There’s no door anymore.
Only a curtain of gauze recovered from what remains of Trelawney’s classroom separates this pile of rubble from the next. The stairs that lead down into the innermost cavern have been obliterated, too, leaving a pile of shattered bricks that still send plumes of dust into the air, which makes it so hard to breathe that Percy thinks that perhaps what is left of the room is trying to choke him.
Punishment for his sins that would surely be well-deserved.
What good would his wand be? There is no starting point to the restoration of the Hogwarts library that he can discern. What can his wand do that his own hands can’t? Percy thinks he would almost prefer to use his hands, to touch what is left just so he can know. He isn’t sure he can believe it otherwise.
Hogwarts no longer exists as the bastion of comfort, knowledge and hope he always regarded it as. His fondest memories – of kissing Audrey for the first (and last) time, of casting his first successful spell, of wielding the influence and authority he’d always been denied as the smallest and quietest of his brothers – all stemmed from a moment here. Now, turning each corner triggers a new memory of the war, a flash of something that Percy has no idea if he actually saw or just imagined. Help will arrive soon, though. He won’t have to face the horror of what remains on his own for much longer. He isn’t sure he can.
Percy hunches forward and picks up a charred book, one in a sea of thousands spread out before him. Standard Book of Spells – Grade One. There is an odd sort of irony in that particular book being the first one he plucks from the ground. Something that feels bizarrely like coming full circle. His magical life had begun with that very text. It will most likely end with it now, too.
Something catches in his throat and he coughs once, twice, three times to dislodge it, but it’s not enough. The air feels too dry, too full of ash and grit and dust and memories. Percy drops the book and doubles over in a violent chain of coughs that turn to great, wracking sobs.
For the loss of everything; of Hogwarts itself, of the incalculable wealth of knowledge torn and in shreds around him, of his friends, whoever and where ever they are now.
And for his family. His mourning parents and siblings. For Fred, dead in front of him before he could blink, before he could even say he was sorry.
Overwhelmed, Percy sinks to his knees in the middle of the rubble and cries.
It feels like years – another lifetime, at least – since Percy last saw Hermione Granger.
He wants to gawk at her, to take in the differences that have grown in the span of only a short few years, changing her from the bushy-haired, bright-eyed schoolgirl to the person standing in front of him now. The war stole so much from both of them – from all of them: their youth, their idealism, their innocence.
So perhaps the imaginary years that he feels separate the two of them aren’t such an inapt idea after all, and perhaps it really is as simple as that: the last time he had seen Hermione Granger, she had been a girl – a studious little thing, book-smart and a stickler for the rules. It had been simple to get along with her at first; their difference in age hadn’t kept him from finding something of a kindred spirit in Hermione. Of course, as she grew older, traits so typically Gryffindor sparked a flame of courage and bravery and recklessness in her that never burned in him. Percy often wonders if perhaps the Sorting Hat misjudged him all those years ago.
They are traits he admires in her, though, perhaps a little more so than he should have when they were younger, given their age difference and his youngest brother’s fondness for her. But they weren’t thoughts he ever dwelled on for too long, not when there were other, much more important things to consider.
Now, though, she is thin, dressed in Muggle clothes that hang off her frail frame, tired and scarred. Her hair has been cut back to sit in soft curls just above her shoulders, which only highlights the juxtaposed newness and familiarity of her face and body. But now, above all else, she is a woman.
He tamps down those thoughts as soon as they occur. He can’t allow such a ridiculous crush to make a comeback when there’s a job to be done. And certainly not when he has no right to be harbouring it at all.
She must have arrived in the wreckage of the library before him that morning. Much earlier, if the progress she already made is anything to go by, since when he’d left the previous day, he hadn’t done anything more than sit in the middle and marvel at the magnitude of the destruction before leaving in time for lunch – again.
The biggest chunks of rubble have been removed, and most of the bookshelves have been righted, even if they are being held together by tenuous strands of magic. Percy feels a hot bolt of shame wend its way through him. If he hadn’t been so busy feeling sorry for himself in the days before, he might have been able to make a start himself so the burden wouldn’t fall to her alone.
Debris breaks and crunches underfoot as he approaches, so there’s no good reason why she shouldn’t turn around and give him a piece of her mind. For not helping more; for not realising the error of his ways sooner; for turning his back on his family and the Order; for being an all-round pompous arse. For everything.
But she doesn’t. He stops with three steps of distance between them. He clears his throat and she rears around to face him, her short, dark curls flying about her face.
“Percy,” she gasps, a hand coming up to hold over her heart. There’s a jagged scar cut into the skin of her neck. Percy stares at it, wondering what had been done for it to come to be. “Good morning. I didn’t know you were here.”
“Why would you?” he replies, his tone morose as he lifts his shoulders in a disinterested shrug. “It’s not as though I’ve done anything.”
“No!” she exclaims, her voice matching the emphatic movement of her arms. “I just meant… now. I didn’t hear you come in.”
He shuffles in place, staring at his feet. The toes of his boots are grey with dust. They’d been brand new and shiny-black only a few days ago. “Oh.”
The barest hint of a smile tugs her lips. “Off in my own world there for a moment, I suppose.”
“Yes. Probably.” He pinches his arm with the blunt points of his nails until it starts to sting. What a stupid thing to say!
She turns and nudges at a broken stone with the toe of her boot. Hers are grey, too, he notices, but he doesn’t think they started as black – probably brown or burgundy. “I don’t blame you for finding this difficult,” she says, her voice low and quiet, like she doesn’t want to be overheard. “Or anyone, for that matter. It took me a little while before I could do anything constructive in here, too.”
He glances up at her, his head cocked to the side. “How long have you been coming here?”
“Not long,” she assures him. “Only two days or so. I usually come later, after you’ve… left.”
His stomach sinks, but he can’t blame her for wanting to avoid him. Hell, it is all he can do these days not to throw himself off the roof of his central London flat when he wakes up every morning. He doesn’t particularly want to be around himself, either.
Still, he feels his cheeks flush painfully. “I can leave, if you’d prefer.”
“Percy,” she snaps, stopping him in place with a tight grip around his wrist. “Just stop. Please. I don’t need you to go anywhere, nor do I have any desire to listen to you put yourself down for the duration of this project.
“If anything,” she goes on, her tone lighter as she drops his hand, “I’d rather have you here more than anyone else. I doubt anyone else knows this library as well as the two of us do.” She offers a grin that doesn’t look quite as genuine as it should, but she’s trying, at least. More than he can say for himself.
Percy gives a small, dim smile in reply. “You might be right. Everyone I knew was more interested in Quidditch.”
“What a coincidence,” she says with another half-hearted grin. “Same with me.
“So,” she claps her hands together before gesturing out to the room, “what now?”
Percy shrugs and spins in a slow circle. He’s awed by how far she’s come in just a few short days – a few short hours, rather, if she was only there in the afternoons. It’s not at all close to being finished, but seeing even the smallest improvement makes the scale of the entire thing seem achievable. “You’ve done so much.”
“It’s nothing.” He finds her flippant dismissal oddly offensive. It isn’t nothing at all: it’s everything, and she knows it. “Believe me, it only looks like I’ve done more than I really have.”
“More than I’ve contributed, in any case. Merlin knows I can hardly bring myself to lift a hand in here.” She opens her mouth to say something, but Percy cuts over her. “I’ll take the left side, you take the right?”
She still looks at him funny, like he’s a puzzle she can’t quite work out. Percy flounders under her scrutiny, shifting from foot to foot as he feels the tips of his ears burn. “Or I can take the right, if you’d prefer.”
Hermione sighs like he’s said something gravely disappointing and wades through the sea of pages and over the invisible line that divides the room in half. He can’t help but notice that his side of the room is far more damaged than hers, with huge chunks of brick missing from the walls and holes in the roof, sending slanting beams of chilly light shimmering with thick motes of dust through the air. A sigh wells in his throat and spreads to every part of him, sinking him under its weight.
“I’ll take the right side,” she says softly. She clears her throat and continues, suddenly all business and formality, “Start by righting the shelves, if you can. You’ll have more room to work that way.”
“Noted,” he replies. That should be the end of it. They should both go their separate ways and do the work they came to do, but neither moves. Hermione still stares at him like he’s a science experiment come to an unexpected result, and Percy can’t find it within himself to look anywhere else but at her warm, brown eyes. How often had those eyes popped up in his dreams, only for shame and embarrassment to snuff them from his subconscious?
An echoing yell from another volunteer somewhere deep in the ruins shatters the moment. Percy can just about feel the veil lift. Where the world once narrowed to Hermione’s pale face and wide eyes, it becomes the monochromatic grey of ash and dust once more. He blinks and watches as she shakes her head, like she’s shedding off cobwebs, and turns to face her side of the mess, hefting her wand high as she finds the starting place that eluded him for days. Confused, Percy turns and does the same.
They don’t speak for the rest of the day.
A week into the clean-up, Percy finds a tattered book of magical pranks he recognises as matching the one that occupied pride of place on Fred’s bedside table. Pranks he was all too often the butt of. Pranks he all too often shut down either by his own devices or a whispered word to their mother. Pranks he would give his life to be on the receiving end of again.
He doesn’t even stop to tell Hermione that he’s leaving before he’s sprinting through the gauze curtains and as far away from the library as he can manage.
It takes close to a month before Percy can even set eyes upon the wreckage of Hogwarts without his pulse thundering so hard he’s sure the whole recovery team can hear it. Or wanting to burst into tears.
He knows he has Hermione to thank. Hogwarts likely means far more to her than it did to him. Hogwarts gave her a home and a new family and a sense of self that she lacked as a witch in the Muggle world. Knowing he was a wizard since birth, Percy had never felt such conflict with his identity. School was always just that – school. So why is he still wallowing in his own anguish and blinding self-pity when she can hold her head high and attempt to move past the horrors they’ve witnessed? He’s a Gryffindor, perhaps, but he’s never pegged himself as being brave.
Now more than ever, he knows, is exactly the right time to try.
He greets Hermione that morning by tapping her shoulder to get her attention. Like she has every day since the clean-up began, she yelps and jumps, twirling to face him with an expression of fright.
“Percy!” She laughs, a hand coming up to cross over her heart. “Merlin, you ought to wear a bell!”
“I apologise,” he says, smiling. He wonders for a moment if a day will ever pass where those words won’t tumble from his lips like they’re owed to all and sundry. “What do we have on the agenda today?”
“We repair the major wall damage today,” she says, gesturing to the large holes blasted in the walls. “Replacing the bricks and mortar. No magic.”
“No magic,” he repeats dully.
“The materials will settle better and maintain their strength longer if we build by hand and reinforce later.”
“No magic,” he says again, slowly, like he’s waiting for the punchline. He pulls his hands into fists and feels the smoothness of his skin, not a scar or callous to be felt. A professional life dedicated to paperwork hasn’t exactly leant itself to any sort of knowledge or ability of labour.
“It won’t be just us,” she assures him. “A team of architectural and construction wizards will be coming by to assess the damage and bring by the new materials a little later. We’re hardly alone in this.”
“Rebuilding the library,” he says, his voice faint. He surveys the space and marvels at how far they’ve come, but the scale is still too staggering to comprehend. How on earth…
“We’re not rebuilding the entire library!” She laughs. “Only repairing the walls and further reinforcing them, and even then we’re hardly doing the bulk of the work, only assisting.”
“No need to look so panicked,” she teases. Her smiles seem happier now, he’s noticed. Not that he’s spent much time looking, he’s quick to amend, but even the slightest change in her smiles is drastic these days. He’d be blind not to notice.
“I’m not panicking,” he refutes.
“Of course not,” she replies, and she couldn’t have sounded any more indulgent if she had patted him on the head as well. “In any case, you have plenty of time to pull yourself together. The other teams aren’t arriving until at least eleven.”
He readjusts his glasses and nods his head. “So, in the meantime…?”
“In the meantime, you’re welcome to keep cleaning. Or…” She drags the word out, something coy and mischievous playing at her tone, “we could skip cleaning for a few hours and go to Hogsmeade for some breakfast?”
They’ve been working non-stop for so long, the temptation is far too much to even begin to deny.
“That sounds wonderful.” He nods with far more eagerness than the question is owed, and begins to feel a little foolish with his newfound enthusiasm towards breakfast.
“Good.” She smiles at him, framed from behind by the light coming in through a shattered window. It makes her hair sparkle and her skin glow. He feels his heart stutter, like it’s skipped a beat. Is something wrong with him? It’s never done anything like that before…
His gaze shoots towards hers. She gives him a pointed look, and he glances down to see his hand pressed against his chest, feeling for the rabid, thundering beat of his heart. It seems to beat even faster before it calms to a point where he feels like he can breathe again.
“Are you all right?” she asks. “You went awfully pale all of a sudden.”
Heat creeps into his cheeks and lights him up like a Christmas tree. He isn’t pale anymore, that’s for certain.
“I’m perfectly well, Hermione,” he replies. It’s a valiant effort he puts forth not to sound as flustered as he feels. He gestures a hand towards the makeshift exit. “Shall we?”
Hermione doesn’t look at all convinced, and he isn’t surprised; Percy considers himself to be many things, from an academic to a horrible turncoat, but a competent liar isn’t among them. Still, she moves towards the curtained door, keeping one sceptical eye trained on him, as though she believes he’s going to fall into a fainting spell at any moment.
“The weather is lovely today,” she states as she walks by him. “We’re walking; it’s not far, and the fresh air will do you good.”
It is lovely outside. Sunny, but cool; the sort of weather Percy would choose if the climate were in his control. He pulls his coat a little tighter against the cool breeze, and together they fall into a synchronised step towards Hogsmeade village.
He knows Hogsmeade suffered extensive damage during the attack on Hogwarts, but he also knows others have been rebuilding and remodelling the strip of stores for much longer than they have, and without the magical reinforcements that Hogwarts has it’s been a much faster process. It’s still a little chaotic, all sorts of flotsam strewn about the street and a steady stream of customers darting from shop to shop, but it still looks like the Hogsmeade he remembers visiting as a student, if a little newer and brighter.
Hermione doesn’t feel the need to fill the quiet void between them with frivolous conversation, something for which Percy is infinitely grateful; he needs a quiet moment in his own head to pull apart his strange reaction to her. If indeed it was a reaction to her. He wouldn’t put it past his heart now to simply give out.
“Are you feeling better?” she asks as they walk down the main street.
He looks up at her, and she’s still regarding him with that same wary expression. “I’m fine,” he says. “I must be tired. I… I haven’t been sleeping well lately.”
It’s a safe response, and not entirely untrue, either. Hermione’s lips crease in a frown and she nods her head.
“Neither have I,” she imparts on a whisper. Her voice drops even lower still when she leans in closer and says, “I… I’ve been taking Dreamless Sleep…”
“You’re taking Dreamless Sleep?” He stops, shocked. When he had been working in the Ministry, he’d seen countless letters and complaints regarding the pearly-hued potion from addicts and their families, all of them vying to have it taken off the common market in the hopes that someone else’s life could be spared. The stuff is too easy to obtain, too potent, and too easy to overdose on. And now Hermione is taking it. “Hermione, that’s incredibly –”
“Don’t judge me, Percy,” she warns, her voice dropping to a tone that’s icy and invites no argument. “I know it’s not… ideal.” Her shoulders slump forward as she lets out a sigh. “But surely you can understand why.”
The worst thing is, he can. If it weren’t for his moral objections, he would have lost himself in a vat of the stuff weeks ago.
“I can,” he admits as he starts to move again. “But it can be dangerous, Hermione. Promise me you’ll be careful.”
“I’m careful,” she tells him, a tiny, wry smile tugging her lips. “I don’t take it every night, but sometimes… I feel like there’s no other choice if I want to be able to sleep that night. But for what it’s worth, I don’t like it.”
“I understand,” he mumbles.
“I knew you would,” she replies. “So, what would you like to eat?”
After skipping breakfasts for the past two years in order to get to work on time, Percy doesn’t feel like he has any right to be picky.
“Whatever you want,” he says earnestly.
She grins and slips her hand through the crook of his elbow, guiding him to a tiny café he doesn’t recall seeing before. There used to be something different on this corner, but his mind can’t place what it was.
“This store was one of the first to re-open,” she explains to him as they take their seats. It’s cosy inside, warmed by a crackling fire in the corner and the scents of cinnamon and coffee. “It’s under new ownership now. The former owners didn’t want to come back after everything that happened. Remember how this used to be a trinkets shop?”
He nods, the memory coming back. He recalls his second or third visit to Hogsmeade, where he bought his mother a necklace from that little trinket shop, back then scented with pipe smoke and incense. After he gave it to her for her birthday, he never saw her without it around her neck again. He wonders idly if she’s still wearing it now, or if shame made her take it off.
He shifts in his seat, overcome all at once with a wave of emotion that stings his eyes and shortens his breath.
“It’s a lovely café now, though,” Hermione goes on. “They have delicious pancake breakfasts.”
“That sounds perfect,” Percy says, his voice oddly hoarse. Before he can stop her, Hermione is striding up to the counter and placing their orders, parting with a small pile of coins and making her way back.
“I could have paid for us,” he protests.
“Next time,” she replies, waving him off.
The vague promise of a hypothetical ‘next time’ is enough to make his heart do that strange stop-start thing again. Perhaps he should stop by St. Mungo’s on his way home this evening, just to be safe.
“Percy, I’ve been meaning to ask you… have you…” She hesitates, looking more and more uncomfortable as the moment drags on. “Have you spoken to your family lately?”
In just a few words, Percy goes from completely at ease to completely on edge. His mouth moves independently of the rest of him, flapping open and shut like a goldfish. He’s wanted to talk to them, obviously, but it’s difficult to start the conversation that will shred apart still-bleeding wounds. Between Fred’s and everyone else’s recent funerals, and his family’s ferocious dedication to aiding in rebuilding the wizarding world, there hasn’t been time, nor any real desire on either of their parts to talk.
“Not yet,” he mumbles, like someone must be hiding behind an upturned table or behind a kitchen door and silently judging him for his cowardice.
Are you a Gryffindor or aren’t you?
He’s certain then that the Sorting Hat misjudged him.
“I haven’t stepped foot in the Burrow since before the war. I couldn’t… before, and now…”
She settles a hand atop his, and Percy tries his very best not to gawk at the sight.
“I understand,” she says. “I’m sure they do, too.”
“Does…” He swallows a lump and tries again. “Does Ron ever ask or talk about me?”
She squirms in place, a flash of white appearing to nibble on the chapped skin of her lips. “Sometimes,” she admits. “But it’s not…”
It’s not complimentary. It probably never has been. She doesn’t need to finish the sentence for him to capture her meaning. Ron was always the most hot-headed of his brothers, the most prone to offense, and the hardest to sway when his mind was set.
“Never mind,” he says, swallowing back the bulk of the hurt that sits sticky in his throat. “I shouldn’t have expected…”
“Would you like me to talk to him for you?” she asks.
He shakes his head. “I can’t possibly put that burden on you, Hermione. I think it’s something… something I should do.”
He closes his eyes for a brief moment and allows the scene to wash over him. It’s so easy to imagine the reunion between himself and the rest of his family as a sort of whimsical hypothetical – a situation where he’s greeted again with open arms and unabashed understanding. Forgiveness flows free and sorrows are shared – he’s part of a family again.
Then he opens his eyes again, and everything around him reminds Percy of exactly why his hypothetical will remain just that.
He would give anything for his parents not to frown at the mere thought of him.
They levitate book after book into a huge drum almost as tall as he is. It’s a slow process, even with their wands, but over the course of the past month they’ve filled nearly one hundred of these drums with loose pages and half-bound texts to be recycled into something productive later.
He watches Hermione from the corner of his eye. He’s watched her turn over countless books in her hands, flick through the pages, sigh, and toss them away. Every time, it’s as though the book in her hand becomes heavier; her arm is slower to move, the lines in her face more pronounced as though it’s taking more and more effort to heft the book into the bin.
It’s breaking her heart, and he both understands and has no idea why. They’re books, and he understands her love of the written word more than she could know. On the other hand, though, they’re just books.
As they draw closer and closer to finishing this portion of the clean-up, one fact stares him in the face: there aren’t going to be any books left. Everything has been at least partially charred, torn or obliterated completely.
“I don’t think any of these books are salvageable.”
Her voice is hollow, with the sort of broken quality that makes him think she might start crying. Percy pauses, lowering his wand after dropping yet another stack into the barrel. “I know,” he replies, because he isn’t sure what else he should say.
She sighs and clears the obstacle course of debris to come to a pause at his side. She doesn’t say anything, only stares out with the most despondent look he’s ever seen on her, but she looks fit to burst with words. Percy goes on with his work, checking books for any that are viable, throwing them into a pile when they aren’t, and levitating that pile away. The repetition is soothing, but he’s still very much aware of Hermione by his side.
“It’s not…” Her voice cracks. She takes a rattling breath in, out, and starts again. “It’s not just books! There’s so much history we’re just throwing away. It’s knowledge that has been passed down for generations. It’s the collective findings of magic compiled by thousands upon thousands of educators.” She holds up a relic of a text from her pile, her eyes wild. “Writings from the Founders themselves, gone.” She drops it to the ground like it’s a stone. “Burned to scrap to be broken down and made into something else.”
“But don’t you find any beauty in that?” he interjects. “In history being remade in such a way that everyone can take part in it? We aren’t throwing anything away, Hermione; we’re remaking it.”
“I know!” she declares. “I really do – and there certainly is beauty in it. It’s just…”
Her voice breaks, then there’s one, two, three heartbeats of silence before the library fills with the echo of her quiet sobs. Percy can count on one hand the amount of times he’s comforted a crying female, and on none of those occasions does he think he made even a passable attempt to make them feel better. But after spending so much time together and having little else to fill in their days besides playing ‘getting to know you’ games, he finds it easy to wrap an arm around Hermione’s shoulders and tug her closer.
“Don’t cry,” he starts out, cursing himself for saying something so stupid. Could he sound less sympathetic if he tried?
“It’s all right,” he goes on, spouting clichés like it’s his damn job. Don’t cry; life goes on; it’ll all work out; you’ll be fine.
Hermione doesn’t seem to mind. Or, at least, she hasn’t swatted his hand away and demanded his tongue on a platter so he could never speak again. Instead, she tucks herself even tighter against his neck, so close he can feel the hot streaks of her tears disappear down the collar of his shirt.
Percy sighs and breathes in her scent of honey and wildflowers. He keeps murmuring soothing platitudes into her hair, more token, clichéd words that do little to truly diffuse the situation, but something, he hopes, to make her feel as though her fears and sadness are warranted. He might not feel quite the same way, but he does understand.
She lets out another rattling breath and holds onto him a little tighter. Something in him screams that he should be uncomfortable, that he should break the embrace and put some distance between them, but it’s warring with another part of him that only wants to pull her even closer still and find out just what her lips would taste like on his. Even with Audrey, he’s never felt quite so conflicted with a woman.
“I wish I knew what happened to Pince,” she says. “She would have known what sort of charms we could use on the books.”
He glances down at her. It’s strange – he never noticed how small she was, not until she was tucked in the crook of his neck. A strangely primal part of him seems to preen at how well she fits there. “Pince is dead?”
Hermione lifts one shoulder in as close an approximation of a shrug as he’s ever seen from her before. He’s never known an expression of indifference to ever cross her body. “No one knows. She hasn’t been seen or heard from since before the war. The Order thinks she might have died, but they can’t narrow anything down.”
“She was a stubborn old bird,” Percy comments, smiling despite the topic. “I remember scolding Fred and George whenever they tried to prank Pince, but they could never get one over her. She probably got out while she still could. Shooting glares at Death Eaters who dared to defile her library.”
She lets out a short, huffing laugh, and for a moment Percy feels nothing short of triumphant.
“So,” she says. “What do we do now?”
“Ordinarily, I’d suggest looking up a charm or spell in a book, but…” He gestures helplessly to the sea of torn and burned pages around them, a wry sort of smile on his lips. “I can’t exactly recommend that now.”
“I don’t know anything off the top of my head, either.” She sighs and her shoulders slump. “Some bibliophile I am.”
“Hush.” He chuckles. “You’re a wonderful bibliophile. No one else would care this much about books. It’s kind of… nice, how passionate you are.”
Hermione’s eyes are red and swollen when she looks up at him from under damp lashes. She looks at him like there’s something she desperately wants to say, but instead she offers a tiny smile and nods.
“Thank you,” she says. She stares at the wet marks on his shirt and gives a watery laugh. “I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to be sorry for,” he assures her. “Like I said, it’s nice to see so much passion, especially after everything.”
“You have plenty of passion, too, Percy,” she tells him.
He wants to laugh, tell her she’s wrong, but the look on her face dares him to, like she’s waiting for his rebuttal and already has an answer to rebuff him again. She’s done exactly that every other time he’s had a hard word to say about himself, and he’s not sure he has anything left in him to listen to yet another fervent defence of his poor judgement.
“Perhaps,” he settles on, intentionally vague. Hermione’s answer is pursed lips and narrowed eyes, and he grins to himself, a congratulations on taking the wind straight out of her sails.
“You do,” she declares with finality, and with that the book is closed; Percy is passionate and a million other things she’s gone and decided without him, and nothing he can say or do will make her believe otherwise.
But he can’t help but think that if anyone was to fight for him, he wouldn’t mind it being Hermione Granger.
It’s another quiet, uneventful day. Percy feels listless as he goes through the motions on rote. Check. Chuck. Levitate. Repeat. Maybe one day they’ll break the halfway point with all these bloody books. He can hear the faint droning – almost soothing – hum of the other repair crews in other parts of the castle. His eyes feel heavy, and he feels like it wouldn’t be at all outside the realms of possibility if he were to just keel out over the stone floors and fall asleep.
“Percy!” Hermione cries from some far off, secluded corner. “Come here, quickly!”
He sprints on over to her side before it registers that her cry was one of delight, of wonder, and not of pain or revulsion.
“Hermione,” he gasps, sucking in deep, winded breaths. “What is it? Are you injured?”
Her lips pull into a beautiful grin as she gestures with her hand to a crevice made by a fallen wall. Frowning, Percy leans in closer. Coming from the hole is a series of tiny, pitiful mewls.
Percy pulls back and fixes her with a look of disbelief. “Cats?”
“Kittens!” she exclaims. She kneels down beside him and holds out a hand towards the hole. “Hello, there,” she coos, and a tired-sounding meow replies. “It’s all right. I’m not going to hurt you.”
He’s not sure how she does it, since as far as he knew, cats are fiercely protective of their litters, but when she pulls back, there’s a tiny kitten held in the safe cocoon of her hands.
“Their eyes aren’t even open yet,” she whispers. “Aren’t they just darling? What were you doing in there?”
“They must have only recently come in here.” He leans in again for another look. A haughty mother cat is watching them carefully, her tail twitching to and fro. He can see another kitten stumbling for purchase on the uneven terrain on tiny, pink paws, but judging by the chorus of high-pitched meows there must be many more. “There were likely many pets still in the castle when it was attacked. Some must have hidden.”
“I don’t recall seeing the mother cat around, but perhaps you’re right. Hold him, please?”
When he looks back up, Hermione is holding the kitten out to him, a happy, glowing smile on her face. He’s not sure he could ever say no to her while that smile is directed at him. Nodding dumbly, he holds out his hands and watches as she gently passes the tiny creature over before she stands with a whispered be careful and darts out of the room.
There’s something humbling about holding such a tiny, defenceless thing in your hands. Percy holds the kitten up to his face and studies it. He’s no expert, but it looks healthy. Its mewls are strong, and there’s a surprising strength to the grip of its paws curled around his fingers.
“Hello, little one,” he murmurs. “This is a very silly place for you to be.”
Even with its eyes closed and all-round feeble demeanour, Percy gets the feeling it’s listening and understanding. The tiny mewl could even be taken as agreement. I know, human. I know.
Percy has never been too good with animals. Only owls have ever been accepting of him as master, and even then Percy only thinks it’s because they’re conditioned that way. The worst owl still performs its duties, even if it does nip one’s fingers when returning.
But this cat seems different.
This cat knows nothing of his shortcomings as a human being, of his failings as a son and brother, but nuzzles deeper into his hold anyway. Like it actually likes him.
He spends so much time marvelling at the tiny creature that he doesn’t even hear Hermione dart back into the library, much less see her when she comes to a stop beside him with a lined wicker basket held on the crook of her arm.
“What are you going to do?” he asks.
“They can’t just stay here!” she exclaims. She reaches into the crevice and pulls out another two kittens. “They’re so young! Help me get them in.”
By the time they’ve positioned the dozen kittens in the basket their hands are covered in countless sets of feeble red lines. The mother cat follows with the same haughty air, curling herself around her young, swishing her tail back and forth impatiently.
Hermione looks down at the kitten he surreptitiously stashed on his lap and smiles. “That one, too, Percy.”
“But I like it,” he says, stubborn as a child. He’s very aware in that moment of exactly how adolescent he sounds. It’s a wonder one of his hands hasn’t reached down to clutch the kitten to his chest, or stomped his feet in a tantrum.
But still, Hermione’s smile never falters. “They’re young, Percy. Too young to be handled right now. In a few weeks, you can have him back.”
It’s only then, bolstered by her promise, that he takes the kitten from his lap and places it gently with its siblings in the basket.
“There you go,” he murmurs. He looks up at Hermione again, and is puzzled by the tender smile she’s shining down on him. “What are you going to do with them now?”
“I was planning on taking them to the vet I used to take Crookshanks to in Diagon Alley.”
He nods. “That sounds like a good plan.”
“You’ll see them again, Percy. In fact…” She takes her wand from where it’s stowed in her sleeve and waves it in an arc. Trailing behind the tip is a thin strip of golden ribbon. She plucks the ribbon from the air and ties it in a neat bow around his kitten’s neck. “There. He’s yours now.”
She’s still wearing that beautiful, glowing grin, sitting in the corner of the dusty library in front of a basket of newborn kittens. He’s gobsmacked by all of her in that moment. How has Ron not made a bloody move yet?
It’s like he’s been doused with ice water. For all he knows, Ron made his move months ago. It’s not like Percy would have known, and it’s not as though Hermione is obligated to tell him whether or not she’s seeing his brother. He has to stop. Everything has to stop.
Percy clears his throat. “Thank you,” he says, all formal tones and stiff-upper-lip.
Hermione gives him an odd, deciphering look, much like the ones she gave him during the first few days of the clean-up. They’d made him uncomfortable then, now they only shame him.
“You’re welcome,” she says. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say she was angry with him. She stands and hefts the handle of the basket. She struggles for balance and sways to her right, righting herself and swaying again. Percy covers her hand with his and Mother of Merlin why must he react to her like this? His skin tingles and trembles like a bolt of lightning has struck, and he can hear the pulse of his heart through every part of him.
“I’ll take it,” he manages to say. The basket is heavy, but he’s starting to get the feeling that he might be willing to do anything for her. That scrutinising look on her face has melted to something incalculable that Percy can’t read no matter how he looks at it.
“Thank you,” she murmurs. “We’ll take the floo.”
As they’re walking in silence through the newly swept halls of Hogwarts, Hermione asks, “Have you decided on a name?”
A tiny smile twists his lips. “Do you think Fred would have objected to having a cat named in his honour?”
They stand side by side in the centre of the library, no littered debris coming up to their knees, no bookshelves strewn, no holes in the walls, no smashed windows. Percy’s hands twitch for something to do, but that’s exactly the problem: there isn’t anything left to do.
“I think it’s finished,” Hermione breathes.
Percy looks about in awe of what they managed to accomplish together in just two short months. There are still only a few books to occupy the newly refurbished shelves, and there’s no fire crackling in the hearth, but it looks like Hogwarts library. It feels like Hogwarts library. He’s sure once the donations and newly purchased books come in, anyone passing through would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the previous library and this one.
“As finished as we’re going to get it,” he agrees.
“Did you remember the dusting charms?”
“Of course. Did you remember to rehang those portraits behind the librarian’s desk?”
“Of course. Although, I had to rearrange them a dozen times before they were satisfied with their placements.”
Percy grins. It’s truly finished. The accomplishment he feels courses in his bloodstream like a high. He wants to laugh, cry, jump, dance. He wants to celebrate, take Hermione by the hand and twirl her, but even that urge feels wrong somehow, as though even rebuilding a library isn’t something that warrants celebration when the entire reason it needed rebuilding in the first place still hangs about them like a raincloud.
“Thank you, Percy,” she says, beaming as she holds out a hand. “We make a wonderful team.”
“I ought to be thanking you, Hermione,” he refutes as he takes her hand and steadfastly ignores the shock that shoots up his arm. “I couldn’t have asked for a better partner. I only apologise that I couldn’t be better company.”
There’s a flash of exasperation on her face that quickly gives way to something softer. “You were fine company, Percy. You are. You always were. I’ve no clue why you doubt it so much now when you were such a confident man before.”
“Me, confident?” He barks out a laugh. “Oh, Hermione. Let’s not start lying to each other now.”
She arches a brow. “I didn’t lie, Percy.”
“Then perhaps you ought to rethink your definition of the word,” he snaps.
Her mouth drops at his acid tone and a look of offense washes over her. Percy wishes he could reel the words back in, but as soon as the venom leaves his lips, it’s like a weight has been lifted, and he doesn’t think he could stop the words from pouring from him if he tried. Thought’s he’d been internalising for years rushed from him, spoken aloud in the light of day for the first time.
“I’m not at all confident,” he goes on before she can say a word. “I second-guess myself at every turn, I wish with everything I have that I could just melt into the shadows and never be seen again. I wish I didn’t have to speak, or be seen or heard from again, because Merlin knows I just end up disappointing people. I am a cowardly, spineless, stupid mess, Hermione, and you know it.”
“Percy, stop!” she snaps, cutting over his last words in a harsh, unforgiving tone he’s never heard from her before. Her eyes look wild, and her hands are bunched in tight fists at her side, like she’s fighting the urge to punch him. “I… I can’t take this anymore! You are absolutely infuriating! This horrible martyr complex you’ve developed is driving me crazy! Do you have any clue how often I’ve wanted to reach out and just slap you?
“You are incredibly brave,” she states, like it’s the only truth she’s ever known. “I know you don’t believe me, but you need to hear it.” She stops only to take a deep breath, then goes on, “You know bravery comes in more than one form. There’s more than Harry being willing to sacrifice himself to save everyone else. There’s more than doing the right thing even when it feels wrong. There’s more than agreeing to something dangerous, but needed, if you know it’ll save lives.
“Yours was courage of a different sort again, Percy,” she tells him, her voice sinking to little more than a whisper. “I know you’ll disagree, but it takes so much bravery to defend your beliefs, however misguided they are. You might have been acting like an idiot for the past few years, but I admired that in you. I still do.”
He smiles wryly. “My being an idiot?”
She growls and scowls at him. “Your conviction, you silly boy! It takes so much courage to stick to your guns, and even more to admit that you are wrong.
“You know you were wrong,” she says, gentle now. “Or you wouldn’t be here otherwise. I know that. Your family knows that. Fred knows that.”
Percy’s eyes start to sting, but he blinks the tears away. “You can’t know that,” he whispers. “Fred… he didn’t –”
“Of course he did,” Hermione cuts in. “He saw you, he fought and died beside you. He knew what you were doing, Percy, and he forgave you and loved you for it.”
Words fail him. Not that he doesn’t try. He’s sure he looks especially foolish with how his mouth must be flapping about. But what could be possibly say to that? How could he possibly respond?
Hermione keeps a determined gaze fixed firmly upon him as she takes slow, deliberate steps towards him. She narrows the distance to mere inches and reaches out seize the lapels of his coat. Percy is certain she can feel the thundering of his heart beneath all those layers.
“Believe me, Percy,” she murmurs. “None of this is your fault. You’re wonderful, and you’re worth knowing and I… I’ve liked you for a long time.”
His gaze snaps to hers then and scans it for any trace of a lie or tease. He can’t imagine Hermione being that callous, but he can’t imagine her being so daft that she’d have any sort of favourable feeling for him either.
She isn’t lying, though. Her face is open and earnest and filled with something Percy can only call affection. He slumps his shoulders, defeated. He can’t argue with her anymore; he doesn’t want to. With all his heart, he wants her to mean what she said, wants it all to be real.
He feels a soft, warm lingering pressure on his cheek. He turns just in time to see Hermione’s face moving away from his, flushed pink and smiling shyly.
“I hope you find your peace, Percy,” she whispers, still so close he can feel the warmth of her breath against his cheek and smell the honey of her perfume. She brushes her lips against his cheek again, closer still to the corner of his lips. “Find me when you do.”
She waves and steps backwards towards the door, her eyes not leaving his until the last possible second, and disappears out of sight.
In the space of seconds, Percy replays every word of their conversation in his mind, because he couldn’t possibly have heard Hermione bloody Granger admit to liking him, of all people, and there’s no way she could have called him brave or meant any number of the other compliments she paid him. It’s surreal; too good to be true. And it’s real, which only makes it all the more astounding. He can’t do anything more than grin and laugh, it all seems so bizarre and strange and absolutely wonderful.
He doubts he’ll believe her today, or even tomorrow, but that last part about finding his peace… that sounds nice, and if she wants to see him again when he finds it… far be it from him to argue.
Percy looks around the library again, a cursory check-over for the third and final time. Overcoming this insurmountable task makes him think that perhaps he has the capacity to accomplish another. He knows exactly where to start, and if Hermione believes in him, then there’s no way he can be afraid anymore.
The floo network had been one of the first systems to be re-established once the repairs began, but since the wards hadn’t been redone as of yet, Percy had made do with Apparating in each morning. Today, though, he bypasses the empty Quidditch field where he usually arrives and leaves each day in favour of one of the free fireplaces in the staff offices.
His cheek still tingles as he takes a handful of powder and tosses it into the flames. Time to take that unusual brand of courage and use it.
Stepping in, he confidently states, “The Burrow.”