found a comfortable place at home. Odd numbers were hard in a social setting, and it would be a high society hostess' nightmare not to have an equal table at a dinner party. Those issues were magnified when it came to children. Ginny might have been seen as the obvious choice for the one left behind, but nothing could have been further from the truth. She had always had an easy friendship with her brothers, and infinite attention from her parents, delighted at finally being blessed with a girl.
Ron had tried desperately to be included with Fred and George, in a way that Percy had never known how. Not that it had worked any better for Ron, but then his younger brother had found his place when he went to Hogwarts, gaining two best friends that operated within a dynamic all on their own, his friendship with Harry Potter was more familial than he had ever had with Percy.
In the months since the battle Percy had continued his solitary existence, he was hoping that following the upcoming reorganisation things would go back to some kind of normal, and he would be able to shake off the lingering feeling of dissatisfaction with his life. He didn't want any more than he had, he just wanted to find a way to be happy with it.
Moving past the rows of neatly organised files Percy reached his desk and flicked through the day's mail. After diligently responding to those inquiries that could be answered immediately, and requesting the information he would need to answer the others via interdepartmental memo, he came to the last letter.
The envelope was addressed to him in a neat, even hand that he enjoyed looking at immensely, good penmanship was sadly a forgotten art. He opened it steadily and was somewhat surprised to find the short missive was from Hermione Granger. She asked after him and his family and reeled off all the other expected protocol one used when writing a letter to someone they didn't know intimately, and then he got to the heart of her enquiry.
I would like to beg some time from you, if I may, to discuss my future career prospects. I find myself without anyone to consult with on this matter at present, and I believe you may be the best placed of my acquaintance to offer guidance.
I understand you must be very busy with all of the work being undertaken by the Ministry, so I will completely understand if this is a request you are unable to fulfil. Should this be the case, I assure you I will have no hard feelings.
Percy stared unblinkingly at the letter for several seconds. His first inclination was to decline immediately, after all, he was, as she had stated very busy and honestly, given the existential crisis he was currently facing over his own direction in life he was somewhat ill equipped to offer anything useful. What could he possibly have to offer the brightest witch of her age in terms of guidance? And yet he never reached for his quill to pen a quick apology; something gave him pause. So much so that after re-reading the short letter several times Percy placed the parchment back in the envelope and put it into his bag.
That night, when he had returned to his small flat, instead of staring at the walls, Percy stared at the neatly scribed parchment. No one had ever asked for his advice before, ever. Two large glasses of firewhisky later he went over to this neat desk and palmed a pot of ink.
He began to pen a letter.
Percy had eventually completed a response to Hermione's letter, though it took him a while to find the words he wanted to convey a willingness to help wherever he could. Following her unbelievably enthusiastic thanks, a few much shorter notes were sent back and forth, confirming a meeting. They decided on tea at Hogwarts, which seemed the easiest option, given the restrictions that Hermione currently had on her movement, despite her age, on paper she was still a schoolgirl. After speaking to Headmistress McGonagall about the plan, his old Head of House had happily approved the use of her old office.
Percy made it to main gates after apparating to Hogsmeade. He had initially tensed when he had seen Hagrid approaching the gates, if retracing his steps from months before up the long drive hadn't been bad enough. He had known, somewhere in the back of his mind, that the former gamekeeper would be the one to let him in, yet Percy wasn't prepared to come face to face with a member of the Order. Even now he carried the weight of being Arthur and Molly's wayward son. He forced down memories of the last time he had been there, the fear in his chest, the smoke in the air, and Fred's frozen face, reminding himself that he had been asked to be there that he was expected.
While trudging the familiar route, cordially chatting to the Care of Magical Creatures Professor, Percy took note of the reconstruction work that had been undertaken. Of course, whatever had been done the war could never be entirely wiped away, traces remained everywhere. In the walls, and the floor, but most notably in the subdued eyes of the students. Percy contemplated how many years it would take for the atmosphere to return to one of safety and learning, at least he hoped it would take years, the possibility that it might take generations was too depressing to contemplate.
Percy greeted the new Headmistress, who was waiting for him by the door and relaxed a little more as she smiled at him warmly. They both made pleasant enquiries of each other's lives, as was required, and the professor shortly moved off to spend an hour in the staffroom, leaving her old space at his disposal.
Moving within the room that Percy remembered in great detail from his time as a prefect he realised Hermione was not there yet, so he busied himself with setting up the tea service that Minerva, as she insisted he call her, had set out. He was still clinking cups when a shadow appeared in the doorway. Percy had left the door open, feeling that it would be weird for the former student in him to shut the door behind himself in a Professor's office, he heard a light knock against the frame and turned to see Hermione standing awkwardly.
"Hi, err, thank you for coming," she mumbled.
Percy was momentarily taken back by Hermione's appearance; she was so different to how he remembered her, so much older. That sounded silly, after all, he had seen her only a few months earlier, yet she seemed so unrecognisable. He wondered if he had ever seen her away from Harry and Ron before. Somehow she had long ago been categorised in his mind as a 'friend of his little brother' and as such his mental image of her, as with Ron's, had paused at about age fourteen.
She wasn't fourteen anymore.
The last time Percy had seen Hermione he apparently hadn't looked past the superficial changes to her appearance; the dirt she was covered in, or the sorrow etched onto her face. He had been paying attention to things other than how 'little Hermione Granger' had grown up. But she had, so much so that it almost seemed ridiculous for her to be wearing a school uniform. She had filled out since then, not that she could have done much else. She certainly couldn't have lost any more weight. Hermione had appeared positively waif-like at the final battle. The memory of her fingers intertwining with his had haunted Percy after that day. But the spectre was a pleasant one, some nights when he had sat alone in his flat he could almost have believed he could still feel her fingers. Even at a time when she had appeared so weak she still had it within her power to give so much strength to another. Percy had found himself awed by her.
Her body was that of a woman's now, despite still being small, her frame dominated by her large, bouncing curls. Her skin was slightly sun kissed, and she had a delightful spattering of freckles over her pert nose. Percy coughed as became aware of the route his thoughts had taken and concentrated desperately on fighting off the blush that he could feel rising in his cheeks.
He fixed his hands in front of himself, assessing as his gaze was it wasn't Hermione's unexpected maturity that had caught him off guard, it was her stance. She used to stand upright and alert, uniform gleaming, her eyes sharp and eager, now she looked… altered. She didn't exactly slouch, but she didn't seem confident in that quiet way she'd had before. She had lost the slight prickle to the air around her that told others that she couldn't have given a flying fuck what they thought of her. Hermione's hands pulled at the sleeves of her grey jumper, a garment that was so big it sat low on her fingers, and Percy noted how she had managed to make a thumb hole in one arm.
Maybe not everyone had come out of the war as cleanly as he had believed.
"I must confess I was surprised to receive your letter," he said, breaking the ice.
"Oh?" Hermione responded weakly.
"Yes, I always thought that of the three of you, 'the Great Hermione Granger', would have had a plan," Percy replied, trying to enthuse some levity in his tone, the style was unpractised to him, and it felt false even to his own ears.
He looked back over his shoulder, cringing at his clumsiness, to find Hermione paling, her teeth descending to bite her lip as if she would tear through it. "I'm sorry Miss Granger I didn't mean to cause-"
"I didn't… I don't have one," Hermione said, cutting him off and averting her eyes.
Percy didn't like how skittish she seemed, still standing in the doorway as if it gave her the option to bolt at any moment. "Do you mind me asking why?" he pressed softly.
"I wasn't sure I would survive."
Percy dropped the spoon he had been using to stir in milk at her blunt declaration.
"Sorry," Hermione continued, her cheeks flushing a little, "I've only ever been focused on the war, it seemed silly to plan anything beyond that. I didn't want to think that far ahead, and if by some miracle we all made it, I was sure I would just know what I wanted, and well, now I'm on the other side, and every knows where they are headed, and I'm… I'm alone."
Percy realised that despite being in her presence a hundred times before, Hermione didn't know her at all.
Hermione finally moved into the office as Percy finished making the tea, forcing herself to stop fidgeting with the cuffs of her jumper restlessly. Percy gestured for her to take a seat and she sat down, woodenly, trying to shake off the nerves that had been making her skin itch all morning. As soon as she had sent the letter asking for help Hermione had almost needed to sit on her hands to stop herself from sending another telling him to ignore the first. Asking for help wasn't her normal mode, though a tiny voice told her that was where she might have been going wrong. When he had sent a positive response she was so relieved, and yet now as she sat in front of him she felt so exposed, so raw, her nerves returned a new.
Hermione wasn't sure why she had admitted such a thing to Percy, a man who she didn't really know. In truth, since he had grasped for her hand as they stood together in the devastation at the final battle she had thought about him, a lot. Something about Percy's presence put her at ease. He didn't demand anything of her; he didn't know her before, so he had nothing tangible to measure her current self against, only a series of half formed observations and assumptions from years of vicarious acquaintance, the same she had of him.
Hermione looked up to regard Percy, who was busying himself with the tea service, she was envious of him having something to occupy his hands.
He looked different from his Hogwarts days, older, more world weary. His red hair was not quite the distinctive, vibrant ginger hue shared by Ron and the twins; it was a darker colour, more akin to the bright copper of Ginny's. It also had lots of natural curl that reminded her of the wedding photo she had seen of Molly in the kitchen at the Burrow. He kept it shorter than he had at school and the lack of the more familiar floppy fridge made his cheekbones more striking. Percy was tall, not as tall as Ron, few were, but easily over six feet. He lacked the athletic broad shoulders and lazy swagger that his brothers possessed, but there was something distinctly captivating about his lean frame. It was the way he held himself, Hermione decided almost absently, most of the Weasley's when still seemed to almost vibrate with the need to be off, to go to the next place, to get moving. Not Percy, he had a natural grace that only seemed visible when he held himself upright and motionless.
He was altered though, something about him was not quite the same as she remembered. He was still decked out in practical clothing, and there was very little fuss about his horned rimmed circular glasses, but Percy didn't seem as commanding as he had before.
"So, you wanted to talk about what to do next?"
Percy's politely worded question snapped Hermione out of her musings, and she felt the familiar dread seep into her skin as the enquiry registered in her mind. She fought against the mind blank that typically descended when being asked about her career, or the future in general. Reminding herself that she had asked Percy for help, it was not an interrogation.
Percy stepped forward to fold himself into the chair in front of her, and Hermione gratefully took the cup he offered, using the warm porcelain to centre her thoughts.
"Yes," she began softly, "I don't know what direction to go in, and since the war," she stilled, chewing the side of her tongue briefly before deciding on a change of tack. "This year I am not sure what would suit, nothing seems to be the right fit."
"I always had you down as a Ministry worker, Miss Granger," Percy stated plainly.
"Hermione, please," she bade automatically, and she was somewhat surprised at his subtle raise of eyebrows as if the courtesy had been unexpected.
"Okay, Hermione," he said with a small smile, "so, a no to the Ministry?"
She considered, Hermione knew how sensitive Percy could be about the importance of government and she didn't want to cause offence, especially when he had been so nice as to come and see her. "I'm just not sure it would be the place for a person like me," she said quietly, unconsciously touching the arm that carried her brand, courtesy of Bellatrix Lestrange.
Extraordinarily her Percy did not push, not like so many had, he placed down his cup and slapped his thighs, apparently infinitely more relaxed now the requisite pleasantries were over, and they had moved on to the 'problem to be solved'. "Well, ok, so not the Ministry. What do you enjoy?"
Hermione thought hard. She was suddenly struck by how bizarre it was that over the course of all the conversations she had endured so far no one had ever asked such a simple question.
"I err… I like reading, and research, and writing essays," she felt her face flush at the admission that had rolled off her tongue unchecked.
"There is nothing wrong with that Miss Gran… Hermione," Percy smiled, and she noticed how nice the expression looked on his face, it softened his features and made him look younger. "There are plenty of people that have made successful careers from independent research."
"Really?" Hermione replied quickly, though the flash of excitement was short lived, she realised she didn't know the first thing about how to pursue such an endeavour.
As if reading her thoughts Percy continued. "It may be best to speak to a few people that could put you in touch with some contacts, Kingsley for example. You could start out with contracts for different organisations, and spend the rest of your time pursuing what you wanted for independent publication through magazines or periodicals."
Hermione's mind was reeling, for the first time in months, she felt her synapses flutter and close, firing off messages, lists compiling in her brain. She could do this, she had the money from the Ministry as a starting point, and what Percy was saying made sense this could… This could work!
"Thank you, Percy, that was helpful, I feel... Well, it's good to feel," she said and flushed again, having not intended to make such a revealing statement.
"You're welcome, Hermione, it's nice to feel useful," Percy finished softly, and she smiled at him, grateful that he had tried to make her feel better. "I'm sure this would be an excellent career choice for you, it was one I considered for myself many times."
Hermione was taken aback by that information. "I had no idea you had ever contemplated anything other than the Ministry."
Percy smiled again though this one seemed a little strained and Hermione found she missed the real one immediately. "I am sure it would surprise you to know that I had any other thoughts or ambitions, one's that didn't pertain to becoming fastidious Ministry worker Weasley, I-"
"No it wasn't that at all, I just was curious," Hermione interjected, hating the way the conversation had turned.
"Well," Percy said a little harshly, "it was a long time ago, and research isn't suited to everyone. I'm not nearly as brilliant as you."
Hermione forced down the flutter she felt in her stomach at being labelled such a thing, by him of all people, it was hardly helpful at that moment. Percy gripped his tea cup till the whitening of his knuckles looked almost painful.
Hermione realised that despite being in his presence a hundred times before, she didn't know Percy at all.
Percy expectantly reviewed his note from Kingsley, as if the parchment would shoot up into the air like a howler and answer the questions he had swirling around in his brain. It was finally time for the new roles to be assigned and in line with the protocols that Percy himself had devised, he was due to report to the Minister's office at 10 am that day. He had been unable to complete any task to a proper standard since he had sat down at his desk at 8.30 precisely. Percy was anxious to get an idea of where he would fit into the new regime and yet he wasn't sure what to hope for, he had always just wanted a position in government, it had never mattered which particular cog he was assigned, as long as he was part of the machine.
When the requested time eventually rolled around, Percy stepped into the grand office to hear his fate. His nerves slightly calmed as Kingsley motioned for him to take a seat in front of his desk, as opposed to being seated at one of the less comfortable meeting spaces within his large office, the unexpected familiarity put Percy at ease.
The Minister welcomed him warmly and after getting the usual spiel out of the way (this being the time for change etc.) Kingsley addressed him, referring to several pieces of parchment on his desk. The Minister told him how impressed he, and other senior ranking officials, had been with the work Percy had contributed thus far, and how much they appreciated his dedication to the programme of reforms.
The Minister reached into his desk to retrieve a file, dropping it in front of Percy gently. "After much deliberation over where would be best to utilise your skill set, we have settled on the Department of Magical Transportation. I appreciate that it isn't often seen as the most glamorous of departments, but there is a lot of work to be undertaken, and we believe you would be the right fit."
Percy took a moment to consider his reaction; he hadn't thought he had much of a preference, that said he couldn't deny that this proposal sounded a lot more up his street than sports, or god forbid law enforcement.
"What position would that be Minister Shacklebolt?"
"Well," Kingsley said with a slightly bemused smile, "we would like you to be the Department Head, of course."
Percy was stunned. He hadn't been expecting to lead a department, well, ever. With all he had contributed he had considered that he might have been offered an Assistant position at best. Kingsley must have seen the surprise on his face as the Minister got out of his seat to slap him on the shoulder, he gave him a week to make his decision and cheerily sent Percy on his way.
Once he got back into his office, and behind the relative safety of the secured door, Percy collapsed in his chair and indulged in biting the side of his knuckles, it had become something of an impulse stress reaction for him. It had started in the last year, when, in moments of despair, or when spiralling thoughts threatened, Percy found the quick burst of mild pain grounding. He didn't allow anyone else to see it, but occasionally, when he was alone, it was still comforting.
Percy was frustrated with himself, after leaving Hogwarts an opportunity like this would have been a dream for him, but now it felt tainted. He sat back in his chair, letting his head fall onto the top of the rest. He was worried about what people's reactions would be, he was still relatively young, possibly too young for a responsibility such as this. Two years ago he wouldn't have cared; he would have marched into the first meeting, laid out his directives, and made exasperated faces at anyone who dared to comment. He wasn't sure he was capable of that amount of bravado anymore.
Sure, he could probably still fake it, though maybe not as convincingly as he once would have done, what would happen when he got home? Would the voices of the doubters join the others he had on a permanent loop in his mind?
Percy opened his eyes a fraction and regarded the small family photo that rested on the far corner of his desk. He had hidden it during the war, but it had been put back on display following his return to the Ministry. How would they react to the news? Things had been thawing nicely, and while he might never be everyone's favourite, he had established much better relations than he'd had in years. Percy ruffled his hair, avoiding his father's smiling image looking out at him from the simple frame. His dad hadn't gotten a serious promotion, despite all of his work for the Order. Arthur was back in the Misuse of Magic office, though he was now running a subdivision. What if they didn't think he deserved it? What if it caused another argument? What if he wasn't able to come back from this one?
Percy fidgeted in his chair for several long minutes before he capitulated to following the course his mind had been screaming at him since he left the Minister's office. An hour later Percy had composed a short letter consisting of only three short paragraphs, neatly written. In the bin next to him were fifteen drafts, it had taken him three attempts to settle on Dear Hermione.
Letter done he headed to the owlery before he could change his mind.
Hermione's outlook felt mildly brighter since her meeting with Percy Weasley. His tender planting the seed of independent research as a career path had alleviated some of the crushing weight of indecision she had felt since returning to Hogwarts. It wasn't a cure all. After enjoying two straight nights of restful sleep, she was awoken from a particularly bad nightmare, convinced she was being pinned to the floor at Malfoy Manor. She woke, covered in a sweat, and dismantled the privacy wards on the curtains around her bed to head for a shower. Hermione knew from experience there was little point in attempting to get back to sleep following such a vivid dream.
For the first few moments, the water was soothing, and Hermione scrubbed herself down, wiping away the perspiration from her skin, wishing she could wipe away her memories as quickly. She continued her frantic movements until her skin was a little raw but caught up in the shadows of her nightmare Hermione didn't stop. Fifteen minutes later her arm was bloody the sudden pink tinge to the water was enough to snap Hermione out of her momentary loss of focus, and she rushed from the shower to the first aid kit she kept under her sink. She had just managed to bandage up the offensive lettering when one of the fourth year girls entered the shared space. Hermione managed a weak greeting and an empty smile as she tried not to sag against the large sink in obvious relief.
Things were not better, though she was trying. Her emotions regarding her parents were still on a hair trigger, but that little thing Percy had given her, that one good thing, had made some difference.
As Percy had suggested, Hermione had sent a note to Minister Shacklebolt, who had responded with more enthusiasm than she would have thought possible. Her one-time battle partner had set up meetings for her with the Department of Records, Magical Law Enforcement, and Mysteries. Apparently, all of those departments would be happy to discuss outsourcing some of their research quotas.
Feeling a little more confident Hermione had gone to see Professor McGonagall again and this time instead of staring blankly ahead while she tried not to rip the skin on the back of her hand to ribbons, she asked about contacts in periodicals and magical research journals. Her professor had given her a relieved smile, and Hermione had managed a thin, brittle one back. She supposed when she acted more like old Hermione people were more pleased with her.
Hermione trudged into the Great Hall, the roots of her hair were still damp from her attempt at a calming shower, but she didn't think much of it. Maybe she was just oversensitive, but it wasn't easy to be okay, and she was getting tired of the amount of work it required. But conditioning and habit were hard things to break, and Hermione had never dealt well with disappointing people. Lost in a spiralling train of thought she almost missed the birds swoop in with the post until a large grey owl, wearing a Ministry seal around its neck, dropped a letter impatiently in front of her, narrowing its eyes as if it was completely inconvenienced by her absent mindedness. Hermione quickly broke off a piece of her toast to offer the bird, and it eyed her in deliberation for a while before acquiescing.
Opening the letter she was pleased to see another note from Percy. Hermione had toyed with the idea of writing to him again since their last meeting, but she didn't want to bother him unnecessarily. She scanned the parchment, smiling to herself as she regarded the handwriting that was exactly as she would have assumed it would be. Hermione had almost laughed when she received his reply to her first letter, Percy wrote in short, precise, economical strokes, his letters were to the point, but never rude, almost as if he actively attempted to write as few words as possible without causing offence.
I find myself in a position I had not expected. I have received an offer for a role within the Ministry that would be a challenge for me, and in short, a rather large promotion.
Like yourself, I too find that I do not have anyone in my immediate circle that I can discuss this matter with. Would you be willing to meet with me to listen, and perhaps, to impart some advice?
Percy's request caused a small warm feeling to develop in Hermione's stomach. Immediately following breakfast, she rushed off to the library to compose her response, moving to sit in a hidden alcove. For some reason, she felt very defensive of her communication with Percy and wasn't keen to share it with anyone. For the longest time, Hermione stared at the blank sheet of parchment in front of her. It wasn't hesitation over what to say; she knew she wanted to meet with him, she just wanted to alter the setting.
For reasons she did not want to press into too deeply Hermione wasn't keen for Percy to come to the school again, it was a reminder of her current student status and importantly, meant he would see her in her uniform, again. That wasn't any way to present herself when giving advice, was it?
Feeling bolder than she ever had before Hermione hastily wrote her reply, explaining that she would be willing to meet, and asked if Percy would be available for an early drink in The Three Broomsticks that Saturday.
Letter done she headed to the owlery before she could change her mind.
Hermione's increasingly acute state of nervous anticipation made her walk in steps so quick she must have looked almost comical as she trudged from the lane the Hogwarts carriage had left her in. She didn't look back. Despite Luna's repeated assurances that the Thestrals were peaceful creatures Hermione couldn't help but feel unsettled by them. It wasn't their fault; it wasn't even their ominous appearance that unsettled her, it was what they represented, they reminded her of how much of her innocence had been ripped away forever.
Hermione took a final deep breath before squaring her shoulders and heading to the pub. The Three Broomsticks was less bustling than she was sure it would have been earlier in the day, given that it was a Hogsmeade weekend, but the bar was still full of patrons.
Hermione was not very good in crowds, partly as she was short, her reduced vantage point made large collections of people intimidating, but it was more how close people got, how much noise surrounded her. Before the war, the experience would have made her short tempered, one small barge to the shoulder and she would have huffed hard enough to displace her hair and then stomped through all of the bodies, grumbling the whole way.
Hermione had only been in a pub once since resuming her education; she had sat between Ginny and Luna repeating over and over again in her mind that she should relax until a glass was smashed two tables over and she jumped so high she nearly fell off the seat. Her friends didn't push again when she turned down further initiations. These days when she could be coerced to come out at all, Hermione much preferred the Hogs Head, as long as she discreetly charmed her glass clean. She had debated going with her preference when she sent the letter to Percy, but the dilapidated tavern didn't seem to be the kind of place you would invite someone to join you for a drink.
Despite the people milling about Hermione spotted Percy quickly, the middle-ish Weasley was sitting towards the back of the room, at a small table, with several pieces of parchment arranged over the worn surface. When they locked eyes, he waved Hermione over, and she managed to cross the room through the assembled masses, all of whom had the limited sense of awareness symptomatic of having been in the pub all afternoon.
As she got closer, Hermione noticed his half empty bottle of butterbeer and automatically checked her watch. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to keep you. I'll just head up to the bar, did you want anything?"
Percy stood and put a hand on her shoulder, directing her to the table. "Please, sit down Hermione, what can I get you to drink?"
"Um, Butterbeer please," she requested, and he nodded once before heading off.
Hermione stared after him slightly bemused; she wasn't used to being treated with such… she supposed it was a courtesy, to call it chivalry was probably overstating it. She watched as Percy made his way to the bar and was immediately served by Madam Rosmerta, even though there were a couple of other customers waiting. Hermione supposed the fact Percy was at least making an effort to meet the landlady in the eye helped.
He was wearing a dark grey, thin knit jumper without a shirt underneath, and dark blue chinos. Hermione wasn't normally one to observe someone's state of dress but she hadn't previously seen Percy in anything less formal than a button down shirt. The look suited him. It also made her feel more comfortable; she had opted for straight legged jeans with a wide neck jumper and ballet shoes. She never really made a huge amount of effort with her appearance, but that didn't mean she didn't care about it. More than anything Hermione hated arriving anywhere and feeling like she had dressed up too much, or too little, for the occasion, Percy's jumper put her at ease. As the thought registered in her mind, she gave herself up as a lunatic, to be comforted by knitwear? She was losing what little sanity she had remaining.
Before long Percy was back at the table, and Hermione was back to feeling uncomfortable, not in the sense that she wanted to leave, although part of her mind was screaming that this had been a horrible idea, the discomfort was more of a squirming in her stomach, and a slight fuzzing of her brain. The kind of disquiet she knew she would immediately miss when it was gone. Hermione drank from the bottle Percy had passed to her calmly and fought herself to not to begin shredding one of the napkins that had been left on the table. Hermione had never been good at this after she had made friends with Harry and Ron she hadn't needed to try with anyone else. The boys would talk away between themselves regardless, and she could contribute as and when. She felt slightly exposed with Percy regarding her from the other side of the table and was hugely relieved when he broke the silence first.
"So, I suppose it's my turn to thank you for coming," Percy opened with a slight glint of humour in his eyes. The jumping around in the pit of Hermione's stomach increased tenfold.
Against her attempts to stop it Hermione flushed. "Sorry, did I make it sound like a job interview last time?"
Percy laughed, though it was a quiet, almost self-conscious sound. "Not at all Hermione."
She liked the way he said her name; he didn't seem the type to want to shorten it. Over time she had grown not to hate the constant 'Mione's' from her friends, but for some reason, she didn't think she would like to hear it coming from Percy. She supposed someone with the middle name Ignatius would know all about the liberties others could take with your moniker.
Hermione willed herself out of her head and forced herself to stop staring at how Percy's hand gripped the body of his butterbeer bottle. "So, you wanted to talk about a job offer?"
"Yes," he replied evenly, though he shuffled the papers in front of himself not meeting her gaze. "The Ministry has begun the process of restructuring the internal teams; everyone is being assigned new positions."
Hermione nodded though she already had about twenty questions, she bit the side of her lip and linked her fingers together on the table top. When Percy seemed to falter, she made an encouraging sound, and he continued.
"I had my meeting with Kingsley this week, and he offered me a role in the Department of Magical Transportation."
"Which role?" Hermione asked with genuine interest
"The Department Head," Percy replied staring at the table for a moment until he seemed to give himself a little shake and set his bottle down before looking up as if to gauge her response.
She beamed at him.
Percy watched as Hermione's easy smile lit across her face, and he instantly felt relief wash over him. He couldn't have been sure of her reaction; he had been concerned that he would pick up on some small thing, a facial tic she unwittingly displayed that would indicate she thought he wasn't up to the role. Since sending his acceptance to her invitation, he had imagined all kinds of reactions, some as bad as her telling him outright that she didn't think he was up to it. In all of his thought up scenarios, he had never pictured her smiling, not at him, not like she was.
Percy felt his nerves ease, which was a blessed relief, he had felt tightly wound all day. After pacing his flat for two hours, he had eventually given in and arrived thirty minutes early, with the hope that a quick drink would calm him down before Hermione got there. It had worked like a charm; he had relaxed, so much so that he had even been able to complete some of the paperwork he had brought along to fill the time. That was until she had walked in.
"That's fantastic Percy! Are you going to accept? It sounds like a great opportunity."
Percy fought off the stupid grin that threatened as he listened to her enthusiastic questions. It was incredible really how one person's belief could make you view everything differently. Hermione's positivity clung to his very skin, washing over him like a soothing balm.
Abruptly the hesitations began to resurface in his mind, niggling away at the edges. Percy hated them all the more for taking the shine off the relief that Hermione had given him.
"Well, that's, I'm not sure," he falteringly replied. It was what he had written to her about after all.
"Why ever not?" Hermione asked, searching his face.
Percy averted his eyes, wiping some condensation from the bottle still in his grip. "Well, there's my age, for a start. I'm very young for a Department Head, and that's before we even get to my actions during the war, and what my family would think," he said, conscious that he was losing volume in his voice with every word that passed his lips.
Hermione looked at him for a moment before holding out her fingers as if counting through his arguments. "Twenty-two isn't that young, and you have a lot of experience," she countered, surprising Percy with the speed of her complete rebuttal to one of the biggest stumbling blocks he had been tripping over in his mind. "As for your actions during the war, you were at the final battle; there are a lot of people that cannot say that… and well, I think Arthur and Molly would be proud of you."
Hermione's swatting away of all of his issues should have made Percy feel better, and it did, a tiny bit, but it also made him feel stupid for having made what now seemed like a very unnecessary fuss. Percy brushed a piece of imaginary lint off his trousers as he chastised himself, he should have been capable of rationally assessing the situation on his own.
He was trying to articulate an apology for wasting her time when Hermione started talking again. "Sorry, I shouldn't be so dismissive of your problems," she apologised, squeezing her eyes shut for a moment. "I can be so horribly practical at times, and other people's problems are always so easy to fix don't you find?"
Her little face looked so forlorn it made Percy feel dreadful. "It's not easy is it, since the war," he ventured carefully.
Hermione's head snapped up to look at him, her eyes widening, and Percy put his hands up, ready to withdraw the topic, but she sat back in the chair, her face going blank again.
"No… no, it's not," she admitted softly, her gaze falling to her now almost empty bottle. "I don't know what to do anymore; there are no more dragons to slay. I think I have always defined myself by what I offered to people, homework help, dark object research, assurance, and now... now all of that's over, and everyone around me seems to be getting on with their lives, lives they were seemingly planning while I was absorbed in it all, and I just don't know."
Hermione looked up suddenly, and the expression on her face was so raw Percy felt his spine stiffen. "I'm floundering," she admitted in a tone that was probably more suited to the confession of a terrible crime. To the girl in front of him, it probably was. There was water in the corner of her eyes, and Percy felt the need to say something that would help, he had never been good at this sort of thing, but since Hermione's first letter he had found the promise of someone to talk to was a comfort he didn't want to give up
"I feel," he huffed out a breath, fighting against the almost physical compulsion to close his mouth and stop the words from coming. "I feel like I don't have a place anymore," he shook his head, "No, that's not quite it. I feel like I might never have had a place, but never acknowledged it, and instead, I filled my life with work and inconsequential achievements, and since the war, it's like I can't unknow that. Now I try and fill the hole with the same stuff, and it's not working," he took a large swig of his drink wishing it was something stronger. "I should be thrilled… ecstatic, with this promotion offer but instead I… I feel a bit numb to it."
Hermione regarded him kindly from her place across the table; she didn't flinch as he laid his inadequacies out in front of her and Percy felt the tension in his shoulders dissipate.
"Thank you, Percy," she all but whispered, "I was beginning to think I was the only one that hadn't been offered the Kool-Aid."
"What?" he asked.
"Sorry, Muggle expression," she shook her head causing her curls to bounce around her face and Percy reflectively gripped the edge of the table top to stop himself from reaching out to grab one.
"For what it's worth, I think you would be really good at that job Percy, and while you may not feel like it yet, being asked is a huge achievement. Maybe one day, when some of the shock has worn off, you will feel it, and not acting now would be a missed opportunity."
Percy swallowed roughly, "Thank you, Hermione."
Hermione huffed out a large breath that gave away how much stress she had been feeling under the weight of their conversation before she placed her empty bottle back on the table with a wet clunk. "Right, another?"
He beamed at her.
Hogwarts Graduation Day rolled around sooner than Hermione could ever have expected. She dressed quickly, donning her special ceremonial robes in dark Gryffindor red, with the Hogwarts crest affixed to the left breast, and regarded herself in dorm room mirror. She looked almost back to normal now, whatever that meant, at least while in her robes. Hermione had debated for a while whether or not it was worth bothering to tame her hair for the occasion, in the end, she found she didn't want to. It took forever, and she hated the feel of it when it was doused in potions, plus there would be no one there to comment.
She had received a note from Harry and Ron the week previous, because of their intense schedule they were unable to attend. Hermione had felt real remorse from both boys in their sections of the note. Joint letters from the boys had been a highlight of her final year at school, it might have taken them seven long years, but they were finally regular correspondents. They were both adjusting well to training, though they were very much looking forward to completing soon. If their letters were anything to go by, the rigorous physical drills and mental tests sounded completely draining.
Hermione had been issued two tickets for the day from a rather forlorn looking Minerva McGonagall. Her professor had quickly told her that she could invite whomever she chose, they weren't limited to a parent or guardian, which Hermione supposed was a good job, she was far from the only one within the castle walls that would have been affected by the same issue. Hermione had excused herself from the Head's office rather hurriedly after that, before sending a quick missive off to the boys asking for them to come. The owl they had sent in reply had been the first time that year she wished they had reverted to their tardy responses.
Hermione knew it couldn't be helped, she had sent cheery 'don't worry about it' responses to both of them, telling herself how fine it was the whole way back to the common room. Telling herself that it was only a silly ceremony and she would see them soon anyway as she climbed the dorm room stairs. She had clambered into bed, fully dressed at 10 am on a Tuesday, just managing to wait until she had finished charming the curtains shut and sound proof before she allowed herself to cry for the best part of two hours, telling herself how she didn't care the whole time.
Hermione placed the two unused tickets inside her purse and attempted to charm away the hair that had already come loose and clung to her robes. She didn't want to seem ungrateful; she had already received a note from Mrs Weasley, expressing how excited she was to see her graduate, and how Hermione was obviously welcome to join them for the celebration dinner at the Burrow afterwards, which she had gratefully accepted.
But it wasn't the same.
Hermione tiptoed away from the mirror and stepped into her black sensible shoes. Ginny had laughed at her stony faced reaction to the suggestion she wore gold sandals. This day was going to be long enough without being in unnecessary physical pain as well.
Not having her parents was a daily ache, which, although debilitating, was an improvement on the hourly pain it had been before. Though on occasions like this it was like the wound had been reopened. Hermione loved all of the Weasleys in different ways, but as amazing as they were, they weren't her parents. Sadly, neither were David and Jean Granger, to them they had no idea they had a child, let alone one that was about to graduate.
With the loss of her parents, Hermione felt like she was losing her link to the Muggle world, and with it the people that understood a particular part of the broad spectrum that made up who she was.
Hermione never liked to feel beholden to anyone, and she didn't want pity. She had faced worse things on her own, and she would do this too.
As she moved down the stairs, she tried to block out the voice inside her head telling her to walk back in the other direction.
Percy looked around the courtyard and up the grassed bank towards the Black Lake, for as many things that had changed since the war he was always surprised by the sheer number of things that remained the same. The Graduation Ceremony that day had been the same as his, the same as all of the others he had attended for his siblings, and he suspected the same for his parents. Some traditions were immovable against time, or inclination of outside forces, much like the castle herself.
He had come along to support Ginny, of course, but Percy knew that wasn't the whole reason for his attendance. He had been at the Burrow for dinner during the week, talking to his parents about his promotion, which he had now accepted, and had overheard Harry and Ron were not going to be able to make it. He wondered if Hermione had known about their absence before they had met, she had never mentioned it. In fact, she had mainly focused on him and his problems. Percy had gained the confidence to face his parents after talking to Hermione in The Three Broomsticks. They had stayed for the best part of three hours, and she had reassured him repeatedly that they would be happy for him. As the reputation that preceded her everywhere she went suggested, she had been right.
When he arrived Percy had spotted Hermione immediately, she stood out amongst the sea of crimson robes, standing next to Ginny and Neville Longbottom, her wild curls blowing in the summer breeze. He smiled to himself as he spotted the dark navy housecoat indicating Luna Lovegood, standing out amongst the cluster of red as she flouted house regulations to stand with her friends.
Hermione had accepted her parchment and smiled her little smile that didn't reach her eyes and moved to sit down. At the end of the ceremony she had been swept up into hugs and kisses from all of his family but had darted off while Percy was congratulating Ginny, and now he couldn't find her.
Several laps of the party later Percy was beginning to think he would have to give up and head back to the Ministry like he should have done an hour ago until he caught sight of a small patch of crimson moving under a tree by the Black Lake. The next moment it was gone again, and it took him a few minutes of moving his weight from one foot to the other before he could narrow down exactly where Hermione was. He was pretty sure she had used a notice-me-not charm, and it was now wearing off.
Percy approached her cautiously, though he didn't think Hermione was the type to run away. When he got close enough, he held out the neatly folded handkerchief from his pocket and looked in the other direction as she roughly wiped at her eyes.
"Thank you," she said, her voice thick.
Percy picked up on the sound of some voices chattering in the distance, and he moved to stand in a position that would block the girl at his feet from view. "Would you like to talk about it?" he ventured.
"Not today," Hermione replied, and he looked back at her. She wasn't crying anymore, but her glassy gaze was fixed somewhat confusedly on the lake. "Sorry, I just… I'm going to go back out there in a little bit," Hermione said without conviction.
Percy nodded at her, even though she couldn't see it. "I just wanted to say," he began, hating the formal tone of his voice that had become even more clipped, as it always did when he was endeavouring to be earnest. "I came here for you too," he stuttered out, covering most of his words with a slight cough brought on by his suddenly tight throat. "Congratulations, Hermione."
Percy placed a hand on her shoulder and squeezed lightly before heading back to the castle to make use of the Floo that had been set up for the occasion. He told himself that Hermione would be okay, that she wanted to be left alone, and in any case, he would see her later. None of that helped alleviate the sense of unease that had fallen over him.
As he moved down the stairs, he tried to block out the voice inside his head telling him to walk back in the other direction.
Percy was once again standing in the sprawling, mostly unmaintained back garden of the Burrow, sipping a Butterbeer and attempting to shade his pale skin from the sun. The whole family was out in force as they were celebrating Ron and Harry completing their training, and moving into the Auror squad proper. Both boys looked happy if a little weary, and Percy was immensely proud of his youngest brother. They were also toasting Ginny moving into Grimmauld Place, though Percy was confident that his mother was not as jubilant about that bit, partly as she was losing another child from her fast diminishing nest, mainly as she had expressed her opinion several times on the inappropriateness of their living together before marriage. Everyone present conveniently forgot they could count as Molly grumbled about how things were done in her days. Not only was Bill born very shortly after his parents left Hogwarts, but he had also entered the world seven months after their wedding, and at 9 lbs 4 ounces, had shown little obvious signs of being premature.
Percy hadn't seen Hermione since the Graduation Ceremony which was now a month previous, not that they had arranged anything. He had tried to contact her, after staying at Hogwarts longer than intended he had to work late and as a consequence and had missed the celebration dinner. Percy had sent a note to apologise, and rather sheepishly to ask if he might be able to make up for it sometime, but he hadn't received a response. At first, he had been embarrassed that he had pushed Hermione too hard, but as more time elapsed his discomfort turned into genuine worry. After sending two more owls that remained unanswered, Percy eventually mentioned the witch when passing Harry in the corridors of the Ministry, only to be informed she was in Australia.
Harry's face had fallen when speaking about his friend, and Percy had immediately chastised himself for not acting sooner, he had heard about her parents of course, but he hadn't known Hermione was planning on going back. He had eagerly enquired if she had uncovered some new research that would help in restoring their memories, but the trainee had shaken his head. 'We didn't know she was going,' Harry had sighed. It transpired Hermione had left a note for the boys on the kitchen table two days after Graduation; she had said she needed to do this alone, the only indication of her prepared activities was that she mentioned she needed to give herself a proper goodbye.
Percy found himself haunted by images of Hermione; her too big jumper with the thumb holes worn through, the fat tears that rolled down her face as she crouched beneath a tree. He sincerely hoped this was something she had wanted to do unaccompanied, and not a herculean task she had taken on her shoulders unaided out of some perverse idea of being a bother.
Percy's feet paced in the grass as he debated going over to grab some more food but quickly pushed away the idea; he was too preoccupied to eat. Hermione was supposed to arrive back last night, information he had obtained from Ginny, making the witch's total absence three weeks. Percy had been attempting to watch the back door for the last hour subtly. After the third person had enquired what he was looking for, reluctantly he had turned his back on the entryway while thanking his lucky stars that his career aspirations had never run to law enforcement or anything that would have required even the smallest modicum of stealth.
Hermione hadn't arrived with Harry, and Percy had immediately convinced himself that she must not have come back yet until the messy haired Auror reported that Hermione had arrived at Grimmauld Place safely but later than planned and was going to have another hour or so rest before heading over.
That had been two hours ago.
Percy's mind had begun to race when Harry walked in alone; maybe she had decided to stay there, she could do independent research from anywhere, why would she need to come back? He had cursed himself for ever planting such a foot loose idea in her head.
When he stopped his primary occupation of the afternoon, staring at an inanimate wooden panel, Percy was once again aware of how awkward he felt, informal parties always caused him a significant amount of anxiety, even if this one was at his childhood home, surrounded by family. At a dinner, there was a limited amount of milling around time before you would be required to sit, often in a designated seat, at gatherings like this he never knew where to stand. Relations were much better with his family but Percy was still uncomfortable, he purposely never brought up his job, but he struggled to contribute to the discussions around him, all the while conscious that his silence would likely be interpreted as being disapproving and haughty.
Biting the side of his knuckle, Percy returned to repeatedly staring at the back door. He might have looked ridiculous, but at least he was unlikely to offend anyone that way. As he began debating the potential merits of fabricating a reason to go and check up on their absent guest the back door finally opened and Hermione walked out into the garden on his mother's arm. Molly had affixed Hermione firmly to her side and was keeping up a constant stream of chat into her ear while the little witch nodded along dutifully. Percy was sure he could imagine the conversation, we don't see you enough, you need to eat more, etc., etc.
After finally being left to stand on her own Hermione was pushed in the direction of the food, which had been set up on long tables in the shade at the back of the house. Ginny had suggested that they set up picnic style seating with blankets and cushions settled everywhere rather than sitting formally, or as formal as the Weasley's got, at the table.
While everyone was busy eating, drinking and making merry, Percy made his way over to the tables, ostensibly to get another drink as the contents of his bottle had conveniently been emptied behind a tree. He winced as he processed that even with Hermione he had needed to engineer a reason to approach. Why couldn't he just say hello as any reasonable person would?
As he got closer Percy properly took in Hermione's appearance and felt his mouth run dry. She was wearing a floaty white dress, with a full skirt that fell to her knees, flat sandals and a rather out of place large, ratty grey cardigan, something that the weather was far too lovely for. Her hair was up in a messy bun with tendrils escaping everywhere and moving in the slight breeze. Her skin had caught some more colour in the Australian sun and made it made him more aware of the subtle brown tones around her irises.
She looked radiant.
Just as he neared her, Hermione turned abruptly, nearly walking straight into him. "Oh, hello Percy," she said, lightly flushing, "I didn't see you there… ah, obviously."
"Don't worry about it Hermione, are you well? You look… ah, well," Percy replied wishing he could walk back and start that again.
Hermione pushed some of the escaped hair behind her ear before cupping her hand above her brow to block the sun. "I'm… I'm ok; Harry said you sent some owls? I hope it was nothing important."
"Oh... nothing at all really, I was just seeing how you were after… Graduation."
Hermione's eyes fell to regard her plate, and she pulled at the hem of her cardigan. "Ah, yes, that was kind of you. I'm… I suppose better is what I should say but I'm not sure that's true, so I will just say I hope to be better." Percy nodded. As garbled as her explanation was, he understood the sentiment behind it.
"What about you?" Hermione continued more confidently. "How are your preparations going for the new role, I heard you accepted, congratulations!"
"I've been keeping busy," Percy responded timidly, "these things take a lot of planning, but I'm sure you don't want to talk about the antiquated by-laws regarding international portkey development," he trailed off.
Hermione stared at him, blinking owlishly. "Well, maybe not," she conceded, and Percy felt his face flush, "international travel is a little… sensitive for me at the moment, but I would like to hear about the plans you were looking into with the Floo Network. When we spoke last you were talking about mandating a maintenance plan as part of their creation, have you thought about how you might regulate that?"
Percy stuttered for a moment, his mind shuddering to cope with both his embarrassment at his inadvertent lack of sensitivity and his befuddlement at Hermione's willingness for him to elaborate. After a time he organised his thoughts enough to speak. "Err… of course, if you're sure, would you like to sit down?
She nodded eagerly, and he felt a genuine smile stretch across his face for the first time in a month.
Hermione waited as Percy grabbed a couple of chilled bottles and followed him to sit down on one of the picnic blankets that had been nicely laid out and dotted with soft cushions. It was a warm day, and Percy was dressed even more casually than when she had been caught out by his knitted jumper. He had donned khaki shorts and a long sleeved green t-shirt, probably to hide his arms from the sun, the Weasley family as a whole were not built for sun exposure.
In a quiet, undemanding way, Percy asked about her parents, and she told him she had decided to go to say goodbye. It had been something of an impulse decision, a rarity for her but she needed to see them, to know they were okay. The idea had come to her at Graduation, Hermione had watched all of the other students with their parents, and she knew she needed to see them again to gain some closure. After settling in among the blankets and pillows, Hermione checked no one else was listening and when assured that everyone else was preoccupied she carried on, talking about the place that the lived now and how happy they were.
Hermione felt comfortable to go into more detail with Percy; somehow she knew he would never pity her. She ducked her head around every now and again and kept her voice low. She was especially careful to ensure that Harry was out of earshot, Hermione knew her friend was worried about her, but she wanted to keep him shielded from her pain. Harry had carried the weight of everyone's burdens while they were at school and she had always been conscious of ensuring she was not adding to it. Old habits die hard.
"I saw them at the beach one day," she said wistfully. "They had rolled up their trousers and were walking in the wet sand. I went over and introduced myself; I even used my real name," she said, staring out at the treeline of the orchard that bordered the Burrow's gardens.
"That must have been hard for you to do."
Hermione played with the label on her beer bottle. "That was in the second week; it took me days to build up to, it was the third day in a row I had attempted it."
Percy nodded, and Hermione was so grateful that he was there, he didn't pat her on the shoulder, he didn't pull her into an embrace, he didn't patronise her by telling her it would all be okay, he just listened.
"Why did you stay once you had spoken to them?" Percy asked curiously, and Hermione mused a little before answering.
"I suppose I wanted to get to know the area they lived in a little bit so that when I think of them, I have a clear mental picture but also… I knew I was leaving, for good this time. I can't keep popping up in their lives like a crazy woman; I need to let them go."
Percy leant forward, seemingly to grab some food off her plate, though his outstretched hand paused, laying over hers momentarily and squeezing her fingers before diverting to grab a sausage roll. Hermione felt such an intense rush of pure comfort at the tiny gesture that she gasped, thankfully Percy didn't seem to notice. She knew that was the end of the conversation; she wondered how he managed not to push while still giving the impression that he would be there if needed.
Hermione couldn't talk about it all yet, the few words they had exchanged had made her throat dry, and her eyes sting. One day, she told herself. One day she would be able to picture her mother standing on the beach gazing out at sea, sunlight dancing off her face, and just be able to think of how beautiful she looked, without the image causing pain that she would have suffered a thousand tortures never to feel again. One day she wouldn't think she deserved them not being able to remember her. Jean and David Granger raised a bright, independent, practical girl, that circumstance had moulded into a soldier, Hermione's mind whispered that they wouldn't recognise the frail, broken creature she was now, and she would never know if that were true.
To her immense relief herself and Percy fell into easy conversation after that, talking about anything and everything until the little bubble they had unknowingly erected around themselves was broken by an enthusiastic Ginny looking to secure Percy as a Keeper for an impromptu Quidditch match. Percy looked at her and Hermione could tell he was going to decline on her behalf, she was touched by the gesture but was sure deep down he wanted to play, so she pushed his shoulder forward.
"Go on," she pressed, smiling at him encouragingly.
Percy smiled back and allowed Ginny to drag him briskly from the blanket. Hermione knew how much it would have meant to him to be asked, and she liked seeing him happy since she had seen him last he looked more comfortable in his skin. He wasn't holding himself so tightly.
Hermione observed the game from her preferred comfort of the ground, though her eyes followed the movement above her more avidly than any match she had witnessed in her life. Percy's motions were fluid, and while not as rambunctious as his siblings, he was definitely into the game. While the other redheads groused and catcalled at each other, Percy's expression took on a focus that made him look serious, and yet you would have needed to be blind not to see how much he was enjoying himself. Once Ginny's team had secured a substantial victory the players fell back onto the blankets to recover.
Percy dropped next to her, in the place he had previously occupied, though this time he was laying down, Hermione tried not to stare as his chest rose and rapidly fell as he cooled off.
As Percy got his breath back, Hermione stalked off to get more beer and when she returned they went back to talking about his job. Percy was due to start his new post in the next month and he delightedly, if a little self-consciously, whispered how happy everyone had been for him. In turn, Hermione thanked him again for his advice and told him about her upcoming meetings with the different departments Kingsley had set up, and another she had recently secured with the Head Healer at St Mungos. On impulse, she asked if he would like to go for lunch when she was in for her meetings, 'seeing as she would be nearby' she caveated quickly.
He nodded eagerly, and she felt a genuine smile stretch across her face for the first time in a month.
Percy paused despite the heavy box he was carrying to look around his new office, it was much bigger than the glorified shoe box he'd been given next to the Department of Records during the clean-up, and he would finally have room to adequately sort all of the information he needed.
Over the last few weeks, he had worked tirelessly, meticulously planning for his first six months as Department Head. Hermione had given him the idea when they had shared lunch in the Ministry canteen and had even shown him some colour coding charms that he would have been embarrassed to admit to anyone other than her just how much he enjoyed using.
The result of all of the hard work was that Percy finally believed he had an efficient and competent plan that included both a restructuring of the existing team and some new initiatives to improve efficiencies.
Percy had just come back from his first meeting where he had laid out his strategy in as authoritarian a manner as he could conjure. He was still very conscious of his age, and he had done everything within his power to appear mature, knowledgeable and earnest. At not yet twenty-three, there were people in his department that had been working at the Ministry longer than he had been alive.
He hadn't gone over completely smoothly, but it was better than Percy had anticipated. He still sometimes felt like he was pretending, acting the part of an officious Ministry employee, and devoted son. Like he was waiting for someone to burst from the shadows and call him a fraud. The truth was Percy had become very good at projecting what people wanted to see over the years. It made them happy he realised, when you lived up to their expectations, it was only when you fell short, or even exceed them, that problems occurred.
Percy found that despite still spending more nights staring at blank walls than he would have liked, the skill of masking his inner thoughts and feelings had not left him. He was sure that if you asked his family or his fellow workers, they would say that he was 'happy, as happy as you could ever expect Percy to be anyway'.
As exhausting as maintaining the pretence was, it did have some benefits, spending all of your time wearing a mask went some way to convincing yourself that you were happy too.
The illusion didn't work for lonely.
He surveyed the room around him once more before picking up a piece of parchment from the top of his stack and getting to work.
Hermione levitated the last box of books into what would become her study and began sorting them into the appropriate shelves. She felt more at peace than she had in months now she finally had her own place. The muted green walls and large bench style desk were perfect for multiple stacks of parchment, and books, and made her feel more at home than she had since she had left her parents' house.
She had chosen this; she had created this. This was hers.
Despite Harry's continued protestations, Hermione had brought her own flat, she needed to start rebuilding her life, and she didn't want to encroach on Harry and Ginny now they had moved in together. She was happy for her friends, but she had been shocked at how uncomfortable living with them had made her feel. Hermione had thought she was jealous of their happiness at first and had hated herself for it, but in reality, it was a slightly different emotion. Seeing them together made her truly admit to herself just how lonely she was.
Hermione had been doing an excellent job, even if she did say so herself, of convincing everyone around her of how fine she was, she had her friends, she had work, a career, a real one, but she still didn't have that person. Someone she wouldn't have walls with like Harry was with Ginny. Harry, as much as he loved Hermione, was always 'big brother', 'Peacemaker', and 'defender', with Ginny he could take off all the paper crowns and just be… Harry.
So two weeks after Ginny had moved in, Hermione had moved out, with the best wishes of her friends, an incredible amount of Mrs Weasley's cooking, and her grumpy cat.
Her flat was much larger than she would have anticipated being able to afford, Hermione suspected that the vendor had taken some money off due to her status, and she would generally have been outraged at such a thing but she loved the light and airy apartment, with its spacious balcony off the main bedroom, and third bedroom big enough for a study, so she had taken it. Her legendary moral compass had always known when it was appropriate to take an hour off.
Following her meetings at the Ministry, she now had a contract with three of the departments and was retained to complete eight days' worth of work a month. The small salary was enough to cover her meagre outgoings, with the flat paid for, and just her and Crookshanks to feed, she would not want for money.
After meeting with St Mungo's the work there promised more academic enrichment, the Head Healer was a very progressive wizard, especially considering he was approaching ninety-seven. Healer Whipple was interested in all kinds of medical advancements but did not have the time to test his findings and write papers, and so they agreed to a partnership of sorts. They would have two meetings a month and work on research together, sharing the credit when the work was published, or jointly deciding on the allocation of any funds that came from successful medicine development.
It left time for an independent project should Hermione have wished to begin one, but an idea hadn't formed in her mind yet. She had not expected one to come quickly, in fact, she was anxious she was not cut out for free-thinking. When her academic work had been criticised, it was because of her reluctance to deviate from the prescribed path, or her over reliance on the source material. Was she even capable of original thought?
Hermione sighed, dropping into a chair, willing herself not to ruin this small moment of achievement with negative thoughts.
She surveyed the room around her once more before picking up a piece of parchment from the top of her stack and getting to work.
As the morning dawned on his twenty-third birthday, Percy got up as early, as usual, showered and dressed before sitting at the small kitchen table in his flat to have breakfast while rifling through his little haul of presents and cards. He was vaguely disappointed not to see anything from Hermione, and at thoughts of the witch, his hand unconsciously travelled to rest on the left breast pocket of his robes before he left the kitchen for the Floo. On the first day of his new job, Hermione had sent a simple congratulations card. It had been innocuous enough from the outside, a simple white piece of cardstock with 'Congrats' written out in black calligraphy letters, and the inside contained only five words.
I'm so proud of you - H
It was the least elaborate Congratulations Percy had ever received, and he didn't care. He relished every word and had run his fingers over her familiar script so often that the ink was beginning to look faded. Her simple words made the overtures from everyone else, no matter how heartfelt, seem like gilded lilies. She hadn't offered her felicitations on his achievement or wished him the best of luck; she told him that something he had done made her proud.
He'd kept it in his cloak ever since.
Percy was leaving work early that evening for dinner at the Burrow, and for once he was excited. Though it still felt odd to celebrate anything following the loss of Fred, after building bridges with his family he felt they understood him more. He still felt like a bit of an outsider at times, especially when their easy camaraderie kicked in, Percy suspected he might always feel like that, but it was getting better.
Leaving early meant arriving early and Percy found himself at his desk at not a minute after 7.30, fresh coffee in hand to aid him in wading through that morning's correspondence. On the very top of his pile was a small triangular prism, wrapped in bright red paper that stood out dramatically against the typical swath of manila. Percy regarded it curiously for a moment before leaning forward to touch it, as his fingers brushed the gleaming paper the parcel extended on both sides till it was just longer than a quill.
After waiting long enough to be assured it wasn't going to grow further, Percy unwrapped the package cautiously only to discover what appeared to be a standard, Ministry issue name plaque. He already had one for his desk; he stared at it for a moment, maybe this was an updated one? But why would they wrap it? He turned it around so the lettering would face visitors.
Head of Department
Department of Magical Transportation
As he angled the block to the front of his desk, Percy caught a shimmer of colour appear on the back and watched in stunned amazement as various brightly coloured letters rotated, before forming short sentences under his name where his title once was. 'Hogwarts Prefect', 'Hogwarts Head Boy', 'Youngest Department Head for 25 years'. Percy laughed as the flashing accolades became jesting, 'Winner, Witch Weekly's Spec Wearer of the Year Award three years running', 'Madam Malkin's Fastidious Dresser 1996'. The full rotation took nearly a minute, and Percy felt his heart clench as he dug through his stack of letters till he found the script he was seeking, trying to open the card carefully despite his haste.
Happy Birthday! I hope you will forgive me for sending this to your office; I was sure if I sent it to your home you would never have put in on your desk. Never fear, only your magic can activate it.
Looking forward to seeing to tonight.
In the confines of his private office, behind the locked door, Percy triggered the little name plate three more times before he had finished his coffee, never failing to smile each time. He realised as he prompted the iridescent twinkling in the early afternoon that there was one more title he wanted for his life.
But to think of such things was surely no more than a fantasy.
Hermione entered the Burrow, her ears taking in the usual sounds of overlapping conversation and mirth. As much as she liked her new flat, she missed the chaos that came with the Weasley's when assembled on mass. She had barely gotten her coat off before she was deposited in a seat and given a small plate, 'to tide her over until dinner'. She enjoyed a good chat with George, having not seen him for a little while, he was starting to look less hollow than he had up to now. She hoped the light was beginning to return to her own eyes in the same way.
Percy entered a little while later with his father, Ron and Harry, the four of them having left the Ministry together, her heart was gladdened by the sight of him with his family. Hermione knew Percy still felt awkward at times, but those instances were getting further and further between. He would never be completely at ease, and that was all right too. Over time she hoped Percy would accept that it was ok to just be himself, because who he was… well, he was someone worth knowing.
Suddenly his eyes met her unyielding regard of him, and Hermione felt embarrassed to be caught openly staring. Percy didn't seem alarmed, or even disgusted, as her brain sometimes whispered he might be, the look he gave her was open and warm with a full smile that she couldn't help returning before forcing her eyes away to continue her discussion with a very heavily pregnant Fleur.
Dinner was the usual affair, with assorted Weasley's and honorary Weasley's spilling out into the garden afterwards. Hermione hadn't had much chance to speak to Percy, other than a brief moment when they were fetching drinks at the same time. He had mentioned that he liked his gift very much with a crooked smile that made her laugh before he got whisked away to a patch of grass that the boys had commandeered to start drinking games. Percy's eyes had widened slightly, though whether at the activity or his inclusion in it Hermione wasn't sure.
Hermione had worried over the simple gift for a long time. She desperately didn't want to get it wrong. She loved gift giving, but there were so many pitfalls to be wary of. It couldn't be too elaborate, but she didn't want it to be token either, it needed to be something personal, Hermione wanted it to be clear that she had put thought into it, but not something so personal that Percy would become uncomfortable.
Hermione turned to see Fleur approaching her slowly, her gait altered from the advanced stage of her pregnancy, and quickly transfigured the part-Veela a low deck chair out of the hard backed one that was next to her, stopping to conjure a small footstool in front. The blonde smiled gratefully at her before exhaling loudly and promptly falling asleep. Hermione grinned at her, scooping up little Victoire who had stumbled out into the garden on unsteady legs on a path to wake her mother.
Hermione dropped the wriggling tot in her lap, who, after some gentle coaxing, with animated storytelling, promptly fell asleep as well. Sometime after she had stopped the steady sway of her arms, Hermione looked away from the sleeping toddler to find Percy regarding her intently from his place in the circle of now, rather drunk boys, when he detected her observance he dropped his eyes, his cheeks slightly pink.
It felt nice to have someone aware of her presence, seeking her out. More than that, it felt nice for it to be him. Hermione was growing surer that she wanted it to be him.
But to think of such things was surely no more than fantasy.
The first twenty times Hermione attempted to draft her independent research paper everything went wrong. Two weeks of frantic work ended with her hands, desk, and any scrap of parchment to be had, overspread in blotchy ink. The stack of papers in front of her were covered in erratic handwriting, with more crossed out script than approved words.
She felt tired and worn but determined, though that resolve was slowly giving way to something more desperate. Hermione had turned down every request by her friends to come over for a break, she didn't want to stop, not until she had gotten somewhere. She couldn't remember the last time she had slept, her hands were cramping almost constantly and she was no longer keeping anything approaching regular hours. By this point, even Crookshanks was giving her hopeless looks. But Hermione didn't stop. She couldn't fail, not at this.
By the time Hermione eventually wrote a single page of parchment that she felt showed some promise, or at least was better than the previous attempts, she had lost so much self-confidence she almost threw the whole thing away. What if she published it and the theory was disproved? What if people laughed at it? What if they said her work demonstrated that while she was academically bright, she didn't know enough about their world to understand these things? What if they still thought she was just a jumped up Mudblood?
Hermione scratched at her forearm, as had become her habit in times of stress. She was already sporting a bandage to prevent her repeated abuse from reopening the cuts, and she didn't need that, the letters took an age to heal back over when that happened. It was another reason to remain indoors and to ignore the Floo. Hermione lived in perpetual fear of blood stains seeping into the fabric of whatever clothes she was wearing, or worse, the word etched underneath becoming visible.
Her hands shook as her throat began to construct and Hermione moved to sit on the floor, opening and closing her fingers, mirroring the slowing of her breath. It took longer for the panic attack to subside than she had been used to in recent months. They didn't happen as often now, but they were still totally incapacitating when they hit.
Hermione stayed in place against the study wall for several minutes before summoning a calming draft from her room. She was desperate for some much-needed clarity and lately that only came from one place. Before she could think of changing her mind, she scribbled off a quick note, asking when he might be free.
She prayed to Merlin he would want to see her soon.
Percy had been having a difficult few months settling into his new role. The life of a Department Head, although prestigious, came with a fair amount of headaches, along with the abundance of paperwork.
Overhauling systems and processes that had been in place for years had left Percy defending himself often to some of the more set in their ways people within his team. He liked to think he was a fair boss, if a slightly self-important one, and he honestly believed the changes they were implementing were for the better. It had been tough to gauge the right level of authority to assert when dealing with a group where at least five openly believed themselves to be better equipped to take on his job.
Added to that mind field Percy also had to endure a whole procession of interactions with people that were overly familiar with him, all assuming they knew him because they knew his father. It made Percy feel prickly and resentful; he hated the little look of surprise they would have on their faces shortly after their discussion with 'Arthur's boy'. Percy could hear them going home to gleefully inform they're significant others just how far the apple had fallen from the tree. His irritation would quickly give way to guilt, and that feeling was not so hasty to dissipate.
After a particularly trying meeting, explaining to senior employees, for the third time, why it was important to change the way they managed the apparition licensing process, Percy was glad to be finally sitting in peace in his office, having charmed the square on the door red as he came inside.
He leafed through his growing pile of correspondence idly, not keen to disturb his lunch unless it was something urgent till he found a note from Hermione. Percy opened it swiftly, ignoring the slight burst of happiness in his chest though it drifted away as he read further down the parchment, becoming more and more concerned with every garbled line that he skimmed through. Hermione had cobbled together a letter that was not even remotely reminiscent of her usual style. Percy didn't want to be certain, but he suspected several of the splotches on the messy parchment had been caused by tears. He re-read though her concerns about her work with a heavy heart, and leaving the rest of his sandwich on his desk he stood to put his cloak on.
Percy scribbled a quick reply, asking if she was free for dinner that evening, he would head to the owlery on his way out. As he passed through his door, his assistant looked up, wide eyed and midway through their meal. Percy cut off their attempt to speak.
"I'm heading to Diagon Alley; there is something urgent I need to take care of. I'll be back in an hour."
He walked away, not waiting for a response, and was rushing towards the Floo Network not ten minutes later.
He prayed to Merlin she would want to see him soon.
Percy restlessly stood outside the restaurant he had picked, shuffling a great deal more than he would have liked. Usually, when meeting Hermione he would have gone inside and waited for her at the table, but tonight he wanted to linger right where he knew he would see her the earliest. Percy was tense; her letter had set him on edge, sitting down was not going to help.
He had fussed over his appearance for longer than ever and had completely changed at least three times before sticking with navy blue suit trousers and a dark grey button down shirt, the warm weather prevented the need for a coat. Percy had briefly debated running out to buy another option but had quickly shot that idea down. Even if he ignored the ridiculousness of buying new clothes for dinner with someone who saw him as a friend, more choice was not going to help the problem.
Percy took another look up the lamentably still empty street and resisted the urge to rub his hand over his face. The restaurant was a little nicer than he would have normally booked for their catch ups, it wasn't all out fancy, but the setting was more intimate than any place they had gone before. The selection had been made somewhat without Percy noticing, and now as he stood in front of the artificial trees framing the door, it felt like the charmed lights positioned amongst the foliage were mocking him. He feared that he had made his unspoken feeling more clear than he would have liked.
Percy deliberated again over the package in his pocket, not certain whether it was a good idea or not. He didn't want to patronise her or come off as a ridiculous sap, he had been thinking of the gift for a while and had intended it for Christmas, but then the letter came.
After checking his watch one more time Hermione rounded the corner, and for the first time that evening Percy was still. She was wearing another summer dress, but this one was black and sleeveless, the material went up high on her neck and cinched in at her waist, and a soft belt made of the same material danced around her middle.
Percy's mouth went dry as Hermione approached, her strappy wedge sandals pushed her closer to his height, and he noticed the soft touches of makeup on her face and how her hair that had now grown a little longer, was pulled over one shoulder in a very loose braid, leaving one side of her neck exposed.
"Hi Percy," she said warmly, though her smile was a little hesitant, he wondered if she was feeling as suddenly shy as he was.
"Hello Hermione, you look… lovely," he settled on finally. Lovely doesn't even begin to describe, the voices in his head supplied and as usual Percy was in total agreement with their judgement.
"Thank you, you too," Hermione acknowledged easily, and Percy managed to snap out of his thoughts long enough to gently guide her through the doors. He was grateful of the gathering of fabric in her waist, lest she could feel the overheating of his clammy hands and ask what was wrong.
After giving the waiter his name, they were led to a small, circular booth set into an alcove at the end of the restaurant. They shifted themselves onto the wrap around bench Percy suppressed his discomfort with a cough as they misjudged the gap, and their thighs brushed against each other. Hermione blushed as she apologised, flusteredly sliding away from him. Percy told himself it wouldn't do to reach forward and hold her in place, though he had to grip his menu fairly tightly to ensure he didn't do so.
When the waiter left them, Percy suddenly felt awkward, for the first time in months he wasn't sure what to say to the witch tucked in next to him. Hermione herself had pushed her nose into the menu and was calling out things that sounded good, seemingly completely unaffected by their proximity.
A few minutes later the waiter returned for their drink order, and while Percy skimmed the list for his own pick, he noticed from the corner of his eye that the young wizard was paying him no mind at all, instead, the waiter's eyes ran appreciatively over Hermione. Percy felt anger swell within him and had to focus hard on combating the urge to tell the boy to avert his eyes. When he panned his gaze to Hermione, it was evident she hadn't noticed at all and was currently distractedly nibbling on her lip while perusing the list.
"Madam, your order?" The waiter prompted keenly, his smile reminding Percy of a shark… too wide, all teeth, and smug. He was broken from thoughts of his coiling temper by a soft pressure on his arm and found Hermione's delicate hand gripping him.
"Sorry," she said sheepishly when she got his attention, "would you order the wine for me? I'm not very good with Wizarding varieties."
Percy dutifully complied with her request, trying to act like the gentleman he was raised to be, though couldn't help the self-satisfied smile he bestowed on the ignored waiter. It was childish, but still, he delighted in a moment of triumph.
When they were thankfully alone again, Percy attempted to organise his wayward thoughts, he didn't want to tackle the letter immediately, he had been concerned by Hermione's tone, but he didn't want her to become defensive. He needed to ease the conversation in more gently, so he started talking about work. Percy outlined some of his plans, and Hermione nodded along at all the right places, at first he suspected she was not really listening, not that he could expect anything else, no one ever did, only then she started asking follow up questions, detailed follow up questions, and as usual Percy forgot the nagging in his mind, and the world around him as a whole. They fell into one of their deep conversations only pausing to order, and by the time their food arrived Hermione was giving some overall feedback and offering some of her ideas, all of them thoughtful and concise.
Percy wasn't sure if anyone had ever been so responsive to a discussion about him before. To not just be present, half tracking the conversation, but to be engaged, 'actively listening', as if what he had to say was important. He smiled broadly as Hermione's hands began to waggle about as she used them to emphasise the point she was making. She didn't agree with his opinion, but she seemingly cared about the subject just as strongly as he did. Hermione suddenly stopped, noticing his amused gaze and her hands froze in the air. She flushed before poking him in the arm.
"Laughing at me getting worked up doesn't count for your argument you know," she said primly, though her eyes twinkled.
"I wasn't laughing," he asserted though his mouth pulled up at the corners.
Hermione rolled her eyes, and Percy refilled her glass.
Whatever their relationship was, he wasn't giving it up.
When Percy's letter had suggested, they meet that very night Hermione had initially been hit by a wave of relief before nervous energy settled over her. As keen as she was to see him, the suggestion of dinner threw her off course. They had never had 'dinner' together before, up to now they had only ever met during the day. Maybe she was making too much of it, but to meet in the evening felt almost like a date.
After trying on and vetoing most of her wardrobe, Hermione re-evaluated the clothes strewn all over her bedroom and settled on a simple black summer dress. After faffing around with the scant makeup she owned and applied an amount she felt comfortable with, she was finally ready. Hermione had held up a few cardigans and jackets but in the end had settled for using glamours on her skin. She had become relatively efficient with them since the war though she hated them, preferring to use clothing wherever possible. She could forget the scars that marked her skin with an extra layer, sure she might get warm, but it wouldn't register with her for long. With glamours, the magic tingled ever so slightly, not enough to be uncomfortable in any way but enough to remind her that it was there, which in turn told her that the scars were there. As much as the magic had become a crutch, Hermione was in no mood to tackle her dependency. Using them had never stopped her loathing of them, they made her feel weak, and worse, using them broke a promise she made to herself. Hermione had pledged after what had happened to her parents, what she had done to her parents, that she would never use mind altering magic again. While the glamour wasn't cast on anyone else, it still affected them by distorting the image their brain would register when they looked at her.
Hermione had felt progressively more apprehensive on her way to the restaurant which was not helped when her eyes fell on Percy. She hadn't expected to find him waiting for her outside, standing in front of the quaint white gates as his hands smoothed down his shirt. He looked like he had made as much effort as she had, typically that equality of appearance, knowing that she had made the right choice, would have calmed her, but tonight it just made her jumpier.
Hermione was thankful that the sun had set when Percy told her she looked lovely if the heat she could feel in her cheeks was any indication she was already bright red.
The dining room in the restaurant was cosy, with its low lighting and secluded booths. Dark, opulent fabrics lined the walls, and candles burned from all available surfaces. Hermione didn't have any issue at all with intimate, especially with the wizard next to her, but the butterflies in her stomach were doing cartwheels and Hermione was beginning to think that she wouldn't get through the meal without embarrassing herself.
Percy talked about improvements being made in his job, and she listened attentively, happy to hear that things were going well. She took a genuine interest in the changes he was making, though she enjoyed the passion that leaked into his expression much more. Yes, Percy was studious and obsessed with detail, but he was also someone that genuinely cared about what he did, not only was that something Hermione could understand, it was something she found herself drawn to.
Once their main meals had been cleared away, they ordered more wine, and she began to tell Percy, in an altogether much more relaxed way than she had managed in her letter, about the issues she had been having with her writing. Typically, she would have felt very exposed revealing her shortcomings; post-war Hermione was a girl that barely deserved her Gryffindor status, she was afraid of many things but nothing more than failure. But with Percy it was different, he was safe, she could talk to him without fearing judgement.
Rather than discuss her issues further when Hermione got to the end of her rather rambling speech, Percy asked her to talk about her paper. Hermione outlined her topic and hesitantly spoke about her findings, and Percy gave her earnest feedback. She felt a glimmer in her chest that maybe something she had written could be salvageable. It was nice to communicate with someone on an intellectual level, and not apologise for her interest, she felt bad about it, but it wasn't as though Harry and Ron couldn't keep up with her, they just had no interest in doing so.
Towards the end of the meal Percy reached into his pocket, producing a small box that he enlarged to reveal a large, flat package, wrapped in simple brown parchment, and when Hermione looked at him for an explanation she was confused by his wary expression.
"I got you something, you might think it's silly, but I thought… I thought it might help," he related hesitantly.
Hermione unwrapped the package carefully, mindful that for all she knew the inside could be fragile. When she cleared the brown parchment away, it revealed a sealed stack of light blue, high-quality paper, with 'Hermione Granger' embossed in bright silver ink on the top of each page. She ran her fingers over the parchment reverentially.
"Percy, this is lovely, whatever made you think of it?"
Percy's fingers played with the stem of his wine glass as he gazed at the table top. "When I received your note this afternoon I thought of this, the idea was something that had come to me before, and I thought about it for your Christmas present." He cleared his throat, "When I was little my mother told me how we should always save the nice paper for important letters, looking back I think it was stop the other boys from using it for their games, but no matter it stuck with me. When I got older I always kept a stack of 'nice paper' for when I had to write down anything important and I… I thought this would be good for your notes because it would remind you that everything you think is important, it's all worthy of the good paper, because even if it never sees the light of day, you wrote it."
Percy fell silent, and after a couple of false starts, Hermione managed to speak around the lump in her throat. "Thank you, Percy, I really appreciate this," she said in a whisper. Percy seemed surprised when her hand covered his for a moment, but he met her eyes before he turned his hand, so their palms touched, giving her a gentle squeeze.
Hermione blinked away the tears in her eyes and looked back down at the paper on the table.
Whatever their relationship was, she wasn't giving it up.
Following the dinner meetings between them became much more regular. Percy quickly found that speaking to Hermione was the best part of his week, something he seemingly had no trouble admitting to himself. Over time he became less guarded, he no longer took ages to agonise over the compositions of his letters or weighing his responses meticulously when they met in person.
In the simplest terms, Hermione made him feel comfortable. Percy knew that to some; comfort was a dirty word, people craved excitement and stimulation, angst and drama. Percy though, he just wanted Hermione, her presence and the uncomplicated peace of her companionship. To him the warmth Hermione brought into his life meant everything, the acute pain and loneliness he had been feeling for the better part of two years began to abate when she excitedly asked his opinion.
He found himself saving articles he had read to talk to her about, sometimes, when he was within the confines of his office, Percy would smile to himself as he imagined her responses.
Percy noticed little things about her, like how Hermione would tilt her head to the side when she was giving something serious thought, or how she would snort when she laughed hard, and would then blush in embarrassment. How her fingers were always ink stained, no matter how hard she scrubbed, how she spoke to Crookshanks in a sarcastic tone like he was her intellectual equal, but when she thought no one was paying attention she would bury her head in his mangy orange fur and tell the creature how much she loved him.
Not all his observations were like that, some things Percy discovered were less pleasant. Like how Hermione flinched with every unexpected noise, or how she gripped her wand as a reflex when people approached her from behind. He remembered the day he learned that she still carried a little bag everywhere, similar to the one she had on the run. Just in case.
He longed to make her feel safe, to give her enough security so she would actually relax.
Time went on, suddenly it was nearly November, and their relationship had progressed till they were speaking, in some way or another, most days.
Somehow she had become the most important person in his life.
By the end of October Hermione was happier than she had been for an age. She and Percy were in regular contact, and with his gentle guidance and encouragement, she had managed to get several papers published, which, despite her panic, had been well received, if debated against. She had also succeeded in continually fulfil her contractual obligations with the Ministry and St Mungos. It made her feel whole, and Percy seemed to understand. Hermione knew most people wouldn't feel that functioning was something to celebrate but Percy let her know, in his quiet way, that he was proud of her.
Soon they were communicating every day, and Hermione found that Percy had slotted into a place in her life that she had never even known existed, but now that he was there it seemed perfect.
She valued his input more than she had ever valued anyone's before, and yet, in spite of that, she didn't feel dependant on, or beholden to him. At Hogwarts, she was mindful that Harry and Ron were her only real friends and so when they were angry at her she apologised, whether or not she felt she was at fault. Hermione didn't feel like she had to soften her edges around Percy. They argued about their opinions, sometimes passionately, but the feelings that were stirred up never continued on past that discussion. The first time she had snapped and called Percy an idiot Hermione had almost bitten through her lip at the silence that had followed until she had braved looking up only to find him waving down a waitress to get another cup of tea with an indulgent smile on his face.
She became acquainted with all of his idiosyncrasies, like how he always stirred tea clockwise and coffee anticlockwise, or how he was always three minutes early, not two minutes, not four, but exactly three. Hermione logged how quickly Percy's hair grew, and how when his fringe got long he became perputually distracted by the auburn curls falling forward onto his face. Hermione loved it.
She noticed how his fidgeting became more pronounced when they were at the Burrow, especially if his older brothers were present. How when he was nervous he tugged on his sleeves, and his voice became clipped, or how when asked about work, by anyone but her, he would answer in only one or two sentences, in a tone that bordered on apologetic. Hermione hated it.
She longed to make him feel wanted, to give him enough reassurance so that he would actually relax.
Somehow he had become the most important person in her life.
A side effect of regularly spending time with one another was that the carefully constructed walls that had been developed, and the masks that were employed started to crumble. All of this suited Percy fine, he had, at least on some level, craved the intimacy he was now experiencing with Hermione for as long as he could remember.
Hermione and Percy were out walking through Diagon Alley, eating ice cream that Hermione had insisted they purchase, in spite of it being December. They had come out for new books, the source material for her latest project and while navigating the crowds, Hermione was bumped by a passer-by resulting in her mint chocolate chip being smeared all over his coat.
Hermione apologised profusely, to the point where tears were beginning to form in her eyes. Sensing that she was unravelling Percy did the only thing he could think of and pulled her down the road to his flat. They spent an awful amount of time together, but they never visited each other's homes, something Percy had never given much thought to.
He opened the door and marched to his bedroom waving a hand towards the living room and inviting Hermione to settle herself while he rid himself of the sticky mess of a coat. Percy came back down a moment later and instantly the crushing realisation of what he had done came falling around his feet. He walked into the room to see Hermione perched on the edge of the hard backed sofa regarding one of the plain white walls. For the first time, Percy saw the room through another's eyes, white walls, one bookshelf and a sideboard being the total of his possessions. He felt painfully exposed and tried to formulate words to cover his emotions, but his mind was too scrambled, his throat too raw.
"How long have you lived here Percy?" Hermione asked softly.
"Ah… four… nearly five years," he muttered quietly, staring at the carpeted floor.
Hermione said nothing, instead, her eyes travelled around the space. "It doesn't… it doesn't look like anyone lives here, least of all you. There no sign of you... of your personality anywhere."
"I don't have a personality," Percy huffed out in an attempt at a deflecting joke, but the truth of the statement bit him, and he winced.
Hermione wrung her hands in front of herself. "That's just not true Percy," she said, her voice thick, "you have so much personality. I … I believe you think you have the wrong one."
The words felt heavy in the room almost hanging in the air between them, and they both shifted slightly under the weight. Percy realised what a joke his perception of his own openness had been. He had been so proud of himself, and yet he had still been hiding so much. Hermione stood suddenly, and he braced himself for her leaving, no doubt she was embarrassed by the dull unflinching reality of his existence.
She had seen the worst now.
Hermione shuddered out a calming breath and ran her fingers over her clothes in the appearance of smoothing herself down, while she was attempting to still her trembling fingers.
She reached a hand to Percy, who was standing bolstered against a bare wall, in his bare flat, with watery eyes. His breathing was heavy and his cheeks pink. He regarded her hand like he didn't know what to do with it, and so Hermione screwed up all of her courage and stepped forward grasping one of his hands tightly in hers.
"I have to show you something, ok?" she said, and he nodded weakly. "Hold on," she warned before she apparated them to her flat. The rich earthy tones of her living room were an assault on the senses after being in the cold box that Percy called a home.
Sensing he was still somewhat unresponsive Hermione tugged Percy until they reached her study. She shut her eyes momentarily and squared her shoulders before moving into the room, pulling in Percy behind her.
He languidly drifted away from her, falling back into a chair. "It's… it's lovely Hermione," he croaked out. "I'm sure I could take some tips from you on interior design." His fake smile was making Hermione's chest hurt, and it was the final push she needed to steel her resolve.
Hermione stepped forward and produced a box from under the desk; the cardboard filled to the brim with assorted parchment. "Have a look," she gently encouraged, handing it to Percy and she fell into a chair herself, her nails biting into the flesh of her palms. She watched quietly, cold dread moving down her spine as he riffled through page after page, his eyebrows raising higher and higher.
She had never told anyone about the red quill. It had been her secret. When she was little, and the children in her class wanted to 'play school' Hermione always wanted to be teacher, she loved marking with the red pen. When she had first started work on her research, she had gone to purchase materials and had bought a quill specifically for red ink, thinking it would help her progress if she could easily spot additions or alterations to the writing during editing sessions. At least that had been what it started as. Before a week had passed the comments she made in the red ink echoed the worst whisperings of her psyche; failure, Mudblood, orphan, irrelevant, worthless and a hundred other remarks would be littered over patches of parchment, angry script around her attempted progress. Then the moment would pass, and Hermione would scoop all of the evidence up and place it in a box under her desk, where they would not pollute the rest of her lovely flat, but where she wouldn't forget them.
Percy looked up at her, his eyes blown wide. "Hermione I," he began his eyes falteringly still falling to the parchment between his fingers.
Hermione felt her heartbeat in her throat, please, please don't say you think I'm mad.
"None of this is true," Percy said, leaning forward in his seat, "you know that… don't you?"
"Yes," she whispered, "most days," and she huffed out a brittle empty laugh. They were silent as Percy placed the parchment back in the box and rubbed a hand roughly over his face. In the quiet uncertainty, a question bubbled in Hermione's throat and was expelled before she could stop it. "Does it… does it change," she gritted her teeth, "do you think any differently about me?"
Percy's head snapped up; he looked angry, no, wild, his eyes were lit by a fire that was almost feral. "NO!" he barked, "How could you think… no, Hermione, it doesn't change how I… it couldn't," he stood, brushing his hand aggressively through his curls in a very un-Percy like fashion. "Does it... My flat… for you, I mean?"
"No," she said firmly, "not at all."
Percy stepped forward and pulled Hermione from the chair into a hug that was near bone crushing in intensity. At some point she let go of the tight line she was holding herself in, allowing her body to go limp in his arms, her head fell onto his shoulder as he fiddled with the ends of her hair.
An hour or so later they were sat cross legged on the floor of her study, drinking hot chocolate as she flashed different colours on the wall for Percy's opinion while he incinerated a stack of parchment.
The next day when she was tidying up, she discovered her red quill was nowhere to be seen.
He had seen the worst now.
Percy was heading for lunch with Hermione, already ten minutes late; the thought made him quicken his step. He detested being behind time, but today it had been unavoidable. He had been collared on his way out of the Ministry by a senior member of the Wizengamot, and could not excuse himself till the gentleman had got off his chest, in an incredibly round about fashion, how unhappy he was about the proposed changes to portkey licensing.
Following their raw exchange, a week before Percy had anticipated a shift in his relationship with Hermione. Despite what she had revealed he had still expected her to pull away from him. But she didn't, they still spoke every day, sometimes twice a day, and this was the second arranged meeting since he had tentatively agreed to paint his living room burnt terracotta.
Once he made it into Diagon Alley Percy was further held up by the sheer amount of people out in the cold. As December had dawned, the streets were bustling with early Christmas shoppers, while he applauded their organisation their presence was a hindrance. When Percy finally approached the cafe they favoured for midweek meals, an apology already on his lips for making her wait, he spotted Hermione in the window waiting for him, except she wasn't alone.
Ron was with her. Whatever conversation they were having was intense, Percy could tell from the serious looks painted on their faces. He watched in rigid horror as Hermione's hand came forward and laid over Ron's on the table, and his brother sagged in what looked very much like relief.
How could he have been so stupid, how could he have forgotten? It had always been Ron. It would always be Ron. How had he let it get this far? Let himself feel so much?
Percy somehow managed to get back into the Ministry, and into his office, all thought of food wiped from his brain, he definitely couldn't stomach anything now. He reached for parchment after parchment on his desk only the words swam in front of his eyes. He turned his chair to face the back wall, specifically the charmed window, today displaying a sunny sky over clear water. It did nothing to soothe him.
What had he done?
Hermione had stationed herself in the cafe that herself and Percy usually met in by the glass front window, so she could watch the world go by. She planned to get amongst the throng of people after she had eaten, it was high time she made a start on her Christmas shopping.
While she was waiting for Percy to arrive she spied a harangued looking Ron walking passed, and she banged on the glass to get his attention, he gave her a hesitant smile and came in, taking the seat in front of her. They chatted idly for a few minutes until Hermione could no longer ignore his twitching and pained glances.
"OK, Ron what's going on here?" she asked expectantly, crossing her arms to show how she wouldn't be deterred, she idly thought that her body language wouldn't have worked on Percy.
"What do you mean?" Ron asked evasively, though colour immediately stained the tops of his ears.
"You're nervous about something," Hermione pressed, blowing on the liquid in her cup and eyeing him shrewdly.
"Err, I," he stuttered before he placed his hands on the table more forcibly than he probably intended, and the surface shook. "I'm dating Lavender," he blurted.
Hermione sat forward waiting for the rest of what Ron wanted to say when there seemed to be nothing she tilted her head. "Is that it?" she questioned incredulously.
Ron stared at her wide eyed, "I thought you'd be upset, I mean we never actually talked about the kiss at the battle and stuff but-"
"-Ron," Hermione interjected, trying for a kinder tone, "that was… a long time ago, and I know we should have talked about it, but I kind of took that we didn't as a sign that neither of us wanted it. I think this is good for you; I want you to be happy."
"You mean it?"
Hermione moved her hand forward to cover his, "I do."
After a quick catch up chat, a very relieved Ron left to continue his search for Lavender Christmas present. Hermione watched him disappear into the crowds with an affectionate glance and a shake of her head. She looked at her watch, with the distraction she hadn't noticed that Percy was twenty minutes late, for some of her friends that would be no big surprise but with Percy, lateness, especially by such a time was completely unheard of.
Hermione waited a further twenty minutes before concluding something must have come up at work. She headed to the counter and ordered sandwiches instead, resolving to bring them to his office. If he was busy enough to have forgotten their meeting, he had probably forgotten to eat at all. Making use of the Floo in the Leaky Cauldron, she was at the Ministry and had walked into his office not ten minutes later. Percy was sat at his desk, eyeing a piece of parchment as if it had personally offended him, he didn't look up as she came in.
"Hi Percy," she called out brightly, "you forgot lunch so I thought I would drop in."
"Sorry, I must have been busy," he answered briskly. Hermione's step faltered, his tone was off, it was formal and unfamiliar, he didn't even look up to face her he just continued to write across a large piece of parchment on his desk
She suddenly felt uncomfortable, like she was intruding, she had never felt like that in front of Percy before. "I brought you some sandwiches," she tried, holding the bag aloft hoping for some reaction.
"Thank you, that was kind," Percy acknowledged, his voice clipped and standoffish. She had heard him use that tone before but only when he was stressed. What could have gone wrong since she spoke to him that morning?
Her brow furrowed, "Percy?"
What had she done?
Percy had stalled when Hermione walked into his office as if nothing had happened; he had done his best not to engage her, keeping his answers short, he wanted her to leave, being this close was physically painful. He watched out of the corner of his eye as she strutted forward to sit on the edge of his desk
"Percy," she repeated softly.
He resolutely sought to keep working, or at least to maintain the pretence of it, and he definitely did not glance at the black opaque tights that covered the flesh of her thighs resting on his desk. Hermione dropped her head to meet his gaze and their eyes locked. "What is it?" she asked, her face so close that their noses were almost touching.
Percy tore his eyes away, "I went to lunch," he admitted finally, "I saw you there with Ron," he finished shortly, though he couldn't temper the accusation in his voice. He looked at her then expecting to see realisation instead Hermione just looked blank.
"Yes, why didn't you come in?" She asked, her tone confused.
She couldn't be that blind to his feelings surely?
"I didn't want to interrupt; it looked like a delicate conversation."
"Well, yes, I suppose it was in some respects," Hermione answered vaguely.
Percy gritted his teeth and stood, "Hermione I'm very busy," he bit out, "so if you would kindly leave."
She jumped from her perch on his desk and stepped back as if she had been slapped; he regretted his words instantly, "Hermione...I-"
Her expression shifted, and his heart leapt.
Hermione wanted nothing more than to run away, Percy was her safe place, the idea of him rejecting her was more than she could bear, but the despair in his voice gave her pause. "Yes?" she replied, her voice tremulous.
Percy looked like he wanted to speak but the silence in the air was deafening. Hermione fought against every inclination she had to flee and somehow held her ground, biting her lip before she took a step forward. "Percy I don't understand what I've done," she breathed in, pushing down her frustration, "but whatever it is I'm sorry." He looked up at her then, bafflement written all over his face. "I don't want to fall out. You're… You're very important, sometimes I think… Well, the most important."
Percy's mouth dropped open with an expression her mother would have called catching flies. "What about Ron?"
Hermione was astounded, "What about Ron? He and Harry will always be important to me, they're my best friends, but they don't always understand-"
"-But you and Ron, at lunch," he interjected.
Realisation began to filter into her mind, Percy was… jealous? Surely she couldn't hope to believe he cared about her in that way? Hermione took a hesitant step forward. "I was waiting for you and Ron appeared, he wanted to talk to me about Lavender, they have started dating. At the battle we kissed, I think it had been building for years, we had both been expecting something would happen, but when it did, we both knew it wasn't right. We have both been guilty of avoiding the issue for fear of disappointing the other and as such Ron was labouring under the misapprehension that I would be upset... Which I am not."
His expression shifted, and her heart leapt.
Percy's heart was pounding, and he attempted to keep his head clear, his mind was screaming at him that this was his chance, but he was scared. He couldn't stand the thought that he might lose her if he admitted how he felt. Maybe it was better to keep quiet, have a guaranteed friend. He breathed in, was that true? Could he honestly sit back and watch Hermione date, get married, start a family, and just be happy on the side lines? Mind made up he locked eyes with her.
"Hermione I... I don't want to be your friend anymore."
As she crumpled Percy instantly realised what that sounded like, she looked so resigned; she had so much further to go to understand her worth, he hoped he would be able to help with that journey. Hoped she would let him.
"That was inelegantly expressed, what I meant was, would you consider dating me?" Looking at her blank expression, he continued.
Hermione's heart was pounding, she eyed Percy cautiously, anxious that he would suddenly break into a huge smile and scream 'kidding'. But Percy wasn't like that; he wouldn't play with her like that, would he? No, if he was asking he really meant it.
"Yes," she forced out before she left too long a gap. "Yes I, I would like that."
His face broke into a warm smile that she returned nervously, in two steps he was directly in front of her, without warning he reached down to grab her chin and lifted her head up, placing a delicate kiss on her lips that she would have described as chaste had she not felt the simmering heat behind it. He broke away from her.
"I have wanted to do that for a very, very long time."
Hermione felt a nervous giggle escape her, a side effect from all of the tensions of the last exchange. Percy's arms snaked around her tightly. "Would you like to stay for lunch?" he asked into her hair.
The first few weeks that Hermione and Percy were 'officially' dating passed by in a blur. Everything remained the same, and yet everything changed at the same time. They met just as frequently and talked just as often, but it was so much more than before. It had been awkward to start, not least because of the out of character dramatics in Percy's office. Both were incredibly nervous about their fledgeling relationship status, and Hermione was never sure how she should act, she had never been a romantic relationship before, serious or otherwise. Over time, much like with their deepening friendship, they settled into it and became more comfortable with natural displays of affection when they were alone. Hermione would stand on her tiptoes and brush her lips against the corners of Percy's mouth, he, in return, would push her curls away from her shoulder so he could rub a calloused thumb up and down the line of her neck.
Hermione believed their change in relationship had given Percy a surge of confidence. He was expressing himself more freely; he seemed more at peace with who he was. Her mother would have said he had 'settled into his skin. Hermione just wished Jean Granger could have been there to tell him herself.
Something about Hermione's acceptance of him had unlocked a side of Percy that previously she had only seen when he was acting in his professional capacity. The first time they had gone for dinner following the charged session in his office, Percy had impressed upon Hermione that they weren't going for dinner, he was taking her.
Some of Hermione's insecurities were lifting as well, anxiety she hadn't even been aware she was harbouring dismantled when they admitted their deeper feelings. Percy didn't feel attached to who she projected herself to be, he knew the real her, scars, indecision and all, and he still found something there that he liked.
On their first 'proper' date, Percy had linked hands with Hermione under the table and smiled crinkly eyed smiles at her while she told him about the feedback from her latest paper. Their opinions still differed but the debates were punctuated by happy laughter and stolen touches. At the end of the evening, he had walked her back to her flat and kissed her beautifully at the door, with an intensity that left her melted against the frame before parting with a reluctant goodbye. Hermione hated the thought of Percy going back to his flat alone. They had tried to make some changes to the living room and kitchen over the last couple of weeks, but it still felt barely inhabited. She had considered inviting him in but was concerned about rushing things between them. Hermione hated the very idea that this could all go wrong, though she had no real conception of what fast or slow would mean in this context. So instead, she bit her lip to hold in a sigh as she watched Percy retreat down the corridor, before willing herself into her flat and closing the door behind her.
They had decided, by mutual agreement, not to tell anyone they were dating yet, at least until they had enough time to get used to it themselves. Neither particularly wanted to lie, but they were very protective of their new arrangement, and each other. Hermione had initially feared that censure from his family might cause Percy to reconsider, however, when she quietly voiced those feelings he gently made her see that that would not be the case. Though they did not wish to make a 'big announcement' they didn't want to go out of their way to fib either, so they decided they wouldn't hide their closeness over the upcoming Christmas holidays. Hermione had no desire to repress her feelings, not that she would have been able to, she had never been very good at lying, and Percy made her too happy to want to try.
Hermione had accepted the invitation to celebrate Christmas Day at the Burrow, following gentle pressure from Harry and Ron. Percy had told her to do whatever she felt comfortable with, having indicated that he would have preferred to spend the holidays just the two of them. As no one knew about their relationship he had admitted, however begrudgingly, to do so would have felt like he was hiding her away, and he told her very expressly that he didn't want that. Hermione had proposed that they could run away next year and Percy had smiled and kissed her forehead.
Hermione had arrived at the Burrow on schedule, and after a long day of helping out Mrs Weasley in the kitchen was climbing up the stairs looking forward to falling into bed, even though she would be doing so in Ginny's room. Although she and Percy were not sleeping together, in any sense of the expression, it still felt strange to her for them to be under the same roof while separated by an entire floor.
Hermione was soon distracted from feelings of separation by a buoyant Ginny, the redhead was happy to pretend, for one day at least, that she and Harry weren't sharing a room at Grimmauld Place. The two friends hunkered down in the pillows and assorted handmade blankets like they had done when they were innocent school children and laughed over funny memories that had been long forgotten. Ginny whispered in uncharacteristically dreamy tones about how happy she was; Hermione was filled with a fresh wave of nerves, it would hopefully not be long before she could share her own happiness with everyone she cared about.
Christmas morning at the Weasley house meant breakfast in your pyjamas before donning your new jumper, enjoying the rest of the usual holiday activities, mainly those that centred on excessive amounts of food and drink.
Hermione had gotten up early, years of her own family's Christmas traditions ingrained within her. She headed to the bathroom, attempting to get washed up before the rest of the inhabitants descended, the gentle snores of her roommate indicating that Ginny would not be up anytime soon. As she approached the required door, Hermione was taken by surprise as a sleepy Percy exited the bathroom. He didn't spot her immediately, as he was still wiping the sleep from his eyes, and Hermione took the chance to regard him in his ruffled state. It felt very intimate to see him like that, a man like Percy always looked put together even when casual. Hermione's eyes ran over his checked flannel bottoms and loose grey t-shirt before smiling at his rumpled auburn curls.
Hermione had mentioned quietly, weeks before they were even dating that she liked his hair when it was a little more grown out, and Percy seemed to have taken that to heart, allowing his hair to grow to the point where she permanently wanted to sink her hands into it. Hermione never drew attention to the slight change in style, concerned that if she did Percy would become self-conscious and cut it off.
As he finally appeared to notice her presence, Hermione smiled up at him and let relief settle into her shoulders. "Morning Percy," she greeted softly, mindful of the sleeping heads tucked behind doors on the corridor.
"Morning Hermione," he replied, his voice thick with sleep, he had never been more adorable to her.
His eyes darted around the corridor quickly before he lowered his head and kissed her soundly, speaking a muffled, "Merry Christmas," against her lips. Hermione couldn't hold back a girlish giggle at his behaviour; it appeared it wasn't just his appearance that was more laid back this morning.
Breaking the kiss, Percy moved his arms till they wrapped around her shoulders, and Hermione could smell the peppermint from his toothpaste and feel the hard lines of his torso through her thin clothing as she buried into his warmth.
"Are you ready for everyone to know?" he questioned quietly.
"Yes," Hermione replied immediately, her voice firm. She really was, she couldn't imagine going the whole day without telling them, she couldn't trust herself not to reveal their secret accidentally.
Percy nodded against Hermione's curls. "See you downstairs in a bit," he promised, before drifting back to his room.
She wondered if he could feel the heat from her gaze as he walked away.
Percy had been nervous about his family finding out about himself and Hermione, they were both cautious of anything that could potentially 'rock the boat', but at the same time, he wanted everyone to know. Since that day in his office, Percy had been happier than he had previously thought possible, and he wasn't willing to give that up. As much as he had worked hard to build bridges and strengthen his neglected familial bonds, he was not surprised to discover that he felt Hermione was more important than any of that. Whatever happened, he said to himself; he would leave there with her at the end of it.
He had gone to sleep the previous evening in his old room which had been odd, especially with Charlie bunking in with him. He had arrived too late even to catch a glimpse of her, though he imagined it was probably for the best, after his final arduous day in the office before the holidays he would have been hard pressed to keep her secret any longer. Percy had tossed and turned, missing his girlfriend immensely, even though they hadn't shared a bed yet. He was determined not to rush her but knowing they were under the same roof and not together didn't sit well with him. He wanted to be able to curl up next to her, wrap his arms around her small form and pull her against his chest. For his comfort and, he hoped, hers. They had discussed her nightmares often, and Percy wanted nothing more than to be able to help, he panicked that she might be suffering while he was so close, and he could do nothing.
Once he had seen her that morning, appearing as she had slept without difficulty, Percy's heart unclenched, and his weary mind and body were soothed by their tender embrace in the second-floor corridor.
He walked down to the kitchen once he had attempted to tame his curls and found Hermione was already at the table, sat next to Charlie, who seemed to be enjoying the view provided by Hermione's ribbed sleeveless pyjama top, a lot more than Percy would have liked.
He gripped the edge of the table as he sat down and tried to calm his breathing, he had promised Hermione he would do this, but still, stupidly, he feared her rejection. What if she pulled away? They would all laugh at him and then… STOP! Not wanting to delay proceedings lest he talked himself out of it, Percy walked over to Hermione and unceremoniously dropped a kiss amongst her curls before squeezing onto the bench seat next to her. He ignored the audible sucking in of breath from around the room and started to assemble his breakfast, resolutely not looking up as he moved from dish to dish, putting items on his plate.
He felt more than saw or heard the confusion in the room. The Weasley's were never a family for holding back a single thought that entered their heads, and it wasn't long before a cacophony of voices filled the air;
"You and… Percy?"
"Why didn't you tell us?"
Percy concentrated on his plate, ignoring, or trying to, that the enquiries were directed at Hermione, not him. She was more a part of the fold than he was, or was it her judgement they deemed worthy of inquisition? He supposed they couldn't understand why she would attach herself to someone like him. Percy sympathised, he regularly felt the same.
On and on the questioning went until eventually, bewilderment gave way to dawning understanding and sometime later there were a few bemused mutterings of congratulations.
His mother was decidedly frosty towards the pair of them for a while until Harry pointed out her simmering hostility to Ron. His youngest brother dutifully explained, mostly out of earshot of the rest of the room, but not of Percy, that he and Hermione were never meant to be, not like that, and that he was serious about Lavender. 'How serious?' his mother had questioned, 'Ginny and Harry serious' Ron had replied, Molly was ecstatic and began making arrangements for Lavender to visit over the holidays. With the vague dangling of a wedding shaped carrot all slights, perceived or otherwise, were forgiven in the face of potential celebrations in the future.
Percy let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding since the cafe misunderstanding. He had believed what Hermione had told him about her conversation with Ron, but he'd had lingering concerns about his brother's feelings, fears that had just been sent floating away. Percy moved to sit a tiny bit closer to Hermione, linking his pinkie finger through hers under the table as had become a habit when they ate together. It was the sort of gesture that once upon a time he would have rolled his eyes at, but now he appreciated the contact, especially considering the hurdle they had just jumped, together. Hermione, in return, squished slightly closer to him, nudging his shoulder as she reached to refill his coffee, giving him a grin in the process.
Hermione was equally affection with him throughout the rest of the day, no more so than when they were alone. Percy hadn't expected it in front of others, and because of that gentle assurance, he didn't hold back either. He kissed her cheek as she walked by, or wrapped his hand around her wrist, rubbing soft circles on her palms as they sat next to each other. She moved to his side or stood in front of him as they made conversation with the others, often leaning back against his frame.
It wasn't the same as when Percy had visited her flat for her to show him the latest paper, then they had ended up with Hermione sat on his lap in her office chair, her legs draped across him, as his chin rested on her head. It wasn't as sublime as that moment, then, few things were, and it was still a good deal more than 'nice'.
When dinner was long eaten and cleared away, the gathering moved to the smaller sitting room for drinks, and Hermione tucked herself into his side. When he overheard her complain softly of being cold, Percy noticed that evening had turned to night. He left the room to fetch her another layer and gave her his new jumper, 'must have picked up the wrong one' he explained with a shrug. Hermione smiled softly, and Percy knew she wasn't fooled but she donned the thick grey knit emblazoned with a gold P he proffered anyway, sliding it into place over her blue dress. It was far too big for her, the arms almost covered her hands, and the hem dropped to well beneath her bum. She stood to pull into place and push down her hair that had gone everywhere shouting that she was going to get drinks, and requests filled the air as she headed to the well-stocked sideboard.
He wondered if she could feel the heat from his gaze as she walked away.
By New Year's Hermione had decided to be bold, well, bold by her standards at least. She had and invited Percy over for dinner with a view to asking him to stay the night. She wasn't sure where she wanted the evening to go, she just knew that when he left after their dates, she hated it, the rest she could work out later.
She almost botched all of the food, her preparations and timings going to hell through nerves. Hermione was much quieter than normal when Percy first arrived, though after some gentle chat and laughter she started to calm down enough to enjoy herself.
After a dinner which he sweetly told her was wonderful, despite most of it showing signs of charring, they sat on her sofa and Hermione put on the telly in time for Jools' Annual Hootenanny. She had to explain a lot of the customs to Percy, though he seemed intrigued rather than bored. She wondered whether her parents would have remembered that they loved the show. Hermione often thought about them in Australia, wondered how many of their mannerisms they would have retained even though they had lost their memories. She remembered how her dad would stare at the screen whenever any vaguely new age act would come on, and would immediately comment on 'what passed for music these days', he would normally get five minutes into the well versed rant before her mum would remind him that he went to see Judas Priest, twice, and was wearing a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band t-shirt when they first met.
At exactly midnight Percy leaned over to kiss her, it was Hermione's first ever kiss at midnight. The contact started out sweet before slowly heating as he opened his mouth under hers, gently probing the seam of her lips with his tongue to nudge her mouth open. Their kissing had become more passionate since Christmas and Hermione was soon breathless, as she moaned softly into his mouth Percy secured his hands around her hips to pull her into his lap, her legs falling to each side of his. He gently trailed his hands up and down her sides before ghosting his fingers in more teasing touches, rubbing circles with his thumbs over her torso. Hermione arched in his arms, revelling in the new level of contact, their hands had wandered before, but she had never been as close to him as she was now.
When she writhed against him Percy pushed at her lower back, moving her closer, and as Hermione slid down his legs she suddenly became aware of his hardness pressed firmly against her core. She instantly felt all of her earlier bravado leave her, replaced quickly by panic, her movements stilled, and her spine stiffened. Percy noticed and immediately and broke away from her, his breathing ragged.
"Hermione, I'm sorry," he looked at her with dark eyes.
"It's… its ok...I wanted to ask you to stay," Hermione admitted.
"Really?" he asked incredulously.
"Really… I'm just well, I'm a little scared," she admitted shyly, not fully able to meet his eyes.
Percy's face came close to hers again, and she could feel the soft pants of his breath on her neck before he kissed her sweetly on the cheek. "Hermione there is no pressure, I have no expectations, but I would like to stay with you."
"I don't like saying goodbye to you," Hermione whispered, leaning forward into his embrace and feeling his comforting warm sooth her.
"I don't like it either," he replied, running his hands up and down her back.
Their kissing resumed, and after passion had overtaken her nerves again, Hermione lost herself in the heated exchange, feeling a sense of unparalleled freedom as so many of her barriers fell away. Percy lifted her, carrying her to the bedroom before depositing her on the bed.
As Hermione reached to fumble with his clothes Percy affectionately patted her hand away before moving back off the mattress and standing in front of her. Slowly, he removed each item he was wearing, never once breaking his intense eye contact with her until he was gloriously naked. Before Hermione had a real chance to react to the exposed flesh she was carefully committing to memory, Percy climbed back onto the bed and covered her before softly taking away her clothes.
Oh Merlin, please don't let me mess this up.
Percy was fairly sure he was going to have a heart attack, well, that, or he might be facing permanent brain damage from the lack of blood flow heading north. He had fantasised about this moment for a long time, Hermione had been a vision in his dreams long before he had even acknowledged to himself that he liked her.
It had made him incredibly self-conscious to get completely naked in front of her, but he was determined that she would feel at ease, whatever it cost him. He didn't want to remove any of her clothes until he had done the same. He soon completely forgot about his state of undress when he regarded the flushed witch on the bed in front of him.
Percy felt her hesitate as he made to pull her arm out of her long sleeve knit, and he instantly let go of the clothing and turned to face her. Hermione sat up and gingerly removed her jumper, though she kept her eyes averted. Percy placed a finger under her chin, pulling her gaze up to meet his. "What's wrong?"
Hermione gestured to her arm, and Percy looked down at the smooth, perfect flesh with confusion. "It's the glamours," she explained, "once I… when I get emotional I tend not to be able to keep them up."
Understanding dawning Percy kissed her hair, "You will be fine Hermione, I promise."
Hermione nodded, seeming to accept his words before she laid back onto the comforter. He moved over her small body, kissing every inch of skin that had been uncovered to him. Sex had never felt like this before; he had cared a great deal for Penelope, but this was something more. He had peeled back all of his layers for Hermione, giving her first his mind, then his heart, and now his body. Percy was hit by such an incredible sense of belonging as he ran his hands over Hermione that he almost felt winded by it.
Hermione must have been feeling as overwhelmed as he was, as quickly her skin began to flush, and her breathing became heavier. As he continued his tender ministrations, worshipping her body, Percy detected a tingle that pricked along the edges of his always moving fingers, and he knew her glamours had fallen. Percy ignored her sudden stiffness, he didn't care what the state of her injuries were, Hermione was so tough, so brave, he almost couldn't focus on something as every day as skin when he was blinded by her radiance, the beauty that shone from her eyes, from the set of her mouth, in all the little noises she made. The wide deep mark against her torso, the slur cut savagely into her arm, the blurred words in the back of her hand, the nicks and imperfections from war, Percy kissed them all.
He knew at that moment that he loved her, loved Hermione more than he had ever loved a person or thing in his existence. As his touching became more heated, she suddenly halted him, stuttering about her inexperience. Her skin flushed again, only this time from a much less pleasant sensation. Percy could see her embarrassment; he wondered if the intensity was because she felt she should have experienced this before, or whether it was the fear of not knowing exactly what to expect. Hermione Granger was never comfortable in ignorance.
Percy attempted to rectify both to the best of his fumbling ability, rubbing a hand gently over her collarbone and kissing the sides of her mouth. "You were in a war, you had more important things on your mind," he soothed gently, running a hand through her hair. He paused, thinking of how to word the next sentence, "We don't have to do anything, we can stop at any time, you just have to say." Hermione looked less red, but he could sense that she wasn't relieved as he had hoped, there was something else.
"Hermione?" he pressed, looking into her eyes and willing her to be honest.
"What if I'm terrible?" she suddenly blurted.
Percy stopped his attentions to touch her face, keeping his hands still so she could focus on his words. "It could never be terrible; you could never be terrible. Hermione, I want you, and honestly, I'm a little relieved," at her startled expression Percy continued in a lighter tone. "I was a little worried about what I might have been up against. I've had some horrible ideas about competing with the memory of professional sports players and, even worse, my own brother."
Hermione huffed out a small laugh, and Percy gently moved his hand down her body, running his fingers lightly over her skin before drifting to the small thatch of hair at the top of her thighs. He stilled his fingers waiting for permission, and at her slight nod, he did his best to work her to the point of pleasure, his eyes never leaving her face as she mounted higher and higher.
Percy dropped his face to kiss her, swallowing the screams of her climax when it came. He felt power like he never had before as he regarded Hermione's sated, dazed expression. Seeing her open to him, momentarily free from hurt, pain and suffering. At that moment they were just them, there was no war, no rejection, no struggle to find acceptance.
The feeling he had when he entered her finally, was only surpassed by the utter bliss of her crawling over to him once they had finished, Hermione moved to curl into his body, their limbs fitting together like they were designed that way.
Percy stayed awake long after Hermione had fallen asleep, her gentle snores massaging the knots and cracks in his soul. He whispered how special she was, and how much she meant to him before he moved to settle himself protectively around her little body, feeling overcome by emotions he wasn't even sure he could appropriately name.
Oh Merlin, please don't let me mess this up.
The first time Percy said I love you was the next day, as the new couple were languishing in the kitchen of Hermione's flat, assorted breakfast food all over the table, both nursing a much-needed coffee. Despite the two bottles of wine from the night before, Percy felt alert and content. Hermione had dropped her feet in his lap when they had first sat down, and Percy had revelled in the simple touch as they poured over different sections of the paper, reading aloud paragraphs that they thought the other might find interesting. The simple domesticity of the scene was his undoing; every time their eyes would meet Hermione would blush slightly before sheepishly smiling at him.
Percy watched enraptured as the soft pink bloom on her cheeks appeared for the third time since he had begun his current article, and he gripped the paper tightly in his fingers. "I love you," he said, the words uttered without thought but not without feeling.
Hermione's head snapped up, and her mouth opened and closed, her eyes looking glassy. Percy was about to speak again when she seemed to push past a lump in her throat. "I love you too," she whispered, and they stared at each other before she reached across the table to gently clasp his hand.
They went back to reading for a couple of minutes after their declarations, but neither had their heart in it anymore; they keep catching glances from each other. What started as shy smiles became Cheshire cat like grins before erupting into full laughter. As Hermione wiped tears from her eyes Percy could stand it no longer, he jumped from his chair abruptly, walking to Hermione, picking her up and throwing her over his shoulder, Hermione shrieked and yelled at him to put her down and made an transparently weak attempt to remove his grasp before breaking into giggles that were wheezes by the time they are at the top of the stairs.
Percy's face split into a wide smile, being loved by her was the best feeling he had ever experienced.
To celebrate the dawning of a fresh year, and the improvements that had been made thus far, the Ministry decided to hold a ball. Hermione didn't feel ready for a celebration, and she would otherwise have done her level best to avoid such an event, but she was very proud of all Percy had achieved, and she wanted to meet all of the people in his department he had spoken so much about. More than that, she wanted to support him, repay him in some small way for everything he had done to help her with her burgeoning career.
She could admit there was a small, very un-Hermione like piece of herself that was looking forward to going to one of these things as part of an established couple. There had been so many parties directly after Voldemort had fallen and all Hermione could remember of them was pushing herself against the furthest wall and waiting for a suitable time to exit. For once she made a bit of an effort to find the right dress, reluctantly soliciting Ginny and Luna's assistance. Somehow their differing styles balanced out enough to find, and agree on, a deep purple full-length gown. Percy had liked it, Hermione hadn't asked him, but it would have been hard to miss the way his eyes had lingered on her all evening.
Hermione had stood by his side and listened with rapt attention to all of the conversations around them, this was the first time they had been together so publicly, and there was talk that was to be expected. But, as much as Hermione had been prepared for the event it wasn't long before she began to feel overwhelmed. There were just so many people, and they all wanted to speak to her. Hermione hadn't been in a room that large since Graduation Day. She tried her best to remain polite and repeatedly told people how happy she was while her smile became more and more forced.
As the guests continued to move around each other in practised social rhythms that she had never mastered, Hermione started to feel her body temperature rise. She felt as if the room was beginning to seem smaller; the once vast hall felt as if it would soon touch the side of her shoulders, the falling ceiling was dropping to meet rising nausea in her stomach. Hermione was dangling on the cusp of panic when Percy swept her onto the more open space of the dance floor and dropped his head to speak directly into her ear.
"I have been so proud to tell people you are my girlfriend tonight; I think several people you have talked to will be coming back for more details on your research. One of my seniors particularly wanted to tell me, more than once, that he thought I was dating one of the best young minds in a century," Percy said as he rubbed a hand lightly down her back. "Two more songs then a quick hello to Kingsley and we can go."
Hermione felt her shoulders relax as the tight line she had been holding herself in crumbled. She was relieved at the thought of an escape soon and Percy's arms around her chased away the whirring in her mind before it could fully set in.
Hermione's face split into a wide smile, being loved by him was the best feeling she had ever experienced.
Not everything between them was easy, the last few years, or if they were both honest, a lot longer had left more than just physical scars. The first time Hermione had a serious nightmare while he was sleeping over Percy went into complete panic. Her screaming had pierced the silence of the night horribly, and it took him half an hour to calm her down enough even to be able to speak. It took longer for him to convince her she was safe.
Percy sat up against the soft leather headboard and pulled Hermione to him, enveloping her in warmth and desperately trying to quell the tremors still moving through her clammy body. He rubbed her back and arms, softly attempting to coax her back to serenity. Once her breathing became shallow, she cried so hard her body shook with the sobs, and he held her tighter and tighter to his chest until he feared he might hurt her.
When Percy woke the following morning after a pitiful amount of sleep and saw the dark circles under his eyes as he regarded himself in the bathroom mirror he felt resolved. By the time Hermione padded into the kitchen, he was awake enough to know how fake the brittle, good morning smile she gave him was. As he stood to drop his breakfast plate into the sink, Hermione wrapped her arms around him, holding him almost impossibly tightly and whispering a water clogged goodbye against his collar, apparently assuming that he would be leaving to stop off at his flat before work, as usual.
Percy held her face between his hands as he told her he was taking a sick day, and the relief he saw in her eyes nearly broke him. He walked her to the kitchen table, silencing her list of apologies about his sleep deprived state before she could get started.
That week they spent almost every waking moment together. Two days after Hermione's nightmare Percy went back to work only to return at the end of the day, entering straight into the Floo in her living room, not bothering to stop at his flat first. She greeted him with a surprised smile, and they talked about their days while making dinner together, side by side. After they had eaten, they shared a sofa in the living room with a glass of wine, laughing over some story Hermione had remembered she had to tell him before they crawled into bed, into the safety and healing warmth of each other's arms.
Over the next month, Percy visited his flat less and less and brought more and more of his stuff to her's, not that Hermione ever seemed to mind. She painstakingly taught him how to use all of the Muggle appliances she insisted on, and Percy tried as hard as possible not to sound like his father as he asked question after question about each object's purpose. He resolutely waited until Hermione had left the room before turning the oven off and on again repeatedly. One day after work he found himself staring blankly into the fridge realising as he catalogued the contents that Hermione had been making adjustments to her shopping to cater for things that he liked.
He loved to see confirmation that she believed his position in her life was potentially a permanent one, but despite the bliss, he felt there was always the worry that she might disappear one day.
They had been together for six months when Hermione asked Percy to move in with her. Their shirt sleeves were rolled back to the elbows, and their arms were covered in soil as they planted up the window boxes for her kitchen, something that seemed so perfectly them. Percy barely spent any time at his flat now, and when he did Hermione hated it, she had grown so used to having him there, seeing him, speaking to him, operating as a unit.
Percy smiled, one of his crooked smiles, at her stumbling invitation, the one that made his whole face open up as he pulled her onto the counter, wet kisses interspersing his enthusiastic acceptance as she chastised him playfully for their mud covered clothes.
They were stronger when they were together; they didn't make each other better, Hermione hated that expression. The more time she spent with him, the more she saw herself as worth something, because of him she tried harder to make herself better.
When Molly sent a letter inviting them to a party to celebrate Bill's promotion at Gringotts Hermione swallowed down the rage, she felt on Percy's behalf and tackled him to the floor of the living room the moment he got home that evening, hoping to take his mind off the perceived slight. There had been no cake and balloons when he had gotten his job. Percy knew what she was doing, he had raised his eyebrows at her antics, but Hermione could tell he was amused not offended. Their pleasure was playful, and Hermione revelled in it. She loved the times they both laughed together; he was the only one who saw her silly side, the only one who knew how to draw it out.
When Percy had moved the last of his stuff in, and they had found places for everything he mentioned that he was considering selling his flat and would they may be like to look at buying somewhere bigger… someday, he caveated quickly, his hedging doing nothing to remove the shift in the air that his words had caused. Up to that point they had always lived their relationship entirely in the present, they have never talked about plans for the future.
Some weeks later Hermione was rifling through his work bag, Percy was holed up on the sofa, sick, and she was attempting to help him with some paperwork he needed to complete when she spotted a slim red file at the back of his briefcase, her name printed in careful letters on the front. Never one to resist temptation Hermione carefully opened it to find for sale pamphlets of houses, family houses, stacks of them. Hermione breathed in deeply before gently returning the file to its original spot.
She loved to see confirmation that he believed her position in his life was potentially a permanent one, but despite the bliss, she felt there was always the worry that he might disappear one day.
Though they both tried, things between them did not always run entirely smoothly. As a pair Hermione and Percy both cared about everything, passionately, and while they were alike in more than just shared academic interests they had been raised in starkly different ways, in two entirely separate worlds. As such, they did not always agree. Hermione believed it was a testament to how carefully they had treated each other at the beginning that it wasn't until two months after they were living together that they had their first big argument.
Hermione had been completely consumed by her latest piece of research for St Mungo's; anyone that would have seen her around exam time at Hogwarts would have recognised the signs. She moved around the flat like a whirling dervish, quill in her hair and ink on her hands muttering to herself, mindless to any book or creature she may have bumped into. The progress had been slow, and the entire project seemed to be leap frogging from one issue to another. It made Hermione frustrated and short. Crookshanks had long since begun avoiding her, until he would stand on her lap, claws first, to remind his mistress of his need for food or attention.
Percy had been equally engaged by an ongoing disciplinary issue within his team; it was stretching his abilities as Department Head and impacting his productivity in other areas. It was an aspect of his role that made him tetchy, he second guessed himself when he was dealing with people, and all of the anxiety he felt he couldn't show while in the office came out in full force when he got home.
Not enough sleep and fraying nerves on both sides finally resulted in a pitcher of orange juice over Hermione's notes at the breakfast table which quickly descended into an entirely unnecessary argument that went from petulant to vicious in the blink of an eye.
All of the tiny irks Hermione had suppressed as they waltzed through the honeymoon period fell out of her mouth as her chair screeched back across the kitchen floor and she couldn't stop herself from listing slight after slight. Percy retaliated in kind and not ten minutes later, panting, and tearful she sank to the floor, shutting her eyes when the front door slammed shut with such force she heard a photo frame clatter to the ground in the hall.
It was a full hour before she got up, Hermione knew as she had watched the time spin around the clock, feeling unable to do anything but blankly look at the passing of time, too worried to move lest she descended into a panic attack. If she got up then he would really have left, the fight would really have happened. Hermione squeezed her fists together and counted down from a hundred until she could feel her breathing return to normal. That achieved she stretched out her legs, resuming proper blood flow and rotated her ankles.
Slow and steady.
Once she was upright, Hermione walked around the flat aimlessly, not able to settle to work, or cleaning, or anything that would have passed the time productively. Eventually, she decided to leave the house to go for a walk; she needed to escape for a little while. She hoped that the exercise would settle her nerves. She didn't return until her feet were sore and her legs were aching in protest.
As she made herself a cup of tea, Hermione tried to ignore the silence of the room as it threatened to close in around her.
As soon as the cold air hit his heated face, Percy wanted to turn back. As soon as the door slammed shut behind him, he had begun replaying all of the cruel words they had exchanged, and the memory stopped him from retracing his steps. The accusations Hermione had made, had more than hit their target and Percy cursed himself as a coward for not rushing back immediately. His insecurity stopped him, what if she was still angry? What if Hermione had no regrets?
As he walked up the leafy street, Percy recalled everything that he had said, every bitter word and all the sarcastic snipes. Never had he ever retaliated in such a manner at the cutting remarks of his family and yet he had spoken to wound Hermione and had succeeded. He had seen it in her face, momentary flashes that pricked her otherwise ireful expression. He felt real shame.
Percy moved around that day automatically, his mind elsewhere. The thought that they might have ruined everything haunted him; the dread that loomed over him was almost tangible on his shoulders. When the end of the day finally rolled around Percy realised he was dragging his feet, terrified of going home. What if she had already packed his stuff up and left it in the hall? What if she looked at him like she had that morning, angry and unrepentant? Or worse, what if she regarded him dispassionately?
Very uncharacteristically Percy decided to have an after work drink to ease his frayed nerves. He stepped into the first pub that he came across and ordered a pint, fully expecting it to be his last. When he sank his fifth Percy felt no better, only now sadness outweighed all of his swirling emotions.
When he eventually stumbled through the door of their flat he was very, very late. Percy staggered into the living room to find Hermione cuddled up in a chair, fast asleep, apparently having nodded off while waiting for him. He felt his heart sink looking at her, so perfect in sleep. How had he managed to make everything even worse? Percy dropped to his knees in front of her, too overwhelmed and intoxicated to be careful enough for quiet movements, and Hermione blinked slowly in waking. Their eyes bored into each other for a moment, before they both started to speak at once, their words tumbling over each other in a rush.
"-Love you so much-"
"-Felt terrible all day-"
"-I never want to lose you-"
Percy felt the weight that had been pressed against his chest all-day lift. He leant forward rather clumsily, and laid a sloppy kiss on Hermione's forehead before kicking off his shoes and getting up on the sofa she was on, laying back and pulling her to him, tucking her into his side and smiling at her nose wrinkling as she detected the alcohol on his breath.
Over time their relationship changed, there was nothing particular, at least nothing that Percy could put his finger on, but somehow everything became easier. At the beginning he had been equal parts excited and terrified, he went the extra mile with regard to everything they did, to ensure Hermione was happy, to make sure she knew she was loved. Percy settled into it as time went on, reassured that he knew the girl he was in love with, the one that smiled at him just as brightly whether they had a fancy dinner out or cheese on toast in front of the telly.
The fear went away.
Percy wasn't sure exactly when it had happened, but he stopped believing that one day she might leave, either because she had found something better or just because she was sick of him. They balanced each other out he realised, they had a full understanding, they made each other feel whole.
He felt an immense privilege when he realised Hermione believed his words of praise now, she didn't want to be coddled, she never wanted pity, but she believed him when he called her beautiful when he told her she was the love of his life, his whole world. In their little bubble it was almost as if Hermione had become the woman she was always supposed to be, if there had been no war, if she hadn't been made to feel so inferior.
It wasn't the case everywhere.
Percy saw how she would still recoil when someone called her 'swot' or 'know it all'. Her friends would say the words unthinkingly, almost affectionately, not knowing or understanding how those little words struck chinks into Hermione's fragile armour, setting back her progress. He knew though. Percy winced at her brittle laugh at those moments, the sound like nails on a chalkboard to him. He would move to stand behind her, either softly running a hand over her shoulders or maybe resting his chin there. Silent supporting, silently disagreeing.
"Not a swot," he would sometimes whisper, those times when he could she needed to hear it.
He would feel her body relax, and he knew that he could look after her forever if she would only let him.
It wasn't long after Percy had moved in that Hermione felt like she had found a greater sense of direction in her life, everything she had achieved was because Percy had told her she could. He never took credit for her success; he didn't even try and share in it, he was just proud of her.
For the first time, Hermione was proud of a life choice that she had made, she was proud of them, of their relationship, the work they put into it and the rewards they got out. They succeed because they made each other a priority, no matter how hectic they were, they remembered to put each other first, to ask about each other's lives, to share concerns and burdens, the list went on.
When they attended the regular Weasley Family dinners Hermione could feel Percy tense even before they arrived; she could see the hardness that appeared around his eyes when Fred was brought up in conversation, or when Charlie or Bill were visiting and treated like passing royalty.
Hermione responded by laying her head on his shoulder, or flirting with him outrageously, in a way that she knew looked ridiculous on her. Percy never made any reaction to her antics, in fact, the others may have seen his eyes roll at her display of affection, but she knew she had distracted him that he had moved passed the hurt.
She would feel his body relax and she knew that she could look after him forever if he would only let her.
Overtime Hermione felt as if her skin had thickened and stitched together; she no longer wore glamours to cover her scars when they were around the house, or just going to see friends. She wasn't sure if she would ever be happy not to wear them at all, but she wasn't defined or crippled by seeing them anymore.
She was convinced that Percy didn't even notice them, or at least they were never his point of focus. Days when she was feeling more aware of her imperfections Hermione observed him determined to catch him scrutinising her flesh. But Percy's eyes never lingered on any of the areas of patched skin, and he never got a pained expression on his face when regarding the cruel jagged lettering.
While he might not have noticed her scars he certainly saw her closer consideration of him, those were the days when he poured affection onto her as they got ready for bed. The days when he would wrench sigh after impassioned cry from her body before thrusting himself within her, igniting her blood with guttural moans and ardent declarations of love offered thickly.
"We fit," he would tell her, not looking away from her eyes.
Percy no longer pontificated about work with his family, he no longer over-tired for their approval, he had Hermione at home and all the approval he would ever need. She listened to news of whatever mundane task he had completed and would tell him how lucky the Ministry was to have someone as organised as him. There was never any sarcasm in her tone.
On the days when the past would catch up with him, and Percy would be falling Hermione would know somehow, and she would lavish attention on him, or tell him silly stories or make a disastrous attempt at cooking. After a particularly fraught dinner at the Burrow Hermione somehow got access to his office, Percy had spat tea all over his desk when he discovered that the words 'World's Best Lover' had somehow become emblazoned on the bottom of his standard issue plain white mug. He managed to affect looking put out at for all of about thirty seconds when he arrived home that evening. Hermione had bitten her lip to suppress a smile, and he lifted her against the nearest wall, doing his damnedest to 'earn' the jokingly awarded epithet.
Hermione hid her unbelievable care for him in humour sometimes, and it made Percy desperate for her. The idea of an affectionate ever changing love being his was almost too much for his sanity. He would grip Hermione roughly, his hands far less gently in those moments as his mind went to his need. When they would be done Percy would immediately panic that he had been too rough in his treatment.
"We fit," she would tell him, not looking away from his eyes.
They were on holiday when Percy asked Hermione to marry him. He had been planning their week in Mexico for months and in that time had developed no less than five elaborate proposal scenarios; a private dinner on the beach or beautiful garden picnic, the possibilities were endless. But, when they were finally there Percy found that the weight of the ring in his pocket was far too great.
After a fabulous dinner at the hotel's French restaurant, they headed back to their room. Hermione wanted to get an early night as she had booked them on a full day tour the next day and they were disembarking at some ungodly hour. She had already showered and changed into pyjamas and was padding around the suite looking through the suitcases to find a hand cream 'she just knew she had put in there somewhere' when Percy rushed to kneel on the floor in front of her, ring box tucked in his sweaty palm.
Hermione didn't notice him at first, when she did her face was blank with confusion. "What are you doing on the floor?"
He proffered the ring box further towards her only to realise to his horror that he hadn't even opened it. Percy had been planning his speech for months; he had reams of parchment in his office covered in delightful anecdotes, heartfelt declarations and even poetry. It was all useless to him now when he scrambled to remember any of it a tiny sign was held aloft in his mind 'sorry try again later'.
"I love you, please, please marry me," he blurted, managing to finally open the box and point it back in Hermione's direction.
She stared at the revealed ring and then at him and then back to the ring again. "It's lovely," she said gazing at the emerald stone flanked by diamonds, but she didn't move.
"Err… Hermione," Percy prompted as he swept a hand in front of himself indicating his crouching state and increasing anticipation.
"Oh," Hermione laughed out, tearing her eyes away from the box and wiping the corners of her eyes. "Of course yes."
"Oh thank Merlin," Percy sighed as he let go of a relieved breath.
They spent the rest of their sunny week together smiling and celebrating, Hermione lifted her hand continually, and Percy smiled more. He introduced her as his fiancé, and she was confident she fell in love with him a little more each day.
Hermione would wait until Percy fell asleep at night so she could watch him at peace. She couldn't believe she would be married to him; she wondered if it was childlike to think that she got her happily ever after. Her mind whispered that she deserved it, that they both did. Some of the voices were kinder now.
When they got back to face the real world, everyone was overjoyed for them. Molly was in raptures, with Ginny already married and Ron engaged she had nearly all her brood accounted for.
Percy, surprisingly, put his foot down early on, he did not want to get married at the Burrow, though when Hermione suggested a quick ceremony at the Ministry hoping to placate him, he looked appalled. They eventually settled on somewhere near water, the ceremony, the whole day itself was of little importance to them. They wanted a house, a life together, a place to start a family. In just as innocuous a way as his proposal Percy put the file Hermione had discovered months before in front of her one evening and asked for her thoughts.
"You're ready?" she asked, and he nodded, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"Oh thank Merlin," Hermione sighed as she let go of a relieved breath.
Hermione walked noiselessly up the stairs in the house that she had fallen in love with over a year before. The house that had become their home. She didn't like it as much as the others they had seen at first, it needed a bit more work, and she hadn't been sure they were up to that challenge. But Percy had insisted that this was the one, and Hermione had agreed, mainly as she had never seen him so determined about anything before. It had taken her a little longer to see what he did, but once she had, it was perfect.
The house was surrounded by fields with overgrown grass, spattered with happy looking daisies and windblown poppies; their nearest neighbour was Luna Lovegood who had made her parents' house her family home after her father had died. The two young women had become increasingly close in the last year, helped along by being pregnant at the same time. Hermione cherished her friendship with the starry-eyed blonde and firmly believed that Luna was helping her be a little less of a crazy mother than she would have been without her guidance.
Her babies, Violet and Ava, had been born nearly ten months before, both with full heads of tiny copper curls, and Hermione had fallen in love instantly in a way that none of her many, many books on the subject had prepared her for.
After an exhausting labour Percy had stood stoically at the side of the bed, telling her how well she had done, how beautiful she was, how much he loved her. His babbling praise had fallen away as baby Violet was dropped into his arms, their daughter had opened her pure blue eyes and regarded him before lifting a chubby arm to grasp his little finger as tightly as her new-born hands would allow. Hermione had watched as her husband of two years slumped into a chair, tears streaming down his face as he looked at the baby with complete awe. That look was never far from his face all these months later.
Hermione continued creeping down the hall once she reached the top of the stairs, heading for the nursery. There she found him, the love of her life, sat in a comfortable rocking chair with both his daughters in his arms, Hermione lingered in the doorway trying to avoid detection, listening to his soft voice as he crooned to them.
"-You will always know how important you are-"
"-You will always have a place-"
"-Mummy and Daddy love you so very much-"
Theirs may not have been the type of love she had grown up reading about in fairy stories. It had started quietly and earnestly when two people that had experienced too much had come unstuck with where to turn next. Theirs was not the type of love that inspired poetry or songs, but it was real, very, very real.
Hermione had never kissed him while running away from him in the rain; Percy had never been so consumed by lust that he dragged her from a party to have his way with her in some darkened corner.
But she loved him, and that love burned deep and bright.
It was a love fuelled by comfort in the night following remembrances of past hurt, of holding hands under tables to remind each other they were there, of searching across a vast room when you just knew they were looking at you, of making soup when the other was sick. Above all else, it was knowing that whatever happened for the rest of her life she would always have one person that would be in her corner.
Percy looked up at her finally, sensing her presence, his eyes full of unstated emotion but Hermione knew what he was feeling, his eyes a reflection of so many shared feelings that all weaved together into one declaration;
You are my place.
A/N August 2017 This was my third fanfic and the first one I ever completed. It still holds a special place in my heart as so much of it is based off real situations. This has now been entirely redrafted; I hope you have enjoyed.
A/N This is an outtake from the existing story that I am posting to celebrate the redraft of this entire fic, which is now live. Thank you for reading :)
Percy Weasley stood anxiously by the side of his father's clapped out shed, pointedly ignoring the faint whirring sounds that were coming from within. Although completely innocuous to most it was a place he had stood many times before, so many times in fact that there was now a divot in the damp ground. Percy couldn't be seen from the house in this spot, neither from the large kitchen window in front of the sink or from any of the cramped bedrooms that overlooked the almost wild lawn. He wasn't hiding exactly, not this time at least. Not that Percy would have ever called it that, no, when he was a child this was where he went when he intended to make himself scarce. When his mother had chased him out of the house 'to enjoy the warm weather with his brothers', he had come here. When he had been getting flack about his new job, and the kitchen became hostile, he had come here. There was no magical charm about this spot, just the beauty of promised solitude. It seemed strange after so many years to not have anything to show for so much time, apart from the hole in the ground. It was also strange that for the first time in memory the tiny spot that only he knew about provided him with no comfort.
Sadly the environment wasn't helping his burgeoning panic. Percy was nervous enough as it was, but being on the grounds of the Burrow made his skin itch. Weren't you supposed to feel better when you came home? A memory came to focus in his mind; Oliver Wood at the end of a school term, Percy couldn't place the year, the Quidditch captain had waxed lyrical about how he couldn't wait to get home for holidays, 'to recharge' he had said with the same enthusiasm he had for everything. Percy had never felt that way, well, until now.
Before Hermione he had never found any solace in bricks and mortar, he had never been able to understand those people that spent hours deliberating over interior choices to get their property 'just right. Until now that was, now he understood, he just didn't have that feeling when looking at the worn stones in front of him. Percy felt that way when he stood before the blue door of her flat, their flat. Where he had moved in, quietly and without ceremony months before. Just how he would have desired such a thing to happen.
The lack of fuss was par for the course with Hermione; they seemed to drift closer together with the same ease in which everything else in his life had previously floated away. Percy had never dreamt that he would one day have a life filled with in-jokes and laughter, with someone that preferred him to anyone else in the world, or so she said. But he did, they did.
The next step though was looming, and this one would lead to a bit of upheaval. For the first time, Percy thought that was only right, something like this needed to be undertaken with some level of… well, if not pomp and circumstance at least celebration. It was customary; it was supposed to show how you felt, even if the thought made him feel slightly nauseous.
When the back door of the kitchen finally creaked open Percy looked up, schooling his features as well as he could, and dragged his feet away from his nervous expansion of the hollow in the ground. Reflectively he stiffened as he watched Bill saunter out of the door towards him. Percy reminded himself calmly that he had requested this meeting and attempted a small smile as his oldest brother tugged on a beaten up leather jacket.
"Hey Perce, what's all this about? It must have been important to send an owl at this time."
Percy almost entirely suppressed his wince at the nickname he hated, determined to get through the day as unscathed as possible. He regarded his brother for a moment and cleared his throat.
"I need your help," he said, the words leaving his throat flat and harsh. They were unfamiliar, even now. Percy braced himself and took a step forward. "I want to buy a ring."
Bill looked at him with sleepy confusion for a moment before his eyes widened. "I had no idea things between you and Hermione were that serious?"
In a total reverse of his predicament seconds earlier Percy now fought back the words that seemed to want to spit out of his mouth unchecked at the incredulity in his brother's voice. How can they still doubt that she loves me?
"We live together Bill, we have done for nearly a year," Percy replied crisply.
"I know but…" Bill began, but he cut himself off when he looked in Percy's eyes, whatever he saw there had him holding his tongue. It didn't' matter though, Percy was sure he could guess close enough to fill in the rest of the sentence. It wasn't exactly a secret that none of his family expected his relationship with the accomplished witch to endure.
It hurt, but Percy consoled himself that last year it would have hurt even more.
He took a moment to flick some imagined fleck of something off his jacket as Bill recovered from his embarrassment. Percy's eyes were blank as he thought back to Hermione's sleeping face as he had gently eased himself out of bed that morning. The visualisation was a tried and tested technique; instantly he felt his shoulders rising back up and his neck elongating as he held himself straight. He imagined Hermione's probable reaction had she had heard Bill's words and he could almost feel the losing of his chest. She was always his little defender and unapologetic in her campaigns. Hermione didn't even try to be subtle. When his mum forgot him, she would lavish him with attention, when the boys would call him boring she would sit in his lap, playing with his glasses or flipping through the book that would no doubt be resting between his fingers. Hermione was a woman that took herself seriously and yet she would make herself look silly for him, to distract him. Hermione used her body, her words, her love as a shield, one specially designed for him, knowingly, as he had told her so often how the feel of her skin, her tone, her love, soothed the open wounds of his heart and mind like dittany.
"I want to get a ring," Percy repeated quietly.
Bill was silent for a moment and against his best intentions anxiety pooled in Percy's stomach and then his brother grinned, a smile that was all teeth. He wasn't sure whether it was from the goblin's influence or something more canine.
"You've come to the right man little brother."
And with those words, all of his trepidation fell away.
Hermione wasn't having the best day, for starters she had woken up alone, her boyfriend curiously missing, or at least not in their room. She had run through their last few conversations in her tired mind and tried to recall any mention of a task he had told her about, something that would have explained his no doubt pressing need to be out of bed so early on Saturday, but she came up blank. As she snuggled back down into the cooling duvet, Hermione had a vague recollection of Percy's warm fingers trailing her cheek, and the slight almost imagined press of his lips against her forehead. She felt a small smile tug at the corner of her mouth, but the expression was quickly halted when she rolled over to find a smug looking Crookshanks regarding her knowingly.
Her slow waking seemed like days ago now. When Hermione had finally given up her bed, she had moved to the kitchen to drown herself in coffee with the firm intention of getting the fuel she needed to complete her big task for the day. Her first independent paper was finished, and it needed to be sent off to the list of publications and researchers that she had compiled. Months of work, reams of parchment, and a tremendous amount of self-doubt were sat in a pile of neatly printed pages.
Hermione had felt a wave of satisfaction when it had first been finished, a sense of complete relief as she corrected her last highlighted note. Since that one moment of pure bliss, the negative feelings had begun to close in around her, seemingly determined to curdle any trace of happiness. The longer the paper was completed, the worse she felt.
She had tried to keep those feelings to herself, but Hermione knew it wasn't enough to fool those closest to her. Luna had turned up to the flat with a gift of a binding machine, a huge piece of metal work adorned with a sloppy bow. The complicated press was almost the same size as the blonde, though Luna hadn't seemed to be struggling as she delivered it. Somehow between them, they managed to deposit it in the corner of the office, where it made everything else around it look tiny by comparison. It was entirely overkill for domestic use, but Hermione appreciated the gesture, and the unspoken nudge to use it, not that it pushed her into action.
Percy had commissioned cover sheets to be printed for her, twenty identical hard parchment title pages all in the same soft blue as the letter headed paper he had brought her months earlier. He had bestowed his gift with even less fanfare than Luna, simply leaving them in her study for her to find in her own time. It had taken Hermione a week after they had arrived to do something with them, she had lost pockets of whole afternoons running her fingers over her embossed name, trying not to start worrying about the title she had chosen on top of all of the words that would be contained within.
Eventually, when gripped by a fit of 'now or never' resolve Hermione punched holes into all of the neatly ordered paper stacks and bound each one, applying its cover and wrapping it carefully before writing out the addresses.
Her first independent paper had now been complete and ready to go for three whole days. Hermione had gotten close to posting it a few times, even going so far as to put her coat on and place them carefully in a bag, she just never seemed to be able to leave her office. The paper was hardly light, though whenever she tried to lift them the bag, they were placed in it seemed inordinately heavy, even with a Feather-Light charm placed on it. So she removed the plastic and put them back on the side.
After successive failures to cross the threshold of her favourite room the bound document began to taunt her even more than before, Hermione longed to open it, to read it one last time, to annotate and pull it apart. But she didn't.
Hermione set her mug down in the kitchen with a determined thunk and squared her shoulders before she headed to her study to try one more time, only she found Percy inside, fully dressed with one arm in his jacket, a single triangle of toast hanging out of his mouth. Before Hermione could say a word of greeting, he shrunk the paper packages, fully in her line of sight and stepped towards her.
"Is this okay, I thought I would send it?" Percy asked evenly.
"Yes," Hermione replied while nodding, though her mind shouted that it was completely not okay, what if they hated it? What if her career was over before it had even begun? What if… her spiralling was cut off as strong arms tucked around her shoulders and Hermione leant her forehead against the collarbone now in front of her.
A swift kiss to the forehead and then Percy was gone again, and Hermione was glad of it in a way. He wasn't callous; he knew the longer he hesitated, the more likely it would be that she would ask him not to deliver them. He had been cautious with her over the last week, he hadn't pushed her or expressed any disappointment in her hesitation, but Hermione knew he would've had to have mentioned it eventually.
Hermione sighed and resigned herself to going back to the kitchen to attempt a late breakfast; she wasn't sure she felt much like eating but having something to do with her hands might keep her mind busy enough not to contemplate chasing after Percy down the road. She had barely put her foot on the last step when the living room Floo activated, and Ginny came barrelling around the corridor.
Hermione crossed her arms over herself and leant against the hallway wall looking the younger girl suspiciously. Ginny pointedly ignored her frosty welcome and bustled into the kitchen in a manner not dissimilar to her mother. Hermione admitted defeat and followed into the kitchen as Ginny set about unpacking boxes.
"To what do I owe the pleasure?" Hermione asked as she began correcting the placement of groceries.
Ginny smiled brightly, "Percy told me to come over," she replied and then she tutted at Hermione's frown. "You knew already Hermione; it was pointless lying."
"Fine," Hermione acknowledged, warring within herself whether she found his care comforting or irritating. "So what are we doing?"
"Well, I thought we would have some breakfast and then make a cake," Ginny replied excitedly.
Hermione couldn't help the short burst of disbelieving laughter, "You and me? Bake a cake? Is that wise?"
Ginny laughed in return, and they went about organising some eggs on toast. Hermione and Ginny were closer than ever since school, despite her friend having been one of the most stunned about her relationship with Percy the younger girl had come around the quickest after electing to spend more time with the couple.
It wasn't long before the idea of a cake was entirely discounted, neither of them having what could be described as a 'light touch' and they decided on a pie instead, though it wasn't much more successful, both girls were wearing more flour than they had managed to get into the pasty and the mess that they had managed to get into the tin looked more suited to a Muggle operating theatre than a dining table. Molly Weasley would not have been impressed.
"Oh, Merlin who let Ginny near the oven?"
Bill's voice broke through the cloud of laughter, and Hermione looked up at the door way. The eldest Weasley walked into the room and behind him was Percy looking… happy, he had a little anxiety around his eyes, but otherwise, he looked fine.
After making a show of looking around the mess, Percy walked towards her. "What's all this?"
"Well, Ginny came over, at your request," Hermione replied tartly. Percy quirked his lips and Hermione knew he wasn't going to answer her deliberate challenge. "We thought we would try a recipe of your mum's"
Percy's forehead creased. "You shouldn't have gone to this… trouble,"
Hermione raised an eyebrow, tempted to remind him of the time he had carefully spent two hours cooking a meal only for her to inform him that the oven had not been switched on at the mains. Percy might have gleaned some mischief from her look as he cut off whatever she was going to say. "There is pastry in your hair."
Hermione grinned at him as he pulled his fingers through her curls and held the gooey evidence in front of her face. "Well, we tried, but we are not much for domestic tasks."
"Good job I like you for your mind and your heart then, and not your cold hands," he replied, kissing her nose and ignoring how her hands pressed into his coat, leaving a trail of white powder.
Hermione bit her lip, "Are they all delivered?" she asked against his chest, and at his nod, she felt a hint of anxiety lick at the edge of her happy mood.
"Hermione no matter what they say you are not defined by their feedback and I will love you regardless."
And with those words, all of her trepidation fell away.