FIC: "The News Today (Morning Edition) for cat_goddess Recipient:cat_goddess Author/Artist:mindabbles Title: The News Today (Morning Edition) Rating: PG-13/light R Pairings: Molly Weasley/Arthur Weasley, Minerva McGonagall/Arabella Figg, Augusta Longbottom/Alastor Moody Word Count: 6,900 Summary:Tell it as you see it. Expose the bastards for what they are and if everyone, on every side, hates you, you are probably doing a fine job. Author's/Artist's Notes: Thank you to bethbethbeth for running this fabulous fest. Thank you to cat_goddess for her wonderful request. I really hope you enjoy it. Hugs and kisses to my fantastic and speedy beta, elizassecret.
Daily Prophet Offices, Diagon Alley, London, England
Elias Mallet bent low over his work table, sleeves of his robes rolled to the elbow, squinting and muttering the spells that were as familiar as breathing. Typesetting was an art and very few people knew the charms well enough to do them to his exacting standards, so many a midnight found him here, layering the last charms on the morning's edition.
Tomorrow's Daily Prophet wouldn't curry favour with the Minister and he might find himself on a trip to the North Sea, courtesy of Barty Crouch and the Wizengamot—not that there was any difference these days. He might also be paid a visit by some of Dumbledore's gang, and who knew which would be worse. Come to think on it, there really wasn't anyone who would appreciate the entirety of the early edition.
No matter, he thought, calling up the memory of Irma Wolpherd, his first editor-in-chief. Tell it as you see it. Expose the bastards for what they are and if everyone, on every side, hates you, you are probably doing a fine job. He'd learned that much from her.
The Burrow, Ottery St. Catchpole, England
"Bill," Molly snapped. "The eggs go in your mouth, not under the table. And Charlie, don't think I didn't see that."
"Don't see why I have to eat eggs. They taste like bogies." Bill pushed his breakfast around his plate, mouth twisted in disgust.
Molly counted to ten. And then to ten again. The headline on the Daily Prophet blared in her head. Good citizenship awards from the Ministry for turning in your neighbours. And what was Arthur supposed to do with that? Thank heavens for the Lovegoods, as mental as they were.
"Mummy," Charlie yelped, protectively covering his plate of eggs with his little hands. "The baby's gonna throw his cereal again."
Molly whirled around, wand at the ready, and stopped Percy's bowl in mid air, but not in time to stop the porridge from slopping out on to the kitchen rug. She took a deep steadying breath and reflected that, if she weren't such a good mother, if she didn't have plenty of food for her children, if she was a different sort of person altogether, she might just throw all three of them out the window this morning.
Bill and Charlie had begun a game, using two bits of toast as action figures. Percy had discovered that he could draw patterns with one chubby little finger in the dollops of porridge that had landed on his tray. Pushing down admonitions to all of them about playing with their food, she poured a cup of tea and sat at the other end of the long table and just let them play.
She turned the paper over, but the headline on the bottom half of the page wasn't much better. Headlines like this always meant more difficulty for Arthur at work—more decisions between his integrity and career. An article about the Order of the Phoenix drew her in, the noise of the children still playing at the table fading in the background.
"S'quiet in here," a bright voice called. "All right, you lot?"
"Uncle Gideon!" Charlie and Bill jumped from their chairs, the toast Quidditch players tumbling to the floor with a crunch.
"'Lo, lads," Gideon said. He swung one long leg over the bench that ran the length of the table and sat. He reached for a bit of toast. "Fancy a game of something or the other in a bit?"
"Do you eat eggs?" Bill asked, pulling a face at the congealing mass on his plate.
"Three times a day. Protein. Makes you strong."
"You do not eat them three times a day," Bill said, narrowing his eyes at Gideon. "You do not, because it's only just breakfast and you're having toast."
"I wish I could eat breakfast three times a day," Charlie said. He scooped up a heaping forkful of eggs.
"Eat your breakfast. Then we'll have a game of Hide and Seek with the gnomes." Gideon said. He turned from the boys and the smile on his lips faded. "Is Arthur already at work?"
"Yes." Molly wiped porridge off Percy's face and he let out a delighted gurgle once his face was clean.
"You haven't heard from him this morning?"
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing," Gideon said, shaking his head and rearranging his face into a bland expression. Molly glared at him and Gideon squeezed his eyes shut for a second. "Fabian's at the Ministry. In custody."
"I just did, and well, he's with Moody, isn't he?" Gideon said. He scooped Charlie out of his seat and dangled the boy, who let out a peel of hysterical laughter, by his ankles.
Bill eyed Charlie enviously. "You don't want to be doing that, Uncle Gideon. He'll be sick on your shoes if he plays rough after eating."
"Bill, Charlie, time to go and play," Molly said tersely. Charlie squirmed, still giggling and his face turning red. "The sun is shining. Children should be outside."
Gideon deposited Charlie on the floor and the two boys ran from the room, Bill casting a look of glee back at his egg-covered plate.
"Get on with it, then." Gideon said. He sat down in Bill's spot and pushed the plate to the middle of the table.
"Don't come the smart arse with me," Molly said. Worry had made her chest tight. "Why is he in custody?"
"There was an altercation last night. Between some of Voldemort's lackeys and us. It was six against two, Molly, and they were after that Muggle-born girl who's just opened the Quidditch shop in Diagon Alley."
"We went in to see about her because we saw some flashes that didn't look right. They hadn't done anything, but they would have. He was cornered by four and I couldn't get to him. I had two of my own, didn't I?" He scrubbed his hand through his long red hair and looked guiltily at Molly. "Anyway, he went a bit round the twist when one of them started to go after that woman again. Crucio'd her. So, well, Fabian Crucio'd the bloke back, only the Death Eater fell into a bin full of bludgers and they nearly beat him to death. His cronies did a runner and we pulled him out. Then the Ministry showed up."
"He used the Cruciatus on someone?" Molly asked, trying desperately to reconcile this tale with her sweet-faced, gentle brother. "Make me understand, Gideon. If you're doing the same things as they are, how are you better?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Molly. It's completely different. The Death Eater did it just because she's Muggle-born. Fabian was trying to stop the attack."
"That's a fine line of hippogriff shit," Molly said. She rounded on him and she put her hands on her hips to stop herself from throttling him. "Is that what they have you believing now? Is that why Fabian's on his way to Azkaban?"
"He's not going to go to Azkaban," Gideon said, raising his hands, open palms to her. "Calm down."
"He nearly killed someone," Molly snapped. "How long until one of you does? Fabian, Gideon. Are you so far gone that you can't see what damage that will do to his soul?"
"We no longer have the luxury of a pure soul," Gideon said, and Molly's heart broke a little at the matter of fact tone of his voice. "Voldemort has seen to that."
"That's even more depressing than the lies in the paper," Molly said. She grabbed Bill's uneaten breakfast and sent the wasted food and dirty plate into the sink with a flick of her wand.
"Don't get too comfortable there on your high horse, Molly," Gideon said, shaking his head. "Everyone knows what side you and Arthur'll fall to in a crunch. You're worse than Mudbloods by some accounts." Charlie shrieked right underneath the kitchen window, laughing and giddy as Bill shouted Found you!. "Look at them and tell me that if someone was threatening them you couldn't kill, pure soul be damned."
"Hmph," she grunted as she felt something steely surround her heart at the thought of anyone harming one hair on either of their little red heads.
"He was protecting all of us," Gideon said, his tone kind and comforting. "Don't worry. He'll be home before you've got this lot into their jammies."
She jumped as Arthur came in without announcing himself. They'd resisted the Ministry–recommended secret questions. If Crouch found out, it could be Arthur's job, but it was just so stupid.
"All right, Arthur?" Gideon asked, standing to shake Arthur's hand.
"Fine, yes fine," Arthur said. He looked exhausted. "Busy day. Reports coming in from everywhere. Everyone is in a tizzy. Crouch wants to see the draft of the Muggle Protection Act Monday next and I so want it to be right, offer real protection for Muggles and Muggle-borns."
"The quill is mightier than the wand, eh Arthur?" Gideon asked. He raised his eyebrows and swung a chair around, straddling it backwards. "You should join us," he added.
"We can't risk it," Molly said. "You know that we agree and we'll do what we can here, but we have three children to think about."
"You know it's their futures the Order's fighting for. Join us."
"You have your ways, we have ours," Molly snapped.
"Your ways used to be ours, Molly," Gideon said, his impassioned tone louder than before, and Percy gave a yowl of disapproval.
"Times change," Molly said. She felt her lips purse just like her mum's.
"We'll see how much more times will change," Gideon said, his usually bright face grim. "That Lily Evans has joined up. You know, Arthur, the girl who just took the job with the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad."
"Did she? She's awfully young," Arthur said. He pulled out the edge of the long bench and reached for a piece of cold toast from the platter in the middle of the table. Molly heard herself cluck in disapproval and summoned three eggs and to make him an omelette. She spared a moment to wonder when she had become her mother, but looked at Arthur's tired face and decided that perhaps becoming the anchor of a family wasn't such a bad way to turn out.
"She's recommended some friends, one Sirius Black among them, believe it or not," Gideon said. "Yeah, none of them look bloody old enough to Apparate."
"Black?" Molly and Arthur said at once.
"Now," Gideon said, raising his hand as if to steady them. "They're not all the same. He's a good lad."
"Watch him. We all have good and bad in us, and he's been around more bad than anything else," Molly said, memories of Bellatrix trying to recruit first years into her gang vivid in her head.
"Being around bad doesn't necessarily make you bad," Arthur chimed in. The colour came back to his face as he sipped his tea.
"In any case, seems to have something to prove on that score, Black does," Gideon said. "I like him. You're right Arthur. We've all got bits of the lion, the badger, the eagle, and the serpent in us. Dumbledore is always saying so."
"And what does Dumbledore say makes a person favour one over the other?" Arthur asked.
"The one you feed the most," Gideon said, as if this were priceless wisdom.
"Sounds like something Dumbledore would say," Molly said. She turned the eggs over in the pan. They were perfect. "Does he have any idea when my little brother will be coming home?"
Molly rolled onto her side, carefully easing away from where Percy was snuggled in the bed, nestled between Arthur's and her pillows—not that he needed them. He was such a good sleeper, unlike his brothers who'd fallen off the bed enough times that she and Arthur had had to set charms about them every night by the time they were six months old. She tiptoed to the bedroom door and stepped gingerly over the squeaky floorboard. Arthur was just backing cautiously into the hallway out of Charlie's room.
"Sleeping?" Molly whispered.
Arthur nodded, one finger pressed to his lips, and whispered, "Just. Little terror."
They made their way to the sitting room where the fire glowed anaemically in the grate. Arthur pointed his wand and it flared to life, bringing a rosy glow to his wan cheeks and a golden light to his hair.
"What a day," Molly said, falling heavily on the sofa and rolling her neck to loosen the crick. Arthur's hand came to rest, warm and comforting, just where it hurt.
"I spoke to Fabian," Arthur said. He kicked his stocking feet up on to the table. "They let me see him and take him some tea."
Molly dropped her hand onto his knee, the cotton of his pyjamas soft under her fingers.
"Do you think we should talk to Dumbledore?" she said quietly, unsure if she wanted to begin this conversation or not. "About joining up?"
"No," Arthur said. "You know I don't." His muscles stiffened and she lifted her hand from his knee.
"With you writing that law, we may as well make ourselves more obviously a target. At least then I could do something."
"Do you think I should stop pushing the law?" He asked, ire rising in his voice.
"No," she said. She placed her hand back on his leg. The last thing she wanted tonight was an argument that would never be resolved. "I think we should do more. I think we should join the Order. Did you even read the paper? Bloody Bellatrix Black and her lunatic friends. Dumbledore needs everyone. And don't look at me like that. This is not about school girl rivalries. I know how dangerous she and her cronies are from personal experience, or have you forgotten?"
"Of course I haven't," he muttered. "Molly, Dumbledore doesn't want me to join now. He wants unaffiliated friends in the Ministry. You know that. And he's not asking anyone with small children. Maybe later, if things go on, we'll have no choice."
"No, but he is asking children," Molly said. "Gideon tells me that the last lost are just out of school."
"These fights are always fought by the young."
"I thought we were still the young." Molly let her head fall heavily onto his shoulder.
"What are we doing?" Arthur asked. "What are we doing? The world is coming to pieces and we're putting children in it."
"Don't you even think about implying that my children are a mistake," Molly said, but her tone lacked any heat and she didn't move her cheek from where it pressed against the curve of his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," Arthur said. "You know that's not what I mean. I just, I want to take care of you all and I can't make this go away. I can't give our children a different time to grow up. Listen to me, falling apart and here I meant to comfort you."
"We'll take turns falling apart and comforting each other and our children will grow healthy and strong," Molly whispered, nuzzling his neck and breathing in his gentle scent. "We'll take turns, Arthur."
He wrapped an arm around her waist and she threw a leg over his, sliding into his lap. She closed her eyes as they kissed and she couldn't see the toys on the floor or the mess in the kitchen beyond, or the Daily Prophet open on the table. She teased over his lips with her tongue and they could have been young sweethearts sneaking a kiss. Molly rolled her hips closer to him, and when he rocked up to meet her, she could almost pretend that they would make love on the sofa, not because there was a baby sleeping in their bed, but because they had to have each other now and the bed was just too far away. Arthur groaned and threaded his fingers through her hair and she whispered how she wanted him as her fingers slid beneath his robes.
"Mummy!" a child shrieked from the floor above.
"Merlin's balls," Arthur muttered. He dropped his head back, looking beseechingly at the ceiling.
Molly leaned to kiss his throat and then she sat back on the sofa and gestured to the stairs. "I've had them all day. It's your turn."
He groaned in an altogether different way and pushed himself off the sofa.
"Stay there," he said as he jogged up the stairs. "I'll be back in a tic and we'll pick up right where we left off, or perhaps a step ahead."
Level Two, Ministry of Magic, London, England
"What are we going to do about this?" Crouch asked, pounding his fist on the paper where it was spread on his desk.
"What would we do, Mr. Crouch?" Moody asked. His patience for his superior was thin at the moment and this outburst wasn't helping.
"Pay this man a visit, Moody," Crouch said through gritted teeth.
"Would you like me to perform the Cruciatus Curse on him?"
"Don't think you are so valuable that you can afford insubordination. This is no small matter. Our efforts depend on the support of the public." Crouch's eyes blazed and he drew his wand over the paper, folding it over and over again until it was the size of a Chocolate Frog card.
"That's funny, Sir," Moody said. "I was under the impression that our efforts depended upon our skill and strategy."
Number 8, Braeside Terrance, Little Biggar, Scotland
Minerva held her teacup to her cheek, the warmth soothing her pounding head. Arabella moved the plate of cakes from the middle of the table to the edge. She tipped more milk into the jug, and moved the plate of cakes back to the middle of the table.
"Would you stop fiddling? You're like a cat about to have kittens." Minerva shook her head, immediately regretting her sharp tone. "They won't be here for hours and you're not expected to present a high tea."
"They'll be here this afternoon and I've still so much to do," said Arabella, a note of panic in her voice.
"It's just the Order, not the bloody Queen of Sheba," Minerva said, her tone softening. "You're in the Order now because you are valuable, not because you make a good raspberry sponge. Although, you do make raspberry sponge a treat." Minerva smiled gently and Arabella looked at her with gratitude.
"You're going back up to the school, aren't you?" Arabella asked, looking pointedly at folded copy of today's Daily Prophet where it lay unread on the table.
"I have essays to mark and lessons to prepare," Minerva said, trying hard not to let the irritation creep into her voice. "You've everything well in hand."
Arabella sighed. "It's not that. I was hoping we might spend the day."
"I'll be back round a bit early. We can have tea, just us, before everyone arrives," Minerva said, dropping a quick kiss on Arabella's lips. She hesitated and nearly changed her mind when she saw the quiet disappointment on Arabella's sweet face. No matter, she thought, essays don't mark themselves and work still needs to be done whether Arabella Figg is hosting her first Order meeting or not. "Read the paper, relax dear."
Minerva had only just set a foot inside when the door was flung open and Arabella, looking harried and angry, glared at her with blazing eyes.
"Not a word. Not. A. Word," she fumed. "I can't do a bloody thing, can't Apparate, no Patronus, and not a word."
She stepped aside and glowered, daring Minerva to disagree with her. Minerva surreptitiously stroked the soft little body nestled in the pocket of her robe, quieting the kitten in the face of this outburst.
"I am not in the habit of sending word when we've agreed I should come for tea and I do, in fact, arrive before tea," Minerva said tersely.
"You've been up in your office all day. Have you even seen the papers?"
Minerva noticed for the first time that Arabella held a newspaper in her clenched fist, a vaguely familiar face moving in and out of the rumpled photograph on the front page.
"Who?" Minerva asked, dread creeping up her spine. Being on the front page these days was rarely a good thing.
Arabella shook out the paper and Minerva could see the likeness of Arnold Figg. He'd clearly been Stunned and two people who looked to be healers held him aloft, their wands trained on him.
"A known Death Eater, he will be in Saint Mungo's for treatment until he's well enough to withstand questioning by the Aurors," Arabella said, in the parrot-like voice of one who had memorised the words through painstaking repetition.
Minerva curled her hand around Arabella's bicep, squeezing lightly. "I'm sorry."
"So am I."
"There's nothing to say," Arabella said, and the kitten chose that moment to let out a pitiful mewl. "What on earth is in your robes?"
Minerva grasped the scrawny, gangly kitten, with the bottle brush tail, about its thin middle. It looked as if it had been starved for weeks and then dragged through the bushes back-end-first. It wasn't much of a peace offering, but the creature had followed her around Little Biggar, mewling in a most persistent way, and Minerva had been unable to leave him in the alley.
"It looks a bit frightening, that does," Arabella said, with furtive glances at her pristine living room set.
"He is no ordinary house cat—"
"Well, I can see that."
"He is no ordinary cat," Minerva continued as if she hadn't been interrupted. "He is extremely intelligent and seems to understand human speech. I believe he's from our world and still he was living among the alley cats. I thought you would make a fine pair. I'm given to understand that he is called Mr. Tibbs."
"Here," Arabella said, hands on her slim hips. "What have you been doing skulking around alleys with tomcats? Should I be jealous?"
"Don't be vulgar," Minerva said. She placed the little Kneazle on the floor and looked around the room for the first time to see that the table had been completely rearranged since she'd last been here.
"About time someone was," Arabella sniped, a pinched expression on her face.
"And what is that you're trying to say?" Minerva snapped. It had been a bloody long day and the very last thing on earth she needed before an Order meeting was a fight with Arabella.
"Never mind," Arabella said, busying herself with the tea service again. "Oh, bugger it to hell." She wiped her hands on her apron and turned around. "What I'm trying to say is that is seems quite a while since you took the time to spend the night."
"I—" Minerva's anger evaporated into the air and she just felt tired. "I've been busy, and Albus has been gone from the school so much. I can't leave the students unprotected."
"There are other teachers, Minerva," Arabella said. "And I need you, too. My bloody brother's an arse, but he's in hospital and probably on his way to Azkaban. And tonight I'll serve tea to the man who nearly killed him."
"Fabian is still at the Ministry, I gather," Minerva said uselessly.
Arabella sighed. "That's hardly my point and you know it."
Minerva pulled Arabella into her arms and pressed her cheek against soft, wavy hair. Her back was straight and strong under Minerva's fingers and Minerva felt a pull in her belly that she hadn't felt in weeks. "I believe that the school is well guarded this evening."
"Let's see how the meeting goes off, and we'll play it by ear, shall we?" Arabella gave Minerva a cautious kiss on the cheek and Minerva felt a pang at the look that said all too well that Arabella had heard it before.
Minerva scooped the pathetic little kneazle from where it was winding itself about her ankles and deposited it on the hearth rug. "At least you've some company now." The kitten pulled at the threads of the rug with its little claws, circling and scratching.
Arabella's fingers came around Minerva's wrist and squeezed. She smiled. Then there was a thud. Then there was a thunk. Then there was a sound of a scuffle and an indignant exclamation of innocence that was disturbingly familiar.
"What on earth?" Minerva hissed. She gripped her wand and pulled open the door in time to see Gideon hauling Peter Pettigrew up off the doormat. James Potter glared at Gideon from his left side and Remus Lupin and Sirius Black were balanced on the doorstep to his right.
"I believe these belong to you?" Gideon said to Minerva. He seemed to be holding all four of them by the scruff of the neck at once.
"As of the twenty-first of June, I no longer claim them," Minerva said, stepping back as, with a shove from Gideon, the four of them stumbled through the door. "Gentlemen, what the devil are you doing here?" She paused for a moment to enjoy the sight of James struggling to get out of Gideon's grip. "Oh, Gideon, let them go."
"We—" Peter began, that angelic expression that meant he had concocted what he thought was a hex-proof excuse all over his face.
"Ask him," Sirius snapped, interrupting Peter and glaring at Gideon.
"Perhaps someone could tell us where here is," Remus said calmly. He nodded at her. "Hello, Professor."
James looked around the room in a frenzied fashion that made Minerva's hand twitch toward the whisky decanter on Arabella's sideboard. Caradoc and Emmeline chose that moment to step, one after another, from the floo.
"This is that Order of the Phoenix, isn't it?" James asked, excitement verging on hysteria in his voice.
"Dumbledore's outfit?" Remus asked, hands on his hips, looking about the room as if he expected there to be a sign.
"If half of what they said in this morning's paper is true, we're in the right place," Sirius announced.
Peter hadn't taken his eyes off Gideon. "Or we could just go."
"Perhaps someone could tell me why these...these...why this room suddenly looks like my office on a Saturday morning for the past seven years," Minerva ground out, with the terrible feeling of worlds colliding.
"Your lads here seem to have bitten off a bit more than they could chew with a few Death Eaters in Diagon Alley," Gideon said. His wand was still trained on them. "I came around in time to—"
"Oi," James interrupted indignantly. "We were doing just fine without you deciding to jump in."
"Right," Gideon said, rolling his eyes. "That's what I saw as well."
"Well," Emmeline said, clearly sizing them up. "Perhaps they should stay for a bit. Dumbledore did say--"
"They know too much as it is," Gideon said, shaking his head. He hadn't moved from the entryway.
"Are you going to have to kill us?" Pettigrew asked.
"Don't be an idiot," Sirius said. He walked into the sitting room uninvited. "They won't tell us if they're about to kill us."
"Oh for the love of Merlin," Minerva said. "And here I thought I'd rid myself of you lot. Don't give me any reason to regret this." She flicked her wand at the sitting room and rows of straight-backed wooden chairs appeared. "Sit," she said. "We'll see what Albus has to say."
What Albus had to say, and not that it should surprise her, when he saw the faces of the boys responsible for every gray hair on her head was, "Ah, I was wondering when you would arrive."
The room was already filled with her former students, but Lily Evans and these four were so recently her students. Surely they should be mucking up their futures in some other fashion. She wanted to tell them to go home.
The meeting adjourned in record time. The Order members – along with the four interlopers, who heaven help us everyone, seemed now to be Order members – milled about picking at the bountiful spread that Arabella had set out.
"With the attack against, and subsequent capture of, a man reputed to be a top lieutenant to the wizard who is now the self-proclaimed "Dark Lord" at the hands of one of the top lieutenants of the vigilante organization calling itself the "Order of the Phoenix," we can but wonder, how does your average wizard or witch choose sides?"
Sirius' aristocratic accent cut through the buzz of chatter. He threw the paper onto the coffee table. "What an idiot."
"It's an interesting question, boy," Alastor said, and Sirius scowled at him. "If everyone's using the same tactics, what in the end, is the difference between us?"
"Christ, he looks so young," Arabella whispered from behind Minerva.
Sirius answered, his cheeks glowing with the heat of the impending debate. He had been invigorating to teach when she hadn't wanted to kill him. James and Remus joined in immediately. Peter seemed to have struck up a conversation with Emmeline. Minerva felt a moment of panic at the thought of these youngsters being in some of the battles that they would soon face. If she knew them, and she was certain she did, they would be in the thick of it, and they would come to Moody's way of thinking. She agreed with the sentiment behind it, but his way of thinking had cost him a leg.
"He is," she said, watching Sirius nod at something Moody said. "He's just a boy."
"You're still here," Arabella said.
Minerva swished her wand one last time over the sink and the dishes stacked themselves, clean and dry, into neat piles. She never could remember Arabella's system for what went where, so she'd leave that to her.
"I'm still here."
"What about students to protect and essays that won't mark themselves?" Arabella asked and Minerva couldn't place if her tone was hopeful or irritated.
"They'll still be there tomorrow, no doubt." Minerva said. "You and Sirius seemed thick as thieves."
"Turns out he has an arse for a brother as well." Arabella shrugged and smiled sadly.
"I am sorry about your brother," Minerva said. She knew that, no matter what Arabella said, she hadn't totally given him up for a bad job.
Arabella shook her head and waved a hand in the air. "I can't help but think that everything is arse for elbow. He inherited the magic, and look what he's doing with it. Anyway, it was good to talk with Sirius. I hope I helped him. He didn't know that you can love someone and hate them at the same time. I think that's something important to know."
"Do you want me to send word to Moody, find out where he is now?" Minerva asked. She lifted her arms to hug Arabella and let them fall back to her sides.
Arabella shook her head. "It will be what it shall." She gave a watery smile. "Did you see Sirius put his arm around that Remus Lupin as they left?"
"The four of them are always hanging on each other." Minerva hadn't touched her mother in private as much as those boys touched each other in public.
"Oh, Minnie," Arabella laughed, a bright trill of a sound. "That's not what I meant."
"Oh," Minerva said as some past suspicions found a place to rest.
"Well, they are utterly adorable. All of them. I do feel a bit for that wee Peter. Bit of a fifth wheel, he is."
"Pfft. There's nothing adorable about that lot," Minerva said. The kneazle kitten appeared out of nowhere and began winding about her ankles.
"Come now, Minnie. Don't be such an old fusspot. Stay the night, will you? Remind me what we're all fighting for."
Arabella smiled and turned to walk down the hallway to the bedroom. The kitten scampered after her.
Headmaster's Office, Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Hogsmeade, Scotland
"Drink, Alastor?" Albus asked. He stood from where he was fiddling with one of those infernal instruments of his.
He'd been in Dumbledore's office for fifteen minutes and the man had yet to tell him why he'd summoned him during the first moment in two days that Alastor had a hope of catching a little sleep. He eyed the bottle suspiciously. People were always sending Dumbledore gifts and the number of people who might want him dead had probably increased exponentially since the morning's Prophet.
"Rosmerta's, and I assure you both the quality and the integrity of her spirits are beyond question," Dumbledore smiled. He conjured two goblets and filled them each with rich amber liquid. Moody stood and paced across the room as Dumbledore took a deep drink and sighed.
"Crouch wants me to make a courtesy call to this Mallet bloke," Moody said, turning his goblet around in his hands.
"Does he?" Dumbledore asked. "Somehow that doesn't surprise me."
"Talk to me, man," Moody said, placing his goblet on Albus' desk with more force than he intended. "What do you think about it, Albus?"
Dumbledore raised one eyebrow and looked down at the paper. It was lying, neatly folded in two on the small table beside his chair. "The photograph does not, I believe, show me to advantage."
Glendora House, Weihsdon, England
The curved door handle was cool to her touch. It always stuck a little just in the middle of its arc. Early enough that you'd barely finished a second cup of tea was not the time you wanted to see Alastor Moody standing upon the door step. If your child was an Auror, there was really no good time to see that man standing upon your doorstep, coarse, dark hair ruffling in the breeze, intense eyes on you with that disconcerting focus.
"Alastor Moody, what are you doing at my door at this hour?" She put one hand on her hip and the other on her wand. "You can turn right back around and totter off where you came from if you've anything but good news for me."
"Since when do I need to have news to pay a visit to an old friend?" He smiled and she saw a hint of the intense, kind, but slightly fierce boy she had known at school. Come to think of it, he hadn't been that different. "Nothing's the matter with Frank or Alice."
"Well, come in then." She stepped back and waved him in. "I suppose you haven't had breakfast."
"I have been up since last night—"
"You look it."
He gave a small laugh and shook his head. She turned to the sideboard and reached for the tea so he wouldn't see her answering smile.
"Have you seen the paper?" He asked, a throw away comment to anyone who didn't know that Alastor hadn't made a throw away comment since he was twelve.
"Lined the bird cage with it."
"That's a good place for it," he said. His footfall on the rug sounded closer behind her.
"So, you're a grizzled mercenary now, are you?" She poured his tea and left the sugar and milk for him to add, remembering he preferred to do that himself.
"Ha, so you did read it," he sniggered, broad shoulders shaking with his laughter. "Thanks," he said, sniffing the milk jug. "You remembered."
They drank their tea, with only small talk. It made her ache, a little, for a time when there was nothing small about their talk. He smoothed his robes over his thighs with his hands. She looked away as his strong fingers gripped his knees.
"Alastor, why did you come?"
"I had to arrest Fabian Prewitt today," he said. His eyes searched her face and she wondered if, after all these years, he still found it a nice face.
"Isn't he in that Ord—"
"Yes," he growled. "He's on our side and he did something stupid that probably saved his own and a few other people's lives. But it was illegal and a man nearly died. Not that he would have been any great loss to the world."
"I thought the Unforgivable curses were allowable," she said. She felt her mouth twist unbidden into a grimace as she said it.
"Fabian is not an Auror."
She let out a mirthless laugh. "Right, at either extreme of the law, anything goes. My Frank won't do it. He's already said."
"No," Alastor said. He looked down at his hands still on his knees. He looked tired. His hands seemed broader, more powerful, than they had at school when she had spent many hours staring at them instead of at the impassive, translucent face of Professor Binns. "None of my team will, or they'll find themselves at the wrong end of my wand. Fabian's a hot headed youngster who fancies himself a hero. He's better on your side than the other in a duel, mind you."
"Will he go to Azkaban?"
"Not up to me," Alastor said. "Not likely, though. Not with Crouch in charge."
Augusta stood and crossed the room. She placed her empty cup and teaspoon on the tray, ready to carry it to the kitchen to be washed up. She felt Alastor's eyes follow her across the room.
"Why are you here, Alastor?"
"Things are getting worse, Gus," he said, and she started at the old nickname.
"I read the paper," she said, her heart beating against her ribs. She turned to look at him and she could feel on her lips the tingle of the one and only time they ever kissed. "That doesn't tell me what you are doing here."
He stood and she moved to meet him, to spare him, or spare herself the sound of his wooden leg on the floor boards.
"Gus," he said, and this time the name made her want to forget who she had become. "I always thought we'd made a mistake. At least, it was a mistake on my end."
He had this way, always had, of saying such things so plainly, as if it were as simple as breathing. Frank had been so sensible compared to that. But then, Frank had gone and died in his safe, predictable life, leaving her to grow old alone. And here stood Alastor, certainly the worse for wear, but as alive and larger-than-life as he'd ever been.
"It wasn't a mistake," she said, and his lips thinned and he gave a small nod. "I didn't say I had no regrets."
Augusta dried her face, smoothing her towel over her cheeks. She looked into the mirror, the pale light of dawn illuminating the bathroom, and was surprised to find that she looked quite the same as she had yesterday.
Alastor seemed to sleep peacefully, but his hand was under her pillow where he'd stowed his wand last night. His fingers would be curled around it, gripping it like he'd gripped her hand, their fingers laced together as he had rocked into her. She closed her eyes and warmth flooded her, her heartbeat pounding through her body. It was thoroughly improper to be having such thoughts in the light of day. But then, war and Death Eaters and Unforgivable curses were improper in greater measure.
She gently pulled back the ivory coverlet and slipped into the still-warm sheets. He shifted in his sleep, sighing with light huffs of breath. His arm curled instinctively around her shoulders, pulling her until she settled with her head on his broad chest. His skin was warm and anything but safe and predictable under her cheek. She turned toward him and smoothed her hand over his chest and stomach, listening for the change in his breath, when deep and even would become quick and harsh. He made her want, always had, and it was delightful and terrifying to find that he still did.
"Gus," he moaned as her hand teased his cock to hardness. "Mmm, so it wasn't a hallucination." He arched up, pushing into her hand, and every one of his movements increased her desire.
His fingers traced the curve of her breast and she lost her breath. It had been so long since she had felt anything good that was this sharp and real. She opened her mouth to tell him so, but all that came from her lips was a gasp, and he tilted his head back and closed his eyes.
A quick, sharp tap at the window made her jump and she heard the soft thud of the morning's Daily Prophet being dropped on her puffapod-filled window box. Alastor lifted his head from the pillow, his wand in his hand before he had even opened his eyes, pointing threateningly at the innocuous bird.
He blinked and sighed when he saw what it was, letting his arm drop back around her shoulders. "You've post."
"Leave it just now," she said. She slid one leg over his thigh and rocked her body closer to his warmth. "It's only the paper."
Daily Prophet Offices, Diagon Alley, London, England
Elias Mallet stared at the figure silhouetted against the smoky glass of his office door. He rolled his quill between his thumb and index finger.
He'd toyed with going to stay with his cousin in America. He wondered now if he should have done. He also wondered if he should answer the knock or wait for the inevitable shattering of the smoky glass. He didn't reckon he'd have time to decide.