The Sugar Quill
Author: Falling Damps (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A House Divided  Chapter: Chapter Three: Preparations
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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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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!

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CHAPTER THREE:

preparations

 

 

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!”

 

“Mmhmm.”

 

“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.”

 

“Really.”

 

“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.”

 

“Nymphadora.”

 

“It’s Tonks.”

 

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,” Alastor growled.

 

“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 nodded darkly.

 

“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.

 

“Kids?”

 

“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 ones.”

 

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 stupid.”

 

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, Mad-Eye.”

 

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 matter.”

 

“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.” Alastor choked.

 

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 then!”

 

“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 it?”

 

“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 moment.

 

“When should we start?”

 

“As soon as possible.”

 

They stared at the long curving piece of brown parchment.

 

“This is going to take all year.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Yeah…”

________________________________________________________________

 

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 to eat.

 

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 friend.”

 

Riley took a few more jerky steps, stopped, opened his mouth as though to speak, and then began pacing again.

 

“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 enough.”

 

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 shoes.

 

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 – ”

 

“Remus!”

 

“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.”

 

“Good.”

 

Alastor surreptitiously 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 the injustice.

 

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 muttered.

 

“Just look at Mum,” the other responded.

 

“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…”

 

“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 totally unprofessional.”

 

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’ unpredictability.

 

“Drink.”

 

“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?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

She grinned. “I knew it wasn’t anything illegal!”

 

“Illegal! Who told you that?”

 

“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.”

 

“That’s it?”

 

“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 do.”

 

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?”

 

“I’d’ve argued.”

 

“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 himself?”

 

“No.”

 

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 left.

 

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 disappearing.

 

“Don’t know why it’s a horse,” Alastor grunted, suddenly and irrationally embarrassed. “Never have understood it.”

 

“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 you.”

 

“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 with him.”

 

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 rock.

 

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 respond.

 

“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 what?”

 

“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 offices?”

 

“God, yes, he must live there.”

 

“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 he disappeared.

 

Stretching his back and shoulders, Alastor sat next to Tonks, who was frowning at the grass.

 

“Nymphadora?” he asked gently.

 

“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, didn’t he?”

 

“Yeah, he did.” Alastor didn’t press the first subject. She’ll talk about it in time, if she wants to.

 

“Reckon we ought to start by checking out Scrimgeour and trying to figure out who these mysterious visitors are.”

 

“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 mischievous grin.

 

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 well.

//
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