The Sugar Quill
Author: Falling Damps (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A House Divided  Chapter: Chapter Two: Menaces of Destruction
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The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

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Note: Martin, thank you for all of your help with this story. You have improved it more than you know. Also, thanks to those who were kind enough to review my first chapter. I really appreciated your feedback.

 

 

CHAPTER TWO:

menaces of destruction

 

 

Sitting alone in Sirius Black’s kitchen, staring at the wall, was getting him nowhere fast. Whether Alastor liked it or not, he was now on assignment, and he was sure as hell not going to botch it up, not when that was precisely what everyone expected him to do. He waited a few minutes to see if Tonks would come back down, but there was no sign of her.

 

Rolling his magical eye around slowly, he searched the house, finding her relatively quickly in a second floor bedroom, one of the few on that floor that wasn’t thrumming with unmistakable dark magic. She seemed to be sitting on the floor, talking to Black. Nope. Not coming back down.

 

Alastor stood – or rather, he tried to stand, but he had forgotten his wooden leg was all wrapped up in his robes, and he came dangerously close to falling over. Smooth. After struggling with the leg for a minute, frustrated, he grabbed for his wand and cut off the offending piece of robe. He stormed out of the kitchen and up the stairs, trailing an uneven hemline behind him.

 

By the time he had climbed the third set of stairs, he’d blown off most of his steam and was beginning to feel a bit apprehensive. And annoyed that he was feeling apprehensive about addressing his … partner.

 

Yeah, that’s right. Partner. Better get used to the word.

 

Presumably Tonks and Black had heard him coming, though they showed no signs of it. He hadn’t bothered to hide his approach – although of course he could have, if he had wanted to – and so he was surprised to have to knock on the bedroom door when he arrived. He banged his fist on the hard wood a few times, not bothering to act politely. Black heaved himself out of a chair and pulled open the door coldly.

 

“Yes?”

 

“I’d like a word with Nymphadora.”

 

“Tonks. I’ll tell her.”

 

The door slammed shut a few inches from Alastor’s nose.

 

A few seconds later it reopened, and Tonks stepped out, closing it gently behind her. “Yes?” Same greeting, much different tone. Alastor was relieved to see that she didn’t seem as angry as before… not that she had had any cause to be angry… it was just typical teenage behavior… totally unprofessional… he nearly choked. Was she a teenager? She probably was. Damn.

 

The girl leaned against the doorframe, resting one hand on her hip, waiting for him to speak. Alastor cleared his throat. Take charge. “We need to discuss our assignment and try to come up with some sort of plan before meeting the Weasleys tomorrow.”

 

“I thought you said you didn’t want to talk.”

 

“I said I wanted to talk later.

 

“And now it’s later.”

 

Er… “Yeah.”

 

Tonks shook her head dubiously. “Later… all right, let’s go plan.” She poked her head back into the bedroom, saying, “Sirius, I’ve got to go talk to Mad-Eye for a bit,” before setting off briskly down the stairs.

 

Alastor was grumbling when he caught up with her in the kitchen. “I’m getting tired of this kitchen. It’s too damn dark. Can’t see a bloody thing. Very unsafe.”

 

Tonks poured herself a cup of a tea from a grimy kettle on the stove, which rattled loudly when she set it back down. “This house is infested with just about every Dark object and creature you can imagine. Took Sirius almost a week to decontaminate the kitchen… not too many other rooms in the house are inhabitable yet. Tea?”

 

Alastor shook his head.

 

“Right, right, the hip flask thing. Sorry.” She dropped into a seat and took a great gulp from her mug. “Let’s get started, then.”

 

“Weasley’s going to be in a tight place, with his family and connections working against him. He’s going to have to make it very clear that he can be trusted – not going to happen as long as he’s associated with his father.”

 

“Then we’ll just have to break that association.”

 

“Not so simple.”

 

“I know. Nothing short of a complete break with his past would convince Fudge.”

 

“Drastic.”

 

“It’s true, though,” Tonks said.

 

“I know it. It’s easy to lie about loyalties – not so easy to hide them in your actions.”

 

“Well, then Percy had better be a good actor.”

 

“A damn good actor.” Alastor frowned as a sudden idea occurred to him… risky, but potentially successful, like his ideas usually were. “But we can make it easier on him.”

 

Tonks looked up from her mug warily. “How?”

 

“Less acting, more reality.”

 

“You don’t expect him to actually break off contact with his family!”

 

“Not his parents, but the rest of them, yes.”

 

Tonks looked outraged. “And his friends? And the Order?”

 

“He has to. It’s the only way this will work.”

 

She shook her head violently. “That’s asking too much. Way too much. Snape’s a spy, and the Order knows about him. Why not Percy?”

 

“Because that’s an entirely different situation! Snape used to be a Death Eater – when he changed sides, it took a lot of convincing and a hell of a lot of time for us to trust him! You don’t know – you weren’t there.” Alastor glared at her, taking in the sharpness of her eyes and the folds of her dark Auror robes. “Some people still don’t trust him, fifteen years later. We had to know the truth, or one of us might have killed him. No one’s going to kill Weasley!”

 

Tonks seemed unimpressed. “I know that’s all true, but we simply can not ask Percy to give up his entire life.”

 

“Is he loyal to the Order or not?” Alastor growled.

 

“He is, but there are limits!”

 

“Limits to loyalty?”

 

“There is more to life than the Order of the Phoenix!” Tonks cried, slamming her mug on the table and spilling tea everywhere. “I’m loyal to the Order, but I’m also loyal to my friends and my family. To the Aurors. To my country! Just because your own loyalties haven’t collided doesn’t mean you have to put someone else in that position!”

 

“You have no idea of the state of my loyalties. I don’t even think you know what the word means. True loyalty requires sacrifice!”

 

Tonks’ eyes flashed dangerously. “And I would sacrifice it all for any of them!”

 

“Your first devotion should be to the Order, and so should Weasley’s!”

 

“Excuse me.” It was Black at the door, looking curious. Alastor didn’t even turn his head. “But could you either keep it down or invite me in to watch?”

 

Tonks collapsed back in her seat. “Go away, Sirius.”

 

How dare she imply that he didn’t understand loyalty? He, who had sacrificed his very self while she was still running around Hogwarts…

 

“Well, if you’re sure…” Black gave one last hopeful look in their direction before turning away, letting the door slam shut behind him. Through a cloud of anger Alastor noted that Black did a lot of door-slamming.

 

Tonks had conjured a bright green cloth and was wiping the table furiously, her white-knuckled hand jerking the rag irregularly across the surface, sweeping most of the spilled tea into her lap. She didn’t seem to care. He watched her in silent fury, making no move to help, and, after a moment, she sighed and dropped the sodden rag on the floor. “You’re right, to a certain extent. Percy will need to break off completely. I don’t like it, but there it is.” She looked gloomily down at her hands.

 

“Arthur and Molly will know the truth.”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“Weasley’s got to see what an opportunity he has here.” Despite his authoritative tone, Alastor couldn’t stifle the smallest of gnawing doubts. But whoever said war was easy? a voice in his mind protested.

 

“Opportunity. Right.”

 

“Look, we have to make a decision now – if we’re disagreeing in front of Weasley, he won’t know what to think.”

 

Tonks bit her lip. “Alright then – a complete break. Dumbledore, you, I, and his parents will know, but that’s it.”

 

She looked less than pleased and sounded like a third-year reciting some dreaded lesson for an unreasonable teacher. Alastor suppressed an inner groan. He supposed he would have to walk her through this. “Can you support that fully tomorrow?”

 

“I have to, so I will. Percy’s not the only good actor around here.” She smiled faintly. “I’ll send them word about the meeting.”

 

“Good.” Alastor started to leave but paused when he was half out of his seat. As long as we’re talking, I may as well ask… “Do you know him well?”

 

Tonks looked surprised. “Percy?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

She rested her elbows on the table and considered this for a moment. “I was two years ahead at Hogwarts – same age as Charlie, I know him much better…” Her voice trailed off in thought. “But Percy? I guess I know him as well as any other non-Weasley Order member does. Why?”

 

Alastor sat back down heavily. “Is he too much of a Gryffindor for this?”

 

“Too much a Gryffindor?”

 

Alastor struggled to find the words to describe what had been worrying him since their conversation with Albus. “Yeah… you know… too set on honor and chivalry… wrong kind of courage…”

 

“Wait.” Tonks interrupted, resting her elbows on the sticky table. “Wrong kind of courage?”

 

“Gryffindor courage is… big.”

 

Tonks stared. Clearly, he needed to be more specific.

 

“Wide. Covers a lot. Obvious courage.” No response. “Oh, bugger it. You know what I mean.”

 

She spoke slowly. “I think so… but it takes a great deal of personal courage to be a spy.”

 

“Yeah, but that’s a different kind of courage. Less present. And will he be able to stomach the lies?”

 

She seemed deep in thought, tracing curling designs with her finger in the remaining spilled tea, and spoke slowly, her voice a bit lower than normal. “Percy will need all of his Gryffindor courage and sense of duty to handle the rejection of his family and friends. As for the lies…” she shook her head. “I’m not a Gryffindor. I don’t know.”

 

“Hufflepuff, right?”

 

“Yeah. All about work, and effort, and ethics, and…” she shot him a piercing glance, “loyalty. I wouldn’t be able to do this. Those around me are too important for me to risk losing them.”

 

Alastor considered her words. “I don’t know if I could do it either.”

 

“Really? Why not?”

 

Alastor’s throat clenched momentarily as he realized too late that this conversation was straying into dangerously personal waters. His mind raced as he frantically sought a quick, easy, and short answer. He hit upon:

 

“Slytherin. Personal reputation above all else, and all that.”

 

“Oh, right.” She went back to tracing her curlicues in the cool tea, and Alastor breathed an inaudible sigh of relief. What was he thinking? He didn’t know her nearly well enough, and he didn’t even like her. At all.

 

Clearing his throat, Alastor spoke in a business-like tone. “About the break – I think a big fight should do the trick.”

 

“Yes.” Tonks sat up and wiped her hand absently on her robes. “And let’s make the acting a little easier, eh? A little more reality.”

 

He looked questioningly at her.

 

“They can fight about the promotion. Arthur can go on about how Fudge only wants a spy, and Percy’s fragile ego can be deeply offended. Arthur will be telling the truth, so – as long as Percy’s obnoxious enough – everyone should side with him and Molly.”

 

As much as he didn’t want to admit it, Alastor was impressed. Apparently this girl could think like an Auror when she was forced to. It was a good thing he had pushed her to it. “That would work.”

 

“We can figure out the details tomorrow.”

 

Alastor stood to leave. “Sounds like a plan.”

 

Tonks smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. She echoed his words. “A great plan.”

 

 

The room’s only window was closed and shuttered, keeping out even the cold light of the moon. The tawny brown owl in the cage in the corner was hooting softly and rustling in her food. From the adjoining kitchen came a steady drip, drip, drip from an ancient, leaky tap. Though the walls were thick, the soft noises of the night crept into the dark solitude.

 

There was a faint rustle from the other side of the room.

 

The owl looked up.

 

Another rustle, longer, more obvious. And a low moan.

 

Each drop of water seemed to echo as it slapped against the bottom of the sink.

 

Then the bed across the room exploded.

 

“SILENCIO!”

 

The silence was absolute. After a moment, the owl went back to her soundless, mindless pecking.

 

Alastor threw the thin blanket off his legs and sat up, breathing heavily. Words, images raced across his mind, a joyful laugh that turned to a scream, his own smiling voice, “Alright,” spells, spells, and then darkness. He shook his head violently, as though to clear it.

 

This time there had been something new. Tonks’ young voice, angered and defensive, “There is more to life than the Order of the Phoenix!”

 

He stood slowly, one hand on his throbbing side, and began to walk, his footsteps making no dent in the unnatural quiet.

 

 

When Alastor sent Circe out to pick up his post in mid-morning, the silencing charm still hadn’t worn off from the night before, and he couldn’t find a way to remove it.

 

“Finite Incantatum!” he bellowed, brandishing his wand toward the center of the room where he had cast the spell, but nothing happened. Circe gave a soundless hoot and pecked his hand rather harder than necessary.

 

“I’m working on it,” Alastor growled, shaking her off his arm so that she spread her wings and flew a few feet away, perching on the edge of his bedpost, staring at him with silent reproach.

 

He had really never seen anything like it.

 

A simple silencing charm that couldn’t be removed and didn’t seem to wear off with time? Absurd. He tried to cancel the charm a few more times, unsuccessfully, before letting out a harrumph of annoyance and collapsing into a faded armchair, his arms dangling at his sides.

 

Frowning, he closed his eyes and suddenly, as clear as though it had happened only yesterday, he remembered one of his aptitude tests for entrance into the Auror training program – specifically the one designed to test the applicant’s ability to think critically under extreme stress.

 

He had been led into a room, if it could be called that… a tiny box of a room, maybe the size of a closet… the minute the door was shut behind him, it melded into the wall and disappeared, and he was alone. It was pitch black. His only job was to find a way out.

 

Alastor tried everything he could think of – all the standard procedures, cast a light on his surroundings, tested the strength of the walls, checked for hidden passages, invisible cracks… everything he had been taught at Hogwarts. But there was nothing.

 

Then, of course, the panic came. He was going to fail, he wouldn’t become an Auror, he would be stuck in that damned closet forever…

 

Just as he was sure that he was about to go mad or call out for help, he heard the voice of one of the examiners echoing quite loudly in his compartment. “Mr. Moody! Ten minutes remain in your time period!”

 

His heart sank, but on a whim he shouted back, “I’ve done everything that’s possible, and there’s no way out!”

 

There was a brief silence, and Alastor was sure that he had overstepped his bounds. But then the woman’s voice sounded again, a little softer. “Sometimes, when you’ve tried everything that’s possible, it may be time to try the impossible.”

 

When it became clear that she wasn’t going to say anything else, Alastor swore, quite vehemently even for him. “Try the impossible…” he muttered angrily. “Try the impossible… what the hell kind of advice is that… the impossible… fine, fine then, the impossible…”

 

And he promptly Apparated straight out of the compartment.

 

“Congratulations, Mr. Moody,” the woman’s voice said, sounding distinctly amused. “You’ve passed, with flying colors. You’ll make a fine Auror.”

 

He never knew who she was – some retired Auror acting as an examiner, probably – but he had never forgotten her words. Try the impossible. Alastor found himself remembering her advice once again, and though he suspected there wasn’t such a simple solution to this problem, he felt suddenly, and strangely, calmer. Eyes still closed, he thought hard and tried to remember exactly what he had done the night before.

 

I woke up... I heard Circe… the damned plumbing… some noises outside… and I sat up and cast a silencing charm. There was really nothing else to it.

 

Ah, but on what? he asked himself. What were you trying to silence?

 

The crevices in his face deepened in thought, but after a few seconds he let out a frustrated groan and rested his head back heavily on the top of the chair. He had been half-asleep at the time and still reeling from his nightmares… he simply couldn’t remember.

 

Well, I can’t have silenced the entire room, because then I wouldn’t be able to make any noise myself at all, would I?

 

Alastor thumped his wooden leg hard on the floor a few times and found, as he expected, that it made no sound. “But I can talk!” he said, his voice echoing strangely in the silence of the room. Circe blinked at him.

 

“I wanted quiet,” he said after a few seconds, turning to look at his owl. “I wanted to get the sounds out of my head, I wanted to stop hearing it, over and over, it was just like that night…” His words, which already sounded strange to him against the backdrop of absolute silence, seemed unpleasantly magnified and rather pathetic. Dreams can’t be silenced with a silencing charm, obviously. He doubted anyone had ever even tried before… no one is that thick. I wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t been half-asleep.

 

Besides, he thought rather grimly, it didn’t work, did it?

 

Alastor heaved himself out of the chair and opened the door so Circe could fly out and pick up his post. Making a mental note to ask one of the more knowledgeable Order members about the result of attempting a powerful silencing charm on noise that was mostly in one’s mind, he spun his eye around the house a few times. Not only was the extreme silence vexing, but it was also dangerous. He couldn’t rely on his hearing anymore to listen for attackers. His magical eye was all he had left.

 

Alastor spent most of the day trying to remove the charm, by possible and impossible means, and before he knew it, the sun was sinking low in the sky, Circe had left to go hunting, and it was almost six o’clock. The silencing charm was holding as strong as ever.

 

He Apparated into Hogsmeade, intending to walk the rest of the way to Hogwarts, and he arrived right in the middle of the early evening bustle. Limping out of the crowd, he scanned the shops and alleys around him for anything suspicious. A strange, hunched woman with a thick veil held over her face… some vague Dark pulses from an alley down on the right… two wizards across the avenue speaking in low, hushed voices…  Arthur Weasley… Both of his eyes shot back to the figure of the man in faded green robes hurrying up to him from behind. “Mad-Eye!” Arthur called with his trademark ear-to-ear grin, though it looked a bit strained. “How’re things going these days? Long time no see!”

 

Alastor frowned. I just saw him at the Order meeting the other day. Arthur caught up to him, slung a long arm around his shoulders, and whispered, “I’m being followed.” In a slightly louder voice, he said, “I’m on my way to Honeydukes – just had a craving for those fantastic Peppermint Toads, you know how that happens!”

 

“Er… yeah, yeah. Though I usually prefer their chocolate, myself.” Alastor spun his eye back behind them, searching the crowd again, more insistently than before. “Arthur,” he muttered out of the corner of his mouth, “are you sure?”

“Positive,” he replied. “Been behind me since I left the office. Funny gray hat, long jacket.”

 

Alastor spotted the man without too much trouble and focused his eye through the hat, which was pulled down low, so he could see the man’s face. To his disappointment, Alastor didn’t recognize him. The man seemed younger than he, maybe Arthur’s age, and his pointed nose and large, wide eyes made him look like some kind of strange, hunted animal.

 

“Can you see him?” Arthur asked in a low voice. “Who is it?”

 

“Yeah, I see him… but I don’t know him.” Alastor described the man’s face to Arthur, who shook his head. “Well, you can’t go up to Hogwarts with me if you’re being trailed. What’re you going to do?”

 

“Go through Honeydukes.”

 

“What?” Alastor continued to lead Arthur on the least dangerous path through the crowd, keeping a close eye on their follower, who remained a discreet distance behind.

 

“According to my sons, there’s a passage from the cellar of Honeydukes that leads straight into Hogwarts. It’s watched by Dumbledore, of course, but I don’t suppose he’ll have a problem with me using it, given the circumstances, especially if you get there before I do and let him know that I’m coming.”

 

They had reached the door to Honeydukes, so Arthur let go of Alastor’s shoulders and shouted goodbye as he headed into the store with a jaunty wave. Alastor stayed, watching the man in the gray hat, who waited just long enough to avoid being too obvious before following Arthur into the store. Alastor tried to use his magical eye to see what was happening inside, but it was too crowded – other people kept crossing his line of vision – and he knew he needed to get to Hogwarts as soon as possible.

 

Hobbling as fast as he could over to The Three Broomsticks, he pushed open the door and made his way through the crowd to the bar, where he found Rosmerta, as rosy as ever, serving firewhiskey to a few goggling young men. “Hey, Rosmerta!”

 

She looked up, a great smile spreading across her face, and cried, “Mad-Eye! Been quite a while since you came into my bar! What can I get you?”

 

“Actually,” he said, leaning closer and lowering his voice, “I’m here to beg a favor.”

 

Her eyes narrowed. “What kind of favor?”

 

“I need to use your fireplace to Floo out of here.”

 

“Why, what’s wrong?”

 

He decided on the spot that he didn’t want to explain his real reasons to Rosmerta, and though he knew exactly how to get his way, it still pained him to act old and feeble. “Just the leg bothering me again… I don’t feel… ahem… quite up to Apparition.”

 

She smiled kindly and patted his arm. “Of course, Mad-Eye! All you need to do is ask. After everything you’ve done for me, for Hogsmeade…” She motioned him into the back room and went back to pouring the firewhiskey.

 

Alastor made his way to the large fireplace, wondering if Arthur had managed to leave Honeydukes, tossed in a handful of Floo powder from the box on the mantle, and jumped in, growling, “Headmaster’s Office, Hogwarts!”

 

Quite suddenly, he slammed into something both hard and soft, like an enormous, thick pillow, and found himself quite unable to move. What is this? Or… where is this? Am I still in the fireplace? Why didn’t the Floo work? Spinning his eye around, Alastor found himself suspended in what seemed to be a large, gray, cold nothingness. His surprise only increased when he heard Albus’ voice, magnified a thousand times and coming from all around him. “Just one moment, Alastor, and we’ll have you out of there.” Alastor would have responded, but he couldn’t speak.

 

After a few seconds, the huge pillow seemed to vanish, and Alastor fell through the swirling gray and landed hard on the stone base of Albus’ fireplace. Looking up, he saw Albus, Molly, and Percy Weasley all peering down at him, with varying expressions of worry and amusement playing across their faces.

 

“Had I known you were arriving by Floo, Alastor, I would have been sure to disable the wards,” Albus said with a soft chuckle as Alastor hoisted himself onto his feet, rubbing his side painfully.

 

“So I got stuck in the Hogwarts wards?”

 

“Yes, indeed. My apologies.”

 

Alastor shook his head and sat down in a chair with faded, soft upholstery. “Nah, my fault. I was planning on walking, but I was in a bit of a rush…” He suddenly remembered why he was rushing. “Hasn’t Arthur arrived yet?”

 

Molly shook her head. “I expect he’s tied up at work, as usual…”

 

“No, I met up with him in Hogsmeade. He thought he was being trailed, so he ducked into Honeydukes to come up through some passage through the cellar that his kids told him about… Albus?”

 

The headmaster nodded, and his snowy beard wagged back and forth. “Trust the younger Weasleys to have discovered that particular way of sneaking out of the castle… there is such a path, though it is closely watched. Arthur hasn’t yet come through it.”

 

“Not yet?”

 

“Should we go look for him, Dumbledore?” Molly asked anxiously, tiny worry wrinkles appearing around her eyes.

 

“I’m sure Arthur is quite capable of handling himself,” Albus said, sitting down next to Alastor in one of the five chairs that had been pulled into a circle in front of his desk. Molly and her son followed his lead.

 

They sat like that for several minutes, no one attempting to make any conversation, just waiting for Arthur to reappear. Alastor kept his eye trained on the door, half expecting someone to pop through it at any moment, but otherwise he was able to relax for the first time in days. The positive energy in Albus’ office was overpowering, and there were few places better protected in all of Britain – as shown by his own attempt to Floo in.

 

A few minutes later Tonks came hurrying up the stairs, pausing to knock twice on Albus’ door. When he called her in, she greeted everyone, sat down next to Percy, and began to talk quietly with the boy. Her hair was longer today, a dark brown offset by frighteningly blue eyes. She seemed to put the boy at ease, talking about old friends and Hogwarts and his job at the Ministry.

 

It had been nearly a quarter of an hour when Alastor finally spotted Arthur on the stairs. “He’s here.”

 

Not even bothering to knock, Arthur burst through the door, his face flushed. “Sorry, sorry…” he panted. “I came as quickly as I could…”

 

As he sat down and caught his breath, he told them how the man had followed him into Honeydukes, making it impossible to slip down into the cellar. “I had to wait for a great crowd of kids to come in and separate us before I could sneak down there, and once I did, it took forever to find the passage.” Arthur shrugged with a half-smile. “I am sorry it took so long…”

 

“No need to apologize,” Albus said, looking grave. “You’re sure you were followed?”

 

“Oh yes.”

 

“And you don’t know who it was?”

 

“I didn’t recognize him, and neither did Mad-Eye.”

 

“Already… I had no idea… so soon…” Albus murmured to himself, before looking up and saying, “I would have asked you all to meet me at Grimmauld Place, which would have been much simpler, of course, but as this is a matter of some confidence, I had preferred we meet in a more private location.” He paused, the amiable twinkle gone from his eye. “I believe everyone except Percy knows why we are here.”

 

Arthur and Molly nodded seriously, Tonks looked grim, young Weasley seemed bemused, and Alastor was watching them all intently.

 

Albus leaned forward carefully in his seat, which creaked slightly. “Percy, the Minister is going to promote you to his Junior assistant.”

 

Weasley looked flabbergasted. “But… but… the inquiry!”

 

“Apparently Cornelius believes your… ah… position… to be of value, despite the events with Mr. Crouch.”

 

Weasley didn’t respond, and Alastor watched the wheels turning in his mind. Come on, boy… he thought. It’s not that complicated

 

When at last the boy spoke, his voice was pained. “I see. They don’t want me. They just want to use me to spy on Dad, and on you, Professor.”

 

“Yes.”

 

The boy looked crushed, and Tonks, unable to bear the heartbreak written all over his face, broke in. “But this is a tremendous opportunity! Think of what you can do for the Order as Fudge’s personal assistant!”

 

“It won’t work,” the boy said flatly. “They will never trust me. I’m a Weasley.”

 

Arthur winced.

 

“We would have to make it… convincing.”

 

Weasley turned a blank face towards Alastor, who had just spoken for the first time since he arrived. Under the horn-rimmed glasses, Alastor saw eyes full of deep regret, pain, longing… and then, at last, understanding.

 

The boy spoke so quietly Alastor had to lean forward to make out the words. “We could tell the Order…”

 

Arthur shook his head. “It’s too many people, Percy. It’s too risky. Out on missions all the time… what if they were captured?”

 

The boy’s voice cracked. “My brothers, and Ginny…”

 

Molly’s eyes had filled with tears, and Alastor found, to his own annoyance, that he didn’t have the heart to speak.

 

“No, Percy.” Albus spoke heavily and rested a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder. “The stakes are too high.”

 

Weasley took off his glasses with a shaky hand and pressed the heels of his palms to his eyes. No one spoke. After a moment, he straightened, letting Albus’ hand drop away.

 

“I will do it.”

 

“You don’t have to, Percy!” Tonks suddenly cried out, and Alastor was shocked to see that her eyes were red. “If it’s too much – ”

 

The boy interrupted her wearily, donning his glasses again. “You said it yourself, Tonks. This is an opportunity that we must not waste.” He turned to them. “I understand the cost, and I accept.”

 

Alastor didn’t know what to think. Tonks was crying, and the boy… the boy seemed old, too old for his years, and worn… He had always considered Weasley a mini-Fudge, one of those weak sycophants who flock to the Ministry like bees to honey. But here he was giving up his life, his reputation, his standing with his family and friends... That’s a kind of self-sacrifice I don’t think I could have managed.  Certainly not at his age, and probably not even now.

 

They spoke for nearly two hours more, carefully laying out their plans so there could be no mistakes. This was an all or nothing deal. Either Fudge and his cronies trusted the boy, or they didn’t. And if they didn’t… well, he tried not to think about that.

 

At last, when Alastor was beginning to feel that he couldn’t handle any more exposure to the raw emotions in the room, Albus ended the meeting. “Molly, Arthur, you go first. Percy will follow shortly.”

 

Molly stood suddenly and enveloped the boy, kissing his forehead and his nose. When she let him go, Arthur put his arm around his son and gave a tight squeeze. Though the boy started to speak, “Dad, I…” Arthur just smiled sadly and shook his head. They stepped through the door and were gone.

 

The boy stared at the spot where his parents had been only moments before. Softly, Albus spoke to the other two. “Alastor, Tonks… please escort Percy home.” Alastor nodded. Nothing more needed to be said.

 

They followed him out the door, through the castle, and out of the grounds, Apparating behind him to the Burrow. Without speaking, or even looking at them, Weasley started slowly down the long, winding path to his childhood home.

 

Next to Alastor, Tonks let out a strange noise that was half-anger, half-sob. “This is wrong.” She turned away from the Burrow, shoulders sagging. “At first this promotion seems like a gift from Merlin himself, but now…” She shook her head. “I don’t know. I can’t reconcile it. We’re here to fight Voldemort, but at what cost? There are enough broken families in this world without our help… and this is Percy’s future! Does he know what he’s giving up?”

 

Alastor was still watching the boy walk slowly down the long path toward the door. He reached for the handle but didn’t grasp it, instead taking a step sideways to peer inside the window. Alastor squinted and focused all of his energy on his magical eye, willing it to look inside at what the boy was viewing so intently. After a few seconds, the image popped into his mind. And he responded to Tonks.

 

“He knows.”

 

The room was full of people. One of the twins was lounging in a large, worn chair, his head tilted back and eyes closed, snoring. Another boy, whom Alastor assumed was Ron, was sitting huffily in front of a chessboard, by himself; Alastor barely had time to wonder where the other player was when a younger girl strode in, holding a glass of pumpkin juice. Ron started yelling something that Alastor couldn’t quite make out, though he thought it had to do with the girl taking too long in the kitchen, when suddenly there was a great shout of laughter as the sleeping twin sprung out of his chair, dripping with some kind of blue slime. Bill Weasley – whom Alastor recognized by his long hair – and the other twin had popped out from behind the chair, howling with mirth. The girl giggled and made no move to help her brother, instead settling back down at the chessboard.

 

Good Merlin.

 

Alastor was so distracted by the happenings inside that he almost forgot about the lone boy standing at the window. When he threw his gaze back at Percy with a start, he saw that the boy’s hands were clenched and his face contorted, though his eyes were dry.

 

After a lifetime, the boy finally turned away.

 

He reached out an unsteady hand for the door handle, paused, and then after an interminable second threw the door open with a flourish. Alastor’s eyes widened as he watched the boy stride in, swaggering with a pompous self-assurance that he must have picked up from Fudge himself. Only someone looking very closely indeed would have noticed the white knuckles gripping his faded briefcase.

 

Straining his ears for any sign of the boy’s voice, Alastor caught the words as they came floating serenely across the lawn, crystal clear in the cool evening air.

 

“Mum, Dad... I’ve been promoted.”

//
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