The Sugar Quill
Author: Sanction (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Phoenix and the Serpent  Chapter: Chapter Two: Mad-Eye Moody Returns
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Chapter II : Mad-Eye Moody Returns



The entire Harry Potter universe belongs to J. K. Rowling. Any original characters belong to the author and may not be used without permission.

 



Alastor Moody waited an hour before deciding that, if he was to going do anymore of this, it might as well be on his feet.

Planting both gnarled hands onto the armrests, he pushed himself out his cushy chair and made for the door. The antechamber McGonagall led him into was a comfortable enough place to rest, but to Moody a period of inactivity was more tiring than work. His feet itched to explore. His eyes sought to examine every nook and cranny of the building for any sign of the enemy. In other words, he thought as he flung open the door, I need to do my job.

Students passing by leaped away from him as he entered the hall. He looked about at their shocked faces. “Don’t worry,” he said, “you haven’t met me before.” He hobbled away, his peg-leg trailing staccato clunks on the stone floor.

Moody spent the next hour briskly patrolling the halls, his magical eye taking everything in. He treasured this tool, the eye. To his sight, the thickest walls seemed like fine spring mist, and even the invisible merely looked dim. He peered into classrooms and offices, desks and bags. Magical items glowed slightly, and hidden doors stood out from the walls.

When someone got too close, he even looked through their clothing for hidden weapons. Not that he took pleasure from the practice; one just cannot be too sure. Once, back in the spring of ’76, he was attacked by a little girl put under the Imperius curse. He sometimes remembered her and her subsequent rescue on cold days, when the scar from her switchblade would pain him. That gave him his most valuable lesson—anyone could be one of them.

He paused to examine yet another secret door behind a painting. Noting the cobwebs and dust on the other side, he decided that no one had used it for some time. He stored an image of the door in his eye for future reference, then gazed at the painting itself. It was a landscape of a tranquil forest, complete with moving animals. Moss and fir lay scattered in the duff, and the deep shadows of leaves mottled the clear little brook that flowed down the middle of the painting.

As he watched a doe stop to drink, he reflected that there used to be at time when his life was not so harried. Why, just two years ago he had been living the quiet life of a retiree, off in the countryside. The Ministry had decided that, in peacetime, he deserved something after all his trouble. He had been given a pension and a quiet little shack in an undisclosed place near the woods, where it smelled of summer all year long.

He turned away from the painting and trudged on. He could no longer recall that smell, and he would not be back there to relish it again. Two years ago, he had been kidnapped from his house and put into a dreamless sleep in his own strong box, while a Death Eater impersonated him using Polyjuice Potion. His wooden leg had been taken from him, and so had his eye. Moody gritted his teeth at the memory. It had been a near-disaster for Harry Potter, and would have been an ignoble end for the most capable, most feared Auror in all of Britain.

And now? Except for Dumbledore, everyone thought of Moody in the past tense. Even in the Order, he was relegated to mundane tasks. They were not unkind, but they had their kid-gloves snugly on.

All because he got a little careless. All because he enjoyed the peace a little too much.

Whatever happened your Constant Vigilance, eh, ‘Mad-eye’? said a mocking voice inside him. Gotten old, haven’t you? Well, now you can practice your Constant Vigilance all you like, playing watchdog at Headquarters.

Now Voldemort had returned. Moody knew he was never going to go back to retirement.

Not that he’d want to, actually.

His face twisted into something halfway between a grin and a grimace. A girl passing by saw him and instantly shrank against the wall, spilling the books in her arms. As he stalked past her, he wondered for the thousandth time if they did that because he looked fearsome, or because they still thought he was a Death Eater in disguise. What does it matter as long as they’re watching out for themselves? the voice started up again. Constant vigilance, eh Moody? Are those the watchwords of the day?

He was jolted out of his brooding by the patter of running feet behind him. He went for his wand and spun about with a cry, jabbing it at a breathless boy who had just run up to him. The boy stopped in his tracks and threw both hands over his head. “Don’t zap me! I’m unarmed!” he cried.

After checking him over, Moody snarled and put away his wand. “Don’t go running up behind me like that! I could’ve turned you into a newt, by Merlin!”

The boy gazed up at him with wide eyes. “Wow, really? McGonagall never taught us that in Transfiguration. That would be something to see! How’s it done?”

Moody stared at him for a minute. “What’s your name, boy?”

“Er, Creevy, sir. Dennis Creevy.”

“Gryffindor?”

“Yes! How’d you know?”

Moody pocketed his wand. “Lucky guess. In any case, I’d rather not turn you into a newt, Mr. Creevy, seeing you’ve the brains of one already. Put your hands down and say what you have to say!”

“Oh. Right.” He dropped his hands and said, “Um, Professor McGonagall asked me to find you. She wanted me to tell you the Headmaster will see you now.”

Ah, thought Moody, straightening. Dumbledore. Now he would know what all this is about. “Very well,” he said, and started to walk away.

The boy scuttled after him. “Er, not that way sir.”

Moody whirled about, slapping the boy with his heavy cloak. “What are you talking about? His office is this way, is it not?”

“He’s not in his office, sir. He’s waiting for you in the garden near the Whomping Willow. This way.” He pointed and started walking.

Moody wondered at what Dumbledore might be thinking. The garden? Out in the open?

The boy stopped and turned around. “Coming, sir?”

“Yes, yes,” said Moody. As he picked up after Dennis, he muttered, “What in the world is he doing in the garden?”

Overhearing him, Dennis said, “Feeding the fishes, sir.”





The late morning sun flashed on the Headmaster’s milky-white hair as he stood quietly by the pond. Moody could easily see him from the glass double doors leading into the garden. Dumbledore casually tossed fishfood from a bowl in his hands. To his left, near the hedges, was a table bearing a tea set and a plate piled up with biscuits. Moody gritted his teeth as he opened the doors and shambled towards Dumbledore. He had come all the way out here to discuss tactics, not make social calls!

Dumbledore turned at Moody’s approach. He greeted him with a warm smile and extended his hand. “Alastor, old friend! It’s been a while.”

Moody shook hands quickly. “Greetings, Professor. I see you are well. I have news.”

“So it seems,” replied Dumbledore. He gestured to the table. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

Moody reached into the one of the deep pockets of his coat and retrieved a roll of parchment. “Here is the summary report from the Front. Also, my report on the Ministry’s activities.”

To his chagrin, Dumbledore accepted the parchment and slipped it in his pocket without so much as a glance. “Thank you, Alastor. I will take a look at this. Now, would you care for some refreshments?”

“I’m afraid I can’t stay long. I have a lot of work these days in the Order, what with all that’s going on.”

“Surely you can spare a moment. You’ve come a long way, and I have made you wait. Let me make it up to you first. Perhaps, a batch of freshly baked rum biscuits will be an adequate apology.”

“There’s no need to apologize. I’ve kept busy, anyhow,” growled Moody. Then he paused, his magical eye swivelling to the table. “Rum biscuits, eh?”

Dumbledore smiled encouragingly. “Poppy’s best, you know. I asked her to make us a batch early this morning.”

“Well,” said Moody, “I believe I can spare some time.” He allowed Dumbledore to steer him to a chair.

“Now then,” said Dumbledore as he put down the bowl and sat across from Moody, “I was just going through my things this morning when . . . what do I find at the bottom of my drawer?” He pulled out a small red box from his pocket. Moody saw it glow blue, and instantly recognized it.

Ah, he thought. So this WAS going to be a secret meeting.

He satisfied himself with a biscuit as Dumbledore tapped the playing cards out of the box. “I thought I had lost my favorite Tokah deck, but there it was! Quite a pleasant surprise. How about a few rounds of Choose-and-Pass, Alastor?”

Moody smiled thinly. “I believe I still remember the rules.” He helped himself to another biscuit as Dumbledore shuffled the deck and dealt him a hand.

They said nothing as they raised their cards and examined them thoroughly. A few seconds later, Dumbledore began the game by laying a card face-down onto the table. “A fine morning we’re having. Lovely weather this week, isn’t it?”

“Quite,” Moody grunted. He picked up the card and put it in his hand. There were tiny words inscribed there.

-I hope you don’t mind the arrangements I made for our meeting. I know it is a bit too informal for your taste.-

After he had read them, the words faded from view. Moody formed a reply in his head and concentrated on one of his own cards. His thoughts were imprinted onto the face.

-I don’t mind, but wouldn’t your office be more secure? The garden is far too open.-

He put the card down onto the table. Dumbledore leisurely picked it up, chose one of his own, and passed it. They kept at this while faking small-talk.

-I have a number of reasons. I wanted us to look as nonchalant as possible. You finished what you came to do. Now we’re just two foolish old men wasting time, playing games. You see, I believe there’s a spy in Hogwarts.-

Moody’s thin smile returned, this time with a predatory glint to it. -Any idea who it is?-

-Unfortunately, no.-

-Give me a week and it will be taken care of.-

Dumbledore was quick to reply. -I thank you, Alastor, but that’s not part of my plan. For now, let us leave the spy alone. Perhaps there will be some use for it later. I have a different task in mind for you.-

Moody scratched his chin as he replied. -Let’s hear it then.-

-Remember your tenure as a bodyguard for former Minister Woodworth?-

-I do. No less than 23 attempts on his life in the 1960s. Couldn’t take a walk down the street without a bloody army guarding his backside. I still have the burn marks when I took a shot for him in the Diagon incident. Those were the days. Well, you have someone in mind now?-

-First, please tell me if someone’s watching us.-

Moody reached into another coat pocket and fished out what looked like a pocket watch. He laid on the table and opened it. Instead of a clock’s face, inside was round mirror. It was a piece of his Foe-Glass, a device he used to spot nearby enemies. Right now, there was nothing on the glass but a grey haze. Satisfied, Moody put down another card.

-Go ahead.-

Dumbledore nodded and passed his own card.

-Harry Potter.-

Moody raised one scraggy eyebrow. -Interesting.-

-He’s going on a journey, Alastor. He’s going to look for something vital to us. I cannot tell you the specifics yet, only that he needs to be protected. So, I was hoping you’re not as busy with the Order as you say…-

Moody snorted. He slapped his next card onto the table.

-Those snot-nosed brats might as well keep me tethered at the door! Wet behind the bloody ears, the whole lot of them! But what do they make me do all day? Stand guard like a common watch dog! I should be out there in the Front, hunting down Death Eaters like the bloodhound I was made to be.-

I spent all the good years of my life that way, he added in his thoughts. Why not the last ones?

Dumbledore stroked his beard, then gently lay a card down. -I understand how you feel, my friend. Perhaps you will be more in your element with this task. If you accept it, of course.-

-I’ll do it if it gets me out of Headquarters. How long a journey are we looking at?-

-A maximum of two weeks. You are scheduled to leave six days from now, next Wednesday. Also, to prevent any run-ins with the Ministry, you’ll have to travel by PortKey.-

-Dangerous?-

-I have other security measures for Harry that will ensure utmost secrecy. I will show these to you later, but this mission may still to be considerably life-threatening.-

-Excellent. I’ll need a team of four, preferrably from the Aurors on our side.-

Moody could tell by the way Dumbledore set his mouth that not only was he going to be turned down, what he was going to be told may well be unpleasant.

-I’m afraid five bodyguards will catch too much attention. I don’t want the Death Eaters getting the slightest idea on what we’re up to. As such, two bodyguards would be ideal.-

-So, you already have someone in mind?-

-I do. I was hoping you could work with young Daniel once more.-

Moody coughed and spat into the cup he had been sipping from. He fixed both eyes upon the Headmaster.

-You absolutely cannot mean what you just said!-

There was a hint of humor on the Headmaster’s face as he replied, -I always mean what I say, Alastor.-

Moody fought to keep his face straight. -But . . . Daniel? Why him?-

-I have my reasons. Chief of these is that he is unobtrusive.-

Moody snorted. -‘The Caracal’? Unobtrusive?-

-I mean he won’t catch Voldemort’s attention,- Dumbledore clarified. -You must agree that everyone in both the Ministry and the Order is a marked man. If a number of us go missing for some time, people will start asking questions. And what if the wrong people start asking the right questions? We both know that Voldemort keeps his ear to the ground. This makes someone like Daniel ideal. Voldemort won’t anticipate him.-

-That sounds well and good, but let’s not forget that boy’s temperament! He’s a cudgel, not a blade! You might as well have asked your Whomping Willow to knit you a sweater!-

Dumbledore took a sip from his cup before forming a reply. -From what I have seen of his performance in the past, Daniel has handled himself quite capably. I see no danger in putting my trust in him. Besides which, you will be there to guide him, just as you were there last time.-

-Of course I was there last time! Why do you think I retired afterwards?-

-Come, come, Alastor. I assure you that you both worked very well together. Didn’t you once say that a team draws strength from variety? And you must admit, Daniel’s skills are quite useful. He could have worked for the Order, even the Ministry somehow, if he so wanted.-

Moody’s face turned blank. He lowered his hand after he passed another card.

-The boy distrusts Aurors. He hates anything connected to the Ministry. He won’t have anything to do with Hogwarts. You were lucky to get him the first time. What makes you think you can do it again?-

Dumbledore traced the outline of his chin with a finger. -I’ll have to talk to him later. I am confident he will agree. If he balks, I can think of a few things I can offer him.-

-You’re really going through with this, aren’t you.-

Dumbledore looked at him soberly. -Only if you are.-

Neither of them moved for a few moments. Then Moody swiftly put a card down.

-Wait.-

Dumbledore wrote back, -How long before you can come to a decision?-

-I don’t mean it like that. I see something on my Foe-Glass.-

Moody relaxed his shoulders and lifted the cards to his face, but kept his magical eye trained at the hazy figure that had surfaced on his device. Across from him, Dumbledore scratched his head and pretended to be stumped for his next move.

The figure in the Foe-glass seemed like part of the grey mist, only darker and vaguely man-shaped. Moody pretended to yawn but kept staring at it, daring it to approach. It came to the brink of being discernable, but faded away as suddenly as it had come.

A card slid towards Moody.

-Well?-

Moody’s eye swiveled towards Dumbledore. -Your pests here are slippery. Took off before I could get a good look. Good intuition on that one.-

-I suppose we’ll just have to be on our guard. In any case, the spy won’t learn anything I won’t want Voldemort to learn.-

-Playing it close, I see. Just like in the old days.-

-Yes, those were the days.-

They both sipped their tea in silence. It was several long minutes before Moody passed another card. -You really believe we can pull this whole thing off?-

Dumbledore merely smiled. -You two have my utmost faith.-

-…I’m undecided.-

-I wonder about that. I thought you wanted to be a bloodhound.-

-You’re a sneaky git. I swear I’ll never play cards with you again!-

Dumbledore chuckled. -We have a deal then. You will be well rewarded, Alastor. And Daniel too.-

Moody returned a weary sigh. -I don’t believe I’m actually going through with this.-





“I just don’t believe it!” cried Ron. Harry heaved a weary sigh. As he had thought, this was going to be nowhere near easy.

As per Dumbledore’s instructions, he had brought both Ron and Hermione to the Headmaster’s office to explain to them what he had to do. Both his best friends were more than surprised when they saw Harry had been given access to Dumbledore’s quarters, or that he knew how to operate its Security charms. They were apprehensive as well. It could only mean something big was going on.

At the moment, the Headmaster was not around, having opted to give Harry some privacy for this task. He had his friends sit on the comfortable chairs in front of the oak desk, sat down on another chair—and proceeded to tell them he was going away.

Neither one had taken the news well.

“I can’t believe you’ve just agreed to leave for two weeks!” Ron said. “Two weeks away from Hogwarts! Two weeks away from…from everything! And you’re not even going to tell us why?”

Across him, Hermione sat staring at Harry, a frown tugging at her brows. No, she didn’t like this any more than Ron did, but Harry had to explain to them that this had to be done. Hopefully without a prolonged argument.

“Ron,” said Harry, “Dumbledore has some very good reasons why he wants it this way. This entire mission must be kept secret. I’d like to tell you where I’m going and why, but I can’t.”

“And why not? It’s not like I can’t keep secrets!”

“I already told you. There are security reasons…”

“Security never stopped you before, Harry. Or don’t you remember the Philosopher’s Stone? How about flying a Ford Anglia? And taking stuff from Snape’s quarters? For God’s sakes Harry, we all know who your godfather is! How can you say we can’t keep secrets?”

“I’m not saying that! It's just that things are different this time!”

“In what way? I don’t see how you can leave us out of this. I don’t even understand why you agreed to do something like this without talking to us about it first!”

Harry felt an irrational stab of guilt even as he retorted, “Because it’s supposed to be a secret! Of course I can’t talk to you about it first!”

“I already know that! I’m saying that it never stopped you before!”

“It would be too dangerous for either of you to know!”

Ron threw up his hands. “What, you don’t trust us? Is that it?”

Harry felt all too grateful when Hermione reached out for Ron’s arm. “Calm down, will you? Just calm down. We’re going around in circles. And you know that’s not what Harry meant.” Ron looked at her, and fell quiet for the moment.

“Harry,” Hermione said, “does it have really have to be you? Surely Dumbledore can send someone else to do whatever is necessary…?”

Harry shook his head. “No, not this time. Sorry, Hermione.”

“But what could be so important that …” She stopped when Harry shook his head. He would tell her nothing further.

Ron spoke up. “Fine. Don’t tell us why you have to go. Don’t even say where. I won’t ask any questions. But we’re coming with you.”

Harry’s mouth fell open. “Ron—No!”

“What do you mean, no? Why not? Too dangerous, is it?”

“Of course it’s dangerous, but that’s not—“

“You’re expecting us to sit on our bums here and do nothing while You-Know-Who hunts you down out there? Forget it! We’re going!”

“Will you stop and listen for a minute! In the first place, it isn’t safe for us to go together! Everyone knows who we are and they’re bound to notice if we’ve left Hogwarts. When Voldemort finds out about it we’re finished, and so is the mission.”

Ron seemed so worked up he didn’t even flinch at the Dark Lord’s name. He put his fists on top of his knees and tried to control himself. “So you’re going out there by yourself?”

“I’m not going alone,” replied Harry. “Dumbledore said I’ll have two bodyguards.”

Hermione spoke up. “Who? Sirius? Remus?”

“Maybe. He hasn’t told me yet,” Harry said. He hoped it would be them.

“It’s gotta be Sirius and Remus. I’m sure then they’ll let us come,” said Ron hastily. “Besides, it’ll be safer if you have more people around you.”

Harry clenched his teeth. Now was not the time for Ron to actually be logical. “It won’t work that way. I already told you—!”

“You’ve told me nothing since the minute you dragged us up here! You won’t say where you’re going or why! I don’t know why you feel you can’t tell us why you’re risking your life again—“

“I can’t tell you because I can’t.”

“You mean you won’t.

Harry narrowed his eyes. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Ron stared stonily at him. “It means exactly what it means.”

The two said nothing. Harry grappled for a retort, but Hermione cut in before he could do any damage. “Harry, maybe it’ll be easier if you tell us what Dumbledore had in mind when he said we could help.”

Harry turned away from Ron. “Yeah, fine,” he muttered. He ran his hand through his hair, as if to clear his thoughts.

“Dumbledore has all sorts of precautions to make sure the whole thing’s a secret. In fact, he wants to make sure no one knows I’ve left.”

Ron snorted. “Just how’re the two of you going to manage that?”

Harry drew in a breath before answering. “He’s going to build a homunculus.”

Hermione gasped, eyes widening. “Harry! Is he really…?”

Ron turned to her, “What’s he talking about?”

“I read about those things in Amulets, Artifacts and other Arcana, Hermione said. “A homunculus is an artificial human brought to life by magic! It’s a lot like a golem, only it looks exactly like a human being. It will be able to talk, think and act independently from its creators just like any ordinary person.”

Ron frowned and scratched an eyebrow. “You mean it’s alive?”

“It isn’t really alive. It’s just pretending to be.” She turned to Harry. “You’re saying that Dumbledore’s going to make a homunculus that looks just like you?”

“Yes. Dumbledore says there’s a way to make it behave like me. It will be my decoy. If everything works out, no one will ever suspect that I’ve ever left.” He paused, relishing the brilliance of Dumbledore’s plan. “Not even Voldemort.”

Hermione’s brows furrowed once more. “But won’t Dumbledore get into trouble if the Ministry finds out? The homunculus will be an unlicensed magical construct…”

“That’s why we’re going to keep the whole thing to ourselves. Aside from Dumbledore, only me, you and my bodyguards will know.”

Ron gazed at him suspiciously. It seemed he had an idea of what was up ahead. “And what are we supposed to do with this look-alike of yours, Harry?”

Harry returned his gaze stoically. “I don’t know yet. Dumbledore will explain later on. I just need your pledge that you’ll help later.”

“Not again!” Ron bolted out of his seat. “I can see where this is going! You’re asking me to live with this...thing that looks likes you and talks like you, but isn’t even alive? You’re asking me to pretend he’s you? Are you out of your mind?”

“No, I’ll be out of my mind if I don’t go through with this!” Harry shouted, rising out of his seat. “I have one chance, one chance to bring Voldemort down! You think I’d waste it? You think I’d jeopardize it? I don’t care if it means leaving Hogwarts for two weeks or two years. I don’t care if it’s dangerous. I don’t care even if I have to do it alone. I’m taking this chance. And you can either help me or get out of my way!”

Silence fell in the darkened room, but Harry could hear only his own heavy breathing. He turned away from Ron’s hardened expression and walked to the side of Dumbledore’s desk.

“I’ve tried to explain it to you,” he said. “This is how it’s going to be: tomorrow evening, Professor Dumbledore is going to have another meeting here. I’m going, and I’m asking you both to come too. You have to decide if you’re going to help out or not. The new password will be ‘Fiddlesticks.’ If you’re here by seven o’clock, then you’re helping us. If you’re not, then you’re not.”

Ron had not taken his eyes away from him for one moment.

“You think I’m just going to go along with whatever you say, don’t you.”

Before Harry could reply, Ron turned and stalked towards the door. He slammed it shut behind him as he left.

With a sigh, Harry turned off the Security charms and leaned against the desk. He looked at Hermione, who had been watching him intently.

“So, Prefect Granger, are you going to start taking points off because I’ve been keeping secrets from you?”

She shook her head. “I understand where you’re coming from, Harry.”

He watched her for a moment, then remarked, “It’s kind of funny.”

“What is?”

“You hardly tried to stop us from arguing. That isn’t like you. You always used to get between us one way or another. Like stamp your feet, or shout, or smack Ron on the head.”

She just shrugged and smiled a little. “Sometimes you have to just let people get things off their chest. Ron has wanted to let you know some things for a while now. He just didn’t know how to say it.”

Harry wondered what she meant. He tried to review some of Ron’s words, but was too angry to think straight at the moment. There would be time to sift through them later.

He said, “Hey, don’t you think he over-reacted over my leaving for just a couple of weeks?”

“Don’t trivialize it, Harry,” she said. “In case you’ve forgotten, we’ve known each other for six years. That’s six years worth of studying together, having meals together, going on trips, getting in trouble. We’ve shared life and sometimes we’ve very nearly shared death. And now you’re going off alone.”

“I won’t be alone, Hermione. Dumbledore said…”

“I know what Dumbledore said. What I meant was, whenever something difficult came along, it’s always been the three of us. Since first year, it was always us together. ”

She watched her hands for a minute, trying to find the words. “I was thinking, since the day Ron and I…got together, you’ve been mostly by yourself. I don’t think that was fair to you. We sort of left you alone …”

“Hermione, don’t. We all waited ages for you guys to come clean, and—“

She waved him off. “I know…but it didn’t help the fact that you were becoming more distant, Harry. I saw it happening. You’d sometimes get quiet and brooding, and then you’d go off alone. I guess you thought you could hide it, but we knew you too well. We worried about you, but it was difficult to reach you. It only got worse when you had nightmares. But you wouldn’t talk. Well, it was partly our fault. We should’ve kept trying.

“Harry, I know you’re doing this because Dumbledore asked you to and it has to be just you. But you know what? Before today, I’ve never seen you keep something so secret from either Ron or me. I’ve never seen you fight so hard to keep the both of us out. I think Ron sees this too, that’s why he got so mad. That’s why he said those things. It’s like you WANT to do this alone, Harry. You want to do this alone and that scares me, it really does. So I want to know why.” She gazed at him beseechingly.

Harry dropped his eyes to the floor. The guilt came again, stronger this time. He fought it down and said, “…I just don’t want either of you to get hurt. That’s all.” But the words felt too heavy, the way they felt whenever he lied.

Hermione stared at him for a while, then said, “What about Ginny?”

Harry stiffened slightly. When he looked up, his face was blank. “What about Ginny?”

“Won’t you tell her what you’ve told us? And that you’re going away?”

The question hung in the air. Part of Harry resented her for reminding him—he had already succeeded in pushing the question away into some dark corner of his mind, as if it would somehow answer itself. It hadn’t. Now he was the one cornered. And he had no words.

Finally, he replied, “I don’t think I should. It’s not part of the plan.”

She returned his even gaze, disappointment in her eyes. “No, of course it’s not. It’s not in YOUR plan.” She sighed in a way that said, ‘at least consider it.’ “I’ll see if I can turn Ron around. I can’t promise you anything about him, but I’ll be here tomorrow night.” She turned and left the room.

Harry stayed there at the table for a long minute, not thinking, not seeing. Then he slowly made his way to the chair beside him. He pulled of his glasses and sank into the seat, head lolling back, arms on the rests, eyes falling shut.

He waited for an answer.

//
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