All There Is
"Let all of life be an unfettered howl. Like the crowd greeting the gladiator. Don't stop to think, don't interrupt the scream, exhale, release life's rapture. Everything is blooming. Everything is flying. Everything is screaming, choking on its screams. Laughter. Running. Let-down hair. That is all there is to life."
— Vladimir Nabokov
Chapter 1: The Mission
"Granger," Draco Malfoy said as his white-blond head peeked over Hermione's cubicle wall. "I just saw the strangest thing when I was in the loo."
Hermione sighed. Whoever decided to give her and Malfoy adjoining cubicles didn't care one iota about her work productivity. On most days, he pestered her at least once per hour.
Setting her quill on the desk, she tried to look as if he'd interrupted something terribly important. In actuality, the only thing he disturbed was her staring contest with the clock as she counted down the final few minutes of the work day. Their jobs were alternately immensely rewarding and emotionally draining; that particular day had been mostly the latter.
"Aww, don't worry," she said. "It's normal to grow hair down there. It just means you're finally becoming a man."
Scoffing, Malfoy shot her a vintage sneer. "Don't be ridiculous. You know I wax."
His responding laugh was all smugness and arrogance. Post-war Malfoy was a strange creature, as far as Hermione could tell. Robbed of his ability to call her Mudblood, he'd taken to replacing the hateful slurs with inappropriate jokes.
She could never decide which version of him she preferred. Either way, he was still an arse who liked to wind her up.
He made a show of buffing his nails on his robes. "Anyway, did you know Percy Weasley's hair is pink today? And before you say anything, I mean the hair everyone can see. I wouldn't know about the rest of it."
"Ah, yes. I did notice that." Pursing her lips to hide a smile, she pretended to be immersed in a case report about a werewolf. Malfoy huffed and crossed his arms when it became clear that she wasn't going to volunteer any further information.
"Well?" he said.
"Why is his hair pink?"
She hummed. With a deft wave of her wand, she sent the folders and rolls of parchment on her desk soaring into several orderly piles. She knew why Percy's hair was pink, of course. It was at least partially her fault. Whether she would share this knowledge with Malfoy was another story.
Honestly, the man was such a gossip.
"I'm sure he has his reasons," she said, grinning when he rolled his eyes at her feigned innocence. "Ooh, it's five o'clock! See you tomorrow."
"Yeah, yeah. Try not to miss me too much."
"How can I miss you? You never go away."
As Hermione approached the garish storefront of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, she let her mouth curve into a secret smile. In the year since the final battle, it had come to be almost as much of a second home to her as the Burrow. Working on products for the joke shop filled a hole in her life that was left by the absence of schoolwork. Sometimes she regretted her decision to take her N.E.W.T.s without actually attending her final year at Hogwarts, but she couldn't very well remain a student forever.
Besides, there were people depending on her — including one who didn't even know it.
"Hi, Hermione," Lavender said as the shop door swung open. The glamour she cast every morning had begun to fade away, revealing a hint of angry red scars crisscrossing her neck that clashed with the vivid magenta of her work uniform. Ron and Verity both looked up and waved when they heard the jingling of the shop bell.
"Hi," Hermione said.
A flash of bright pink in her peripheral vision notified her that her partner in crime had arrived. Ron was both delighted and amused to see him.
"Blimey, Perce," he said in between guffaws. "You actually went to work like that?"
"Yes," Percy said, sticking his nose up in the air and failing miserably at looking dignified.
With Percy's hand on her elbow, urging her along, Hermione moved to the back room, leaving a still chuckling Ron behind. The long metal table that held their experiments and research notes was impeccable, not a single item out of place. The lemony fragrance of the numerous cleaning charms Percy had cast the night before hung in the air, the antiseptic sting burning her nose.
"D'you want to work on the Jack Russell Tarts?" she asked. "I think we've almost worked out all of the kinks."
Jack Russell Tarts were supposed to be jam tarts that temporarily turned people into Jack Russell terriers. Unfortunately, Percy and Hermione hadn't yet progressed beyond making themselves grow fur and a tail. The experience of sprouting a coat of fur had given her terrifying flashbacks of second year, Polyjuice, and Millicent Bullstrode's cat. To her relief, the transformation only lasted a few minutes.
"I suppose," Percy said. "But you have to be the one to test them. We don't know how it will react with this." He gestured at his luminous hair. "I have a date later, and it's bad enough that I might have to show up looking so...so...pink. I don't want to have a tail as well."
Percy on a date. Hermione took a moment to contemplate what that would be like (and stifled the giggles that accompanied such thoughts) before getting to work.
Together, they mixed potions, cast charms, and chatted about the Ministry. Now and then, one of them stopped to write a new product idea on the long strip of parchment that they kept pinned to the wall of their workroom. That ever-expanding list was a source of great pride to both Percy and Hermione. Even Ron had admitted it wasn't bad for two rule-abiding bookworms.
Well, except for some of Percy's contributions. It took some convincing on Hermione's part to make him admit that a filing cabinet charmed to automatically alphabetise its contents had no place in a joke shop.
A filing cabinet. Honestly. At least her House Elf Liberation Beanie idea had the potential to be funny. It wasn't, in the end, but it had potential, no matter what anyone else said to the contrary.
"It's a shame we don't have any first years handy," she said as Percy spooned their newest attempt at charmed jam into a pastry-lined tin.
Frowning, he pushed his horn-rimmed glasses up his nose. "First years? What good would they do?"
"Fred and George used to use them to test their products. I spent a lot of my time as a prefect trying to stop them."
With a sad, pale imitation of a smile, he cleared his throat. "I can imagine," he said. "So, how are you doing with that—" he waved his hand towards the work room door, "—out there."
"Ron and Lavender?"
She shrugged. "I'm fine. It's been months since Ron and I...well. It's a miracle we didn't kill each other, really. We're better off as friends. And anyway, he and Lavender aren't dating. As of right now, their only relationship is employer-employee."
Another spoonful of jam dribbled onto the crust. Percy's tongue stuck out of one corner of his mouth, as though the action required intense concentration.
"And if that changes?" he asked.
"Then it changes. As far as I'm concerned, Lavender is perfectly free to stick her tongue down Won-Won's throat if that's what they both want." Pausing, she wrinkled her nose. "Preferably when I'm not present. It was an unpleasant enough sight — and sound — the first time around."
"Good." Percy smiled. "I just wanted to be sure. I was concerned it could cause an awkward situation if they ever stopped making moon eyes at each other and got on with it, with the two of us working so close to them."
"Well, no need to worry."
"All right," he said, using his wand to cook the pastry and presenting her with the finished Jack Russell Tart. "Here you go."
After drawing in a steading steadying breath, Hermione bit into it, hoping (as she always did during the testing part of the invention process) that if disaster struck, the Healers at St Mungo's would be able to paste her back together.
At first, nothing happened. It tasted like any ordinary raspberry jam tart, but with a slightly minty undertone (a big improvement over the first model, which had reminded her of hay and had the texture of lumpy porridge). Just as she opened her mouth to declare their latest attempt a dud, the room around her seemed to grow bigger and bigger until she found herself at eye-level with Percy's shins. When she tried to speak, it came out as a tiny yip of a bark.
For a few minutes, Hermione sniffed around the workroom floor. Everything smelt different and exciting as a dog. Instead of seeing the world through new eyes, she experienced it through a new nose. The Cleaning Charm was even worse in this form — almost painful — but she couldn't get enough of Percy's shoe leather. In this body, it smelled divine. If she hadn't retained her old mind and its associated knowledge about germs, she would have been hard-pressed to resist giving his laces a good chew.
Chuckling, Percy bent down and patted her head. "Good girl, Hermione," he said. "Now, sit."
Hermione snorted. Prat. The temptation to lick his cheek and slobber all over him as revenge was great, but as it was still her tongue, even in a dog's body, she settled for snuffling his ear with her cold, wet nose.
With a pop of shifting joints, she returned to her normal shape. The fur itched as it shot back into her skin. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth for a few moments, lagging behind the rest of her body in the change.
"We did it!" she said.
Percy grinned, but his attention was diverted to other matters when he glanced at the clock.
"Um, Hermione, I'm thrilled about our breakthrough, but do you think we could work on fixing my hair now?"
Raking a hand through his fuchsia locks, he gave her a pleading look. As funny as the idea was, she couldn't let him go on a first date looking like a character from a Muggle video game.
"Why don't you ask Lavender for help?" she said. "She's almost a professional at Beauty Charms. She'll probably be able to make it red for the duration of your date, at least."
"Are you sure you don't want any more help back here? We have a lot of other—"
"I'm sure. You go ahead and have Lavender get you all pretty. Have fun on your date."
Smiling, he tugged on a rebellious curl that had escaped from her plait. Over the course of the time they'd spent working together, it was how he'd taken to showing affection. He gave the worst hugs — all stiff formality and awkwardness — but those little brotherly pulls of her hair were almost playful.
Well, as playful as Percy ever got.
Once he left, Hermione shuffled through his meticulous notes, trying to decide what to work on next. With only the noise of her own breathing and the rustle of parchment to keep her company, the silence in the workroom soon became oppressive. She needed music.
Singing a nonsense tune under her breath, she wandered over to the squat wooden table in the corner of the room that held the twins' old wireless set. Next to it sat a small, framed photo of Fred and George, taken the first day they opened the shop. Even though the war had just begun to pick up steam when they struck those poses, they looked so happy. Fred had his arm slung around George's shoulder, laughing at some inside joke. Every now and then, the George in the photo looked to his left at the eye-catching window display, his grin widening.
Hermione shivered. Five months had stretched out after the end of the war before he went missing, ticking by with the slow monotony of bereavement. The last time she saw him, she thought he looked like a lost little boy. He tried to seem like he was okay for the sake of his family — he tried so hard — but anyone who knew him at all could see how much he struggled.
It didn't surprise anyone when he left, though Mrs. Weasley didn't want to believe it. His note was brief. He said he was sorry, but he needed some time alone. Promises spilled across the page, telling of his intentions to come back before too long. Whenever "too long" was, it had not yet arrived. A key to a Gringotts vault was enclosed with the letter, bearing instruction to Ron to hire whoever he wanted to work in the shop. That, above all else, told Hermione how deep he'd sunk into depression.
He'd trusted Ron with his money and business, for heaven's sake.
Forcing her mind back to the present, she fished her wand out of her pocket. It would do no good to lose herself in sad thoughts about Fred and George. The former was gone forever, and the latter would return when he was ready. She had work to do.
"I miss your laughter," she whispered to the photograph. "I hope you're at peace, Fred." Closing her eyes, she tapped the wireless set with her wand. Instead of the warbling sounds of Celestina Warbeck, she heard a beloved, long-missed male voice.
"Good evening! This is Rapier, here to bring you a very special edition of Potterwatch."
Clapping a hand over her mouth, she knelt on the ground and stared in silent disbelief at the wireless set.
"This just in: The Boy Who Lived Twice has become frighteningly dull," Fred's voice continued. "Sure, he's training to be an Auror and all, but when was the last time you heard of him breaking into a bank or defying an authority figure? No matter, though, because certain former prefects and Head Boys are picking up the slack in most unexpected ways. Their newfound dedication to mischief is very much appreciated. I've never been more proud."
The words were said in his usual carefree manner, but it was at this declaration of pride that a few tears made their escape from Hermione's eyes. She wasn't sure she could trust her own ears and believe what she heard, but oh, how she wanted to. A niggling voice in the back of her head told her it was the product of too much work and not enough sleep. She must have been pushing herself too hard.
If Fred decided to contact people from beyond the grave, why would he choose her?
"It just so happens that I have a mission for my favourite prefect," Fred said. "His Holeyness is in a bad way right now. I know you'll be able to find him with that gigantic brain of yours. I want you to help him laugh again. It won't be easy, mind you. He's pretty stubborn, but you always were one for hopeless causes, weren't you? You could even come up with a clever little acronym like H.U.R.L. or V.O.M.I.T. I don't know what the letters should stand for — that's your job."
Hermione let out a tear-choked burst of laughter. Leave it to Fred to continue to tease her even after he was dead.
"Don't involve anyone else," he said. "George will run away faster than Zacharias Smith in the face of mild danger if you try to bring the whole family along for a reunion, y'know. So, what do you say?"
She found herself taken aback by the direct question. Could he hear her if she spoke?
"O-okay," she said, feeling ridiculous. "I'll do it."
"Excellent. Thank you. Well, my dear bookworm, it's about time I signed off."
"No! Don't go."
She wanted to get his whole family, gather them around the wireless set, and give them a chance to say everything that had been left unsaid. She wanted to talk with him about product ideas for the shop. She wanted him to stay.
His voice lost all of its laughter, turning quiet and serious. "I have to, I'm afraid."
Biting her lip, she touched the wireless set with a shaking hand. It was the closest she could get to a goodbye hug.
Fred cleared his throat. "There's a gaggle of lovely Veela ladies here who are just waiting for me to keep them company. As much as I love hearing the sound of my own voice, I can't very well pass that up, can I?"
Wiping the moisture from her cheeks, Hermione chuckled. "No, I suppose not."
"Okay," he said. "Keep up the good work, love. Oh, and tell dear old Weatherby to keep the hair. It's very fetching. Good night."
As soon as she returned his farewell, the wireless clicked off, leaving her confused and bereft. Standing up, she paced around the room. She had to work out how to find George, but the bigger challenge was how to make him laugh. Again, she wondered why Fred would choose her. The only times she could recall making either of the twins laugh were completely unintentional and at her own expense.
Then, like a pink lightning bolt, an idea struck. If there was anything that always amused the twins, it was taking the piss out of Percy. Turning on the spot, she apparated to her flat. She had to hurry if she wanted to catch her victim before his hair looked normal again. With a quick Accio, she had her camera in hand.
Once she returned to the shop, she found Lavender puzzling over Percy's hair, which was just as blindingly pink as it had been earlier.
"Stop!" Hermione said just as Lavender raised her arm and started to mutter a spell. Lavender's wand fell to the floor with a clatter.
"Hey, what's the matter?" Ron said. "Have you been crying?"
"Oh, no, my eyes were watering. Noxious potion fumes. Don't worry; nothing's wrong. Hey, Percy, turn around will you?"
Ron and Lavender exchanged baffled looks as Hermione snapped a photo, looking as though they were beginning to question her sanity. Percy just glared.
"Why are you taking photos of me?" Percy asked.
"I'm making a scrapbook," she said, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. "I realised a few moments ago that I never want to forget seeing you with pink hair."
"That makes two of us," Ron said with a chuckle.
"Really?" Percy said. "I wish I could Obliviate the experience from my memory. It's horrid — not to mention completely inappropriate for the workplace."
"Actually, I think you should keep the hair, Weatherby," Hermione said, grinning at the trio of confused expressions. "It's rather fetching."
A/N: If this fic seems familiar, that'd be because it was originally posted in 2009. I'm currently in the process of editing the whole thing, and will be posting chapters as I work my way through it. I can't really promise a consistent update schedule, but I can promise that I will finish this. Thanks for reading! :)