When Hermione was transferred to the Department of International Magical Cooperation a couple of years after she started at the Ministry, her new route took her past Percy Weasley's office. She stopped in the first day to say hello, and he nodded to her with much fiddling of glasses and fidgeting of hands. He was still the same, tall boy that Hermione had watched in Hogwarts, his chest eternally puffed out as if his Head Boy badge were still glimmering there beneath his collar.
They saw each other quite a lot during the day, as transportation and international cooperation were closely linked, and if they weren't careful, they'd both end up being the last ones in the office. While Percy had mended fences with his family after the war, there had always been a sense of disconnection. His apologies didn't erase what had been said, what had been done, and no matter how much his mother hugged him and showed him to his siblings, the rest of the Weasleys couldn't help but be a little distrustful. Percy knew this, of course, and so did Hermione – only she hadn't been aware of her animosity until it started to trickle away.
The more they worked together, the more Hermione came to appreciate him – not as a traitor or a wizard, but as a person. He was by far one of the most awkward people Hermione had ever encountered, but also one of the shrewdest. He could see through someone's act before they knew they were acting, could figure out what exactly it was someone was saying as they struggled with the words, and he would always do it with an air of matter-of-factness separate from feelings. Hermione watched him put on his confidence in meetings like it was a cloak. It'd always start with an adjustment of his glasses, and then he would take control, swiftly and easily.
He made for a good listener, not overly obsessed with looking like he was listening because he was actually doing it. As they cleaned the office in the evenings or stopped for coffee in the mornings, Hermione found herself telling him things that she hadn't realized had been bothering her. She told him of her projects and of the way Ron snored and of the worsening state of the economy, and they found in each other a comfort of minds that neither had truly felt before.
Hermione's vignettes about her day were not enough to convince Ron to re-start his relationship with his brother – he said so – but even as she tried, Hermione thought that maybe it was for the best. They were odd, those two, she often thought – so similar and yet too stubborn to see it. Sometimes, when the light hit just right, Percy's hair would seem brighter, his freckles more pronounced, his cheeks redder as if he actually smiled often – and Hermione would have to look twice to see that it was him and not her husband beside her. And she caught Ron sometimes, when they played chess or cooked dinner, with that thoughtful look on his face – more innocent than Percy's, but of the same sort.
Hermione came to realize that Percy was much more complex than his family made him seem. He was a stickler for justice and rule-following, true (Hermione didn't see the problem in that), but he was also exceedingly polite. He had a way of demanding an opinion from a person, of whittling it down so that he could see exactly who he was dealing with. He had a capable, penetrating gaze and the haughtiness that had borne him through Hogwarts had watered down to a comfortable feeling of belonging. Hermione came to appreciate the halting way he spoke, trying to get every word out right, and the organized, almost neurotic way in which he approached life. It was nice to talk to someone who shared the same interests, did the same things, and looked at the world in an oddly similar way.
As the year progressed, Hermione and Percy took to eating their lunches together at a small café just outside the ministry. He always did the same thing before he sat down – adjusted his glasses, smiled at her, took off his coat, and wiggled his jumper a little – Hermione thought he was one of the most predictable people she had ever met.
That was, until he looked her straight in the eye that afternoon and said in a rush, quite adamantly: "Hermione, I'm in love with you."
She spit out her tea on the tablecloth. "You what?"
He pressed a lanky finger to his blotchy forehead and then reached for the napkins. "I-I know it's not ideal, and I've tried, believe me, I've tried, to un-feel it, but . . ." he seemed to realize that both the tea and his emotions were beyond helping, and he sat back in his chair and shrugged.
It took Hermione several seconds to gather herself before she thought she could answer. "Percy," she started in a gentle voice. Her wedding band flashed in the fluorescent light. "Percy, you cannot imagine what a pleasure it has been to talk with you these past months." His amber eyes looked worried, but she pressed on. "You are by far one of the most interesting and capable people I have ever met. If I could, I would have you in all of my work committees, ever. But, Percy . . ."
He offered her a sad sort of grin. "But you wouldn't have me in your life committee."
Hermione returned his smile. "I'm sorry if I gave you the wrong idea," she said genuinely. "But I love your brother more than anything in this world."
For the second time that day, Percy Weasley surprised her. "He's not good enough for you," he said quickly, as if the words came out before he could stop them.
Baffled, Hermione raised her eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
Percy sighed. "Hermione, you deserve someone who matches your intellect, who's passionate about the things that you are. I know you two have been through a lot, and I like my brother, truly, but he's . . . he's an oaf, Hermione, and you are the most fantastic woman I have ever met. He would not be able to give you the conversation I can, the understanding I can, the love that I can, I just know it. You deserve someone who challenges you, who makes you think, who doesn't take you for granted. You know he takes you for granted, Hermione –''
But he stopped because he saw that she was laughing. Not unkindly, exactly, but laughing all the same. "What?" He asked defensively, suddenly aware of the redness on his face.
Hermione shook her head. "Percy, I'm sorry, really. But even if I wasn't in love with your brother, can't you see that we wouldn't be good for each other? Ron is most definitely an oaf. The oafiest oaf. But he's genuine and he's brave and he tries his best and he takes care of me in a way that even I can't begin to understand. We care for each other. He's dumb and he's brilliant and he makes me laugh, if you know what I am saying." She shrugged as if her next point was irrefutable, explained itself: "He beats me in Wizard's Chess."
Percy saw the smile on her face, the smile she didn't even know she was wearing, and stood up with a flourish. "I see," he said primly as if this had been a business proposition and not anything more. His face was a dark red, and he sort of bowed to her when he left. "I'm sorry to have troubled you."
Hermione watched him leave with her lips pressed together, and then, since she was a practical person indeed, called someone over to help her clean the tablecloth. The next day, everything was back to normal, as if they'd never been anything but mild work acquaintances. Over the course of the years, even after Percy got married and had children, he would sometimes look at her, working in her office or talking with officials, and he'd remember all the reasons they'd gotten along in the first place. Hermione would catch him looking and smile warmly in his direction, both amused and saddened by the way that he was gazing at her, and then she'd turn back to her work. And she would always be a little grateful for that – the turning back to work part – because in the deepest part of her heart, she knew she had never, not once, thought that she'd chosen the wrong Weasley. And in a world that seemed always to be in constant flux and danger and uncertainty, that was more than enough for her.