Percy stood by the kitchen table, watching as Daddy shrugged into his cloak and leaned down to give Mummy a kiss. Mummy couldn't stand easily, she was so pregnant, but she touched Daddy's cheek and whispered to him. Her face was very serious, as it always was when Daddy went out at night.

Daddy nodded and kissed Mummy again, on the nose this time, and straightened up. He seemed as tall as the sky to Percy, and strong and smart and there. Always miraculously there, despite all Percy's nightmares on nights like this.

Daddy cast his eyes around the kitchen. They stopped on Bill, who stepped forward.

"Take care of Mummy and your brothers," Daddy said to him. "You understand, Bill?"

Bill nodded. His face was worried, too. He was much older, of course, and knew more of whatever was going on, but even he used to smile and roughhouse with Charlie and Percy once in a while. That almost never happened anymore.

Daddy smiled and scrubbed the back of Bill's neck, tilting his head forward a fraction. "That's my man. You know what to do?"

"Yes, Dad. Be careful." Bill's voice was quiet—he knew Percy was there, and he didn't want to scare him.

It was too late for that, of course. Percy couldn't remember ever not being scared, and it was always worst when Daddy went out. That was when the lines around Mummy's mouth and between her eyebrows got deepest, when her patience was shortest, when she sometimes came out of her and Daddy's room with pink eyes.

Daddy nodded and gave Bill's neck another squeeze. He turned for the door.

The fear in Percy crested in an instant, and he sobbed. "Daddy, don't go!"

He hurtled around the table and crashed into Daddy's leg, clutching it as hard as he could. Daddy's arms flailed as he scrambled for balance, but then he steadied. His huge palm came to rest on the back of Percy's quivering head.

"Perce, you're supposed to be in bed."

Percy didn't care. "Don't go, don't go, Daddy!" he wept.

Mummy struggled halfway up from her chair. "Sshh! Little rogue, you come here."

Bill started for his brother, but paused when Daddy motioned him away and stooped to gather Percy into his arms. Percy wrapped his arms and legs around Daddy as far as they would go and held on.

"I have to go now, son." Despite his words, Daddy's arms didn't loosen any more than Percy's did. "You be good now for Mummy, alright?"

"Don't go, Daddy." Percy knew he was whimpering, but for once couldn't care. "You can't go. Somethin's gonna happen to you." The terror seized him again, and he buried his face in Daddy's neck. "You can't go!"

Daddy's arms squeezed tighter for a moment, and then loosened. Percy couldn't hold on anymore, and without his father's support, he slid down to stand on his own feet. He bent his head and shuddered again with the weeping.

Now Daddy knelt so he was only a little taller than Percy, and took hold of his face so he could look him in the eye. Percy sniffed and gulped, and Daddy's big, rough hands passed over his cheeks, wiping away his tears.

Daddy's expression was as serious as Mummy's and Bill's, but his eyes looked brighter than usual. "My Percy, you listen to me, because this is very important." He waited for Percy to nod and wipe his nose on his hand. "I love you. I love you and your brothers and your mother more than anything. And that's why I have to go out now, but I promise—I swear I'll be back in the morning. You understand?"

It wasn't fair. Percy felt his bottom lip trembling again, and he wanted so much to cry, but he didn't want Daddy's face to get all blurred, so he couldn't.

"But I have a very important job for you. Are you listening? Good. I want you to look after your little brothers. And I need you to listen to Mummy and Bill without question. Do you understand? If they tell you to hide, you hide. If they tell you to floo to Auntie Muriel's, you take the twins and go. No questions and no arguments. This could mean your life, Percy, or theirs. You understand?"

His eyes were running again, as was his nose, but he gulped and nodded firmly.

Daddy smiled, but he didn't look happy. "That's my big boy." He gripped the back of Percy's neck, just like he had Bill's, and touched his forehead to his son's. Percy stood like a statue while his father was standing back up, leaning down to kiss him on the head, leaving, leaving, leaving.

The front door shut, and Percy watched the locks doing themselves up. It felt very final, and his heart was hurting.

"Bill, would you take Percy back upstairs and put him to bed? I can't—"

"Yeah, of course." Bill scooped Percy up in his arms. Percy leaned his head on his big brother's shoulder, letting his shirt absorb some of the tears. He could hear Bill's voice through his chest now as well as through the air; his voice sounded deeper this way. "Good thing Charlie's asleep. He'd've—"

"Yes." Mummy sighed. She always did that. "I know it's only a small mission—Dumbledore would never let your father do more, not with so many of us. Not if he can help it. But I still…"

Bill sighed too. "Yeah." He was silent for another moment. "Good night, Mum."

He resettled Percy in his arms with a jerky bounce and made for the stairs. Percy curled his arms around his brother's neck and hugged tight. Daddy had gone out, but at least Mummy and Bill were still here.

"Bill?" he whispered. His voice sounded loud in the narrow stairwell.

"Yeah, Perce?"

"I love you." It was something about the late hour and Daddy's leaving, it had to be, but for once Percy didn't feel embarrassed to say the words. And he was glad he had when Bill's arms tightened around him.

"You too, my little bro," he replied quietly.

They reached the top and Percy let go so Bill could put him down and open the door to the room he shared with the twins. He ran across the room on tiptoe and bounced onto the bed, while Bill followed more slowly but just as quietly. He tugged the blanket first out from under Percy, then over him, and tucked it around his shoulders.

Bill must have been feeling the late hour, too, because his lips brushed Percy's short hair in what could have been mistaken for a kiss. "G'night, little Perce," he whispered.

"G'night, big Bill." Percy threw an old joke out, trying to make his brother smile. He wasn't sure how he was going to sleep, but Mummy always said he needed to sleep if he wanted to grow up to be as big and strong and smart as Daddy. And Percy knew now that he needed that in order to protect his family.

There was Bill's silhouette in the doorway, and then he closed the door most of the way, leaving it open a crack so there remained a little light.

Percy snuggled down and closed his eyes. His head hurt from the crying, and he felt his eyes prickle as he remembered why he had been, but he squashed the urge firmly. He was a big boy now, and he had a duty. He had to protect the twins.

He tried to sleep, truly, but his eyes kept opening of their own accord, and he was laying on his side, so he could see the twins' crib in the dim light from the doorway. Not the twins, though, and that made Percy uneasy. They were surely sleeping by now. Right?

He had to make certain.

Percy slipped back out of bed, feeling a twinge as Bill's careful blanket-tucking went to waste, and dragged his covers across the room to peer into the crib. There they were, curled up face-to-face as usual. George had pulled Fred's blanket half off him, and it was now crumpled in his little fist before his face.

There was a little room behind Fred, and Percy made his decision. He hoisted his blanket up so it was draped over the crib railing and clambered over himself, tugging the blanket down so he could tuck it around himself and the twins. It was a little too cramped to be really comfortable, but it was the easiest way to make sure his little brothers were safe. And Fred's back was warm, and George's breath smelled like the carrots he'd had for supper.

Percy snuggled in and closed his eyes.