The Sugar Quill
Author: Falling Damps (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A House Divided  Chapter: Chapter One: The Quiet Past
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CHAPTER ONE:

the quiet past

 

 

Alastor stumped down the dark street, cursing his damned leg, and damned joints, and damned secrecy, and damned Fidelius, and damned Albus, who had decided that Alastor should first travel to 12 Grimmauld Place the Muggle way.

 

The light from the streetlamps was dim at best, but it showed just enough to set Alastor on edge. This small grimy square was the perfect location for an ambush. Jagged ends of glass in the broken windows gleamed like menacing teeth, and Alastor glanced quickly into each dark square as he passed. The heaps of putrid rubbish were large enough to conceal a relatively small man, and he breathed an inaudible sigh of relief each time he passed a grubby side-alley without spotting a potential attacker.

 

He stopped on the pavement in front of two particularly dingy houses, one hand on his wand, one keeping his cloak from revealing his wooden leg. This was a Muggle area, after all, and his magical eye alone made him too conspicuous for his liking. He glanced around, taking an extra moment with a metal car parked down the street. All clear. The nearest streetlamp was several houses away, but it still seemed too bright. Making a mental note to bring a Put-Outer next time he came on foot, he concentrated on the words Albus had spoken to him a few minutes earlier.

 

A house materialized in front of him.

 

Alastor hurried through the front door, directing his magical eye behind him as he went. There was something about those dustbins next door that he didn’t like, not at all. Focused on the menacing dustbins, nervous (though he didn’t want to admit it) about meeting the rest of the Order for the first time since that imposter, and distracted by his distinctly un-Muggle appearance, Alastor did something he hadn’t done in years: he walked through a door without looking. And of course, he slammed headfirst into someone.

 

With a roar, he threw his entire weight against his attacker, knocking him backwards into the wall, and in one fluid motion, he drew his wand and pointed it at the assailer’s throat. The body kicked out at him, landing a particularly strong blow on his wooden leg. Though still holding his wand in attack position, Alastor allowed himself a grim smile as his attacker let out a howl and tripped over a rather large umbrella stand, falling backwards and clutching at her toe. “Forgot about… that damn… wooden leg!” she panted. Alastor paused, his chest heaving, pounding adrenaline causing his hands to shake. He felt his panic subside slightly, replaced by a growing sense of foolishness. The young woman sprawled on the floor didn’t seem particularly dangerous, and although he didn’t lower his wand, he did take a step back.

 

 “FILTH! SCUM! HOW DARE YOU DESECRATE THE HOUSE OF MY FATHERS!” Alastor jerked around and recoiled in horror. What the hell? The young witch on the floor rolled her eyes and continued to massage her foot. Blood was roaring in his ears, but he heard the sounds of slamming doors and footsteps on the stair as others came running to the commotion. Alastor’s sense of foolishness increased exponentially. Frightened out of my mind by a stupid girl and an old picture, for Merlin’s sake. He lowered and sheathed his wand quickly as several heads poked into the hall, and a young man reached out an arm to pull the girl off the floor. Alastor took in the tired face, brown hair streaked with gray – Remus Lupin had certainly aged.  

 

Alastor cleared his throat gruffly. “Dumbledore sent me.”

 

Another man turned from where he had been struggling to close heavy dark drapes over the still screaming portrait. Shaking his hair out of his eyes, he extended his hand. “Good to see you, Mad-Eye. Welcome to my humble abode.” The girl snorted.

 

Alastor recoiled and eyed the hand warily. It was one thing to know that Sirius Black was innocent, but quite another to come face to face with the man he had hated for so many bitter years. Alastor had no idea that Dumbledore even knew where Black was, let alone that the fugitive was being harbored in the very headquarters of the Order. And how did they really know that Black wasn’t working with Voldemort? Even if he had been wrongly imprisoned, the man had spent over a decade in Azkaban with men and women who were, beyond any doubt, staunch Death Eaters… and, besides, shouldn’t Black have gone mad? How had he survived? There was something suspicious about that… but no one seemed to be moving to restrain him. Alastor caught sight of Kingsley Shacklebolt down the hall, calmly sipping from a mug and looking supremely unconcerned. Wasn’t Shacklebolt the Auror leading the search for Black?

 

Well, that search must be rigged… He saw Arthur Weasley frown, standing quietly behind him, so, suppressing his suspicions, Alastor grasped Black’s still extended hand quickly.

 

Seeming not to notice any of this, Black jerked his head down the hall and called loudly to those just coming in, “Don’t worry, nothing’s happened, Mad-Eye’s just arrived. Everyone into the kitchen.”

 

Black appeared to revel in his temporary leadership as he led the way through a narrow door and down a staircase, followed by the crowd, humming with low conversation. As Alastor joined the group and passed through the door himself, he took a deep, steadying breath and focused on slowing his magical eye, which had begun to spin in dizzying circles as he tried to take in the new people and surroundings all at once.

 

Just as he had expected, many of the faces were unfamiliar to him, especially the younger ones. He recognized a few, like Arthur and Molly Weasley, at once; others, whom he hadn’t seen in many years, slowly associated themselves with a name from his past.

 

As far as Alastor could tell, as he stumped down the dim staircase next to a small woman who was clad in strangely heavy, gray wool robes, this house was full to the brim with Dark magic.

 

Figures, if it really is the Black family house.

 

Occasionally, with the most powerful people and objects, Alastor’s eye could distinguish their auras, which appeared as faint, pulsating glows that he could recognize, but that disappeared whenever he tried to focus on them.

 

Albus radiated a constant thrum of power, and Voldemort as well, of course, though his was somehow darker. Alastor had seen similar auras appear around other witches and wizards performing difficult magic under extreme stress. Certain magical objects, like Pensieves, had their own energy, similar to Albus’, yet missing some intangible, essential life force…

 

Alastor was not only surprised, but also alarmed at the amount of power that his eye was registering, for much of it pulsed with the dark, angry, unmistakable force of Dark Magic. Without warning, the horror of the past war and his experiences last term came rushing back at him with startling clarity and a reality absent from mere memories and nightmares… this house was evil. He tried vainly to focus on the sources… a thick cupboard, a lamp on the second floor, almost every book in an upstairs bookshelf, a small necklace with a frighteningly powerful aura for its size… but there were too many to investigate thoroughly. Before he realized it, Alastor found that he had reached the bottom of the stairs and had been pushed to the front of the room.

 

Feeling decidedly uneasy, Alastor turned his attention to the situation in front of him, though he kept his magical eye on constant surveillance of the rest of the house. He was standing in a kitchen – a low, dim, grimy room with a large table in the middle, around which everyone was settling. His relief that this room, at least, didn’t seem to hold anything too strange was suddenly lost when his real eye locked with Black’s.

 

The other man wasn’t glaring, exactly, but his expression was less than friendly.

 

Looking away, Alastor saw that the others were beginning to quiet down and turn to him expectantly. Time to begin. His head was pounding as he tried to scan the third floor of the house, focus on those in front of him, and keep a wary eye on Black all at the same time, and so he began.

 

“I understand that most of you have already been assigned a partner.” Alastor paused and saw several people around the large kitchen table nod affirmatively, including Remus, Molly Weasley, and Shacklebolt. Black looked positively murderous. “And some of you are still waiting assignments.” More nods.

 

“That’s an understatement,” Black muttered, and Remus shot him a warning look.

 

“I don’t really understand why we need partners, anyway,” spoke a friendly-looking woman whom Alastor didn’t recognize, as he found, to his annoyance, that he was too far away to see through the thick wood of an upstairs cupboard. “At least, I don’t see why the partnerships have to be permanent. Why aren’t we just working with whoever needs help at the time? Wouldn’t that make more sense?”

 

“No.” Shacklebolt looked up from his mug. His voice, deeply calming and authoritative, seemed to penetrate the darkest corners of the room. “No, Hestia, the benefits of an established partner are immeasurable. That’s why Aurors work in pairs. The more familiar you are with your partner, the more effectively you’ll be able to work, so in most cases the pairings are long-term.”

 

Alastor glanced down at the piece of parchment still clutched in his left hand, which bore Albus’ instructions as well as his own partner assignment. “Which one of you is Nymphadora Tonks?”

 

The young witch who had attacked him in the doorway raised her hand and waved.

 

Alastor’s eyebrows – at least, what was left of them – shot so high that they disappeared into his hair. “You?”

 

“Wotcher,” she said, but seeing the look on his face, her eager smile faltered.

 

Alastor was speechless.

 

That silly slip of a girl? She had to be just out of Hogwarts. Ridiculous. This couldn’t be right. When he had volunteered for the Order, he had imagined it would be as it had been in the first War... then, he was respected, revered even, for his leadership and power. When he worked with a partner, it was always one of the most senior, competent Order members. Though the war itself was horrible, it had marked Alastor’s prime.

 

And now what? From the moment he had walked in to 12 Grimmauld Place, everything had gone wrong. He was no longer a respected leader. He was a joke, an old man futilely trying to relive the past, and everyone knew it. He should never have come. He should have retired peacefully and salvaged what dignity he could, after the mess last term.

 

The room had gone quiet. Nymphadora Tonks wasn’t smiling at all anymore. Her eyes narrowed a bit as she watched his internal struggle, and after a minute she spoke. “Could I have a moment, please?”

 

Alastor frowned but nodded.

 

“Outside.”

 

He stood and, without bothering to wait for her, stumped out of the kitchen and into the stairwell. Temporarily stopping his scan of the house and pointing his magical eye through the wall, he watched her rise from her seat and make to follow him. Remus put out a hand and grabbed her arm. She looked at him, but he didn’t say anything, and after a moment he released her. As she brushed past Black, he whispered loudly, “Don’t let him intimidate you.”

 

The young witch laughed softly and said, “Scared of the creepy eye, are you, Sirius?” before slipping out the door.

 

Alastor had positioned himself in what he considered his most commanding pose. Arms folded across his chest, brilliant blue eye flashing, he fixed her with a piercing stare. She returned it calmly. The girl was quite a bit shorter than he, but her hair added a few inches. Bright pink and curly. Unbelievable. She was dressed in casual Muggle clothing, and she had a circular silver hoop attached to the top of her right ear. Vaguely wondering whether that hoop had a practical defensive purpose as well as a decorative one, Alastor addressed the girl sternly.

 

“You are Nymphadora Tonks, I assume.”

 

“Yes. And I assume that I’ve been assigned as your partner.”

 

He didn’t respond.

 

“It’s nice to meet you,” she said. “And you can call me Tonks.”

 

No response. It had been her idea to talk out here, and Alastor wasn’t about to make it any easier.

 

“I take it you weren’t expecting me as your partner, Mad-Eye.”

 

Brilliant observation skills, he thought bitterly, but he restrained himself, responding only with a curt, “No.”

 

“That makes two of us.”

 

Alastor was a bit taken aback. But, then again, it made sense. Why would such a clearly inexperienced girl expect to be paired with an old fighter like himself? She was probably as uncomfortable as he was. An idea began to form in his mind…

 

“I think we should speak to Dumbledore about – ”

 

“Speak to me about what?” Albus was standing at the top of the stairs, his sudden appearance giving Alastor’s heart an unpleasant start. That was twice tonight he had been caught unawares.

 

Alastor gathered himself. “Partner assignments for the Order.”

 

“Ah… I thought that might be it,” Albus spoke delicately. “Could this wait a few moments, Alastor, Tonks? I need to address the rest of the Order briefly.”

 

Alastor grunted. Tonks nodded. “Of course. Hope it’s nothing too serious, Dumbledore.”

 

He smiled benignly at her. “Not at all, my dear. Shall we?” Stepping down, he held open the kitchen door for her and they walked in, followed by a rather disgruntled Alastor Moody.

 

The kitchen was buzzing with conversation that stopped rather abruptly when they entered. Black had been waving his arms animatedly at a grave-looking Remus, and they both watched Alastor closely as he shut the door and settled on a chair at the corner of the table, resuming his sweep of the house.

 

“Dumbledore!” cried Molly. “I didn’t know you were coming!”

 

“I didn’t know, myself, until a few moments ago. Hello, everyone. If you don’t mind, I believe this would be an excellent time to share a few words with you about the Order assignments.”

 

Alastor blinked. What?

 

Albus stood at the front of the room, facing his seated audience, looking very much the part of the Hogwarts professor. “You are all aware of the dangers that lie ahead. You are, even now, facing new horrors each day, and yet you have chosen to stand on the side of good.

 

“Our choices determine our destinies. Many years ago, a brilliant young Hogwarts student named Tom Riddle made a choice. He took gifts that could have accomplished great good and used them for selfish gain. The promising boy that I once knew now lives as Lord Voldemort.

 

“I fear for our students.” Albus spoke heavily, and Alastor saw Remus stiffen; he guessed the old teacher still felt a responsibility for his pupils. “They are at their most vulnerable during their time at Hogwarts, and it is my greatest fear that our children will learn to choose what is easy instead of what is right. I am comforted to know that there are a few students whom I can trust,” Albus’ eyes flickered to Molly Weasley, who was gripping the arms of her chair tightly, “as well as several young witches and wizards who have recently left Hogwarts.” He nodded at Tonks.

 

“And I fear for our older generations.” More than one head turned imperceptibly toward Alastor. “There are those who are so comfortable and set in their ways that they cannot face the difficult truths of our day.” A Daily Prophet photograph of the old fool Fudge desperately trying to deny Voldemort’s return flashed in Alastor’s mind. “There are also those who fought on the side of evil and have simply been waiting for the opportunity to rejoin their master. And then there are those who chose rightly before, and who have chosen rightly again. To make such a difficult choice once is honorable; to make it again, fully aware of the consequences, is valiant.

 

“For both the young and the old, prejudices are strong and difficult to overcome. For students, it could be something as simple as inter-House rivalry. For those who fought in the first War, old enemies have left deeper scars.” His eyes rested on Black.

 

“No doubt many of you have been wondering about your Order assignments, most particularly the unexpected pairing of Tonks and Alastor Moody.” Alastor set his mouth grimly. He could see where this was going. “A young Auror, a Hufflepuff only a few years out of Hogwarts, talented, idealistic…” Tonks blushed slightly. “And an old war veteran, experienced, battle-scarred, a Slytherin in his Hogwarts days…”

 

Albus looked around at the Order of the Phoenix, huddled together in the dark kitchen at Grimmauld Place. Alastor followed his gaze as it lingered first on Black, who was still glaring. Remus, who at one point had leaned over and whispered intently to Shacklebolt, was now sitting back in his chair, his arms folded, clearly keeping a watchful eye on Black. Alastor skipped over several unfamiliar faces to Molly, who looked pale but determined, white knuckles still clutching the arms of her chair. Next to her was Arthur, his chair pulled close so that he could rest his arm protectively over her shoulders. Dung was drumming his fingertips nervously on the table – after a moment, Hestia Jones reached out and covered his hand with hers. “Stop,” she whispered. Tonks looked pensive.

 

When Albus spoke again, his voice was no louder, but it was filled with an authority Alastor hadn’t heard from the old man in years. “I see this partnership as the embodiment of everything we are fighting for. And I am sure Alastor and Tonks will rise to the occasion admirably.” With a swish of his cloak, he was gone.

 

A babble of conversation broke out immediately.

 

Alastor sat seething with silent fury. He certainly couldn’t protest the assignment now. That sneaky old man should have been a Slytherin.

 

Through his magical eye, Alastor spotted Tonks trying to pick her way through the crowded kitchen, knocking over two chairs, a partially empty mug, and Hestia Jones in the process. “Sorry, sorry, so sorry!” she was calling over her shoulder.

 

By the time she reached Alastor, he had decided on a course of action. He would have to work with the young Auror – that much was certain – so he was going to be formal and professional and at best polite… that was all. Nothing more.

 

“Welcome to the team!” she said, patting him on the arm.

 

He stared.

 

Tonks shook her bright curly head. “Just being friendly, Mad-Eye. Friendly, you know? Try to lighten up a bit.” Still shaking her head, she made her way back toward Black, who was hissing something at Remus and Shacklebolt.

 

Alastor groaned and rubbed his stiff neck with a gnarled hand, cursing Albus again in his mind. Maybe he could have handled the situation better, had that damnable man not winked at him just before he disappeared.

 

 

Alastor had been a full-fledged member of the new Order of the Phoenix for no more than two days when he received a message to arrive at Grimmauld Place at eight o’clock the following evening for a briefing on his assignment.

 

He had studiously avoided Order headquarters – and his partner – since their first meeting the other night.

 

Staying away was easy. Keeping the encounter out of his mind was something else altogether.

 

Alastor had distracted himself by reinforcing the wards around his house, a small, understated affair several miles north of London. His experiences as an Auror had taught him that a larger home only meant a home more difficult to protect, and so he lived a sparse and meager life by design rather than by necessity. Besides, it was to his advantage to be noticed as little as possible, and – despite his skill in stealth and disguise – he was a conspicuous man. It was difficult to hide an oversized magical eye and a fake leg. Not to mention scars. It would take him half a day just to perform all the camouflage charms necessary to disguise them.

 

As Alastor worked, he couldn’t help but compare the new Order to the old… and no matter how he looked at it, the comparison was never favorable. On the whole, the Order members seemed a rag-tag, inexperienced band, and no match at all for a group of hostile Death Eaters. Black had spent a decade in Azkaban – that didn’t bode well for his psychological state. Dung was a drunkard, useful for gaining information, but not much help in a real battle. Molly and Arthur Weasley… good people, but again, not fighters. He didn’t know Hestia Jones and some of the others.

 

Alastor paused at the third wall of his sitting room and lowered his wand, wiping the sweat off his forehead, feeling it drip down his nose. Of the four rooms in his single-story house, Alastor spent the most time strengthening this one, which he considered the most vulnerable.

 

It had two windows instead of one.

 

Of course, windows weren’t necessarily dangerous. His were charmed in a thousand different ways (unbreakable, undistinguishable from the rest of the wall, and only transparent one-way, for example), as well as protected by the larger spells on the house. It didn’t matter – they still made him uncomfortable. He didn’t know why he didn’t just get rid of them altogether.

 

Resuming his work, Alastor brightened a little when he thought of Shacklebolt, whom he had trained, and whom he knew to be a stellar Auror and a fierce fighter. And from what remembered, he suspected that, despite his tired appearance, Remus Lupin was an immensely powerful wizard.

 

Nymphadora Tonks? He could only guess.

 

The old Order had been comprised of the best and the brightest… young prospects and established veterans… nothing like this.

 

He stopped again to catch his breath. Ward-casting was a strenuous business, especially for someone of his age and condition, but he was a patient man and took his time. Besides, strengthening the wards took a great deal of concentration – and the more he focused on his house, the less he focused on the impending Order briefing.

 

And what happened to all those witches and wizards you used to know? Alastor leaned against the house and sank down onto the ground, resting his head back against the wall and stretching his good leg out in front of him with a groan. Their magic didn’t help them. Their training, their idealism, their loyalty, where did it get them?

 

He shook his wild mane of hair out of his face, looking up at the sky. It was remarkably clear for such a hot, hazy summer day. The few lazy clouds trailing across the blue seemed to be miles high and utterly unreachable.

 

A dark speck appeared against the streaks of white, growing larger as it headed toward him. Squinting, Alastor focused on his owl as she flew closer and closer, a parcel of letters clutched in her beak. Just as the owl was close enough that Alastor could make out her long, speckled brown feathers with his real eye, she pulled up quite suddenly and landed on a thick branch of a tall tree several hundred meters away from the house. She stared in Alastor’s direction, waiting.

 

He scanned the area carefully before calling to her. “Alright, Circe. It’s all clear.” The owl lifted off and flew toward him, dropping the parcel of letters in his lap with a soft hoot. “Good girl,” he said, ruffling her feathers as he picked up the letters with the other hand. It was a good thing he had trained her to wait for an all clear signal before approaching him – otherwise, anyone could easily follow her to the house.

 

There were three letters.

 

Alastor just sat and looked at them for a moment, those three letters spread on the grass in front of him. The first seemed to be from the Ministry – his name was spelled out in neat, even, obviously charmed-on letters. The other two were handwritten, one in tall looping letters, the other in bright purple ink. His eyes traced his name on the three envelopes: Alastor Moody, Alastor Moody, Mad-Eye Moody.

 

For nine months he hadn’t received any post at all.

 

Circe hooted and took off, and Alastor glanced up at her as she disappeared behind the house before he tore into the last letter first, the one addressed in vivid purple.

 

Dear Mad-Eye,

 

I hope this letter finds you well. In fact, I pray this letter finds you well, with my fingers crossed, and my toes too. Are you wondering why I’m so concerned? It’s because, Mad-Eye, I am positive that you have not taken the potion that you are supposed to take every day, and I am equally sure that you are not sleeping nearly enough.

 

Let me remind you of something. If I had had my way, you would not have left my hospital wing for at least another week, if not two. Albus seems to have a higher regard for your physical strength than I do. Don’t get all defensive! Just don’t forget that you underwent a severe physical and psychological ordeal, and it will take you a while to recover fully.

 

Mad-Eye, take that potion. You will feel better. You will heal more quickly.

 

And don’t forget that the other condition of your release was that you would write to me at least every three days with an update on your condition. I don’t care what kind of an Auror you are, or were, but you obviously don’t know how to count. Go back to first year. It’s been almost a week since I heard from you.

 

Take the potion. Now.

 

- Poppy Pomfrey”

 

Feeling only slightly guilty as he thought of the still-full flagon sitting untouched on his kitchen table, Alastor set Poppy’s note aside. He would reply later, if only to get her off his back, but inwardly he resolved to take the potion more diligently. I can’t afford to be weak now, of all times.

 

Reaching for the more official letter, he slit it open curiously, wondering why the Ministry was writing to him. But the seal of the crossed bone and wand in the corner of the heavy paper wasn’t that of the Ministry… it was St. Mungo’s. He scanned the page quickly. It was a non-specific letter, probably sent to thousands of British witches and wizards… soliciting funds to improve various wards… what else is new… the Dai Llewellyn Ward, the Dilys Derwent Ward, the Janus Thickey Ward…

 

Alastor’s gaze stopped on those last words, hovering.

 

Quite suddenly, he folded up the letter and stuffed it back in its envelope, tossing it hastily a few feet away, where it landed upside-down in the thick grass.

 

He sat in silence, his back to the wall of his house, his wand lying a few inches from his hand, the letters spread out around him.

 

After a few minutes, Alastor leaned forward to pick up the third envelope and slowly tore it open, reading the short note carefully.

 

“Alastor, if you would please meet us at eight o’clock this evening, I believe we have a few things to discuss.”

 

Alastor didn’t need Albus to spell it out for him in an unprotected letter – he was being summoned to Order headquarters for a briefing on his mission.

 

Not my mission… he thought darkly, heaving himself back onto his feet and banishing Poppy’s letter and Albus’ note into the house. Our mission. Don’t forget that girl.

 

Raising his wand, Alastor resumed his work strengthening the wards on the third wall of his sitting room. The letter from St. Mungo’s lay abandoned in the grass a few feet away. Alastor’s gaze fell on the place on his wall where he knew a window was disguised.

 

He suppressed a shiver.

 

And so he was going to headquarters again tonight. Well, he would be fine. He would take Poppy’s potion before he left. It wouldn’t be too bad... Alastor wasn’t sure whether he was thinking of the potion or the meeting.

 

This is ridiculous, he thought bitterly as the sweat trickled into his magical eye and made it stick. I can handle wards, but I can’t even give the new Order the benefit of the doubt. I’ve only been to one meeting, for the love of Merlin. It might get better.

 

He snorted and shook his head violently from side to side, hoping to jar his eye free. After several seconds, his eye was stuck facing sideways out over his ear and an unpleasant twinge had settled in his neck.

 

Alastor sighed. The afternoon was shaping up quite pleasantly.

 

 

He Apparated to London to avoid as much of the Muggle neighborhood as possible, and he took great care at the door to make sure he didn’t knock into anyone again. Focusing intently through his magical eye, he saw the ghostly images of what lay beyond the door, and nothing seemed remotely dangerous. In fact, to his relief, the hall looked quite deserted.

 

Alastor pushed open the heavy door to Grimmauld Place and stepped inside, glancing around sharply. Nothing. But his eye was already beginning to detect those strange pulses of dark magic.

 

Unsure of what to do, he stood stupidly for a moment in the silence before he spotted a shadow in the ceiling above the stairs, heading down towards him.

 

“Hullo, Mad-Eye. Dumbledore and the others are in the kitchen.” It was Black, looking sulky. “He says you’re to meet him in there for your…” he spat out the next word bitterly, “assignment.”

 

“Got it.” Alastor turned away. His shoulder ached sharply, but he ignored it. Black glared at his retreating form for a moment before disappearing back upstairs, and Alastor could turn his full attention to the scene in front of him.

 

His stomach settled unpleasantly as he recognized the grimy kitchen from the earlier meeting. Though no cleaner, the room did seem larger, but only because it wasn’t as crowded. Albus was sitting comfortably at the table, his long delicate fingers laced together in front of him – apparently he felt no need for conversation. There was also a youngish woman whom Alastor didn’t recognize. She had a round face and reddish hair, and she seemed familiar, but Alastor couldn’t quite place her. She was talking to Albus somewhat randomly – it seemed she had a low tolerance for silence.

 

Tonks was nowhere to be found. Alastor tried to tell himself that he wasn’t surprised, but truthfully he was.

 

“Alastor, glad you’re here.” Albus spoke and motioned to a low chair, where Alastor sat down a bit awkwardly, twisting his wooden leg in his robes. “Let’s begin.”

 

But what about Tonks? Alastor thought. Not like Albus to leave someone out in the cold… his eyes rested on the other woman momentarily. Maybe he changed his mind about the partnership… but no, not after his performance the other night…

 

“Have you heard about the Department of Magical Law Enforcement’s inquiry into the actions of the senior Barty Crouch?”

 

Alastor stiffened at the reminder of last year. “No.”

 

“I’ve heard rumors around the Ministry – nothing concrete,” the woman added.

 

Albus nodded gravely. “In short, Percy Weasley is currently under investigation for his involvement in Mr. Crouch’s crimes.”

 

“I thought he was acting in good faith…”

 

So did I, thought Alastor. Misplaced faith, but honest even so. He tried to stretch out his wooden leg but found he couldn’t free it from his tangled robes.

 

“Oh, he was,” Albus responded. “He most certainly was. But the Council of Magical Law feels it is duty-bound to thoroughly investigate everyone involved, and you must not fault them for that. What you likely do not know is that Mr. Weasley is about to be offered a very prestigious appointment as the Junior Assistant to the Minister of Magic himself.”

 

Alastor jiggled his leg some more.

 

The woman shook her head. “I suppose Fudge sees fit to overrule the Magical Law Enforcement’s decisions again…”

 

“His sense of his own power is slightly indulged, yes.”

 

That still doesn’t make any sense…Alastor thought, momentarily forgetting about his leg. What skills does Weasley have that Fudge wants so badly?

 

The woman shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “Can Percy really be so talented that Fudge would risk a direct confrontation with Amelia Bones? From what I know of her, she won’t take kindly to having her toes stepped on again…”

Sure he’s good, but nothing that special… Albus’ mind was racing. If not talented, then what? His brow furrowed deeper, and then it came in a rare flash of clarity.

 

“Valuable…”

 

“What?”

 

“Talent isn’t the only thing that would make a Weasley valuable,” he said.

 

“Of course!” The woman’s eyes widened. “Of course. His connections to the Order… Fudge wants a spy.”

 

“And he’s going to get one,” Alastor growled. “Only not in the way he thinks.”

 

Albus nodded gravely. “Mr. Weasley is in a rather unique position. The information he could access as Fudge’s assistant would be of inestimable value to the Order.”

 

“There’s more to it than that.”

 

“Of course.” Albus paused. “Civil wars are complicated, and confusing. Alliances are rarely black and white. Nearly everyone has friends and family on both sides. During the last war, I trusted too blindly… I cannot make that mistake again.”

 

Alastor remembered a pudgy boy, forever tagging along harmlessly at the heels of his talented friends… No need to beat yourself up, Albus. We were all fooled by Pettigrew’s act. Hell, even I trusted him…

 

“We need to cut through facades and see who is truly on our side. There are those who wrongly appear to be with us – and those, seemingly against us, who could be persuaded to our side.”

 

“And you want us to find out.” A small crease had appeared between the woman’s eyebrows.

 

“Yes. It will be especially difficult for you, Tonks, but…”

 

“Tonks?” Alastor turned violently in his chair, tangling his wooden leg even further, and he gaped as the woman’s hair began to pull back into her head, losing some of its length, and abruptly changed color to the lurid pink he remembered. She grimaced and, after a second, her face lengthened and skin lightened. Relaxing, the Nymphadora Tonks he remembered looked across the table and grinned sheepishly.

 

Alastor vaguely thought to himself that someone could hex him from behind at that very moment and he wouldn’t even bat an eye.

 

Chuckling softly, Albus said, “As you can see, Tonks is a Metamorphmagus.”

 

Alastor blinked a few times and closed his mouth. “Ah. Of course.” He shook himself. So she’s a morph. That’s very interesting… but focus, man, focus. Back to work.

 

“As I was saying, investigating your enemies is no easy task, but investigating your friends is in many ways harder. Remaining unbiased and emotionally detached… it is not a skill I have mastered. It will be more difficult for you, Tonks, especially with your current Ministry connections, but I believe you can handle the stress.”

 

She didn’t seem thrilled. “I’ll have to give loyalty tests.”

 

“Yes and no.”

 

Tonks sighed. “I don’t… I’ll do my best.”

 

“What does this have to do with Weasley?” Alastor asked.

 

“You will need to work closely with him to gain access to some of the higher-level Ministry officials. But the investigations are secondary. Remus and Stan Riley are on a similar assignment, and I expect you will be working closely with them. For the two of you, Percy’s situation must be of the utmost priority, because I want someone keeping an eye out for him at all times. His life, if he so chooses, will be a dangerous one. You will need to help protect him.”

 

His words hung ominously in the air, until…

 

“Why us?” Tonks asked.

 

“Alastor brings a great deal of valuable experience, and, quite frankly, your abilities as a Metamorphmagus will allow you unprecedented access to the Ministry. Choosing the two of you was purely practical, though I do wish I had more profound reasoning to offer.”

 

“I really don’t like this, Dumbledore,” Tonks said, shaking her pink curls. “All this lying and sneaking around – and it will involve a lot of lying, you know it will…”

 

“But this is a chance to pull off an acting job bigger than Peter Pettigrew’s!” Alastor growled. “Don’t tell me the thought doesn’t appeal to you, even at all.”

 

“It doesn’t, not in the least.”

 

Albus raised a hand to silence them. “Tonks, I can assure you that this is absolutely necessary. You will simply have to trust me.”

 

She frowned. “I trust you. I just don’t like it.”

 

“When can I talk to Weasley?” Alastor interrupted.

 

“I will be discussing this with Percy and his parents tomorrow, and I would request that you both be there as well.” They nodded. “And that is all I have to say, for now. I leave the intricacies of planning up to you. I will see you tomorrow at Hogwarts, at six o’clock.” He stood quietly and left the room.

 

Alastor’s mind was spinning. I can’t believe Albus is suggesting that Weasley act the double agent. It’s a damn good idea but completely out of character… Pettigrew was the scum of the earth… Will Weasley even want any part of this? It will involve a lot of sacrifice…

 

Tonks broke the silence first. “Look, Mad-Eye, I know you don’t want to work with me, but since we don’t have a choice, just give it a go, alright?”

 

Alastor snapped out of his reverie. “I’ve got nothing personal against you, Nymphadora.” And she’s a Metamorphmagus. That’s going to come in handy, now that I’m stuck with her for good…

 

She grimaced at the name. “Tonks, please. And while that’s reassuring, it doesn’t change the fact that we still need to work together on this.”

 

Why is she on assignment with me, anyway? I don’t buy Albus’ reasons… and Weasley might be too much of a Gryffindor for this type of work… Alastor groaned and rubbed his shoulder. “Let’s talk about this later.”

 

Tonks stood. “Fine, then. Later.”

 

She strode out of the room, and Alastor was left alone with his confusion.

//
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