If It Hadn
It Hadn't Been for the Owl
- are you a wizard, or something?"
Interesting observation, coming
from a Muggle, but hardly surprising. Alastor
Moody stared unmoving at the solemn brown-haired boy sitting across the table
from him. Finally, the side of the
older man's mouth twitched into what might be a smile.
"Oh." The boy exchanged glances with the two other children in the
room. When he turned back to Moody,
his eyes were excited behind his glasses. "Like
- like Merlin?"
That brought a dry laugh from
the old man. "No. No, no one's
ever been like Merlin, before or after. But
yes, I'm a wizard. A wizard who
wants to know what you three were doing on my property with the likes of Ms.
Rosier and her - associate." His
smile had disappeared. "Let's
start with names, then."
The boy sat up a little
straighter. "I - my name's
Dennis Ackerly." He turned to
indicate the lean girl with straight sandy-blond hair who was sitting in the
chair to his right. She appeared to
be the same age as Dennis, around ten. "This
is Lisa. She's my cousin.
And that's Jeremy-" the tousle-haired boy of about seven years of age
sitting next to Lisa and holding her hand, "-he's my cousin, too."
"We're Thurbers," Lisa
added. "Our mums are sisters."
"All right," said Moody
quietly, in a tone meant to be, if not friendly, at least non-threatening.
He kept one eye, the normal eye, trained on Dennis.
The magical eye (hidden for the moment behind a leather covering)
alternated between scanning the yard outside for signs of anyone approaching,
and watching the various Dark-detecting equipment around the house.
"Start at the beginning. What's
going on, and how did you kids get mixed up in it?"
"Erm, well," said Dennis,
glancing at Lisa and Jeremy and then back to Moody, "I guess it was yesterday
when it all really started...."
"I don't know; it looks
awfully dark over there," Dennis remarked, looking over Lisa's shoulder out
the window. "If it rains, we'll
be stuck indoors all afternoon." Dennis,
Lisa and Jeremy were sitting on the floor of a rough wooden tree house that had
been built in a very large, sprawling oak in Dennis's back yard. It wasn't really a proper house; there was no glass in the
windows, and the wallboards didn't quite meet at two of the corners.
Part of the roof sometimes leaked when it rained, although a pair of blue
plastic tablecloths kept everything inside (mostly) dry.
But it was hidden by tree
braches for privacy, and it belonged to just the children; they had built most
of it themselves, with some help from Dennis's dad.
"D'you think we should pack
up and go in now?" asked Lisa. "I
don't want to have to run in in the rain."
Dennis thought for a moment; as
the oldest, he was usually considered the leader (except when Lisa was being
particularly stubborn). "No.
Let's wait. I don't want
to have to go in any sooner than we have to, or we'll probably end up helping
Mum clean." All three of the
children grimaced at that. "We
can finish the game, and then go in through the back and into the basement.
We can - we can pretend that we're exploring for buried treasure in the
ruins of Egypt."
The other two agreed.
And things might well have worked out that way, too, if it hadn't been
for the owl.
Jeremy climbed to his knees and swayed back and forth a little, trying to
look out one of the windows. "There's
two people going through the woods, and one of them's got an owl."
All three children scrambled to
their feet and rushed to the window, peering through branches at the woods
behind Dennis's house. Two people
were indeed moving through the brush, now visible, now lost from view.
On one person's arm was a small owl with tufted ear-like feathers;
every so often the children could see it stretching its wings to keep its
"Are they supposed to be
there?" asked Lisa. "I thought
the woods were yours."
"They're sort of
everyone's," Dennis answered. "A
bunch of us play out there. But
it's usually kids." He glanced
over his shoulder at the darkening sky visible through the other window.
"C'mon," he said suddenly. "Let's
see if we can keep up with them without them seeing us."
Dennis rather wanted to be an explorer when he grew up.
Game and approaching storm
forgotten, the three children dropped down out of the tree house and slipped
across the stream and into the woods.
"Don't complain, Harris,"
Rosier muttered. "It's not that
dangerous. All we need to do is
make sure the old man's there, and see if anyone goes in or out.
Then we contact the others, and we can all go in and give him what-for.
If he's using the usual set of Warding Spells, we won't get close
enough to set off any alarms."
"I don't care," her
companion replied. "That 'old
man' is dangerous. I don't care
if everyone thinks he's crazy. You
know what he did to Wilkes. And to
Karkaroff. And your father." The owl on his arm stirred again as he waved his hands to
emphasize his point.
"Yeah, well, he's not going
to do it to us. Now, quit griping
and let's move; I want to be set up under cover before it rains.
Once we're in place, we'll be hidden so well that no one'll find
us." The two moved carefully
through the bushes toward their target.
"I hate rain," Jeremy
grumbled, staring out the bedroom window. Before
the children had gotten anywhere near the mysterious strangers, the sky had
opened up, soaking everything. Dennis's
mother had scolded them for being out in the rain and then for dripping water
all over everything. Now Dennis and
Jeremy were in Dennis's room changing into dry clothes.
Lisa was down the hall doing the same in the guest room.
"We almost had them," Dennis
said, ignoring his cousin's comments. Rain
was something that just happened.
"They probably just went
home," Jeremy reasoned.
Dennis shook his head.
"I don't think they live around here.
I've never heard of anyone around here who had an owl.
I wonder where they were going?"
The storm lasted well into the
night, wind howling and rain pouring down.
Somewhere around three in the morning, Dennis awoke to someone tapping on
Jeremy! Come quick," Lisa
urged in a whisper, pushing the bedroom door open.
"I think something's hit my window!"
The children slipped down the
stairs and into the playroom on the first floor, which was directly under the
guest room. Dennis switched on the
light, and the children peered out the window.
Sure enough, lying outside was a grey lump. As they watched, the lump stirred and a wing rose and fell.
"Watch the door," Dennis
whispered. He lifted the window
open and slid one leg over the sill, landing in the wet grass outside.
"It's an owl," he told his cousins, both of whom were watching him
rather than the door. "I think
it's knocked itself out." He
carefully slid his hands under the owl and lifted it up to the windowsill.
"Here - let's see if it's hurt."
As Jeremy helped Dennis back in
through the window, Lisa took the wet bundle of feathers and laid it on the rug.
About a month ago she had declared her intention to become a
veterinarian. (That had been about
a month after she had declared her intention of becoming a policewoman, and
about two months after deciding she had wanted to be an actress.)
By now the owl was beginning to open its eyes and feebly move its wings.
"This looks like the owl we
saw those two people carrying this afternoon," she said softly.
"That would make it tame, wouldn't it?"
"It's got something on its
leg," Dennis added, pointing to two pieces of twine that held a roll of
"Maybe it's the owner's
name and address," Lisa suggested as Dennis untied the twine.
"You know, like having a tag on a dog's collar?"
But instead of a name and
address, the roll of paper revealed a note written in scrawling script.
Dennis squinted at it. "I'm
not really sure," he said finally. "I
think it says something like 'in place', and there's a bit I can't read,
and something about 'well back'? Oh,
wait, there's something about 'bushes' and 'Woody's house"?
No, that's not right --"
Lisa and Jeremy studied the
note. Suddenly Lisa suggested,
"Wait, could that be a capital 'M'? Like
The children exchanged glances.
Everyone in the area had heard about Mad Moody, the old man who lived up
the road. There were all sorts of rumors about him; Dennis remembered a
group of teens who had decided that they were going to spring some sort of
unpleasant surprise on him one moonless night.
The whole affair had lasted less
than five minutes. The teens had
fled the property in all directions, shouting, prank forgotten, and reported
some sort of horrifying experience, although strangely enough none of them could
seem to remember what the experience actually had been.
Other neighbors claimed to have heard strange noises, seen lights, or
caught glimpses of the old man at odd times.
Nobody in his or her right mind (or otherwise) went near Moody's house.
"We should tell Aunt Vicky,"
"Tell her what?" Dennis
asked. "She'll be angry enough
if she finds out that we've brought an owl in the house." The owl had begun to flap its wings more vigorously, and a
moment later was standing on the rug. Then
it took off, soared across the room, and narrowly missed crashing into the
bookshelf. It ended up on its back
on the small playroom table, legs waving. The
children rushed over and, with much maneuvering to avoid its talons, managed to
pick it up and hold it upright until it could perch on the back of a chair.
It folded its wings and blinked at them.
Lisa studied it.
"It looks like its wings and everything are all right," she said.
"But it doesn't seem to be able to steer very well.
D'you think maybe he'd know about the owl? Moody, I mean."
The idea of approaching Moody's house without an escort of adults
didn't have much appeal for Dennis - or Jeremy, either, judging by the look on
his face. Lisa, however, seemed to
have other plans. She and Jeremy were only visiting for part of the summer, and
she put a lot less faith in the rumors than her cousin.
"We could pack the owl in the
laundry basket," she said. "Then
we could go over this morning. All
those things people say about the place, they're usually talking about after
dark, right? How bad could the
place be in the daytime?" She
looked at Dennis. "You'd get
the chance to really explore a place no one's ever been to before.
Maybe - maybe he's got some secret hidden there that he doesn't want
anyone to find."
Dennis was beginning to warm to
the idea. "Treasure, maybe.
Or - or the door to a different world, like Avalon!"
"Or monsters," Jeremy added
The owl hooted softly for the
Alastor Moody sipped his morning
tea and divided his attention between the view out his front window and the
large mirror across the room. Living
in a Muggle neighborhood had its advantages; the neighbors respected his privacy
and left him alone (well, all right, except for the incident with the teens);
almost anyone coming after him from the wizarding world would stand out like a
sore thumb; and as for those who didn't, well, he had defenses up against them.
One could never be too careful.
A ripple of light ran across the
mirror's surface, indicating that someone was approaching along the road.
It did that from time to time; usually it was set off by one of the
neighbors going about his or her business.
Sure enough, the mirror stopped reflecting the room and began displaying
a view of three of the local youngsters walking up the road, carrying a large
basket with someone's jacket draped over it.
Picnic, maybe, although it seemed a bit early in the day for that.
Under normal circumstances, the
children would have kept right on going up the road and ignored the half-visible
path completely. This time,
however, the children halted at the bottom of the path and stood peering into
the woods. They had a hurried
discussion, and started up the path.
Over the course of a long and
(according to some) distinguished career as an Auror, Moody had experienced more
than his share of duels, battles, and ambushes. One of them had resulted in the loss of an eye; but thanks to
what had then been advanced magic, he'd been given an artificial replacement
that in many respects was superior to the original. The magical prosthesis allowed him to look through solid
objects and a number of concealments, including invisibility cloaks.
It had taken months to get used to having two separate sources of visual
input, but like Muggle scientists who learn to use both eyes when looking
through a microscope, he'd trained himself to use the situation to his best
The normal eye still trained on
the mirror, Moody glanced over his shoulder (and through the dining room wall)
with the magical eye at the squiggly golden wire and base sitting in the living
room. The Secrecy Sensor sat in
silence -- not so much as a hum.
In the mirror picture, something
moved in the basket the children were carrying, and Moody focused on it.
The wicker forming the basket was thick and all he could see was a dark
shape, but that was enough to tell him that whatever it was, it wasn't very
"How long is this
path?" Lisa grumbled. "We
should have been there by now." The
trail, difficult to follow because it was overgrown with weeds and bushes, wound
around rocks and large trees and had to be watched carefully, lest it disappear.
The first part of the
children's plan had gone reasonably well.
Dennis had been chosen to distract the owl ("Nice owl.
Stay… stay….") while Lisa crept up behind it with a jacket.
The owl had cocked its head at Dennis, and then taken off - to fly across
the room and land on a chair next to Jeremy, who had jumped back with a yelp. The owl had ruffled its feathers and hooted softly.
"Stand still, Jeremy!" Lisa had hissed, and both Jeremy and the owl
had stayed still long enough for Lisa to throw the jacket over the bird.
Now the owl peered through
the wicker openings, the jacket draped over the laundry basket to keep its
passenger inside. Dennis, Lisa and
Jeremy (who had insisted on bringing a backpack with Biffins, the teddy bear -
strictly as a security precaution, of course) had found the path across the road
from the mailbox and had started into the woods.
They had been walking, and
walking, and walking. There were no
breaks in the forest around them, and no sign of the trail ending.
Dennis turned to look at Lisa. "We
haven't been walking long at all, we've - oof!"
He had walked into a tree. The
basket, propelled by Lisa's momentum, bumped him in the back.
"Where are we?" Lisa
had stopped and was staring around at the trees and brush.
"It was different a minute ago."
The path had vanished.
The trees hemmed them in on all sides.
Both Lisa and Jeremy turned to Dennis.
"Erm…." Dennis was trying hard not to think about the chapter in Wind
in the Willows, when Mole had gotten lost in the forest.
At least nothing sounded like something was coming after them.
"D'you know where we
are?" asked Lisa, taking a step closer and pulling Jeremy and the basket with
her. Jeremy was clutching the
basket handle with white knuckles.
This part of the woods
didn't look the least bit familiar to Dennis.
The land rose gently on their left, and ran downhill on their right.
There were no breaks in the bushes, and he could only see a few feet
through the trees.
Look, the best thing to do is come back the way we came, right?
So we go that way until we pick up the trail, and then we'll know where
Lisa and Jeremy exchanged
puzzled glances, and then fell in behind him.
A hoarse whisper. "Rosier!"
Rosier had a pair of
Omnioculars trained on the house. Since
they'd settled in last evening, there hadn't been the slightest indication
that the old man knew she and Harris were there.
No one had come out of the house, and no one had gone in.
If it had been anyone but Harris, she would have welcomed the
distraction. "What now?" she
Harris gripped the sleeve
of her robe. "Someone's
Without taking the
Omnioculars away from her face, Rosier replied, "It's probably just some
local out for a walk. Just keep the
wards up, and ignore them."
"Are you sure?"
She sighed in exasperation.
"Yes, I'm sure. That's
what Invisibility Wards and Muggle Repellent Charms are for."
Harris let go of her
sleeve. She could hear him moving
through the bushes to edge of the ward's boundaries. A moment later he called back, "Rosier! It's a bunch of kids!"
They're still heading
this way. And I think - I think
they've got our owl!"
Rosier almost dropped the Omnioculars.
"If they've got our owl and they're heading for Moody's
house…."She drew her wand and strode into the bushes, Harris scrambling
after her. "Grab 'em before
they get away!"
The three children jumped,
startled, as a branch snapped somewhere nearby. "Th-the path has got to be here somewhere," Dennis said
in a somewhat less-than-certain voice. They
had been trying to retrace their steps, searching first this way, then that.
Nothing resembling a path had been found.
Lisa, still holding one
handle of the basket, stopped walking. "Maybe
we should forget the path, and figure out where we are.
If we can get back to the road, we can find our way home again."
Jeremy stood looking nervously around at the surrounding trees. Something crackled again, much closer this time.
"I don't know,"
Dennis admitted finally. "I
don't know where we are. N-None
of this looks familiar at all."
The brush to their right
began to thrash back and forth. Dennis,
Lisa and Jeremy turned toward the sound and began edging away, just in time to
see a woman, wearing a long gown of some sort, emerge from the bushes. "Hey!
You kids! Hold it right
there!" She was waving a long
stick at them.
Nerves already shaken at
being lost in a strange part of the woods, Dennis cried, "Run!" and bolted
straight ahead. Lisa and Jeremy,
hampered by the basket, scrambled after him.
Behind them, Dennis could hear the woman shouting, "Harris!
Get the boy!"
scrambling through brush, Dennis fled in what he hoped was the direction of the
road. He could hear someone
crashing through the woods almost directly behind him.
The Sneakoscope on
Moody's bookcase erupted in a series of shrill wailings, joined a moment later
by a similar noise from the bedroom. Moody
jumped, both eyes turning to the mirror. The
images this time were indistinct - whoever it was out there was on the edge of
his Detection Spells, but now there were five of them, and two seemed too large
to be children.
This was no longer a case
of neighborhood youngsters wandering around; something else was going on out
Moody rose heavily and
slapped his mug of tea on the table. Two
quick commands Summoned first his cloak, then his walking staff, and a moment
later he was limping quickly out the front door.
Dennis threw a frightened
glance over his shoulder at the man pounding after him.
Like the woman, the man was wearing a long robe that he held up with one
hand as he ran; in the other hand was clutched a stick.
Dennis could hear him shouting, "Stop!
Stop!", but Dennis was having none of it.
Then the man shouted
something Dennis didn't understand, and suddenly the bushes to Dennis's
right exploded into flames. Startled,
Dennis stumbled to one side, lost his balance, and fell headlong onto the
ground. The man thudded to a halt
an arm's length away, panting.
"Now, that's it," the
man gasped, pointing the stick at Dennis. "On
your feet, boy." He jerked his
head in the direction from which they had come. "Let's go."
In a few minutes, they had
found the others. Lisa and Jeremy,
both pale and clinging to each other, were backed up against a tree, staring
wide-eyed at the woman in front of them. Like
the man who had caught Dennis, she was pointing her stick at her captives.
The wicker basket, now empty, was rolled on its side.
The owl was nowhere to be seen.
"Harris," the woman
said over her shoulder without looking at either the man or his prisoner.
"How close to the house did the boy get?"
"Well, not close enough
that anyone would have seen him…."
"Close enough to set off
The man hesitated.
"Then we need to move
further away." The woman gestured
with her stick at Lisa and Jeremy. "You
two, get away from the tree. We're
going down the hill. No tricks
or-" She casually waved her stick
in their general direction, muttered a strange word - and a handful of leaves at
the tip of one of the overhanging branches burst aflame. All three of the children jumped, and Jeremy let out a
squeak. "Harris, bring the boy
and walk ahead of us. March, all of
Jeremy clung to Lisa's
hand as they walked ahead of the woman. Harris
nodded to Dennis, who carefully circled both the woman and his cousins. As
Harris passed the woman, something large and dark suddenly rose from the bushes
to one side. Dennis spun to face
it, Harris just behind him - and the dark form suddenly became a man, who
pointed something at Harris and shouted, "Stupefy!"
Dennis jumped forward a few
paces and whirled to face his cousins; Harris collapsed, his stick tumbling to
the ground and rolling to stop at Jeremy's feet. The woman staggered, and for a moment Dennis thought she'd
drop too, but she stumbled forward to grab a handful of Lisa's hair and pull
her back, placing the tip of her stick at the girl's temple.
"No closer, Moody!"
The man muttered a curse.
Dennis, who was close enough to get a good look at the man who had to be
Mad Moody, gasped in surprise. The
old man, clad in a dark cloak, with a covering over one eye, and a face that was
lined and scarred, was even more frightening than Harris and mysterious woman.
The woman was backing
slowly away, dragging Lisa with her. Jeremy
was crouched down, watching them with frightened eyes.
Moody moved a step forward, leaning on his waking staff, and the woman
jerked Lisa to a halt. "I mean it. You
know what I can do to her."
"No," whispered Jeremy
in a tiny voice that barely reached Dennis's ears.
"Don't be stupid,"
Moody retorted in a rumbling voice. "You
know what will happen if the Ministry finds out that you've injured a Muggle
child, especially in front of witnesses."
Jeremy was turning his head back and forth between the woman and the old
"The Ministry won't
find out," the woman replied with a sneer.
"Who's going to tell them? You?
With your reputation? The
Ministry will just put it down to paranoia.
And a Memory Charm will take care of these kids.
Or maybe they'll just disappear."
She smiled coldly. "You
know, there are all kinds of strange people around these days.
You just never know…."
"Leave her alone," came
Jeremy's small voice from the ground. Dennis
glanced at his cousin; Jeremy had picked up Harris's stick on one trembling
hand. Now he straightened up and
pointed it at her.
The woman laughed.
"That wand won't work for you, boy - you're a Muggle.
Now, you get up and go stand with your brother while Moody and I finish
Jeremy stood his ground.
"Let her go," he said in a stronger voice.
"Back up, son," Moody said
The woman scowled.
"Get back with your brother, unless you want to see her get hurt."
She jerked the stick against Lisa's face, and Lisa whimpered.
"No. Leave her alone!" Jeremy
held the stick with both hands and pointed it at the woman.
"LEAVE HER ALONE!"
A brilliant flash of light
erupted from the stick in Jeremy's hands and enveloped both the woman and
Lisa. Dennis ducked his head and
flung his hands up to protect his face. When
he lowered them, the light was gone and both Lisa and the woman were lying on
Jeremy dropped the stick.
"No!" He scrambled
forward to fling himself at this sister's body.
Dennis was a couple of paces
behind him. They heard Moody move
up beside them. The old man
awkwardly knelt beside Lisa and carefully touched the girl's throat.
"She's alive. She just seems to be stunned."
The one good eye turned to Jeremy. "I
don't think you're strong enough to do much more than that.
Let's see...." He pointed his stick at Lisa.
Dennis tensed, but Moody merely said, "Ennervate," and Lisa's eyes
fluttered open. Finding Moody
hovering over her, she let out a yelp and scrambled backward, nearly colliding
with her brother. Moody's mouth
twisted in what seemed to be a dry smile.
Here's what's going to happen."
Using the walking staff, he pulled himself back to his feet.
"You kids go straight up the hill from here.
You won't have any trouble finding the house this time."
Seeing the look on all three children's faces, he added, "It's all
right. Nothing's going to hurt
you. I'm just going to finish up
here. Go on, off with you."
Dennis, Lisa and Jeremy
exchanged glances; then Dennis quavered, "Yes, sir," and they moved off,
Lisa clutching both their hands.
The woods around them had
changed again. A walk of less than
a minute brought them to the top of the hill and the tall old house standing
there in the midst of a small clearing in the trees. The place wasn't very big, but it seemed to have two or
three stories; it was hard to tell because none of the windows seemed to be on
the same floor. From the front
porch they could see a dim grey ribbon of the road they had come up earlier that
"I want to go home," Jeremy
Dennis shook his head. "I
don't know if we can yet. We should
have been able to get to this house from the road, but we got lost in the woods
instead. Maybe the same thing will
happen if we try to get out."
Lisa glanced nervously over her
shoulder. "W-What do you think
he's g-going to do to us?"
All three children jumped as Moody's voice came from directly beside
them. He'd appeared literally
from nowhere. "There's nothing to
be afraid of. I don't hurt
children, Muggle or otherwise. I just want to find out what happened. Come on in."
A few minutes later the three
children were sitting in what appeared to be a small dining room.
No two chairs were alike; Dennis perched on a plain chair with a wicker
back panel. Lisa and Jeremy each
sat on chairs with carved wooden backs and small arms.
The rest of the room was a jumble of shelves, a round dining room table,
an elaborately carved storage chest, a mirror, several houseplants, and a
handful of strange objects that Dennis didn't recognize.
Moody returned from the kitchen,
a tray floating in the air behind him. On the tray was a set of mugs and tea items that were as
mismatched as the furniture. Ignoring
the startled looks the children were giving the tea tray, the old man scooped a
pile of books off the table and held them out to Dennis.
"Here - put these up on the bookshelf for me, please."
Dennis stood up to take the
books, and the top volume began to growl at him. "Quiet, you," Moody rumbled at it, and the book fell
silent. "It's all right, it
just sounds dangerous," he told Dennis, who finally took the pile gingerly and
laid it up on a shelf - then jumped back as the books stood themselves up one by
one and began shuffling in among the other books already in place. The bookend obligingly made room for them.
"Wow," breathed Dennis as he
turned back to the table. Moody
drew his wand and tapped the teakettle with it.
A few moments later steam began to roll out of the spout.
"You kids help yourselves,"
he told them. There were packets of
tea, and some powdered cocoa. Dennis
began handing out mugs and cocoa, but Lisa hesitated.
"M-Maybe we shouldn't drink
anything here," she suggested timidly, looking around her cousin at Moody.
Moody settled himself in an
empty chair and nodded at her. "Very
intelligent of you," he remarked, and Dennis and Jeremy froze in the midst of
putting cocoa in their cups. "For
all you know, I've put something in the water."
He picked up the mug he'd abandoned earlier, eyed the (now) cold
contents for a moment, then poured the liquid into one of the plants on the
windowsill. He spooned fresh
tealeaves into the mug and poured hot water over them.
"But in this case, it's just plain water." He carefully took a sip, and the children finished preparing
their own cups.
"Now," Moody suggested, when
everyone was finally settled, "let's see if we can sort out what's
The mirror flashed again as
Dennis finished relating his story. Moody
scowled at it, then muttered a curse under his breath.
"Ministry must be watching this place," he remarked to the children.
"They've gotten wind of the duel Rosier and I just had.
We must have been right on the border of my property, and someone's
coming to warn me about doing magic in front of Muggles."
He rose. "I need to deal
with this. You kids sit here and
finish your drinks. Whatever you
do, don't leave the room." He
limped back into the kitchen.
"What do you think-"
Lisa began, but at that moment two people appeared at the edge of the
front lawn. Both men were dressed
in the same types of robes Moody was wearing.
The three children watched as one, a thin young man, approached the house
and began talking with Moody, who had stepped out his front door.
Whatever Moody was saying seemed to displease the man, but he finally
motioned to his companion, who moved off toward the woods.
A moment later Moody came
limping back into the dining room, the young man just behind him.
"This is Agent Edsel," Moody told them dryly.
"He's a Ministry investigator - a detective, of sorts."
"You mean like Sherlock
Holmes?" asked Dennis eagerly. Edsel
gave him a confused look.
Moody chuckled. "Yeah,
like Sherlock Holmes," he replied, then added in an undertone that only Dennis
could hear, "except without the brains."
After conjuring a note pad and a
quill pen, Agent Edsel had Dennis repeat his story. The quill scratched lightly over the paper as Dennis spoke.
The man shook his head. "Kidnapping
is, of course, a very serious offense," he intoned.
"Rest assured, we will deal with Ms. Rosier and Mrs. Harris.
Thank you for your assistance." Edsel
glanced around at the children and drew his wand.
"Now, there is one small matter to attend to… a Memory Charm."
"Hold it," Moody growled.
"No Memory Charm."
"But Mr. Moody, you of all
people should know it's standard procedure with Muggles-"
"They're not Muggles,"
Moody shot back.
Edsel made a polite sound of
disagreement. "They don't come
from wizarding families-"
Moody gestured to Jeremy. "Mr.
Thurber. Come here." Jeremy
stood, a little shakily, and managed to walk three steps forward.
Moody drew Harris's wand and held it out to him.
"Take hold of this."
The boy glanced at his sister,
then back at Moody. "Is - is this
going to hurt?"
"Not a bit," the old man
assured him. Jeremy carefully
reached out and took the wand. The
tip glowed for a moment. Moody
nodded. "Just what I thought."
"What is it?" asked Lisa.
"It means, Miss Thurber, that
your brother is a wizard - or will be, when he's been properly trained."
Moody retrieved the wand and studied it.
"Mmm. Oak wood, but I can't tell what the core is.
Basically, when the time comes for him to choose his wand, it will be
similar to this one. That's why he could use this one to stun Ms. Rosier.
A wizard's own wand works best, but he can get reasonable results from
a wand of similar materials and dimensions."
Edsel was looking a little
Yes. Well, I guess that does
shed a different light on things." He
blinked and rubbed his forehead dazedly. Moody
eyed him thoughtfully.
"You been in this line of work
"Er, no, not - not really.
It's just that most of our senior operatives are busy getting ready for
the Quidditch World Cup, and…."
"And they couldn't be
bothered wasting a senior agent on a disturbance involving a crazy old man,"
Moody finished for him. Edsel had
the decency to look embarrassed. Moody
uttered an exasperated sigh. "All
right." He took a third wand out
of his robes. "This belongs
to Ms. Rosier." He passed both
confiscated wands to Edsel. "You've
got your statement here, now get out to where your partner is working and make
sure your suspects are in custody. Got
Edsel stood up and gestured off-handedly; the note pad and quill vanished
with a "pop". "Thank you.
I'll, ah, be in touch." He
looked questioningly at Moody, who nodded.
Edsel turned on his heel and marched briskly out of the dining room.
Moody leaned on the table and
peered after him. "The Ministry
must really be hard-up for good help these days," he muttered.
"Hope he doesn't get lost on the way to the door."
"Could he do that?" Dennis
asked. "Get lost between here and
the door, I mean."
"Yep. I've got the same kind of spell on the rooms in the house
that I do on the woods - the same spell that dumped you kids on the far side of
the property." Seeing the looks
on their faces, he added, "I didn't want to hurt anyone, just keep folks
away from the house. Now, where
were we? Mmm, yes, Mr. Thurber as a
wizard," Moody gazed at Lisa for a moment.
"There's also the possibility that you have magical ability as well,
Miss Thurber. Magic does tend to
run in families."
Lisa's expression was a
mixture of nervousness and excitement. "Really?
How can you tell?"
"I can't," Moody told her.
"But you'll know for certain when you turn eleven; if you're to be
a witch, you'll receive a letter by owl from one of the magical schools,
"We've already gotten a
letter by owl," Jeremy said. He
pointed to the window. "That
owl." A small grey-brown form was
fluttering outside the glass. Moody
nodded. "Short-eared owl." A few minutes later the bird was perched on Moody's hand
and the old man was turning away from the window.
Lisa was watching him enviously.
"This is the owl you kids
brought up here?" he asked. The
Lisa added, "He wasn't
flying very well last night - it looked like he was going to bump into
Moody carefully ran his fingers
over the owl's back, shoulders, wings, and neck. The owl half roused, then settled again.
"Mmph. Well, he's young
yet. Almost too young to be a
messenger owl. He seems all right -
was probably just confused by the storm." He motioned to Lisa. "Here.
Put your hand behind him, like this…." And a moment later, the owl
had stepped backward onto Lisa's wrist and stood blinking at them.
Lisa stared at it, an awed expression on her face.
"Don't forget to breathe,"
Moody told her dryly, and limped around her to settle himself back in his chair.
No sooner had he sat down than Agent Edsel reappeared outside the window
and headed straight for the front door. Moody
stared at him, then rolled his eye toward the ceiling.
"Don't tell me…."
"Mr. Moody," Edsel began
with preamble as soon as he was inside. "I'm
afraid I've got some, ah, bad news concerning the suspects."
"You lost them."
"Er, yes, um, yes, sir." Edsel's
face bore a look of mingled embarrassment and fear.
"The Binding Spell you had on them wasn't Ministry-regulation, so my
partner and I --"
"You took the Binding Spell
Edsel cringed at Moody's
scowl. "Well, yes, but really, we
couldn't leave --"
Moody's voice was a low growl. "I
have been catching and transporting Dark witches and wizards for over a century.
I don't care what the Ministry regulations are on Binding Spells.
The spell I used was more than sufficient to keep your suspects captive
until you got them back to the Ministry."
Moody folded his arms on the table and leaned forward.
"You do still have her wand, don't you?"
"Yes, of course.
I sent my partner to scout the grounds -"
"Why? Rosier and Harris are long gone," Moody snapped.
He stabbed forefinger at Edsel. "You
catch up with your partner, get yourself back to the Ministry, and get the
paperwork filed that will get those two caught.
Edsel took one look at the expression on Moody's face and stammered,
"Y-Yes, sir!" A moment later he
once again on his way out the front door. Moody
scowled after him.
"Send a boy to do a man's
Dennis, Lisa and Jeremy looked
at each other. "Mr. Moody,"
Dennis said finally, "d'you think they'll come back after you? Rosier and Harris, I mean."
It's nothing for you to worry about.
I can take care of myself; I've been doing it for years.
I'm more concerned about you…." His voice trailed off.
Dennis and Jeremy silently sipped their drinks as he gazed out the
window, lost in thought. Finally he
turned back to them. "Did you
tell either Rosier or Harris your names?"
He was looking at Dennis, who shook his head.
"All right, then, you and your families shouldn't have any unwanted
visitors. But just to make sure-"
He drew his own wand, "-we'll take some precautionary measures."
"Now," he said a few minutes
later, "I want you kids to go straight home.
Don't talk about this with anyone - not your parents, or your friends.
Don't discuss it among yourselves unless you know for a fact that no
one can hear you. Understand?" The children nodded.
"Um, Mr. Moody?" asked
Dennis. "Why were Rosier and
Harris after you?"
Moody tucked his wand back into
his robes. "Ms. Rosier comes from
a fairly famous wizarding family. Or
rather, a fairly infamous one. She's
got a father and other relatives who've been on the shady side of the law for
years. I put a least a couple
family members in jail. She's
none too happy about it. Harris's
name doesn't ring a bell, but I suspect his story's similar.
Judging from the note you brought, they're obviously not working
alone." He rose and reached for
his walking staff. "All right.
I'll see you all out."
At the front door, Dennis
turned. "Sir, after Lisa and
Jeremy go home at the end of the summer, could - could I come back up here?
The old man stared down at him
for a few heartbeats. "We'll
have to see about that. I need to
get this business cleared up with the Ministry first.
You steer clear of this place until you hear from me.
After that…." He shrugged and opened the door.
"Mr. Moody?" asked Lisa.
"Do you think Dennis will be a wizard, too?
"That I can't say," Moody
replied, stepping out onto the porch with them. "But if he's meant to, he'll getting an owl when he
turns eleven, too. Even if he
isn't, though, it's not a bad thing for a witch or wizard to know a few
people in the Muggle world - especially if that person knows how to keep his
mouth shut about such things." He
stared pointedly at Dennis, who nodded solemnly.
"You get on home, now." He
turned his attention to the owl, now perched on Jeremy's backpack.
"And you - you stick close to these kids, in case they need to send to
me for help." The owl seemed to
stand up a little straighter. "He'll
be able to take care of himself, for the most part," Moody told them.
"Just be careful about letting him near your house when someone else
might see him."
Thank you for tea," Lisa called over her shoulder.
Jeremy peered at Moody as his sister led him down the path, Dennis
herding them both before him. At
the point where the path entered the woods, Dennis paused, turned, and waved.
The old man raised a hand, and the boy disappeared into the woods.
Just inside the curtain of
trees, the children encountered Edsel and his partner, standing just off the
path and arguing about Moody's order to return to the Ministry.
Dennis and his cousins froze, uncertain of what to do; but as the agents
continued their debate, the three children walked past them on the path.
Both men ignored them, as though the children were invisible.
As they stepped out onto the
road, Dennis muttered, "Weird," and shook his head. "I wonder if that's got anything to do with what Mr.
Moody did to us."
The dining room mirror went
blank as Edsel and his partner Disapparated.
Moody shook his head. Ministry
employees certainly weren't what they used to be. He carefully peeled the leather patch from his face and
Banished it back to its place in the drawer of the bedroom dresser.
Well, at least the Fidelius Charm would keep the children safe from
Rosier and Harris and their ilk. In
another year he could make arrangements to remove the Charm if it turned out
that Dennis and Lisa were indeed going to be attending a magical school.
It would be easy enough to keep and eye on Dennis (both eyes, when he
could spare them), who either way would probably have some knowledge of the
magical world whether he became a wizard or not.
And if the Ministry didn't like his decisions in this matter, well, it
wouldn't be the first time.
A large brown bird soared
through the trees, banked, and turned toward the house.
Moody tapped his mug with his wand to reheat his tea water.
Then he turned his attention to the Great Horned Owl that had just landed
on his window ledge, bearing an envelope with the official Hogwarts seal that
contained a request from an old friend for assistance in filling an open
position as member of the school staff.
"Even a paranoid man may have
some real enemies."
Henry A. Kissinger (U.S. Secretary of State, 1973-1977)
Alastor ("Mad-eye") Moody, The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and
Wizardry, the Ministry of Magic, and the idea of postal owls are borrowed from
the Harry Potter stories written by J.K. Rowling.
Many thanks go to Zsenya, from
the group at Sugar Quill (http://www.sugarquill.com).
The Sugar Quill folks not only archive a number of fanfiction stories,
but also offer "gentle" editing suggestions. ("Think 'Lupin', not
McGonagall", as one section of the website states.
I graduated from the Syracuse University's School of Journalism, so
I'm actually used to the Severus Snape method of feedback; working with
Zsenya's editing style was a welcome change.)
I apologize for
"re-posting" this story several times. I didn't realize that
adding a new chapter no longer causes the story to "recycle" through
the New Stories section. Now, if you want to see if a new chapter has been
added to a favorite story, you need to go to the boxes near the top of the
screen and tell the computer to "Sort by new chapters" rather than by
new stories. I kept reposting the story, waiting 24 hours, and then
looking for it on the New Stories page. Needless to say, it didn't
appear. I promise I won't waste everyone's time by doing that again.
I also noticed that "If It Hadn't Been for the Owl" won't come up on a
Title search, either. I think it may have something to do with the
apostrophe in the title, since I can't get the story "The Potions Master's
Apprentice" to come up on a Title search, either. (By the way, if you
haven't read "Potions Master's Apprentice", go do it. It's quite
good. You can get to it by clicking on my name, which will take you to my
author's page. The story is listed as one of my favorites. The
author is currently working on a sequel, "Personal Risks", also
you to Lady Ev, Ana Ingva, me, Alex, ubi, and Nykto for their reviews on my
original story. I removed that version so I wouldn't get in trouble with
the FFN staff over improper chaptering or some other technicality; of course,
that meant that the reviews were lost. (I printed them out beforehand,
though, so I do have them on paper.) I just wanted to make sure
that everyone who started this story got a chance to finish it.... Thank
you. You guys are wonderful.