The Sugar Quill
Author: Mrs Weasley (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: No Easy Goodbyes  Chapter: Chapter One
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Summary: Post-GOF story. Harry makes a surprising discovery, and finds that danger is closer at hand than he thinks...

Disclaimer: These characters belong to JK Rowling, and this story features a few quotes from her work which are used without permission.

This story begins in the summer following Goblet of Fire, and will be entirely from Harry's viewpoint - most characters don't even appear until Part 2. No romances to begin with, but there may be romance before we're done. (And death. And terror. And some quite weird happenings.)

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Part One

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Harry Potter lay in bed at 4, Privet Drive, staring out of the window at the sliver of crescent moon shining against a dark sky which was visible from his pillow. The street lamp outside had been broken for a few weeks, which made the moon appear much brighter. Harry, however, was not admiring the moon. He was thinking - reliving in his head, as he had done many times this summer, the evening that Cedric Diggory had died, which was also the last time he had seen or heard from Sirius, his godfather. He was thinking about what Albus Dumbledore had said that evening, when he had sent Sirius off on a mission to begin organising a resistance force to fight the reborn Voldemort.

"Sirius, I need you to set off at once. You are to alert Remus Lupin, Arabella Figg, Mundungus Fletcher - the old crowd. Lie low at Lupin's for a while, I will contact you there."

Harry wondered if Sirius was at Lupin's house now - wherever that might be. He hadn't heard from Sirius these holidays yet, which worried Harry slightly. Sirius, no matter where he was, usually managed to send Harry some sort of note or message fairly regularly, and it had been almost two months now. Harry hoped that this lack of communication was only because Sirius and Lupin were so busy helping Dumbledore to plan their defence against Voldemort.

Harry blinked seriously into the darkness, and wished he had been allowed to be at Lupin's too, part of the preparations, doing something to help against the danger they all knew was coming. He wasn't a child now, after all. He would be fifteen in a few days and, having witnessed the terrible things he had seen during his fourth year at Hogwarts, he wanted to help in Voldemort's downfall more passionately than he had ever wanted anything in his life. The dark fury which always rose inside him when he thought of Cedric's murder started burning in his chest again. He had duelled Voldemort - and won. He had seen a friend callously killed. Harry felt suddenly much older - and achingly regretful. Two feelings which had haunted him throughout these past weeks in Privet Drive.

Trying once more to picture Sirius and Lupin and what they were doing now, Harry wondered again who had been summoned to join them. Mundungus Fletcher - he had heard that name before. He had a sudden memory of Percy Weasley speaking after the riots at the Quidditch World Cup, moaning about having to deal with claims for ruined property.

"Mundungus Fletcher's put in a claim for a twelve-bedroomed tent with en-suite jacuzzi, but...I know for a fact he was sleeping under a cloak propped on sticks."

Despite himself, and his current dark mood, Harry's lips twitched in a smile at that memory.

And who else had been summoned? Arabella Figg? Harry had never heard of her, unless...Figg? Surely not? Harry suddenly sat bolt upright in bed. He had just connected the name with Mrs. Figg, the mad old lady who lived two streets away from the Dursleys, with whom the Dursleys had sometimes left him in earlier years if they wanted to get rid of him. To the younger Harry, she had seemed like a typical elderly Muggle lady, watching television, besotted with her cats and making his visits there thoroughly boring. Could she...possibly...really be a witch? It seemed impossibly unlikely, but in his almost-fifteen years Harry had seen so many improbable and amazing happenings that nothing now, to him, seemed impossible.

Ten minutes later Harry was gently easing back the bolts on the front door and closing it softly behind him, listening carefully for any sign that he had disturbed the Dursleys. But, upstairs, Uncle Vernon's and Dudley's snores reverberated steadily.

He did notice the shining crescent of moon above him now as he jogged stealthily along the deserted night pavements of Little Whinging, crossed Yew Tree Crescent and turned into Mrs. Figg's street, Acacia Avenue. Out of habit, and caution, he had tucked his wand into his pocket, even though he was not allowed to use magic during the holidays.

Like all the other houses in Acacia Avenue Mrs. Figg's house was in darkness. Harry, looking at the silent windows, knew that coming here at night had been silly. He couldn't very well bang on the door at this time and wake Mrs. Figg up, even if she did turn out to be a witch. If she wasn't a witch she would certainly complain to the Dursleys and his life would be made worse than usual. Still, coming here had made him feel that he was taking some sort of action, which was better than the frustration of knowing that others were working against Voldemort while he lay uselessly in bed.

After a few moments, it occurred to Harry that Mrs. Figg's house had an oddly deserted look about it. Most of the houses in the street had their curtains tightly closed and neatly kept front gardens. In the faint light of a nearby street lamp, Harry could see that Mrs. Figg's curtains were not closed, and the grass in her garden had a shaggy look, as if it hadn't received much attention lately. When Harry walked cautiously up the front path, he could see the end of a free newspaper sticking out of the letterbox. He pushed it through, peered through the letterbox and could just make out the dim shapes of letters lying on the mat. The familiar smell of cabbage and cats hung faintly around the front door. It looked rather as if Mrs. Figg was away from home. Had she gone, summoned by Dumbledore, to help against Voldemort? Or had she merely gone away for some normal Muggle reason - a holiday, or a visit, or a stay in hospital? Harry couldn't remember Mrs. Figg ever goin g on holiday - she didn't like leaving her cats.

At that point, he felt something soft brush against his leg, and looked down to see a baleful pair of yellow eyes staring into his. Blackie, one of Mrs. Figg's current two cats, was stalking around Harry's feet. Meeting Blackie's baleful stare, Harry was reminded of his friend Hermione's cat Crookshanks - although Crookshanks was twice the size of Blackie and had very unusual abilities.

A soft meowing made him look back towards the front gate, and he saw, in the darkness, a fat tabby cat. He couldn't remember what that one was called. "Someone must be feeding you," he said aloud. "Are the neighbours looking after you?"

The two cats sat down and stared hard at him. "Don't look at me," Harry said, shrugging. "I haven't got any food. Where is she? Has she gone away?"

Blackie stood up and walked slowly around the corner of the house. He stopped, and looked back at Harry, swishing his tail slowly. It was as if he was inviting Harry to follow him, and when Harry took two steps towards him, Blackie turned and continued to lead the way around the corner. The tabby cat stayed behind.

Harry followed the black cat along a weedy path and past some dustbins, towards a small porch which had been built on to the back of the house many years ago. The porch windows were grimy, and it had a rather tumbledown look about it. Blackie jumped up on to a windowsill and began to nudge his head urgently against the window. Harry looked at the cat, then stretched out his hand and pushed the window. It swung open.

The cat gave a small approving mew and jumped through the window; Harry heard the soft thud as it hit the floor inside. Looking through, he saw the yellow eyes staring at him again, and something about that stare made the hairs on the back of Harry's neck prickle. Blackie clearly thought that Harry should follow him inside.

"I hope Mrs. Figg really is away," Harry murmured to himself. "The last thing I need is for her to wake up the neighbourhood screaming about burglars." He put one knee on the windowsill and climbed awkwardly inside.

The inside of the house smelt musty, and the cabbage-and-cats smell was fainter than usual. Harry became more certain, as he followed Blackie down a passageway, that the house was empty.

Harry followed the black cat through Mrs. Figg's dingy living-room, noticing the film of dust on the furniture, and up the staircase. Harry had never been upstairs in Mrs. Figg's house before. Most of the doors were ajar, and he pushed them open very gently. A spare room, the spare bed almost hidden with boxes and bags of junk. An old-fashioned bathroom. A bedroom, with old-lady petticoats hanging from the wardrobe door - Mrs. Figg's room. Empty.

The black cat stopped outside the last upstairs room - the only one with a door that was shut. And locked. Harry looked at the door and hesitated. He had a feeling there was something important in that room. He hesitated again, but decided to risk it -

"Alohomora!" he whispered, and turned the handle.

The door swung open with a creak. This room was at the front of the house, and the faint glow of the street lamp helped Harry to make out the shapes of the objects in the room. More boxes. More bags. A desk piled with a clutter of papers. Harry stared at them hopelessly. He had no idea where to begin looking in this lot, or even what he was looking for, except that he wanted to find some proof that Mrs. Figg and Arabella Figg might be one and the same.

In the corner of the crowded desk top, a lumpy object was covered with a thick cloth. Harry carefully pulled away the cloth, and saw what looked like a dirty glass spinning top - but Harry knew better. It was a Sneakoscope. He owned one himself. And he knew it was proof that Mrs. Figg was not the mad old Muggle he had always thought. Encouraged, he started leafing through the papers on the desk top, straining his eyes to see in the dimness of the room. Now he noticed that several of the papers were actually wizarding parchment. Throwing caution to the wind, he whispered "Lumos!" and in the sudden glow from his wand skimmed the parchments. Names of people he didn't know - scribbled notes he couldn't read - a subscription renewal form for Witch Weekly - a bill from Christopher Caninus, Veterinary Warlock - and finally, a scrap of parchment on which a familiar name jumped to Harry's eye. There was also an address.

"Remus Lupin

Gatehouse Cottage

Frittleton

Yorkshire."

Harry's heart leapt as he read the words. At last, he knew where Lupin, Sirius and the other allies of Dumbledore were gathering, even if he had to admit to himself that he couldn't go there. Dumbledore had sent him to Little Whinging. Sirius would kill him if he turned up unannounced in Frittleton just because he wanted to show how brave he was. Frustration surged up inside Harry again - and that was when the Sneakoscope began a steady whistling sound.

Harry nearly jumped out of his skin, and extinguished the light from his wand instantly. He could hear voices now, somewhere nearby, urgent, low voices, the voices of people who did not want everyone in Acacia Avenue to hear them. Harry crawled across the floor and pulled back the grubby net curtain a tiny bit. His heart sank as he looked out. There was a group of three people standing on the pavement outside Mrs. Figg's house - and they were all wearing dark wizarding robes, hoods covering their heads.

Harry thought quickly. They could be Ministry of Magic wizards, come to investigate his use of underage magic - but he doubted the Ministry would bother to send out three wizards to investigate one small opening charm and one small Lumos charm. No, Harry didn't think these were Ministry wizards. As he looked, the tallest of the three looked up towards the house, seemingly straight at Harry, and Harry was suddenly afraid. He did not recognize the three hooded figures, and yet suddenly he remembered the circle of Death Eaters who had surrounded himself and Voldemort the night of their duel - Harry was convinced that beneath the sleeves of these wizards' robes, he would see the Dark Mark. And he knew instantly that he had to get out of the house. Now.

"Come on!" he hissed urgently at the black cat. Harry stuffed Lupin's address into one of his pockets and his wand into another and, closely followed by Blackie, fled out of the room, down the stairs and back to the porch window. He didn't know whether these wizards were looking for Mrs. Figg or himself, but he knew without a doubt that he did not want them to find him. Trying to be silent as he climbed out of the window, he watched Blackie flee into the back garden and into a clump of trees. "Good idea," Harry breathed, and joined the cat, crouching behind a bush, out of breath.

The voices were still murmuring at the front of the house, and although he couldn't hear the words, Harry didn't like the tones. A moment later he heard them entering the house, no doubt having forced the front door by magic.

The minutes ticked past, and Harry stayed crouching uncomfortably in the bush. The black cat sat beside him, motionless. From the soft sounds he could hear, Harry guessed that the three wizards were searching the house. He could see a light flickering from room to room. If they had been looking for Mrs. Figg, they were going to be disappointed. He was very glad he had removed Lupin's address from the desk - he didn't want them to find that.

Finally - and it seemed an endless time before it happened - Harry heard the sound of the front door closing again, and footsteps on the path. Then it happened. A green light flared briefly from the front of the house - a green light which made Harry shiver. There was a soft chuckle, and a louder word that chilled Harry's blood.

"Morsmordre!"

With a whoosh, something glittering and green erupted like a firework in the sky above Mrs. Figg's house. A skull made of emerald stars, with a serpent for a tongue - Harry only had to glance at it to know what it was.

The Dark Mark.

He was still gazing up at it in horror when he heard a series of soft pops as the three wizards Disapparated on the pavement.

After a few moments of stunned silence, Blackie yowled and fled towards the front path, and Harry, on legs which trembled slightly, followed him.

Acacia Avenue was still quiet. No one in the other houses seemed to have been awoken by the Dark Mark's appearance.

But the tabby cat was lying stiff and dead on Mrs. Figg's front doorstep.

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