Author's Notes: Originally written 12-28-2003, not updated for HPB or DH. Lyrics to the song "Lucky" are by Bif Naked. Many thanks to Thalia for beta-reading this, way back in the day.
It was a Monday when my lover told me
Never pay the reaper with love only
What could I say to you except I loved you,
And I'd give my life for yours
He isn't wandering aimlessly, because Percy is neither aimless nor a wanderer, but he has no destination set in his mind when he strides deliberately past his street on the walk home. He certainly doesn't mean to end up here, in this energetic bustle of people and beasts, because he is neither energetic nor bustling after thirteen hours behind his desk, and yet, here he has come (although here he shall certainly not stay for long). He sighs, glaring darkly in answer to every smile turned his way, and pushes open the door of the teashop. A cup would be nice this evening, he reflects, before he ventures back out to make his way home, as he should have done initially.
He sits in a wrought-iron chair at a tiny table, and asks the matronly shopkeeper for an Earl Gray with a leaf of spearmint. A quick glance shows the shop to be nearly empty, the patrons scattered and quiet, a sprinkling of elderly witches and weary-looking businessmen, having a biscuit as they read the afternoon paper. He does not think a bit of what this says about him, because a person tucked away at the corner table near the glass front of the shop catches his attention before his thoughts progress that far. Almost without thinking, he stands, and walks toward her.
She does not say a word or ask a question when he sits down across from her, just presses her lips together tightly and nods tersely. He wonders momentarily if she is ill; the pallor of her cheeks and her uncharacteristic silence speak more of her state of mind than her incessant questioning and bossy interjections ever had. When he makes no more an attempt to speak than she, she shrugs and lowers her head, her quill resuming its scratchy path across the parchment spread before her. He sips his tea in silence as she writes, and smiles benignly when she glances up at intervals, her eyebrow quirked.
He walks beside her after the shopkeeper shoos them out the door at closing, and as she ascends the stairway to her door, he speaks for the first time: "Goodnight, Hermione."
She doesn't answer him.
He opens his door a week later to find her standing there, arms laden with archaic books that are imposing even to his scholar's eye. He stands aside dumbly as she marches inside and unceremoniously drops them on his desk. She turns around and stares at him witheringly, and he can't imagine what he's done this time, to earn both her favour (an hour ago, he would never have thought she would voluntarily visit him) and her censure (the glare is overly harsh, really) at once. His relations with his family are respectable, if strained, and he admitted (just two years ago) that his opinion of certain issues and people had been perhaps a bit coloured. In his recollection, he has made no disparaging comments to his parents, or to the ever-popular (yet oh-so-slightly unstable) Boy Who Lived, and he was always the picture of civility to her whenever they passed in a corridor at the Ministry. And yet still she glares, her hands on her hips before she throws them in the air in exasperation. "Well? Do you think our research will research itself?"
"Really Percy, I would expect you to be more conscientious. Do you simply not read your Owls?"
He crosses his arms. "Don't be ridiculous. But I have not received..."
Hermione cuts him off. "Minerva has asked me to compile a rather large amount of data to be used in the new mapping project at Hogwarts, and of course I need a bit of assistance. I'm sure I mentioned all this in the letter. We're to focus on locating and tracking charms initially, moving on to sound-based spells meant to track any closed off passages or rooms that might not be..."
"I have not received any such Owl, or heard of this until just now," Percy interjects.
She waves a hand and turns back to the pile of books. "Well, it's little matter. I'm here, you're here, and there is work to be done." She pauses and adds, "Unless you're otherwise engaged this afternoon, of course."
She's lying to him, and he knows it. He just doesn't know why. There is no research project, and even had there been, she wouldn't have come to him for help. She wouldn't go to anyone for help. He sighs and runs a hand through his hair. Nothing else will do, so he reaches for the book on top of the stack. She smiles a tiny smile in reply, and hands him a sheaf of notes that look strangely familiar.
She doesn't leave his flat until seven o'clock the next morning.
She tells him she's dying a month later, as they sit the proper distance apart on the front-room floor in her parents' house. Her house, he corrects himself, because her parents were killed by Voldemort before Voldemort was killed by Harry, before Harry started talking to Ron as though he were still alive, before she started looking at him as though he did really exist beyond the persona of a betrayer, and he wonders how many more "befores" he can hook on to his train of thought before he forces himself to answer her.
The firelight catches on the sharp angles of her face, shadows deeper than they should be. He reaches out, unthinking, and tugs lightly on a bit of her hair, which isn't shadowed but glowing. She tenses and he lets it fall, because she's pushed herself too far for him to do the same.
He doesn't speak, but he doesn't look away, and finally she sighs. "I'm going to sell the house. Too many bad memories," she whispers. "The money will help too, for when I have to quit the Ministry."
"Do what you need to do," he says, his voice hollow. He stays the offer that almost reaches his lips, because they both know how it will end up anyway.
They are flatmates now, and when he comes home at six past eight on a Tuesday, Hermione is sitting cross-legged on the sofa, a Muggle cigarette dangling unlit in one limp hand. He stops in front of her (she doesn't look up from the thick book in her lap) and slides his hand across her cheek, curling his fingers around her jaw just to see the way her lips part and her eyes close, to hear her exhale softly, before he turns away.
They could go on for weeks this way, but he doesn't mind. He is used to waiting.