After the war, to reconstruct seemed impossible. Many still can't believe that the Dark Lord has fallen and shall never rise again, and sometimes, Percy wakes up in cold sweat before remembering that his life as it was before Voldemort's downfall, was over. Some of his supporters were still at large, and had Aurors hot on their tracks, but it did not help Percy sleep at night, knowing that despite their best efforts, there were still cruel, vile, pureblood fanatics just waiting to pounce. However, developments within the Ministry have been scarce. While appointing Kingsley as Minister for Magic has helped weed out spies and other undesirables, changing the mindset of an entire society will take more time than Percy thought he was willing to volunteer. People, Muggle and Wizarding alike, were too busy rebuilding their lives from ashes while dealing with their grief, which is the hardest wound to mend.
And so it was that when Percy entered the room, his head in the clouds, he realized he would rather walk into an oven. The silence in the small stuffy room was overwhelming. Michael Corner huffed in boredom and his dark bangs flopped in front of his eyes. Hannah Abbott watched the rain splatter against the window pane. The Weather Watcher must have had a row with his wife again, mused Percy. Blaise Zabini stood nonchalantly against the far wall, hands stuffed in the pockets of his dark grey robes. Neville was listening politely to Fleur, now three-months pregnant. He closed the door behind him.
"You, Percy?" said Fleur when she noticed him. Even her long stay in England had not ridden her of her French accent, although her vocabulary had greatly improved. "You are ze one in charge 'ere?"
"Unfortunately," he smiled wryly. "You're all stuck with me for the time being."
"But dis means you 'ave been promoted!" she continued. "Félicitations. Your family will be very proud."
"Congrats, Percy," said Neville, clapping him on the back. Percy's glasses slid down his nose from the force of it. Hannah smiled at him and Micheal huffed some more. Blaise did nothing.
"Thank you. I am honoured, of course, although this task seems a little daunting," he admitted.
Michael stood and wiped dust from his robes. "The sooner we start, the sooner we're out of here," he said without malice. "I'd actually like to eat with my family tonight, thanks."
"Quite," said Percy, nodding in thought. "Very well, everyone, sit down around the table."
An awkward silence descended upon the five of them as each wondered where to start.
"So, uh, has anyone any clue what we're going to do about this 'damage control' project'? Because honestly, I have no idea whatsoever," said Hannah rapidly, her cheeks flushed. The others laughed quietly, part of the nervous tension dissipating.
"Honestly? I have no clue myself," said Percy, wiping his glasses on his sleeve. "It has to involve wizarding folk from all around the world and help push their minds in the right direction, basically."
"You can't teach an old Krup new tricks," said Blaise, his arms crossed over his chest.
"Well, if not the older generations, the younger ones," said Neville.
"Yes, but they would all be in school at that age," said Michael, rolling his eyes. "And how would we reach children from everywhere when they aren't even together?"
"Are you being an arse on purpose, Corner?" snapped Neville.
"Yeah, just to annoy you, Longbottom," said Michael sarcastically.
"Quiet, both of you," said Percy. "We're not here to argue."
"That's debatable," grinned Hannah.
"Oh, har har," said Michael. "You are all be'aving like children," said Fleur haughtily. "And I know children. My little Victoire is more mature than you are."
"Let's get back on track everyone," ordered Percy tiredly. "So we want to be able to reach wizarding kind young. How young?"
"Not before their magical schooling, that's for sure. Can you imagine trying to explain to a five-year-old the equality of all witches and wizards and Muggles?" said Hannah.
"And we wouldn't reach many Muggle-borns, either," added Michael.
"So not before their schooling, nor during..." mumbled Neville, thinking.
"Someone should take notes, I think," suggested Fleur as Percy unrolled some parchment and began writing.
"How about when they're fresh out of school?" said Blaise after a moment of silence. "When they're still too young to have values set in stone, but old enough to chose for themselves and understand their choices?"
"That... sounds perfect, actually," said Percy, eyebrows rising in surprise over how quickly they had got to this point.
"Muggles have this setting called 'university'," Hannah said. "It's a place where people go to further their education. They gather in a school and some live there and others live close-by and they take classes and learn more and meet other people and most often they're young adults, see, which would be great, don't you think?" she stammered nervously.
The group mulled this over. "That sounds like a feasible idea," approved Michael, although he glanced at his watch as he said it.
"A place where zey could furder zeir education in a setting zat promotes blood equality," mused Fleur.
"And would, as the first of its kind, bring the Ministry for Magic back to its former glory," finished Percy. He exhaled loudly, slumping back in his chair.
"I hate to ruin this moment of euphoria, but are you sure that it could actually work?" said Blaise skeptically. "How will you convince parents to send their children off like that? Wizard kind isn't ready for that kind of change."
"That's just it, see, it is ready for that kind of change," argued Neville passionately. "Wizard kind stood up to Voldemort and helped Harry defeat him! And it's not like it's a drastic change. It's more of an addition, really."
"All in favour of adopting the plan formed here, flash sparks," said Percy, raising his wand and creating a shower of soft gold and red sparks.
Fleur raised hers and out came a smattering of pretty pinks, blues and whites. Neville's sparks nearly singed Hannah's sleeve when hers sparked bronze and purple. Micheal's dull sparks went almost unnoticed. They looked at Blaise expectantly. He sighed, and green and yellow sparks rained down on them.
"That's settled, then," nodded Percy. "Unanimous. Good, good." He looked at his watch. "Well, I think we're done for the day, friends. Meet here tomorrow to elaborate a plan."
They all left, shuffling quietly through the door.
Hannah dropped her wand hand, turning around to see Neville jogging towards her. Her cheeks flushed a little when she realized she had been staring at his neck. He had such a nice neck. She flushed harder. "Glad you haven't left yet," he grinned.
"I, ah, I went to say hello to Hermione," she shrugged. "She told me I had better drop in, or else."
"She's still bossy, even after..." he trailed off awkwardly.
"Yeah," she said, a tightening in her chest at the thought of the war. She tucked her blond hair behind her ear. "Is thereanything I can do for you?"
"Hmm?" he said distractedly. "Oh, uh, no. Nothing."
"Oh. Well, in that case..." she gestured vaguely towards the fireplace. She had been about to Floo when Neville came rushing.
"Oh! Oh, I'm in the way, aren't I?" he flushed. "Sorry, sorry."
She smiled at him. "I've got to get to work," she explained.
"Still working at the Leaky Cauldron?"
"Yeah. Every second night I work during the day, but I work evenings tonight and tomorrow to make up for these meetings."
"Maybe I'll see you there sometime."
"Probably," she laughed.
"How about Friday at eight?" he said in a rushed breath, his eyes staring into hers.
She stared back, lost for words. "Gnuh?" She smacked herself mentally.
He laughed anxiously. "I'd understand if you didn't want to, I just thought... well. Y'know. Just thought I'd ask."
"It sounds great, but- would you mind if we went elsewhere? I practically live there, so it'd be nice to go out for a change," she said, blushing madly.
"Really? I mean, yes! Yes, definitely. Anywhere's good," he said, rubbing his neck.
"We can meet at the Leaky, it'll be easier that way."
She stared at him and they laughed nervously. "Well, uh, goodnight then."
"Right. See you tomorrow, Hannah," he said softly as she Flooed to the Leaky Cauldron to begin her shift.
"I hoped I'd find you in here."
Percy look up to see Hermione standing in the doorway. He pushed away the beginnings of his report for Kingsley and beckoned her inside. "I thought I'd get an early start."
"Same here. Sort of. Kingsley told me about your little project," she said, leaning on the desk across from Percy's.
"Did he? And? What do you think?"
"Well, it's... it's very vague, isn't it? I would have thought that for a project of that importance he would have bothered to give more guidelines," she said, pulling her curly hair into a ponytail.
"That's what I thought as well, but I think my team and I have managed quite nicely, thank you," he replied.
"I heard you have Micheal Corner helping," she said, biting her lip. "Hannah told me about what happened to him while the Carrows were at Hogwarts."
"He got caught helping first-years," nodded Percy, shuffling papers. "Poor fellow."
"Is he... well, is he being alright with you?"
Percy paused, not looking up. "I think that under the circumstances, he is being quite alright, thank you."
Hermione sighed. "He-"
"Look, Hermione. Thank you for your concern, but Corner's problems are none of my business until they start interfering with my work. As it were, it hasn't yet," Percy said. "You should concern yourself with your own life problems before trying to help others solve theirs."
"Yes, well," she said, hurt. "I'm sorry I care."
Percy stood and put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I know, Hermione. But you can't fix everything."
He was about to leave his office when suddenly, a house-elf materialized in the door frame, knocking him to the floor. "Miss Granger," said the house-elf.
"Oh, Winky! Just on time. I'd like you to meet Percy Weasley," Hermions said, earlier conversation forgotten. "Percy, meet Winky. She has agreed to-" and here Hermione inhaled sharply "-serve you should you need any assistance."
Percy looked down at Winky and the house-elf looked up at him, her big eyes bright from unshed tears. "Winky will love to serve you, Mister Weasley," she said. "Winky loves to serve for a Knut a week, in memory of Dobby, sir."
Percy pulled Hermione aside. He opened and closed his mouth several times, trying to form the right words. "...that one?" he finally managed.
"Yes, 'that one'," said Hermione irritably. At Percy's stare, she continued. "The house-elves at Hogwarts were tired of taking care of her. I took her in and she works for me for no more than a Knut a week, no vacation except for the day Dobby died. Hasn't Bill ever told you that every year she goes to visit the grave Harry dug for him?"
After the war, Hermione worked endlessly to bring S.P.E.W. to life, and lately, her efforts were working. Her team at the Ministry was entirely comprised of house-elves who worked for (very) minimal wages. "It's much easier for her lately, now that she's working again. She insisted she be the one to assist you," explained Hermione. "I couldn't very well say 'no', could I?"
"And Minister Shacklebolt approved. Why wouldn't he? Winky is hard-working, loyal and free."
"Fine, fine! Have it your way! Come on, Winky, follow me. We're expected on Level Five soon."
It was with a bemused smile on her face that Hermione watched the odd pair make their way to the lift, Winky struggling to keep up with Percy's long strides.
Chapter two written by: nicmirusaki2, with help from ProtegoNox
Beta'd by: ProtegoNox, with help from Draka-Nova