A/N: Barrels of thanks to my two excellent betas, Martin and Sonicdale, for helping me improve my work beyond measure! Also, thank you to my encouraging reviewers - your feedback means a lot to me!
Alastor stumped down the dark street, cursing his damned leg, and damned joints, and damned secrecy, and damned Fidelius, and damned Albus, who had decided that Alastor should first travel to 12 Grimmauld Place the Muggle way.
The light from the streetlamps was dim at best, but it showed quite enough. This small grimy square was the perfect location for an ambush. Jagged ends of glass in the broken windows gleamed like menacing teeth, and Alastor glanced quickly into each dark square as he passed. The heaps of putrid garbage were large enough to conceal a relatively small man, and he breathed an inaudible sigh of relief each time he passed a grimy side-alley without spotting a potential attacker.
He stopped on the sidewalk in front of two particularly dingy houses, one hand on his wand, one keeping his cloak from revealing his wooden leg. This was a Muggle area, after all, and his magical eye alone made him too conspicuous for his liking. He glanced around, taking an extra moment with a metal automobile parked down the street. All clear. The nearest streetlamp was several houses away, but it still seemed too bright. Making a mental note to bring a Put-Outer next time he walked, he concentrated on the words Albus had spoken to him a few minutes earlier.
A house materialized in front of him.
Alastor hurried through the front door, directing his magical eye behind him as he went. There was something about those trash bins next door that he didn’t like, not at all. Focused on the menacing trash bins, nervous (though he didn’t want to admit it) about meeting the rest of the Order for the first time since that imposter, and distracted by his distinctly un-Muggle appearance, Alastor did something he hadn’t done in years: he walked through a door without looking. And of course, he slammed headfirst into someone.
With a roar, he threw his entire weight against his attacker, knocking him backwards into the wall, and in one fluid motion, he drew his wand and pointed it at the assailer’s throat. The body kicked out at him, landing a particularly strong one on his wooden leg. Though still holding his wand in attack position, Alastor allowed himself a grim smile as his attacker let out a howl and tripped over a rather large umbrella stand, falling backwards and clutching at her toe. “Forgot about… that damn… wooden leg!” she panted. She? Alastor paused, his chest heaving, pounding adrenaline causing his hands to shake. He felt his panic subside slightly, replaced by a growing sense of foolishness. The young woman sprawled on the floor didn’t seem particularly dangerous, and although he didn’t lower his wand, he did take a step back.
“FILTH! SCUM! HOW DARE YOU DESECRATE THE HOUSE OF MY FATHERS!” Alastor jerked around and recoiled in horror. What the hell? The young witch on the floor rolled her eyes and continued to massage her foot. Blood was roaring in his ears, but he heard the sounds of slamming doors and footsteps on the stair as others came running to see about the commotion. Alastor’s sense of foolishness increased exponentially. Frightened out of my mind by a stupid girl and an old picture, for Merlin’s sake. He lowered and sheathed his wand quickly as several heads poked into the hall, and a young man reached out an arm to pull the girl off the floor. Alastor took in the tired face, brown hair streaked with gray – Remus Lupin had certainly aged.
Alastor cleared his throat gruffly. “Dumbledore’s sent me.”
Another man turned from where he had been struggling to close heavy dark drapes over the still screaming portrait. Shaking his hair out of his eyes, he extended his hand. “Good to see you, Mad-Eye. Welcome to my humble abode.” The girl snorted.
Alastor recoiled and eyed the hand warily. What was Sirius Black, a well-known convict, doing at the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix? There was something suspicious about that… but no one seemed to be moving to make an arrest. Alastor caught sight of Kingsley Shacklebolt down the hall, calmly sipping from a mug and looking supremely unconcerned. Wasn’t Shacklebolt the Auror leading the search for Black? Suppressing his suspicions, Alastor grasped the hand quickly.
Seeming not to notice any of this, Black jerked his head down the hall and called loudly to those just coming in, “Don’t worry, nothing’s happened, Mad-Eye’s just arrived, everyone into the kitchen.”
“I understand that most of you have already been assigned a partner.” He paused and saw several people around the large kitchen table nod affirmatively, including Remus, Molly Weasley, and Shacklebolt. Black looked positively murderous. “And some of you are still waiting assignments.” More nods.
“That’s an understatement,” Black muttered, and Remus shot him a warning look.
“I don’t really understand why we need partners, anyway,” spoke a friendly-looking woman whom Alastor didn’t recognize. “At least, I don’t see why the partnerships have to be permanent. Why aren’t we just working with whoever needs help at the time? Wouldn’t that make more sense?”
“No.” Shacklebolt looked up from his mug. His voice, deeply calming and authoritative, seemed to penetrate the darkest corners of the room. “No, Hestia, the benefits of an established partner are immeasurable. That’s why Aurors work in pairs. The more familiar you are with your partner, the more effectively you’ll be able to work, so in most cases the pairings are long-term.”
Alastor glanced down at the piece of parchment lying in front of him, which bore Albus’ instructions as well as his own partner assignment. “Which one of you is Nymphadora Tonks?”
The young witch who had attacked him in the doorway raised her hand and waved.
Alastor’s eyebrows – at least, what was left of them – shot so high that they disappeared into his hair. “You?”
“Wotcher,” she said, but seeing the look on his face, her eager smile faltered.
Alastor was speechless.
That silly slip of a girl? She had to be just out of Hogwarts. Ridiculous. This couldn’t be right. When he had volunteered for the Order, he had imagined it would be as it had been in the first War... then, he was respected, revered even, for his leadership and power. When he worked with a partner, it was always one of the most senior, competent Order members. Though the war itself was horrible, it had marked Alastor’s prime.
And now what? From the moment he had walked in to 12 Grimmauld Place, everything had gone wrong. He was no longer a respected leader. He was a joke, an old man futilely trying to relive the past, and everyone knew it. He should never have come. He should have retired peacefully and salvaged what dignity he could, after the mess last term.
The room had gone quiet. Nymphadora Tonks wasn’t smiling at all anymore. Her eyes narrowed a bit as she watched his internal struggle, and after a minute she spoke. “Could I have a moment, please?”
Alastor frowned but nodded.
He stood and, without bothering to wait for her, stumped out of the kitchen and into the stairwell. Pointing his magical eye through the wall, he watched her rise from her seat and make to follow him. Remus put out a hand and grabbed her arm. She looked at him, but he didn’t say anything, and after a moment he released her. As she brushed past Black, he whispered loudly, “Don’t let him intimidate you.”
The young witch laughed softly and said, “Scared of the creepy eye, are you, Sirius?” before slipping out the door.
Alastor had positioned himself in what he considered his most commanding pose. Arms folded across his chest, brilliant blue eye flashing, he fixed her with a piercing stare. She returned it calmly. The girl was quite a bit shorter than he, but her hair added a few inches. Bright pink and curly. Unbelievable. She was dressed in casual Muggle clothing, and she had a circular silver hoop attached to the top of her right ear. Vaguely wondering whether that hoop had a practical defense purpose as well as a decorative one, Alastor addressed the girl sternly.
“You are Nymphadora Tonks, I assume.”
“Yes. And I assume that I’ve been assigned as your partner.”
He didn’t respond.
“It’s nice to meet you,” she said. “And you can call me Tonks.”
No response. It had been her idea to talk out here, and Alastor wasn’t about to make it any easier.
“I take it you weren’t expecting me for a partner, Mad-Eye.”
Brilliant observation skills, he thought bitterly, but he restrained himself, responding only with a curt, “No.”
“That makes two of us.”
Alastor was a bit taken aback. But, then again, it made sense. Why would such a clearly inexperienced girl expect to be paired with an old fighter like himself? She was probably as uncomfortable as he was. An idea began to form in his mind…
“I think we should speak to Dumbledore about – ”
“Speak to me about what?” Albus was standing at the top of the stairs, his sudden appearance giving Alastor’s heart an unpleasant start. That was twice tonight he had been caught unawares.
Alastor gathered himself. “Partner assignments for the Order.”
“Ah… I thought that might be it,” Albus spoke delicately. “Could this wait a few moments, Alastor, Tonks? I need to address the rest of the Order briefly.”
He smiled benignly at her. “Not at all, my dear. Shall we?” Stepping down, he held open the kitchen door for her and they walked in, followed by a rather disgruntled Alastor Moody.
The kitchen was buzzing with conversation that stopped rather abruptly when they entered. Black had been waving his arms animatedly at a grave-looking Remus, and they both watched Alastor closely as he shut the door and settled on a chair at the corner of the table.
“Dumbledore!” cried Molly. “I didn’t know you were coming!”
“I didn’t know, myself, until a few moments ago. I find I have a few words to share with you all about the Order assignments.”
Alastor blinked. What?
Albus stood at the front of the room, facing his seated audience, looking very much the part of the Hogwarts professor. “You are all aware of the dangers that lie ahead. You are, even now, facing new horrors each day, and yet you have chosen to stand for the side of good.
“Our choices determine our destinies. Many years ago, a brilliant young Hogwarts student named Tom Riddle made a choice. He took gifts that could have accomplished great good and used them for selfish gain. The promising boy that I once knew now lives as Lord Voldemort.
“I fear for our students.” Albus spoke heavily, and Alastor saw Remus stiffen; he guessed the old teacher still felt a responsibility for his pupils. “They are so easily influenced that it is my greatest fear that, during their time at Hogwarts, our children will learn to choose what is easy instead of what is right. I am comforted to know that there are a few students whom I can trust,” Albus’ eyes flickered to Molly Weasley, who was gripping the arms of her chair tightly, “as well as several young witches and wizards who have left Hogwarts.” He nodded at Tonks.
“And I fear for our older generations.” More than one head turned imperceptibly toward Alastor. “There are those who are so comfortable and set in their ways that they cannot face the difficult truths of our day.” A Daily Prophet photograph of the old fool Fudge desperately trying to deny Voldemort’s return flashed in Alastor’s mind. “There are those who fought on the side of evil and have simply been waiting for the opportunity to rejoin their master. And then there are those who chose rightly before, and who have chosen rightly again. To make such a difficult choice once is honorable; to make it again, fully knowing the consequences, is valiant.
“For both the young and the old, prejudices are strong and difficult to overcome. For students, it could be something as simple as inter-House rivalry. For those who fought in the first War, old enemies have left deeper scars.” His eyes rested on Black.
“No doubt many of you have been wondering about your Order assignments, most particularly the unexpected pairing of Tonks and Alastor Moody.” Alastor set his mouth grimly. He could see where this was going. “A young Auror, a Hufflepuff recently graduated from Hogwarts, talented, idealistic…” Tonks blushed slightly. “And an old war veteran, experienced, battle-scarred, a Slytherin in his Hogwarts days…”
Albus looked around at the Order of the Phoenix, huddled together in the dark kitchen at Grimmauld Place. Alastor followed his gaze as it lingered first on Black, who was glaring at him with all the Slytherin hatred he could muster. Remus, who at one point had leaned over and whispered intently to Shacklebolt, was now sitting back in his chair, his arms folded, clearly keeping a watchful eye on Black. Alastor skipped over several unfamiliar faces to Molly, who looked pale but determined, white knuckles still clutching the arms of her chair. Next to her was Arthur, his chair pulled close so that he could rest his arm protectively over her shoulders. Dung was drumming his fingertips nervously on the table – after a moment, Hestia Jones reached out and covered his hand with hers. “Stop,” she whispered. Tonks looked pensive.
When Albus spoke again, his voice was no louder, but it was filled with an authority Alastor hadn’t heard from the old man in years. “I see this partnership as the embodiment of everything we are fighting for. And I am sure Alastor and Tonks will rise to the occasion admirably.” With a swish of his cloak, he was gone.
A babble of conversation broke out immediately.
Alastor sat seething with silent fury. He certainly couldn’t protest the assignment now. That sneaky old man should have been a Slytherin.
Through his magical eye, Alastor spotted Tonks trying to pick her way through the crowded kitchen, knocking over two chairs, a partially empty mug, and Hestia Jones in the process. “Sorry, sorry, so sorry!” she was calling over her shoulder.
By the time she reached Alastor, he had decided on a course of action. He would have to work with the young Auror – that much was certain – so he was going to be formal and professional and at best polite… that was all. Nothing more.
“Welcome to the team!” she said, patting him on the arm.
Tonks shook her bright curly head. “Just being friendly, Mad-Eye. Friendly, you know? Try to lighten up a bit.” Still shaking her head, she made her way back toward Black, who was hissing something at Remus and Shacklebolt.
Alastor groaned and rubbed his stiff neck with a gnarled hand, cursing Albus again in his mind. Maybe he could have handled the situation better, had that damnable man not winked at him just before he disappeared.
Alastor had been a full-fledged member of the new Order of the Phoenix for fewer than two days when he received a message to arrive at Grimmauld Place at 8:00 the following evening for a briefing on his assignment.
He had studiously avoided Order headquarters – and his partner – since their first meeting the other night.
Staying away was easy. Keeping the encounter out of his mind was something else altogether.
He couldn’t help but compare the new Order to the old… and no matter how he looked at it, the comparison was never favorable. On the whole, the Order members seemed a rag-tag, inexperienced band, and no match at all for a group of hostile Death Eaters. Black had spent a decade in Azkaban – that didn’t bode well for his psychological state. Dung was a drunkard, useful for gaining information, but not much help in a real battle. Molly and Arthur Weasley… good people, but again, not fighters. He didn’t know Hestia Jones and some of the others.
Alastor brightened a little when he remembered Shacklebolt, whom he had trained, and whom he knew to be a stellar Auror and a fierce fighter. And from what remembered, he suspected that, despite his tired appearance, Remus Lupin was an immensely powerful wizard.
Nymphadora Tonks? He could only guess.
The old Order had been comprised of the best and the brightest… young prospects and established veterans… nothing like this.
Alastor spent the day reinforcing the wards around his house, a small, understated affair several miles north of London. His experiences as an Auror had taught him that a larger home only meant a home more difficult to protect, and so he lived a sparse and meager life by design rather than by necessity.
Ward-casting was a strenuous business, especially for someone of his age and condition, but he was an infinitely patient man and took his time. Besides, strengthening the wards took a great deal of concentration – and the more he focused on his house, the less he focused on the impending Order briefing.
Patient, hah, he thought bitterly as the sweat trickled into his magical eye and made it stick. I can handle wards, but I can’t take my time with the new Order. I’ve only been to one meeting, for the love of Merlin. It might get better.
He snorted aloud and shook his head violently from side to side, hoping to jar his eye free. After several seconds, his eye was stuck facing sideways out over his ear and an unpleasant twinge had settled in his neck.
Alastor sighed. The afternoon was shaping up quite pleasantly.
He Apparated to London to avoid as much of the Muggle neighborhood as possible, and he took great care at the door to make sure he didn’t knock into anyone again. Focusing intently through his magical eye, he saw the ghostly images of what lay beyond the door, and nothing seemed remotely dangerous. In fact, to his relief, the hall looked quite deserted.
Alastor pushed open the heavy door to Grimmauld Place and stepped inside, glancing around sharply. Nothing.
Unsure of what to do, he stood stupidly for a moment in the silence before he spotted a shadow in the ceiling above the stairs, heading down towards him.
“Hullo, Mad-Eye. Dumbledore and the others are in the kitchen.” It was Black, looking sulky. “He says you’re to meet him in there for your…” he spat out the next word bitterly, “assignment.”
“Got it.” Alastor turned away. His shoulder ached sharply, but he ignored it. Black glared at his retreating form for a moment before disappearing back upstairs, and Alastor could turn his full attention to the scene in front of him.
His stomach settled unpleasantly as he recognized the grimy kitchen from the earlier meeting. Though no cleaner, the room did seem larger, but only because it wasn’t as crowded. Albus was sitting comfortably at the table, his long delicate fingers laced together in front of him – apparently he felt no need for conversation. There was also a youngish woman whom Alastor didn’t recognize. She had a round face and reddish hair, and she seemed familiar, but Alastor couldn’t quite place her. She was talking at Albus somewhat at random – it seemed she had a low tolerance for silence.
Tonks was nowhere to be found. Alastor tried to tell himself that he wasn’t surprised, but truthfully he was.
“Alastor, glad you’re here.” Albus spoke and motioned to a low chair, where Alastor sat down a bit awkwardly, twisting his wooden leg in his robes. “Let’s begin.”
But what about Tonks? Alastor thought. Not like Albus to leave someone out in the cold… his eyes rested on the other woman momentarily. Maybe he changed his mind about the partnership… but no, not after his performance the other night…
“Have you heard about the Department of Magical Law Enforcement’s inquiry into the actions of the senior Barty Crouch?”
Alastor stiffened at the reminder of last year. “No.”
“I’ve heard rumors around the Ministry – nothing concrete,” the woman added.
Albus nodded gravely. “In short, Percy Weasley is currently under investigation for his involvement in Mr. Crouch’s crimes.”
“I thought he was acting in good faith…”
So did I, thought Alastor. Misplaced faith, but honest even so. He tried to stretch out his wooden leg but found he couldn’t free it from his tangled robes.
“Oh, he was,” Albus responded. “He most certainly was. But the Council of Magical Law feels its duty is to thoroughly investigate everyone involved, and you must not fault them for that. What you likely do not know is that Mr. Weasley is about to be offered a very prestigious appointment as the Junior Assistant to the Minister of Magic himself.”
Alastor jiggled his leg some more.
The woman shook her head. “I suppose Fudge sees fit to overrule the Magical Law Enforcement’s decisions again…”
“His sense of his own power is slightly indulged.”
That still doesn’t make any sense…Alastor thought, momentarily forgetting about his leg. What skills does Weasley have that Fudge wants so badly?
The woman shifted in her seat uncomfortably. “Can Percy really be so talented that Fudge would risk a direct confrontation with Amelia Bones? From what I know of her, she won’t take kindly to having her toes stepped on again…”
Sure he’s good, but nothing that special… Albus’ mind was racing. If not talented, then what? His brow furrowed deeper, and then it came in a rare flash of clarity.
“Talent isn’t the only thing that would make a Weasley valuable,” he said.
“Of course!” The woman’s eyes widened. “Of course. His connections to the Order… Fudge wants a spy.”
“And he’s going to get one,” Alastor growled. “Only not in the way he thinks.”
Albus nodded gravely. “Mr. Weasley is in a rather unique position. The information he could access as Fudge’s assistant would be of inestimable value to the Order.”
“There’s more to it than that.”
“Of course.” Albus paused. “Civil wars are complicated, and confusing. Alliances are rarely black and white. Nearly everyone has friends and family on both sides. During the last war, I trusted too blindly… I cannot make that mistake again.”
Alastor remembered a pudgy boy, forever tagging along harmlessly at the heels of his talented friends… No need to beat yourself up, Albus. We were all fooled by Pettigrew’s act. Hell, even I trusted him…
“We need to cut through facades and see who is truly on our side. There are those who wrongly appear to be with us – and those, seemingly against us, who could be persuaded to our side.”
“And you want us to find out.” A small crease had appeared between the woman’s eyebrows.
“Yes. It will be especially difficult for you, Tonks, but…”
Alastor turned violently in his chair, tangling his wooden leg even further, and he gaped as the woman’s hair began to pull back into her head, losing some of its length, and abruptly changed color to the lurid pink he remembered. She grimaced and, after a second, her face lengthened and skin lightened. Relaxing, the Nymphadora Tonks he remembered looked across the table and grinned sheepishly.
Alastor vaguely thought to himself that someone could hex him from the back at that very moment and he wouldn’t even bat an eye.
Chuckling softly, Albus said, “As you can see, Tonks is a Metamorphmagus.”
Alastor blinked a few times and closed his mouth. “Ah. Of course.” He shook himself. So she’s a morph. That’s very interesting… but focus, man, focus. Back to work.
“As I was saying, investigating your enemies is no easy task, but investigating your friends is in many ways harder. Remaining unbiased and emotionally detached… it is not a skill I have mastered. It will be more difficult for you, Tonks, especially with your current Ministry connections, but I believe you can handle the stress.”
She didn’t seem thrilled. “Like loyalty tests.”
“Yes and no.”
Tonks sighed. “I don’t… I’ll do my best.”
“What does this have to do with Weasley?” Alastor asked.
“You will need to work closely with him to gain access to some of the higher-level Ministry officials. But the investigations are secondary. Remus and Stan Riley are on a similar assignment, and I expect you will be working closely with them. For the two of you, Percy’s situation must be of the utmost priority, because I want someone keeping an eye out for him at all times. His life, if he so chooses, will be a dangerous one. You will need to help protect him.”
His words hung ominously in the air, until…
“Why us?” Tonks asked.
“Alastor brings a great deal of valuable experience, and, quite frankly, your abilities as a Metamorphmagus will allow you unprecedented access to the Ministry. This assignment is purely practical, though I do wish I had more profound reasoning to offer.”
“I really don’t like this, Dumbledore,” Tonks said, shaking her pink curls. “All this lying and sneaking around – and it will involve a lot of lying, you know it will…”
“But this is a chance to pull off an acting job bigger than Peter Pettigrew’s!” Alastor growled. “Don’t tell me the thought doesn’t appeal to you, even at all.”
“It doesn’t, not in the least.”
Albus raised a hand to silence them. “Tonks, I can assure you that this is absolutely necessary. You will simply have to trust me.”
She frowned. “I trust you. I just don’t like it.”
“When can I talk to Weasley?” Alastor interrupted.
“I will be discussing this with Percy and his parents tomorrow, and I would request that you both be there as well.” They nodded. “And that is all I have to say, for now. I leave the intricacies of planning up to you. I will see you tomorrow in my Hogwarts office, at 6:00.” He stood quietly and left the room.
Alastor’s mind was spinning. I can’t believe Albus is suggesting that Weasley act the double agent. It’s a damn good idea but completely out of character… Pettigrew was the scum of the earth… Will Weasley even want any part of this? It will involve a lot of sacrifice…
Tonks broke the silence first. “Look, Mad-Eye, I know you don’t want to work with me, but since we don’t have a choice, just give it a go, alright?”
Alastor snapped out of his reverie. “I’ve got nothing personal against you, Nymphadora.” And she’s a Metamorphmagus. That’s going to come in handy, now that I’m stuck with her for good…
She grimaced at the name. “Tonks, please. And while that’s reassuring, it doesn’t change the fact that we still need to work together on this.”
Why is she on assignment with me, anyway? I don’t buy Albus’ reasons… and Weasley might be too much of a Gryffindor for this type of work… Alastor groaned and rubbed his shoulder. “Let’s talk about this later.”
Tonks stood. “Later. Fine, then.”
She strode out of the room, and Alastor was left alone with his confusion.