Price of Wisdom

The bedsit was, by any stretch of the definition, tiny. One room, even with the Japanese screen demarcating the line between his bed and the rest of the...closet. The kitchen sink doubled as a bathroom sink, the stove itself was a hot plate resting on the dining table, and the shower and toilet were conveniently located outside, at the end of the hall. The only thing potentially extravagant about the place was the small fireplace at the other end of the room from the kitchen/dining room/living space. Every flat in the building had something that resembled a fireplace, no matter how cramped it made the place.

Percy was of the opinion that if any of his non-Apparating relatives wanted to visit him, they could travel by taxicab. He'd much rather pull out the fireplace and put in a comfortable chair, or a desk. Something to make the place a bit more comfortable, and a bit more like a home.

Having the loo located fifty yards away from his front door didn't bother him, nor even did sharing it with the other residents of this floor. Growing up with five brothers and one sister had taught him a certain patience when it came to his own personal hygiene. At least here he didn't have to worry about getting into the loo after Fred or George - there was no need to de-hex the shower head before turning it on, or check that the toilet paper was still toilet paper and not fly paper.

He would also have liked a slightly larger closet -- real closet, as opposed to the room itself. It wasn't that he had too many clothes for the tiny space allotted. He only had three robes for work, and the dress robe he'd had since his last two years at Hogwarts. Whatever clothes he wore underneath hardly mattered, and no one knew if he performed a Lavatio Induviae spell every night and wore the same pair of jeans for a week.

His other clothes were few again, as well. He never seemed to have time to shop -- fortunately the clothes he wore those rare times out to the wizards' pubs, or the library, or Diagon Alley mattered little. He wore the same robes there as he did to the Ministry. The clothes he wore to the club took practically no space at all, and the clothes he wore at the club, he didn't leave in the closet at home where just anyone, including his mum, could find them.

But a larger closet (provided it didn't take up more of the limited breathing space in the flat) would have given the illusion that he had room to move about. It was a silly little thing, but a few inches more of space on the curtain-rod that acted as his clothesrack would make him feel as if he had the opportunity to fill it up, and had simply chosen not to. Just as a slightly larger flat, not really necessary considering how rarely he had time to acquire possessions, would let him place his things exactly where he liked, instead of cramming them catch-as-catch-can into whichever corner would hold them.

When he had first moved in, his mum had paced the floor once, turned around, and smiled brightly. "Well, it's your first flat. I'm sure you'll do fine!" He'd known that what she meant was, 'Be glad it has a roof and four walls, and I'm going home to turn your old bedroom into something else so be sure to give me a week's warning if you need to come home for any duration.'

He had done fine. In the year since he'd moved out of his parents' house, he'd only wrestled with the option of moving back into the Burrow twice. Once was a week after he'd moved in, and had been lying in bed trying to sleep. It had just been simple homesickness, and he'd talked himself out of even sending Hermes with a letter home. Neither of his older brothers had returned, once they'd moved out, and he'd be hung if he'd be the first to be so pathetic.

The second time had been when they'd told him his pay from the Ministry would be delayed due to paperwork, right when his rent would be coming due. He'd not bothered writing home to borrow money - even with the lower cost of taking care of one less child, his parents couldn't afford to lend him more than a single Galleon. Since the problem was one of bureaucracy, he hadn't had much means for reparation, either. Fortunately, the error had been cleared up and his pay had come through at the last second.

Money was no longer a problem; he'd saved enough in his account at Gringott's to have a safety net in case the Ministry should cock up again. Granted, he was by no means well off. He couldn't afford a new flat, couldn't afford to fill his closet with clothes, couldn't afford to have the fireplace ripped out and replaced with a mahogany roll-top desk like the one he'd seen in Visters' Fine Furniture front window.

But he could think about it. He could plan for it, even. If he kept saving his Ministry pay, refrained from spending his Galleons on food and books and pints of beer, he could probably afford a desk or a new wardrobe within just a few months. Muggle establishments were just as good for eating, and entertainment, and Muggle money was the only thing accepted there.

It certainly solved his problem of what to do with all the Muggle money he received, since it, conversely, wouldn't be accepted by his landlord, and exchanging it...could prove a problem.

They'd want to know where he'd got it, after all.

Percy nodded at the bus driver as he slipped a pound coin into the cashbox. Both were familiar gestures, yet either would have had most of his co-workers at the Ministry of Magic looking askance at him. Muggle things, Muggle customs, Muggles themselves. The official attitude, of course, was that they were equal citizens, just born with certain defects, poor them. To be protected from all things magical, and treated with kindness and respect.

Unofficially, Muggle places and things were Muggle places and things, and wizard places and things were wizard places and things. The twain seldom met, aside from the occasional wizard born into a Muggle family, or the even more rare squib. When they did meet outside of those circumstances, lifting of eyebrows occurred.

His father, of course, was above all that. Respected by enough members of wizard society that his eccentricities were simply chuckled over and put aside. Percy didn't have that option, not in his position. Perhaps in twenty years, but now... He took his seat and watched London pass by outside the window. Smiled, slightly. If they knew where he was heading, there would be more than eyebrows raised -- but even the little things gave Percy a certain secret joy. His father would be positively green with envy, for instance, that Percy could operate a hot-plate without burning himself. Could order take-away Tandoori and know what he'd be receiving when he opened the box. Knew which bus to take to get where, and whether it was worth his while to buy a travel pass, or simply pay for each ticket or bus fare as he needed it.

He pulled the stopcord a block and a half away from the club. Not as if he couldn't use the walk, but more importantly, he didn't want anyone noticing that he always headed for a certain address, on a certain street. Paranoid? Not really. Nor was walking two streets away from his flat to catch the bus in the first place. It was simply prudent behavior. It was a private club, and he was a private sort of person, and Percy intended to keep things that way.

The walk was brisk, the air cool and wet with spring, and the man at the door smiled in welcome. Most of his wizard acquaintances, Percy supposed, would have done more than lift an eyebrow at this particular Muggle; they would have walked swiftly in the other direction, turned round the nearest blind corner, and Apparated at least five miles away. Colin was over six feet tall, seemed half as wide, and the smile on his face could curdle milk faster than a disgruntled brownie. Had Colin been on the door the first night Percy had ever contemplated walking in, he'd no doubt that he too would have been five miles away within seconds of seeing the man, blinking at his good fortune in escaping.

But it had been Rose who had greeted him, looking meek and unassuming, though he knew now that she had the temper of a cornered hellhound when pushed too far. Percy had gotten to meet Colin a few nights later, when he was a bit more sure of himself, a bit less likely to be curdled by that grin, or disturbed by the long, wild bush of red hair and beard. Now, he answered Colin with a genuine smile of his own, and was waved inside after a brief exchange of opinions concerning the latest developments on EastEnders. It was rather difficult to be afraid of a man who firmly believed that Garry and Lynne could get it together if everybody in the world would just leave them alone and stop interfering in their business, Percy reflected. The fact that Colin reminded him just a bit of Hagrid didn't hurt either.

In the narrow corridor just inside the entrance, Percy stopped at the first door on the left. It was dark and unpainted, and looked rather like a janitor's closet, the "Private" sign stenciled in inconspicuous black lettering. Beyond it on opposite sides of the hallway were the entrance to the restaurant with whom they shared the building and whose ostentatious sign distracted most passers-by from caring what else might be inside, and the door to the club proper. Meek and unassuming as Rose had appeared that first night, it was still nowhere near as downmarket as the one before which he stood. When he heard the little buzz and click that indicated Colin had unlocked the door for him, he opened it and slipped inside.

A quick glance around showed him that Livi, Devon, and Harold were the only ones in the room. Thursdays were slow enough nights that Percy expected the rest of the staff were running later than he was, rather than already being clocked in and upstairs. Harold waved at him, but lazily, not quite looking over to meet Percy's return greeting. He was staring at the telly, watching a programme Percy didn't recognise. Livi, however, came over and took his arm, grinning widely.

"Percy! Just in time. Look, luv, I've got to get someone's opinion who has a modicum of taste, and you know it isn't Harold, and dear Devon's trying but he keeps saying the red one and I know the red one isn't tight enough."

She had started pulling him out of the common room, not even letting him say hello to Devon or check the office to see if Mags was in. Percy didn't mind; it wasn't as if Mags wouldn't have known he'd shown up for work the second before Colin had unlocked the door for him. He felt it was rude, though, not to greet his employer -- but Livi was already halfway to the side room, where the lockers were.

Percy let her tug him in, then stood patiently while she began digging through a pile of clothes lying on the only chair in the room. She held up a red leather thing, the identity of which Percy couldn't guess -- even after having worked at the Chamber for eight months.

"What d'you think?" Livi asked. "This one? Or the black? I like the black, myself, but it is getting old, and the red's apparently just like the one whasserface -- used-to-be-Missus-Cruise -- wore in that film. So Devon says."

Percy wasn't sure which film she meant, or who Missus Used-To-Be was, besides an actress who wore red leather things, but he was the brother of a witch, and the son of another. He knew how not to get turned into toads. "The black is very nice," he offered. Not that he had the remotest idea which black thing he'd just complimented, out of the many black things Livi owned. "It's classic," he added.

Livi beamed, then her eyes narrowed. "You're not just saying that because I could beat you within an inch of your life if you didn't agree with me, are you?"

Percy glanced reflexively at the thin, sticklike riding crop she held in her other hand, and managed a small grin. He didn't volunteer the information that the only way he'd be afraid of that item would be if she were capable of making fire shoot out of it. "Wouldn't I be complimenting the one I thought you hated, if that were the case?" he asked her, still trying to figure out exactly how the red thing was supposed to be worn.

"Good point. Still, you should probably see them both on, to get a real idea of what they look like. Though of course, you've seen the black before. Here, hold this." Livi handed over her crop, which Percy took gingerly, regarding it as if it were someone else's wand, and might go off at any moment. Possibly he'd spent too much time with Fred and George in their formative years. Livi peeled off the tight black t-shirt she was wearing, and her jeans soon followed it. Percy simply held the crop and waited politely.

She wasn't wearing undergarments, so she quickly had the red item shimmying up her legs, and around her groin and her waist, then was wrapping parts of it up around her torso. Percy allowed himself a brief smile. If his brothers knew that he'd seen this sort of thing so often that it was as unremarkable as a cup of tea in the morning, they'd be insanely jealous. Well, perhaps not Bill. Charlie, as well, had probably seen enough naked women by now that he'd at least maintain his polite expression. Possibly.

Two straps were going underneath Livi's breasts, holding them up, while another went across the top of her chest. They were all connected to the strap at her waist, and around her hips.

"It's a harness!" he blurted, before remembering that he'd been pretending to know what it was she'd been showing him. Indeed, he'd seen her in the black one - very similar to this one, but with a couple more straps, and slightly wider ones.

Livi just laughed. "Didn't have a clue, did you?"

Percy just shrugged. "You're right, it isn't tight enough." He wasn't quite inured enough to go over and tug at the strap under her arm, where it sagged just loosely enough to ruin the effect. But she knew what he meant; she pulled at it, herself.

"Yeah, think maybe I should leave it for Rose? Her boobs are bigger than mine, it should fit her fine."

Percy pictured Rose trying to slip that thing over her hips, and, though he managed to hold his tongue, he suspected he didn't succeed in keeping a straight face. Livi looked at him, and grinned.

"I'll tell her you thought that, young man." He had the presence of mind to look completely innocent in seconds flat. Yet another useful trick he'd learned from the twins. Livi rolled her eyes. "The hip straps are adjustable. It'll fit her just fine." Then she twitched an eyebrow. "Unless you'd like it, of course."

Without batting an eye or rising to the obvious request for him to point out that there were at least two straps on it that wouldn't do him a blind bit of good, Percy replied, "No, thank you. It would clash with my hair."

"Good point." Livi slipped the contraption off and tossed it on a counter, then walked barefooted and bare-everything-else across to her locker, from which she pulled the black version, and donned it. "Better?"

Percy sniffed, just as if he'd known that was the one she'd meant all along. "Told you it was, didn't I?"

Livi looked suspiciously at him from behind her teased brown fringe, then reached out a hand for her crop. "Horrible boy." She couldn't be more than a year or two older than him, but when she used that voice and meant it, she was more daunting than any of the professors at Hogwarts during exam week. Luckily, Percy could tell quite easily when she was serious; her left nostril twitched.

"Of course, I think you'd look quite lovely in that pink frock that Ursula brought in last week," he said. "The one with the rosettes, and the gauze butterflies?"

He waited until the very last second, when her eyes had widened to impossible circles, and she was drawing back that crop as if to bosh him on the head with it, before he ran.

Percy had gone from the locker room to chat with Mags, and ended up staying in her office for almost an hour, before the front desk called for him. He'd ducked out and given a long look around for Livi -- she was the sort to get her revenge, no matter how long it took. Why he persisted in teasing her, he wasn't sure, unless it was just that her jokes at his expense made him feel like home. She never said anything cruel, nor did she go for crude gags, but he could expect to be publicly whipped, or painted blue, before the month was out.

He'd not seen her, when he'd left Mags's office, and Harold had given him the all-clear sign, so he'd headed for his locker to change, then climbed the backstairs. He'd gone quickly up to his room, then composed himself in the center where he was expected, and waited.

He always felt a moment of complete calm, when he was alone here. The walls were completely sound proof, and the decor was simple -- four walls, painted a dark grey. Racks along one wall, cabinets along another, a cot in one corner and a bench in the middle of the room. There was a small sink hidden in another corner, and -- unknown to most clients -- a security camera up in the ceiling.

The atmosphere was one of complete sexual decadence -- there were items available for practically any purpose one desired. Not luxurious, or opulent, but utilitarian. There was no mistaking what the purpose of the room, and its occupant, was. But it wasn't the atmosphere which leant Percy his calm.

He certainly hadn't been calm in the beginning. As a new client, he'd been given the usual introductory lecture and tour, and thus he had known, intellectually, what he was asking for. But even after weeks of dwelling over the spoken and unspoken reasons why his relationship with Penelope had failed, and the things he'd always felt but never allowed himself to acknowledge, he hadn't been quite ready to accept what he'd decided he wanted. That had come after the first time he'd blushed and stammered his way through telling Livi what he'd like her to do.

She'd listened to him without saying a word, except for an "mm-hmm' here or a nod of encouragement there, then she'd led him into a room and fulfilled every request he'd made. At the end, when he'd been reduced to a naked, gasping, sweaty pile of nerve endings and incoherence, she'd kissed him softly on the cheek, and suggested politely that next time, he might want to try doing something like this with Martin.

He hadn't thought anything could be more frightening than walking into the club that first time-- until his second visit. It had taken more courage than he thought he possessed, to take her up on her suggestion, and more honestly, to admit at least to himself that she hadn't been the first to have that thought. Under the touch of another man, the same physical actions that Livi had performed had become something else entirely, something he would never be able to willingly give up. The feeling of calm that had suffused him for days afterward had astounded him.

It had taken him several weeks to figure out where that calm did come from. He'd finally realised it came not only from accepting what he wanted, but also, perversely, from both the freedom and the control. Now, months later, he raised his fingers to the silk half-mask which covered his face -- the only thing he wore until his client commanded otherwise. The anonymity was one of the club rules, placed there for his own protection, should he encounter a client outside the club. But it also symbolized for Percy the act of laying down all instigation of his actions, and all possibility of failure.

All he could do, here in this room, was what he was told. All he was given was exactly what he enjoyed feeling the most. The club forbade pain great enough to damage, and though a wizard would have no trouble healing himself afterwards, Percy found the restrictions kept the pain within those limits that merely made his nerves and senses open wide enough to feel, stretching him to the point he could let go of everything that held him, and receive everything he was given.

Here, he wasn't Percy Weasley, with all of the rights and responsibilities pertaining thereunto. He was simply the man in the dark half mask, in the middle of the room, waiting for the client to enter.

Sometimes, if a name was asked, if the client was the sort who needed a name to give instruction to, or the rarer type who wanted to feel as if they knew him, then he was Weatherby. His own private joke, and even that gave him a small sense of power whenever he heard it used, because it was his choice to give them that name, and to answer to it. More often, there were no names, and very few words, exchanged.

There would simply be a creak of the door, as now, and someone would enter. It was always a man, for he only worked with men. Playing with Livi and the other girls on staff were one thing; inside this room was another. He would always know who was entering, as he did now, filled in by Harold before Percy entered the room.

Some of the staff didn't need to know who their next clients were, and perhaps there might come a time when Percy became one of them, but for now, he kept that modicum of external control. He could think, if he chose, about what pleased the man, or what the man had done last time that pleased Percy, and wonder if he might do it again tonight.

Right now the man walking towards him, his footfalls heavy on the floor with the thud and slight squeak of the rubber soles of his shoes, was a client returning for only the second time. His hand had been light, and his voice unsure, but Percy knew that in the weeks to come he would let himself go and enjoy the pleasures the club was designed to offer.

Percy made no move as the man walked into the room and around, surveying everything with a barely suppressed excited air. Percy could see the man's expression through the sheer mesh that covered his eyes. Percy's mask only appeared blind, to the clients -- though there were true blind masks in the cabinet, and Percy had often been bade to wear one. He didn't mind blindness, but preferred as default the soft, see-through silk. The dark hunter's green cloth was lightweight, and thin enough to fit under the leather masks, so he never had to remove it until he finally left the room.

It gave him an added aspect of control. The clients would feel as though they were in charge, for Percy obeyed every command they gave. But Percy knew the truth, knew that the commands were there to give him the overloaded senses and burning nerves. He was the one who was pushed to and beyond his limits until granted release, and he was the one who, ultimately, had the power to accept their commands or utter the safeword and bring everything to a halt.

This man would not push him to his limits; he'd barely be able to push himself to his limits. But he would learn, quickly, and Percy found that even the newest clients gave him something he could get no where else: power. Value. Recognition. A host of things he felt nowhere else, some of which changed from client to client, some of which changed with Percy's mood. Sometimes, as now, it was just the pure sensation, becoming aware of every nerve in his body, every square inch of his skin. Discovering and rediscovering a magic that every human body, wizard or Muggle, possessed. Five limited human senses that allowed him to feel the man's hand, warm on his shoulder as he was greeted with a silent touch, the client unaware that Percy had known he was there for an eternity of moments already. Allowed him to smell the sweat and faint scent of city and smoke and hard work on him, hear the shallow breath, see the square cut nails on the hand that tapped his arm now, bidding him to rise.

Likely, at some point during the night, he would taste that sun-reddened skin as well, or the paler flesh that lay hidden during whatever job the man worked during the day. He tasted of salt and something vaguely like cardamom, Percy recalled. Just one more sensation, one more thing to revel in and let take over. As he stood and followed the directions of the tugs on his arm, Percy felt his mind spiraling into focus. The air was cool on his skin, and his body was poised on the edge, waiting for whatever was to come. Sensation was everything, now, and he finally left the last, constraining vestiges of Percy Weasley behind.

It was nearly three a.m. when Percy was once again wearing his jeans and a t-shirt. He'd left Livi and Rose in the locker room, still chatting and taking their time getting dressed. Livi had rubbed some cream onto his shoulders, not knowing that as soon as Percy got home he would be able to prepare a quick potion to soothe all his physical aches.

He had to be at the Ministry in a few hours, and it wouldn't do to be unable to sit still as he sat at his desk, filling out paperwork and answering the demands of his boss. He had just enough time to catch the bus home, grab a couple hours' kip, and drink a hot cup of strong coffee before Apparating to the Ministry. The lack of sleep wouldn't bother him -- by now he was used to catching up on all his sleep on Sunday -- but all the same, he hated Fridays.

Fridays at the Ministry of Magic, sitting at his desk with the memories of the night before still fresh in his mind and on his skin, made it harder to ignore the indignities. Being called into the Minister's office and told to have the report back by day's end -- despite whatever else was on his desk -- or getting said report returned to him with questions that sent him back into the archives for research, only to have the completed work set aside with a "Thank you, I'll get right to that..." All offered in the bland, inescapable tones of a boss who could care less what his clerks were doing and could barely be bothered to remember their names.

Two years now, since Mr. Crouch had been killed. Two years since Harry Potter had discovered that Voldemort was alive, if not well, and bent on returning to power-- and nothing had changed, except perhaps Percy himself. The Ministry still went on about its business, most of the staff, like Fudge, denying that the wizard world should be preparing for another war. "Nothing's going to happen," Percy had been told. "Even if Potter did see something, we've no proof of what, and we can't throw the country into a panic over one boy's fevered imaginings."

There were those who knew better, his father among them, and with Crouch's death, Percy had come to believe they were right -- yet he, too, was going on with his business. The mundane details were still important: the cauldron thickness tests and the control of magical pests and the tea ceremony with the Japanese Ambassador. Those things let the world continue functioning, and Percy understood this better than anyone.

But the rotating stream of supervisors who had passed through Mr. Crouch's position didn't understood the hard work involved in keeping those mundane things running; they just piled on more, sometimes to the point of busy work, in order to give the illusion that everything was fine. Commanded in offhand tones that their subordinates perform small miracles daily and large ones on weekends, with no acknowledgment afterwards of the effort, or why it was so important.

Commands he could not refuse, faceless without the comfort and reason of wearing a mask; Percy never felt more helpless and angry with his position, as he did on Friday mornings. It was enough, sometimes, to make him want to send Hermes in with a note saying he was home sick -- and go back to the Chamber until Monday morning.

But he wouldn't do it, of course. Even if Mags would let him spend three straight days at the club, which she wouldn't; she'd eventually send him home to recover, not knowing he didn't need as much time to sleep and heal.

He would no more call in sick to the Ministry when he wasn't, than... well, than he'd call in sick when he was. Percy couldn't recall a single day he'd taken off since he'd moved into his own place and hadn't had a mother leaning over his bed informing him in no uncertain terms that he'd be getting up when she said he was over his Thermonuclear Flu, and not a moment before.

There was too much to do, too many things that would fall apart if Percy Weasely didn't get them done, whether anybody else was aware of that or not. He'd often tried to inform his mum of that fact, of course, but she'd hear none of it. His empty flat, however, was much more gullible.

Besides, it was no fun to stay home with no one fussing over you and brewing Carewort Tea, and other nasty tasting concoctions. Of course, since he wasn't really sick, his mother would be more likely to stand over his bed and levitate him out of it, yelling that he had to get dressed and it wouldn't be her fault if there was no breakfast left by the time he reached the kitchen.

That's what she'd done to Fred, George, and Ron -- even Ginny, once or twice, that he recalled. She hadn't ever threatened him, because he'd never stayed in bed. Always up when he was supposed to be, always downstairs and helping his mum with the kids or with breakfast or with whatever it was that had to be done. Always the good boy, he'd been. The well-behaved and dependable one -- like he was now, at the Ministry. The one they knew wouldn't owl in sick on a warm Friday morning when he'd much rather be at home in bed, or sneaking out to see the film Livi had been telling him about.

Percy stopped at a newseller's and grabbed a copy of the Muggle paper, then caught the bus at the corner and read the paper through as he rode home. By an hour after sunrise, Percy was freshly showered and changed, had had almost two hours' sleep, and was standing in line at the cafe, waiting for his turn to buy a cup of Instant-Awake Tea, and a warm Everything Scone. It was a complete breakfast, if not quite the fare his mother would approve of.

The witch behind the counter gave him a bright smile -- she knew him from every other Friday morning he'd bought his tea and scone. He smiled back, though it disappeared possibly a bit too swiftly, his mind already sifting through the pile of assignments on his desk as he nibbled the Everything Scone. There was Cheswick's report on Doc Martens that were being enchanted into Thousand League Boots in a small cobbler's shop somewhere near Dorchester. The only problem with finding it and putting a stop to the operation was that it was an elfin shop, and it disappeared the moment one actually went looking for it with any other intent than to buy a pair of shoes.

Then there was Frobisher's report on the Alligators in the Sewers rumour. The alligators had turned out to be infant salamanders. The fire-breathing sort, not the mundane amphibians. Plus there would be whatever had been placed there since yesterday afternoon. No matter how early Percy arrived at work, there was always something new on his desk.

He'd be tempted to suspect they came in early just to beat him out at catching up on his in-box, if he weren't perfectly aware that message-owls could arrive at any time of the day or night, and knew exactly whose desk to dump the unpleasant news on. Not to mention the dragon dung. He knew that had been from Fred and George, but didn't bother giving them the satisfaction of calling them on it.

Percy walked to the Ministry from the cafe, only a few blocks' walk and not worth Apparating for and risk spilling his tea all over his robe. He hadn't had time to perform the laundry spell this week, and this was his last clean robe. He passed quite a few people on the sidewalk whom he recognized, a few he even nodded to. Acquaintances, not quite friends; his co-workers tended to think that anyone who put in as many hours as Percy did must be bucking for power, and he knew they considered him a bit of a suck up. Once, perhaps, they would've been right, though he couldn't see what was wrong with giving his best at work. Now, though, he wasn't concerned with promotion; didn't think he'd want it if they offered, not that they would. It just wasn't possible to get everything done that needed to be, without putting in extra hours, and staying on the good side of those in power helped him get his job done.

By the time he reached the Ministry building, he'd finished his tea. Giving his robe a tug and brushing off any remaining crumbs, he entered. Percy could feel the weight settle on his shoulders, like invisible hands pressing down. The cool air felt nothing like the sharp air at the club -- that air filled him and invigorated him, helped set him free. This atmosphere filled him with the dread that someone would stop him in the hallways and demand to know why he was here. Worse, that someone would spot him and refer to him only as 'Weasley's middle boy'.

His identity was subsumed here, as much as it was at the club, only here it was done without his consent and against his preference. He hurried down the hallways towards the tiny office that he shared with three other clerks, hoping he wouldn't get spotted by one of the second year clerks -- the ones who knew perfectly well who he was, and called him 'Weatherby' regardless.


At least it was his own name, and the voice was that of the officemate whom he least disliked. Heloise Bagnold, a witch who more often than not caused more problems than she solved when she tried to help him file reports, but at least she was aware of it, and didn't try to pass her mistakes off as his incompetence, as certain others had been known to do. She would cheerfully admit whatever error she'd made, and do her best to fix it; that didn't bother him. Much. It was the fact that she was equally cheerful when informing him of the daily impending catastrophe. Or possibly Impending Catastrophe. It happened so often that it deserved an official title.

"What is it today, Heloise?"

"The flying carpet problem?" she said with great cheer.

"What flying carpet problem? I'd thought we'd solved that ages ago."

She shook her head, hairpins scattering everywhere, as usual. "Now the Iranian delegation to the International Wizards' Council is claiming that we're denying British-Iranian citizens their cultural right to use a traditional mode of travel."

Percy sighed. "That's ridiculous. New Wizard citizens have to sign a statement about Misuse of Muggle Artifacts, and affirm that they've read the list of forbidden items and agree to it."

She nodded happily. "But not the Muggle immigrants. And when they have wizard or witch children..."

He was already sitting behind his desk, pulling out a sheet of parchment, by the time she'd finished her sentence. Now, he sighed as he began writing out a message to the appropriate Minister. He would really rather be at the Chamber, even working with the clean-up crew. While not the most pleasant job, he'd had worse -- nothing compared to changing nappies, anyhow -- and at least at the club there was a chance someone would want him up in a room. The fucking over he'd get would be so much more enjoyable than the one he got when the Minster found out that a report Percy had submitted hadn't solved all their problems.

Percy glanced at the stack of papers in his In Box, and sighed. Even without Heloise's Impending Catastrophe, he could see at least two papers that hadn't been there yesterday. One had the bright red 'Urgent' script written across the top. He sighed again. It looked like he'd be working tomorrow.

One mug of Instant-Awake Tea was not going to do it. Two mugs of tea, and a cup of Muggle coffee on his way in to work, had not done it.

Percy yawned, glad he was the only one in the office, this Saturday morning. He'd barely laid down, it seemed, before he'd stumbled back out of bed, drawn on his robe, and Apparated to the front door of the cafe for his tea.

A late night at the club was usually a good thing, but more and more often, when combined with an early morning at the Ministry, he'd begun to feel like a seam on one of his more threadbare robes. Pulled in both directions, and about to either snap, or unravel completely. The growing, niggling knowledge of where he'd rather be, didn't help.

It wasn't that he didn't like solving the real problems that came up in his department. He did. Really and truly, Percy enjoyed fixing things that had gone wrong. Or were going wrong, or, most blessed of events, were about to go wrong, and could be headed off with no cost to count. He just wished... that people realized he was doing it.

He wished that he didn't have to brag about himself when he went home for a family gathering, because it was the only place where he stood a chance of anybody listening, even for a moment. He was well aware of how pathetic he sounded, when the words escaped his mouth, when he tried to make his job sound more important than it was. Or more important than it was accounted by his superiors, anyway.

But what else was there to say? "Today I filed a very important stop-order that it will take the Minister of Foreign Affairs three weeks to notice, by which time the crisis will have reached mammoth proportions and it will all be blamed on my department somehow?" And of course he couldn't say, either, "Last night I entertained a man who desperately needed to feel as if he was still in control of something, and he used me to satisfy that need, and I was bloody good at it, if I do say so myself."

Certainly they wouldn't understand his pride at what he'd done, even if they'd sat still long enough for him to explain it, before even getting to whom. There were moments when Percy wasn't even sure he could understand his reasoning on that score, aside from the long lectures Livi and Devon had given him when he'd first started working there, on what the club was all about. You checked your identity, and the rest of the outside world, at the door, when it came to interactions between staff and clients. If it was what Percy enjoyed about working there, it was also what their clients enjoyed about visiting. The rest of his reasons were too difficult to put into words, even to himself. To anyone else, it would sound like a rationalization.

There was no chance he'd be telling his family about his second job, no matter how good he was at it. Just like he'd never be able to tell them that the report he was signing his name to amounted to anything, even though -- if the Minister would just read it on Monday -- it would forestall a myriad of problems.

He set the report aside, in the short stack of papers to be delivered to the Central Mail room, and reached for the next. He'd have left the rest of it for Monday, except by Monday there would be an entirely new stack of paperwork, all equally as urgent. He looked up as an owl flew into the room, and groaned. It was a large barn owl, the sort used by the Post Office. He resisted the urge to bribe the owl into not finding him. Instead, he accepted the letter, gave the bird a biscuit from his desk drawer, and wondered what part of the world was burning down or blowing up, now.

He started as he saw his mum's familiar scrawl. Why hadn't she sent Errol? No, scratch that; Errol would have taken weeks to fly a few miles, and the red haze that blinked around the writing indicated that whatever it was, was urgent. Emergency. Trouble. Everybody to the dinner table on the gallop, trouble. So she'd summoned a quick-delivery postal owl. But what was so urgent?

As he scanned quickly over the lines, Percy began to regret that certain words were considered inappropriate in both wizard and Muggle households -- because the last thing he wanted to have his mum hear as he Apparated into the Burrow was "Fuck, what's Ron got himself into now?" Percy Weasley didn't say things like that.

He held his tongue, though only just, and slid his wand from his sleeve, thankful that at least he had a valid excuse for putting off the flying carpets and the disappearing cobbie shop and the advertisements for a new minister of International Magical Cooperation that had to be rewritten for the third time. He wondered as his mother's kitchen shimmered into place around him, just when he'd started being grateful for reasons to avoid the office.

He was startled to find Bill and Charlie standing in the doorway of the kitchen. He could hear their mother in the living room, already ranting in full voice. "...can't believe... what on earth... what will we..." came to him, through the raised voices of his younger brothers, and his father, all apparently trying to get words in edgewise.

"Calm down, Molly!" his father was saying, to no avail. "We'll get things sorted out!"

"You know he planned it!" Fred was shouting. "It was a trick!"

And, above everything else, Ron's voice wailing, "I didn't do it, mum! Honest!"

Percy walked up beside his two older brothers, and looked past them at the chaos. The entire family was present, all looking upset and worried about whatever had happened to Ron. He looked over at Charlie, who just shrugged. "Haven't made heads or tails out of the shouting," he offered.

Bill shook his head as well. Percy sighed, and made his way into the living room. He probably wouldn't have much more of a chance to calm his mother down and get her to tell them what was going on than either of them, but he felt he had to give it a go, all the same. "Mother, we're all here. Some of us from farther away than others, I might add. Could you please tell us what Ron's gotten into now?" The words sounded harsh as they came out of his mouth, but honestly, the things Ron managed to do while mucking about with Harry Potter and Hermione Granger were fast catching up with the twins' record for general mayhem.

A stricken look from Ron almost had him apologizing, but his mother was already turning to him, mouth open to continue her unhelpful fussing. Percy backed swiftly towards the kitchen, while Charlie snickered briefly at him as their mum started in on Percy. "Where've you been? Your brother's in serious trouble, Percy -- we need the whole family here so we can decide what to do, and you're..."

Bill cut in, stepping into the room and laying a hand on Mrs. Weasley's arm. "Mum, you just sent the owl off three minutes ago. And we are all here. So if you'd tell us what's wrong? Please?"

Someday, Percy thought, he'd have the power to stop people in their tracks the way Bill did, with just a soft word and a touch on the arm. His mother's mouth opened and closed for a second, then she nodded. "Ron's been accused of breaking into Malfoy Manor."


"But I didn't! Well, I mean, I did, but I didn't--"

"And destroying a valuable family heirloom, while he was attempting to steal it."

"I never--"

"Mum, you know he wouldn't do anything like that!" This from George, in tandem with his twin.

"Yeah, we might, but not Ron," Fred said with a small grin. George elbowed him before their mother could round on them and berate them for making light of the situation.

It was Ginny who cut through the din this time, with a single loud wail. "I don't want Ron to go to Azkaban!"

"They don't send people there for stealing," Percy assured her. "Not unless Ron was trying to steal something very dangerous."

"I WASN'T trying to steal ANYTHING!" Ron shouted.

"Dear, we know you'd never do something like that." Their mum was trying to hold onto Ron's arm, looking worried and pale. Ron simply looked frantic. "But Lucius Malfoy saw you. And he says that urn, aside from being priceless and irreplaceable, was filled with pure Negatorium Potion."

Percy blinked. He'd not imagined the Malfoys would be licensed to have something that dangerous in their home, considering the past; Negatorium Potion, in its diluted form, could lessen the spellcasting power of an opponent, and only graduates of an accredited wizarding school were allowed to use it without supervision. In its pure state, it could remove a wizard's power permanently if he were given enough of it -- and that pure form was strictly controlled. Unlicensed use was something that could get you sent to Azkaban. Unlicensed possession... he wasn't sure. The Malfoys must have had it legally or they wouldn't have mentioned what the urn contained, but what would it mean for Ron?

Ron had opened his mouth to shout, again. Bill interrupted him, by asking, "Could someone start at the beginning?"

"All right, look, everyone calm down for a moment," their father said in the ensuing second of silence. "Molly, sit down. You too, Ron. Now, I know what Lucius told me -- I want to hear the whole thing from you, Ron." His serious look grew even more grave. "And I mean everything. This is serious trouble, and it's best you tell us what you did wrong, so we can sort this out."

Molly looked as though she was going to argue, but then she simply grabbed Ginny's hand and sat down on the sofa, pulling her two youngest children after her. Ginny tried to hang onto her in a sort of comforting manner, but it was clear to Percy that she was just as upset and confused. Fred and George stood together just to one side of Ron, looking protective and fierce. Percy could feel the tension in Bill and Charlie, still standing in the doorway. They all watched Ron, and waited.

"He took -- sorry, Draco took Harry's photographs that Hagrid got for him. You know, the ones of his folks, from all their classmates and friends. I dunno how he got 'em, but he stole them and left a note that he was taking the album home -- it said 'I dare you to come get them'." Ron looked up at his father, beseechingly. "So it was like I was invited. I think the note was meant for Harry, but with everything going on at school he didn't need one more thing to worry about. I reckoned I'd get it back for him, maybe punch Draco in the nose while I was at it."

Fred and George grinned, then looked suitably chastened when their mother gave them a sharp look.

"Oh, like Malfoy doesn't deserve a good smack," Fred muttered.

Percy shifted, uncomfortably, but didn't say anything.

"So I went 'round to Dobby, their old house-elf, and he told me how to sneak in. So, er, I did."

"Ron, what were you thinking?" Mrs. Weasley looked like she was about to jump up from the sofa again, but Ginny tugged on her arm.

"Mum, let him tell it."

Ron appeared chastened for a moment, then suddenly shifted into a defiant frown. "That photo album's the only thing Harry has of his folks, and Malfoy took it purely to hurt him. No other reason. And he invited me!" He corrected himself with a scowl, before anyone could do it for him. "All right, he invited Harry. But the note didn't specifically say Harry's name. Just that if he wanted his precious album back, he'd have to find his way through Malfoy Manor to get it. And that's all I did. Snuck in, used his invisibility cloak and a spell to keep off the Malfoys' guard bogies, and went looking for the pictures."

While the others were busy saying things like "Harry has a cloak of invisibility?" Percy was shutting his eyes and gritting his teeth. He could see it coming from a mile away. Two miles. Three. Malfoy the younger must have figured out that Harry had it, or something of the sort, and set some type of alarm, keyed to anyone using spells or items of concealment. Or perhaps there had always been such a spell, and Dobby hadn't known about it because no one had ever been foolish enough to try breaking in until now.

"Ron, why didn't you--" Arthur cut himself off, then nodded, sighing. "Go on."

Ron looked more and more uncertain, his defiance draining away as he spoke. "I searched everywhere, Draco's room, anyplace I thought he'd hide it. I couldn't find it anywhere. Then, in the library, I heard someone behind me. I turned, and the stupid vase-thing fell over. It wasn't me!" he shouted again. "I left as fast as I could, because I figured Draco wasn't in the house anywhere. When I got back, Harry's photo-album was right where he'd left it, and Draco was acting like he'd never left school grounds. Crabbe and Goyle said he'd been with them all evening." Ron glared up at his father, as if daring him to poke holes in his story.

Arthur just sighed again. Percy noticed, suddenly, that he looked old and tired. "Lucius says he saw you sneaking around, and that you deliberately dropped the urn when it was obvious you'd been caught out. With the other boys vouching for Draco, it comes down to your word against his."

"You don't believe him?" Ron asked, his voice hard, but not quite hard enough to hide the trembling.

"Course not, Ron. It's just...we've no way to prove otherwise. If all he wanted was for you to pay the damages, I'd say we'd pay it and be done--"

"But that's five hundred Galleons!" George cried. "Even if we--"

"It doesn't matter," Arthur snapped. "We could get a loan to pay it off. That's not the problem. The problem is, Malfoy is pressing charges."

There was utter silence in the room. Percy could tell this wasn't a surprise to his parents or Ron. The rest of them gaped at their father or their brother, Ginny as if her worst fears had been confirmed.

Arthur continued, "I've spoken with Dumbledore and Fudge, and it's possible that we can argue for some sort of commuted sentence -- yes, Ron, I understand you didn't do it. Until we can find a way to prove that, we have with the situation as it is."

"What sort of commuted sentence?" Ron asked, in a numb tone.

"Probably community service. Probation, that sort of thing. You're sixteen, so they could press for more. But as you've never been in trouble before..."

Ginny looked hopeful, then frowned again. "Will he have to leave Hogwarts?"

Arthur didn't even need to answer -- the apologetic sag of his face told all. Ginny buried her own face against her mother. Fred and George, predictably, reacted with shouts of "That's not fair!" and "They can't do that!"

"No, it isn't, and yes, they can," their father answered wearily. "Dumbledore believes Ron, I think, but even he isn't likely to be able to buck the Ministry if they request that Ron be expelled -- and under Lucius Malfoy's influence, I'm very much afraid that they will."

"But..." Ron's face had paled to the point that his freckles stood out like little spots of fire on his skin, before he rested his head in his hands. "What... what am I going to do? If I can't finish school, there's nothing... " He trailed off, words lost beneath the muffling of his hands and the weight of realization.

"Of course there is," Mrs. Weasley began, but Percy could see that she'd no idea what to follow that up with. There wasn't much of anything an expelled wizard could do in the wizarding world -- including being allowed to practice much in the way of magic. Hagrid had gotten lucky, in that Dumbledore had found the position of gamekeeper for him. But Hagrid had never had the Malfoys using their influence against him.

There wouldn't be any place at Hogwarts for Ron -- Lucius Malfoy would see to that.

"You can help us," Fred said, determinedly. "Business is really starting to pick up, we'll be busy enough--" He stopped, and gave their mother an somewhat apologetic look. But she didn't say anything about corrupting their brother with their evil influence, for a change.

Ron's glum look didn't change. "I didn't do it," he muttered again, but he sounded defeated.

No one said anything for several moments. Percy could see one or another family member try to think of something encouraging to say, then their face would fall and nothing would be said. Finally Charlie just shook his head. "It's too bad you can't just go back twenty four hours and tell yourself not to go after Malfoy."

Percy felt himself freeze. He looked slowly towards Charlie. "This happened yesterday?" He could feel his heart pounding. If Lucius had done this to his brother yesterday afternoon... mere hours before... He shuddered, and felt ill.

"Last night," Charlie replied. "But I doubt Dumbledore will let us borrow his time gizmo to get Ron out of this." He sounded thoughtful, though, as if thinking of a way to convince the headmaster, regardless.

Percy felt something inside him suddenly release. He stared at his brother in shock, and tried to keep from stammering out the fact that he knew Lucius Malfoy was lying.

It had been a slow night, odd for a Friday. Only Rose and Martin had clients; the rest had sat about in the staff common room, watching television and gossiping quietly about techniques and toys and the silly foibles of unnamed clients whom everyone recognised anyway.

By eight o'clock, Percy had begun to think that tonight might be a night without walk-ins as well as no scheduled sessions. That had only happened a handful of times during the months since he'd gone from nervous client to equally nervous professional, to... whatever he was now.

Those nights, he'd ended up helping with paperwork, or re-arranging a dungeon set, or, a couple of times, playing rather enjoyably with some of the other staff. After a day of Heloise's Unending Impending Doom, the thought of any of the above seemed pleasantly relaxing.

But Harold had called him, just when he was about to engage Livi in a game of draughts, and possibly try to tease her into doing terrible things to him for winning. Or losing. Whichever. Percy had shrugged; one avenue of pleasure being replaced by another was certainly nothing to be put out by. He'd made his way to the security booth, and Harold had pointed out the client waiting in one of the outer changing rooms.

"Been here since seven, that one. Strolled in the door and I was about to call you, since you're his flavour of the month, but he headed for the restaurant instead. Made quite a nosh of it, from the way Fleur tells it." Fleur was one of the waitresses at the Purple Onion, as well as Harold's girlfriend -- and an inveterate gossip.

Flavour of the month. That was one way of putting it. That was possibly the best way of putting it, since it meant that sooner than later, the man on the surveillance camera would lose interest in 'Weatherby' and move on to someone else.

Someone who didn't know who and what he was.

As Percy had headed out of the room, flipping off Livi when she called after him to "put his back...side into it", he did his best to compose himself. For this one, it wasn't enough to assume the persona -- or lack of persona -- encouraged by his work here. Each night this man appeared at the club, Percy had to wrestle again with the risk.

He'd walked down the long, undecorated hallway, trying to tell himself that going upstairs was safe enough. He wore his half-mask as required by the club, and wouldn't be commanded to remove it. He had his safeword, and the security cameras, to constrain the client. Here, he was safe. Within the club. Were he to be recognised....

What was normally a freedom, became something more, on these nights. When this client showed up and asked for him, Percy felt the delicate bonds of silk imprisoning him as surely as the robes he wore in his other life. He had no idea how to struggle out of them, knowing that his only true recourse was to submit, and endure, until such time as he fell from favour and was discarded for a new, more interesting toy.

He'd walked into his room, knelt, hands crossed behind his back, and waited. Soon the door opened, and the hush of footfalls crept up behind him. He knew the blow was coming, and simply rolled with it, allowing his body to lay as it fell. The blow had been more symbolic than rough, even though his shoulder stung.

It was the mark of ownership. Not master and servant, or even slave, but the statement that in this room, with this man, he was a tangible object, a physical asset to be listed along with the historical treasures and the modern art and the sheer acreage of real estate that the man possessed.

It was a fantasy. Percy was perfectly willing to go along with it, as he would have been for any other client. Beyond this initial blow, there was never any further attempt at humiliation -- it was all about pain and creativity. Writing out in fire upon his body a list of hidden secrets whose nature Percy could only barely fathom, and had no desire to think about.

It was not being the parchment, or offering his own blood and sweat up as the ink, that made Percy shiver when the hand touched his back a second time. It was that he knew who it was, and what the dangers were that had made Percy shiver. Not only if he were discovered, but simply to be close enough for these smooth hands to touch his naked skin. He couldn't let go, couldn't give in to the sensations, because desire it or no, he kept thinking.

He kept thinking what would happen. Kept thinking of what was happening, as his body reacted and he arched into touches, flinched away from others, as expected. The shiver of fear that coiled in his stomach was never appeased by the furious thoughts that he couldn't refuse, could give no justification to Mags why he could not be left to this man's devices.

He tried not to think about whether it was only fear that kept his mouth quiet, beyond the pride he felt, afterwards, when the man would nod and say, in a gruff, quiet voice, that he was pleased.

Percy would laugh silently to himself at the irony of it all, when he was back in his own flat with nothing and no one to see him. But here, in the clutches of his ersatz master, he could not convince himself that knowing would protect him. If it gave his moans and hisses of pain an edge of harsh reality, his client would certainly never complain.

At the end, when he was finally thrown onto his back and taken, hard and rough, he would feel the heat of the man's body and the touch of his breath on his skin, and for a moment -- for a single, unretainable moment, it would cease to make a difference. All he was, was what he'd been asked to be, and all he'd given had been taken -- if it was taken ruthlessly, or thoughtlessly, or with a careful exactness that spoke of long practice or planning, it mattered little. In that moment his screams were real, and pleasure was suffusing him, and the man who gave it to him could have been anyone, or no one.

In the moments that would follow, though, as gravity worked its way back into being, and Percy began to breathe again, the knowledge, the memory, would open up. It would speak in his head as the voice of the Sorting Hat had, once. Only it was another word that it whispered, not the "Gryffindor" that had filled his eleven year old lungs with a sigh of deeply masked relief, which the others had no doubt taken for pride.

It wasn't the sibilant name of the dark house he'd almost feared he would be sorted into, either, but it might as well have been. The snake was just as tightly twined around this word. He heard it every time, no matter how hard he tried to block it out, and he'd heard it Friday night as he'd looked up into unmasked gray eyes, hazy with exhaustion, and feared they were still sharp enough to see through silk and leather and Weatherby to the Percy below.

Malfoy, the voice of his own traitorous mind had said. Malfoy.

Percy knew, by the lack of curiosity on his brother's face, that he'd betrayed nothing in his own expression as the revelation sank in. None of his family was looking at him, concerned more with their second youngest. Percy's mind was already whirling, trying to piece together what he'd heard, and what he knew.

He kept his silence with ease, no danger of blurting out that it couldn't be true, that Ron was being framed. But how...why.... What was he to do? How could he tell anyone what he knew?

He glanced at Ron and the severity of the situation hit him once more. How could he possibly not tell?

Percy took a deep breath and started to make his decision. He wasn't entirely sure what form it would take -- telling as few people as possible, that was certain. But whom could he tell, that would clear the matter? His father? The authorities? That was a laugh -- he would only get himself arrested along with Ron.

He was sure that his working in the Muggle world was a violation of at least half a dozen ordinances, the risks they would believe he was taking by having Muggle friends. Percy knew there was no risk there, but who else would? Would his father agree, who thought well of Muggles -- and their inventions? Even if he did, the authorities would doubtless take a dimmer view of his activities. Before they even learned what those activities were.

There was one person he could tell. It would be dangerous, and would cost him his place at the Chamber. But if blackmailing Lucius Malfoy would free his little brother, then he would simply have to do it.

He had to stifle a half-hysterical laugh as the thought bounced through his brain that he should probably ask Fred and George for tips.

Luckily everyone was too busy looking at Ron, trying to convince him and each other that things would work out, to see the undoubtedly insane expression that Percy felt on his face for a moment, before he clamped down on his stupidity, and tried to slip quietly into the kitchen.

He would have made it, if it weren't for that third eye that all mothers seemed to possess, wizard or Muggle. Just as he'd managed to slide past Charlie, who was trying to convince Ron that he could find a place for him among the dragon handlers, his mother whirled around and pointed a finger at him. "Where are you going, Percy?"

"I thought..." Quickly, was how he needed to think. "I thought I might see if there's someone I can talk to at the Ministry. I'm not utterly without influence, you know. Sometimes it's those of us who work behind the scenes who can get things accomplished that..." Percy could feel himself shrinking inwardly, even as his body stretched itself to its full height, as if in defense. He wasn't even serious about going back to work; it was just an excuse, and still his need to make himself seem important betrayed him. Here in the house amongst the crowd of bodies and voices, he reverted to the need to polish his Head Boy badge on pure instinct.

His father was shaking his head. "It's good of you to think of it, son, but I can't see what you'd be able to get done today. I'll lay odds there was nobody in your office on a Saturday but you. Best let me try to call in what favours I can, eh? " Arthur was smiling, but Percy could see, and hoped Ron couldn't, that he didn't hold out much thought of success.

"It wouldn't hurt for me to go, as well," Percy began, but he realised that should his father prove successful, it would save him from having to confront Lucius. He didn't argue when his father insisted on going.

"You children must all be starving," his mum exclaimed, as soon as Arthur Apparated. Percy had seen her glance towards the clock -- verifying that her husband had actually gone to work? -- before she'd shooed him and his older brothers out of her way. "I'd best get some lunch put together, now let's see...."

Percy watched her enter the kitchen and look about, taking stock of what she had and what she could do. Percy rather doubted anyone was starving, but it would keep her occupied and feeling as if she were doing something helpful.

None of his siblings moved, or spoke -- all of them seemed to be trying to avoid staring at Ron, but they didn't quite seem to be able to help themselves. After a minute, Charlie tried again to tell Ron about handling dragons, how all you needed was determination and a good loud spell-shouting voice.

Fred and George soon started in again with their shop, in quieter voices and with frequent glances towards the kitchen. Even Bill moved forward to offer a position as an assistant, pointing out that often as not treasure hunting was simply hard work and digging, rather than spell-casting. Ginny joined in with a promise to share her textbooks, and teach him everything she learned at Hogwarts by Owl, so he wouldn't miss anything.

Percy could only stand there and watch. What had he to offer? A place to sleep in his tiny, one-room flat? A position as a copy boy, or messenger? A job at the Ministry wasn't anything Ron -- or any of his siblings -- had ever wanted, so it wasn't like any offer he could make would be well-received.

If he thought Ron wouldn't faint dead away at the mere mention, or that his parents wouldn't kill him, or that he wouldn't threaten anyone who looked at his little brother the wrong way, he'd suggest applying at The Chamber.

Ron was old enough to work there -- though anybody who looked at that pale, frightened face would hardly get that impression. Right now he looked about twelve and small for his age, as he sat on the sofa next to Ginny. Barely old enough to think about the sort of things Percy -- or rather, Weatherby, did every weekend.

Percy kept silent, because there was nothing for him to say. In truth, he had no ministry contacts that would do any good if his Dad's didn't pan out. He had only the one thing, and if any of them knew about it, if Ron knew about it, he'd think even less of Percy than he did now.

Eventually, after soup and cocoa, then a fatherless dinner came and went, Percy was able to disappear upstairs to his old room. No one missed him, now that Mum had decided to fix on cooking and cleaning as her mental salvation, instead of insisting on family togetherness. Lying in his old bed, which miraculously hadn't been folded up and shoved away somewhere to make room for Dad's newest Muggle artifact tinkering project, he heard the sounds of his brothers, his mother, his sister, alternately fussing and comforting, and wished that he could make those sounds comfort him. The walls of his little room made him feel trapped and alone, and frightened that he was going to lose the only place in the world where he did feel safe.

It would be funny, if it weren't so pathetic, that he was more afraid of losing his place at the Chamber than he was of confronting Lucius Malfoy. Only by a fraction of a sliver, and he suspected strongly that said sliver might shrink away to nothing once he was face to unmasked face with Malfoy.

Let there be somebody who can help besides me, he asked, and he wasn't sure who he was asking, besides the faded blue paint on his bedroom walls. He whispered it over and over, until his thoughts faded away to nothing.

Finally, he heard his father's return. He stole out of his room and down the stairs, stopping just out of sight of his family. There were several voices all asking at once, quieted only by his father's voice saying, "I'm sorry, Ron. There's nothing anyone can do."

Percy felt his insides freeze. As if his body had turned to ice, inside, with a formless shell outside, barely holding everything in. He forced himself to tiptoe back upstairs, skipping the loose step. When he entered his old bedroom, he knew he had no other choice. He ought to go downstairs, he thought. Say...something to them. Not an explanation, but he ought to say something that would serve as an apology. Or a goodbye.

But he couldn't, not without arousing enough suspicion that he might not be able to leave at all, without telling them everything. There was still a chance they would never have to know, and Percy had to grasp frantically for that one slim hope. His family might not be much, but it would be all he would have left once he lost his friends, and the Chamber.

He stood in the middle of his old room, and was struck by how sparsely and neatly it was arranged. Nothing like his brothers' rooms, filled to bursting with childhood memories. All he could see was a bookshelf of old Hogwarts texts, a few photographs of family members, and scraps of scrolls and vials left over from his schoolwork. The only thing not academically related was the Quidditch broom he'd outgrown, and the ticket stub and souvenirs left over from the World Cup.

He left it all behind, and Apparated.

His first stop was his flat. Percy grabbed a few items he knew he would need, before Apparating again to a spot in an alley. Then he went to a phone and rang Mags, telling her he wouldn't be in that night. He begged off sick, and felt only worse when she wished him well and to take care of himself.

Then he went back into the alleyway, took a deep breath, and told himself there was no other choice. He pictured the address in his mind, closed his eyes, and though he'd never seen the front gates of Malfoy Manor in his life, Percy knew exactly where he was standing when he opened them.

The gargoyle at the gate looked at him as if he'd just been discovered at the bottom of a particularly large and pungent pile of dragon dung. "What's your business here? Past the hour when decent folk should be out."

"I...need to see Mr. Malfoy." Percy wondered what sort of folk the Malfoys' guardian beast would consider decent, but wasn't about to ask.

"I'm not waking the Master at this hour --"

Percy cut the creature off with a wave of his wand and a Null Vox spell. He didn't have time to argue with animated stone. "Your job is to announce visitors, and keep out the ones he doesn't want to see. He will want to see me, so I think you better announce me if you'd like to remain a gate guardian instead of having a gutter running out of your mouth."

Sometimes the experience of having to quell unruly first-years and younger brothers could come in handy. When Percy released the creature's voice, it announced him with a minimum of eye-bulging and tongue-sticking-out. Percy couldn't hear the reply that the thing picked up with its huge granite bat-ears, but apparently Lucius was interested enough to wonder why one of Arthur Weasley's sons dared to stand at his front gate in the middle of the night, because the gargoyle let him through.

"He'll see you in the red parlour. Don't break any knick-knacks on your way in," the thing said grumpily.

Percy gave the gargoyle the briefest acknowledgment he could, and proceeded inside. He was three steps in before he realised he had no clue where the red parlour lay -- but going to ask the gargoyle would no doubt only get him scoffed at. He continued on, going further into the house, sure that if he didn't find the parlour, Lucius would find him.

A glance inside the first room to the right showed it to be a dark, eerily decorated room. It looked like a library, though not a well stocked one. Not red, and not exactly like what Percy expected a parlour to look like. He left the room and went down to the next open doorway. This room proved to be decorated entirely in blue, and was obviously a woman's reception room. Narcissa's parlour, then. Percy left it, as well, trying not to think of what visitors Mrs. Malfoy would entertain.

He had nearly reached the third doorway when he heard a rude noise. Then, "I should have known better than to leave a Weasley free to wander about my house. Looking for something to break?"

Percy felt his heart stammer, but he turned around slowly. Lucius was standing in a doorway across the wide hall, watching him with undisguised annoyance. He looked nothing like the way he did when he came to the Chamber, Percy saw. Dressed in a long black robe, and wearing an expression of such arrogant superiority that one might have thought he looked exactly the same, everywhere.

But Percy realised he'd seen other looks in this man's eyes. Burning with need, hot with the force of his own actions, the anger and arrogance had been there, though tempered with what Percy realised was an understanding. Of what, he couldn't exactly say. But it was something, and it made what he had to say somehow, ironically, easier.

"What do you want?" Lucius snapped. "I haven't got all night. If you're here to beg for your brother--" He stopped as Percy pulled his hand out of his pocket, and handed Lucius his mask.

Lucius held it for a moment, turning the soft cloth over in his hands. Percy watched the realisation spread across his face. The shock -- and was it fear? Too quick to tell, as whatever genuine expression Malfoy was capable of disappeared, to be replaced by that smug arrogance again. Was it a mask, as much as the piece of cloth in his hands? Percy could only hope so, only hope there was more fear hidden in the shadowed heart of a Death Eater than there was in his own. A fraction of a sliver, even.

Lucius laughed, and though Percy had thought he couldn't feel any colder, in this house, in front of this man, he was wrong. Too cold even to shiver. "Weatherby," he said, in acknowledgment. Then he laughed again. "It's a very good name."

Percy forced himself to look Lucius directly in the face. "My name is Percy Weasley."

"Yes," Lucius replied, not quite nodding. His eyes narrowed. "You're here about your brother, aren't you?"

"He didn't do what you're saying he did. You didn't see him."

For a moment, Lucius simply stared back at him. As if the battle were being held there, in the strength of their gazes, until finally Lucius broke the engagement of force by smiling. "And you're going to tell the authorities where I was? Tell your father and mother how it is you know where I was?" His voice was ugly and taunting, and Percy wondered just how much of the voice he'd heard in his small room at the club was the real one.

Percy just nodded, not feeling nearly as brave as he was pretending.

Lucius laughed. "And what do you think they'll say? Trade the reputation of one son for another? Is that a fair trade, Weatherby?"

"You're going to ruin Ron," Percy replied as flatly as he could manage. "Not just his reputation. I can't let you do that. My reputation hardly matters."

Lucius raised an eyebrow, and Percy thought he saw a flicker of doubt in his eyes. "You think your father would prefer to have it bandied around that his son is a whore? Is that much better than a thief and a vandal?"

"And how will anyone find out what I am, without also finding out what you are?" Percy replied, still evenly, but still dearly wishing he dared tremble -- or run.

Lucius didn't respond immediately, and Percy suddenly had hope that this might, after all, work. This might be a Malfoy before him, with all the money and power that came with that name, but this was also a man balanced on the thin edge of being trusted by his peers. Former supporter of the Dark One. And according to Harry's account of who was present on the night of Voldemort's rising, still tied to his call; no doubt his comrades would be less forgiving of his transgressions with Muggles, than the Ministry.

Trapped, possibly, as trapped as Percy felt in this situation. Or perhaps he was willingly awaiting the formal choosing of sides, truly loyal instead of just fearful. Until it happened, though, until the insanity broke out again, Lucius Malfoy had a place to maintain in this world.

Was he willing to risk it for what amounted to a petty grudge against Percy's father? How much did that place in the world mean to Lucius -- as much as Percy's place at the Chamber meant to him?

A look, now, that Percy couldn't quite gauge. "I think you're trying to bluff me, 'Weatherby'. It's a good job, but you're just too much of a crawler at heart to pull it off. You crawled for that fool Crouch at the Ministry, and the succession of lackwits who've followed him, and when that wasn't enough humiliation, you went looking for a place to do it professionally. Why should I believe you suddenly have the backbone to stand up to me?"

"Because now my brother is at stake. Would you ever doubt that my family is important to me?" Percy asked quietly.

Lucius seemed to consider the question seriously. Then his eyes narrowed. "And what of your job? You know you'll lose that, too. I seem to recall being told I would have no repercussions of my account with the establishment. I do believe I should have you fired."

"It isn't worth Ron's future," Percy repeated. He ignored the despair that hit him. Truly, Lucius could go to Mags and -- without revealing anything damning of his own activities -- tell her what Percy had done. He had signed an agreement not to do exactly what he was doing, now, at the risk of his employment.

But he'd known that, before he'd ever arrived. He simply hadn't let himself dwell on it. He shrugged, as if it meant nothing. "I can find what I want other places -- they'll take me as a customer, and won't ask questions at all." Not that he could afford to be a customer very often, at the only places he would dare patronize. But it was an honest reply to Lucius' threat, and one he should believe.

"So. You'll give up everything...your job, your reputation--"

"I believe I've made my position clear," Percy interrupted. "No matter what you do to me, Lucius, it won't stop me from telling them where you were last night. What you were doing -- and how often you've been doing it. They won't be able to believe it was a one time aberration, when I explain you've been whipping me and fucking me nearly every other Friday night for the last two months."

There was something in Lucius' eyes, briefly, that might have been respect, or perhaps just surprise. Lucius Malfoy might say "whore" with the ease of one long-trained to name things by their most base appellations, but Percy Weasley didn't say "fuck" -- and Weatherby never spoke, in Lucius' presence.

Lucius stared at him for a moment longer, then, with an odd twist of his lip, something between a sneer and a smile, he held out his hand, offering the mask back to him. Percy reached for it, unsure of what was meant by the gesture-- but Lucius pulled his hand away. Then he crumpled the mask in his fist, before dropping it to the floor. Percy looked down at it, then up again at Lucius.

"Leave my house," was all that he said, before turning around with a swirl of his robe, and walking out the door. He didn't even look back to watch Percy pick up the mask, and smooth it between his fingers.

Percy Apparated directly home. He felt numb, and for a moment he just stood in the middle of what passed for a living area -- just enough room to walk from the bed to the table. In a detached, faintly amused way he realised that Lucius hadn't actually said whether he would accede to Percy's demand. It was certain, however, that Lucius would follow through with his own threat.

He hated the thought of Mags learning what he'd done from Malfoy. Since the Muggle woman had no way of contacting him -- his flat wasn't wired for a phone, wasn't wired for Muggle anything -- he would have to contact her. There was no way he could do this over the phone, though.

He put the mask away, carefully placing it back in the small trunk beneath the bed. For a moment he just looked at it, not knowing if he would ever take it out again. As he closed the trunk lid, his hand still resting on the smooth wood, Percy couldn't take his hand away. He wanted to reach in and grab his mask, go to the Chamber as if it were any other work night, and say he was no longer sick. But that was really rather pathetic, he told himself. Asking for one last night, when all he was scheduled to do was sit in the security control room and keep an eye on the monitors.

Percy pushed himself to his feet and dropped his robe on the bed. Dressed only now in his jeans and t-shirt, he forced his head up in a semblance of pride, and Apparated to his usual spot to catch the bus.

It took everything Percy had, to walk in the door. To pass Colin, with his friendly greeting and his concerned queries after Percy's health, and be able to respond with a weak smile and the assurance that no, he wasn't planning to work when he wasn't feeling well, he just needed to talk to Mags. He made it inside without seeing anyone else, and went directly to the small, horribly untidy room that she called her office and the rest of the staff called, "Mags's Haystack" because she was the only one able to find the proverbial needle, or last month's laundry receipt, in all the jumble. Percy kept threatening to rearrange it for her, and she always swore that if he did, she'd tell Colin that Percy had a crush on him. Which was utterly untrue. Mostly.

Mags was holding her glasses in one hand, and rubbing at her eyes with the other. When Percy entered, she looked up. "Percy? What're you doing here? I thought you were ill."

"I-- I need to talk to you." He remained standing by the door, half-waiting for the invitation to come in, and half-hoping she would tell him to scram.

But she just leant back in her chair and looked at him. She slipped her glasses back on, and searched his face. "Go on, then, sit down. You're not contagious, are you?" she asked quickly. Percy shook his head, and couldn't quite look her in the face. He heard her sigh, then she asked, kindly, "Well? What did you need to talk to me about?"

He had to open his mouth twice before he could get any sound to come out. He'd spent the commute over trying to decide how best to handle this. He'd thought of several short speeches, two of which were actually pretty good, but he couldn't quite bring himself to say any of them.

"Percy, are you in some kind of trouble?" Mags asked.

He could only nod.

"Something I can help with?" Her expression was too kind, and her muddy-coloured eyes too large behind the glasses, for Percy to look at through his own lenses with their Perfect Vision spell. He didn't want perfect vision, right now. He sat down in the guest chair, miraculously clutter-free, and closed his eyes.

"I've... I think I'm going to have to quit."

Mags was silent, for a beat. Then two beats. Three. Percy at last had to open his eyes, to see why she wasn't answering. Wasn't telling him of course, she understood, things like this came up, she could find the severance forms if he gave her a moment.... He also had to see her face because if he kept his eyes closed, he might be able to go through with not telling her why he was leaving. Just taking his last checque and walking out the door. Never having to see her again after Lucius came to explain what Percy couldn't.

But he could, and he had to, because Mags deserved better than that, so Percy did open his eyes and looked at her. She was studying him carefully, left hand twisting up the short, skinny plait that was the only hair on her head longer than a quarter inch. She always did that when she was trying to puzzle out something, like where the extra sausages from the staff room kept disappearing to. She'd never tried to catch Rose feeding them to the ginger cat that skulked about the alley behind the club, but Percy knew she knew. She was shrewd that way, for all that she came off as the leatherworld's version of...well, Percy's Mum.

"If somebody knows about you working here, and is trying to blackmail you..." she began.

His felt his stomach tighten. "No, I...." He couldn't force his voice any louder, as he whispered, "I did."

There was a lengthy pause. In a tone of disbelief and mild shock, Mags said, "You what?"

"I...I did. Told one of my clients I knew...that I'd tell his peers that he was a regular visitor here." He swallowed, and the words came tumbling out. "I went to his house and told him. That I'd tell."

Mags stared at him, her eyes gone wide. "Percy...why?"

"I had to. I'm sorry. I know what I've done, I know I've violated my contract and your trust in me. That's why I've come to quit, rather than wait 'til he tells you what I did, and have you fire me. I'm-- I'm sorry, Mags." Then he did finally glance away, unable to keep looking at her, seeing that frozen expression of shock and disappointment on her face. He thought perhaps he should just stand up and go, and spare her the need to throw him out.

"Percy, why did you do it?" she repeated, firmly. He realised there was no escaping, until he'd confessed it all.

"I know him -- outside of the club." He'd almost said 'in real life' -- but the wizard world was as far from what Mags would think of as real life, as the world inside the Chamber was. "Not well, at least not well enough for him to recognize me with a mask on, but I know... more than I want to about him. He's...." But there wasn't much he could say about Lucius, to tell her what sort of man he was, what sort of things he'd done. Nothing he could repeat to a Muggle; nothing she'd be likely to believe, at any rate. "He's not a very pleasant person," Percy finally said.

Mags raised an eyebrow, and looked like she wanted to snort, then remembered this was serious. "A right bastard, in other words." She shook her head, and Percy had the feeling she'd guessed who it might be. "I know you well enough to know you didn't threaten a man just because you don't like him, Percy. So why?"

"He's accused my brother, the youngest, of something he didn't do - wouldn't have done. It'll ruin him. He'll be expelled from school, probably never be able to find a job his field. And Lu-- the client, knows that my brother didn't do it."

"Why's he trying to fit your brother up, then?" She sounded as if she believed him -- which was nice, but it didn't change the fact that he'd straight-out violated one of the main clauses in his hiring contract. One of the principles that allowed the Chamber to operate: you don't know the clients when you walk out the door, and they don't know you.

"He...he knows my father. They don't get along -- politics, mostly. Although I think there's something from when they were in school...." Percy trailed off, not wanting to get into the speculation he only had from overheard snatches of conversation, and those mostly as a child.

"So he's gone after your brother, to get at your father? And you threatened to tell about his activities here, if he didn't lay off?" Mags summed up the situation rather succinctly.

Percy nodded. "Father call in some favours. But he couldn't do anything. Ron might've even...well, he's sixteen. He could have been held legally responsible." The Department of Magical Law Enforcement might well see fit to give Ron a severe sentence, if coached to do so by Malfoy. Percy tried to force back the realisation that he might have ensured Lucius would press for that very thing, now. Since Percy had visited.... To distract himself, he continued talking. "I went to tell him I knew where he was. He'd said he saw my brother actually committing the crime. But he wasn't; he was here last night."

The sad little half-smile, that Percy had taken to mean, 'I understand, but there's no way I can let you stay here after this,' disappeared from Mags' mouth. She frowned. "He was here... So wait a minute -- you told him what? That you'd testify as to where he was, if he pressed charges?"

Percy nodded. He'd hoped finally being able to explain things, having it out and said, would make him feel less miserable, but it didn't. The nastiness was still coiled up like a Slytherin snake in his belly, the word Malfoy still mocking him somewhere in the space between his ears. "I almost wish I didn't know where he was. That I wasn't in the middle of all this. I didn't want to see him last night; didn't want to see him again after the first time, but he seemed to be taken with me, and I know what he's like if you tell him he can't have something, so I played it through. Hoped he'd get tired of me before he managed to figure out who I am. Now I wish... wish he'd got tired of me last week, even though that'd mean no one would be able to help my brother. That really sounds awful doesn't it?"

Percy hadn't thought he could come up with anything more shameful than having betrayed everything about this place, betrayed these people who had taken him in and given him a feeling of safety, of worth, of belonging. Trust the brilliant Percy Weasley mind to come up with something worse, and the idiot Percy Weasley mouth to let it out before he could stop himself.

But Mags surprised him, with the gentleness in her voice. "Percy, luv, you didn't blackmail him. Testifying in court...well, that'd be the legal thing to do, wouldn't it? We're not clergy, here. We're not obligated by a higher power to keep our council when the law is involved." She paused. Then, in a scolding tone that was caught between light teasing and stern disapproval, she said, "For that matter, if you don't wish to be with a client, for any reason, you tell me. I told you that when you were hired. Percy, do you understand?"

Percy looked up at her, confused. Hadn't she been listening to him? He'd threatened Lucius -- threatened to tell everyone where he had been, in order to keep him quiet. Did it matter that he was also willing to tell the authorities, or just a few select Ministers?

She gave him a stern look, and he quailed. She folded her hands on top of her desk and faced him straight on, reminding him now of Professor McGonagall, than his mother. "Percy, you haven't violated your contract. Testifying to your brother's innocence, testifying that this man is lying -- there's nothing wrong with any of it. You're not blackmailing him -- you're not asking for a payoff or favours. You're pointing out that there's no way he could know if your brother did it."

Percy felt his jaw drop. It surprised him when she didn't reach over and prop it back up into position, or point out that he was gaping quite absurdly. What was the expression, from that movie Livi had made them watch? Right. Not a cod fish. He barely dared ask, "Does...that mean I don't...have to quit?"

"Of course you don't -- Percy, we've had safeguards against this sort of thing for years, just in case any of the staff ever gets in a jam like this. We've got both a solicitor and a criminal defense attorney ready to back up any staff member who ever has to testify or press charges against a client. Didn't you look at those papers you signed when you hired on?"

He had, yes, but Percy was hardly an expert on Muggle legalese, no matter how good he'd gotten at weeding through political wizarding jargon to figure out what his bosses were actually talking about. He'd just assumed the legal specifications were to protect the Chamber from any damages incurred by individual staff members. Formalities. "You actually found lawyers willing to associate themselves with..." Percy searched for a word, and when one didn't come, he shrugged. "With people like us?"

Mags grinned. "They have to -- I know all their dirty little secrets, including who spattered pudding on the ceiling when he was three, and where Dad's paisley tie finally ended up. They're my brothers." She pursed her lips, then grinned again. "Actually, you might've met one of them. Tall, black hair, likes to play the very bottom in threesomes?"

Percy blinked, and tried very hard not to remember someone who fit the description. It wasn't difficult, even though there was a face swimming vaguely in his memory. The image was overwhelmed by his confusion and relief, and the unshakable gnawing fear that he was still misunderstanding something, or Mags was.

It couldn't be this easy, could it? He couldn't possibly be able to save Ron without losing everything else, could he?

Somehow, what slipped out of his mouth was, "I've had sex with your brother?"

Mags grinned, and Percy fought the urge to hide his face in his hands. "Don't worry - I won't demand to know your intentions." She paused, then added, "He said you were very--"

"Stop! Please. I don't think I want to hear you say whatever it is you're about to say."

Mags laughed. "Percy, you can't possibly still be this shy!" She continued laughing, as Percy went ahead and put his face into his hands.

"I'm not. Except with my boss. Oh god, this isn't what Martin meant by 'performance review'?"

Mags just kept laughing delightedly, and Percy didn't know if that was supposed to be reassuring, or not. Of course, it would certainly make for a much more pleasurable well as one he was sure he could pass, unlike whatever he'd have to undergo at the Ministry. Since reviews would have to wait until the new Minister was in place, and the resulting chaos from that died down, he probably wouldn't.... He realised he was distracting himself, and it wasn't really necessary anymore.

He started to smile. "I can't tell you how much this means to me."

"That my brother thinks you're great in bed? Or against a wall, possibly? I'll mention it to Lionel the next time I see him." She stopped laughing when she realized he was serious. "Percy, you're entitled to our support. Not just because you're a good employee, but because you're a friend. We take care of our own. If you need Robert or Lionel to represent you or your brother, or to go have a quiet talk with this client..."

Percy shook his head quickly. "No, I don't think he'll press charges now." At least, not in a place where Muggle attorneys could do any good -- if he was angry enough at Percy's threat to risk his own reputation by trying to call a nonexistent bluff...

Then what did Percy have to lose, now? Except his family's respect, and when had he ever had that, in the first place? There was a tiny pinch in his heart, not enough to mar his dazed happiness that he wouldn't be forced to leave the Chamber. Just a little stab at the thought that Mags's family approved of what she was doing. Supported her. Were even part of the business, in their own way.

But then he heard her, as loud in his head as if he'd opened a Howler and her voice were pouring out of it: 'We take care of our own.' He hadn't even noticed, in the months he'd been here, that he'd become one of their own.

It was good to be somebody's own, and if it couldn't be his own family, he couldn't think of better people to be those somebodies, than his friends here. He smiled, very slowly, as the impact of her words sank in. One of their own. Even if they could never know everything about him, could never judge him or his life outside the Chamber, they had judged and accepted what they knew. "Thank you."

"There, now, you're going to be all right, then?" When Percy nodded, she smiled. "Good. I expect you'll be wanting to get back to your family, let them know the good news?"

Percy felt his smile freeze. "Yes. Yes, I should."

Percy arrived at the Burrow late. He Apparated directly into his old bedroom, not sure who would still be awake and not wanting anyone to know he'd been out. It was nearly midnight, and he didn't think that even the stress of the day would keep his family awake and downstairs all night. He didn't doubt Ron was lying awake in bed, or that their mum was doing the same.

He was surprised, then, when he heard someone coming up the stairs. Percy hurried towards his bed, realising belatedly that he'd left his robe at his flat -- he hadn't gone home, instead Apparating directly here from the alley near his usual bus stop, after leaving the Chamber. He made it as far as sitting down to kick off his trainers, when someone knocked on his door before pushing it open.

He looked up to see his mum standing there. She was still fully dressed, as if she hadn't even gone to bed. She must have been sitting up, worrying over Ron. He jumped to his feet. "I'm sorry, mum. I was only--"

"Yes, I know. Gone to the office, did you? The clock still works, even when you don't live here," she reminded him, in a flat voice. Percy realised that he must have worried her, and started to apologise again. "We're waiting for your father to return," she cut him off, in the same tone. Ah. It wasn't him she was worried for, at all.

"Where's father gone?" He followed her out of the room, and back down the stairs. One lamp was on, and the living room fire was brightly lit. Everyone was sitting up, waiting. Ron was even paler than he'd been earlier, and Bill sat beside him, saying something quietly.

Fred and George were pacing, muttering darkly to each other -- it sounded like they were making a list of things to do to the Malfoys. Ginny lay curled up in their mum's favorite chair, her head on the arm, ignoring the shawl that was trying to wrap itself around her shoulders, and slipping off.

Ron glanced up as they came down the stairs into the room, but said nothing. "Where's dad gone?" Percy asked. He was shocked at the heat of the glares that he received from his siblings.

"If you'd been here, you'd know," George snapped. "Chance'd be a fine thing, you sticking around to hear about one of your own family. No, reckon you had a report due on feather floating."

Percy's fist curled, and he wished, for a moment, that he could have snapped back. Told George off, just once. He swallowed his anger, though, and waited for someone to answer his question.

"An owl came," his mother said. "From Lucius Malfoy. The message said he had something to discuss."

Percy felt all the blood drain away from his face. "Did he... did it say what?" he managed to stammer.

She shook her head.

"No, but we all know what it's about, don't we?" Fred turned round and glared at Percy; undoubtedly some of it was resentment that he hadn't been there, but knowing Fred, most of it was simply that Percy was the nearest glare-at-able person. "He's going to lord it over Dad, try to make him beg for mercy, then laugh in his face. Bastard."

It said something about how worried Molly was, that she didn't box Fred's ears for language -- or even try to assure them he was wrong. Instead she simply glanced at the clock, and shook her head.

"He might not," Percy began. Then he stopped. What was he going to say? If Lucius was telling his father the truth, then the whole family would know, soon. Should he try to do for them what he had done for Mags? Let at least his mother and siblings know what Malfoy was throwing in their father's face? But there was still the hope that his threat had worked -- and that shut his mouth around anything further he might have said.

Of course, that left his statement dangling in the air, which sounded utterly ridiculous, and Percy wasn't the only one to realize this.

"Oh, for God's sake, Percy, what d'you think he'll do? Suddenly see the light and vow never to do evil again, because Dad tells him it's wrong to be mean to little boys? I thought you were supposed to be the genius around here," Fred retorted.

Percy just clamped his mouth shut even tighter. Sometimes, like now, he wondered why he even wanted his siblings to appreciate him. Fred was a perfect example of everything he didn't want to hear, didn't want to be around. He thought of Mags's brothers -- supportive to the point that they participated in her life. Supported her by offering their professional services to her business. What would his brothers ever offer him?

What had they ever offered him? Insults? Derision? He stepped back, away from the others. Perhaps he should just leave, and let his father tell them whatever he wanted. Whatever Lucius had told him, his father could share, and to hell with how much was truth and how much Lucius had fabricated to make Percy look even worse. He didn't care what they thought of him.

It wasn't too late to go back to the Chamber and sit in the staff room for an hour or three. He could help Mags with her paperwork, or go clean rooms, or just sit and talk and watch the telly. Of course, it felt somewhat like storming out of the room like a five year old, stomping his feet because no one wanted to play with him. He didn't move, and kept all expression from his face. They didn't need to hear his tantrum -- not with Ron's future crashing down around him.

Percy found himself an empty seat -- not difficult, with half the family either pacing or huddling together. He sat near the window and looked out at the back garden, and tried to distract himself by imagining how much damage the gnomes were getting up to out there while everyone was busy being miserable inside. It wasn't a good distraction, but it kept him from saying anything he was fairly sure he'd regret in the morning. Every so often, like everyone else, he'd glance at the clock.

His timing was good -- an hour later, he happened to look up just as the hand with his father's name on it moved from "Work" to "Traveling" to "Home". Percy had a second to blink and swallow, before Mr. Weasley was suddenly standing in the middle of the room.

There was another second of utter silence, before the chorus of voices began. "Dad! What'd he say?"



Only Percy and, oddly, Ron, were silent. Percy could well understand the flutter of fear that closed his brother's throat -- he'd felt it enough times tonight, himself. He was feeling it now, as he scanned his father's face.

Everyone fell silent as Arthur's expression moved from a slightly puzzled a broad smile. Fred and George were whooping before he could even speak a word. Their mother had to shout them down. "Quiet! Boys, we have to hear what happened! Oh, Arthur! What did he say?"

She'd grabbed Ron around the shoulders, holding him in front of her like she was afraid someone would come through the door and try to take him away. Percy tried to make himself look relieved. It was hard, when all he felt was ill.

"Lucius...Lucius said that he'd talked to his son in the last few hours, and found out Ron's story was true."

"Well, of course it was true!" Ron shouted.

"He also said that he'd been mistaken, that one of his house-elves had knocked over the urn with the Negatorium Potion, completely by accident, while it was following Ron about." Arthur shook his head wonderingly, and didn't seem to hear any of the surprised demands for explanation. "I asked him to say it twice...would have asked a third time, but he said he had things to do." He blinked, as if coming out of a trance, and looked at his wife, then his youngest son. "He's dropped the charges. Rufus Gilmartin from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was there, himself, to take his signed statement to that effect."

"Well, I said I never touched it," Ron reminded him.

"Yeah, and we believed you," Fred told him, "But why--" He shook his head, and the questioning expression was replaced by a broad grin, before both twins were suddenly hugging Ron. Or trying to, because Ginny had got there first, and their mother hadn't let go either.

Then there was general cheering and hugging and tears of relief; at least there were tears on Ginny and Mum's parts, and Percy thought he saw something glinting in his Dad's eyes as well. Percy himself managed to avoid most of the back-slapping, though there was a moment when he and Ron were face to face, and he could think of nothing more intelligent than to shake his brother's hand.

Ron looked at his extended hand as if it were a haddock, or perhaps a shrieking eel, and Percy wanted to take it back. He knew it was awkward and ridiculous, but he was trying. Trying not to flee the Burrow and the happiness that he didn't know how to feel a part of, though he knew he should be rejoicing along with the rest. But Ron did shake his hand, clumsily, before being swept away into a waltz around the room with Ginny. "Gin, let me loose, I've got to send Pig with a message to Harry, let everyone at school know I'm all right," Ron tried to protest.

But she didn't let him go, right away. Percy saw Fred dash upstairs, returning soon after with a piece of parchment and a quill, and Pig careening through the air around his head, hooting happily as if joining in the celebration. Ron tried to reach for the quill, but George took it, instead. He began scribbling a note, grinning as Ron protested. "Come on, George! If I don't write it they'll think you've stuffed me in a trunk somewhere, to keep me safe!"

"Hey! Why didn't we think of that?" Fred asked, grinning.

"Arthur, Arthur, I don't understand," their mum was still repeating.

After a second, Ron turned to their father as well, shushing both laughing siblings and hooting owl. "Yeah, I guess I don't either. I mean, it's great that somebody finally caught Malfoy, Draco, that is, at one of his games and took him down a peg. But why'd his dad say he saw me there, when he didn't?"

Arthur answered, suddenly looking tired again. "Because he wanted to take the chance to get one of my family in trouble, regardless of the truth, I fear. I suppose I'm partially to blame; he's always wanted to make a fool of me, though I've never understood why."

There was an instant chorus of 'Nonsense,' and 'It's not your fault that he's a rotter,' and the like, while their mother asked the question Percy had been hoping would remain unspoken: "But if that's so, why did he drop the charges?" She wasn't trying to make herself heard over the ruckus, Percy could tell. But his father answered her all the same.

By turning to him. "Percy? Why exactly did Lucius drop the charges?"

The noise fell away instantly, as everyone turned to look at Percy. Expressions of surprise, disbelief, and amazement slammed into him as he tried to return his family's incredulous stares.

For a short while, everything had been perfect. Ron was cleared, he'd not lost his job, and no one here was going to know. He should have known better than to think he would get out of this, in the clear.

Percy knew he should answer. Say something. Anything. But silence seemed so much easier, even under the weight of the collected Weasley gaze. It was a single question that began it. Asked not sneeringly by one of the twins, but very mildly, with a furrowed brow, by Bill. "What's Percy got to do with it, Dad?"

"Can't be his Ministry connections," Fred said. "Not unless he managed to convince Malfoy to drop the charges or they'd bore him to death with a report on how substandard newt-eyes are ruining the global economy."

Substandard newt-eyes could very well ruin the global wizarding economy, considering how many spells, both simple and complex, called for the item. But that was hardly the point. Percy felt a throb in his temple.

"I'm not really sure," his father said, looking at Percy, curiously. "I asked Lucius how he'd discovered he was wrong -- without actually coming right out and asking him why he'd changed his mind about it. He said I should ask Percy about it. Then he wouldn't say anything more. He finished up with Rufus, and Disapparated right off."

Everyone was staring at Percy, now, waiting. Most of his siblings seemed disbelieving, still, though Ginny just looked confused, and Bill was trying to look merely interested. Percy wanted to simply go home, and forget all this. He could tell them that he didn't know anything, or he could tell them he'd backmailed Lucius and refuse to give them any details. They didn't need to know, they didn't want to know this sort of thing about him. He was their Perfect Son, and he wasn't supposed to do this sort of thing. Certainly wasn't supposed to be this sort of thing.

"What'd you do, buy him off? Offer to sign through his next couple of committee suggestions?" Fred asked in a nasty tone.

"I did nothing of the sort!" Percy snapped, shocked that Fred could even think it.

"Then what'd you do?" Ron demanded, before Percy could even finish shouting at Fred.

"I didn't do anything!" he tried, knowing it was a lie and would be seen as nothing else.

"You must have done something," Charlie said, speaking to him for the first time that night. "Heck, if I didn't know better I'd say you just paid him, and I'd offer to reimburse you for half."

"You couldn't," he replied before he could stop himself. Couldn't give him half of what he'd risked losing when he'd walked up to Lucius' door tonight. Percy coloured when he realised what he'd said, however, and added quickly, loudly, "I didn't pay him."

As if that would have been any worse than blackmailing him. Yes, it had made sense to Percy, when Mags explained it. He wasn't really blackmailing Lucius, or telling on him, or anything of the sort -- just informing him that he would tell the truth if there were an investigation, even if any legal proceedings weren't in the sort of court that Mags was thinking of. But that hadn't been in his mind when he'd made the decision to hand Lucius the mask. Then, he'd known only that he was doing something he knew was wrong, that would hurt him and perhaps others he cared about, to help his brother -- who was looking at him now with questioning eyes.

What could Percy have done, to take down Lucius Malfoy. What would perfect, law-abiding, prefect, Head Boy, Percy have done? Percy, the braggart, Percy the tattle-tale to mum -- and did they ever think that it had been because he didn't want to see them getting hurt or kidnapped or blown up, that he'd told? Did they ever think that it was just because he couldn't get them to look at him any other way, that he bragged?

"So what did you do, Percy?" Ron asked suspiciously.

"It doesn't matter," he replied. "Just leave it." Or you could thank me, he didn't say. But that would never come to your mind, would it. What had George said? Chance'd be a fine thing.

"What did you do?" his mum demanded, in a quiet tone that there was no refusing. No refusing without serious consequences -- he couldn't remember her ever having to use that tone on him before.

"I didn't--" Percy began again.

"Why won't you tell us?" Bill asked, calmly.

"Because it isn't something you want to know!" he shouted, frustrated. "I knew where Lucius really was last night, that's all!" He knew they'd want more, but maybe, with this much, he could at least make his escape.

"Where was he?" Ginny asked.

"Nowhere! Just leave it!" Percy tried to turn away from them so he could get out of there. They were still asking, though, demanding answers and throwing questions and disbelief in his face. Surrounding him, and he heard the word ring through his head, and almost cried. That he'd need to use his safeword, to get someone to come rescue him....

Someone had grabbed his arm, and tugged him back, and there was his father, looking sternly at him, and he heard himself shouting over his brothers' voices, "At a club!"

There was a brief pause in the noise level, before the obvious question was thrown at him, "So what? What are you talking about, Percy?"

He tried to pull himself together, and stammered a bit more, hoping desperately that they would drop it, that they would leave him alone like they always did. "A Muggle club. Please, just let me be."

"A Muggle club?" his father repeated. "Percy, you know it's dangerous to..." At least he had the good grace to stop, before someone, not Percy because he was just too tired of it all, pointed out that he was the last person to be talking about staying out of Muggle affairs.

Ron looked doubtful. "What sort of club? Why would Lucius Malfoy belong to a Muggle Club? He hates Muggles! He's the one who taught Draco everything he knows about picking on Hermione and the other Muggle-born kids."

Ginny nodded at Ron's confused question, and added, "I didn't even know there was a club for Muggles. I mean, there's so many of them, and they don't even know they're Muggles, so..."

"Nit-- that's not what he means. It's a club for something, that's run by Muggles. But why would Malfoy be there? Why were you there, Percy?" This was from George.

Percy thumped himself down in his chair, surrendering to the realisation that he wouldn't be allowed to leave until they'd gotten more of an answer than he wanted to give. He hoped he could get away with as little as possible. "I work there. On weekends. I saw him, so I know he wasn't at home on Friday night. Can't we leave it at that?"

There was a stunned silence. Percy could practically feel their surprise, though he didn't raise his head to look at any of them.

His father asked, excitedly, "You work at a Muggle club? What sort of work do you do? isn't something, oughtn't be doing?" he added.

"He probably makes sure they don't have any fun," George stage-whispered. Percy squeezed his eyes shut, and didn't respond.

"George," his mum said -- finally, a reprimand in his defense.

"But what sort of club would Malfoy go to? Unless he's buying stuff he's not supposed to have, and enchanting them?" Fred asked.

"Yeah! I bet that's what he's doing!" Ron piped up.

"They don't sell things at clubs, they do things," their father pointed out. "Like sports clubs, and such." He sounded very confused, and Percy couldn't blame him. Who would expect Percy to be involved in sports? Besides Quidditch, which every child who'd heard about it played.

He suddenly wished he knew something he could tell them, some game or sport he could tell them the club was for. Something they'd know nothing about, and he could describe it and make them just think he was embarrassed because he worked as a night janitor, or something.

But-- he wasn't embarrassed about what he did. There was nothing wrong with it, and he knew that. Perfect Percy might not, but he hadn't been Perfect Percy for some time now, and he knew more about other people, and about himself, from his visits to and employment at the Chamber, than he'd ever gleaned in his three years at the Ministry. He'd learned about limits, and control, and how to let go of them when you needed to.

He'd learned how not to deny yourself innocent pleasure just because you'd always thought that was the proper thing to do, and how good it could be to share that pleasure with someone else. He'd also learned how to give incredible head, if certain clients were to be believed. He just didn't want to talk about it with his family, who wouldn't understand, and wouldn't approve, and besides, it was talking about sex. With his mother in the room.

"So why would Malfoy be in a Muggle sports club? And why wouldn't he just say it was his word against yours, and claim he wasn't there on Friday? It's not like he's not willing to lie. He's a Death Eater." George said.

"Former Death Eater..." his mother said warningly.

Ron shook his head. "Not according to Harry. Oh, I know we can't say so to other people because nobody believes him, but we know. Malfoy lies all the time, so why would he be afraid of Percy saying he'd seen him someplace?"

"Because it's not a sports club," Percy answered quietly, just to get them all to shut up. "And whether I could prove he was there on Friday or not, he wouldn't want people even wondering if he'd ever been there."

"A sex club?" That was from Bill, who sounded rather unshocked by the idea. Surprised, yes, that Percy would know about such things.

"What's a sex club?" Ron asked.

"A club where people go to have sex," Bill explained, still calmly. Percy still hadn't looked up, feeling more like he would rather sink through the floor and disappear. "It would be something Lucius Malfoy wouldn't want getting about -- if he, doing something he didn't want anyone to know about."

"What, cheating on his wife wouldn't be enough of a scandal?" Molly asked derisively. Percy didn't hear any response.

"And Percy works there?" Ron was asking, now, amazed.

"I don't get it," Ginny was asking, now. "Why would you have to go to a club? Don't you someone you like?" Percy glanced up and saw that she was blushing, unable to meet any of their gazes.

"It's for people who either can't find someone -- because they're married, and can't risk looking -- or because they want something unusual." Bill explained.

"Unusual?" Ginny repeated. Percy wished he dared Apparate, right now, before his mum could blame him for raising the topic of conversation around his younger siblings.

No one answered her question, and Ginny looked from Bill, to her mum, to her father, to Percy. It was obvious she knew they were going to tell her she was too young to understand, and she frowned.

"I'm fifteen -- I'm not too young to hear about kinky sex, you know," she announced bravely. Then she blushed and hid her face. Percy began to wish he could join her.

"Perhaps not, but I'm much too young to hear you talk about it, " their mother said, suddenly sweeping into action. "It's late, and we'll never get any sense out of Percy with you lot all shouting at him." As if she hadn't been one of the shouters, herself. "Fred, George, Ron, Ginny, get up to bed. You can always torment your elders with embarrassing questions in the morning."

The requisite whining and shouts of indignation followed. "Mum, we're not babies," Ron said.

"Honestly -- it's not like we're not of age," Fred added. "We know all about sex. We just didn't think Percy did!"

"Oh, for God's sake!" Percy exclaimed.

The hubbub would have begun again, if Mrs. Weasley hadn't put her hands on her hips and fixed them with the same look she'd hit Percy with earlier. "You two might be eighteen, but you're acting like five-year-olds, so you obviously need the sleep. Go."

"Mum!" Fred protested, but a moment later he was taking a step towards the stairs. Another step, then, as Ginny acquiesced and headed more quickly up the stairs, the rest of them began to follow. Fred and George still looked as though they wanted to argue. Percy had no doubt he'd have to fend them off in the morning.

Maybe he could be gone by then.

Percy's mum headed up the stairs after his younger siblings, eliciting a protest from Ron that he didn't need tucking in. She just shooed them along, and left Percy alone with his father and two older brothers -- who were old enough to hear about kinky sex. And who were looking at him as if they expected to do so.

He didn't offer them any more information. They had enough to understand what he'd done; they didn't need to know anything else. He looked back at them, defiantly. Sort of defiantly.

"You work at a sex club?" Charlie asked. Percy just sighed.

"Percy," his father interrupted.

"What?" he snapped, half-heartedly. He was tired, despite being used to working past this hour and not getting home until nearly 3am. He wanted to go home and go to bed.

"Thank you."

Percy gaped at his father. "What?" he finally managed.

"I can't say I understand exactly what it is that you did, even now, or all the details, but I know you saved Ron. At considerable risk to yourself, I think. Just standing up to Lucius Malfoy is something..."

"Something you wouldn't have thought I had the guts to do?" Percy asked. Not angrily. Just hours ago, he wouldn't have thought it either.

"No," his father said quietly. "I've never doubted any of my children's courage, Percy." He smiled suddenly. "Their sanity, yes."

"I'm not insane," Percy answered, somewhat testily even though he knew his father was joking.

"I was thinking of Ron, letting Draco Malfoy bait him into this mess in the first place," his father replied, still calmly. "Or rather, taking the bait that had been offered to his best friend. But I can't really fault him for his loyalty, any more than I can fault you for yours. You both might've told us what was going on, though."

Percy could hardly believe his father was reacting so calmly, so... acceptingly. But how on earth could he think that Percy should have told them anything? Had he really wanted Percy to come home one day and announce over Sunday dinner that he was working at a sex club?

He could understand the issue with Ron -- he'd gone rushing off into a trap set for Harry, when telling an adult might have solved the whole thing -- though Percy knew none of his younger siblings would ever think like that. They'd not grown up with the order to watch out for the littler ones, and always tell Mum or Dad if you see anything suspicious or scary, because there's a war on, and there's bad people out there, who might hurt us if we're not careful.

"There didn't seem to be much of a point," he replied, not explaining further. Putting off explaining further, though he'd long since lost all hope that they weren't going to question him until they knew more about him than they'd ever wanted to. Percy sat still, focusing on a spot on the wall somewhere over Charlie's head, and concentrated on the memory of his father thanking him. It might be the last kind word he heard from his family for quite a while, once they'd finished with him.

He was surprised to see his father, then Bill and Charlie, take seats -- the elder two dragging chairs over, Charlie sitting down on the floor to look up at him with curiosity. Somehow it made him feel less like he was about to be interrogated -- even though he was -- and he felt himself starting to relax. Percy knew he oughtn't, and tried to get himself back on guard. He thought about how exposed he was, wearing Muggle gear, bereft of either wizard robes or silk mask -- as if either could really protect him. At least if he were wearing his robe instead of these non-Percy-ish clothes, they wouldn't be looking him up and down, as if they'd never seen him before.

"Why didn't there seem to be any point?" Arthur asked, once they'd all settled themselves down. "Haven't you been working there long?" He cleared his throat and said in a hushed voice, "You know I'd love to come see where you work. Do they have telephones?"

Percy almost smiled. Trust his father to turn his focus on what was really important. Then his urge to smile died. What was really important, over why his son might need to keep so much of his life a secret? Learning how to use a telephone was certainly more intriguing.

"Percy, why'd you work there?" came Bill's more straightforward question. "I know the Ministry pays you enough to cover rent in that squalid little building you live in. Unless--" He broke off, but the thought might well have been spoken.

Unless he had something he had to pay off, or pay for -- something he was equally unwilling to tell his family about.

Percy shook his head. It would serve no purpose to weave further lies, to try to obscure his real reasons. "I just like working there," he said.

"What d'you do?" Charlie asked. This would be the perfect time to say he was a janitor, or a bookkeeper, but he said nothing. As Percy blushed, he found he didn't have to answer. Charlie sat upright. "You don't!" His voice dropped, casting a glance upstairs, looking out for their mother's arrival. "Percy, for god's sake, why?" He didn't sound disgusted, though. In fact, he just sounded astonished.

"I'm not hard-up for sex, if that's what you're thinking," Percy told him, fighting the urge to smirk.

"Well, no -- they pay you--" Charlie broke off. His eyes goggled a bit, then he sat there, obviously thinking over the implications of what he was saying.

Bitterly, Percy said, "Yes, Charlie, I'm a prostitute." It wasn't what they called themselves at the Chamber. As Mags said, they provided much more skilled and specialised services than a wham and a bam. Professional sex workers was what she'd called them, when he'd first been hired, but Livi said they were happiness counselors. Harold said they were lucky stiffs. "Lucius threatened to tell you as much, though he used the word 'whore.' I don't suppose it makes much difference. I'm still not sure why he didn't, unless he got a bang out of the idea of me having to explain it to all of you."

He could see that. One last flex of power over him, manipulating him against his will in a way that the rules of the Club would never have allowed, but against which the real world, wizard or Muggle, had no such protections.

Charlie blinked. "I was just boggling that you're good enough at it to get paid," he said.

"Of course he's good at it. Percy's always been good at whatever he put his mind to." His mother's voice came from the middle of the steps, and Percy slunk down in his chair. Dear God, let her only have heard Charlie's last line, he thought.

"I wasn't doubting that, Mum. Just wondering where he'd learned it -- if there's a course I could sign up for or something." Charlie was grinning cheekily. Percy closed his eyes and wondered if Apparating back to his flat mightn't be such a bad idea. Except they'd know where he was, because of the clock. Maybe he could rip it off the wall, then disappear?

"Not from Penelope Clearwater, I imagine," his mother said, walking the rest of the way down the stairs. Not that Percy was looking at her, too mortified to risk catching his mum's gaze, but he could hear every creaky floorboard. "She's a nice girl, but I can't see her knowing anything that would make Ginny blush."

So much for her not having heard. Percy wished heartily that Ginny's colouring didn't run in the family.

"Mum, Ginny turns red when she sees the shirtless Page Three boys in Witch Weekly," Bill said.

"So did you," his mother responded as she walked to the chair that Ginny had vacated, and sat down.

"Yeah, until you were seventeen," Charlie added, laughter in his voice.

Percy risked a glance at Bill, who just shook his head like he'd heard it all before, and was waiting for Charlie to come up with new taunts at his expense. Then he looked thoughtful. "Percy, that's not why...I mean, you said she broke up with you.... Or did you go there after?"

"I've only been there since fall. Penelope and I broke up--" He stopped, wondering if he wanted to just spill all his secrets. He was almost resigned to it; he might as well tell them everything, since his determination to tell them nothing had failed spectacularly, so far. "We broke up for the same reason I went there in the first place." More or less -- there were other clubs he could have gone to. But he'd discovered the Chamber through a rather elaborate spell, where he'd used his wand to direct him to the place where he could find what he needed. He'd been unwilling, at first, to believe he'd needed what the club offered, but the spell hadn't misled him.

This next bit should be the easy part. Admitting to something they'd already heard once before, even if no one had ever said it would be okay for him. Rather, he'd been the one to hear how wonderful it would be when he grew up and married, had children for his parents to spoil. They'd all heard that, of course. But Percy felt like he'd been the only one listening.

His parents and brothers were waiting, expectantly. He took a deep breath and told himself that facing Lucius should have been more difficult than this. "We broke up because I didn't want to--" He couldn't actually say it, though. Not in front of his mum. "I...prefer...."

"I think the word is 'other boys'," Bill said lightly.

"Actually, that's two words," Percy replied from behind his hands. Then he lifted his head and looked up at his mother. "But still more or less right."

"More or less?" his father asked, looking confused.

"Mostly more." Not that he couldn't enjoy being with a woman; he was perfectly happy to play about with Livi or the other girls at the club-- but that was playing. That was friendship with a group of people for whom sex was so much a part of their daily lives that they shared it as easily as a game of draughts or a night of watching television and throwing pretzels at each other.

The real thing, where he let himself go, and just felt, just existed, just found the core of his being within the mix of pain and joy-- that was always men.

He returned to the earlier question. "Pen... I don't know if she knew before I did, or not, but she was the first one to say it out loud. She was very kind to me, considering. Better to me than I was to her, I guess."

Bill nodded once, as if he understood, then shook his head. Percy didn't know what to make of that, but Bill saved him from having to ask. "I know how that goes. Trust me. It can get ugly; I think you're lucky you found somebody who didn't hate you afterwards, but that doesn't mean you'd deserve it, if she did."

"I know that." He really did, which surprised him a little. That he'd learned on his own that it was okay, without having someone else to tell him so.

Bill gave him a smile. "Good." Then the smile faded, and he looked remarkably like their father when he was angry. "Why didn't you ever tell us? You could have talked to me, at least."

"You know you could have told us," his mum put in. "After Bill broke us in, hearing you liked men too would hardly have shocked us."

Charlie piped up, "You could've told us you liked sheep, and we probably wouldn't be shocked. Well, yes, we would have, but we wouldn't 've said anything about it."

Percy put his head in his hands again. And he'd been worried they'd not understand, or approve? Being whole-heartedly accepted was proving to be just as hard to deal with.

He didn't know if they'd appreciate hearing that he hadn't told them because he thought they would hold him to different standards than their oldest son. They had always expected better of him than anyone, it seemed like. He looked at Bill. "When would I have talked to you about it? We've never talked about anything."

Bill's stern expression changed, into something Percy would have liked to call regret. "You could have started with this, then. You knew I'd understand."

Percy felt his face grow hard. "I haven't told you any of my secrets, my entire life. I've never told anyone, and I'm supposed to just tell you because you have similar taste in partners?"

Bill's expression was very definitely looking like regret. It was pissing Percy off -- suddenly his eldest brother wanted to be more a part of his life? Why hadn't he thought about that when Percy was seven, and wanted to escape watching over his younger siblings for awhile, and play with his older brothers? They'd wanted nothing to do with him, too young for hanging out with, and, to judge from their behavior with the babies, too old to be cute enough to play with anyhow. He suddenly wanted to escape, all over again. Apparate out of there and forget about wanting his family to appreciate or respect him.

"I didn't mean that you owed it to me," Bill said slowly. "I'm sorry if it sounded that way. I just meant... I guess I just wish we were close enough for you to want to. To know you could've."

"It doesn't matter anymore, though, does it?" It was too much to explain, and Percy didn't really want to. There'd been the rest of it, anyway, that Bill most definitely wouldn't have wanted to hear. Not who he liked to do it with, but what he liked to do. That was the real issue, the real thing he hadn't wanted them to know.

With a start, Percy realized they didn't know. After all that, they still didn't know exactly what it was that he and Lucius had really threatened each other with.

Nor did they need to. That he liked men was, he supposed, something they would have eventually found out, and perhaps it was best that they knew it now, before his mother had decided a year was long enough for him to be girlfriend-less, and started introducing him to someone's available daughter. How he liked his sex, what he got from it, why he started going to the Chamber in the first place, and probably why he'd become good enough at it that they'd asked him if he'd like a job -- that was his own business.

Now he had all of them, even Bill with his dragon's tooth earring, with the tight jeans that he was wearing under his open robes and all of his so-called understanding, looking at him with something like pity. Poor Percy, that he didn't think he had anyone to turn to. That he had this horrible shameful secret.

But it wasn't horrible or shameful. None of it was. It was his life. Percy felt no urge to try explaining that to them, however. He'd told them more than he'd wanted, but less than he truly feared. He should be grateful, and let things lie.

"Percy, dear, d'you have a boyfriend, then?" his mother suddenly asked, brightly.

He felt himself blush, slightly. "No, mum." He could see Bill and Charlie grinning, and he knew what was coming.

"Because Reginald's boy, Hiram, he was two years ahead of you at Hogwarts--"

"No, mum," Percy sighed. "I don't need a boyfriend."

Charlie laughed. "Guess you wouldn't, would you? What would you need a boyfriend for, except" He looked perplexed. "Bill? What else do you need boyfriends for?" Bill reached over and thumped him on the shoulder.

"Boys, be nice," their mum scolded. "You know very well boyfriends are also good for buying dinner." She gave Arthur a cheeky grin.

Percy ignored their teasing, and rubbed his face. "Is that all? If you're through asking me personal questions, I'd like to go home and get some sleep."

"What?" His mum looked startled. "Percy, you'll stay here tonight. We've a big breakfast planned, to celebrate what you've done for Ron. I want it to be large and boisterous enough that Ron never forgets," she added, somewhat grimly. "If I have to tattoo it on his forehead, he won't forget."

"How could he see it on his own forehead, mum?" Charlie asked.

"When did you plan a big breakfast?" their father asked. Percy thought -- again -- about just Apparating out. He could sleep at the club, couldn't he? They'd not find him there.

"It's been nearly an hour, Arthur! You think I can't plan breakfast while listening in on my children's conversations?"

"I have more personal questions," Bill put in.

Percy considered flipping him off, Muggle-style, but knowing his mother, she'd know what it meant. She'd at least recognize the intent, if not the signal.

"Well, if Percy would like to stay up to answer them, I suppose it's his business, but we're going to bed." She looked pointedly at her husband, who took the hint like a man who'd been married to Molly Weasley for thirty years. He rose quickly to his feet, and accompanied her up the stairs. Charlie looked like he wanted to stay, but apparently thought better of it when his mother looked back at him, because he soon followed.

Percy didn't move, wondering what Bill wanted to ask him. He'd thought he was being teased, at first, but his brother was still sitting there on the sofa, not speaking, and looking worried. "What?" Percy finally asked. Bill seemed startled, as if he'd been off somewhere else.

There was a brief moment where Percy thought he wasn't going to ask anything, was about to say he'd been kidding, and leave whatever it was to hang in the air between them every time they saw each other.

Percy took his glasses off, and sighed. "What?" he asked again, slightly more encouragingly.

Bill leaned forward, and spoke slowly, quietly. Visibly hesitating as he chose his words. "I don't know if they've put it together, quite, and or they're being polite about it. Though if Mum thought...."

"What're you on about, Bill? I really am tired, you know."

"Yeah, sorry. Me too. But... Lucius Malfoy? You didn't just happen to see him walking into this club, did you?"

Percy put his glasses back on, and reminded himself that he didn't owe Bill an explanation. "I might've."

"Yeah, but..." Bill stopped, and rubbed at the bridge of his nose for a moment. "Yeah. It's not my business. I just wanted to make sure--" His gaze was suddenly as piercing as their mother's had ever been. In fact, he looked eerily like her, for all that he was masculine enough that if Percy had seen him on the street and didn't know him, he'd be turning round to stare as Bill walked past. Might've stared anyway, at various times, but that too was his own business. "I don't care about who you choose to sleep with, but... Malfoy-- he didn't hurt you somehow, did he?"

Percy stared, for a moment, then slowly, quietly, lest he draw the rest of the family downstairs again, began to laugh. Bill blinked, surprised, and waited a moment. Then, as Percy continued laughing, he began to scowl.

"Percy, did he...he did. Was it a spell? Or did he just tell them-- Percy!"

Percy was trying to control his laughter, but his brother's righteous indignation was just too much. Bill was getting worried, now, he could tell, so he tried harder to stop laughing. "Sorry,, it wasn't a spell. He didn't force me into anything." It wasn't entirely true; he had been afraid of being discovered by Lucius. If the wizard had recognized him at the club -- at his feet -- there was no telling what he would have done. But Percy knew now that he could have told Mags at any time that he no longer wanted to entertain that client, without even giving her his real reason.

But he hadn't actually disliked anything Lucius had done to him, and he hadn't ever felt that Lucius wouldn't have stopped, if told to do so. Bill was looking at him, now, as if afraid Percy was lying about something. Did he suspect some subconscious suggestion to deny being under Lucius' control?

" don't...." Bill hesitated before saying, even more softly, "Did you care for him?"

It was harder to control his laughter. Percy managed to keep it stifled, but the concerned look on his brother's face.... It melted into relief, though, as he laughed.

"All right, all right," Bill grumbled. "I had to ask. What if you'd fallen in love with him, eh? Threatening him that way, you'd have ruined your chance at happiness. Tragic, really." Bill grinned, apparently unable to keep a straight face.

"I can assure you, I like him no more now, than I ever did. Sex with him was-- you know, I'm not sure I care to explain it."

"A job?"

Percy shrugged. Let him believe that, if he liked. Certainly none of his other clients gave him quite the same thrill of adrenaline as Lucius Malfoy. Not that he thought he ought go after such thrilling clients. But it was something to know he had withstood everything he'd encountered.

Bill wasn't quite through, though. His worried look grew even more worried. " do know...I mean, even if we don't know that he is, he certainly used to be a Death Eater. It isn't safe for you to be doing anything with him."

"I wasn't in any danger," Percy told him. "If he'd ever tried to say anything, he'd have implicated himself as much as me -- he has more to lose, too. His position, his family."

Bill didn't reply, at first. He was still frowning, and Percy suspected he knew why. But he waited to be asked. "Percy...are you a bloody moron?" he asked in a more or less calm tone.

"Because I had sex with him?"

"Because...Percy! He's one of the bad guys. Doesn't that mean anything to you?" Bill sounded more worried than angry, as if it hadn't occurred to him yet that the that the simplistic answer would be that Percy didn't mind because his own loyalties were too self-focused.

It made Percy try to answer honestly, give him the answer he'd barely tried to give himself. "I didn't think I was in any long as he didn't know who I was. He didn't have any power, at the club. Not real power -- if I'd ever said he was doing anything that I didn't want, they would have tossed him out in a second -- but I never even had to use my safeword." Percy looked down at his hands. "Between sessions, I didn't think I could say that I just didn't want to see him because I wasn't comfortable with him. I've since found out otherwise."

He didn't know if he could explain how the world inside the club's doors seemed so removed from the real world that it had never really occurred to him that he was making any political statement by allowing himself to be used by Malfoy. He didn't think it would have occurred to Lucius, either, but that he really couldn't have explained.

"You're sure he never hurt you?" Bill repeated.

"He never did anything I didn't want him to do," Percy replied, not quite giving his brother the answer he was looking for.

Bill seemed satisfied with his answer, anyway. Mostly so. He kept looking at Percy and almost speaking, then not. Finally he nodded. "Fine. Just making sure he wasn't forcing you. Nobody's allowed to pick on my little brothers except me."

"And Mum. And each other. And Hermione Granger."

"Oh, girls don't count."

Percy started to laugh, but found himself yawning instead. It had been-- well, to say 'a long day' might set him laughing again. He looked at Bill, who seemed to have caught the disease, and smiled. "I think, if you don't have any more personal questions to ask..."

Bill stood up, then stretched, then scratched his head. "Well...there was one thing."

Percy yawned again, and stood up as well. If Bill had something else he wanted to pry into, even politely, he could damned well do it on the way upstairs. "What?"

"Charlie's bunking with Ron, and the twins've filled all the extra in their room with lab tables. And, well, the sofa still has that bloody spring that sticks out of the middle cushion when you sleep on it wrong, which means your old bed is the only place left to sleep..."

Percy, who'd begun climbing the stairs, blinked down at him from the third step. Then he bit back a grin. "Bill, I hope you don't think that just because I do that sort of thing for a living, I'm going to just jump into bed with my brother."

Bill halted, and looked at him, mouth open. He stammered a bit, before saying, "I only...meant we might as well stay up and keep talking!" He was smiling -- but Percy noticed he was blushing, as well.

"Well, not on the first date," he allowed, and was delighted to see his cool, self-confident, older brother, hero to his youngest siblings, blush himself into speechlessness.

Bill grumbled again, then gave him a dark look. He then gave Percy and evil smile and asked, "Charge me a Knut to cuddle?"

"A Knut? Are you mad? I'll have you know it costs a ten pounds -- even for family!" Percy continued up the stairs, keeping his voice low. Bill followed him, and Percy felt...something, warm, in the pit of his stomach. His brothers usually didn't bother talking to him, unless it was something derogatory. This friendly give and take was what he was used to only overhearing. This felt more like being at the Chamber, joking with his friends, than being with his siblings.

"Ten pounds? Percy...not even for me, your favorite brother? I never beat you up when you were little, doesn't that get me a five pound discount?" They tip-toed past the twins' room, and Percy was glad to hear no sound coming from it. He'd not have been surprised to find them lying in wait for him. The talk with his older brothers and parents had come out all right, but he was still dreading the confrontation with his younger siblings.

"You were never home, when I was little. You were at school," Percy pointed out.

"What, you're saying I never had the chance when I was home on holiday? I could have beaten you up anytime!"

Percy stopped, and turned, and regarded his brother, with a serious expression. "You most certainly could not have."



"I could," Bill insisted.

"Could not. I'd've cried and told mum."

Bill started to retort, then apparently thought better of it. "So. Ten pounds?"

Percy gave him a sweeping look, head to toe. "Maybe. You have to apply for membership first, though. If Mags lets you through, I'll do it." He spun back around and headed for his old bedroom. He felt like laughing again. It was amazing. He heard Bill follow. As they entered his room, Percy glanced over his shoulder and gave his brother one of his best leers. "Anything more, and it'll cost extra."

Bill tripped over the threshold.

Percy stretched in his chair. Breakfast had been, as his mum had promised, loud, boisterous, and memorable. So memorable, given how much they had stuffed themselves, that even hours later he was grateful he'd been smart enough to decline any more lunch than a sandwich and a glass of bilberry juice. The twins hadn't been so bright, of course, and were now looking rather ill.

"I'm not asking her for a tonic -- the last time I did, she tucked me up in bed and threatened to take my temperature the way the Muggles do it," Fred was whining.

"S'rong with that?" George asked, shifting himself on the sofa so that his feet were propped up on Fred's knees. Muddy boots and all, for which their mum would kill him if she came in from the garden and caught them.

"She got her ideas about Muggle medicine from reading a book on infant care," Fred replied. "Muggle babies are apparently very strange."

Percy stifled a laugh, and buried his face deeper in the Daily Prophet.

"Hey," George said, then a small mud-covered pebble landed in the middle of Percy's paper. He looked up and gave George a frown. So far they'd not been able to question him about anything from last night. Whenever they'd tried, their mum or Bill had interrupted. Now, though, Percy realised he was alone with his two most annoying brothers.

George and Fred were giving each other doubtful, then encouraging looks. Percy had a bad feeling that he was going to regret not leaving for home when he'd had the chance, right after breakfast. His mum had somehow talked him into staying until evening. Finally George turned back to Percy, and asked, "Perce?, sex club?"

"What?" he said, sharply. He had a flash of a memory, of Mags's brother. He rather doubted Fred and George would offer to give him anything like a professional discount. All their free samples went to Ron -- as advertising. Every student at Hogwarts wanted to buy whatever new prank Ron came to school with that week.

Fred looked around, checking the stairs, and peering towards the kitchen before he asked. "Mind if we tag along? Or you could give us passes, or something?"

Percy stared at them for a second. "No." He went back to reading his paper.

"Oh, come on, Percy! Please?" George pleaded. "We' you a lifetime supply of Canary Custards. Forty percent discount anything in our shop?"

Percy glanced over. "I don't need anything you two sell."

"We'll do your laundry?" Fred offered.


"We'll stop sending you...well, anything, to your office?" George offered.

Percy put his paper down, and glared at them, even though the urge to chuckle was strong. "So, you're offering to be nice to me, is that it? I wouldn't want you to strain yourselves."

"Well, it's the only thing we can offer! Jokes, or our unending servitude in exchange for access to sex. I'd think it would be worth it," Fred said to his twin. George nodded. "Besides, I think Ron's gonna offer to scrub your floors and do your dishes. All's left is your laundry."

In a frosty tone, Percy said, "You could have tried being interested just because I work there. Asked to visit me. Livi might've hauled you into a room on her own initiative." He put down the paper. "But then you'd risk making me think you cared a whit."

George put his feet down onto the carpet -- and Percy knew who would be spending the afternoon cleaning it -- and glared back. "Come off it, Percy. You know how we feel about you -- it isn't like you've ever been all doting on us, either."

"Yeah -- have you visited the shop since we opened it? Hell, did you visit it when we opened it? Even Ron and Ginny came from school for the grand opening." Fred brushed flakes of dried mud off his knees -- off his jeans. Percy wondered idly if the whole family had taken up wearing them after he moved out, or if Fred had stolen a pair of Bill's.

"I couldn't," Percy said mildly. "I was right in the middle of..."

What had he been in the middle of? It was something important, something that might've cost the Ministry a great deal of respect, and possibly someone's job, but he couldn't for the life of him remember what it was. That didn't mean it hadn't been vital, or that he'd grown tired of his Ministry job -- it just meant that those sorts of things came up daily, in Percy's office, and the crises that were averted tended to blur into each other.

Besides, truthfully, he hadn't thought they'd care one way or the other if he was there. "I sent you an owl," he offered. He didn't feel quite as righteous as he had a few minutes before.

George nodded. "Yeah. I remember. 'Congratulations on opening your own business. Please don't get arrested before Michaelmas, as I'm not sure I can get away to visit you in jail until then. Love, Percy.'"

Percy was about to protest that he wouldn't have said anything like that, but as the words rolled around in his head, he realized that he probably had. In fact, it sounded eerily like George was quoting him word for word.

When he frowned, George shrugged. "See it every day, don't I? We tacked it to the wall behind the counter. With skull-head pushpins, mind, but still. Always nice to remember our big brother's proud of us."

Percy frowned harder. "I am." He was. Of course he was. He didn't think about them much, except when they'd had a new piece of disgusting gag material delivered to his inbox, or he caught himself trying to charm his way out of trouble with Livi or Mags, using one of Fred's patented innocent-faces. Or sneaking about trying not to be seen as he left the club, and realizing the twins would think the whole thing a great mad lark...

Perhaps he thought of them more often than he realized. All right then, so he didn't speak to them all that much, especially when they'd sent him another joke in the post; it just encouraged them. But he was proud of them.

As long as they were playing their tricks on someone else, of course.

He tried again. "Okay, so maybe I don't take you two as seriously as I should. But you have to admit, it's hard to take somebody seriously who's been turning your broom into a feather boa, or feeding you sweets that make your hair go green, since they got out of nappies."

"Well, you were always so uptight. We just wanted to make you laugh, and loosen up."

Percy looked down at the floor. Their jokes had been for his benefit? He doubted that was the case now. But...he remembered, now, how it was when they were small. Three years old, running to him with something they'd found, or a new rude word -- or what they'd thought was a rude word -- they'd learned, making each other laugh as hard as anyone. The time they'd painted Ron purple and shown him to Percy, he'd scolded them and made them clean Ron up before their mum saw. Back then, though, they'd always come running to show him.

"I couldn't 'loosen up,' though, don't you see? Mum was counting on me to take care of you, while she had her hands full with Ron, then Ginny. She couldn't be worried I'd let anything happen to you."

"Yeah, well. It wouldn't have hurt you to laugh, once in a while," Fred complained.

Percy didn't look up at them. "I was too scared," he admitted quietly.

"Scared of what?" The twins both asked, shocked.

Now, he looked up. "We were in a war, remember? If I'd let my guard down for a second, something horrible might've happened. People were dying, and disappearing, and mum would sit in the baby's room and cry when she thought we were all asleep. The only thing I could do to help her was look after my little brothers, and stay out of trouble." He shrugged. "Even after Voldemort was vanquished, things didn't change for a long time.

The twins looked a bit uncomfortable with his use of the name, but if they were going to be honest and act like grown ups, Percy didn't see any reason to hide behind euphemisms. Perhaps Harry Potter had it right -- that the only way to fight something was to know it for what it was, and call it by its true name.

"So you thought you had to always be the perfect boy, or You-Know-Who would come and get us." Fred grinned then, lightly. "Well, we're not little kids now, you know. We haven't been for a long time."

"Doesn't mean you're any less likely to blow yourselves up trying to build a better exploding gobstone," Percy retorted.

George tilted his head slyly. "No, but it means we're old enough to know about sex clubs. I mean, we've visited you at the ministry -- it's only fair we get to come to your other place of work."

"Or come at your other place of work," Fred hastened to add.

Percy rolled his eyes, then froze. "When've you visited me at the Ministry?"

George sniffed. "You dont think we mailed that fake cephalopod embryo to your inbox, do you? By the way, you need to start buying new sweets for the little jar on your desk. Those Every Flavor Beans were foul."

"That's because they weren't Every Flavour Beans -- they were what's left of the dragon dung you sent three years ago." They weren't, of course, but he enjoyed watching them both turn slightly green. Greener.

"So anyway, can we come to the club?" Fred started in again after a moment. Percy rolled his eyes.

"There's a hundred sex clubs in London -- why do you have to come to mine?"

"Because you're there, and we can embarrass you, prat," George replied promptly.

"A hundred?" Fred repeated, his eyes going round.

"If you'd learn to use a telephone directory, you could get sex at any club you could afford," Percy said. Then he grinned. "If you'd learn to bathe regularly and clean your boots before you come back in the house, you might not even have to pay for it."

"We bathe!" Fred protested. George was nudging him, though.

"If we clean the carpet and clean up, we can go. He said! For free!"

Percy scowled. "I said 'might'." But they weren't paying any attention. Fred was letting out a 'whoop!', and they hurried into the kitchen to find mum's Mud Be Gone spells.

At the doorway, George stopped, let Fred bump into him, and asked, "Really? You think there'd be someone -- oh, because we're twins? You think they'd want us for that? Because we don't mind going in together."

Fred looked like he was about to argue, then he stopped, and nodded vigorously.

Percy arched an eyebrow. "Somehow that doesn't surprise me."

The two blinked at him, then each apparently got it, at the same time. They ducked into the kitchen faster than he'd ever seen them move, before.

"Percy, that wasn't nice. Other than convincing them to clean the carpet, of course."

Percy turned around. "Dad. How long have you..." He tried to recall if he'd said anything horribly embarrassing.

His father waved a hand. "Percy, I was eighteen, once, myself. You think you can say anything I didn't say, hear, or think, already?"

"I doubt you ever invited your brothers to a sex club," he said, dryly.

From the kitchen there was a yelp. "Didja hear that? We are invited!"

Percy closed his eyes and groaned. He heard his father laugh, and when he opened his eyes, his dad waved him towards the front door. "Come on, let's leave them to their chores."

Percy yawned, and almost whined that he didn't want to get up from his nice comfy chair to go putter about in the front yard while dad tried to think of something to say to his son about... well, the list of possible conversation topics was long, but none of them seemed very appealing to Percy. Nonetheless, he rose and followed his father into the sunshine.

They walked for a moment, saying nothing, until Percy finally broke the silence. "What, dad? I can't imagine there isn't anything that hasn't been asked already, between Bill and Charlie and the twins. Go for it."

His father seemed to be studying the lawn for signs of gnome infestation -- which Percy could have told him was almost always limited to the back garden - they didn't like the bright sunlight in the front yard. "Actually, I was wondering..."

More deep inspection of either the lawn or his feet. Percy sighed. "No, I really don't want Mum to fix me up with a boyfriend, and yes, I really am happy doing what I'm doing."

His father looked up, startled, the smiled. "I'm glad to hear about the second part, but don't think for a moment there's anything I can do on the first count. She's a law unto herself, you know."

Percy shrugged. "It was worth a try. All right, then, what were you wondering?"

His father looked extremely sheepish. "If maybe you'd take me with you, when you take the twins? Not to partake of the facilities, mind you! I just want to see where you work. How the place runs." When Percy stared at him, mouth open, his dad assured him, "I can dress as a Muggle. Really, I won't be a bother! I just want to see..."

Percy slapped his forehead. He'd rather hoped his father had been kidding, the twelve times he'd asked, since last night, if he could come see the place. "Dad, you really don't want to go there. Trust me."

"Percy, it's not as if I don't know about sex. I've had it at least seven times, you know." The corner of his father's mouth twitched.

"Dad, I'm not taking you to the club. I'm not taking Fred and George, either, they just don't realise it yet."

"Come on, Percy. I just want to look around. Do they have a telephone? Can someone show me how to use it? Harry tried explaining it, once, but I really don't see how they can find people."

Percy blinked, confused. "How mean telephone numbers? How they're assigned? Dad, the telephone company just assigns them randomly."

His father blinked. "Really?" His expression grew into one Percy was long familiar with. "Have you seen one being used?"

"I use one, myself, almost every week. It's how I ring work, or friends from the club."

"You what?" His father stared at him. "Percy, that is simply not fair. You've got to show me how they're used. I've already promised your mother I wouldn't get one installed. Couldn't I just come along to your club, and you can show me how to use the telephone? Or ballpoint pens?"

It occurred to Percy that, if he weren't careful, he was going to end up with a family field trip to the Chamber. At least Ginny wouldn't be allowed along.... "What if I bring you some things?" he offered. "I can bring you a dozen pens, if you like."

His father was obviously torn between accepting, and pushing for a visit.

"Dad?" Ginny's voice called from the front door. "Mum wants you in the kitchen!"

"Coming!" he called back. He turned back to Percy. "That'd be wonderful, of course. You'll bring them by? You know your mum still wants you to come for family dinner, on Sundays. Couldn't I just come for an hour?"

"Dad, she wanted you straight away," Ginny prompted, coming out to join them in the yard.

"Go, Dad. Before Mum comes out and tells you to stop pestering me or she won't let you go to lunch with me at McDonald's next week," Percy said, in a burst of inspiration.

"Really? You'll show me how to figure out how much money to pay for one of those minced beef sandwiches?"

"Burgers, Dad. They're called burgers. Go, before she grounds you."

Arthur Weasley disappeared into the house, still occasionally looking back and beaming. Ginny smiled at Percy. "That was clever."

"Small price to pay for not having Dad hounding me about coming to visit the club." Percy eyed Ginny suspiciously. "Please don't even ask. You're too young; it's illegal."

She blinked, then blushed as she figured out what he was saying. "I wasn't going to," she muttered. Then she looked up at him. "Er, isn't the whole thing illegal?"

Percy blinked back at her, and wondered if they were going to get into a blushing contest. "Not exactly. Officially, the clients are just paying for use of the club's facilities. The salaries..." He stopped. "Why am I telling you this? Gin, you don't need to know, trust me."

She frowned. "Why should I?"

"Huh?" Percy asked, startled.

"Why should I trust you? You didn't trust me enough to tell me you liked boys."

Percy stared at her. "You weren't -- were you listening on the stairs, then?"

Ginny shook her head. "No. I've known for a while now. When you said you and Penelope had broken up, I... I went to talk to her."

Not for the first time in the last twenty-four hours, Percy felt like he might need to get a harness fixed to his jaw so that he could stop it from dropping open at random intervals. "What?"

"You didn't seem all that happy when you told us, and I thought she might have done something mean to you. So I went to talk to her. She wouldn't come right out and tell me why you broke up, but she said enough that I could fill in the gaps."

"You...never said anything."

"You didn't want anyone to know," she said. "I don't give away your secrets." She sounded slightly affronted.

"Except the one about my dating Penelope, in the first place?"

She frowned, looking guilty. "Right, fine. But I was eleven! And they all thought I was too young to hang out with them, even though I was only a year younger, and I thought... Anyway, I didn't tell, did I? Not 'til after you'd said I could."

"Because I chased you off, then you got zapped by a Basilisk and couldn't talk!"

"But I didn't, anyway. And after, you said I could tell!" Her eyes flared, and Percy could see that she was, one day, going to be a mum just exactly like their own. Scary.

"Only because you said you couldn't possibly keep it a secret, and you'd just been through a terrible ordeal, I thought you'd died, and you said mum was likely to ask you about everything you'd seen and you didn't want to lie to her about it!"

Ginny looked at him, innocently. "But you did say I could tell, before I actually told."

"Ginny, when has anyone won an argument with you?"

"You mean, since I was four? And with anyone but mum?"

Percy let out a deep breath. "There's just no way to win, is there? My entire family is against me -- is against being against me."

Ginny frowned a little. "Shouldn't we be?"

There was really no reply to that. So he didn't bother offering one.



"What sort of kinky sex?"

Percy groaned, and began inspecting the lawn for gnome activity. When he looked up, she was still waiting expectantly. "Ginny, for God's sake..."

"I won't tell anybody. Really."

"I believe you. But you don't need to know what sort of..." Percy blushed, and realized he couldn't even say 'kinky sex' to his fifteen year old sister, who'd just said it to him.

"I just wondered. If it's, you know, whipped cream and cherries kinky sex, or leather and chains kinky sex." She said it with a straight face, even as the flush rose in her cheeks.

Percy moved quickly towards the bench in front of the house, and sat down, burying his head in his hands. After a moment, he heard Ginny speak from somewhere quite near him.

"Percy? Are you all right?"

"Why," he asked slowly, not removing his hands from his face, "do you know about either sort, and is there someone that Bill, Charlie, Fred, George, Ron and I should get together to kill?"

"I don't think you should kill Doreen Dunleavy," she replied, naming a girl whom Percy vaguely recalled as having started in Gryffindor the year after he graduated. Ginny had brought her home once or twice, over the holidays. She was the only person he'd ever met who'd managed to pull off wearing her witch's robes as a miniskirt. Fred and George had made comments that he'd mostly ignored, and Ron had told him privately that he was frightened of her. Very frightened.

"Ah," he said. It seemed a safe sort of comment to make, and didn't require lifting his head from his hands.

"So, is it whipped cream sex, or tying up and spanking sex?" she asked.

Percy refrained from answering. In fact, Percy refrained from breathing.

"Percy? You okay?"

"If I look at you, you're going to make me tell you, and I categorically refuse to believe you're old enough to know."

"Oh. So it's the second one, then. Do you do the tying up?"

"I'm going to tell Mum you want her to fix you up with a nice boy," Percy threatened.

"Won't work. She's too busy combing through her connections to find one for you. I take it you're the one who gets tied up."

"You're a horror." Percy finally looked up at her, to see that her face was as scarlet as his own felt like it was. She was wearing a grin as cheeky as any that Fred or George had ever sported, though.

"Come on, tell me. I need some details."

Percy felt himself blanch -- a nice change from blushing all the time, he supposed. Ginny was still blushing, which was somewhat reassuring. "Why on earth would I give you details?" he demanded.

"Because of Doreen! She's always telling everyone what she knows about sex. I think she just gets it out of books, but she acts like she knows. She's mentioned leather and chains, and being tied up and stuff, but I don't think she really knows what she's talking about. If you'd tell me something, I could tell her for a change."

Percy gaped at her. "You want me to tell you about kinky sexual practices, so you can get one up on Doreen?"

Ginny nodded, happily.

He narrowed his eyes. "Are you sure you aren't asking, because there's...someone you're thinking about doing any of this with?" He rather amazed himself at asking, and without tripping over his tongue.

Ginny blushed harder, but frowned. "I'm not even dating anyone, Percy."

"You're sure? No one you're interested in?"

She rolled her eyes. "Well, of course there are cute boys. But I'm not seeing anyone, and if I were, I don't think I'd get farther than kissing him, without mum getting onto me, in which case the whole family would know."

Percy nodded, slowly. "All right. I'll tell you two things. Plastic paddles and butterfly clips."

Ginny leant forward, eagerly. When she realised he wasn't going to say anything else, she scowled. "Percy! What am I supposed to do with that?"

"If you have to ask, you're too young to know." Then he smiled as she continued to scowl at him. He raised his voice. "You're dating a boy?!"

Ginny's eyes went wide. "I am not!" she said. "I just told you--"

Charlie came running out of the house. "What? Ginny!"

A second later, Fred and George joined him. "What? What'd he say?"

Charlie told them, "Ginny's dating a boy!"

Ginny glared at Percy, who just smiled, and backed up so his brothers could demand to know who this boy was and where they could find him.

She was still scowling at him as escaped around the side of the house and headed for the back garden. He waved cheerily, then shoved both hands in his pockets and started looking for gnome activity. Really, this time. He might as well; it was something to do, until his mum gave him official word that his period of torment was over and he could Apparate home without her following him to berate him for trying to avoid Sunday dinner.

Of course, walking about in the Weasley garden while looking at his shoes was a sure way to walk smack into someone -- there was only so much square footage that nine people could spread out over. Percy rubbed at his forehead, and glared at Ron, who blinked back at him. "Er, sorry," his brother mumbled. "I just came to...."

Percy sighed. "Bond with me over being gay? Ask me to get you free passes to a sex club that you're barely legal to enter? Request tips on how to operate a touch-tone phone? Or ask deep and insightful questions about the specifics of my favourite sexual positions? The possibilities are endless, really. Just choose one."

Ron dug his foot into a gnome hole, then kicked at the dirt around it until the space was flat again. "Er. No." There was silence so deep that Percy thought for a minute that he'd embarrassed his brother out of ever speaking again. Then, "I just realized I'd never said thank you."

Percy reached quickly for the small, wizened head that had poked out of the bushes and stuck its tongue out at Ron, but he missed, and the gnome scuttled off, blowing a raspberry at both of them. "Ah," Percy said. He was beginning to think it might be the all-purpose word to use around his family from now on.

"I mean, I know you were risking a lot," Ron continued. "Not just going to face Malfoy, though I don't think I could've done that, if it'd been me."

"You'd just sneak into his house?" Percy reminded him. As if Ron needed it -- their mum had managed to mention it a dozen times, all day, that Ron was never to do something like this again.

Ron grinned. "Well, he wasn't home, was he? But I meant the other thing, as well. If we'd...if any of us had cared about it. You know. What you do." He descended into mumbling again, and Percy couldn't tell if Ron did care, or didn't care, or was just so flustered at the concept of talking about sex with Percy that he'd say anything to get the conversation over with.

"It wouldn't have bothered me," Percy told him. "Before today. It wouldn't really have bothered much as it should. As much as it would, now. If anyone cared, which it doesn't seem that they do."

"Yeah, well, I just wanted to say thanks." Ron shifted from one foot to the other, glancing around as if for gnomes, as well, but ignoring any signs of them. "I was in pretty bad trouble, and...well, thanks for getting me out of it."

"What else was I supposed to do?"

Ron ducked his head, and said quietly, "I know. You're always doing stuff like that. It's usually annoying, but...well. You know." He scuffled his feet again, and Percy came to the conclusion that Ron was desperate to get his duty over with, and escape. Not because he didn't mean what he was saying, but because they'd never had anything resembling a heart-to-heart talk, before. Even a short one to say 'thanks'.

"You're welcome," he said, simply.

Ron looked at him for a moment, then nodded, then coughed... then kicked at the dirt some more. Finally, as much out of pity for himself as for his brother, Percy rolled his eyes, and waved in the direction of the house.

"Oh, for God's sake, go. If mum asks, I'll tell her you were suitably grovelly."

That earned him a sudden grin, and Ron took off at a gallop, heading for the back door. Percy breathed a sigh of relief, as he looked around at the empty garden surrounding him. All was right with the world. On a local scale, anyway.

It would've been, at least, if Percy had been allowed to kick around the back yard by himself for an hour or two, just breathing in the air and being, even if trapped amongst friendly enemies, at least having a respite in a safety zone of his own for a while.

It couldn't last, of course. After what felt like far too short a time, he heard the mocking noise of a gnome laughing from a bush closer to the house. When he glanced up at the kitchen window, he saw his mother beckoning him from within. Percy felt like hunting down the unfortunate gnome and swinging it in circles so hard that it ended up in Australia. Not that his mum wouldn't have found a way to get his attention if the gnome hadn't. He growled to himself, and trudged up the back steps.

This inability to be anywhere by himself had been part of the reason he'd been so happy to escape to his own little flat in London, cramped as it undeniably was. At least it was a place where there were no brothers encouraging the local brownies to steal his socks, or risking their necks in front of him where he could see it and hear it and would be duty-bound to do something about it. No boggart moaning in the attic when he was trying to finish a report, or get some sleep, or just sit down and relax for a moment. No sister bringing home questionable friends for the twins to go 'Phwoaaaaaar' and 'Oo-er' over, and definitely no mother calling him into the kitchen for the fifth heart to heart of the afternoon.

He loved them. He really did. But if he didn't get away soon, he was going to have to stun spell someone. Possibly himself.

Percy headed into the kitchen, where his mother was bustling about, carrying dishes towards him. He reflexively held out his hands to take them as she handed them over. "Be a dear and set the table, won't you?" She turned and grabbed a basket, full of silverware, and plopped it down on the top of the stack.

Percy blinked at her. She glanced over, saw him still standing there, and settled two mugs on the top of the basket.

When he still didn't move, she said, "If I pile any more on there, you're liable to drop them. Go on, now. Then come back for the napkins and the other mugs."

Percy hurried out to the picnic tables they'd set up outside for breakfast. He tried to take his time, setting the plates and spoons out, but soon he had to go back inside for the rest. His mum nodded towards the stack of mugs, when he went back into the kitchen, but continued working at the stove. Percy stared at her for a moment, wondering when she was going to say something. But she just kept tending to her cooking. Percy grabbed the mugs and napkins, and hurried back out before she could take advantage of his presence to actually say something.

He was arranging the napkins, giving each a pinpoint No Blow Away spell, when his mum came out, carrying a large platter. He hurried over, took it from her, and carried it over to the table. When he'd set it down and turned around, she grabbed him without warning and hugged him.

'Unfair!' he almost cried, thinking dark thoughts of having been ambushed. As she continued to hold him, though, he smelled that mother smell, of kitchen and garden and home and just...Mum, and Percy relaxed. Let go, and rested his head on his mother's shoulder for a moment, wondering when he'd grown tall enough to do that.

Sometime during those years when he'd forgotten how good this could feel. When she'd taken a moment away from everything else, from cooking and cleaning and playing with the babies or scolding the twins or Dad, sometimes interchangeably -- or any of the other things that had filled her day, and just pulled him onto her lap and held him.

They were short moments, amid caring for seven children, or, she sometimes said, eight counting your father, and being a witch as well, one who was just as involved in the fight against Voldemort as her husband had been. The moments had dwindled away, as things got more hectic, as Percy himself got too big, and felt self-conscious about being called a mummy's boy, more than he already had been. But he could remember them now, a collection of scents and sounds and feelings like the softness of her robe under his small hand.

After another moment, she let him go, and he stepped back, almost feeling dizzy. She smiled for a second, then brushed his hair out of his face. "Go call your father and the others for dinner, please -- I think they're trying to play Muggle football in the front yard."

Percy nodded, and walked slowly around the side of the house. He wondered what they were using for a football, with some trepidation. The last time they'd tried playing a Muggle game, they'd ended up using gnomes as mobile wickets.

Percy had rarely been so happy to get to work. While the owls would know where to find him, they wouldn't be allowed to make deliveries until he'd got home, so for a few hours he was safe. He nodded at Stanis, the bouncer on duty tonight, and hurried inside, to find most everyone present already, seated around the staff room, talking. As soon as he walked in, Livi leapt up from her chair and hurried over. "Percy! How is everything? Have you talked to Mags? Has she told you? I've wanted to ring you all week; you have got to get a phone put in! How's your brother?"

Stunned, he didn't resist as she pulled him over to the couch and sat him down beside Harold.

She sat sideways on the couch, facing him, and asked again, "You're all right? No ugly business at home?"

"Uh, you...know? What happened?"

Livi studied him carefully before grinning. "I take it you haven't talked to Mags, then. Ooh, I get to tell. Killer!" She sounded as excited as Ginny going on about how Doreen would be so jealous, if he'd just give her a few little details... In fact, she sounded even younger. It didn't help that her braids -- long, black, leather-wrapped, 'I am the dominatrix who ate your mother for breakfast' cornrows -- were gathered at the ends with yellow children's duck barrettes.

Percy glanced at Harold, who put up his hands. "I'm not gonna tell her she doesn't get to explain."

Livi grinned again. "Sunday night, he comes in -- that client with the creepy gray eyes who picks one boy to dom for a few months or so, then moves on to the next..." Percy assumed she wasn't describing Lucius for his benefit, since she looked round him when she said it, and Harold nodded. "Anyhow, he came bustling back to Mags's door with Colin in tow, who was explaining polite as you please that there was no way a client was going to get into the back area unescorted, and this guy acting like Lord Folderol himself. Mags had the door shut, so we all knew something was up, and when he knocked, Lionel opened up the door, all tarted up in his lawyer togs."

"So needless to say everyone in the room was listening like it was a special weekend episode of Eastenders," Harold said dryly.

"Oh, you would've been too, if you were here. Shut your yap, young man." Livi eyed him dangerously, and Harold seemed to shrink back into the sofa, hands up in supplication again. "Any road, this guy gives everyone a look like he doesn't care who's there, and they'd best know their place. He rounds on Mags and right off starts in on you. Says, self-righteous as anything, that you've been to see him and he's appalled. Says he was assured that nothing unpleasant would come of his membership here, and on and on until he gets to the I think it best he be let go, part."

Percy swallowed nervously. He'd expected something like this -- though, since Stanis hadn't sent him straight away to see Mags, he didn't think he was being fired. Mags had assured him he wouldn't be, but that had been before Malfoy made his visit. Of course, everyone was acting rather cheerful about it all....

"Mags asks what's he done, then, and sits all calm as stone while he says he's being blackmailed. Colin apparently wanted to bully him out right then, but Mags wouldn't let him. Instead Lionel proceeds to explain how there was no breech of contract on our part, and goes on at great length in words I still don't understand, that no one here'd done anything wrong. Explained how the law was on our side, as you were just offering to stand witness, as was the proper thing to do.

"They went back and forth a bit, and then Lionel mentioned that if the court wanted to, they were free to get copies of the security tapes from that night, to support your story." Livi laughed. "You should have seen him! He looked like he wanted to tear Lionel in half. Instead he started in on some very unpleasant things about you, Percy. Got as far as explaining the nature of your ancestry, when Colin took him by the arm and frog-marched him out. Poor man must have tripped once or twice, on his way out. Mags said he wasn't to come back, ever, or she'd have him tossed out less politely."

Percy blinked. "What did, say, about the nature of my ancestry?" Lucius wouldn't have spouted off anything about Percy being a wizard; that was just silly. Percy didn't know why he'd asked it. But what could Lucius have to say about his family, to Muggles?

Livi laughed. "Well, he didn't give us your family tree or anything, dear. He just said you were descended from apes. And Mags said, still all polite, so are we all, except some of us seem to have stopped throwing shit at each other."

Percy sat, mildly stunned, before he chuckled once. "Obviously Mags hasn't been in here for one of our food fights recently enough."

Livi leaned in close to him. "Colin didn't take it nearly as politely, though. I heard him telling the guy as he was marching him out of the room, that if Colin ever heard of him bothering you outside the club, he'd not be able to throw shit at anybody, 'cos his head would be shoved so far up his arse he could pull it out the other end and tie a knot." Her eyes sparked with a mischief that was somewhere between the girl with the duck barrettes and the professional dominatrix. "Some body likes you..." she sing-songed softly.

Percy decided he had some words to say to whichever of his apelike ancestors had passed on the Weasley blushing gene.

"Told you," Harold said.

"You didn't!" Livi responded, then she gave Percy a wide grin. "You asked Harold if Colin liked you? You know, we could train Colin up into a nice dom for you; he's got good instincts but he's never--"

Percy was up off the couch and heading for the door, intending to find Mags and verify what Livi had said. Hopefully Colin wasn't working tonight -- he wasn't sure he could manage to look at him with blushing again. He might have a sort of small crush on the man, but he wasn't interested.

"Wait, you haven't said -- did things work out with your brother?" Rose asked.

Percy stopped and turned to her, ignoring Livi as best as he could. "Yes, everything's fine. Well, it's fine for him." Ron had sent him an owl on Tuesday, describing how he, Ron, was the talk of Hogwarts. His adventures were, no doubt, blown completely out of proportion, but Ron obviously didn't mind. Knowing Ron, he was himself feeding the explosion of the story.

Ron was loving it -- and Percy had had to promise not to tell their mum how much he was enjoying it.

"Fine for him?" Rose frowned. "What else happened?"

Percy sighed. "I had to tell them. Why I'd been able to get him off -- that I worked here. Had to tell them nearly everything."

There were, instantly, expressions of sympathy and commiseration. Livi came over and took his hand. "What did they do?"

He gave her a pitiful look. "It was horrible! My oldest brother got all chummy with me for being gay. My second oldest brother wants to introduce me to a leather-worker he knows. My dad wants to come visit me here, and my little sister wants details!"

He'd been pelted with owls all week. Fred and George kept asking when they could visit, and making a point of letting him know when they were free. Ginny wanted to know more details so she could drop names in front of Doreen. Even Ron was asking vague questions in his letters, a bit braver on parchment than he was in person.

The sympathetic expressions were turning into amused ones. "The worst ones are my parents," Percy continued, mock-sorrowfully. "My mum's trying to fix me up with nice boys, and my father keeps asking me if he can come check out the security system!"

"Oh, is he an expert?" he heard Mags asking. She must have heard his voice, because she'd appeared from the back room and was approaching them now. "We can always use free family donations."

Percy laughed, not quite hysterically. "Not exactly. But he so wants to learn..." He shuddered.

Mags snickered. "Yeah, that's terrible, Percy. Much worse than my Dad. He just booted me out when I told him I liked girls, and ordered me never to darken his towels again."

Percy looked up, startled. "But I thought your family..."

"My brothers, yeah. I mean, Lionel didn't have any room to talk, and Robert's the sweetest thing on two legs, until you get him into a courtroom. But Dad..." She shrugged. "I can't say I was surprised. So you take your family where you can get it, y'know?"

Percy nodded, and looked around the room. All his co-workers, his friends, who were standing there, listening and watching. His second, adopted family, who'd been as worried for him as his own family had, once they'd pinned him down to find out there was anything wrong.

"Oh, Christ, now he's gonna get soppy," Martin said.

"Ignore him," Livi instructed, and she reached over to give Percy a hug. "So, your family likes you, doesn't mind what you do for a living, and the bad guy's been tromped on. Not bad for a skinny kid with glasses who couldn't believe anyone would enjoy tying him up for a shag."

Percy felt himself beginning to blush, again. Then he smiled. "Livi, you should be nice to me."

She blinked. "Why should I be?"

"Otherwise, I might not introduce you to my brothers."

Carefully, she asked, "And why do I want to meet your brothers?"

"Fred and George. They're eighteen."

Livi thought for a second. "Both of them? They're twins?" Percy nodded. "They look anything like you?" Percy nodded again. He watched as Livi's eyes went soft and unfocused. "Twins...twins? Oooo....I could....ooooo!"

He kept to himself the fact that they were dying to know the address to this place, and had in fact deposited several boxes of prank-free candies in his inbox this week, to further their attempts at buttering him up. One of which they'd even delivered in person, when they showed up along with his dad, to accompany them out to that promised lunch at McDonald's -- which he'd had to pay for, of course, being the only one with Muggle money.

Percy wasn't likely to tell them that Livi was going off into ecstasies at the thought of being able to do naughty things to a pair of redheaded twins, either. He was planning on saving up both pieces of information, and arranging the meeting (since he knew it would happen eventually, no matter how many times he said no) when he wanted something from both Livi and the twins.

An odd image came to his mind, all of a sudden, but Percy shoved it somewhere down in his skull with the rest of the odd images, and didn't give in to the little voice that was saying "If they're willing to go in with each other..."

Livi poked him on the arm. "Hey, you want a free session?"

He narrowed his eyes at her. "I work here. All my sessions are free."

"I meant a footrub session."

Percy could feel his own eyes unfocusing at the thought, but he shook his head. "Not now, thanks. Maybe later. I've just had a week of insanity and torture with my family. At the moment, all I want is for someone to tie me up and fuck me until I scream."

That was Stanis's cue to pop his head in the door. "Hey, Percy..."

He looked up eagerly. He wasn't scheduled for anybody tonight, which meant a walk-in or a new client. Someone utterly unrelated to all of this week's adventures, so he could just sink into the sensation and not have to think... "Yeah?"

"There's someone outside says he's your brother."

Percy groaned, and slunk down as far as he could into the sofa cushions, wondering if he could get away with Apparating out of the men's loo. "Damn, they've found me."

Livi looked up at Stanis with great interest. "Is it twins?"

He shook his head. "Looks like only one of him to me. Thirtysomething, wicked earring, arse to die for?"

Percy closed his eyes. Livi tapped him on the shoulder. "Hey, how many brothers do you have?"

"Five," he answered weakly. He opened his eyes to see her doing the "Ooo, twins" look, times five -- or possibly, and he didn't want to think about it, six -- and groaned again. He dropped his head into his hands. "I just want to be tied up and shagged," he wailed softly.

"Er, thought I only paid for a ten-quid cuddle?"

Percy kept his head in his hands, and thought seriously about Apparating home in front of god and everybody.

Problem with that, was Bill would only follow him, and he still wouldn't get to be tied up.

He heard a voice in his head say that, no, in fact he might, and Percy wondered if maybe Lucius hadn't managed to curse him, after all. Because now he would never be rid of that image.

Head still down, he said politely, "Bill, meet everyone, everyone, Bill. Now would someone please tell me if there's anyone in the lobby I can have?"

"I don't get my cuddle?" Bill asked, sounding as if he were pouting.

Percy finally looked up, sighing. "Very funny. Fine, then, I suppose I can show you around -- er, Mags, unless you need me?" He hoped she would say 'yes, the lobby's full, we can't possibly spare you'.

She didn't. "No, go on. I'll send Stanis to find you, if we need you."

Trapped, Percy gave his brother a look; thought about demanding to know how he'd found him -- and whether he'd told anyone else. Instead he waved a hand. "Come on. I can show you the public areas." Hopefully it wouldn't take long, and he could get rid of Bill in time to find someone in the lobby who needed somebody to tie up. Even a girl -- he wasn't feeling picky.

It took Bill a few minutes' worth of 'Nice to meet you's before he caught up with Percy at the door. They'd got only a few steps down the hallway towards the restaurant end of the building, when Bill said, "You know, if you really want...."

Percy glanced back towards the door that led to the lobby, then shook his head, smiling faintly. There was plenty of time. "No, it's all right."

"Reckon I wouldn't mind -- was kinda fun when you were a kid. Not paying ten quid, though."

Percy blinked at his brother in the darkness of the hallway before recalling what Bill was talking about. "For your cuddle? I suppose I could knock five off for not telling the twins where this place is."

"No, for tying you up."

Percy leaned back against the wall, and tried to tell if Bill was grinning or not -- not that Percy was sure just what it might mean, if he were. Nor was he sure what he would think, if he knew. "Damn straight you're not paying ten pounds," he found himself saying. "That costs a hell of a lot more."

"Really, you that good? How much, then?"

Percy wondered just how much cash Bill had on him, and whether he should find out before he named a figure, just so he could see his brother's reaction. He sighed.

All he'd wanted was a nice, normal weekend...