"Harry sent you pictures already?" Tom sighs as the Unspeakable finally emerges from their drawers holding a photograph.

Gellert is sitting beside Tom, their chairs in front of the large desk, sipping tea. "Do you know where I can get a polar bear on short notice? I'm asking for a friend."

"Is Tom the friend?" the Unspeakable deadpans, taking a seat and dropping the penguin and grinning Harry photo off on one side of their already cluttered desk. "What is all this shit on my desk? I don't do paperwork, I have minions for that."

"We're not doing another year in school," Tom says adamantly. "This is all the paperwork required by the Ministry to shuffle testing schedules around enough for us to do OWLS and NEWTS simultaneously, plus the Hogwarts permissions for us to take on the all the mandatory classes that lead up to both tests, and here are the forms we need to get access to a time turner to make all of this physically possible."

"Deal with it yourself," the Unspeakable scoffs.

Gellert sets down his tea while Tom picks his up.

"We would, but they refuse to acknowledge our signatures as we're children," Gellert begins. "We'd ask Albus but he's a Dark Lord and we don't want to bother Harry with this."

"Forge the signatures then."

"They want in-person meetings," Gellert complains. "They want to discuss the workload and possible stress for us poor, young children like we're beholden to their mere mundanity. And sheer stupidity."

"And you can't possibly overcome this minor, small stick sized obstacle," the Unspeakable says sceptically.

Gellert takes a breath and it doesn't help. "We have submitted this thrice over and no one even fucking reads it, just demands we show up with an adult and they don't even have the common fucking decency to send us back the forms so we've had to redo it twice now."

"Huh," the Unspeakable muses. "I don't think I've ever heard you swear before. So this is what finally breaks you."

"We even asked Tom's minions-!" Gellert cries.

Tom slides over a plate of biscuits in front of Gellert and places down his own cup. "We even asked my minions to show up but the office turned us away because they aren't our legal guardians and thus can't grant us permissions. One would think doing the NEWTS would be the hardest part of doing the NEWTS but once again I have underestimated the Ministry."

Gellert is eating a biscuit as he nods along.

"So just blackmail someone," the Unspeakable points out.

"I will not waste my time on blackmailing someone to do their job," Tom states. "We just finished fixing the ethics committee issue, I will not restructure the entire Ministry, I refuse to."

"So you'd waste a favour with me then?" the Unspeakable complains. "People would -and have- killed to get my favour and you want to use it on this? Take Harry, he's literally your guardian and he'd do it as soon as you ask."

"We shouldn't need to bother Harry for a simple task," Tom argues. "Just get another Unspeakable to file it so it's in the system, that's all we need."

"It's simple enough that you should bother Harry," the Unspeakable corrects. "You're just making things harder for yourself. You're eleven and/or twelve, people are going to be looking down at you for a long time to come, pick your battles."

The boys think it over for a moment.

"Giving in now would be losing," Gellert declares.

There's a knock at the door before the Unspeakable can reply -which is perhaps a good thing- and the Unspeakable calls the person in.

Another Unspeakable pops their head around the door. "She's here."

The Unspeakable sits back in their chair.

The entire room stills; the scratching of a quill on the small table to one side, the books rearranging themselves on a shelf along one wall, the faint sounds of a potions lab's clinking vials and bubbling cauldrons in one of the realm drawers. It all goes silent.

The Unspeakable taps their fingers on the desk, expression unable to be seen under the cloaking spell. "Number Fifty-two, I'm quite certain I told you to hold her off."

Fifty-two straightens up immediately. "She didn't give us any warning before she arrived-"

"Do you think that's good enough?" the Unspeakable says quietly. "Do you think I accept excuses?"

Fifty-two pauses. "Should I make her leave?"

The Unspeakable sighs heavily. "It's so hard to get good help these days. No, talk to Number Twelve, get them to show her around the Ministry approved rubbish, she goes nowhere that isn't supervised, keep her from the research labs. If she asks what our projects are…?"

"Time-turners, the Brain Room and the Veil," Fifty-two recites.

"Wonderful," the Unspeakable drawls. "You make me proud. Get out."

The door closes behind Fifty-two and the Unspeakable plants their elbows on the desk, chin on their laced fingers as they think.

"I'll get Harry to send you more biscuits," Gellert says with exaggerated sympathy even as he eats another.

"Who is she?" Tom demands.

"Take your trash and leave," the Unspeakable murmurs.

Tom tilts his head. "Oh. You're genuinely upset by this woman. How interesting."

Red rune chains snap into existence, circling the room in slow rotations, leaking smaller chains that reach out tendrils like seeking fingers.

Tight gold rings bleed across Gellert's skin and grow to wrap his shoulders in three circles, moving slow enough they look stationary but it builds in layers. Tom wavers, slips through the fold of reality, his edges no longer defined and the light cutting through him.

"Leave," the Unspeakable says and that is the last warning they will give.

Gellert stands and gathers the paperwork with Tom. They duck and step around the red chains to get to the door.

Tom looks back, the door half closed behind him. "What do you need?"

The Unspeakable folds their arms across their chest. "Power."

"You insult me," Tom hisses.

"Political power," the Unspeakable corrects with a laugh.

"When?"

"Before she leaves and starts making concrete plans to mess with my things."

Gellert hikes the (unnecessarily large) stack of paper onto a hip and peers over Tom's shoulder. "We'll move our field testing up a month to this Thursday if you organise our partners."

Tom and Gellert's research is the next step (or four) in magical commerce. That's not political power but it is raw potential and if they play it like the two boys are naïve little minions then the Unspeakable has a lot more leeway.

"You aren't ready for it," the Unspeakable says but it comes out like a question.

Tom and Gellert send the Unspeakable sneers. They don't even tell each other the details of their work, why would they send reports to the Unspeakable unless it's filled with lies?

The Unspeakable starts safely neutralising the red rings. "Give me the stupid paperwork. And more biscuits."

Gellert tosses the stack up and it floats all the way to thump loudly in front of the Unspeakable. Tom shuts the door with a bang because yes they do have more treats in the pouches -treated with undetectable expansion charms- they keep in their pockets, but no Tom doesn't want to share.