Author's Notes: Three in one day.

...I have no life.
,br>Poor, poor idiotic Percy.

Don't we feel even just a little sorry for him?


Opalish, I'm so sending you a picture of ZP with his hat, cane and dancin' shoes for your birthday as a thank-you gift for beta'ing.


Like Jacks

You've always thought that your job is a bit like a game of jacks. It's easy, at first, because all you have to do it throw a little red ball into the air and pick up one, tiny piece of metal. And sometimes you miss, and the ball rolls off to the side, but it's never a big deal because you're right at the beginning, anyway, so there's no point in getting upset.

When you reach Twosies, you feel…bigger, somehow. More confident. You're really in the running now. But even if you blow it, you're still okay. So you have to start again, so what? You've just lost a level, and it's easy to regain.

But it gets harder.

By Threesies, you start to realize how important it is that you win, that you beat all the others. You've only got two more levels, and you cannot lose. Losing would send you back to the start, and everyone has caught up with you already. There is no time to begin again. Moves are made with more care, caution – but everything's a gamble, isn't it?

Probability. Will that little red ball land safely in your palm? Will it bounce off of the edge of the jack and into the dusty, cobwebbed corner?

When Foursies rolls around, it's the Big Time. There's no way you can turn back. You're in it for the long haul, now. Missing that ball, dropping that jack…your position depends on these things not happening. And who cares, anyway, that you've stopped speaking with your parents, and your little sister hates you? You're almost at the end, and when you get there…when you get there, they'll all come back to you, because you were right, because you caught the ball and snagged that jack and you are so close to winning that you can feel it.

But…once you reach Fivesies…there are so many chances to mess up. The toss (the jacks are too spread out, there aren't enough easy combinations). The fingers (too close, too close and you'll disturb the other jacks). That ball, tumbling into the air (and coming back down so soon, too soon, you'll never get them all in time). The landing (will it stay? Close your palm, fast).

Any of these things could go wrong. Anything could happen. And what if you miss? What if your trembling finger nudges a nearby jack, just so, and you've gone and lost it? It's the Big Time, now. You can't fail, can't miss, can't make one mistake because just one and you've lost it all.

But it's too late to turn back. It's too late to start from square one. Nothing you've done on the way to Fivesies can be changed. Cheating, fighting, yelling, turning a blind eye…it's already happened, and you can't undo the past.

All your hard work was for this – one – toss. And then into the air that ball goes, and your arm shoots out, enclosing the silver jacks in

your palm – sweatier than you've ever seen it. You sit in your office, waiting for Mr Fudge. He left almost an hour ago, and he said he'd be gone, at the most, ten minutes…you're not worried for him, of course, but only of what's kept him. You

revolve, opening your hand for the red to fall into, your fingers itching to close around its perimeter. Slowly, too slowly

does time pass? At last, footfalls in the hallway, and your eyes shift to the doorway. A face – pale, trembling – peers through the window. Sarah Borkins, from next door. She opens her mouth and you wait, because it's the moment of

truth, as ball meets jack and your fingers

shake as she starts to cry, huge, heaving sobs that leave puddles on your floor. "Oh, God, Percy," she wails, "He's back – You-Know-Who is back and that Potter boy – " she breaks off and you

watch the fall, the catastrophe, the end of everything you've worked for meet your greatest hour, your triumph, your moment on the top of the world; where you're cooler than Charlie and more handsome than Bill, where you're funnier than the twins and braver than Ron – more spunky than Ginny, and your parents' favorite child. And finally

you speak, your voice hoarse and cracking, "Are you sure?" And she can only nod. Your fall back against your seat, your knuckles white as they cling to the desk. Your whole world, crashing around your ears, and then

the ball strikes the jack, eluding your fingers and bouncing off, until it comes to a gentle halt in the middle of the rug.

"Better luck next time, love." Penny kisses your cheek. "You're good at this game."