Their least favourite brother
After Fred and George have made their famous last stand at Hogwarts, they pay a visit to their very least favourite brother, with important business to discuss...
This story is written in parallel with "First night for family" and "Percy's war". As they are not really compatible, I regard them as three different versions of Percy Weasley. Characters belong to Rowling.
A laud crack was heard, and out from nowhere a young man appeared. He wore the strict, official robe of a ministerial official, and under his arm he held a large folder, filled with reports and minutes. His red hair gleamed in the dull light from the street lights. Percy Weasley carefully looked around to make sure that no muggles had been startled by his appearance, then he briskly started to walk towards his flat. He only made a quick stop in the café in the corner where he brought a carton with take-away shepherd's pie for dinner.
Percy smiled quickly and businesslike to the old lady in the café, as she handed him the box and accepted his money, then he quickly went on towards the flat. As he stopped by the door, digging in his pocket for his wand to unlock it, a hissing voice abruptly startled the young man; a menacing voice from just behind his back.
"Beautiful evening tonight, isn't it, brother?"
Percy spun around. Grinning in the pale light, with red hair just as his own (but not nearly as tidy), dressed in muggle clothes, stood one of his least favourite brothers.
"George," Percy cried. "What in the name of Merlin's beard are you doing here?"
"Nice to see you too, bro," George answered with irony in his voice. "What if I just felt a bit low and came by to see a friendly face?"
"Very likely," Percy snapped and took a step backwards, away from the unnerving grin of his brother. Behind him he could hear the door open.
"Well," said another very familiar voice. "What if Fred and I were taking our responsibility for keeping family together, and came by to talk sense with you?"
"Not very likely that either, Fred," Percy snarled, putting special emphasis on the name to demonstrate that he at least wasn't falling for the old 'Guess which twin is which'-game. He quickly took a step sideways to get both brothers in sight at the same time.
"Besides," he went on, "I can't see why I should bother to listen to you, even if you for some strange reason did. I can't remember the two of you being very interested in family before. Now get lost, please." And he made a move towards the door. Fred didn't move, he just shook his head sadly.
"Hey, Percy," he asked a bit reproachingly. "Is that a way to welcome guests?"
"Yeah," George agreed. "It's getting late and we had hoped you'd invite us in. We've never seen your place, you know."
"What do you want?" Percy repeated between gritted teeth. The twins shook their heads.
"Aw, Percy," said Fred. "Why so hostile?"
"What have we ever done to deserve such mistrust?" George asked. Percy rolled his eyes.
"What indeed? Where do you want me to begin? Broken toys? Destroyed essays? Cursed clothing? - I still have a scar on my leg since those trousers, thank you very much. - Or shall we talk about insults, uncountable hexes and jinxes, or why not that hilarious episode with the hair growth potion?" Percy's face was getting redder as he spoke, and his voice had risen to a high pitched yell. The twins seemed to be unflustered, though.
"You know, Fred," George said. "I think ol' Percy might be in a bad mood."
"Really, George? I'm sort of getting the same impression."
"He might be tired, I suppose."
"A long day's work taking its toll, sort of thing, perhaps?"
"What do you want?" Percy asked a third time. The twins exchanged a quick look before turning to him again. They actually seemed to hesitate for a moment, something that was rare enough for Percy to take notice of it.
"Would you believe us if we said that we need your help?" George asked sincerely. Percy met his eyes for a moment, but then he quickly turned his head away.
"Not very likely. Booby trapping my flat would be more in your league. Exploding wallpapers, perhaps, or an amusing stink bomb hidden in the bed. I suppose you just came by for another of your really funny little pranks."
"Good guess," Fred admitted. "But really, Percy, we didn't. Not this time. We just want to talk to you."
"Really?" Percy sneered. "Well, I for one have since long given up trying to talk to you. Why should I change my mind about that now?"
"Because we're your brothers, Percy," George said. Percy snorted again.
"Did you understand that now? You didn't seem to care too much about us being brothers when you tried to lock me up in that pyramid."
"Ok, ok. Fair point," George admitted. "But we need to talk to you. We're in trouble Percy, and we didn't know where to go except for family. Please hear us out at least, OK? Then you can feel free to throw us out, if you wish, but at least let us talk to you." And actually, in the normal, carefree faces of the twins were a tiny trace of honesty. There was even a trace of pleading in George's voice. Percy hesitated for a moment.
"What kind of trouble?" he asked to stall for time. He didn't really like the emotions George's mentioning of 'family' had stirred up in him. The twins smiled at him, almost pitying.
"Come on, bro," George said.
"You work in the ministry," Fred filled in. "Gossip moves even faster at that place that at school, and that says a few things. There is no way you wouldn't know by now what has happened at Hogwarts."
Percy stared at him, for a moment thrown off balance.
"You never... You really did it, didn't you?" he said slowly. The twins nodded sincerely. Percy let out a deep, frustrated sigh.
"You damned idiots," he shouted. "What did you think you were playing at? This isn't a fellow student or poor Filch, or even a teacher. She's High Inquisitor for Merlin's sake. She is as close as anything to the minister. You're never coming back to Hogwarts now. They might even throw you in Azkaban!" The twins nodded again, in silence, not seemingly reacting to their brother's out-burst. Percy let his gaze wander from one identical face to the next.
"So that's it?" he demanded. "You make your last, big prank and leave, bathing in glory and awe from your admirers, and then you stand on the street with no idea what to do? You're expelled - get it? You're thrown out. How did you intend to make a living now?"
"We have a few plans, Percy," Fred said carefully, "but there are some... complications. That's why we need your help."
"I have no money for you," Percy answered coldly.
"Oh, that's all right," George said quickly. "We wouldn't try to vig money from family. It's your brain we need."
"Let us in and we'll tell you all about it," Fred tried.
"I'm sure you will," Percy said with a sigh. He hesitated a moment, but then he gave in; out of curiosity and maybe - even if he would be damned if he admitted it - for the sake of family. He opened the door and walked inside, with the twins silently trooping in after him.
Percy's flat was sterile, just as his office. There was a table with two chairs and a sofa, neither of which seemed to be used very often. There was a large bookshelf filled by books, scrolls of parchment and maps - all about economics, bylaws, goblin right regulations and such. The desk - the only place in the flat that seemed to be frequently used - was filled by neatly ordered stacks of parchment and papers, reports, decrees, minutes and files. There were no pictures on the walls. His bed-table was empty except for a framed photo of his fiancée, Penelope Clearwater. There was only one pillow in the bed. The twins looked around with interest.
"Nice place," George said.
"I like what you have done with it," Fred agreed. Percy pointed at the sofa.
"Sit down there," he said, and took one of the chairs for himself. He put the cartoon from the café on the table. "If you want food, you're unlucky. Since I didn't expect guests, I didn't bring any extra."
"No problem, bro," Fred smiled. "We brought a little something." And opening his bag, he emptied its content on the table - a gigantic chicken pie. George muttered a warming charm, making a wonderful smell spread through the room. Percy stared at it, his eyes suddenly very wide.
"That is one of mum's pies..." he silently said, his voice trailing off. The twins nodded proudly.
"Does she know that you're here?" he suddenly asked, quite forcefully.
"Nope," George simply answered. "We nicked it."
"All right!" Percy demanded. "Is this a peace offering or a trap?"
"The first," Fred answered. "We really need your help, Percy."
He met their eyes. First George's, then Fred's, and again he could to his astonishment see a hint of honesty, or rather a lack of the usual mischief. They seemed sincere. They even seemed to be a bit worried, even if they tried to hide it. The smell of the pie spread in Percy's lifeless flat, bringing with it some of the cosiness of the Burrow. And suddenly Percy admitted to himself that he did actually enjoy the presence of his brothers in his empty, impersonal flat. Annoying and respectless as they could be, they still forged a link to the home he had forsaken.
He didn't say anything, didn't audibly acknowledge their presence, but somehow it showed anyway, from his posture or from his expression, or maybe from the lack of things he said. The twins relaxed considerably in their seats. Just to get Percy to listen to them had been the hard part. Not saying that the next part would be easy, though...
With a swish and flick, Percy summoned plates and cutlery. George pulled out a large number of buttlebeer bottles from his bag, while Fred cut the pie, giving Percy the largest piece. The twins quickly nibbled on the pie - undoubtly to prove that it was not poisoned, which was just as well since Percy was just about to demand them to - and then Percy just couldn't resist, but dug right in as well. It tasted like heaven.
After a few minutes of intensive eating, the boys withdrew from their plates, the worst hungers satisfied. The twins took a bottle of buttlebeer each and gave one to Percy as well. He received it and leaned back in his chair, regarding his younger brothers thoughtfully.
"So..." Fred begun, but Percy interrupted him.
"So, the two of you've put yourself in really sticky trouble this time," he said. "What did you think you were playing at? Even morons like you should see that a stunt like that goes far beyond what could possibly be tolerated as a prank."
"Prank?" George said, an eyebrow raised.
"That was not a prank," Fred filled in. "Far from it."
"So what do you call it then, attacking the High Inquisitor of Hogwarts and ruining your career?" Percy sighed.
"We call it war," George said flatly.
"Come on, brother," Fred said. "That woman's horrible. You must have heard some of the things she has done. She deserved it."
"I know that madam Umbridge is stricter than Dumbledore," Percy said stiffly, "and that she tries to bring some kind of order to Hogwarts. I also know that she has banned you from the Quidditch team after attacking the other team's seeker, but that hardly gives you reason enough to..."
"We're not talking about throwing us and Harry out from the team for defending us against that slimeball," Fred said.
"Even if it helped," George added darkly.
"We're talking about making a life a misery for Hagrid and poor Trewelney."
"About spurring the Slytherin scum to bully the rest of the students without any punishment."
"About doing what she could to make every student's defence grade go down the drain."
"Abut making Harry's life a living hell, about cutting his hand open and bleeding," George hissed. Percy looked distinctly unnerved at this.
"Cutting his hand... open?" he asked, silently. The twins nodded.
"Using a very special enchanted quill that - ah, how amusing - makes Harry write lines in his own blood."
"But you already knew that, didn't you, brother?" Percy stared at them a few moments, then he nodded slightly.
"There were rumours... Of course, I never thought that she would..."
"Of course not," Fred interrupted.
"But she did," George filled in. "And she does."
"She's damned crazy. She's cruel as a manticore and she has no interest whatsoever in Hogwarts, in the teachers or the students. All she wants is to get one over Dumbledore, and she is fully prepared to step over graves to do it."
"But that's all right, isn't it, because it's all in the name of the Ministry."
"Listen," Percy mumbled, holding up a hand. "I can't do anything about her. Dolores gets her instructions and mandates directly from Fudge himself. Marchbanks and Ogden tried to criticize her, and they had to quit. There is nothing I can do."
No, there was nothing he could do. Not that he hadn't wished to, sometimes, deep down, when the whispered rumours at the Ministry had grew more and more serious. Silencing the teachers - that decree had nearly caused a ministerial upheaval. Forbidding practical defence-lessons - the aurors had revolted at that one. And then there were those rumours about that quill, and even worse... But Fudge had been very clear about Umbridge's authority, and Percy knew only too well about what a delicate stage his career was in to cross the Minister. And even apart from Fudge's protection, he had no intention to stand up against Umbridge - she was scary. George grinned at him, though.
"Oh, no need, brother," he said. "That's not what we wanted to talk to you about."
"Besides," Fred added, "Umbridge won't be a problem much longer."
"No?" Percy asked, filled by ill bodings.
"No way," Fred smirked, pride in his voice. "Not after the example we made."
"We have shown that the toad can be defied, and that she ultimately can be defeated. The other students will catch on fast enough."
"Also, there is the position of Hogwarts Top Prankers to fill."
"There're many who will want to prove themselves worthy, and do a good deed at the same time."
"Lee, Ron, Ginny, Harry, Cormac, the Creevies..."
"Umbridge will have a REALLY hard time, dealing with that lot."
"But that's really just a soften up for the big one."
"She's gone too far, see? She's made serious enemies."
"She's dealt with those before," Percy mumbled, remembering a few of the more colourful, whispered rumours about Dolores Umbridge's career. The twins, however, just kept grinning.
"Not an enemy like this one, she hasn't."
"She has really gone too far."
"Or how long, beloved brother, would you bet that our dear High Inquisitor, will last in a brain war against Hermione Granger?"
It took a moment for Percy to process this information, but then he suddenly, to his own large surprise, felt something very much like relief spreading from his stomach to the rest of his body.
"Perhaps that would be a way..." he carefully admitted. He had always been fond of Hermione. Sure, she had some very annoying traits, such as her fixation with house elves, and her tendency to get mixed up in Ron's more reckless projects, but apart from that, she was brilliant. Smart and intelligent, and shrewed enough to take advantage of it. He knew she had something to do with Rita Skeeters sudden disappearance from the Daily Prophet, even if he was unclear about the details. Perhaps Hermione really would find a way to discredit Umbridge enough for her enemies in the ministry to use it as an excuse to remove her, and then there would be a place to fill in Fudge's inner circle...
"Hermione hates her, and with good reasons," Fred smirked. "Umbridge will be out from Hogwarts within months."
"But so will, as it seems, we," George said with more serious voice.
"Not that it wasn't anticipated."
"Frankly, brother, we were quite reluctant to go back to school at all this year. What should we need any N.E.W.T.s for anyway?"
"We are not, no offence, going to rot in a ministry office like you or dad, or grovel for goblins, like Bill."
"Dragons would be cool, though," George said as in afterthought.
"But that's not were our future lies," Fred said with a hint of drama in his voice. Percy sighed, his attention drawn away from the possibilities Umbridge's disappearance would open.
"So spill it then. What is your grand plan, and for what do you need me?"
"As we perhaps have mentioned once or twice, we have far advanced plans on starting a joke-shop."
"Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes!"
"Don't tell me you're still on to that ridiculous idea," Percy moaned.
"And we're almost there."
"We have the products, we have the customers..."
"Half of Hogwart's are dying to buy our stuff, especially after that last display."
"We have actually already started up as an owl-service, and so far it works fine."
"We even think about getting premises in Diagon Alley."
"There is only one slight problem..."
"Just wait a minute," Percy interrupted, holding up a hand and temporarily silencing his babbling brothers. He put down his butterbeer-bottle on the table and waited a few seconds before continuing, to be sure he had their attention.
"Just from where have the two of you got the money to start up a business?" he slowly asked, glaring suspiciously at his brothers. They exchanged a glance.
"It's nothing illegal," Fred quickly said.
"Well, that's a blessing," Percy dryly answered.
"OK, if you must know - we got a donation," George muttered. Percy raised an eyebrow.
"Sorry, we can't tell you that."
"Business secret, you know."
"Anyway, our donator believes in us, and was generous enough to give us a chance to really make this happen."
"You, if any one, knows how important it is to take ones chances, Percy."
Suddenly, the older boy stiffened in his seat.
"Exactly what do you mean with that?" he demanded. Fred actually had the decency to look a bit taken aback.
"Nothing bad bro," he quickly said.
"Just that you've been fighting hard to get to your position, and knows how difficult it can be to make it work in the real world," George filled in.
"Yeah!" Fred went on. "You didn't start like Bill or Charlie, with personal reference letters for old family friends."
"You had to cut it out by yourself - and that's pretty much what we have to do as well."
"In that way, we are really following in your footprints."
"You might even say that we are admiring what you have accomplished, and gets inspiration from you."
This last comment of George was followed by silence. Fred shot him a quick, warning look, and Percy shook his head slightly.
"Too thick flattering, George," he said pointedly. "Quite good until then, though, even if I don't believe a word you said."
"Come on..." Fred started, but Percy shook his head again.
"We leave my career out of this," he said matter-of-factly. "I have no interest whatsoever to discuss that with you again. Let's get back to your lunatic plans for starting a junk-shop. We left off where you had just received a large pile of galleons from an anonymous, and probably brain damaged, donator."
"Well, yes," George said, quickly changing track. "That's pretty much what happened. Most of the donation will go to the rent. So far, we have managed to use the profit from the stuff we sell to keep the production up."
"We do all the stuff ourselves," Fred filled in, "so we really only have to buy the ingredients and raw materials, and they are quite cheap."
"So where's the catch?" Percy asked. Fred bent down and opened the bag again, producing a thick roll of parchment. He put it on the table before his brother.
"This is the catch," he simply said. Percy looked at the roll. It had the official ministry symbol on it.
"What is this?" he asked as he opened the scroll.
"We hoped you could tell us that," George said, a bit sourly.
"It's from the ministry," Fred unnecessarily added. In the meanwhile Percy had eyed through the top part of the scroll.
"Regulation concerning registration of business... Specific decree concerning owl-based trade... Safety report demand concerning amusement-enhancing products..."
"It goes on like that all the way down," Fred said. "Decrees and regulations and demands and forms and Merlin knows what."
"About halfway down it starts referring back to the paragraphs above, changing them to mean new stuff, depending on what we do with the paragraphs below."
"It's impossible," Fred sighed. "Simply unreadable. We spent a full day with it, but we didn't get further than the first foot."
"And by that time they had wanted us to fill in five different forms and pay two different 'special fees', or possible three," George said with bewilderment in his voice. "Honestly, whatever bastard has written this must be a complete..."
"Screwtape," Percy interrupted, a hint of admiration in his voice. The twins gave him an uncertain glance.
"Bless you?" George tried. Percy gave him a scornful look.
"What I mean is that this document is written by Screwtape," he said with lecturing voice. "A highly gifted goblin that works directly for Fudge. His legal documents are pure masterpieces, folding into themselves in infinity, almost like poetry... And the fact that he has taken the time to write this decree himself... you can consider yourself honoured."
"Oh joy," Fred said glumly. George nodded agree.
"So where does this lead?" Percy asked, rhetorically. "You pull a stunt that insults and damages Dolores Umbridge, who by the way sits by the right side of Fudge, and then when you try to make a living selling your home-made joke-junk, since you at last have been thrown out from the school you never took serious anyway, you receive a custom-made collection of decrees, designed by Fudge's personal secretary to put you out of business before you even have started... Seems like you have got yourself a goodbye-gift from the High Inquisitor."
"We figured that much," Fred sighed. "They can't forbid us outright - the Shop-Keepers Union of Diagon Alley would go spare - but they can throw a thing like this in our heads. Damned unsporting."
"Really?" Percy asked with an eyebrow raised. "Seems like a fair prank to me. Outwitting your victim and all that. None of these decrees are really harmful in themselves - but taken together they can be very costly, especially if you miss some of these submission dates so artfully hidden in the text..."
"Submission dates?" Fred asked, glancing at the thick scroll, suddenly worried. George had something else on his mind, though.
"Prank? You call this a prank? You have a soppier sense of humour at the ministry than I thought, then." The older brother sniffed.
"Oh, yes. I forgot. A prank would have been locking you up in a pyramid or something." George opened his mouth to answer back, quite hotly if his expression was anything to go after, but Fred quickly nudged him in his side with a warning in his eyes. George closed his mouth with a snap. Fred shook his head.
"See, Percy? We have spent a day with this wretched thing and we didn't even notice those submission dates thingies. "We really need help - your help - or we are done for." Percy snorted.
"You have been 'done for' since you started school. If you had taken your studies serious, instead of making enemies and revolting against every sign of authority you could find, you wouldn't be in this mess now."
"Listen," George pleaded. "This is our big chance. We know we aren't smart like you or Bill, or brave like Charlie. We scored an all time low at our O.W.L.s, and we won't even receive any N.E.W.T.s, but we know a good joke when we see one. Even you can't deny that. Our stuff beats old Zonko's a hundreds times. If we just get a chance, we can really make this work. But if that damned toad is to decide, we won't get that chance. Please, Percy. You have to help us sort out that scroll."
"And why, exactly, should I help you with that," Percy asked flatly, glaring at his brothers. "It's not like I have any time to spare, after all. And the two of you haven't done very much to help me in the past, have you? So why should I bother?" The twins quickly exchanged a glance and a tiny nod, and then they turned to Percy again, their faces sincere. It was Fred who spoke first.
"Well, that's what we ask you, brother. Why should you?" They waited for him to answer, expectantly.
"What?" Percy asked, a bit taken aback by the sincerity in his brother's voice. George shrugged slightly.
"Why should you help us? You tell us. Name your price." Percy stared at him, incomprehensively. Fred took over again.
"Do you want money? We don't have much of that kind right now, not if we are to afford premises, but if you give us a few months' credit, we can be very generous indeed."
"Or do you want part of the business?" George suggested. "Three Weasleys instead of two. You could do the paperwork while we do the actual inventing and selling."
"Perhaps you want an excuse for all those pranks we have played on you?" Fred said, eying the still speechless Percy intensively. "You can have it. Or if you want us to deliver a message for... someone you are not on speaking terms with right now, we can do that as well."
"Or if you don't want us to, we won't say a word about us talking to anyone. We can even tell you where we hid that book you lost in your third year," George suggested. "The point is that we need you. Just name your price and we'll pay up."
The twins silenced and waited for Percy to answer. He took a few moments before doing so, simply staring at his brothers, as if he expected them to pull off their masks any minute and explain the joke for him. The twins offering an excuse? Fred and George admitting that they needed him? That really had to be the first time. And as he mused over this, Percy couldn't help thinking about what George had said about their slim career opportunities. Percy knew that it wasn't and understatement. The ministry seldom appointed anyone without N.E.W.T.s, and that route was closed to his brothers anyway, thanks to their little disagreement with Dolores Umbridge. Gringott's seldom paid much attention to the ministerial wishes, but the Goblin's demanded trustworthiness, and Fred and George were hardly the embodiment of that parcticular virtue. Of course there were lots of jobs that didn't require the most advanced wizard education, but these days the ministry had their fingers in surprisingly many trades, and the twins disastrous O.W.L.s didn't help things either... A hard-working lad could make a name for himself, starting low and working himself upwards, but reckless fools as his brothers... If they fell out from the community now they would sooner end up with Mungdung Fletcher and his likes than in any respectable business, and then what? Unbidden Percy's thoughts went to the Burrow. He could just imagine mom and dad sitting by the table, looking at one of the old family photos and sadly ask themselves what went wrong, what they did wrong in the upbringing of their three failed sons; Fred, George and Percy... He shuddered, and shook his head as if to clear it from that image. Just to think that the twins actually had come to him to ask for help...
"There are lots of people who could do this..." he murmured. "Tom at the leaky cauldron is shrewed enough... or one of dad's friends... You could even hire your own goblin, if you're ready to pay for him. You don't need me."
"Don't be ridiculous," Fred said dismissively. "Maybe - and I'm just saying maybe - we could find someone else who would understand this decree lingo well enough to help us out, but we want the best. This is just up your alley, Percy. You could do this stuff in your sleep. There is no way a flee-bitten goblin could outsmart our Percy."
"And besides," George added softly, "we won't put our future in the hands of someone we don't trust."
Percy felt his eyes go misty, and furiously blinked for it not to show. He sighed, but somehow the sigh didn't sound as annoyed as it usually did.
"I'll do it," he simply said, taking the scroll. The twins didn't move. They kept looking at him intensively, seemingly holding their breath.
"You... will?" George asked after a moment, a surprised look on his face. Percy nodded, a warm smile slowly forming on his lips.
"You'll help us?" Fred asked, wanting reassurance. Percy felt the smile spreading, growing into a grin, and suddenly he felt warm, happy, relaxed and almost giggly. He started to chuckle.
"Yup, little brothers," he confirmed. "I'll do it. It won't do to let you out in the big world without an older brother keeping an eye on you."
"Wow!" Fred said, clearly at a loss for words for once. "That's... great. Thanks!"
"Hey, what are brothers for?" Percy asked, light-hearted. The twins, catching on his good mood, started to grin as well.
"You're the best, Percy," George said with a huge grin. "I've always said so. Sure, Bill and Charlie are nice chaps, but if you really need a brother to lean on, Percy is the one."
"You're flattering too thick again," Percy pointed out, but he couldn't help laughing. "Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes! My brothers are starting a joke-shop. Well, if there ever was one line of business you're fit for, it's this one."
"Our thought exactly," George agreed. "That's why we don't want the toad Umbridge to take it away from us."
"So..." Fred asked a bit cautiously. "What do you want in return?"
"I know we offered you a partnership," George began, "but what we really meant was more like..."
"I want three things," Percy interrupted, "which you are to promise me without any fuss."
"OK?" Fred said, suddenly serious again.
"Firstly," Percy sternly said, tapping the scroll in the table, "my part of this is a secret, and I mean a secret. You are to tell no one. Not your business partners, not the ministry clerks you deal with, not family; no one. I'll manage ol' Screwtape for you, but if you go blurting out that I'm working against Fudge, and the words reach the Ministry... Well - you're NOT to blurt it out. You are not to tell anyone that you have visited me here today. Not even family... Especially not family."
"Of course not!" Fred quickly said. "Our lips are sealed."
"Secondly," Percy went on, catching the eyes of his brothers, "I want you to manage this one. I have no idea where you have got the kind of money to pull this off, but this is the only chance you have, and you won't get any more. Don't blow it. You're not to end up on mom's and dad's doorstep in a year and so and tell them that your shop didn't work out because you were too reckless or too stupid or thought it was too fun to prank the customers. Got that?"
"We'll sure try," George solemnly answered. "And believe us, Percy, we're dead serious with this idea. We have spent years on developing products and finding business contacts. We'll manage."
"Good," Percy said, and hesitated a second before making his last demand. He lowered his gaze slightly. "Thirdly... thirdly, I want you to look after Ginny for me. She's growing up, and that's confusing enough for a girl. But besides that, she's really close to Potter, and that might put her in serious trouble... What if she..." he swallowed and met the eyes of the twins. They were looking at him with a strange mix of confusion and comprehension in their faces. "...listen, just keep an eye her," he quite lamely went on. "You know, as older brothers... and don't tell her that I told you to do so, OK?"
"We will," Fred agreed with determination. "No doubt on that. Just leave her to us, and our little sister will be in the best of hands." Percy breathed out.
"It's agreed then," he said and leaned back in his chair. Fred and George exchanged a quick glance of triumph, and suddenly they started to laugh.
"YES!" Fred yelled.
"I TOLD you he would do it!" George laughed. "I TOLD you. And he DID!"
"That damned toad think she had outsmarted us," Fred cried with joy. "Oh no, madam Umbridge, The Weasley brothers are not defeated that easily. Eat swamp, High Inquisitor, and choke on it!" They jumped to their feet and started a wild and improvised victory dance around the table. Percy vainly tried to stop them, with the only result that he was dragged into it.
"Hey, what about the neighbours," he protested.
"What about them?" Fred laughed. "They can join."
"Ten percent special discount for Percy's neighbours," George cried, "for living next door to such a splendid young man."
"Hey, you promised not to tell anyone," Percy reminded them, a bit alarmed. The twins laughed.
"Don't worry, we will charge your neighbours just the same price as anyone else."
"I'm sure living in the same house as you is reward enough, anyway."
"George - WE DID IT!"
"Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes is for real now!"
"WE DID IT!"
The dance went on for a while, because the twins felt they had good reasons to celebrate. When Percy at last managed to get them back to the sofa and calm down - at least reasonably - George opened the bottomless bag again and fished out more butterbeer and a half-filled bottle of fire-whiskey (which Percy confiscated in power of being an older brother). They had even brought a second pie. Fred transfigurated the empty bottles to dance a wild dance on the table. George charmed the wallpapers to blink in all imaginable colours and form slogans for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. Even Percy added to the party by, to the great surprise of the twins, digging out a figurine of the 'Weird Sisters', enchanted to sing some of their greatest hits.
The next day at the ministry, some of his co-workers would be surprised to see the normally so tidy Percy with a somewhat ruffled hair and a face showing signs of lack of sleep. But somehow the normally so tense young man would seem more relaxed, almost happy, and when they would gossip about him in the canteen - for rumours do indeed travel fast at the ministry - they would agree that the change had been for good.
The party lasted the better part of the night. The three brothers talked and laughed, and did somehow completely forget that they didn't like each other. The twins told Percy about their last year at Hogwarts, about their war against the High Inquisitor, and he couldn't help laughing about her performance against the firecrackers. Then Percy told them about life and gossip at ministry, and they all laughed at some of the more memorable pieces. Then they talked about their dad, and suddenly they were serious again. Percy was very white in his face when the twins told him about the attack of the snake and the healers struggles to find an antidote against the poison, and for awhile he sat silent, staring at nothing, and mumbling things for himself. But as the night went on, his spirits rose again and they opened that bottle of fire-whiskey after all. The three Weasleys talked about their childhood at the Burrow, about throwing gnomes in the garden, or how they used to gang up against Bill and Charlie in pillow-fights that could last for hours, only briefly interrupted by meals or telling offs. They reminded each other about the episode when Ron and Ginny had managed to get themselves locked up in the attic and had to be saved from the ghoul, or when Charlie had crashed a broom in the flowerbed. Then the twins tentatively brought up a few of their old pranks, and somehow Percy managed to see the fun side of them. However, he did not miss the chance to remind his brothers about that book they had hidden in his third year. When the food and drink were gone, and the Weird Sisters started to be repetitive, they smiled at each other and said that, honestly, family isn't such a bad thing after all.
But then their smiles became knowingly and businesslike, and they said that, yeah, that might be the case, but family is one thing and business another, and we have a deal. And the three of them nodded solemnly, because they were all in rather delicate situations in the complex game the wizarding world consisted of at the time, and that shouldn't be forgotten. So they cleared off the table, and Percy sat down with the scroll, translating the legal lingo to plain English, revealing hidden demands and fees, inch for inch and hour for hour undoing Umbridge's revenge, while the twins patiently waited. When the first rays of sunlight pierced the windows, they left, unconsciously sneaking off to the place were they had hidden their brooms, leaving for a bright future in their very own joke-shop. Behind they left a mess of dishes, pie crumbs and empty bottles; a flat suddenly seemed to be lived in rather than just a place for someone to spend his time off work; and a brother that for the first time in months was truly happy.