A/N: A plot bunny that wouldn't leave me alone… to be honest I don't know what to think of Percy, but this conversation just wouldn't let me be, so here it is. Please review? I'm starting to think no one likes my little drabbles… although this can hardly be called a drabble…

"If we didn't know any better, little bro –"

"We would think you're trying to upstage us."

"And after our magnificent send-off –"

"Who could blame you?"

"Speaking of which, Mum thinks we should beg Dumbledore to let us come back and finish our NEWTs –"

"Be glad you weren't there for that, little bro –"

"Especially since we told her we'd rather eat dragon dung than come back –"

"…make us look bad, wouldn't it, after the way we left…"

"…and Bill offered to call Charlie so we could keep that promise –"

"But Mum stopped listening, so now she's probably up in his office trying to convince him to take us back for another year."

"I think half the professors would resign if we did, what do you say, George?"

"I quite agree, Fred. We'd be doing them a favour by staying away."

"But of course Mum doesn't agree, so –"

"We decided to come visit you instead of risking total humiliation."

As one, the two freckled, redheaded twins examined Ron with critical eyes, lips pursed as they gazed down upon their younger brother from the decorative foot of the brass cot. He was either fast asleep or unconscious, tucked securely into the white sheets of the hospital bed, his freckles standing out on his pale face and red hair spiking all over the place in a pale imitation of his best friend's. His bandaged arms were resting on the cream-coloured blanket over the top, rising gently with his regular breaths.

The many-paned window overhead looked out onto the green turf of the school's grounds, letting the mid-afternoon sun bathe the small area. They were cut off from the rest of the hospital wing by thick white curtains, hanging on sturdy portable racks around the bed.

"In other news, Percy's still being a prat," Fred tried jocularly, managing to summon an unfeigned scowl. George just remained silent, his knuckles white from gripping the end of the bed as he studied Ron. "He hasn't come to see you, I bet, although I see Bill has…" Fred trailed off, giving a futile nod towards the low, wooden bedside table, where there lay a hastily scrawled note: 'Remus told me what happened. Don't get yourself killed, alright? You're the youngest brother I have.' The words were typical of their oldest brother: straightforward, with that unique brand of humour which made it unclear whether he was being serious or not.

"He'd've stayed longer, but what with Moody, Tonks and Kingsley out of commission, he wanted to get working as soon as possible… you know, so we can stay ahead…"

"Forget it, Fred," George said quietly, and his twin stopped abruptly, his blue eyes thinly veiling a look of slight desperation. As though talking would make it all better, because something had to. "Let's just let him sleep. Pomfrey would probably have kittens if she knew we were in here."

The elderly nurse hadn't been anywhere in sight when they arrived, nor had she jumped out at them as they crept across the white-tiled floor and ducked behind Ron's curtains after taking a fleeting glance at the other thick screen, obscuring another occupied bed from view. They knew that one held Hermione; Ginny, Neville and Luna Lovegood had already been released back to their dorms. The twins were planning on dropping in on their sister afterwards, provided their mum didn't apprehend them first.

Now, though, the two Weasleys emerged from behind the drapes without even looking to see the way was clear, sombre and worried, and made for the wood-framed exit on the opposite side of the ward.

That was when they heard a raised voice coming from Pomfrey's office.

Exchanging an identical, curious look with George, making sure they were out of sight of the broad windows that encompassed the top half of the office's rounded, whitewashed walls, Fred plucked a tangle of flesh-coloured string from the pocket of his faded and tatty – and thus well-loved – jeans. Handing one end to George, with a practiced flick each, two ends of the wiry string unravelled themselves towards the crack beneath the door.

"…don't know what you're asking!" a familiar voice was shouting, sounding furious and unaccountably close to tears.


Fred's eyes narrowed and his features darkened like a thundercloud, but although George frowned along with him, his blue eyes were thoughtful.

"On the contrary," Dumbledore's deep, calm voice answered softly. "I know perfectly well what I'm asking."

"Ron almost died out there –"

"I am," Dumbledore's tones were heavy, regretful. "Well aware of that fact, Mister Weasley."

"So you're asking me to keep making them believe I hate them?" Fred's eyes widened in disbelief and George looked shocked, neither of them speaking as they met each other's gaze. "What if – what if Ron had really died – he would've done so believing I was an absolute prat – believing that I hated Dad, hated all of them –" His voice grew thick, shaking, as though he was trying to keep himself from crying. "I – I can't do this anymore… I can't keep up this charade… please, please, don't make me… you can't make me…"

There was a moment of silence in which they heard their estranged brother's gasping breaths, the choked sound of restrained sobbing.

"You are, of course, correct," Dumbledore said quietly. "I cannot force you, if you do not wish it. The choice, then, is yours: to continue as my spy in the ranks of the Ministry and temper the hands of politicians where you can – and you will be needed there, even now, for though I have no doubt that Cornelius will be dismissed, the legacy he leaves will be such that whomever his successor might be will not welcome me with open arms – or resign, rejoin your family, where I'm sure we'll find a place for you elsewhere."

Percy had grown quiet during this speech, listening, observant, but he made no comment at its end, leaving a subdued pause.

Then, "I hate you," in a tone of such utter loathing that Fred was surprised it could come from their stuffy older brother. They heard quick footsteps on aged wood and hastily pulled back their Extendable Ears, turning back towards Ron as though about to enter the screen and had heard nothing.

Pomfrey's thick door was flung open with a crash, rebounding off the curved wall, and Percy strode out with furious, weary steps. He saw the twins and faltered, an expression of anguish flashing over his pale, tear-streaked features before he turned his face away, hurrying towards the exit with a mumbled, 'have to get back to the Ministry', his wrinkled black robes swirled at his ankles.

Through the door they could see Dumbledore rubbing his wrinkled forehead, looking older and tireder than they had ever seen him, his blue eyes dark with pain behind his half-moon glasses. Before he could see them they scooted behind the curtains, and only when they heard his somnolent footsteps fading down the corridor did they dare breathe again, looking at each other's ashen faces and wide, grieving eyes.

They knew their brother – or at least they had thought they did – but though they'd been wrong last time they had no doubt what his decision would be now.

And though Percy couldn't hear him – and would never hear him, not if appearances were to be maintained – George hoarsely whispered the first in a long line of olive branches that the third Weasley brother deserved and might never receive.

"Good luck, Perce."

- finis