The trial room looked exactly like it always did. Courtroom Ten, the largest in the Ministry, used only for the trials of the very worst criminals. And teenage heroes, apparently. Harry was taking slow, deep breaths beside me. His face had returned to its normal color, and he actually looked quite relaxed, which was good.

The Wizengamot members filed in behind us. I directed Harry to the chair (which I wasn't happy about, but didn't see any other option which wouldn't get us into trouble. Umbridge might like Harry sitting in a pink, fluffy, conjured monstrosity, but I doubted anyone else would). The plum colored witches and wizards climbed up the steps to the high benches. Fudge and the Toad sat directly in the middle, gazing down upon all like a perverse royal couple.

Percy's seat was slightly to Fudge's left, but all the way at the front, already holding his scroll and quill. His nose was spattered with ink, which might have been stains—it was eight in the morning, after all. He refused to make eye contact with either of us.

I stared at him for a long moment, trying to decide if I really should talk to him after this. He was my brother, but I'd been royally pissed with him when he left the family, and then things had turned awkward after Fred…but he was my brother.

Percy fidgeted, and I turned to Harry.

"Right, kid. Remember—be polite, yes or no. Tell the truth, unless I lie first. Then no matter what, go with it."

Harry took another deep breath. "Right, yeah. I'm good."

I probably should have given him a calming potion before this. Ah, well.

Fudge waited until everyone was seated, then looked pointedly at Harry, who sat down edgily on the chair. The Minister took off his ever present bowler hat, and turned to me. "I…suppose we'll need another chair…"

"Allow me," I said. I waved my wand (making sure to use mine, and not Fred's. I didn't need to get caught using a spare wand). A fluffy, eye-watering magenta chair, embroidered with a large gold W, appeared next to Harry, whose lips twitched. Fudge huffed, and I took my seat.

"Yes, well, if everyone's ready now…"

He started listing off the names of everyone present, their parents, their long lost cousins, and their long lost cousin's twice removed brother's dog. Umbridge gave both Harry and me the evil eye, which was slightly ruined by her frilly pink smile, frilly pink dress, and frilly pink toadness; Amelia Bones scrutinized Harry, mindlessly tapping her wand against her left palm; Wilkes and Travers glared at me, obviously miffed about their hurting toes; Percy ignored everyone but the Minister.

I zoned back in.

"Disciplinary hearing for the twelfth of August," Fudge was saying. Percy's quill started scribbling and scratching back and forth across his scroll. "Into offenses committed under the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction for Underage Sorcery and the International Statute of Secrecy by Harry James Potter…"

I zoned out again.

"Witness for the defense, George Fabian Weasley, the alternate."

I blinked. They'd labeled me, had they? Interesting. And bigoted. I might have to worry about Umbridge attempting to boot me out of the castle on charges of 'being impure' and all that. Being other worldly was usually a complement; not that wizards would care.

"The charges against the accused are as follows: That he did knowingly, deliberately, and in full awareness of the illegality of his actions, having received a previous written warning from the Ministry of Magic on a similar charge, produce a Patronus Charm in a Muggle inhabited area, in the presence of a Muggle, on August the second at twenty-three minutes past nine, which constitutes an offense under paragraph C of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery, 1875, and also under section thirteen of the International Confederation of Wizards' Statute of Secrecy."

Fudge cleared his throat. "Ahem. You are Harry James Potter, of Number 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey?" He glared at Harry, as though daring Harry to jump up and shout, "Nope! I'm Larry Dotter, of 5 Divet Prive, Mittle Flinging!"

"Yes," Harry said.

"You received an official warning from the Ministry of Magic for illegal magic three years ago, did you not?"

I nodded ever so slightly, and Harry said, "Yes."

He couldn't start trying to argue the facts. That would lead to complications, which I didn't feel like dealing with at the moment. One illegal trial over a completely trumped up charge at a time, please.

"And yet you produced a Patronus on the night of the second of August?"

"Yes—"

I glanced at Harry, my lips tight.

"Yes, I did."

Good lad.

Fudge looked thrilled. He was underestimating me. "Knowing that you are not allowed to use magic while outside of school while you are under the age of seventeen?"

"Yes…" Harry glanced at me. I gave him a small smile and a thumbs up behind my back.

"Knowing that you were in an area full of Muggles?"

I shook my head ever so slightly.

Harry, who'd just taken a deep breath—presumably to state that, yes, he had—paused.

"No."

Fudge's eyebrows shot up higher than a cursed broomstick. "No?"

"No."

"What do you mean, no?"

Harry settled down a bit more in the chair. The kid could be very Slytherin when he wanted to be. He'd obviously found the first loophole—Dumbledore wasn't here, and therefore the kid could—and would—think for himself.

"I did not produce a Patronus Charm in an area full of Muggles."

Murmurings broke out across the benches.

Amelia Bones boomed out, "Explain."

Harry didn't bother looking at me. The boy practically oozed both confidence and innocence, a difficult feat to do at the same time.

"The only people around for at least five blocks was my Muggle cousin, Dudley, who already knows about magic, and a squib, a neighbor of mine. Mrs. Arabella Figg."

Bones peered at Harry through her monocle. "We have no records of a squib in Little Whinging."

"Nor did you have any record of Mr. Potter residing in Little Whinging until he came to school, and Dumbledore—" I gave a meaningful pause. "Saw fit to tell the Ministry said information, which he had obviously been holding for a very long time."

Fudge's face matched his robes once again.

"I—"

I winked subtly at Harry. The one thing I do love about pre-war wizards—they won't notice a damn thing even if it dances in front of them naked. "Well, Minister, it has been said, after all, that Dumbledore has been jumping to conclusions. Rumor has it there is a very good reason he's been dismissed from the Wizengamot."

All muttering stopped.

Harry, for his part, was doing wonderfully. Of course, I'd have hell to pay when he found out I'd played him, but the important thing was that he was working with me, at least for now.

As for the Wizengamot…Umbridge's face was scrunched up in confusion. Fudge didn't look much better. Bones' face was stony, and the only sign she was actually alive was the whiteness of her knuckles as she clenched her wand. Percy was stoically ignoring anyone and everyone except his precious Minister.

"As the Ministry of Magic did not have any need to perform memory charms, I think it is quite clear Mr. Potter was not seen by anyone not already knowledgeable of magic," I said.

Fudge cleared his throat. "Yes, yes, but that doesn't excuse the fact that he still did the charm!"

"Ah," I said. "But Mr. Potter had very good—and legal—reasons for performing the charm."

Fudge looked like someone had just told him the NEWTs had been wrong and he got all Outstandings after all. "Yes, yes, I thought we'd be hearing something like this. Dementors, I suppose?"

"What could you possibly mean by that, Minister?" I asked. "Were Dementors sent near Little Whinging?"

Fudge turned plum again. "Of course not! The Ministry would never do such a thing. The area is full of Muggles. I was informed Mr. Potter seemed to be suffering delusions about being attacked by Dementors."

There were several things I could do from here. Since Harry probably wouldn't like it, I decided against the insanity plea. I was good; I could easily get this off on a technicality. In fact, I already had one in mind.

"Mr. Potter spoke to no one except trusted associates about his trouble. How did you find out, Minister, if the Ministry did not send any Dementors?"

"Why—how dare—you dare blame the Wizengamot for this boy's—madness?" Fudge bellowed.

"My client wishes to sue the Minister for slander," I shot out. "Charges will be dropped if the Minister retracts his insults."

Harry's mouth twitched repeatedly. Up in the benches, Bones stared at me oddly, and Umbridge dropped her smile.

Fudge paled. His eyes shifted side to side, and silence filled the room.

"We shall worry about that later. As for the Dementors," I said calmly. "Please excuse my naïveté, Madame Bones, but is it possible for Dementors to have gone rogue?"

Several people gasped, but Bones, as I knew she would, shook her head. "It has never happened before, Mr. Weasley."

"What security measures are in place to ensure such a thing never happens?"

"All have been placed at Azkaban and cannot get off the isl—" she stopped speaking, and her face scrunched up. "I cannot tell civilians."

"Dementors can fly, can they not?" I asked.

Bones' eyes slowly drifted to Fudge, and then Umbridge. "It is an awful long way, Mr. Weasley."

"So it is," I noted.

And the seed of suspicion was planted among the Bones. Take that, Herbology lessons!

"It doesn't matter!" Fudge bellowed, the looming lawsuit left behind in the cobwebs. "There were no Dementors in Little Whinging!"

"If you say so," I said. "Then what is the matter?"

"The matter is that this boy—" Here Fudge pointed a plum-colored finger at Harry— "did magic in the sight of Mug—did magic outside of school!"

"Well of course," I said. "And what is the problem with that?"

Fudge gaped at me; Bones' monocle popped out; Percy dropped his quill; Umbridge turned more plum than Fudge; Harry stared at me with wide eyes.

"The entire reason for this trial," Bones stated, after replacing her monocle, "is that underage magic is not allowed outside Hogwarts."

"Oh really?" I said, a large, pleased smile attaching itself to my features. "Well then, perhaps you had better look a bit closer at Mr. Potter's Ministry-assigned privileges."

There was muttering.

"On November 3rd of the year Nineteen Eighty-Two, Byron Moon suggested allowing Mr. Harry James Potter the rare privilege of performing magic outside of school, provided no Muggles saw him. The motion was seconded by Chester Quigley, and nine-eighths of the Wizengamot agreed."

Silence dance across the floor. The two named individuals, or those whom I assumed to be said individuals, shifted nervously.

It was true, as unlikely as it seemed. Hermione had discovered it while digging around in her office some years after the War. Harry had been pissed; the rest of us got pissed from laughing so hard.

"As far as I am aware…" I gave everyone a loose, toothy grin. "Mr. Potter has broken no laws."

"Weasley!" Fudge barked, turning to Percy, who jumped. "Is this true?"

Percy fumbled briefly for his wand, and then tapped his parchment. His eyes flitted back and forth across it several times. He glanced at me quickly, met my gaze, and turned back to Fudge. "Yes, sir. It is indeed true."

Bones coughed lightly, a fist over her face. "Well, if that's all, then we have no reason to—"

The door opened with a bang. "Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, defense of the accus—"

The White Bee saw me relaxing in my chair. He came to a dead stop, and for a beautifully long moment, he stood gaping in the middle of Courtroom Ten.

Which, coincidentally, had just become my favorite courtroom.

Bones peered sternly over her seat, and gave Dumbles a steely stare. "Dumbledore. You are eleven minutes late to this trial, and quite unneeded. Also, as it appears, unwanted."

Cue the snickers.

Dumbledore clasped his hands together, and his old, kindly grandfather image smiled away at the Wizengamot. "Amelia! I am afraid there's been a misunderstanding. I was to be Mr. Potter's defense."

"Mr. Weasley has been doing just fine, Dumbledore. Now leave, or I'm afraid you'll have to be escorted out."

Dumbledore turned to Harry. His head was down, and he wouldn't meet the kid's eyes. "Harry, I assure you I can help you. If you'll just—"

"Mr. Potter, you are free to go." Bones stood abruptly. "The Ministry apologizes for this inconvenience. I assure you it will not happen again."

"Mr. Potter also wants his other 'offence' done away with," I said breezily. "The one from 1992."

Bones nodded, and everyone else stood. Percy collected his quill and parchment. Umbridge glared.

"If the Minister does not publicly withdraw his earlier statements within a week, Mr. Potter will pursue the lawsuit."

Fudge turned plum again. He coughed. "Ah, yes. Well, ah…yes, yes. Of course." He puffed himself up, looking for all the worlds like he had just swallowed a hippogriff. "I was not as eloquent as I might have been, Mr. Potter. I simply meant—what I meant was—I spoke out of anger, my boy. Unjust anger."

Fudge turned for the door and practically ran.

~!~

"I'm happy with that," Harry said as we headed to the door. "I mean, he practically had a heart attack just saying that."

I snickered. "Indeed it was so, Harrykins. Now, how do you feel about your newfound magical freedom?"

"I can really practice magic outside school?"

"Yep. The Wizengamot awarded it to you after defeating Riddle. Just don't get caught."

The kid frowned. "Why didn't I know about this?"

"Well…" I drawled. "Dumbledore, why don't you answer that?"

"I…" Dumbles gazed about the room, looking at everything but Harry. The kid's face drooped. "Harry, my boy, I was afraid the temptation would be too much. Magic is safest done inside Hogwarts until you graduate. Even powerful wizards like yourself—especially powerful wizards—can get hurt by it."

"Rubbish," I said. "It's way safer than accidental magic, and Harry's done plenty of that."

"All the same, Harry, I would ask that you be very careful with what you do."

Harry nodded glumly. "Yes, sir."

"And now I am afraid I must be off. Fawkes appears to have had an excitable burning day—my office is completely destroyed. If you will?" Dumbledore, still looking away from Harry, strolled out the door.

"I was hoping he'd talk to me," Harry admitted. "He won't even look at me."

"Yeah, well, that's 'cause—" Uh-oh. I had forgotten about the horcrux in Harry. I needed to figure out how to get rid of it without killing him. "He's worried about Voldemort, and he's trying not to worry you."

"He's not making it better!"

I stopped walking. "He's not perfect, Harrykins. Far from it, actually—tell you what. Think over this: who gave you to the Dursleys?"

Harry frowned. "He did."

"Right. And who was your godfather?"

"Sirius. But he was arrested…"

"Not until two days after your parents were killed."

"But Sirius had already run off," Harry pointed out. "And I needed to go somewhere, if only for a little bit."

"Harry, you'd just been attacked and then successfully killed a dark wizard. I seriously doubt any witch or wizard in their right or otherwise mind would've protested watching you for a day or two. You should've gone to St. Mungo's first, anyway."

"What's St. Mungo's?"

"Wizard hospital. Besides, Sirius was just your godfather. Do you know who your godmother is?"

Harry shook his head. "I didn't think I had one."

"Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Potter, of course you had one." Madame Bones came to a standstill next to Harry, readjusting her monocle. "Unfortunately, Alice Longbottom was unable to perform her duties to you."

Harry turned white. "Mrs. Longbottom was my godmother?"

"You should really get to know Neville some more," I said. "My point, Madame, is that the Longbottoms were attacked three days after the fall of Riddle. Although it's fortunate for all of us Harry wasn't there, by all rights he really should've been."

Bones pursed her lips. "Hm. Yes, I see your point. All the same, nothing can be done about it now."

"True. It's a real shame Sirius Black really is guilty here. How did his trial go? He never had one in my world."

Bones stared at me in shock. "I—I don't—he didn't have a trial?"

"Many didn't. Of course, the Lestranges and Crouch were practically caught in the act, but Crouch Sr. threw every suspected Death Eater in Azkaban unless they wriggled their way out, remember?"

Bones had power, and best of all, she was fair. If she knew Sirius hadn't had a trial, she'd call off the manhunt to demand justice. Probably.

"Yes, of course. Terrible times, those were." Bones peered at me through her monocle. "I wish to speak with you, Weasley. Could we arrange a meeting for some time this week?"

This I had not seen coming. "Ah, I'll be settling in at Hogwarts this week, Madame. Next week, perhaps?"

"Two o'clock on the seventh?"

"That'll work. Your office?"

"Please do." She strolled off, her robes flapping about her legs.

I ruffled Harry's hair. "Come one. We don't have all day."

We passed by a furious Lucius Malfoy, a quivering Fudge, and a sour looking Umbridge on the way. Percy was following behind them at a small distance, looking stony, shocked, and somewhat miserable. How he managed that all at once, I wasn't sure, but it must have his eyebrows. It is well known purple eyebrows can perform many expressions at once.

The worst thing? I wasn't even the one who had given him those eyebrows, but seeing as he was clutching a letter with a clearly noticeable Norwegian stamp on it, I knew exactly who had done it; a pair of red headed twins, most likely. Which meant I had done it after all.

"So…Dumbledore," Harry said as we made our way to the stairs. "He put me with the Dursleys because of the blood wards."

"Harrykins, blood wards are highly illegal. Your mom got off 'cause she was dead, and Dumbledore got off because he couldn't very well punish himself. Also, there's the small matter of the Dursleys hating you."

"So? I don't like them either."

"And there's the problem." I sneezed as I accidentally kicked up a cloud of dust. "To work properly, blood wards need an emotional attachment. A positive one, not a negative one."

Harry coughed. "So…the wards are protecting Dudley?"

"Come on, Harry, you're smarter than this. Dudley's Muggle."

"But Dumbledore said—"

"Dumbledore's plan, while rather clever, is a bit cold."

"Don't talk about Dumbledore that way!"

I sighed. Surely the 'Dumbledore's-man-through-and-through' part hadn't started this early?

"Harry, do you want me to treat you like a kid or not?"

"No."

"Then stop acting like one."

Harry's face turned pink, but he stayed quiet.

"Like I said, blood wards are illegal and also very hard to do. At least, ones like he described are. Clearly they also won't work on you, but only Dumbledore knows that."

"So…wait. What?"

The kid looked so confused.

"Harrykins, think about it. Clearly blood wards were useless. He told everyone he'd put them around you so they wouldn't even bother trying to get you. Then he hid you away in the middle of Surrey where no one would bother to look."

"They're no blood wards?!"

"Nope. Besides, they wouldn't work anyway, and I don't mean because of the Dursleys. Riddle came back how?"

Harry frowned. "He…used…my blood."

"Get it now?"

He nodded sullenly. "But why wouldn't Dumbledore tell me?"

"Didn't want to worry you. You have to remember, kid, he's not used to sharing secrets. He's also only human. Don't worship him. As of this moment, he's only your headmaster, and he hasn't really done a good job of that."

"Dumbledore's a great—what do you mean?"

I sighed, and ended up choking on more dust. "Third year. Three headed dog, possessed professor, philosopher's stone. Fourth year. Possessed girl, evil diary, petrified students, basilisk. Fifth year. Mass murderer, Dementors, illegal animagus, a werewolf."

"Professor Lupin was the best teacher we've ever had!"

"Yes, he was. However, it was illegal for the parents not to be informed that he was there and what safety measures were in place. Oh, forgot about Lockhart in third. Anyway, sixth year, polyjuiced Death Eater as Defense professor—talk about irony. Also, a deadly tournament, an underage participant, a yule ball, and a portkey right on Hogwarts' grounds."

Harry coughed again. "Um, why is the yule ball with the list of bad stuff?"

"Harry, you took twins, twins, and you sat around moping all night."

He turned red. "Shouldn't you be, you know, telling me against that? You're a twin—that's weird."

I swung an arm around his shoulder as we staggered up another flight. "Harrykins, that's exactly why I'm congratulating you!" I winked at him, and he snickered, his cheeks still pink.

"I didn't take them both, anyway. Ron took Padma."

"Yeah, but you two are practically twins yourselves, so I'd say it works. Speaking of, you did apologize to Parvati, right?"

Harry blanched.

I ruffled his hair again. "Right. Here's what you do…"

By the time we reached the third level, I'd sketched out a plan for Harry and bribed him into following it. My goal was for him to end up with Ginny and give me two nephews and a niece, but there was no harm in him experimenting a bit first.

That mess with Chang didn't count.

~!~

There was someone waiting for us at the third level.

I shrugged my arm off Harry, and carefully gripped my wand in my sleeve, remembering just in time to leave Fred's hidden. It was a stranger, but no one used the stairs, so they shouldn't be waiting there at all. They were waiting for us—had to be.

It was an Unspeakable. An Unspeakable with his hood down, showing short sandy hair and pale grey eyes, almost exactly like those of—

Croaker.

Crap.

"George Fabian Weasley, Alternate?" he asked in a bland voice.

"Why?"

"I am Professor Saul Croaker, Assistant Head of the Department of Mysteries, Personal Assistant to the Head of the Department of Mysteries, Secretary to the Head of the Department of Mysteries. I would speak with you."

This did not bode well for me.

I pushed Harry toward the stairs. "Go up to level two. Dad's desk is up there, you can stay with him 'til I'm done."

Harry looked at the Unspeakable. "But—"

"Shoo."

The Unspeakable waited until he was out of sight before leading me down the stairs—again.

He didn't give me time to complain.

"I have a few reasons for this visit."

"Oh?" I asked, keeping my wand in my hand.

He withdrew his own and banished the dust in a twelve foot radius. "Indeed. You are the second last person to have seen Algernon Croaker, the head Unspeakable, before he mysteriously disappeared."

"Yes, well, strange things do happen in that department, don't they?"

"The last one was Lucius Malfoy, who blew up half the Department Head's office and spent the rest of the evening and the following day with the Minister."

I kept my voice soft, only mildly interested, as if we were speaking of the weather. "You think I had something to do with his disappearance?"

We turned down another flight of stairs; level five.

"The Department of Mysteries must follow every possible avenue, Mr. Weasley."

"I see."

We were both silent for the remaining two levels. The professor, probably Croaker's son, was moving rather swiftly and obviously wanted to get a move on. I was worried this was a trap; either he knew, or heavily suspected, I had his father captive, or he wanted to find out about parallel worlds.

I refused to be a laboratory rat, thank you very much. Just the thought of being experimented on like that made me shiver and glance warily at him.

Professor Croaker led me through the hallway leading to the department. We walked through the obsidian welcome room, which still had its new decorations, and then through a door on the right.

His office looked very much like a regular office; the walls were a pleasant light gold, like honey, and the floor was a smooth brown wood. A comfy looking chair sat behind a solid oak desk, two seats were in front of it, and a large bookshelf filled the wall behind it. Numerous papers, parchments, and quills were neatly stacked on the desk, and about a few dozen clocks, watches, and hourglasses of all kinds were placed on shelves.

Croaker seated himself, and waved at me to take a seat as well. I did so. He did not offer a drink, nor food of any kind. I wasn't foolish enough to ask.

Croaker's eyes met mine. "Well, Weasley?"

"I don't know what you—"

"Don't lie." His voice cracked out violently, making me jump. "Is he harmed?"

Did stone count? "I don't—"

Croaker took a sheaf of parchment off a random stack of memos and studied it closely. "My father is very…curious, and this often leads to complications. You clearly suffer from post-war mentalities. It is not difficult to piece together what happened. If you make this simple for me, I will not press charges, nor bring difficulties to you. On the other hand, the Department of Mysteries has a direct order from Dolores Jane Umbridge to keep and detain you for study."

One of the clocks toppled off the shelf, its glass face splintered, its five hands twisted and warped. Croaker didn't even look.

"Of course, we listen to none but the Wizengamot. All the same, the Minister's Undersecretary is a very well-connected witch."

Two hourglasses joined the clock on the floor.

Croaker set the parchment down. "Tea?"

"No." I peered at the parchment; the Toad's loopy signature was clear as day and hideous as she was, even upside down.

I couldn't believe I hadn't seen this coming. The older Croaker was a buffoon, but there was no way I could stand against the Department of Mysteries as a whole. I was only one wizard, and while I was clever, I knew my limits.

"Is he injured?"

"…No."

"Do you know where he is?"

"…He may have said something, but I don't quite remember."

"Hmph. When will he return?"

"…Three days."

"Unharmed?"

"I'm sure I don't know."

Croaker stared at me, grey eyes unforgiving. "See that he does."

"Of course."

Somehow, the tension in the room eased after that. Not much, but a little. Then it was like a game. Croaker offered me tea again; I declined. He offered snacks; again, I refused. I asked about the clocks; he brushed them off as a hobby. When I mentioned prophecies, he laughed. He lamented about the future the world seemed to be heading to; I broke another clock—on purpose this time. He asked about Fawkes; I brushed off his questions with a polite 'he's fine'.

When his clocks chimed nine, I made my leave.

"I greatly enjoyed this little chat, Weasley," he said, not rising from his chair. "Do come again soon; I'm sure we can learn much from each other."

"Hmn," I grouched, heading straight for the door. My head hurt.

"Do come again, won't you? How about… one o'clock on the seventh?"

I froze, my hand strangling the doorknob, which squeaked in offense. He knew about my meeting with Bones. How? Had he been listening, or did he simply make it his business to know other people's business inside the Ministry?

…Both, I suppose.

"That would be fine," I ground out. "Good day."

I left the department feeling as if I had just gotten a scolding from Flitwick. I hated Ravenclaws and their damn circular talks. At least with Slytherins you could throw a bag of coins or an embarrassing picture in their faces; with the Ravenclaws, you had to outsmart them to win.

Ha. That would be the day.

~!~

I decided to stop by Percy's office before getting Harry. I didn't know exactly where he worked, but a point me charm led me to the fifth level.

The floor was divided into large sections, with cubicles in the middle and offices lining the edge. Each of the offices had a bronze name plate stuck to the door, with Cornelius Fudge, Minister for Magic on the large center office. Underneath that were too smaller nameplates, Dolores Umbridge, Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic and Percy Weasley, Court Scribe.

No one was watching, so I stuck my head inside. It was a small corridor with three doors. Flustered voices came from the one at the end of the hall, which bore a gold nameplate with Fudge's name sprawled across it. I thought one of them sounded like the elder Malfoy, but I wasn't going to check right now.

I rapped on Percy's door.

He opened it, looking quite red in the face, his eyebrows still purple as ever and his glasses askew. "Yes? What is it—oh. It's you."

He made to close the door, but I stuck my foot through the doorway. "Percy! Let me in, big brother?"

He glared at me. "Come to express your disapproval at my abandonment of the family? Yes, please do. I'm not busy at all." He gestured at his desk—at least, I thought it was his desk. It was rather difficult to tell what was under all the parchments, memos, and ink stains.

"Wonderful!" I ducked under his arm. "I think I will come in, now you mention it."

He blustered, "Oh, get out, George! This isn't—this isn't funny! I don't expect you to understand, but I have work to do!"

I sat down in an unoffered chair, leaned back, and threw my feet up on his desk. "Now that's just rude, Perce. I've been working a good deal longer than you, and, unlike you, I actually run my own business. Try managing a shop, inventing products, selling products, and dealing with employees six days out of the week and see how you like it."

Percy took a deep breath. His ears were red. "Get. Out!"

"Nope. Wanted to talk. Congratulate you for your new job, and all that. Oh, good work this morning. You looked very professional, didn't stop scribbling once. Very much the proper scribe, Perce. Good for you. Although, I'd work on getting rid of those ink stains if I were you."

Percy gaped at me. "You—you want to—congratulate me?" he squeaked.

"Well, yeah. It's not every day one is promoted by the Minister himself to Court Scribe. What did you expect?"

"Uh…well, I expected you to yell at me for—you know, leaving Father and the family."

I tsked. "Percy, I've already yelled at you for that. It was a long time ago, and I've matured since then."

He stared at me, disbelieving.

"Really, what happened was that you both lost your tempers. Of course, that's no reason for one of you to not go apologize, but that's your pride talking. Anyway, you both had a point, you know."

"I…what?"

"Dad's issue was that Fudge wanted to spy on us through you, right? And you said it didn't matter, because he still gave you the position, and Dad just didn't believe you could actually get it through hard work."

"Er…"

"See, Dad doesn't trust Fudge, and you don't trust Dumbledore. Which is good, I might add."

"What?"

"Dad was right in that Fudge wanted to keep an eye on him, but you were also right in that you're quite talented at work like this—scribing, and all."

Percy snapped his mouth shut. "You hate scribe work."

"Yes, but that doesn't mean I can't acknowledge you're quite skilled at it."

He blinked. "Well…thank you." He blinked again. "I…" He quickly looked around.

"There's a silencing charm up, don't worry."

He frowned at me. "Yes, well. I knew Father was right about Fudge, but he didn't trust me to keep my mouth shut. I'm better than that. He should have trusted me."

I nodded.

"Now what are you really here for?"

I inhaled deeply. "What, I can't say hello?"

He scowled. "I read the paper. I'm not blind, George. You're…different. Damaged. Even I can see that. It's not hard to guess you want something, so what is it?"

Damaged?

I scowled back at him. "And how do you know me so well?"

"I'm your big brother," he pointed out.

"I'm thirteen years older than you."

"Yes, well, I'm clever. And you haven't changed that much. You're sadder, that's all."

I glared at him. "Sadder."

"What do you want me to say? Less bouncy? Less exuberant?" He paused. "More…mature?"

"Oi!" I shot to my feet. "I'm the only who's allowed to say that, thank you very much!"

"Well, it seems true. Did you really take the twins as apprentices?"

I paused. "Yes. Why?"

"To keep them safe and show them how to properly manage a shop?"

"…The first more than the second, but yes. Again, why?"

Percy sighed, and sat down wearily. "Because like it or not, you are far more responsible than your present teenage self. I am well aware it's the twins who keep sending me these things, you know." He waved at his eyebrows.

This was news to me. "You…do?"

"Oh yes. I don't want to open them, but there's always a chance they are actually from the Norwegians. That, and there's a compulsion charm on each and every one of them."

Oops.

I coughed into my fist. "Um, anyway, I actually stopped by to see if you might want to meet again. Apparently I'll be stopping by here on the seventh, so I thought we could meet for lunch?"

He blinked. "That's very thoughtful of you, George, but I'm very busy. I really should be working right now."

"What, you can't even take a twenty minute break to eat? Perce, that's not work, that's slave labor! I understand being a motivated employee, but don't let them treat you like a house elf."

"It's not that bad!" he protested. "There's just a lot going on."

I leaned forward. "Twenty minutes, Percy. Come on, give it a try. It's not that tricky; just breathe in, say yes."

He frowned at me, and pushed his glasses farther up his nose. "Well…"

"Go on."

"Twenty minutes. Not one more!"

I jumped to my feet. "Brilliant! See at you noon, then. The Leaky Cauldron, I insist."

He sighed. "All right. Don't get into any trouble, will you?"

I grinned. "Who, me? Whatever gave you that idea?"

I stepped outside and quietly swung shut the door. It had barely closed when none other than Lucius Malfoy stormed magnificently out the Minister's office. His cloak swirled about his boots, and his cane thumped ominously with every other step.

He froze when he saw me.

I nodded stiffly. "Malfoy.

His lips stretched into a clearly forced smile. "Ah yes. George Weasley…alternate."

"If you'll excuse me." I made to walk out the door, but his cane came up and hit the wall with a whump, blocking my way.

"Do give me a moment," he said, silvery blue eyes roving me up and down. "We haven't been formerly introduced here, have we?"

I whipped out my wand and tapped it sharply off his cane, causing sparks to fly. "No need. I'd rather have nothing to do with you at all, Malfoy. It was bad enough you actually chose the winning side and lived and I have to put up with being your grandson's godfather."

Malfoy Sr. went white. "I…what? But that's—Draco would never…"

"Oh, he did quite a lot," I said coldly. "Owes me and quite a few others, you see. Now, move before I meld your face to the wall."

He sneered at me. "Liar. My son would never—"

"Believe whatever you want, blondie. It doesn't change a thing."

Malfoy flushed pink. He opened his mouth, but instead closed it. Nodding mockingly, he withdrew his cane and gestured at the door. "Be my guest."

I bared my teeth in what could no way be considered friendly. "I wouldn't dream of it, good sir."

We stared at each other for several long seconds, neither willing to back down first. Neither of us had shown signs of planning to, either, when Fudge's door swung open and the portly little fool tottered out, green bowler firmly on his head once more.

"Oh!" he cried, coming to an abrupt stop at the sight of us. "Why, Lucius! And George. Whatever are you two doing here?"

"I believe George was just about to believe," Malfoy said, brushing an invisible piece of dust off his cloak.

"Naturally," I said. "But it would be so rude of me not to allow my elders to pass through first, don't you think?"

Malfoy glared at me, but Fudge clapped his hands together cheerily.

"Of course!" he said. "Of course. It's good to see people still have manners in this world."

"Many people have manners where I come from," I said, completely unable to resist the barb. "Of course, I'm sure just as many do here too. Mr. Malfoy, if you would?"

He glared at me before nodding coldly. He slowly stalked to the door, his cane thumping loudly.

I nodded at Fudge. "Minister. Good day."

"And to you too," he said absently, disappearing back into his office.

~!~

I found Harry sitting with Dad, getting his ear talked off by old Perkins. He looked like he had once been interested in the discussion—when he first saw the office, maybe.

"Morning Dad, Perkins. Mind if we head off?"

Perkins, his few wispy white hairs standing in all directions, jumped. "Oh goodness! Why, you must be the alternate George! Arthur's been telling me all about you. And of course, your interview with Rita Skeeter was wonderful."

"Thanks," I said. "Dad, how's it been?"

Dad sighed. "Oh, not too bad. Lucius Malfoy came up to gloat, but he hurried away when he saw Harry here. How about you? A meeting with Amelia Bones to look forward to, eh? I don't envy you, son."

"Pity. I was thinking you'd like to go in my place."

"Not a chance!" Dad laughed. "And how did your talk with Professor Croaker go? I'm not fond of Unspeakables—not in any trouble, are you?"

"Apparently his father's gone missing," I said. "The department head. I was one of the last people to see him, so he wanted to know if I knew anything."

Dad frowned. "Don't get caught up with the Unspeakables, George." He lowered his voice, and Perkins and Harry leaned in to hear him better. "Did you know anything?"

I shook my head. "Apparently he goes off on his own sometimes, and Professor Croaker just likes to know when."

"Ah, I see."

The three wizards seemed disappointed.

"Well!" Dad said, brightening up again. "Now Harry can do magic outside of Hogwarts—how splendid is that?"

"Very. Come on, Harry. Goodbye, Dad, Perkins."

"Bye Mr. Weasley. Thanks for the talk, Mr. Perkins." Harry stood, stretched, and strode over to me. We navigated our way back to the stairs, and went up the remaining levels. "Please tell me we're not Apparating again."

I slid my visitor's badge across the security desk. At some point during the day, it had come to read 'George Weasley, Alternate. Disciplinary Hearing'.

Wonderful.

"Sorry, kid. It's much better when you do it yourself, you know."

Harry slouched forward and grimaced. "Brilliant. When do I get to learn?"

I shrugged. "Normally it's in sixth year, because you can't get your license until you're of age, but I bet you could learn early and just skive on the license for a bit. What with your wonderful freedom now, and everything. Come on then, grab on."

He scowled, and gripped my arm. We popped off.

~!~

"Well, dears?" Mum clasped her hands together worriedly the moment we popped in. Everyone else froze, waiting for us to answer.

"I'm free," Harry said with a grin.

"He got off! He got off! He got off!" the twins and Ginny started chanting, their arms thrown around each other while they danced around the cluttered kitchen.

"Oh, that's wonderful, Harry dear!" Mum blinked rapidly, and wrapped the kid in a tight hug. "Oh, you poor dear—and how did it go?"

"He got off! He got off! He got off!"

"Well…" Harry glanced at me. "Turns out the Wizengamot voted to let me use magic whenever I want after the first war ended. I didn't get caught, so my record's completely clean."

The twins and Ginny ceased their chanting for a moment to join everyone in a round of shocked silence. Then they started up again, getting louder by the moment.

Mum gaped at him for a moment before pulling herself together. "Well, don't go thinking this means you can start doing magic for every little thing now, dear. Part of growing up and being allowed to use magic is showing that you're responsible, and while I don't agree with it, if the Wizengamot agreed to it then Dumbledore obviously thinks it's a good idea. I am glad he hasn't told you before now, but I do wish he had waited a little longer—"

"Mum," I interjected. "I told the Wizengamot. I told Harry. Dumbledore had no right to withhold that from him."

She frowned at me. 'Well of course he did! He's the headmaster."

"Exactly, he's the headmaster. He shouldn't legally be doing anything to Harry which doesn't involve his education."

Mum gaped at me.

The chanting trio grew louder.

"Well," Sirius said, speaking loudly to be heard. "I say good for Harry! This means he can start training."

"HE GOT OFF! HE GOT OFF! HE GOT OFF!"

"WILL YOU THREE SHUT UP?" Mum roared.

Unfortunately, she was standing rather close to me, and my remaining ear did not appreciate the level of noise being forced upon it. Swirls of color floated around my head, before a loud and painful pop bounced through my skull.

"Ow…" I groaned, and reached up to clutch my throbbing head. I swallowed, and popped my jaw. The pain disappeared.

Mum and Sirius both froze, and pivoted toward me.

"Oh dear, George, what now?" Mum asked, hands on her hips.

"I'm fine!" I raised a hand in defense, prepared to ward her off. "Seriously. I just…remembered…something I have to do."

Amid the colorful swirling bearers of popping pain, something else had floated into my skull. A plot which was sure to bring Dumbles great grief…

"Would Moody, Tonks, and Kingsley happen to be around?"


AN: I probably won't be updating during November, so I'll try and get another chapter in before then. Fingers crossed, everybody. Also, thank you to everyone who reviewed and keeps reviewing, especially Guest: Eve.