Life was so much easier when one owned a key to one's place of business. So maybe it wasn't Percy's place of business, but having his own copy of the key sure made life a lot simpler. At least he did not have to worry about George's inability to open and shut doors. It couldn't be that hard of a task, could it? And it had been quite fun racing George to unlock the door that morning of Day 39. He whistled, gave the key another toss into the air, caught it, and slipped it into his pocket.
It was only then he was struck by the obvious fear that the key just might be jinxed. It was probably going to shrink or disappear or bite him where it counted. Great. Percy removed the key and placed it on the desktop. What he could see of the desktop. The room was still a complete and total disaster and Percy was beginning to think he would never get it clear.
At least he wasn't forced to help pick up that mess of boxes that had fallen over the day before. But, good hell, it was as if the place had become messier. He had been in here for two days, doing some cleaning each time, and the office was more cluttered than ever. Take a deep breath, he told himself. It was just his imagination combined with the legacy of Fred's infamous messes.
Well, memory or no memory, he was going to get this mess organized. Day 39. That would be the purpose of Day 39.
There was a girlish scream out side as boxes fell again. Percy wasn't altogether sure whether it had come from George or Verity. Had he yet had the pleasure of hearing Verity scream? Somehow he had the vibe that it would not be a pleasant sound. Well, he was not going to help out there, no matter who was dying in an avalanche of pranks. He had agreed to work on business detail, and that was on which he would be working.
If he could make a place to do so, of course.
He had brought boxes. Boxes were always handy for helping in sorting. He was somewhat ashamed of these boxes, actually—he had purchased the cheap plastic things at a Muggle store for very cheap—but in the end they would be useful and make his life that much easier. He placed them in the clear parts of the floor—papers were literally everywhere—and made an index card for each. Purchase orders, correspondence, inventory lists, financial lists, etc.
"Guess it's coming to some use, eh, Fred?" he muttered under his breath. Happily. Though he was sure Fred could have been organized if the occasion had called for it.
He had gotten through the entire desk plus a quarter of a filing cabinet before the door opened. No polite knock, just the door opening and Verity's voice calling "Mr. Weasley? Are you in here?"
He raised his hand. "Somewhere underneath this mess."
She stood a moment in the doorway to take in the sight. "Wow," she said, impressed. "You have been really making some headway! Good job!"
"I swear, Verity, it was messier than it was yesterday."
She shrugged. "It just seems like that. Would you believe me if I told you that Mr. Weasley and the other Mr. Weasley were pretty darn organized before? I mean, they sort of had to drop the shop and run for a while there."
Percy nodded. He guessed he could understand that. And after… everything, he really couldn't blame anyone for the ways things had gotten. "They were smart, both of them."
She nodded. "Yeah. Great to work for."
Was that supposed to mean something towards him? "Is there something you came to tell me? I'm really not in the mood to chase rats or stack boxes or anything like that."
She stared at him a moment, green eyes glowing, and Percy was sure she was going to find something horribly sexist about his statement. "Oh, no. I just came to check up on you. I mean, you've been in here an awfully long time."
"This is where George wants me to work. I'm not good at selling things."
"Oh, it's easy," she said with a grin. "You just bother the people until they buy something. Or you pester them with lots of difficult, imposing questions until you nail down exactly what they need. Then you show it to them, then pester them until they buy it."
The sad part was that Percy honestly believed he could do that. "Well, I'm alive and I'm breathing." Probably wasn't funny, especially considering the situation, but Verity laughed anyway.
"Actually, I'm just bored out of my mind."
So you're bothering me. He made sure not to say that aloud. It wouldn't do to make her mad all over again. "I guess you can help me in here. Isn't there stuff to do out there?"
"We finished forty-five minutes ago."
Percy closed his eyes and tried his best not to get mad. "You mean George has been finished out there for nearly an hour and I'm still in here working. Why doesn't he come in here to help me?"
"Because this is where you are going to be working."
He sighed. Fair enough. "What have you two been doing?"
"Talking." She grabbed a piece of blonde hair and began to absent-mindedly twist it. "We talk a lot, Mr. Weasley and I."
"Oh." He was tempted to ask "about what?" but he already felt he knew the answer. What he didn't know is why George was not in here talking about the same subject with his own brother. Before he knew it he was crumpling the receipt in his hand. No. No. It went in the yellow box.
Verity gave a nervous giggle. "Mr. Weasley, are you all right?"
He nodded and tried his best to push the fury away. It wasn't a fair emotion. It was not a fair emotion. 39 days. He was doing fine, and he did not need to feel this way because it had not been his fault.
At least he didn't think so.
"He's in the bathroom right now," Verity continued brightly. "That's why I came in here to talk to you. So, how are you doing?"
The answer should have been obvious. "I'm fine. I really am fine. I'm getting to organize things."
She looked curious. "And that's fine?"
"Yes." He gave another nod and grabbed a few more papers to sort before he realized that this hobby was rather out of the ordinary. "I happen to like sorting things. Bizarre, I know, but it keeps things logical and a hell of a lot easier than this place is right now."
"I know exactly what you mean. I like sorting things, too. About half a year ago I organized the bookshelves by alphabetical order by author. Could you believe that those two had never heard of alphabetical order?"
Percy decided this girl wasn't all bad. "It's a lost art."
"Wanna dump pepper in his drink while he's busy?" she asked.
He stared at her. "What?"
She sighed and repeated her idea. "I have some pepper packets. Mr. Weasley has a thing of coffee out there. He is presently in the bathroom. Let's go and dump pepper in his coffee."
Percy stood up and readjusted his glasses. This was the weirdest thing he had heard all morning. "Why?"
She shrugged again. "I think it would make him feel better, to be perfectly honest. He's had a pretty rough morning."
And he was talking about it with Verity. Percy pushed away the first creeping of fury. It wasn't like he and George had not talked about it. The whole family had talked about it. And then all of a sudden they had just sort of stopped. Which had been okay, in its way. "All right." He dumped some lists into their correct box and followed Verity out the door. She had already pulled the pepper packets from her pocket. She handed him one.
As Verity had said, the entire shop looked gorgeous, ready for the first customers to appear, when the shop reopened. And nothing had yet inexplicably fallen over. And there was George's coffee sitting next to the cash register, half-drunk, just waiting for a dose of pepper.
This was pretty exciting, Percy had to admit. Until one thing hit him. "What if George likes the pepper in his coffee? What if he doesn't notice?"
Verity grinned slyly. "Look at your packet."
He obeyed. "Exploding Pepper. One touch of the tongue, and food is everywhere. Ah."
"Exactly." She ripped open the paper and dumped the contents into the cup. The liquid sizzled for a second, then was as steady as ever. "Now your packed. Twice the punch."
He had never properly pranked George back for anything. Ever. Mostly he had just yelled and maybe thrown a few fists. This was harmless enough. He opened his packet and dumped it—
Next thing he knew, he and Verity were covered in coffee. Verity was screaming—yes, she had been the one screaming that morning. Fortunately it was not hot—cool, actually, but it was no longer a liquid. They were covered in a coffee-colored sticky shell.
And George was behind them, laughing uproariously.
"Please," he said, as he calmed himself down to talk as only a professional jokester could. "You are amateurs. Both of you. Especially Percy. Do you think I would really leave my coffee cup unattended? I worked with Mad-Eye Moody, remember. I took a leaf out of his book."
Percy scowled at him. "It didn't explode after Verity put in her stuff."
"I assumed you two would team up. So I wired the stuff for double the amount of what is in those packets."
Verity pulled at the coffee coating on her arm. It was not coming off. "Clever, you jerk."
"Thank-you. It is of my own design. On the bright side—you'll love this, Percy—the caffeine content is still there and going right into your system, even though you drank nothing."
Percy rolled his eyes. Great, a new way to stay awake. "Do you think people will like being covered in this?" He grabbed a fistful and tore it from his shirt. Thankfully it took no fabric with it.
"No," George replied honestly. "But I find it funny. This is a joke shop you are now working at. Not everything is practical."
"Hardy har-har. Now how do we get it off?"
"I will kill you, Mr. Weasley, if it doesn't come out," Verity said. She was trying to scrape it from her hair.
George shrugged. "Just scrub really well in the shower. It's not waterproof. It's just coffee. And no, Verity, it does not stain."
"I still hate you." But she was smiling.
Percy was not. Of all the stupid, childish tricks… and just when Percy had been feeling some semblance of concern—the name he was giving to that fury. Was this how George expressed his emotions? Because if it was, it was highly, highly annoying and there was no way Percy was going to be sympathetic with it. There were tamer jokes in this shop. Could he not use those?
A sharp knock shook the door.
"We're not open!" George called.
The knock came again.
"We're not open!" Percy and Verity joined in that time.
"I don't care!" sang a woman's voice. "I'm not a customer, I'm the one who gets you your stupid supplies!"
"Ah, Browning!" Verity said happily. Sarcastically happy.
George made a face and ducked behind a display table. "I thought she wasn't coming for a few days."
Percy laughed. "Are you afraid, George?"
"Yes, yes I am. But not as afraid as you are. You're working with her. So go and open the door."
Well, this was certainly a side of George Percy had never quite seen. Fear of business associates. Was there a term for that? "George, I am covered in your coffee."
"Too bad. Go. This is your department now."
Percy felt like arguing, but there had not been a whole lot of arguing with George during the past thirty-nine days. He ripped another chunk of coffee-shell from his clothes and ran to the door.
The woman at the door was much younger than he had expected, barely out of Hogwarts or wherever she had gone to school. And yet she had already managed to scrape out a niche in the business world. Her hair was long, dark brown, and hung nearly to the ground. Her eyes were narrow with impatience that he could not make out the color. Probably red. She wore dark purple robes with a very professional appeal. It was like a kid playing dress-up. Percy was not sure if he could take her seriously until she looked at him.
"I don't think we have had the pleasure of meeting," she said. The words were plenty polite and proper, but the tone said she wanted to boil him alive. "I'm Shannon Browning." She held out a well-manicured hand for him to shake.
Percy took it. She was scary. No wonder George was afraid. "I'm Percy Weasley."
"Do I have the pleasure of meeting with you today?" If she smiled, Percy was sure he could see fangs. Was the woman a werewolf? At least she had let his hand go.
Percy nodded and tried to summon his Ministry persona. Professional, professional. "I believe so. I just started working here. Um, I was under the impression you would not be coming for a few days."
She frowned. "Well, I would like to make an appointment for something more specific than a few days. That's why I dropped by. I heard there was new management, and I thought this would be so much more personal than sending an owl."
He would have preferred an owl. Oh, how he would have preferred an owl.
"Are you going to invite me inside anytime soon, Mr. Weasley?"
"We're doing construction, Miss Browning!" George called. "Explosives!"
Miss Browning looked a little fearful at that. Thank-you, George. "How is Thursday at 10:45 for you, Mr. Weasley?" she hissed.
"That would be fine."
She handed him a card. It was ghost-white parchment with her name and the address of the Ivy Corporation. Little green Ivy pictures slithered there way around the card's surface like miniature snakes. "Since you are new, Mr. Weasley, here's how things run. I am your representative from Ivy. I sell you the things you need to make all your crazy stuff. You do not argue price with me. I sell for what I sell for and you will not be changing that because no one else has. Is that clear?" She did not even wait for an answer. "It was lovely to meet you. I shall see you on Thursday. Here. Good day."
With that, she marched off down Diagon Alley.
Percy slammed the door shut and muttered "psycho" under his breath. "I'll be back in the office."
But barely had he shut the door of the office did he hear a click.
He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and grabbed the handle. The door was locked, indeed. "George!"
No answer except for the sounds of laughter.
"It's not like I can't hear you!"