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.