A/N: May the sun shine upon
you, Martin, for surely you are the most excellent of all betas. Again, many
thanks to my encouraging reviewers – your feedback means a lot to me!
Riley was pacing again. He
was making Alastor dizzy – and he already had a headache, from trying to keep
his eye on all the dark auras in this damned house at the same time.
“I’m supposed to investigate
the Ministry. I have friends at the Ministry, and, well, they wouldn’t be
friends if I didn’t trust them already!”
“So what, we just… just make
a list and title it, ‘Oh yes, these are my friends who I think might actually
be Death Eaters’?”
“Go right ahead.”
“I just can not believe
we’re doing this.”
“I feel like I’m part of
some secret police.”
“What else would you call
us?” Tonks brushed a black curl out of her face and shifted positions in a
musty armchair. A puff of dust arose and settled around her face – she fanned
it away carelessly.
They were sitting in a small
room on the second floor that Black had managed to clean up over the past few
days – although, looking around, Alastor noted that “clean” was a relative
term. Nonetheless, it was better than the kitchen, especially for conversations
that were best kept private.
He had cast an Imperturbable
Charm on the door, anticipating an interruption from Black; the combination of
boredom, anger, and mischief fermenting inside him was recipe for some sort of
disaster. Besides, the Weasleys were in and out of the house with their kids
all the time, preparing to move in for the summer, and Alastor never knew who
might be wandering down the hallway. All the uncertainty gave his magical eye a
bit of extra work.
Riley, a small, energetic
man with a long, thin nose, finally sat down at the table opposite Remus,
looking morose. Why on earth would Albus put Hufflepuffs on an assignment
that involved a lot of lying? Alastor thought with irritation. She was a
Metamorphmagus, but Stan Riley…
Tonks spoke again. “Alright,
so secret police is a bit strong, but the analogy is the same. We’re
investigating Ministry officials without their knowledge.”
Alastor ignored her
completely. “Nymphadora, Riley, I really don’t give a damn about your internal
ethical debates. Have them some other time. Right now, all I care about is
getting this figured out so we can get on with the assignment.”
Groaning a bit, Tonks pulled
herself up straighter and responded in a mock-soldier voice, “Sir, yes sir.”
She rolled her eyes, and Remus smiled.
Good. I’m taking charge
again – very good. Feeling a
cautious optimism penetrate his cloud of irritation, Alastor continued.
“Now, first we have to make
a list of all the Ministry people who need to be investigated, which you so
cleverly titled: List of Trusted Friends Who Might Be Death Eaters.” As
he spoke, Alastor flicked his wand and a piece of brown parchment appeared on
the table, with the title written across the top in bold black letters. “And
since you haven’t got that far yet, why don’t I offer a bit of an edit.” He
flicked his wand again, and the words And Others appeared in parenthesis
after Trusted Friends. “Bit more comprehensive, I think.”
Riley looked from Alastor,
to the parchments, then back to Alastor, who was perfectly serious, not the
slightest hint of a grin anywhere about his stern visage.
“Are you ready to start
now?” he asked severely.
Riley nodded mutely. Excellent,
Alastor thought to himself. I found a way to get through to him, then. A
quick movement to the left caught his eye, and Alastor focused on it intently,
but it was nothing more than the house-elf dashing about in the next room with
some photograph under his arm.
Turning his attention back,
Alastor continued. “I’ve got it all figured out.” He jerked his wand a bit and
watched as a list of names appeared under Trusted Friends.
Tonks peered down at it,
tracing the names with her finger and reading them aloud.
“Henry Accord… Elle Adamson…
Clarice Alan… Timothy Andover…” She broke off reading and scanned the rest of
the names before looking up at Alastor with a grin. “You’ve got every ranked
Ministry official on this list, except for Stan and me.”
“Just being thorough,”
“Well, I’ve got some names
you can take off.”
“Let’s hear ‘em.”
She ticked the names off on
her fingers, staring up at the ceiling vaguely as she spoke. “Arthur and
Kingsley, for a start. Madam Bones.”
“Chris Samson, from the Floo
Authority.” Remus said.
“Emilie Rathborne – she’s
head of the Muggle Liaison office,” Tonks added.
“And even though she’s not
Ministry, we’ll need to keep an eye on Narcissa Black,” Remus said, and Tonks
“Yeah. Put Aunt Narcissa
right up top.”
Alastor watched the names
appearing, disappearing, and rearranging themselves on the parchment.
“Are we going to use
Ministry kids?” Riley finally spoke up.
“You know, like Hogwarts
students, the ones with Ministry connections. Might not be a bad idea – you can
find out a lot about the parents that way.”
“We’re trying to cut down
this list, not expand it! Why don’t we just put down the whole damn population
of Britain while we’re at it?” Alastor growled. Tonks raised her eyebrows
mildly, and he took a deep breath and tried to relax. The more he thought about
it, the more impossible this task seemed. But he had to do it, and he had to do
it right, the first time – there was no margin for error. Not this time.
“I still think it would be a
good idea. We can get a couple of students on our side.”
Remus nodded, and Alastor
gave in. “Alright, fine. Put some kids on the list.”
Tonks charmed the new names
onto the list, which was now so long that the parchment had to be magically
extended a few inches.
Alastor thought for a
moment. As long as we’re being thorough… “We should also put down…
ahem… Ted and Andromeda Tonks.”
Tonks looked up at him
sharply, her wand still pointed at the parchment, which continued to lengthen
over the side of the table towards the floor. “My parents?”
“You named Narcissa Malfoy,
as Lucius’ wife and one of Bellatrix Lestrange’s sisters, it’s only fair to
include her other sister as well.”
“There’s also the minor
detail that Narcissa’s husband is a known Death Eater and her son is… well,
he’s just awful… but sure, put my mum on there, especially since she
married a Muggle-born and got blasted off the family tree.”
Remus chuckled and tried to
cover it with a cough.
“It’s always the unexpected
Tonks shook her head,
starting when the still-growing parchment rolled across her foot. With an
impatient wave, it returned to its proper size.
Two hours later they had
narrowed the list considerably. Rather grudgingly on Alastor’s part, Andromeda
Tonks was the first to go, soon followed by her husband and many of the
lower-ranking Ministry officials, who were too far removed to do any serious
damage. Draped lazily across the armchair, with her eyes half-closed, Tonks
offered to talk to Ginny Weasley about Hogwarts student investigations. Alastor
was not pleased.
“And how, exactly, do you
plan on discussing this with the girl? You can’t reveal even the smallest bit
of information about our assignment - ”
“Mad-Eye!” she interjected
angrily. “I’m a qualified Auror, not a schoolgirl, and I’m certainly not
That cooled him down a bit.
“What did you have in mind?”
Tonks closed her eyes again.
“I’ll just tell Ginny that I’m worried about the loyalties of many of the
Hogwarts students – which is true – and that I was wondering if she could help
me out – also true.”
“And she won’t talk about it
to the others?”
“Ginny?” Tonks laughed.
“Ginny’s as closed as a coffin. And she’s a Weasley. And a Gryffindor. And
bloody brilliant. Besides, I know for a fact that she fancies Harry quite a
bit, and she’ll do anything to protect him.”
Alastor shifted positions in
his seat. “Not much evidence.”
“Not much evidence?” Tonks
sat up abruptly, almost falling off the chair. Steadying herself, she stared at
him as though he were out of his mind. “I take it you’ve never been in love,
He frowned severely at her,
trying to ignore Remus, whose shoulders were shaking with suppressed laughter.
“We’re not here to discuss my private life, nor Ginny Weasley’s, for that
“All right, all right. I’ll
talk to her later, when you don’t have to listen.”
“Good,” he grunted.
Riley broke in. I
wondered when he was going to interrupt again, the little whiner. “So now
we just have to get started on this job.”
“And an awful job it is
too,” Tonks added under her breath. Alastor ignored her.
“I suppose we’ll just split
up the easy names, and go after the hard ones as a team.”
“Yeah, as a… team.”
They argued for a few
minutes about how to split up the list, until Tonks pointed out that they were
acting like teenagers fighting over how to split teams for a game of Quidditch.
At that point, Alastor arbitrarily drew a black line halfway down the
parchment. “We’ll take the top, and Remus can take the bottom.”
“What if we want the
top?” Riley said. Alastor clenched a fist under the table and forced his face
into what he hoped was a pleasant smile. He was sure it was more like a
grimace. Not that that particularly bothered him.
“My name starts with ‘A.’
Your name starts with ‘S.’ The first half of the alphabet’s mine.”
“Let’s go by last names
“Fine. Last names.” Remus
cut in smoothly, his hands folded calmly in his lap.
There was a moment of
silence, full of busy thought, when suddenly Tonks looked a bit startled and
then burst into a hearty guffaw. “I can’t believe you said that!” she said to
Riley, who was looking annoyed.
“Believe it,” Alastor
growled, doing his best to look put out and failing quite miserably, but after
a second he snapped back into form, reminding himself firmly that he was on
assignment. “Since we’re not doing more tonight, we should seal this,” Alastor
motioned to the list, “for extra security.”
Remus nodded. “Tonks, want
to do the honors?”
Swallowing her laughter, she
asked, “You remember the Order access spell?”
“Yeah… ‘comperio,’ isn’t
“Yep. We can create a
variation of the spell for only our eyes. Oh, don’t look so surprised! I am
good at charms.”
Alastor watched as she
rolled up her sleeves and, with a complex wand movement and look of utter
concentration, muttered a long string of Latin words. Tonks let her wand drop
with a satisfied sigh, and Alastor squinted down at the list. They didn’t look
any different to him… but then he saw that – instead of their list – the words
now read something about the devaluation of the Galleon. Riley had come up
behind him and was leaning down over his shoulder, peering at the parchments,
his breath obnoxiously loud in Alastor’s ear. Alastor jabbed him quickly in the
stomach with his elbow, and Riley hopped away with a muffled “Ooomph!”
Yeah, keep your distance,
nasty little snot.
“There,” Tonks said
breathlessly. “Just looks like a standard message to anyone who doesn’t know
the access spell. Tap it and say, ‘effractum Moody,’ or whatever your last name
is, and it’ll reveal itself.”
“Effractum Riley!” Riley
announced, reaching down with his wand – careful to keep his distance from
Alastor – and smacking the parchment a bit harder than necessary. Nothing
happened. “Ah! Excellent,” Riley said, smiling toothily down at the parchment.
“I see the list now.”
Remus, who must’ve noticed
Alastor’s confused frown, said quietly, “You’d have to perform the spell
yourself before you could see the names again.”
Alastor was– quite against
his will – impressed.
There was silence for a
“When should we start?”
“As soon as possible.”
They stared at the long
curving piece of brown parchment.
“This is going to take all
Nearly an hour later,
Alastor had conjured a small piece of parchment and was examining it with a
frown, holding it up to the light, as he listened to Remus and Tonks’
conversation and tried to ignore the grumblings in his stomach.
“I don’t know, Tonks.”
“You know you’re
going to need my morphing abilities – that’s why Dumbledore put me on this
assignment! I don’t see why I can’t just morph into a different shape and go
talk to Hanover right now.”
It was a good deal past time
Riley was still pacing,
seemingly more agitated than ever.
“We can’t just ‘go talk’ to
any of these people. These are investigations, and all potentially dangerous.
Before I let you go anywhere, you’re going to need a plan… or at the very
least, some semblance of a loosely-formed idea.”
He was losing his touch with
parchment conjuring, it seemed. This piece was much too thin – standard quill
would poke a hole right through it.
“Hanover is easy. Compliment
him on his finely groomed mustache and you’ll have found yourself a new best
Riley took a few more jerky
steps, stopped, opened his mouth as though to speak, and then began pacing
“I’m sure Hanover likes a
compliment as much as the next man,” Remus said with a sigh, leaning back in
his chair and rubbing his hand over his face, “but that’s just simply not
Riley stopped, looked out
the window, then at Remus, then out the window again, then at Tonks, before he
resumed his jerky, uneven pacing.
Enough already, Alastor thought as he resisted the urge to turn
around and face the man full on, instead following him with his magical eye. He
wondered if anyone else had noticed the man’s incredibly irritating compulsive
behavior. You don’t need a magical eye to see that he’s got himself tied in
a knot. But enough of this.
“What is it, Riley?” Alastor
asked in a bored voice, without turning around, as he folded up the parchment
and dropped it on the floor.
The man froze, opened and
closed his mouth a few more times – looks like a damn fish – and looked
around at the three of them nervously.
“Riley?” Tonks asked,
sitting up to get a better look at him.
“Go ahead, Stan, say it.”
Remus was leaning forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees, watching Riley
closely. Apparently he had noticed as well. “Say it.”
With a slightly apologetic
glance, Riley scratched the back of his head and spoke, very quickly,
addressing himself to Tonks. “It’s just that you and Mad-Eye are Aurors… er…
and ex-Aurors… and I’ve been with the Ministry since I left Hogwarts, so we
have contacts, we’re trusted already, so it makes sense for us to do these
investigations, and… well…” He glanced at Remus again and then back down at his
Alastor felt a sickening
drop in his stomach and lost his appetite.
But Tonks spoke before
Alastor could think of anything to say, her voice low and controlled but hiding
a barely-concealed edge. “And Remus isn’t good enough for this assignment
because he’s not trustworthy, because he’s a werewolf.” Riley flinched
at the word, but Remus was as still as stone, watching.
“Well… yeah!” Riley looked
down at her from behind his pointed nose defiantly. “People won’t trust him at
the Ministry, he’s really just a liability…”
“We get the picture,” Tonks
said sharply. “Honestly, Stan, I thought you had more sense than all that.” She
scowled at him, and another dark curl fell down into her eyes.
If looks could kill, Alastor thought, Riley’s getting slammed worse
than if she’d shot an Avada Kedavra.
“He’s right, though,” Remus
said. Tonks let out an angry, strangled noise in her throat, but Remus put up a
hand to silence her. The lines in his face seemed harsher, more like deep
crevices in his young face. “That is exactly what I told Dumbledore when he put
me on this assignment – ”
“But he was quite
adamant that this was where he wanted me to be. I don’t know why I’m with you,
Stan, and frankly sometimes I wish I weren’t. But I trust Dumbledore, and if
you want to take it up with him yourself, I wish you better luck than I had.”
“I think you’re both mad,”
Tonks exclaimed, sitting up and looking at them with an unusual combination of
earnestness and anger. “And I feel much better knowing that Remus is
working with us. Don’t you, Mad-Eye?” She turned to him expectantly, but there
was an almost pleading look in her eye.
With barely a pause, Alastor
grunted, “Course I do. Reckon Remus’ got some fight left in him yet.” Tonks’
whole body seemed to relax, and she gave him a grateful smile before turning
back to the others.
“Now, was there anything important
you needed to say, Riley?”
Riley had withdrawn to his
spot by the window and was looking like he regretted bringing it up at all.
“No, nothing, nothing.”
glanced over at Remus, who had summoned the list into his hands when he finished
talking and was bent over it studiously, his face a mask of calm – but Alastor
suspected that he was more upset over the incident than he let on.
At least, he hoped he was.
Strange that I would hope
Remus would be upset… Alastor
thought as the younger man reached out for a quill and scratched something in
the margin. But if he’s not bothered, then it means he’s grown so used to
it… the bigotry is normal, the hatred and fear is expected…
He felt a sudden jolt of
anger. And from within the Order! He can’t even escape it here. Damn Riley
and his whining and his pacing and his bigotry.
I hope it hurts him, Alastor thought angrily. I hope he can still feel
Remus looked up from the
list and said something to Tonks about Hanover and his mustache, but he
wouldn’t meet Alastor’s eyes.
When they finally emerged
from the second story room two hours and seven loud arguments later, they found
Grimmauld Place positively crowded with people.
Alastor had never been more
thankful that he had somewhere of his own to live.
Remus and Black were staying
full-time at headquarters, with the younger Weasleys and the Granger girl soon
to join them. Albus was adamant – and Alastor agreed with him – that Potter
remain at his aunt and uncle’s house. Blood protection such as his was too
powerful, and too rare, to be wasted.
This particular afternoon
was moving day for the Weasleys, which would have been a hectic occasion under
normal circumstances – and these circumstances were anything but normal.
Alastor was actually alarmed when he saw how hard Percy’s siblings took his
betrayal, and for the first time he seriously considered that Tonks may have
been right all along.
“Hello, Mad-Eye,” a red-eyed
Molly Weasley spoke to him as he came down the stairs, one eye trained behind
him at a dark throbbing behind a statue. “I… I didn’t know… I… didn’t… you were
here…” Huge tears welled up in her eyes, and she turned away, covering her face
with a wrinkled handkerchief.
Ginny ran up and put a
comforting arm around her mother, and the stony-faced twins watched as she led
her off gently into the other room.
“That git,” one of them
“Just look at Mum,” the
“If he ever dares – ”
“show his face again – “
“I’ll kill him for what he
did to her.”
“And Ginny,” the other one
added murderously. “She cried all night. I heard her.”
They stormed off the other
direction, apparently unaware that they had been overheard, and Alastor tried
not to look at Tonks, expecting to see “I-told-you-so” written all across her
face. But when he swiveled his magical eye for a quick glance, she looked
anything but triumphant.
It’s not her family, he thought. Why is she so upset about it?
Ron was nowhere to be found.
“If I didn’t know better, I
would say that Molly’s quite an actor,” Alastor growled under his breath.
Tonks shook her head sadly.
“Those tears were real enough for me.”
The atmosphere was becoming
a bit too heavy for Alastor to deal with, especially since he knew he had
played a large part in causing the situation. Trying to push a creeping guilt
from his mind, he spoke dismissively and somewhat at random, “Doesn’t need to
be so upset – the boy’s just fine – Molly’s overreacting…”
He hadn’t really meant that.
Tonks’ voice was low and
earnest. “Sometimes I think I understand you, Mad-Eye, and that you’re not as
bad as everyone thinks, but then you just have to say something like that. Next
I suppose you’ll be shouting that Molly is really a Death Eater, and she’s been
faking the whole time.”
He didn’t respond – he was
too busy quelling a deep panic that had risen in his chest at the thought of
Molly Weasley as a traitor.
“If we can’t trust a
terrified, grieving mother, then we may as well just hand Harry over to
Voldemort without a fight.” She turned around as if to follow Molly, smacked
into the door frame, and clutched her elbow in pain. “Damn!”
Alastor scowled as he
struggled to dismiss his visions of spy-Molly as irrational. “You’re being
Rubbing her elbow, she
replied matter-of-factly, “And you’re being a git.”
Alastor raised his eyebrows.
“Molly’s just scared, that’s
all – and now that you’ve so effectively reminded me why Sirius thinks you’re
an ass…” She sighed and walked off in the direction of the kitchen.
So Black says I’m an ass,
eh? Vaguely disturbed by this
thought, Alastor called after her. “Wait!”
Tonks turned around. “What?”
“Er… yes.” He cleared his
throat awkwardly. “Yeah. You were… uh… right.” Damn, do I have to do this?
She stared at him for a
moment. “Apology accepted. What’s in your hip flask?”
Feeling both relieved and
sickened that he had apologized so well, Alastor was surprised at the turn in
the conversation, even though he was slowly becoming used to Tonks’
“Oh, thanks,” she said
sarcastically. “But really, what’s in there?”
Feeling that it wasn’t worth
getting into another argument over, Alastor replied wearily, “Water.”
“Water? That’s it?”
She grinned. “I knew it
wasn’t anything illegal!”
“Illegal! Who told you
“Oh, no one,” Tonks replied,
still looking immensely pleased with herself.
Alastor was feeling slightly
defensive and very angry that in a moment of weakness he had let that slip. Word’s
going to be all over the Order now, damn it. “Water’s the most healthy
drink, keeps you aware and awake and vigilant at all times, and it’s the
hardest liquid to poison undetected,” he muttered crossly, spying a few of the
Weasleys moving around down in the kitchen.
Tonks nodded. “Fascinating.
But what’s more interesting is that you actually told me, when people have been
trying to find out for years with no luck. I wonder if it had anything to do
with the fact that you just apologized…” She grinned wickedly. “I think I
may’ve just found a new way to get information out of you, Mad-Eye.”
I don’t like where this
is going at all, Alastor thought,
but he was interrupted by a dark shape appearing behind him in his magical eye.
He whirled around, drawing his wand and pointing it at the disheveled man who
had just entered the room.
It was Snape, looking
exhausted. Black circles stood out against his pallid skin, which seemed even
more unnaturally gray than usual. He nodded brusquely at Tonks, who seemed
surprised to see him, and addressed Alastor in a curt tone that implied fatigue
more than irritation.
“Is Lupin here?”
Wonder what old Snape’s
been up to this whole time, Alastor
thought, lowering his wand. And he wants Remus? Huh.
“Yeah, he’s… “ Alastor
swiveled his magical eye around, searching…
“Upstairs with Fred and
George,” Tonks said.
And so he is, Alastor thought as he spied Remus in the upstairs
hallway talking with the Weasley twins. How’d she know that?
Without even acknowledging
Tonks’ words, Snape swept past them, his shoulders seeming a little more
hunched than usual.
Tonks watched him leave, her
eyes wide. “He looks terrible.”
“Yeah.” Alastor’s brow
furrowed, leaving a deep crevice in his forehead. “Dunno what he’s been doing.
Or what Remus’ been doing, for that matter.”
“Well, we’re not supposed to
know,” Tonks said with a shrug. “I’m sure whatever it is will be utterly
important and dangerous and secret, and all that.” She looked at Alastor
strangely. “You were in the first war… what convinced you to trust Snape when
he came over to our side?”
Alastor leaned against the
wall heavily. “Albus.”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
Tonks didn’t seemed
surprised. “I was too young then, of course – still in Hogwarts – but even now
that I’m in the Order no one likes to talk about it. Whenever I ask, and I’ve
asked a lot, I always get that same answer.”
“Well, that’s the only
answer there is.”
Tonks looked skeptical.
“There has to be more than that. You, Mad-Eye! The least trusting man I
know! You trust a Death Eater just because Dumbledore says it’s okay?”
Alastor sighed. “Yeah, I
She didn’t respond, just
looked at him as if waiting for him to continue.
“Damned hard, though. But
when Snape defected he seemed so broken – and I know he’s a top Occlumens and a
better actor than Pettigrew – but that alone almost convinced me, and then he
shut himself up with Albus all night and when they came out…” Alastor paused,
remembering. “Snape was broken, and Albus was grim, but he said that from then
on Snape was to be trusted completely, and who were we to argue with that?”
“Well, yeah, at first, and
there was a lot of grumbling behind the scenes, especially the ones who knew
him before – Black, Frank and Alice, the Potters… not Lily though. And never
Remus. They never said a word.”
“Did Dumbledore ever explain
Tonks seemed to be trying to
take all this in. “So... so… we don’t really know about him, do we?”
“Do we really know about
anyone? That’s our assignment, isn’t it? Find out who’s trustworthy.”
“But… I mean… for all we really
know about Snape, he could still be a Death Eater?”
Alastor’s heart clenched
fearfully. “He could be.”
Alastor was alone at his
still silent house when he received a terse note from Weasley, saying only,
“Need to talk. P.W.” and he was immediately on alert. As the nondescript brown
barn owl flew off behind the trees (Good of the boy to think to use an
unrecognizable owl in case his letter’s intercepted), Alastor stumped
outside, clutching his wand in his right hand and the scrap of parchment in his
He assumed that Tonks had
received a similar note, and he stood on his front stoop, wondering what would
be the easiest and fastest way to get in touch with her. When they had met
several days ago to discuss their assignment, Alastor had completely forgotten
to establish his Patronus with hers, and hers with his. Albus had taught them
how to use Patronuses for quick and urgent messages, and this seemed like an
appropriate time. Damn it! I can’t believe I forgot to go over that with her
– what if I were in a real emergency right now?
As he mentally kicked
himself, he caught sight of something silvery flying at him from quite a
distance to the left. Whirling around to face it head on, he drew his wand –
but curiously enough it was a Patronus, a beautiful fluttering bird
which refused to stay in any one position but instead flew circles around his
head until he was tempted to smack it away.
”That has got to be Tonks’,”
he said out loud. Raising his wand, he cast his own Patronus, a hugely
dignified stallion. The bird immediately flew to the stallion and landed on its
head – the two shimmering figures stood that way motionless for a few seconds
before the bird took off into the distance, and the stallion turned to Alastor.
In a flash it disappeared, and Alastor heard Tonks’ bright voice in his head: Mad-Eye,
I got Percy’s note, and I’m assuming you did too. If you did, you’ll want to
talk to me, so come to Grimmauld Place as soon as you can. If you didn’t, well,
you’ll still want to talk to me, so come to Grimmauld Place as soon as you can.
Without a second thought, he Disapparated.
He reappeared quietly at the
doorstep of the headquarters, wanting to avoid as much of that dangerous street
as possible, and he hurried inside, quick to redo all the magical locks on the
door, feeling the hairs on his neck raised as though he were being watched. He
spun his eye around – of course, there was no one there.
“Mad-Eye!” called Tonks,
running down the stairs and tripping over the last one. She caught herself on
the banister and continued toward him as though nothing had happened. “Glad you
got my message!”
“A bird, eh?” Alastor said.
”It’s a robin, actually. And yours?”
Tonks gasped appreciatively
at the stallion which cantered lazily down the hallway and back before
“Don’t know why it’s a
horse,” Alastor grunted, suddenly and irrationally embarrassed. “Never have
“Oh, but it fits you!” Tonks
said. “Really, it does! Stallions are dignified, and powerful… they’re brave
with fighters and gentle with children… honorable, really. And dangerous, as
well…” Her voice trailed off, and her cheeks flushed as she seemed to think she
had spoken too much about such a personal thing – but Alastor wasn’t offended,
though he changed the subject quickly because of her obvious discomfort.
“So we’ve got to talk to
Weasley, how’re we going to manage that?”
Tonks perked up a bit.
“Well, I can morph my way almost anywhere, of course, but it’s a bit harder for
“I can manage. Let’s meet
Weasley outside the Ministry. How about the park?”
“I’ll let him know,” Tonks
said. “You get over there and find a place to hide, where no one will see you
Alastor nodded and was
halfway out the door before he realized that he and Nymphadora Tonks were
starting to work as a team. And he didn’t even mind.
The young man and the girl
were strolling casually though the crowded park, attracting no more attention
than young couples usually do. The girl had her arm around his shoulders in a
comforting and protective way, and after a few leisurely minutes they settled
on a small bench partially secluded behind a few large trees and a great gray
The rock spoke in a low,
gravelly tone. “About damn time.”
The girl turned to it and
rolled her eyes. “Mad-Eye, please. We had to make sure we weren’t being
followed – which you, of all people, should understand. Nice cloak, by the
way.” She grinned a bit as the rock muttered something unintelligible.
The boy didn’t smile.
Alastor saw that he had purple circles under his eyes, and his freckles stood
out almost black against his pale skin. Makes Snape look like the picture of
health, he thought.
“OK, Percy, first, how are
you?” Tonks asked, her arm still around him in a sisterly gesture of comfort.
He looked at her and didn’t
“That bad…” she squeezed his
shoulders kindly. “Know that we’re here with you, Percy, whenever you need us,
even if you just want someone to talk to.”
He nodded and then spoke,
his voice a bit scratchy.
“There is some very odd
stuff going on at the Ministry.”
Had Alastor been visible,
they would have seen him jump – but as it was, they only heard a gruff, “Like
“Like if you want to be
fired, the quickest way is to mention the words ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Dumbledore’
and ‘You-Know-Who’ in the same sentence. The Minister keeps accepting strange
visitors, and he schedules hours-long meetings that don’t exist. And I never
want to see Scrimgeour again.”
“Scrimgeour’s at Fudge’s
“God, yes, he must live
“Why isn’t he down at Auror
Headquarters?” Tonks asked curiously. “That’s where he should be – I mean, I
see him there all the time when I’m on duty.”
Percy groaned. “I know,
that’s the thing, he comes in at the oddest times. Early in the morning, and
late at night, and in the middle of the day on weekends.”
Alastor wanted to ask what
Weasley was doing at the Ministry at all those odd times himself.
“That is strange,” Tonks
said. “Anything else?”
“I am serious when I say
that the Minister is obsessed with Professor Dumbledore. He talks about him
non-stop, and it’s never flattering. Harry, too – and he jumps every time
someone slams a door. He’s drawn his wand on me at least ten times since I
started working there.”
“I don’t blame him,” growled
Alastor. “If I knew Voldemort was back and was continually denying it, I’d be a
bit jumpy too.”
“You are jumpy, Mad-Eye,”
Tonks said before turning back to Percy. “Strange visitors?”
The boy nodded. “People that
no one else knows. He won’t say who they are, and they must Floo directly in
and out of his office. I didn’t even know you could do that.”
“He must be pulling strings
down at the Floo Authority.”
“I guess so.” The boy ran
his hand through his hair, mussing the neat red strands. “It’s just strange,
that’s all. I thought I should let you know.”
“Yeah, you did the right
thing there,” Alastor growled. “We’ll look into it.”
Tonks smiled at the boy
encouragingly. “Keep your chin up, Percy. We’re proud of you… your parents are
proud of you, too.”
His eyes darkened but he
didn’t speak. After a moment, he stood and nodded stiffly to them. “Tonks,
Mad-Eye. Let me know what you find out.” He walked away across the green,
weaving his way in and out of picnicking families and giggling children before
Stretching his back and
shoulders, Alastor sat next to Tonks, who was frowning at the grass.
“Nymphadora?” he asked
“My mum was cut off from her
family, and she never got over it – and at least she was shunned for something
she actually did.” Suddenly she shook herself, physically and mentally, and
looked up. A door behind her eyes that Alastor hadn’t known existed slammed
closed, and she spoke in a business-like tone. “Gave us a lot to think about,
“Yeah, he did.” Alastor
didn’t press the first subject. She’ll talk about it in time, if she wants
“Reckon we ought to start by
checking out Scrimgeour and trying to figure out who these mysterious visitors
“Yeah, and let’s take a look
at the Floo Authority,” Alastor said.
Making sure they were hidden
from sight, they Disapparated simultaneously and reappeared at Grimmauld Place,
where twilight was casting long and menacing shadows behind them. Furiously
spinning his magical eye, Alastor decided that he hated that street.
“Don’t think there’s much
else we can get done tonight,” Tonks said. “But do you want to join us for dinner?
I promised Molly I’d stay, and I’m sure she’d want you as well.”
“Sure,” Alastor said, the
word forcing its way out of his mouth before he could stop it.
“Great! I’ll go set another
place for you.” Tonks disappeared through the door and around the corner,
leaving a startled Alastor standing in the doorway.
Why in Merlin’s name did
I just agree to spend more time with that girl? He thought, as he stepped inside and shut the door
behind him. There’s something about standing on this doorstep that just throws
me off completely, every damn time…
Through his angry thoughts,
he saw Remus come into the hallway and walk down towards him, holding a dusty
broom. “I see you and Tonks are becoming quite chummy,” he said with a softly
Alastor scowled. “Shut it,
Remus. Just doing my job.”
Remus nodded wisely. “Ah, of
course. How foolish of me to think you might actually be starting to like her.”
Shifting the broom so that it rested jauntily on his shoulder, he stepped in
front of Alastor and marched down the stairs toward the kitchen.
There was nothing for it, so
after a moment of furious glowering, Alastor headed for the noisy kitchen as