"I just wanna have a look around is all. Somethin' fishy's goin' on if he's here, and I want to know what it is." Ron trained wide, imploring eyes on his best friend, trying to express the desperation he felt at the moment while still trying to suppress the anger that had ignited inside him the moment he'd caught a glimpse of the man earlier that evening. Harry opened his mouth to respond, but Hermione beat him to it.
"Oh honestly, Ron. You don't even know for sure that it was him, let alone that he's here for anything even remotely nefarious."
The young redhead's face darkened, coming close to matching his hair as he glared harshly at his friend. "I do too know it was him, I can recognize my own brother, ya know."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Oh, and that just proves everything, doesn't it? Even if it is him, he's Fudge's assistant, there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for his being here. And besides, Dumbledore wouldn't have let him inside the school if there was something disreputable about his presence."
"Right, cause Dumbledore knowing he's here makes all the difference. Dumbledore knows Snape's here too and he hasn't done anything about it, even though it's obvious the greasy git's up to something."
The bushy-haired sixth-year sighed in frustration. "Not this again. Really, we've gone over this a hundred times, Ronald, Snape's working for our side, and if the headmaster trusts him to do so, so should we."
Ron's face got a little darker and Hermione threw up her hands, this was one argument she was never going to win with her red-haired friend, and she'd just about given up trying. Not as if he'd ever listened to logic before, why should he start now, right?
Before Ron could respond and set off another row, a soft voice interrupted and all three occupants of the room turned as one to look at the girl standing quietly, but resolutely in the now-open doorway.
"I'm going too."
The trio acted as if to speak, all three ready to shoot down her statement, but she continued before they had a chance to say anything. "He's my brother too, and I want to know what's going on. After everything he's put our family through, I have a right to know."
Silence reigned in the wake of her soft declaration, no one knowing what to say in response to the youngest Weasley's determined words. After several minutes had passed in silence, Ron finally managed to get himself under control and nodded firmly as he turned questioning eyes on his fellow Quidditch player once more.
"Right then. Can we take the cloak?"
Harry nodded stiffly and watched as his best friend grabbed the invisibility cloak and turned to follow his little sister out the door, both Weasleys intent on their target.
It took the two siblings a few minutes to work out a plan, but before long they were making their way through the rapidly darkening halls as quickly and carefully as they could while hiding under Harry's cloak. Even considering the difficulty he, Harry, and Hermione had had staying under the cloak in their first few years with it, Ron was somewhat surprised how hard it was to keep both himself and his sister completely concealed by the garment as they stalked rather aimlessly through the school.
Neither had much of an idea where to start looking for their brother, so they simply trekked through the various halls, slowly working their way through all the places they thought would be likely to house ill-intentioned activities. Naturally, their search soon brought them to the castle's heart of ill intentions: the dungeons.
They hadn't traveled more than a hundred feet into the dark, dank halls when they received their first clue that they were on the right track, presented in the form of muffled footsteps. They followed the sound a short ways down the hall until they reached the classroom in which they sat each week for potions. They were about to attempt entering the room when a second set of footsteps could be heard approaching them from another, lesser-used hall to their left.
Waiting several moments, neither redhead was too terribly surprised to see Professor Snape making his way towards his classroom at a rather clipped pace. The sound of shattering glass from within the classroom an instant later startled them but they still managed to flatten themselves against the wall so as not to be discovered by the glowering professor when he stalked past them. Not ones to lose their chance, the siblings watched Snape hurry his steps in response to the noise, then waited for him to open the door and step inside, squeezing quickly through behind him, barely making it all the way inside the room before the door slammed shut.
As they rushed into the room, immediately huddling behind a desk just inside the door, Ron and Ginny both took a second to catch their breath before they raised their gazes to the lone figure that stood tensely on the other side of the room. When they did manage to catch a glimpse of the person that had been responsible for the sound of breaking glass seconds before, both Weasleys had to bite their lips to keep from gasping aloud.
He watched the jar as it flew, watched as it hit the far wall with a loud crash, glass shattering, the tiny pieces raining down with little tinkling sounds as the contents of the jar spilled out to stain the wall and a portion of the clean floor with a dark yellow ooze. In the silence that followed, heavy and hollow in the chilly room, he simply stood there, staring rather blankly at the glass shards and the pool of mustard colored slime; that is, until a dry, caustic voice spoke, the unexpected sound causing him to spin sharply on his heel to face the room's new occupant.
"Throwing things. How very mature of you, I can certainly see why the Headmaster was so enthusiastic about your appointment to Head Boy when you were here."
The younger man crossed his arms over his chest, casting a glare at the sudden arrival, a scowl forming in response to the arched brow that was being aimed at him. "Oh don't even try to tell me you've never gotten so damn frustrated with everything that you felt like throwing things."
"I never implied that I do not have frustrations similar to yours, I was simply pointing out that I at least have the presence of mind to chose less volatile potions to throw against walls when the compunction happens to strike."
The Minister of Magic's assistant had the grace to look sheepish at that. "Ah, right. Sorry 'bout that."
The older man waved off the apology with an errant hand as he reached for his wand and, with a murmured phrase and a quick swish and flick, had the glass and ooze safely disposed of. As both men turned their backs and attempted to occupy themselves, the thin redhead let out a long sigh, causing the Professor to turn an irritated scowl his way.
"I had quite assumed you'd gotten this foolish self-pity out of your system when you destroyed my jar of grentalac slime, but it would appear I've misjudged you yet again Mr. Weasley." The potions master sneered as he said the name, nearly turning it into a curse, but the younger man merely rolled his eyes at his tone as Snape continued. "Must you insist on continuing this childish display?"
Percy turned slowly to regard the other man with a rather doubtful expression and a sarcastic but cordial tone. "Of course, not that you'd be able to recognize it from experience, eh? Because we both know you've never dropped so low as to indulge in a little self pity in the midst of the joyous life you currently lead, right Snape?"
"Right you are Mister Weasley." This time the name sounded just a little different as it fell from the older man's lips, his tone just the slightest bit less caustic as he spoke.
"I've never before had cause to seek out release through meaningless noise and destruction." If one had not known the professor better, they might be tempted to say his words had held an edge of sarcasm and his lips had held the slightest signs of a tiny grin.
"Even so, I truly do sympathize," the sneer most readily associated with the dour potions master was clearly present as he nearly hissed the last word, though it also held a note of amusement to it that was most certainly not normally associated with the man, "but I also wish you would take your annoying pity-party elsewhere so I needn't listen to it."
The third-oldest Weasley rolled his eyes once more and was about to answer when a new voice cut in, drawing the men's attention to the small door that led to the professor's private lab. "Now boys, must you do this every time we meet? I thought we had all agreed to gather and discuss things like mature adults and not play this little game of insults tonight."
Both men looked properly chastised at the young woman's soft words and even the indomitable Snape looked down at his robes for an instant before flashing an almost apologetic glance at the new arrival. The slender young woman returned his glance with a questioning one of her own that was tinged with just the slightest bit of gentle reprimand.
"Don't look at me, he started it." The professor pointed at the assistant to the Minister of Magic, the tiniest hint of a whine invading his voice. "He threw my jar of grentalac slime against the wall and everything."
At this bit of news the young woman turned to the room's other visible occupant, though her questioning expression held something it had not when she'd looked at Snape: concern.
The young man heaved a long sigh and shook his head as she approached. "It's nothing really, just a bit stressed is all."
One delicate brow rose in disbelief. "Nah-uh. Not buyin' it." He looked down at his hands as he played with a frayed sleeve of his nondescript black robes. "What happened, Perce? And don't you dare tell me it's nothing, 'cause we both know it's not."
He sighed again and the sound caused her shoulders to slump. As she lifted a hand to lightly settle on his shoulder, Snape retreated to the lab with a silent sneer, not one to eagerly await the display of intimacy and concern that was likely to ensue between the couple. When he had shut the door, somewhat harder than necessary behind him, she repeated her question, this time lifting his chin gently with her free hand so she could see his face as he answered.
He shrugged his shoulders a bit, trying to make his words sound casual. "I saw them today. They were on their way to dinner with Harry and Hermione and they…" His attempt at containing his emotions failed then, and he choked on the word. "They were laughing Will. They looked so happy and I wanted so badly to talk to them, to ask how their classes are going, how their lives are going."
He stopped there, taking a deep breath before trying to continue. "There was a time when I knew those answers without having to ask. Granted, I didn't always think it horribly important, but I knew. Now I don't know anything. I don't know if that crush Ginny had on Harry ever went anywhere, or whether Ron's worked up the guts to ask Hermione out. I don't know if Gin's still reading the Quibbler when no one's looking. I don't know if Ron's still using that smelly stuff he calls cologne."
With a sound of pure frustration he began to pace back and forth between the desks as he went on, talking more to himself than to the woman with hair a few shades deeper than his own.
"I don't know what Muggle trappings Dad's obsessed with at the moment, or what dessert Mum has picked to make this week. I don't know what prank Fred and George are perfecting at the moment. I don't know which dragon Charlie's working with or where Bill's been assigned this month. They're my family and I don't know anything that's going on in their lives." A sound of raw frustration was ripped from his throat as he ran a hand through his short hair, still pacing almost frantically.
"Oh, Percy, sweetheart." Willow stepped into his path as he turned to make another circuit of the aisle, intercepting him with a tight hug. "I know this is hard for you, I know you want to see your family again – and you will, you will see them again, I promise – but we're doing so well. The way things are going we should have enough proof to get that slime ball to at least step down as Minister, if not get sent to Azkaban. Not yet, but soon. And when that happens, we won't need someone so close to the Minister and you can quit, you can go home, see your family. Soon, baby. Soon everything will be okay."
He broke away from the hug almost violently as she finished, running one hand through his hair again as the other wiped furiously at the tears beginning to spill from his eyes.
"No it won't. Everything will not be okay. Not soon. Maybe not ever."
"Perce-" She reached out, trying to place a supportive hand on his shoulder, but he shrugged her off, wiping ever more harshly at his eyes.
"No! You didn't see the look on Dad and Mum's faces when I started all those arguments. You didn't hear Ginny crying in her room after I said I was leaving. You didn't see the look on Ron's face when I stepped into the fireplace that last time. You didn't read the letters from Charlie or Bill, you didn't… "
Percy Weasley seemed to deflate as he spoke, his voice growing softer, his voice weaker as he stilled and collapsed into one of the chairs at the front of the classroom.
"You don't know the things I said to them, the things I called them to make them believe I'd turned my back on them. You don't know what I put them through, the hurt I caused them to set up this stupid role." He slumped forward where he sat, his head falling into his hands as the tears began to trail steadily down his cheeks. "They hate me."
The words were spoken quietly, muffled in his hands, but she heard him and she was kneeling in front of him, pulling his hands away and cupping his face in her own before he'd finished speaking.
"Don't! Don't you dare say that, you hear me? They do not hate you. They're your family, Percy. Whatever happens, they're still your family, and they love you."
He shook his head, dislodging her hands. "No they don't. Not after what I've done to them. They couldn't."
The expression on Willow's face was nearly as heartbroken as the one on Percy's. She'd been contacted by Dumbledore almost a year before and asked, as an unknown but powerful witch, to infiltrate the ranks of hopeful Death Eaters in an attempt to gain a perspective Severus was not privy to. She'd accepted the task readily, eager to help this new world any way that she could, and had set to work right away, actually managing to ensconce herself well enough in the group to have a place, but not so well that she was called up into the active ranks and taken away from the steady pool of information that the new recruits could offer them.
When Lucius Malfoy himself had ordered her to take a low level position in the Ministry of Magic and act as their go-between there, she'd jumped at the chance, not knowing that she'd be doing more than just routing out the Ministry moles and misleading both parties while giving the real dirt to Dumbledore. Not that that wasn't an important enough role in the scheme of things, but the other role she'd stumbled on was much larger in her view. After all, if she wasn't there to help Percy through the stress and pain of his own task of monitoring the Minister and collecting evidence as to Fudge's involvement with Voldemort, then who would?
A single tear made its way down her cheek as she gently took hold of his hands, stilling their restless movements. The both of them were in precarious, and painful, positions, playing both sides against one another in the hope that their true side would come out on top. Her position, however, was a little tighter than his, and while she couldn't shed her role without giving herself dangerously away, he could. It might take some fancy footwork, but if he truly wanted, Percy could walk away from the spy business and do so relatively unscathed.
"Maybe not right now, but in time, with the truth, they could. I'm sure that once they know that you were just doing all those things to set yourself up as the Headmaster's eyes and ears to watch the Minister, they'll understand, and they'll forgive."
"You don't know that for sure." His voice sounded broken, even to her ears, and she'd heard him in his worst moments over the past year.
"You could find out." He looked up at her, his confusion clear in his tear-filled eyes.
"Tell them the truth."
"I can't. There's no way I could tell them and still maintain my role as Fudge's stupid little troll."
She brushed a few strands of errant red hair away from his damp cheeks, meeting the look of hopelessness with her own understanding sympathy. "So don't maintain it. If it's hurting you this much, baby, just drop the role and go home."
He stood suddenly, his eyes wide and his expression filled with shocked determination. "No! No, I can't do that. Not after what those sick bastards did to Ginny. She almost died in that damn Chamber because of Malfoy and his snake of a Dark Lord. She won't say anything, but she's had nightmares ever since, and Ron… I don't even know how many times he's almost died traipsing off with Harry and Hermione to stop Voldemort. Those bloody bastards have to pay for that. For everything they've done to so many people. They have to be stopped."
The Sunnydale native bit her lip as she carefully approached her boyfriend, wrapping her arms gently around his waist, drawing his tense, shaking body to her, holding him tightly as the storm of emotion broke within him and he started to cry. She made soft, nonsensical sounds of reassurance as she held him, listening to the harsh sobs that wracked his lean frame.
"I know sweetheart, I know. I'm right here, I'll always be here. It'll be over soon, Perce. Not much longer, and then you can go home. I promise baby, you can go home."
The minutes ticked by and the words continued to flow from her lips, neither really sure if they were helping or not, though eventually the former prefect was able to get himself back under control and with one last embrace, the couple stepped away from each other.
"You ready to go over the reports?"
He nodded, squeezing his girlfriend's hand as they made their way into the private lab where their fellow spy was waiting for them. "Yeah, I'm ready." He brushed the last lingering tear from his cheek and squared his shoulders. "I think the Headmaster's going to be real happy with the owl I intercepted yesterday. If nothing else, Fudge is going to have a lot of explaining to do. What about you and Severus? Any news on the Death Eater front?"
The petite redhead nodded as they disappeared into the lab, her words being cut off as they closed the door behind them, leaving too younger redheads huddled under a cloak, tears in their eyes and a hundred questions swirling through their heads as they stared at the spot where their brother had been standing not a minute before.