He watches her. Ostensibly to "supervise" or "manage" her, as she is still very new to the department. Or that's what he tells himself as he stands at one end of the row, following her movements as she slides the files back into place. Admires her technique of ordering the papers before she stacks them in perfect order, applying her own system to the bureaucratic layouts that reduces the error rate to something almost unmeasurable.
She knows he's there, smiles at him nervously as she turns back to the shelving and counts along, her movements economical yet extremely accurate.
"Is that right?" Hermione asked, checking the order of the files once more. "I'm worried that I might be misplacing things..."
Percy stepped up and ran his finger along the labels, their colour-co-ordinated subject labels creating a rainbow of information. "I couldn't have done better myself, Hermione. You have a talent for Ministry work, it's obvious. No-one else I know has picked up the systems and procedures so quickly." He gestured to the trolley she had wheeled into the row ten minutes earlier. "Did you know that's a week's worth of backlog you've cleared?"
She laughed, and the sound echoed around the filing area like a set of silver bells in a forest clearing, dispelling the musty silence that had hung over it for years. "You know, surely, that I used to make up coloured study-charts for the boys? This is a doddle by comparison." Picking up a pencil and a clip-board, she ticked off three items, then looked up at Percy with the eagerness of a puppy in training. "What do we do now?"
"Now?" Percy almost blushed - for some reason he'd been admiring the curve of her neck instead of her organisation skills. "It's lunchtime."
"So, the canteen?"
Suddenly, for the first time in a long while, Percy had an inspiration that he iknew/i was the right one. "No. You've been working extremely hard this week, so I'm taking you to a little cafe I know and we can discuss your next tasks there."
"Sounds good - I'll go and grab my coat, then meet you at the fireplaces." Hermione turned and skipped away, her pinned-up hair bouncing slightly and threatening to fall out of its hairpins any moment.
And if only it would, sending her hair down around her shoulders and I could run my hands through it... Percy watched for a moment and then shook his head hard. How could I think that? My brother's girlfriend! What sort of a brother would I be? She trusts me...
Trying hard to put his unworthy thoughts aside, he walked briskly back to his own office and grabbed a raincoat.
He tried. He really tried. For the first half of lunch, as they balanced their plates on the too-tiny table in the crowded café, he kept the level of conversation at "hints and tips for coping in the office" with the occasional "things I did as a newbie that you should avoid." She laughed at all the right bits, and scowled indignantly at his early frustrations finding his place. But then, shyly, he told her about then. The worst times. The times just before the Battle of Hogwarts when he knew how bad the Ministry was, but he thought he had nothing else left.
"And each night, I'd go back to my bedsit and just lie there, thinking about it." Percy wasn't looking at Hermione now. He was staring at the table, seeing only the dingy room scattered with his possessions, the disorder a sign of his own internal conflict. "I had no-one to talk to. Every day, being told that my parents, my family, were the scum of the Wizarding world, and having to just take it." He paused, trying hard not to cry, and she gently took his hand and wrapped her fingers around his, trying to pass on some of her own strength.
They sat in silence like this, the bustle of the café diminishing as the lunch-hour ended. Her voice didn't so much break into his thoughts as wrap around them in an empathy he never thought he'd feel.
He looked up at her, tears in his eyes, to see her sadness. "How...?"
"I had no family either." Hermione sat still, trying to hold back the misery that she had concealed for so long. "Ron and Harry were close, and your parents as well, but they weren't the same. I couldn't go to my Mum and cry on her shoulder, I couldn't ask Dad for advice or even just to listen to me for a minute. And if I'd known I'd never get them back, I don't think I could have Obliviated them like I did."
"It's a permanent spell, Hermione."
"I knew that. But in my heart, I hoped..." Now the tears fell unchecked, and he nervously put an arm around her and gave her his clean handkerchief, thanking the discipline that had had him iron one every morning. She mouthed her thanks as she wiped her eyes and blew her nose, and when she offered the handkerchief back, he silently refused it.
"Thanks." Hermione tucked the hanky into her sleeve, then jumped up. "Merlin, we're late."
"I'm your supervisor, Hermione. We're discussing work procedures, and it's not unreasonable to do that away from the distractions of the office." Percy smiled at her and removed his arm, and she smiled back. For that alone, he would have lain at her feet and died for her.
"You're so sweet." Hermione took his hand again, and squeezed it. "I couldn't imagine a nicer older brother than you. Ron and I are so lucky to have you back in the family."
And Percy's smile froze as his heart fell over and broke into a thousand pieces.