Chapter 2 : Chapter 2 - Working With Percy
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It has to be done, Hermione kept thinking to herself. Just get it over with. Just do it.
Hermione had been staring at the vial in her hand for about five minutes, slowly rolling it between her fingers and watching the shiny silver memory swish around inside it. She wasn't really sure what was holding her back, seeing as she had already made her decision to return the memories to her head. That's where they belonged, anyway.
But there was still time to change her mind, still time to put them back in the cabinet...
No, she thought. No, no, no. You have to do this.
Before she could grapple with the decision any longer, Hermione dipped the tip of her wand into the vial and scooped out the memory. The way it simply attached itself to her wand fascinated her; it was almost as if the memory itself was eager to get back into her head.
Well, here it goes, she thought. She proceeded to press the tip of her wand gently to her temple before feeling the silver stream of glitter seep its way into her mind...
12 June, 2000
Hermione's lunch breaks were never very interesting, but this particular day was different.
And not in a good way.
She absentmindedly ate her strawberry yogurt as she glared at the open parcel on her desk that arrived just a couple of minutes earlier. The box contained about fifty Chocolate Frogs and a note written in Ron's sloppy scrawl:
Thought some of these could brighten your day, sweetheart.
Hermione could practically see the sarcasm dripping off the note, and she could perfectly envision Ron sitting at work and laughing to himself about his snarky gesture. He was such an immature prat.
I hate him, she thought, jamming another spoonful of yogurt into her mouth. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him!
She didn't really hate Ron, of course. She was just beyond irritated with him. They had another one of their rows that morning, and this time, it had been about Chocolate Frogs, of all things. So what if she didn't want her name and photograph on a dumb little card tucked inside the wrapping of a sweet? That wasn't any of his business. It wasn't as if she was going to be rude about it, either; she was just going to write a polite letter declining the offer to be on a card.
Ron, naturally, was thrilled to be asked to be on a Chocolate Frog card, and he couldn't understand why Hermione didn't want to be.
But it's meant to be an honor, Hermione! he'd said during breakfast, spewing out bits of toast as he did so. What's wrong with having your accomplishments recognized?
Accomplishments? What accomplishments? Hermione had countered. Fighting in a battle? Killing people in cold blood? Yeah, what wonderful achievements.
Look, just because you went back to school and have a cushy job at the Ministry now-
That is NOT-
-doesn't mean you're better than the rest of us. Get off your damn high horse!
How dare you! I'm trying to move on, Ronald!
Yeah? And I'm trying to remember that we defeated the most evil being our world has ever seen! There's nothing wrong with celebrating that!
I never said there was, but Merlin, Ron, it's been two years! It's time to move on! It's time to let go!
And forget all we achieved?
I'm not forgetting that! I just don't want to have the reminder of it plastered to a damn Chocolate Frog card, okay?
The argument went as such for a few more minutes, getting harsher and further away from the original topic the more they yelled. It was how all their fights were as of late: beginning on a seemingly harmless topic and escalating to verbal brawls that seemed to last for hours.
"Chocolate fucking frogs!" Hermione said angrily, chucking the rest of her yogurt at the wall and shoving the box from Ron off her desk. She couldn't yell at work, so making a mess to let out her frustration was the next best thing. After the remaining yogurt was splattered on the wall near her door and the floor covered in sweets, she closed her eyes, rested her elbows on her desk, and put her head in her hands.
It wasn't just the Chocolate Frogs, and she knew it. She and Ron had always bickered, but it was never anything extreme. During the past couple of months, however, their petty little arguments had become so intense and vicious, and they were occurring nearly every day. Hermione had heard of couples going through low points, but what she and Ron were going through was far beyond a low point. Their relationship was falling apart.
No, Hermione thought to herself. You love him. He loves you. This will all fix itself in time. We're meant to be. Don't give up. Be strong. It's not over.
As always, Hermione was a terrible liar, even to herself.
Then, there was an unwelcome knock on her office door.
"What?" Hermione scowled, not even bothering to look up. The door opened slightly.
"Sorry, Hermione, I know you're on your lunch break, but I just had to – whoa! What happened here?"
"Hi, Percy," Hermione mumbled, recognizing the voice immediately. "It's nothing."
"Bad day?" he queried, stepping into her office.
"You could say that."
"What's my dolt of a brother done now?" Percy asked sarcastically. Hermione couldn't help but chuckle a bit.
"He sent me Chocolate Frogs," Hermione said, finally looking up.
"And that's a bad thing?"
"It is when we had a huge row about them this morning."
"Fighting about Chocolate Frogs, eh? That's a new one."
"It's a long story," Hermione sighed.
"Let me guess," Percy said. "You were both asked to be on Chocolate Frog cards. You want to decline the offer, and Ron's angry about it." When Hermione looked taken aback, Percy laughed and continued. "I just saw Harry a few minutes ago. He got a letter about it this morning, too."
"Oh...well, that makes sense, I suppose," Hermione said, leaning back in her chair. "You don't think I'm being completely irrational, do you?"
Percy shrugged, waving his wand to clean up the yogurt from the wall and tidy up the sweets all over the floor. "If you don't want to be on a Chocolate Frog card, then you shouldn't have to be. It's as simple as that."
Hermione snorted. "Try telling that to Ron."
"He'll come around," Percy assured her. "He always does."
"Yeah, I know," Hermione mumbled, staring out the window. She sounded anything but convincing.
"Something else is bothering you," Percy stated, though there was a hint of a question in his voice.
Hermione said nothing for a few moments. She didn't really want to talk about was going on between her and Ron. She told herself it was because Percy was both a coworker and Ron's brother, but it was really because talking about it would make it real. She wouldn't be able to avoid it any more.
"How are things with Audrey?" Hermione asked instead.
A small grin appeared on Percy's face as he sat down in the chair near the window. "So far, wonderfully. I really like her. She's lovely."
"That's great," Hermione replied with a smile. It was nice to see Percy happy for a change. He was still the same workaholic he'd always been, of course, but he'd changed a lot since the war. He was much more relaxed and personable. And now that he had Audrey, it was obvious he was finally allowing some time for a life outside of the office. That was a good thing; he needed that.
"Do you two ever argue?"
"Er, occasionally about where to go out for dinner, but nothing worse than that. Why?"
Hermione simply continued her inquiry. "You two haven't...er...sort of hit a rough patch, have you?"
"Not really. Seeing as we've only been together for a few months, though, I'd be quite concerned if we were going through a rough patch already."
"Right," Hermione said, shaking her head. "Don't mind me. I'm not really myself today."
"Is...is everything alright between you and Ron, Hermione?"
"Yes. Yes, of course. Why?"
Percy shrugged. "Well, you're asking about relationship troubles..." Percy didn't finish his statement. Instead, he just looked at her with both inquiry and concern in his eyes.
"We've just been rowing a lot lately, that's all," Hermione admitted, gazing over Percy's shoulder and out the window.
"Rowing is normal, Hermione."
"Not like this," Hermione said. "I mean, we've been rowing. Shouting matches, tears, him or me sleeping on the couch...everything."
Percy leaned back in his chair, dumbfounded. "That doesn't sound like the two of you at all."
"I know. I don't even know why this is happening. I mean, it took us forever to finally get together, and we were so happy. It was tough last year when I was finishing up at Hogwarts, of course, but once I got back I thought we could really get our lives going. I thought he felt the same way."
"So...you want to get married, and he doesn't?"
Hermione shook her head. "Not exactly. We've actually talked about getting married, and we both want to eventually. It's just that I want to get other things squared away first before we take that step. I want to get more settled in here at the Ministry and really make a name for myself. I want us to have some money in the bank. I want him to figure out if he's going to go for being an Auror or not; he still hasn't made up his mind. And the war...Merlin, I just want to move on. I'm tired of getting letters from the Prophet asking for interviews. I'm tired of getting recognized on the street. And that's where Ron and I are clashing."
Percy nodded. "He likes the fame."
"Of course he does. I'm not mad at him for that, either. And I don't mind occasionally answering questions or taking a picture with someone, but it's been two years, for goodness sake. I just want to be left alone, you know? A couple of months ago, we were at the Three Broomsticks and I saw someone keep staring at us. Then I noticed she had a notepad in front of her, so obviously she was from some magazine. I told Ron I wanted to leave, and he got upset. He said I was being selfish. He'd had a few Butterbeers by then, mind you, and I know I was being a bit over-dramatic about the whole thing, but I just snapped."
"In the middle of the Three Broomsticks?"
"No. Once we got back to our flat, we fought like we never had before, and it was awful. Just awful. I yelled about how he needs to stop spending every night at the pub and make up his mind about his future, he screamed about how I'm so uptight about everything and need to relax, and...well, you get the picture. We haven't been the same since. That night just left a bitter taste our mouths. We've been so cold toward each other, we haven't been going out together unless it's with Harry and Ginny, we haven't shagged in weeks, and-" Hermione stopped suddenly, her face flushing.
"Oh my," she stammered, "I can't believe I just said that...I'm sorry...I don't even know why I'm telling you all of this..."
"It's alright," Percy said, though he did shift in his seat uncomfortably while his ears turned scarlet. "However, maybe you should save talking about...er...intimacy for the next time you see Ginny."
"Noted," Hermione said with a chuckle. "But honestly, I feel terrible about the things I said to him that night because I was just so rude. But at the same time, I feel like they needed to be said. Do you know what I mean?"
"Is it wrong that I want to put the war behind us?" Hermione asked. "I understand where he's coming from. I understand that he wants to go out for drinks with Harry and Seamus and everyone else and just celebrate. But I just can't do that anymore. I can't keep remembering the war and...well, the war. If I keep reminding myself of it all the time, I'll go mad."
"You have to do what's best for you, Hermione," Percy said. "But, like you already know, Ron's different."
"I know, and I love him for that," Hermione said. "But I can't keep remembering, and it's tearing us apart. It's pulling us in different directions, and I don't want to lose him. I can't lose him."
Hermione hung her head, holding back the tears that were threatening to fall. She wasn't going to let herself cry at work, and certainly not in front of Percy. She looked up when she felt a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"It'll be alright, Hermione," Percy assured her. "You and Ron have always worked things out. This is just another bump in the road. This one may take a little longer to work through, but you'll get there. Cheer up."
Hermione sniffled and wiped the wetness from her eyes.
"Thanks," she mumbled with a smile. "I hope you're right. And I'm sorry I dumped this all this on you."
"Don't worry about it."
"And thanks for tidying my office."
"Not a problem."
"But something tells me you didn't come here to clean yogurt off the wall and listen to my love troubles."
Percy laughed. "True, I didn't, but I can always come back later. You have a lot on your mind right now."
"Oh no, that means you had bad news for me..."
"Quite the contrary," Percy said, holding up a manila folder Hermione hadn't noticed he'd been carrying. "I actually have good news."
"Really? Oh please, tell me now. I could use some good news."
"Well, remember earlier when you said you were trying to make a name for yourself here? I don't think you need to worry."
Percy just grinned. "You did it."
Hermione raised an eyebrow. "Did what?"
"What do you think?" Percy asked happily. "It passed."
Hermione's eyes widened. She couldn't believe her ears. "This better not be a joke, Percy Weasley, or I swear to Merlin I'll hex you into next week."
"It's not a joke. Here, look," Percy said eagerly, opening the folder to show her its contents. "I mean, it still has to go through last-minute edits and it needs the final approval and signature from Mr. Shacklebolt, but those are just formalities. It's all but official, Hermione! Congratulations!"
"My...my first law?" Hermione stammered, snatching the folder from Percy's hands. It just couldn't be true. She'd only been working in the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures for a year; her chances of getting fair wages for house-elves so soon had been nearly impossible. She'd assumed it'd take years for it to pass. But there it was. The evidence was right there in front of her. She, Hermione Granger, had succeeded in attaining fair wages for house-elves. S.P.E.W. hadn't been a failure after all.
In that moment, she forgot about her row with Ron that morning. She forgot about all of their rows. She forgot about that damn letter sitting on her desk at home, asking for permission to put her face on a Chocolate Frog card.
"Merlin's pants!" she exclaimed, jumping out of her chair. "Percy! I, we...ha! Oh, goodness...it passed! We did it!"
Percy simply chuckled as he, too, stood up. "I'm not taking any credit. This one was all you."
"Are you kidding, Percy? I couldn't have done this without you! Thank you!"
She just laughed as she threw her arms around him, and he couldn't help but laugh, too. Hermione was ecstatic. It finally felt like everything was beginning to pay off - taking so many extra classes, finishing up Hogwarts even though she didn't have to, putting in all those late nights at the office - and it felt absolutely spectacular.
"Thank you," she muttered, still embracing Percy. "Thank you so much for helping me with this."
"You're welcome, but I'm still not taking any credit. This one's yours, alright? Be proud of yourself."
Hermione just giggled and gave Percy a quick kiss on the cheek before backing away. They were still laughing when they pulled apart, and for a brief moment, Hermione wondered how Ron would take her good news. Would he be proud of her? Would he put all of their latest unresolved arguments aside and give her a big hug and kiss? Would he forget about the damn Chocolate Frog cards?
Or would he make another snide remark about how she was putting her work before everything else?
Stop it, Hermione thought. You two may be having some hard times, but he still loves you. Of course he'll be happy for you.
Once again, Hermione failed to convince herself, but she pushed her worries aside for a change. She was so elated about getting her proposed law passed that for once she didn't give a damn what Ron would think. She just stood there and laughed with Percy.
And she didn't know what made the thought cross her mind, but she couldn't help but notice how much Percy's lopsided smile was like Ron's.
Ron hadn't smiled with her, laughed with her, for weeks.
She missed that.
She missed smiles.
She missed laughing.
She missed Ron.
And as Percy laughed with her, it felt like, for just a brief moment in time, that Ron was there. Laughing. Smiling. Caring.
It felt like he was back, like they were back, just like they belonged.
So she seized the moment. She kissed him, and not in a platonic way. She pressed her lips to his and kept them them there. She let them linger for a few moments, savoring the moment and remembering what it was like to be happy. To be cared about. To laugh. To smile.
And then, out of nowhere, she realized what she was doing. It seemed like Percy did, too.
They pulled apart abruptly and averted their eyes from each other. Hermione's gaze darted around the room while Percy suddenly became very interested in the tile design on her office floor. Both of their faces were the shades of the couches in the Gryffindor Common Room.
"I'm sorry," Hermione mumbled after a long, awkward minute. "I...I didn't mean...I..."
"It was a mistake..."
"I didn't mean anything by it, honestly," Hermione continued, suddenly speaking very quickly. "I don't know what I was thinking. I love Ron, and you have Audrey..."
"It's alright, Hermione," Percy said, finally gathering up the courage to look at her. "It was just a kiss. It meant nothing. We can just pretend it never happened."
He nodded, then smiled. "Yeah."
"Okay. Good. Okay."
"Erm...I better be going, then."
"Right, yeah...I'll see you later then."
"See you later."
Percy walked toward the office door, cleaning up a small, missed speck of strawberry yogurt as he did so. Just as he placed his hand on the doorknob, Hermione called his name.
He spun around, not moving his hand.
"You...you won't tell anyone, will you?"
"About the law?"
"No, about...you know. The kiss."
Percy gave her an inquisitive look. "What kiss? I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."
Hermione couldn't help but smile. "Thank you."
"Don't worry about it. See you later."
And with that, he was gone. Hermione stood there in her office, completely gobsmacked.
Are you mental, Hermione? she thought. He's Ron's brother. How daft can you possibly be?
She shook her head and sat back down, doing everything in her power to take Percy's advice.
We can just pretend it never happened.
"Never happened," Hermione said aloud, pushing her hair out of her face and returning to her work.
It never happened. Never happened.
Never. . .
Ever. . .
Happened. . .
Hermione stood there in her study as the last bit of the memory was absorbed back into her head, and images of her office, the folder containing her first law, and Percy all faded away into the depths of her mind. Only this wasn't like the last time she remembered the encounter; this time, she could retrieve it if she wanted to. Or didn't want to. It could very well creep up on its own.
She had a feeling the latter was going to happen sooner or later.
"Okay," she said to herself. "That one wasn't that bad. Really, it wasn't that bad. It could have been worse."
She thought about it for a moment, wondering to herself why she had even bothered to take the effort to remove that particular memory from her mind. After all, it had only been a kiss, and a rather pathetic one at that. It had lasted all of two, maybe three, seconds, and it meant absolutely nothing. It had been a stupid mistake.
A stupid mistake that just happened to occur when you and Ron were still together, she thought.
That's what made that memory so bad. She'd kissed another man –Percy, of all people – while she was still Ron. It didn't matter that their relationship had been on the rocks, or that in the moment Percy had reminded her of Ron. It had still been a shitty thing to do.
But she couldn't dwell on it. She still had three more vials to go.
Hermione grabbed the next vial, which was dated barely two months after Percy's. She popped open the top, and once again, fumes rose from the vial. Unlike what happened with Percy's, however, fragments didn't fly through her mind upon the opening of this one. There were no emotions, no scents, no pictures. There was just a whole lot of black. And bitterness. And guilt.
That unpleasant pang of guilt was in this one, too.
Author's Note: Thanks so much for reading! See you all soon! :)